In the middle of Central Anatolia lies an area called Cappadocia. It is one of Turkey’s main tourist destinations because of its’ incredibly funky landscape.
Eons ago (with a little error, about 10 million years ago I’ve been told), a few surrounding volcanos erupted and left a thick layer of volcanic ash over the area, which eventually hardened into such soft rock that you could scrape it away with your fingernails. So over the years, wind, weather and water erosion sculpted an incredible landscape out of this layer. Boulders of harder rock protected the soft tuff underneath from erosion, creating a cone shape with a boulder on top. Some of them, and the hills around made of the same rock, were carved out by people several thousands of years ago to make convenient houses and churches. If that’s hard to imagine, picture a vertically stretched Smurf house made out of rock. Yes, that’s it. They call it a Fairy Chimney, but I’d like to call it ‘Vertically Stretched Rock Smurf House’ (VSRSH).
The surrounding valleys around the town of Goreme, the place we’ve stayed at for a few days, is littered with these VSRSH’s. Besides these, the landscape is also weirdly shaped with tons of curved, moonlike hills, with grape vineyards and pumpkin fields added in between them. My favorite spot (and not only mine since it was a popular hangout at sunset) was a place called Pashabag, where several VSRSH’s were surrounded by a vineyard. It really is something you’ve never seen before and you could, like we did, stare at it for hours.
Other than being in awe with the landscape in Goreme, we rented a motorbike for a day to explore the surrounding area. Although Goreme is more than well fitted out for backpackers and there was a fair share of visitors there when we were there in the middle of high season, the smaller towns in the area were practically deserted and you could sip a cup of tea with the local men (local women were conspicuously absent from the social scene in Turkey) at the main square without another tourist in sight. We also checked out two of several underground cities which were carved out ‘in the old days’ to escape not so friendly visitors who would have no idea where everybody was. The cities were so big and well set up, including schools and rooms designed to make wine, they could live there for up to 6 months without having to come up. At one of the underground cities we visited, there was a German filmcrew filming in the main areas, so our guide took us to another level where there was no light except for our guide’s flashlight and where we had to crawl through narrow passages (horizontally and vertically) and descend through 10 meter deep shafts which had holes carved out on both sides to put your feet in. Needless to say, we looked pretty dusty and scraped when we finally made our way out. (Something like what Lara Croft really would look like if she really raided tombs…)
The other days in Goreme, we just hung out in the village and I tormented the local kids with butting into their little soccer game and went to the local barber who, after having explained in sign-language I really wanted my hair as short as this and not this much shorter, gave me a great shoulder and head massage, ending the procedure with two cracks of the head.
After Cappadocia, we made our way to Konya, a fairly conservative town famed for Mevlana and the Whirling Dervishes. The Whirling Dervishes are an Islamic brotherhood and followers of one of Islam’s great poets and mystic philosophers, Mevlana. The Dervishes get their Whirling adjective from the Mevlevi worship ceremony they perform in which they are dressed in long white robes with full skirts and a tall conical hat and start to whirl around with their arms spread out (the ceremony is actually a little more elaborate than that, but this just to get the picture). The dance basically represent a union with God during which they get blessings from heaven. Konya’s main interest is the original Whirling Dervishes’ lodge which houses Mevlana’s spectacular sarcophagus and is now turned into a museum, but today really is sort of a little pilgrimage site for Muslims from all over the country to come and pay homage to Mevalana with prayers and facewash-like motions. This was also one of the places of Islamic worship (the Blue Mosque in Istanbul being another) where foreigners were not always abiding to the requests to dress conservatively and for women to cover their heads. Seeing this place is officially a museum and open to everyone, we did not totally see any harm in that.
After Konya, we took yet another comfortable busride further down south to make our way towards the Mediterranean coast. Taking the bus in Turkey is an airplane-like experience with brand new Mercedes buses, drinks on board and the ubiquitous refreshing sprinkle of Lemon Cologne, which in Turkey is presented everywhere in restaurants, shops and on the bus. We first made a little stop at a place called Cirali, where we were stomped by the heat and humidity and visited the disappointing Olimpos ruins and the Chimaera, a bizzare set of eternal flames coming out of the side of Mt Olimpos and the original site and source of the eternal flame for the Turks’ version of the Olympics. The flames are caused by gases coming up from the bowels of the Earth that ignite spontaneously on contact with air. A really strange sight and worth the sweaty climb (in 38C degree weather!) up the mountain. A big thank you to the friendly Turkish couple who gave us a ride back into town, a 5 kilometer walk we weren’t really looking forward to in the dark and heat.
The majority of the remainder of our stay in Turkey we spent in a little cozy and touristy seaside town called Kas where the waters of the Mediterranean are so intensely blue and crystal-clear that it’s hard to estimate how deep the water is even though you can see the bottom. One of the popular activities on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey is to take a boat cruise along the coast, stopping at picturesque little bays for swimming, islands and sunken ruins. So we joined up for a one-day cruise with 15 people, organized by the disorganized host of the pension where we were staying, and we got the boat to just the two of us (aside from the captain and his wife) for the night after the captain parked the boat in a small quiet bay. After talking over dinner to the captain and his sweet, talkative Ukranian wife about their life and their dreams, we slept underneath the stars on the top of the deck. Not a bad way to end one of our last days in wonderful Turkey.
*Visit Kristi and Jo’s website www.wanderlings.com for their travelogues around the world.