Published: September 10th 2009August 5th 2009
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain
Cappadocia is a place that Ammi and I had been dreaming about since we started planning this trip. The Cappadocia region is largely composed of sedimentary rocks formed in lakes and streams, and deposits erupted from ancient volcanoes approximately 9 to 3 million years ago. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms called fairy chimneys. The volcanic deposits are soft rocks that the people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out to form houses, churches, monasteries. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
As we rode into Göreme, hundreds of these mushroom-esque, phallic-looking dwellings rose into the sky before us, complete with doors, windows, and satellite TV. These cave houses have been the homes for the people in this region for thousands of years. Lately though, they have become so popular as hotels for tourists that to buy one now would set you
This was the cave we slept in
It was surprisingly cold and moist
back a small fortune. Our hostel was actually in one of these caves (we slept above ground in a tree house and now underground. What's next?). Our enthusiasm quickly wore off, however, as we realized the walls in our room had a damp, spongy feel to them. We had put out a towel up to dry and it was wetter few days later than when we originally hung it up. I guess the moisture seeps down through the rock somehow. But, after a day's hike in the blazing sun you can't beat coming into this refreshingly cool room. Overall we loved the whole experience and euphemistically referred to our room as “Yasin's Dungeon,” Yasin being the owner and our lovely host for our week in Göreme.
Unfortunately, we were having some banking problems. Our bank (I won't say which one, I'll just say it starts with "B" and ends with "ank of America") had recently put a limit on the amount of money that could be transfered between banks, and the transfer would take 3 to 4 business days. So long story short, while we were waiting for our funds to transfer we had to find 4 days worth
of entertainment with only $80. Thankfully Göreme is a good place to do it. We ate cheaply, played backgammon endlessly, and took a number of hikes throughout the area, climbing into caves and exploring long forgotten churches.
One thing Ammi always wanted to do was crawl through the underground labyrinths. Equally as easy to carve, these labyrinths were sometimes 14 levels deep and could house 200,000 people along with enough animals to feed them. The reason these were built? To have somewhere for farmers and townspeople to hide when the regularly invading armies decided to come through and ravage everything. When the armies left, the people would pop back up like gophers and go on about their business. As we made our way through the labyrinth I couldn't help but wonder how so many people could function in such tight spaces without getting into fist fights. Most of the hallways were only big enough for one person at a time and even then you had to crouch down. What must the line for the bathroom have been like?
Another thing Ammi wanted to do was to take a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. "We come from the
balloon caital of the world, Ammi. You can do it anytime back home," I said. "Yeah, but I've lived in New Mexico all my life. This place is so different and special. Besides, it's probably less here than back home." Ballooning in Cappadocia has gotten so popular and lucrative that companies with less than stellar safety records have set up shop overnight. Apparently it's super easy and cheap to get a pilot's license in Russia and then return to Turkey and work in Göreme. We had actually talked to another girl after her balloon ride a few days before we did ours and she had came back complaining of near misses bashing into cliff sides and a rather terrifying crash landing. Yasin told us about an incident a few years ago with 2 balloon pilots goofing around and bumping the balloons into each other. Both balloons ended up crashing and a number of tourists were killed. Knowing this, Ammi and I decided to do our homework and consider going with only the most reputable of companies. The one we finally decided on had a pilot who'd been doing it for 40 years—the most experienced pilot in the country—therefore we felt
pretty safe riding with him. It turned out to be one of the best experiences we've ever had. The pilot was able to fly us down into canyons and low enough to pick fruit off the trees. We finished off the flight with a celebratory champagne toast. I couldn't figure out why no one else wanted to drink at 7am, so I decide to step up and help myself to the vast majority of the bubbly.
With our Cappadocia adventure done, we made our way to Istanbul to catch our flight to Jakarta, Indonesia, to begin our Southeast Asia adventure.
Ever try a Doner Kabob? They are DE-LISH!!! Try this recipe.
If you stay at the Backpackers' Cave hostel (a.k.a. Yasin's Place) you can experience the joy of cave living at the absolute best prices. Yasin is very helpful and has a terrific sense of humor. Also he can get you the absolute cheapest rate on balloon rides. Ask to go with Voyager company, they really are the best!
Göreme is a great place to just wonder but it's easy to get lost as things aren't well marked. If you're going to hike around, especially Pigeon Valley or Rose Valley, make sure you get good instructions and bring plenty of water.
Tours are readily available everywhere but of questionable vlaue. If you are staying in Göreme the "red" tour is not necessary as everything on it is either within walking distance or easily reached by public transport. The "Green" may be worth it if you are short on time but consider visiting an underground city on your own. We visited Derinkuyu which had the most levels open during our visit. Besides the considerable savings you also have the advantage of not trying to squeeze through the narrow passageways with a herd of 60 other tourists. In fact if you plan your visit at in the early afternoon you may have the place all to yourself. Sound good? From the Göreme, take a bus to Nevsehir. Tell the driver you want to go to Derinkuyu and he will let you know when to get off. The bus to Derinkuyu is well marked and again if you let the bus driver know where you are going he will make sure you get out in the right place. It's a 5 minute walk from there.
**WARNING** Do not take the Göreme/Kent Bus Company. Besides the service being terrible, they advertise that they have a shuttle bus that takes you anywhere you want to go in Istanbul but they dropped us off in an unknown part of town and expected us to get where we needed to go on our own. Save yourself the trouble and go with someone else.
There are more photos below