Turkey – Day Seven – Goreme (Sunday)

We were up early (again!) on Sunday morning as we were expecting our tour to get going fairly quick. We ooh’d and aaah’d over the early-morning balloon parade when — wait a minute — that balloon is going down! In the middle of town!

A pink&black checked hot air balloon looked like it wasn’t getting enough flame to keep aloft, and was slowly sinking below the horizon of the cliff edge, right into the middle of the built-up area of town. Lots of people were running to look at this strange phenomenon. It hung around, mostly flated, for about ten minutes before they finally brought it the rest of the way down. We hoped it wasn’t Lisa on that balloon as she had been able to get on a balloon at the last minute due to a cancellation. That would have added irony to injury.

As we sat down to another delicious breakfast, we found the kadi, Pakuze, had left a giant Paku-log on the couch! Not wanting her to ruin her chances at a good home, I found some paper towel in the kitchen and threw out the evidence. God knows what it had been eating in it’s semi-starved state, and it had been locked inside all night…

We were ready and waiting (after lukewarm showers) at 9:15am. We weren’t picked up until almost 10 by — surprise! — Adil, this time with a different, younger, driver. When we expressed our surprise at the lateness of pickup, Adil rolled his eyes and said he wished the hotel owners wouldn’t tell guests that they’d be picked up at 9:15… shhhhh… but it said so on the itinerary they gave us! Oh well.

It turned out that we were the only guests on that particular tour that day! We felt guilty, since we suspected they would be losing money on us, but also kind of happy that we’d have the tour to ourselves. When you conisder the cost of gasoline (2.86L/litre), the cost of admissions (usually 5-10L per person), lunch (10-15L per person) and the wages of guide and driver, they must have a pretty small profit margin.

Our first stop was a tiny little town called Mustafpasha which had some empty Greek houses: in the 1920’s, after Turkey’s succesful War of Independence, Turkey and Greece arranged for a population exchange. This was hard in many ways, as whole communities were torn apart. Also, more Greeks left than Turks that came, so many of th Greek houses stood empty. In Mustafpasha, we looked at beautiful, rundown Greek houses. You could tell the Greek ones because they had white and blue paint (I guess the Greek restaurant cliche is actually correct).

One derelict stone house had a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, and we asked Adil how much it would be to buy: he thought for a minute and replied $1,000 US dollars. Where’s the nearest ATM!!!?? Actually, it was more like $100,000 but still — what a project! Now we only have to win the lottery…

We walked down a back road in the town to look at some more ruined buildings, when a man whom Adil (and us) had greeted in Turkish, came running down the path to give us some apples he had just picked off his tree. Delicious! (Nefis!)

In the town square, Adil, who was already sadly aware of our propensity to take way too many photos, gave us 20 free minutes to poke around and photog to our heart’s content. After taking a bunch of pictures of a lovely little Greek church (not entry, I’m afraid), we were greeted — in French — by a random Turk in the town square. I’m not sure why he decided we spoke French, but he was delighted that we were able to respond in our slightly-more-advanced-than-our-Turkish-French. He had worked in France in Bordeaux in the wine industry, and came back to Cappadocia where they are trying to make a wine industry. When I asked how the wines were in Cappadocia, he replied with a very diplomatic ‘comme ci, comme ca’ which was more than fair, given the rawness of the wine sample Steve had yesterday at the pottery place.

From Mustafpasha, we went on to the Keslik Monestary, which was mostly ruined but still a lovely peaceful spot. The current caretakers had planted vines, trees, tomatos (domates) and other crops in the same areas the monks would have cultivated, which gave it a more lived-in air that was quite charming. I asked Adil if there was a washroom and no, there was not. There wasn’t going to be one at the next stop, either. I guess I looked a little wild about the eyes, because after some discussion, Adil informed me that the driver would take us to the last village to use the W.C. there, which was fine by me.

Much to my surprise, the driver informed me as we were entering the village that he was from that village, and would take me to the family home to use their bathroom… eek! Turkish people in their native environment! We drove up a dirt road to a house that looked like most other Turkish houses from the road: stone wall, solar panels on roof, dirt/rocksweeds in yard and people wrestling with a tractor in the lane. However, as we drove around to the front/non-road side, I was greeted by a lovely verandah and an incredibly verdant sea of flowers around the verandah. The driver (whose name I have forgotten) greeted some people and I recognized the words ‘tourista’ and ‘tuvalet’. I greeted them in my rather pathetic Turkish, and they seemed quite pleased. As I was taking my shoes off at the door, Grandma booked it into the house and I heard a toilet flush, which seemed like a good sign as I had been fully expecting an outdoor toilet.

