The overnight bus ride from Egirdir to Goreme was decidedly unfun. Those of you who have trouble sleeping upright, as I do, know that it doesn't matter if you're on a plane or a bus... if you can't lie down, you can't sleep. To make matters more interesting, every couple hours the bus stops for a WC (Water Closet) break and all the lights come on and passengers start shuffling around and talking amongst each other. Even Mr. Ambien candy, my pharmaceutical lullaby of choice, was of little help. I think I dozed off for an hour or two over the ten hour trip. It's times like these that I love my iPod.
Want to freak yourself out a little? Listen to Bob Marley's "Survival" album on a night bus through Turkey.
The sun was rising as we made our way into the Capadoccia region of Turkey. B kept claiming that we were witnessing a "false dawn", where the sun appears to rise but actually doesn't for another half hour or so. It kind of seemed like regular dawn to me, but at that point I was delirious and had been humming "Africa Unite" for about four hours. We arrived in Goreme (probably the most popular town to stay in the Capadoccia region) at around 6 am, checked into the Guven pansiyon, and passed out.
Capadoccia's terrain must be seen to be believed. Active volcanoes in the area have spewed out countless heaps of ash and basalt over the years, and a combination of wind, rain, and erosion throughout the valleys have created natural upright structures that seem to defy gravity. In fact, they're known as "fairy chimneys" because apparently when the first inhabitants came to Capadoccia thousands of years ago, they thought they had stumbled upon a village where fairies lived inside the stone. Indeed the walls of the fairy chimneys are soft, easily carved out, and were used as homes for countless generations until around 1960, when the area was pronounced a national park.
Nowadays, you can visit abandoned fairy chimneys that were dwellings, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries. B and I started our exploration at Goreme's Open Air Museum, which was an absolute delight. Many of the churches still contain their original biblical frescoes, though many faces have been scratched away over the years by Muslims who didn't agree with painting holy images inside a place of worship.
The next day, we'd caught up on our sleep enough to brave a hike along a well-known trail though the Pigeon Valley. It all started off well... great scenery, great weather, great company. Sometimes we'd be strolling the base of the valley itself, sometimes we'd have to scramble around a chimney or two. At one point we came across a grubby older man who appeared to be living in a makeshift shelter with his emaciated dog. We pantomimed our hellos and he indicated the correct way to continue down the forked path. A few minutes later, we came upon an impossibly narrow crossing around the side of a mountain, at least 500 meters above the valley floor. It was the sort of fall that would kill someone if they happened to slip, no question. B made us turn around immediately. As I started back the way we had come, I noticed the grubby older man tending to some crops just a few meters back. "Aha!" I thought. "He must know the right way, because this can't be it." Sure enough, Ahmed was very familiar with the valley and was more than happy to lead us over the mountain face safely. There was no way we could have done it ourselves. Not only was Ahmed's secret trail unmarked, but it was too steep to attempt without a guide. We kept thanking him and marveling at our incredible luck. When we'd finally reached a safe point where we could continue on without him, we offered him ten lira for his trouble. At first he looked at the bill and waved it away, seemingly not wanting our money. Then we realized he was insulted by the amount and wanted more. We gave him another fiver and said goodbye.
Hours later, what had really happened on that hike finally dawned on us. Ahmed sits in his little makeshift shelter with his emaciated dog, waiting for novice hikers to pass through. As they reach a fork in the road, he sends them down the way he knows is impossible to cross. He follows them at a safe distance and makes sure he's just barely in sight when they turn back, and is only more than happy to lead them over the mountain to safety on an unmarked, unnecessarily dangerous slope when they ask for his help. The hikers feel like they accomplished this incredible feat solely because of his expert help, and are more than happy to pay him when the adventure is over. Which is exactly what we did. And that's why he wanted a specific amount of money. We're such chumps.
The next day, we were up at 4:30 am for a hot air balloon ride over the valley. Fatigue aside, it was really spectacular and awe-inspiring. Unbelievably peaceful. Except for the ten year-old kid standing with his parents next to us in the basket who got vertigo or food-poisoning or the bird flu or something equally disruptive and was vomiting over the side before we even got off the ground. He wasn't faring much better at 1000 meters, believe me. I got the distinct impression that his parents made him go, despite the fact that he obviously wasn't up for it. Assholes. Thankfully, mom and dad still managed to have a ball and take lots of pictures as he lay curled up on the floor of the balloon basket with his head in a plastic bag, and we Morans bit our tongues and enjoyed the view.
Yesterday, we decided to take a guided tour through several regions of Capadoccia that we didn't have time to explore ourselves. Tours are funny things- you're thrown in with a bunch of other people you may or may not like and get shuttled around like fourth graders, but you can also learn a lot without trying very hard. This particular tour was worth our money. We explored an underground city (where the Christians hid from the Romans way back when), hiked through the dramatic Ihlara Valley, visited an old monastery, and learned about ancient Turkish pottery making.
Our guide was fluent in English, extremely well-informed on the history of Capadoccia, and very friendly. We liked him immediately. Over lunch, he explained that he'd just finished a stint in the military (compulsory for Turkish men), fighting Kurdish terrorists in the mountains that border Iraq. During one particular battle, a member of the Kurdish PKK had been injured, but was still alive. Our guide then killed him. He proclaimed this proudly to us, with a smile on his face. We were speechless.
Tonight at 8 p.m. we'll board another overnight bus (and this one takes twelve hours, hooray!) to Istanbul, the first big city on our trip. We've heard it's a city best experienced at a leisurely pace, so we'll be there for ten whole days. It's gonna be a long journey. I'm charging the iPod.
Subscribe to our travel podcast!