Journal 28 - June 7, 2003

Turkey » Go Back

Journal 28
After nine days in Istanbul I traveled to the small town of Goreme, located near the center of Turkey in a region known as Cappadocia. Known as Turkey's premier tourist attraction, Cappadocia is rich in history and archeological delights. For over fifteen hundred years people have carved their way into the unique landscape of Cappadocia like grandpa into a twenty-pounder at Thanksgiving. The unusual geography of Cappadocia has been used by residents to create individual dwellings from tall narrow towers, and entire underground cities from the soft, volcanic stone that coats the region for miles around. In some places the stone forms Smurf-like housing structures, thrusting skyward into distinct formations resembling mushrooms, gigantic Hershey's kisses, and rock minarets. To this day a number of the cave dwellings are still inhabited by locals, many having been converted to hotels, wine cellars and restaurants, while others lay abandoned and full of centuries old dust.

After a restful first day in Goreme, I booked a tour to Nemrut Dagi, one of eastern Turkey's premier tourist destinations. The two thousand year old statues of Nemrut are some of the most photographed images in Turkey. As they stand now, each of the statues rests as a headless guard to a time long past. Damage from multiple earthquakes over the years has left each of the statues standing blindly with their heads below. The decapitated bodies stand guard over their enormous heads that until recently had lain scattered in disarray around the mountaintop. But the first steps of a restoration project have the heads standing upright and erect in front of their respective bodies awaiting a cranial reunion. A 2:30 a.m. wake-up call had us on top of the mountain at 4:15, with a chilly thirty minutes to spare before sunrise. After the early morning photo session we returned to town to prepare for the rest of the day's touring. We finished breakfast at the hotel and were off to explore some of the small towns and bazaars in this region of eastern Turkey. After receiving a lot of attention in one of the bazaars, there were moments when it felt as if we were more of an attraction for the locals than the market was for us.

With endless rows of shops selling spices, refrigerators, metal goods, meat, vegetables, clothing, coffees and anything else you can think of, the markets are a buzzing, vibrant and colorful display of Turkish culture. It was wonderful to walk the narrow alleys while taking in the strong smells of the spices and herbs, this while listening to the banging of metal work, buzzing of wood saws, and the sing-song calls of the proprietors pedaling their wares. Our guide took advantage of the opportunity to load up on some needed supplies, a kilo of coffee, some salt, a new pair of trousers, and he was kind enough to introduce me to a carpet selling friend of his, who no matter how many times I told him I wasn't interested, was sure he'd eventually find me a carpet I'd be happy to strap on my backpack and take home with me. Sadly I had to decline, although someday I'd love to come to Turkey to buy enough carpets and ceramics to fill an entire house.

After the tour to Nemrut we arrived back in Goreme eager to explore the surrounding ferry chimneys and cliff dwellings. The next day I joined three others from the Nemrut tour for a six hour hike in the Pigeon Valley. One of my friends from the Nemrut tour, Alan, is an avid rock climber back in his home country of South Africa, so I soon found myself following him up the spires and into the rocky dwellings as we were overcome by the curiosity of wanting to know what was inside the elevated doors and windows above us. Due to the extreme variety of the terrain, the dwellings are found in a vast array of shapes and sizes, making for some challenging and exciting exploration. We spent a few hours exploring the formations, then spent the rest of afternoon hiking around with Alan's mom and another yank from Chicago.

The following day I joined Alan and his mom for a fourteen kilometer trek in the Ihlara Gorge. I was happy to join them since they had scoped the route and had a great plan for exploring the valley, which meant zero thinking or planning required from me. First we caught a bus to one of the famous underground cities of Cappadocia, one of over 130 that are said to have existed at one time, although less than 30 are currently open for viewing. The city we visited is the third largest known to exist, and at one point had over fifteen hundred rooms and ten levels housing anywhere from five to twelve thousand people. The cities were carved deep into the volcanic stone, which in some places in the region is hundreds of meters deep. Residents lived in the cities six months a year, during the invading season that lasted from spring to fall. The summer months were a common time for invading hoards to roam the country, so the residents of the region built entire cities where they could hide underground. Complex ventilation shafts and wells provided water and air, while underground storerooms kept food cool and fresh for months at a time. Walking through the passageways of the subterranean cities, it was astounding to think how the people lived underground in an organized community for such long periods of time.

From the underground city we were shuttled to the Ihlara Gorge, where the three of us set off on a two day trek to explore the hundreds of cave dwellings, churches, and centuries old frescos that adorn the valley. Slightly different than Goreme, the cliff dwellings in Ihlara are carved out of the canyon walls, and typically are several stories tall. Again I found myself following Alan into caves, up airshafts, down tunnels, and covering ourselves in dirt and dust as we attempted to gain access to the highest windows and rooms we could find in a given complex. Each of the large complexes is up to four stories tall, and the upper levels can only be accessed by using the vertical shafts found inside. The two of us spent hours climbing and crawling around the dwellings, hoping to discover some previously undiscovered room or cavern. Covered with cobwebs, dirt, dust, and thousand-year-old pigeon droppings, we had a blast while exploring only a small portion of the caves. One could easily spend weeks exploring the valley.

From Cappadocia I traveled to Olympos, located on the Turkish Mediterranean. Resolute about my plan to spend only one night there before continuing with my travels, I left five days later fully relaxed and sad to be leaving. Olympos is a backpacker's oasis on the Mediterranean. A small seaside village populated two dozen pensions and guest houses, it's nestled into a pine tree covered valley on Turkey's Turquoise Coast. Most of the pensions offer rustic elevated cabins affectionately known as 'tree houses' on the backpacker circuit. At $7 a night including dinner and breakfast, I would have been happy to stay for a month, but a previous engagement had me back on the road after four nights. The food was delicious, the people were nice, and the book trade was well stocked. This combined with the great beach and hiking could have enticed me to stay much longer, but the journey had to continue.

Two days later I jumped on a boat for a three day cruise of the Turquoise Coast. After realizing a boat was the only way to gain access to many of the coves and private beaches I wanted to see, I booked myself a spot on the infamous Fethiye to Olympos party boat, which is typically full of partying Aussies and Kiwis. Turkey is full of our mates from the big islands in the south, so much so that all the locals just assumed I was from one of the two countries, often calling me mate in an attempt to make me feel at home. Good try dudes.

The boat cruise was fantastic, and again I found myself wishing for more time. Having booked on one of the backpacker boats, the price was right and the service was good, but the scenery is what made the trip, and the crew was very friendly. During my time on the boat there were only five passengers, two Swiss, two Aussies, and the token yank, me. This on a boat that normally sleeps twenty-two, so were able to stretch out and take full advantage of the snorkeling gear and other amenities. We enjoyed three days of peace and quiet while floating on the Mediterranean and swimming in the private coves and beaches that dot the coast for miles. The trip was certainly a great way to see many of Turkey's beautiful beaches, including Butterfly Valley, Oludeniz, Kas, and countless others. But the clock was ticking, so I got off the boat a day early and began my journey to Mykonos, one of the many infamous Greek islands. Thanks to some poor planning and lack of accurate information, I'm making a very round about trip to Mykonos via an eight hour layover in Athens, this after an overnight ferry ride that took me right past Mykonos early this morning. Back on land for only the second day in the past five, I still feel like I'm floating, as if the whole world is rocking to the sleepy beat of the Mediterranean.

After a little time in Greece I want to head to some part of the eastern block, either Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic or some combination of those, but likely only one or two given the short amount of time I have before Bryce flies to Paris on July 12th. Then the long awaited Tour de France road trip from July 12th to the 27th, then home.

See some of you soon.

Justin