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Published: June 13th 2008
Carmen San Diego would be proud.
Now who were the Mole People, really? I mean I know thats a term thrown around in conversation usually jokingly, but I actually have no idea who they really were. e.g. "What happened to Jerry, man? Ever since he started dating Sally, he's been MIA." "Yeah dude, he's turned into one of the Mole People... or something." A quick visit to Wiki yields that "Mole People is a term used to refer to the possibility that an unknown number of homeless people live under New York City in abandoned subway tunnels." Well. I have found the ex-American equivalent. But they lived in something like 20th century BC, and they were really Hittites in Anatolia.
Cappadocia (Kapadocya) is a region inland south Turkey above the border with Syria, whose name means "Land of Beautiful Horses." Another overnight bus from Pammukale to Goreme, and I have to insert a plug on Turkish long-distance bus networks. Because they are wonderful. Despite them blasting some Turkish music video/soap opera on high at 3am, and them never turning the lights off, I with the help of my friend Bose sleep like a baby. Roomy, comfortable, clean... they even
have an "attendant" that brings around tea and cakes!
Upon arrival at Goreme I meet Nelson who is also looking for Nomad Cave Hotel (owned by Mustafa’s brother.) Normal backpacker introduction conversation follows, that is until he asks what I'm doing/what my story is. I go, then I say, "You?" "I work in Sudan." OK Nelson, you win. Nelson is currently a Canadian UN military observer stationed on a 6-month tour in Sudan right now. Heavy, I know. Needless to say, conversation with Nelson was never dull and I learned a LOT about international bodies, current war situations, military life, etc. Things I probably should not repeat here, but let’s just say the UN seems a little useless to me now.
“Hello, good morning, Ozzie!” Ozzie’s face lights up as he helps me into the van. My driver’s name is Ozman, which is already short for something else, but he insists I call him “Ozzie.” I tell him that there is another Ozzie, a British rocker called Ozzie Osbourne, he is very famous. Ozzie doesn’t understand me, I am pretty sure they have never heard of Ozzie Osbourne in this region of Turkey. Ozzie is joined by my
female tour guide for the day, Didem. Ozzie is on 4 hours of sleep but happy, buzzing around rushing to pick up people, but for some reason Didem does not seem so upbeat this morning. Our first day in Cappadocia was spent in the North visiting a few of the various towns with crazy rock formations, including Devrent, Pasabag, and Uchisar Castle. “Goreme” actually means “invisible” in Turkish. Christians back in the day used to hollow out the sides of the rock formations and literally lived in cave towns built all along these mountains created by nearby volcanic activity. After some of the mountain cave towns we head to Avanos to visit a Turkish tile/ceramic maker. Now Turkish carpets are beautiful, but if I were to have room for souvineers or some serious presents, these would take the cake. I will let the pictures do the explaining. I meet the master at this famous family that creates the designs, his name is Galip. We talk for awhile and I tell him that in America we always have to do a little bit of pottery in our elementary art classes. I tell him I am no good, mine always turned out
lumpy, I am not sure if he understands me. Then he comes back and gives me a small bowl as a gift after signing the bottom. Turkish people really are very generous, I have been benefiting from free stuff far more than I deserve in this country.
Now all this trekking around strange towns in Turkish backcountry, that’s gotta make you hot and sweaty. Let’s talk about Turkish ice cream. You know how in probably 5th grade before we mastered glue sticks, we used Elmer’s school glue in the white squeeze bottles with orange tops? Think that consistency, but maybe after letting it out to dry about 20 seconds. Turkish ice cream is like a scoop of Elmer’s school glue when you weren’t fast enough to stick the construction paper on the poster right away. It looks like regular ice cream but is actually made of goat’s milk and has extra starch added as well. It is another kind of heaven.
Shortly after my Turkish ice cream break I was walking around outside Uchisar castle before befriending a very stinky camel. Two very cute Turkish cowboys in cowboy hats - I think they are brothers - arrive on
the scene. We all play with said camel. I leave to take some pictures, and a little while later the cowboy in the red hat motions me into a souvineer stand. In Turkey just about everywhere you will see this design of dark lapis blue, bright cerulean blue, and white, in the shape of an almond shaped eye. I think they call this the “evil eye” but that can’t be right, anyways it is some special thing in Turkey that when somebody gives this to you it is meant to watch over you, give you luck, etc whatever. But it only works if somebody else gives it to you, so technically you can’t buy it for yourself, I’m not really sure what happens then. So Red Cowboy takes me aside and in very stumbling English gives me one of these and pins it on me in a very gentlemanly manner. He shakes my hand, he is blushing like a 12 year old girl and his hand is moist and clammy. We chat for a bit (not really because chatting implies back-and-forth words) and he gives me his card with his name (on the back it says “Camel Ride”) and phone
number on it. He tells me he wants to go to Discotec with me tonight and “Will you call me later?” The stammering and clamminess has reached embarrassing levels. After further inspection I begin to imagine he is a tiny bit cross-eyed. I tell him, “Maybe, we’ll see what my friends want to do.” He says I must call him and that he wants to see me. I start to back away. It’s funny though because it wasn’t creepy at all, it was very innocent in an Elmer’s school glue elementary type of way. But while I easily befriend more strangers than I probably should, I get so embarrassed when I am blatantly being hit on by cute men, by strange cowboys or by non-cowboys anywhere. So I back away. He asks if he can kiss me. What!? I say “No!” as I turn around and run away out to the kiddie swings. “I wait for your call tonight!” I find and stay very close to Nelson for the rest of the time. Cowboy makes eyes at me and I get embarrassed.
