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Fairy Chimneys and Tagalong Pups

TURKEY | Monday, 3 August 2009 | Views [3559] | Comments [1]

Picking up the trail to Rose Valley

Picking up the trail to Rose Valley

Some people can't travel without a complete itinerary outlining every minute of every day - No Changes Allowed. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I've adopted a different style. If an interesting person presents me with an interesting opportunity, I'll rip up my onward ticket and wait for the 'Go'.

April 27: Detour

Before I boarded the overnight bus from Diyarbakir to Cappadocia, my friend Mesut had spoken with the bus driver to confirm that I would be dropped off in Cappadocia and made sure that I would be seated next to a woman. (Usually a Turkish man would not sit next to a woman who is not a family member, but sometimes you get an overly curious one that doesn't make for a good neighbour on an overnight bus.) As I said at the end of my last post, I wound up wedged next to a granny who had eaten a few too many doner kebabs, trying to avoid sticking my feet in her grandson's face as he slept under the seats in front of us. After a rather uncomfortable night, I woke up in the morning to the bus pulling into Ankara, a good 4 or 5 hours past Cappadocia. I gritted my teeth through a back-and-forth phone conversation between Mesut and the bus driver, the latter of whom confirmed that he had indeed forgotten to drop me off in Cappadocia and that I would simply have to catch the next bus back there from Ankara.

Though it wasn't a big deal at all, it was definitely one of those classic travel debacle moments in which I consciously contemplated whether I should let my temper get the best of me or just take a deep breath and let it go. I was awfully tempted by the former, but managed the latter. No need to ruin the days of the bus ticket guys, as well!

When I eventually arrived in Goreme, the little town at the epicentre of Cappadocia, I thought I had been transported to a different continent - and not because of the fairy-tale caves and rock formations. There was an actual tourist information centre with brochures of nearby hostels and boutique hotels, dinner and dance packages, and hot air balloon tours. Seriously?! I hadn't seen anything resembling what I would consider sound tourist infrastructure in almost a year.

After overcoming my initial shock, I found myself tossing my pack into the 12-bed dorm room in a cave hostel a mere 100 meters away from the town centre. Most accommodations here are nestled into caves, in a sort of touristy homage to the way Cappadocians used to live both in recent and ancient history.

Since I seem to have a knack for visiting countries in their tourist off-seasons, I had most of the hostel to myself. The few others staying there included a couple of Italian exchange students studying in western Turkey and an Austrian trekking guide who works in northern British Columbia. The other occupant was Bayram, the son of the hostel owner, who joined me and the trekker for pide (Turkish pizza) and a square of baklava (honey-soaked philo pastry, aka sweet tooth heaven). Since there wasn't much else to do and I hadn't been "out" in ages, we settled in for the evening at the aptly-named Flintstones bar. Though it took a few heated games of backgammon for a semi-crowd to roll in and get things going, we wound up partying with a big group of Americans and Aussies into the wee hours of the morning - so wee, in fact, that I heard the morning call to prayer before going to sleep.

April 28: The Rose Valley Dance

Though I didn't realize it last night - and I curse Bayram for not warning me - I made the fatal mistake of having some beer before a couple glasses of raki (anise-flavoured liquor, similar to Greek ouzo). Though I live my life with no regrets, my tummy may have argued otherwise for the better part of the day.

Regardless, I bundled up and set out to explore my surroundings. Cappadocia is well-known for its UNESCO World Heritage Site open-air cave museum and boasts an ancient history dating back to 6th-century BC. Over the previous 2 months in Central Asia and the Caucasus, whenever I had said I was going to Cappadocia, men would sigh blissfully and women would swoon at the mention of the Seuss-like caves and rock formations known as fairy chimneys. Needless to say, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

A short walk from the centre of town, I picked up a hiking trail through the Rose Valley. There were a few other tourists wandering around and I spotted a beautiful young hound mix frolicking through the fields of tall grass. She came over to see me for a good ear scratch then ran off again. About 10 minutes later, when no one else was in sight, she came bounding back to me without a care in the world and no apparent owner nearby. I carried on my merry way and she continued to follow me, so I figured she must have been a friendly stray. If so, she was the sweetest stray I had ever met and she wound up tagging along for the entire 4 hours! She ran off every so often to chase birds or follow a scent, but she always came bounding back to me, ears flopping away and tail wagging incessantly.

At one point, she ran off and I lost sight of her for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard a whimper above me and looked up to see her cute little face plaintively peering down at me from a rock mound over the trail. She couldn't get down to me! My heart nearly broke with the cuteness of it all so I doubled back a couple hundred meters and called out to her until she found me on the trail again. She doused me with kisses and nearly broke my knees with her fierce tail wags. I looked at her incredulously, wondering how on earth such a darling could be a stray and thinking about how wonderful it was to 'have' a dog again, even if only for a few hours. No matter how many new things I see and do on my travels, nothing beats the decidedly normal feeling of having a happy dog at your side.

Before their religion was commonly accepted, early Christians inhabited extensive underground cities and cave networks. Whenever faced with the threat of invading forces, they simply retreated into the well-concealed cave hideouts and their foes were left wondering where they could have possibly fled so quickly.

When my pup and I were exploring one path, I was looking at everything other than my feet in front of me (not a bad tactic in life, I'd argue) and caught sight of something high above me. I squinted into an opening in the side of a cave's outer wall and when my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I was able to make out the outline of a big cross carved into the rock ceiling! I grinned at my pup, quickly surveyed the route up (and back down), and then scaled the rock wall to the nearest plateau. What lay before me made me laugh out loud - it was an ancient church in a cave, complete with original Christian frescoes from the 9th-11th centuries! I felt like I had been the first person to see them for centuries - until I noticed the cigarette butts in the corner of one of the rooms. Though I hate it when people leave their trash at World Heritage Sites, I suppose it would make a pretty sweet campsite.

