We weren’t quite sure how the bus ride was going to work but when we purchased our tickets we made sure we had assigned seats. We waited outside the travel agent’s office and after a brief wait we were motioned over to a bus on a side street. The bus was modern and very clean. The guy doing the seating was a bit of a jerk. The bus was filled with half tourists and half locals. He decided that the locals would sit up front and the tourists in the back. We argued with the man about our assigned seats and he kept saying the bus was “Full, Full.” He then tried to forcibly make a couple separate to fill in one empty seat and to make another couple get off the bus and wait for another one. He almost created a riot and we had no problem letting this guy know he picked the wrong group of tourists to push around.
Except for the buses in Argentina I think it is impossible to be comfortable on an overnight bus trip. In Turkey they stop every three hours for a rest stop and turn the interior lights on which makes it impossible to sleep. The rest stops are clean, modern and filled with other buses. These were not your normal bus stops and watching the bus get cleaned by an army of bus washers at 4:00 AM was even more impressive. At least we saved money by sleeping on the bus.
We landed in Goreme, a small vineyard filled valley. As we walked off the bus we were greeted by a landscape that was the reason we came. It looks like a fantastic place where the Hobbit or the Flinstones would live. It was unbelievable unlike anything we had ever seen or could ever imagine. The area had been a geological nightmare millions of years ago with volcanoes, earthquakes, rain, snow, wind and oxidation for a touch of color. The result is other-worldy rock formations tinted yellow, pink, red and violet. Hanna-Barbara defiantly visited Cappadocia before dreaming up the Flinstones. Mother Nature truly created something unique and beautiful.
When man moved in they decided to call the unique rock formations home. The natural rock formations were very soft and making it easy to carve out huge dwellings. The houses were multiple stories complete with stairs, kitchens and stables. Once the newly carved rock was exposed to the air it hardened forming rock solid walls. The inhabitants were Christian and the Churches carved out the rock are some of the oldest still standing. Entire underground cities that go down eight stories and had room for up to 20,000 people can be found throughout the region. This place is an original and we can not wait to start exploring.
At the bus station there are about thirty posters with pictures advertising local accommodations. The most popular being inside a “Fairy Cave.” It was too difficult to make a choice but we knew we wanted to sleep in a cave. We asked a local and he gave us directions to his brother’s place the Kelebek Hotel/Pension. We trusted him and hauled our packs up hill to the caves. As the old people on the donkeys passed us on the cobble stone streets, all I could think was that we where walking down the streets of Bethlehem. Kelebek looked like a great place and we checked in. It was nice to check in early and the place was very friendly. After breakfast we signed up for a four hour afternoon walk through Rose Valley and then went to get some sleep. We also decided to stay an extra night and do the Ihlara River Valley tour.
After a afternoon sleep trying to recover from the overnight bus trip we met upstairs for our walking tour at 3:30 PM. The Rose Valley is a short drive and the van dropped off our group of ten at a grapevine field. The walk starts at the top of the valley and goes into a deep and narrow canyon. It was incredible – a semi trail thousands of years old but today only used by those on a scenic walking tour. We spent the afternoon retracing the steps of the ancient inhabits walking in and out of structures carved out of the rock, vineyards and orchards. The houses were elaborate and large with stables on the bottom and staircase winding through the rock to levels above. At every turn there was a more striking panorama. We wondered how this place had missed the list of natural wonders in the world.
The community would not be complete without churches and the worshipers went to great lengths to shape a suitable place of worship. Entrance to the church involved climbing up a couple of rocks and walking through a large doorway into the heart of the church. The cathedral was complete with large stone columns that rose from the floor to the roof. The room was in the shape of the cross and the ceiling was a carved dome complete with religious frescos that have survived 1400 years. The entire structure looks as if it had been built stone by stone but this church was built in reverse. The original material was once a massive rock formed by a volcano millions of years ago. The worshippers with great care using only carving tools transformed the rock into a solid and uniformed church.
The decoration of the ceilings with frescos presented a problem. The surface of the rock did not make for a suitable canvas. The solution to the painting problem was the use of egg white from pigeon eggs for the creation of plaster. The plaster was then applied to the wall allowing religious frescos to be painted. The quality of the paintings do not match the detail of the mosaics in Istanbul but the overall effect was no less grand. Not much is known about why or when the original inhabitants left but people have lived in the caves as recently as the 1950s.