I spend the first night with Nelson and some people from Montreal. We have Margerie and Frederic,
the couple, around 27. And we have this guy Olivier, which I thought was near 28 and extremely attractive until I find out he is really 20 and in college. Facial hair really does a trick on you, huh? They all speak Canadian French, and I am a little embarrassed about this but I didn't even recognize it as French when I first heard them speak. I mean in my defense it sounds nothing like what you hear on the streets of Paris! I end up justifying that Canadian-French is to French what Portugese is to Spanish. Nelson and I have a lot of side conversation, and it's great when Nelson talks and he starts the sentence with "Yeah, my civilian friends..." We have bad burgers for dinner (my first bad meal in Turkey) and drink Efes on the patio for the rest of the night.
Day 2 brought a tour of the South side of Cappadocia. For some reason Nelson and I get separated, and I am in a group with a bunch of Turks who only speak Turkish, and four Koreans who only speak broken English, and two Venezuelan men who I think were on a romantic
getaway who only spoke Spanish. Day 2 seems like it will be a lonely day, so Ozzie sits me between him and Didem in the front. As I tuck in, I reach behind me looking for the seat belt. Ozzie looks and me and laughs. I say, “Well in America Ozzie, these are required by law!” Ozzie says “But darling, we are in Turkey.” Touche.
There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia, and they are connected by underground tunnels that went up to 8km long. The largest underground city, Kaymakli, was about one square kilometer in area and 19 floors deep. I am only able to go down 9 floors which was around 65 meters I think, and it just gets colder and colder. The rock is able to absorb all heat and even much of the smoke created while cooking etc, and the temperatures in these underground cities remain relatively the same all year round. (At this I think to my freezing cold cave hotel in the Turkish summer heat.) In the winter, the rock keeps our Mole People warm, and in the summer, it keeps them cool (or freezing.) In addition, the further down you go, the
smaller and smaller the tunnels and the ceiling heights become. I ask Didem if people back then were just physically smaller in stature, but she says that is not the reason for these ridiculously small openings. As the Hittites used these underground cities in wartime for protection, they created the passageway openings smaller to only allow one enemy through them at a time, as it is easier to kill them that way if they were to invade. Makes sense, we literally have to bend over and walk almost with our chests parrallel to the ground. The cities have chimneys that go up 100 meters for ventilation, but at a lack of any visible plumbing system I inquire and Didem says that they just went in bowls and physically brought them up to the surface! And I thought China squat toilets were ghetto. The rest of the day brings more amazing sites, including one site where some Star Wars was filmed, although I can’t say I was too excited about it as I haven’t seen any of them. The Koreans were ecstatic.
In Goreme and smaller towns in Turkey the tradition of arranged marriages still exists. Women are promised away
some as young as 15 or 16. Driving through towns, sometimes you can see bottles or ceramic pottery set on roofs, (some use the Turkish flag) which indicates that the father is ready to give his daughter’s hand in marriage. In smaller towns when this happens it is a big deal and everybody knows so-and-so is really to be hitched and fertilized. Didem and I start talking about treatment of women in her country, and apparently things have been pretty lax but the new Prime Minister that came into power a couple years ago is super conservative and religious and looking to bring the country back closer to the standards held by Iran and Afghanistan (read: burka). She is upset and hopes that things don’t transition fast enough before his departure from office in 2 years. I feel her pain, but not really because fortunately none of us are in such a country which really makes you think.
So that about summarizes my two days in Cappadocia although I have to say that out of all the places so far I have been in Turkey this is the first where I feel like I should have stayed longer to
really get a feel for it. Basically it is a very large region, there is so much to see and all of it is unlike anything you have ever seen anywhere else before. The people here are if you can believe it, even nicer, more genuine, and more hard-working than those that I have met in the rest of Turkey. A little surprise for me tonight, I am supposed to be crossing into Syria from Goreme via a direct overnight bus to Aleppo (Halep), but I find out about an hour before departure that there is no direct bus anymore so I need to take 3 separate buses to enter Syria. One from Goreme to Kayseri at 8pm, Kayseri to Antakya, then Antakya over the border to Aleppo around 10am. This is going to really suck if I can’t get a visa at the border.
Gule Gule! (“Goodbye” in Turkish)
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