The Fairy Chimneys

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Eastern Turkey is nice enough and long-term travellers say it can be the most interesting part of the country. We are down to the last three months of our trip though and we still have a lot of countries to see, so we start to head back west. One place that we have to see is the Capadoccia region, in the centre of the country.

Cappadoccia has the most amazing landscape you could imagine. A series of volcanoes have exploded over the years and the fallout has been eroded into these crazy shapes, like upside-down ice cream cones. They have also been dubbed "fairy chimneys". They aren't little human-sized things either, most of them are the size of a two or three storey building. The early Christians carved thousands of caves, rooms, churches and even connecting paths into the 'chimneys'. More recently, many have been adapted into hotels, pensions and restaurants.

Goreme (pronounced Ghur-a-may) is the centre of Cappadoccia's tourist scene, an attractive little village where most of the fairy chimney hotels are located. It is clearly a tourist town, with little-shorts-wearing Polish men strolling through the town as eager touts from the endless string of restaurants vie for the tourist dollar. Getting a room is almost too easy. There is, of all things, an accommodation office right next to the bus station, which itself is located within easy walking distance of all the cave hotels. The accommodation office even has photos of all the different hotels and the helpful man speaks English. There must be a catch - is he going to whack a huge commission on to our bill? Are the hotels here ridiculously expensive? In fact, we learn that the office is a cooperative between all the hotels so there is no commission and there are rooms available for all budgets. The guy from the hostel we choose even walks down to collect us from the bus station. We are stunned by the ease of it all and still a bit wary even as we settle into our little cave room.

Once we recover from 'convenience shock' we set about seeing a bit of the region. We arrived in Goreme early in the morning, so we have the entire day for exploring. There are some good long hikes around the region but we decide to shorten them a bit by hiring some bikes. Our great idea doesn't seem quite so great when we realise that the first trail only really begins after a steep 25 minute uphill ride. The chain on my bike comes off almost every time I change gears, it's about 40 degrees and there is nowhere to get breakfast.

Everything seems to work out once we get to the path. It starts off with a fun downhill ride into the relatively cool shade of the valley where we find a guy selling nuts. The track is not designed for bikes though and several times we have to carry them down slippery near-vertical trails. The scenery is worth it - very unique. My Dad won't like me using that term. He'll say "it's either unique or it's not. It can't be very unique or slightly unique." Well, sorry Dad but the word 'unique' doesn't really do a place like this justice by itself. A snowflake is unique, so is a fingerprint, but who cares? This place is so different from anywhere you've ever seen that its uniqueness needs to be enhanced in some way.

The 'chimneys' take many different shapes and look so building-like that the landscape almost looks like a natural city. The door and window holes carved into the buildings only add to the effect. Locals say that this area was used as a location in one of the early Star Wars movies. Indeed it is so eerie and unconventional that it does feel like being on some galaxy far far away. There is a sense of having been dropped into an abandoned sci-fi movie set. No one else is on the trail today except for one French family. The extent of the spooky landscape is incredible. Our long bike ride only scratches the surface of the marked walking trails around Goreme, which in turn is only one small part of the Cappadoccia region.

The path finally joins up with a paved road that leads into the quaint little village of Cavesin. It is very European at eye level - cobbled streets, old gents sipping coffee at cozy little sidewalk cafes, children giggling as they ride past on rickety old bicycles - but distinctively Cappadoccian as you look up to the houses carved out of rocks, fairy chimneys with centuries old caves where these people's ancestors used to live. We pause at a vine-covered café and cool down with a long drink of icy water, taking in the silence and simplicity of it all. How nice it must be to live in a village like this, unspoilt by tourism but close enough toe the touristy areas to find work, happily trapped in a Turkish timewarp. Our daydream is interrupted, ironically, by a huge coach load of Polish tourists who pile out right in front of us and start jabbering and snapping photos of everything. I guess that even isolated little places like Cavesin can't have it both ways.

Cappadoccia is definitely a tourist area but with justification; it is completely unlike anything you've ever seen. People should come and see this place. And tourism doesn't appear to have spoiled the area, thanks to tasteful planning and control. A lot of people spend a week or more here, walking all the trails and that would not be the worst way to spend a week.
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