Actually, the interior of the house was just beautiful: cool stone floors, and a central area off of which I saw rooms. The living room was furnished with red velvet upholstered wooden couches, very lovely, and the bedroom I saw had a dark wood bed frame and a serene white coverlet with white sheer curtains. Everything was spotless and tasteful, including the bathroom, which even had a sit-down toilet! I was most pleasantly surprised and incredibly grateful. Upon my return to the verandah, Grandma asked me, via the driver, if I wanted some plums (erik). I took one, and found myself on the receiving end of a stick of fresh bread and a big bunch of grapes, which Grandma made the driver wash. I was so surprised and pleased and embarrassed (can I take half the grapes? no, take all of them) but also so humbled. I wasn’t sure if I should offer money, and I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I just thanked everyone profusely and we got back in the van to meet up with Adil & Steve back at the monestary.

On the trip back, I chatted with the driver, who lived four days a week in Ankara. going to university to be a diplomat. The other three days, he came back to Cappadocia to drive for the tour company. In Turkey, the university tuition is paid if you attend a state school, but you have to pass an academic test to be accepted to the school. Fortunately, you have infinite chances to retake the test! The driver very sweetly asked if Steve was my friend or…? When I replied ‘husband’ he nodded wryly and I wondered if Grandma had told him to bring home a nice girl sometime.

At the monestary, Steve and Adil were sitting at a long table under a grape arbour, drinking tea and chatting with the two men who were apparently the caretakers. They looked very comfy. We were treated to more tea and a windfall walnut which one of the Turkish men opened by smacking it against the table with his bare hand. It was not bitter, but I’m still not a walnut fan. Over tea, the driver told Adil something in Turkish, and Adil told me that Grandma really loved me! Awww… I love Grandma too.

I think Adil recognized that sitting around playing sharades with the locals (and other means of communication, too) was more important to us than racing from sight to sight, plus we were much quicker to herd around than a pack of staring tourists, so he gave us at least 20 minutes sitting under the arbour, taking pictures of very cute kadiye.

We made our leisurely way to the newly-discovered Roman ruin of Sobesos, which is in its infancy of excavation. Apparently, a local farmer found a pottery sherd while plowing and called the government to advise them. Once the ruins were discovered, the local farmer got a new job as caretaker and security guard! It is estimated that, once completely uncovered, the scope of the ruins will rival Ephesus. For now, looking at some pretty mosaics and walking some rickety wooden walkways was the extent of it. Adil really lit up when he showed us this site; we got the impression that archeology was his real passion.

We had a longish drive to lunch, at which time Adil told us about the local agriculture (apricots, apples, potatoes, and melon seeds) and industry (pretty much tourism) and the rock formations we passed. Other times we were just quiet and enjoyed the lovely countryside.

Apparently the poplar trees look all planted in rows because they are: if a father had a boy baby, he would go and plant a row of poplars. That way, when the boy was grown and wanted to marry, he could cut down the poplars and sell the wood to pay for the wedding! That and they were and are used for boundary markers.

Lunch was in an exquisite walled orchard by a rushing stream. It was incredibly tasty: lentil soup with chicken stock, casserole served in piping hot metal dishes, fruit and yoghurt for dessert, and fresh apples picked off the tree! Lee and Buzz weren’t kidding when they said the lunch on this tour was amazing.

After we were stuffed like turkeys, we headed up the Soganli Valley to another Byzantine Snake Church (which is what the Turks call St. George churches, because the dragons he kills look like snakes). From that church, we went up the other side of the road and stream, and walked along the hillside to the Church of the Dome, which had a lovely light interior that really felt ethereal, and the Hidden Church, which had had half of its dome destroyed by lightening. These churches were the centre of monastic life, the other buildings of which were further down the hill.

On the path, we chatted with Adil about the cost and nature of Turkish weddings, since he is getting married in November. His wedding will cost some $15,000 US dollars, will take three days and have three hundred guests. The man plans the wedding (which he didn’t look all that happy about, but he’s been working seven days a week for seven months, as tour guides need to work when there are tourists). Poor guy! That doesn’t leave a lot of time for wedding planning!

