*DISCLAIMER – before Edward Poultney or Daniel Parry complain, I know the pics aren’t straight. WordPress won’t save all of them the right way up for whatever retarded reason.*
Having wanted to see Cappadocia for myself since my beloved Michael Palin introduced me some years ago, I raced off on the first nightbus as soon as the passport was back in hand. The weather has eroded a volcanic basalt crust and soft tufna beneath (laid down some 25 million years ago by the two volcano-now-mountains in the area) to leave simultaneously craggy and undulating landscape, peppered with stacks and cones that the elements have yet to wear down. These stacks have long been described as ‘fairy chimneys’. Palin I think mentions with an arched eyebrow that they resemble spears of asparagus, but frankly… well look at them.
The best phallus’ are found in the delicately named ‘Love Valley’. Many of the more scenic, up-market hotels offer wedding packages – best photo backdrop ever?
And if we’re sticking with a fairytale theme, many of the formations look like the architectural aspirations of gnomes rather than fairies. Still, the landscape alone is spectacular and can be viewed from a host of impressive vantage points around the valleys, or a hot air balloon for the flush. I yomped around the valley for miles in varying degrees of sun and thunderstorm, taking in the vista from Uchisar (highest point with a Castle hollowed out at the top), Rose Valley, Pigeon Valley and Avanos. Joy.
What’s more, Christians afeared (rightfully) of being persecuted by the Persian and Arabic armies in the 6th century dug a series of underground cave cities protected by rolling stone doors in which to hide out for months at a time. That meant plenty of sleeping quarters, animal stalls, food stores, wineries (priorities) and churches, but strangely no shitters.
Over 100 cities exist in the region though only about 30 have been excavated, the archaeologists taking a best guess that they would find more graves and uninspiring broken jars. Today, you can visit a couple of them, squeezing through the little passageways and peering into the secret connecting tunnels. I say peer cos some of them are 10km long and have partially collapsed. Not for the claustrophobic but very cool. Dens for grown-ups.
It’s all spread out over a moderate distance. I based myself, as many backpackers do, in the wee town of Goreme. Spent a couple of days hiking around, one on a scooter and one on a guided tour. It is commonly accepted that one of the most cost-effective ways of seeing the biggest underground cities and scenic Ihlara Valley is on the Green Tour. I remembered about 10 minutes in why I dislike tours. Nearly 30 people being shunted around from destination to destination, colliding with several other tours doing exactly the same does not a soothing visit make. You’ll find your group crammed into small rooms waiting for queues of other groups to go past in the narrow tunnels, or being chivvied by another gang to move on. Our guide irritatingly responded to difficult questions with ‘it is not known’ and inspired with gems such as ‘people came to these underground cities so that they could to be alive’. Why thank-you. I had a hunch that is was going to be a little bit shit, but I went anyway so I could slag it with authority.
People still live in the caves (though mostly overground ones) today, and many of the hostels and guest houses take full advantage of the unique opportunity. My dorm was hollowed out a few years ago by Mustafa, a local of Goreme, and is a fairly comfortable place to lay your head, provided you have enough blankets.
Of course, if man can easily manipulate the rock, Nature makes light work. In the mid-1960s a chunk of one of the villages broke away and killed 3 people, prompting the government to move everyone out of the rock face and into houses at the bottom. Naturally, they still let the tourists up there to roam around freely. Safety first. Many of the stones were recycled to build the new homes, but Cauvsin is a good example of old and new. Looks like the Flintstones with transit vans.
Had a much better day exploring on scooters. Something of a cartel exists amongst the tourist operators here and, despite the crowds (Cappadocia and Istanbul apparently feature as the most popular tourist haunts), your bargaining power is limited – though not eliminated – in all areas. Got a fairly good deal from one of the outfits by the bus station and whizzed off to Ozkonak underground city where we were the only two people in there – hoorah! Then went to Devrent, or Imagination Valley, so named cos like gazing at clouds, you can find all manner of shapes. And the requisite bunch of knobs.
Then, against all better judgement and advice, me and my two Korean pals decided mid-afternoon to bomb it 50km to a valley with churches famed for their well preserved frescoes. Sure, the frescos were great but the journey there was arguably better, when I wasn’t kecking myself at going so fast on pot-holed roads. Ain’t nothing like a scooter at 90 over a rough gravelled road to make you feel vulnerable (sorry Mum). The route takes you through a few picturesque rural villages where all the farmers are currently sowing their next crops, and then across 6 marvellous km of lush green plains, sprinkled with pink blossom trees and flanked by the two snow-capped peaks that made Cappadocia possible. Would have stopped to take a pic with a smug face on, but it was bitterly cold and I couldn’t feel my hands.
More pics going up on the book of face, should you like to take a shufti.
Now, I am going East. East to Nemrut Dagi.