Off to see Turkey’s Angkor complex! Cappadocia is overrun with tourist coaches for much of the summer, but the hope was that it was still early enough in the season that we could avoid the masses. Nope. But we did find a great campsite just outside of the UNESCO village of Goreme, in the sandstone heart of the land of fairy chimneys, tuff formations, echoing underground cities and troglodyte caves gaping in astonishment from every rock face and molten hill.

I promised Ahmet I would plug his campsite, and I will: Panorama Camping, one kilometer outside of Goreme on the left side. Ahmet himself is a wonderful, friendly young man who lives with his family onsite, and has several terraces for campers. I spoke a little Turkish with him while he sized me up (pigeon or not?), and in the end was able to negotiate a rather low price for three nights. Unfortunately, I must also add that if you are not firm and look fairly road-seasoned, Ahmet will of course attempt to extract a little extra money from you. I know this from hearing the tales of a few others at the campsite. But all in all, I would return, and if you haggle a bit, you’ll get the cheapest camping in Cappadocia.

Once settled in, there was the matter of transport. Cappadocia’s formations are scattered over a hundred square kilometer area or more, and although dolmus (Turkish microbuses) ply the roads at all hours for fifty TL cents a ride, I wanted a little more flexibility. So I rented a 200cc enduro motorcycle. Thus equipped, we awoke the next morning at 5, and by six were hiking through remote valleys and narrow defiles whose walls opened at every turn and glance into crumbly rooms and multi-storied houses and churches and wine cellars…. Up to Ozkonak and its deserted underground city, Pigeon Valley and Zelve Valley and Rose Valley and Red Valley and Zemi Valley….each more spectacular than the next. With the dirt bike we could get well into these 5 kilometer long trenches, the walls rising like bleached pale tsunamis overhead sheltering isolated groves of fruit trees and vineyards. Many of these stone-age settlements, still with frescos clinging to shadowy ceilings amid the swallows’ nests, were in use today, as pigeon rookeries, shelter for the shepherds, places young people came to, well, do their thang. An old overcoat hanging from a rusty nail in this one, a dusty loveseat facing an impossible vista in that…

On the way down to the coast, outside of Derinkuyu, there is another underground city, the largest of them all. I had planned it so we would be there just before it opened in the morning to avoid some of the crowds that would surely arrive at this most spectacular sight. Well, I succeeded; I had to turn the lights on! Down and down and down into these black caverns, holes in walls that were grain chambers and wine cellars, rooms leading to other rooms in the random pattern of an ant hive. All up, it is possible to descend four or five floors underground (another four or five exist deeper, but are sealed off). There was no one else there for a good while, until a tourbus rolled up outside and disgorged a load of…Turkish high schoolers! They met up with us in the deepest chambers accessible only through flights of steep stairs where it was impossible to stand even close to upright; it would have been easier on the legs to abandon dignity and just crawl. A few shocked greetings, a lot of laughs, questions in excellent English, and the interlopers let them have their heritage to themselves and came back up to the light.

A Note for the Traveler:

I had an old Baedecker’s guidebook to Turkey hanging around the bookshelves, circa 1994, from my earlier trips here, and elected to bring it instead of perhaps buying a Lonely Planet. I used to be a huge fan of the LP back in the earlier days when it catered to low travelers and backpackers, but these days, increasingly I dislike them. Most of the listed places are too expensive for the average backpacker. Still a marginally good resource in a pinch, and with excellent city maps I admit, but I sure wish Baedecker was still in print. If you’ve never seen or used one, they focus on culture and history, with an alphabetical listing of all the towns in a country, with extensive archaeological maps and write-ups of the historical sites of any importance. The hotel / restaurant listings appear as an appendix, an afterthought useful in an emergency, almost only there for a sense of safety that, yes, there are two hotels in this town so don’t worry, but allowing the traveler a little more spontaneity. Even before the memoir of the LP author came out in which he admitted that he and others at LP often did their “research” online, without ever setting foot in half of the places they wrote about with ever increasing flair and a sense of the bon vivant, I knew their days were numbered with me when in Myanmar, in a tiny, dusty, insignificant town, I sought out one of the two restaurants they had listed as good eats, bypassing for an unknown reason (and very unlike me) a number of places jumping with locals. I walk into the listed restaurant, which looked quite nice and clean. No locals were present apart from the waiter, and only two couples were eating within. You guessed it; both tables had open LPs sitting on them, one in German and one in French. I threw mine on the table so I wouldn’t feel left out, and realized that the LP trail is a superhighway now, and any pretense of independent travel can be dropped if you have one in your pocket. Furthermore to this micro-rant, apart from the LPs high cost, the information contained within is often erroneous or outright wrong. Take my word for it; if I weren’t so lazy, I’d start listing them right now…

I’m thinking the best thing to do is to get on Amazon and buy a vintage Baedecker’s. The one drawback is a lack of any city/region maps but for a 1 meter square monster in the back that requires at least three hands to fold. But that is a small price to pay for a thoughtful, honest guide with some great historical information, photographs, and yet still lets you pick your way around the world breaking your own trail.

And isn’t that what we all came here to do??

Originally written for David Rozgonyi


posts by David Rozgonyi