Adil also confirmed that my instinct was correct: to offer the driver’s family money would have been insulting. They would have looked at my arrival as being a gift from Allah and it pleased them to be generous. Whew!

From the trail (it was a very gentle three kilometres; actually we think it was shorter), we wended down through a bunch of vacant rock-cut houses that were the old village of Soganli. People lived in these ancient dwelings until just a few years ago, when the threat of rockslides from earthquakes was too much, and the government relocated the village to further down the valley — a move that didn’t exactly delight the villagers. There were still a few holdouts in the lower houses.

As ever with tours, we were taken to an area of tourist shops before leaving. These stalls were run entirely by women selling a few handicrafts, mostly the little cloth dolls for which Soganli women are known. I have to say, the doll-sellers were the scariest vendors I’d seen in Turkey; the carpet sellers of Istanbul have NOTHING on these women. “You buy bebek, five lira. You buy! Buy BEBEK! BUY!!!” As soon as I reached for one of the pretty cotton headscarves on a table, I had three women rush me to put it on, then pose for a picture taken by Steve (jostling each other). As soon as I bought the scarf (five lira), the littany began again from all the other stalls: buy BEBEK!!! I fled, and we collected our van and left.

Another longish drive took us to the Kaymakli Underground City. Contrary to our assumption, these underground cities were not permanent residences. Rather, when the alarm was sounded for invasion (Mongol, Roman, Persian etc.), each house in the village had a bolt-hole that would lead to the warren of underground rooms — seven layers deep. There were rooms for eating, cooking, living, storage, livestock, as well as wells and ventilation shafts. When the invaders would turn up, they found the village deserted, and assumed the occupants had fled in the other direction. With nothing to loot or pillage, the invaders would move on, and after a safe period of time, the villagers would emerge and take up life in the houses again. The longest they would have spent in the underground city would have been three or four months.

Adil asked us pretty nervously if we were claustrophobic: fortunately no. He explained several times on the way in that it was impossible to get lost. You simply followed the blue arrows to get in and the red arrows to get out (or was it the other way round?). Based on the speed we went through Kaymakli, Steve and I figure that perhaps Adil was the claustrophobic one… but he was still thorough, and frankly there’s not much to see. Other than the shiver of horror based on “I could never live down here”, there’s not much to see, and really, that shiver is pointless. When you see the underground city, you are seeing bare rock; the villagers would have had their carpets, pots & pans, candles, kids, cats, dogs etc.: all the comforts of home. Their underground experience would have been much different from what we saw.

Heading back to Goreme, Adil asked us if we wanted to see a carpet weaving co-operative at work. We advised that, since we weren’t going to buy any carpets until later in the trip, and we didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, perhaps we could give the weaving a miss, though if they wanted to show us it, we were open to it. Adil gave a sigh of relief and dropped us off at the pension in Goreme, where we have both guide and driver good tips.

We would certainly recommend Rock Valley Travel to other tourists, especially the Green Tour.

Back at the pension, the temperature was dropping and the sky was clouding over so we decided to scamper out for some quick pide. As we were walking down into Goreme, two young men with three horses were at the water trough, allowing the horses to drink. One of the horses was heading across the road, so I offered to help and lead it down the road… they boys looked surprised but handed me the reins. I led it (a fiesty, tiny white perfect horse) along until we were out of the area thick with tourists, then the boys mounted up and led the white horse off into the night. I really hoped I would be able to go riding in Cappadocia, but hadn’t had the chance to talk to Jody at Rock Valley to make arrangements.

Pide was great, but heading back, the sky opened up. We ran up to the pension and managed not to get too wet.

We hung out in the covered area of the terrace, petting the kitty, Pacuze, who had been named (also a good sign). Midway through the evening, Andor doused her in the lemon cologne (kolonya) that we had met on the bus. When the kitty started barfing all ovr the place, Steve tried to explain that citrus is toxic to cats, but Andor didn’t seem to get it. I then explained that kolonya is like 90% alcohol, and when Andor thought she was drunk, he agreed not to put any more on her. The reality is that the throwing up was probably 3/4 due to the kitten eating more rich food in two days than she had in the past two weeks, and only 1/4 due to the cologne, but better Andor not put any more on her. Poor kitty! It was good to see him so concerned about the kitty, given that the Turks generally seem to look on animals pretty casually.

Satisfied the kitten was ok, we headed to bed.

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