We walked out of the valley back to our cave pension as the sun set in the horizon.
Earlier in the day we met Erik and Martina from Toronto. They are also traveling for a year and had just started two weeks ago. They began their trip in Turkey and are traveling overland through Iran, Pakistan, India and the rest of Asia. Since we had just come from that direction we did not envy their times ahead. Erik was suffering from work withdraw and had been spending his free time writing about his current travels in a notebook. Erik wrote for a Toronto newspaper before resigning and was hoping to make a new career for himself as a travel writer. I offered him the use of my laptop for the afternoon so that he could put together a story about Turkey and e-mail it to an editor friend of his. We all went to dinner that night and tried to e-mail the article. It turns out that Turkey is hooked on the Internet because I had problem connecting and the local Internet Cafe filled us in on the problem. At night the phone rates are cheaper and everyone goes on-line and hangs out in chat rooms. The government has made Internet access very cost effective in Turkey. They setup a special phone number that allows people in remote villages to place a long distance phone call to the Internet service provider at the same price as a local phone call. Turkey is hooked on the Internet.
Erik and Martina were leaving the next morning and we still had not been able to send Erik’s story. We woke early the following morning and headed down to the Internet Cafe for the use of a phone line. As promised we had no problem connecting to the Internet and sent off Erik’s travel story. Today we will be spending the day traveling through the Ihlara River Valley. The tour includes underground cities, churches, a swim in an extinct volcano crater and a 3.5 km hike.
The underground cities of Kaymakli and Derinkuyu are something straight out of Star Trek. The cities are from the 7th and 10th centuries and provided secret cities for the Christians who were forced to hide underground for up to six months from Roman soldiers. The Christians were persecuted for their religion and with sign of advancing soldiers they would move from their above ground houses to the safety below. Some of the cities could inhabit as many as 20,000 people and the entire city went twenty stories below. This was not a natural cave formation but each city was carved out of solid rock. The rock of course was soft and easy to carve which made construction relatively easy. The houses above ground had a hidden tunnel that would allow a quick escape below.
The cities were complete communities that had large kitchens, apartments, schools, churches and prisons. The stables for the animals were of course located on the top level to cut down on the smell. The designers built elaborate air handling wells so that when viewed from above it looked like a normal water well. The smoke from the fires used for cooking was channeled through air shafts and was prevented from escaping to the outside air. Smoke coming from the ground would of given away the location of people below. No one really knows who actually built the cities and they were unknown to the local inhabitants until an archeologist stumbled across them in the 1950’s. A Greek historian mentions Cappadocian underground dwellings as early as 401 BC. This place is a claustrophobic’s nightmare and a science fiction writers dream come true.
The day was just beginning as we emerged from our hole and it was time to do a little hiking. The bus dropped us off at Ihlara – a canyon walk along a picturesque brook surrounded by cliffs rising 500 feet. Like the rest of the region there are cave churches, pigeon houses and hundred of homes carved into the rock. Quite simply the wonders of the day will not end. You definitely get your moneys worth on Kelebek’s tour. They even bought everyone an ice cream bar. After our walk we had lunch and then joined back up with our bus for a scenic view of were parts of Star Wars were formed. I have not had a chance to verify it but I think it involves the scenes were Luke is wondering around at the beginning of the movie. This region was on the overland spice route from Asia and the cave dwellings had been used for traders for thousands of years to avoid being robbed by bandits.
Back into the bus and thirty minutes later we all had our bathing suits on and were jumping into an extinct volcano crater for a swim. On the other side of the lake a huge geyser had erupted a couple of weeks ago and was shooting sulfur water 100 feet in the air. I, of course, had to ask the guide why he thought the volcano was extinct. He did not have a very good answer to my question but it was time to head back to town. They had to drop off a couple of passengers who needed to catch a bus to their next destination. We were then supposed to regroup and head out to a high vantage point for sunset but everyone decided the comforts of the hotel and a beer would be more enjoyable. We were all exhausted and ready for bed. We had a group dinner under the stars at the hotel and it could not of been a more perfect ending to a great day. We were not too tired to sample a few bottles of world famous Cappadocian wine.
The next day we checked out early and hung out in the living room/bar watching movies all day. The buses all arrive early in the morning and leave in the late afternoon so the check-in and check-out times of the hotels are very liberal. It was nice to hang out and do nothing for the day before we had to board another OVERNIGHT BUS TRIP FROM HELL.