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Land of the Wild Horses

Goreme, Turkey

Somewhere in the middle of Anatolia lies Cappadocia, a mysterious landscape of canyons, rivers, and the caves of the troglodytes who settled there nearly two millennia ago. Cappadocia is like nowhere else on earth. My guidebook describes its landscape as 'lunar' - it is certainly rocky, dramatic and in places barren, but what makes this place so spectacular is something that is unique to earth: human settlements built into the rocks. The bus drive to Goreme gives you some idea of what you can expect for the next few days, but what I was completely unprepared for was the scale, the sheer number of these cave villages and underground cities.

I had only a short afternoon on my first day to explore, so after a little walking I headed for a cafe with a balcony overlooking the town. Sitting back, a cold beer in one hand and my reader in the other, whilst I looked across the valley in the evening light, I realised how much I love travelling. The only thing to mar the feeling was the restaurant I went to that evening, which was by far the worst I have been to on my travels. I should have known: in the vast room, I was the only one there. The food was burnt, tasteless and soggy, and the staff lingered around my table with a disturbing blend of obsequiousness and intrusive questioning. I hurried through my meal, didn't leave a tip, and dashed out before I could be persuaded to stay any longer.

I only had two full days in Cappadocia, and because the landscape is so vast and the places of interest so far out I knew that I would need help in getting around. On the first full day, therefore, I took a tour. This is something I would never normally do; in fact just days before I had been scorning the tourists who needed a guide to show them around and make their holiday interesting for them. But as I don't drive, and I had travelled nearly 24 hours to get here, I had to find another way to make the most of the area. The tour surpassed my expectations and turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days I have had so far. There were sixteen of us, mostly European, though I got talking to a lady from Chicago who within minutes had invited me to drop in when I am in the States this summer. The guide was knowledgeable, interesting and helpful, and over the course of the day we managed to see and learn a great amount.

We started off by stopping at the top of pigeon valley; of course, no pigeons live there now - they have been driven away by the humans - but the view was stunning. Next stop was the biggest underground city that has been excavated so far, where the early Christians would hide in the hills. This was extraordinary, and photos or description cannot really do it justice. As we half-walked, half-crawled through the underground tunnels, it suddenly struck me that people used to live here for months at a time. The city had dwellings, stables, a winery, a church, a burial place, communal areas ... and it was all buried deep beneath the earth. (Note: the experience is not advised for claustrophobics.) We were then driven to a valley, with great faces of rock on either side and a river running through trees below. Here we walked for an hour, stopping to look at the local farmers and shepherds and finally reaching a restaurant where we were treated to an authentic Turkish lunch. The remainder of the afternoon was spent admiring the views, learning a bit of history of the region and stopping at an onyx workshop, outside which we finally caught site of some of the famous pigeons.

I returned to the hostel, which deserves a description of itself. I had chosen one of the numerous 'Cave Hostels', which are fairly self-explanitory. Built into the rocks, our hostel had cave bedrooms, with a communal area made of glass that looked out onto the valley and the town. I had been expecting something a little less comfortable from a cave, but we had beds and sheets, and there were even curtains of sorts on the window cut into the cave wall. The only time you noticed it was a cave was the morning, when you woke up in the stale and heavy air, but for about 3 pounds a night, I wasn't complaining.

That evening I met up with two other travellers at the hostel and we walked to the top of the hill into which our hostel was built and from where, apparently, you could get the best views of the sunset. Unfortunately, the cloud cover was wrong and it never turned into the spectacular event one might have hoped for, but it was still an experience. In the evening I went with one of them to a pub down in the centre of the village. Typically for the area, it was an international theme and was run by an Australian, a reminder of the tourism in high summer. Again, it was also almost empty, another indication that the season hadn't really begun here.

By the next day I felt that I had already seen enough of the village, but was reluctant to take another tour due to expense and loss of independence. I decided to rent a bike, and explore the local landscape in this way. I hadn't ridden properly for years, and this was on the 'wrong' side of the road, so I was a little apprehensive. However, after a couple of early wobbles as I learnt left from right, I was fine. The first route I took rapidly turned into terrain that was impossible to navigate, so I took another. I rode up to the Open Air Museum, an awful hill but a worthwhile view at the top. The museum itself was a little dissappointing - swarming with tourists and overpriced - but the ride down the hill again was so exhilirating I didn't mind. I explored more, rushing through canyons, arriving into tiny rural villages, and stopping every so often to photograph a rock face or a lone donkey.

Despite aching greatly, I wanted to make the most of my last night in Goreme, so joined most of the others from the hostel in going to a Turkish night. All you can eat, all you can drink, with entertainment of the Turkish variety throughout the evening; all for 50 lira or about 21 pounds. The evening started tamely; it was the whirling dervishes, and because of the event's religious significance, there was to be no drinking and no flash photography for this part of the show. Of course, the sanctity of the moment wasn't spoiled by them charging bus loads of wealthy Japanese and American tourists money to see it, nor by its inclusion in a show that would later include belly dancing and considerable amounts flash photography and drinking, but the hypocrisy was hardly noted. As the secular entertainments proceeded, the evening gradually became louder, less Turkish, and culminated in the aforementioned belly dancer being lowered from the ceiling in a luminous cage and calling several male members of the audience up to have lessons. Authentically Turkish? Probably not. Amusing? Certainly. So continuing the mood of the evening, six of us headed for what we had been told was the only club in Goreme and turned out to be a small bar with a number of surprised locals that played almost exclusively 80s music. Everyone I was with was great, however, and I certainly have met some people here I will be keeping in contact with.

On the final day I had a bus to catch, but most of the day to spend in Goreme. Most of the morning I sat talking with my fellow travellers in the atrium area, and later headed out for a lunch with them. The day passed so quickly that soon I was saying my goodbyes and heading down to the bus stop for the next leg of my journey.

permalink written by  BenWH on April 25, 2009 from Goreme, Turkey
from the travel blog: Gap Year Odyssey
tagged Turkey

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