As I was walking through one open area chock full of fairy chimneys on my way back to the hostel, a light rain began to fall and the afternoon azan (call to prayer) began to sing. No matter what I'm doing, I always stop to listen to the azan; I find it so poetic and hauntingly beautiful that it almost seems wrong to consciously neglect to appreciate it. This time was particularly chill-inducing: the sound echoed off the caves and rock formations and bounched back towards the village, harmonizing with itself in the process. I wondered if the muezzin knew how incredible his voice sounded in this natural acoustic experiment...

Later that evening, Bayram and I went out to 'Turkish Nights', a dinner show that highlighted different styles of dance from around Turkey. I'm always interested in anything to do with music and cultural traditions, and I did really like the belly dancers, but the whole production was so touristy and staged that it lost most of its meaning. I couldn't help but compare it to the many evenings I had spent dancing around the living rooms of families I had stayed with in Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, and how much more authentic those seemed. It brought to mind the unfortunate catch-22 of tourism: people want to see and experience the most unique and exotic traditions in other parts of the world, but the more tourists that find out about them, the more staged and 'tourist-friendly' they become. It's kind of like picking a flower (and in doing so, killing it) to enjoy its beauty.

April 29: "Sure, why not!", number 1

I had purchased a bus ticket to head to Istanbul tonight but when I started packing up, Bayram gave me an offer I couldn't refuse. He had arranged a group of his friends for an afternoon football game and then planned to watch the semi-final match between Arsenal and Manchester United on the satellite in the hostel. I stopped packing for a moment then promptly went back to the bus station to change my ticket to the next day.

After a few hours of chilling and making a big lunch with some other hostel-goers, I was about to change into my makeshift football gear when the torrential rain began. And didn't stop. I was pretty bummed out when Bayram announced that the pick-up game had been called off. Instead, I settled for a beer over an exciting Man U win and some classic stand-up comedy clips on a Youtube lookalike (Youtube is banned in Turkey).

April 30: "Sure, why not!", number 2

I finally woke up to nice weather and set off for another hike, this time in Zemi Valley. The trail started out on a rather disappointingly easy wide gravel path, but thanks to the previous few days of rain, it soon became much more muddy and harder to navigate - i.e. much more fun! I was expecting much the same scenery as across the way in Rose Valley, but it was remarkably different. Most of the rocks and cliffs looked like huge dollops of whipped cream! Apparently Cappadocia's unique geological profile is due to an ancient volcano that belched out kilometers of soft ash and lava. The layers were eventually eroded down into the present-day formations by millennia of beatings from the wind, rain, and sand.

On my way back to the hostel for the last time before leaving for Istanbul, I stopped into a little restaurant for dinner. I was the only patron there so the 30-something owner took the liberty of sitting with me while I ate. He complained endlessly about how much he hated tourists, tour groups, and "especially" children (his emphasis). I almost choked on my next bite when he let out a huge sigh and lamented that a group of 25 Indian schoolgirls were on their way for dinner. I couldn't help but wonder how his only waiter was going to handle such a big group on top of any other drop-in diners. I thought briefly about my bus to Istanbul that was set depart in an hour then offered to help serve for the evening. He stopped short and raised one eyebrow at me. I assured him that I've waitressed before and that if he could change my bus ticket to the next day, I'd be more than happy to help.

As he disappeared around the corner, presumably to sweet-talk the bus guy to switch my ticket for free (again), one of his friends waltzed in and took his seat across from me. (For those who would find this disconcerting or a little too forward, I've gotten quite used to it. Usually people are so friendly and curious about foreigners that they'll just start talking to me regardless of what I'm doing at the time.) Turns out this guy was one of the rare gems who could offer me more than I could offer him; he owned horses at a ranch down the road and invited me to go riding the next day! As if the prospect of working for a free dinner wasn't enough to keep me in town for another day, a free horse ride sure sweetened the deal.

The restaurant owner came back with a new bus ticket for me just as the group of Indian schoolgirls was coming down the road. I raced back to the hostel to change into some non-mud-splattered clothes (I had few options, trust me) and then made it back in time to help the waiter deliver the kids' meals. I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed waitressing and had a blast joking around with the waiter, cooks, and all the customers. Among the other customers was a young couple who I actually ran into later in Istanbul and, my favourite, a pair of very debonair elderly Italian men who were touring the country on their motorcycles and needed help figuring out where to go in eastern Turkey, where I had conveniently just come from. Everyone complimented me on my English skills - that is, until I told them I was a Canadian tourist and that I sure hoped my English was up to par.

When the excitement at the restaurant died down, the owner, horse rancher and I headed over to one of the bars in town for a pint. We ran into a middle-aged American couple the restaurant owner had met earlier and we all played pool together. The couple had sons my age and, like most parents, were shocked that I was traveling through this region alone. I assured them that it wasn't nearly as scary or difficult as everyone assumed and that their sons would probably love it if they tried it, too. The rancher invited them to go horseback riding with us tomorrow, but they quickly turned him down. They were on one of those strictly timelined tours and "couldn't miss" their 9:50 am departure. I smiled to myself and thanked my lucky stars that I had no semblance of an itinerary to adhere to.




Hi Holly,I enjoyed reading about your new-found friend, the puppy, and also how flexible you allowed yourself to be by taking opportunities as they presented themselves. Carpe diem!!<br>love, mom

  mom Aug 14, 2009 11:35 AM

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