Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Sep 15, 2008

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Flag of Turkey  , Cappadocia,
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

6/4 Driving into Goreme reminded me of when you drive into Grand Canyon National Park and get your first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. It was that amazing! You just crest a hill and before you are cave houses, fairy chimneys and a surreal landscape. I've been told that the opening scene from the original Star Wars movie was filmed here. Our group stayed at the ShoeString Pension which is typical of the area, offering rooms built into the caves. My room actually had 6 beds but I had it to myself. I can't imagine 6 people in there since there were only 2 dim light bulbs controlled by one switch over someone's bed. The room was a little musty but quite cool. I walked around a little to scope out the town. The area seems quite poor with pretty primitive living conditions.

As bakground, Cappadocia is the name of the region in central Turkey, while we stayed in the town of Goreme. Cappadocia flourished between the 4th and 11th centuries as a refuge for early Christians. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique topography of fairy chimneys. They are so-called because early settlers believed the chimneys were mystical.

The geology of areas where fairy chimneys form typically is comprised of a thick layer of tuff (consolidated volcanic ash), covered by a thin layer of basalt or other volcanic rocks that are more resistant to erosion than the underlying tuff. Over time, cracks in the basalt allow the much softer tuff to be eroded and washed away. Fairy chimneys are formed where a small cap or boulder of the original basalt remains, and protects a cone of tuff beneath it from erosion. Eventually, the tuff will be undercut to the extent that the cap falls off, and the remaining cone is then quickly eroded.

The people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out the soft tuff to form houses, churches and monasteries. Göreme became a monastic center between 300-1200 AD as early Christians sought a safe haven. Today, their cave houses, underground cities and the fairy chimneys are a huge tourist attraction.

I took three excursions with the last being the balloon flight shown separately. On the first day we visited the largest of the underground cities in the region. The cities were built so Christians could hide from enemies. The cave we saw covered 8 levels with very narrow passageways but supposedly could hold more than 2000 people!

We then hiked the Ihlara Valley which is famous for the tiny churches carved into the hillsides. The churches have remnants of beautiful frescoes. I enjoyed the 3 km hike along a creek at the bottom of the valley where we had good views of cave houses. We were told that the cave houses were formed naturally although many sure don't look it. The houses often have groups of small cubbyholes around the entrance which were created to lure pigeons. The pigeons would visit and leave their deposits which were then used as fertilizer. I did manage to slip and wipe out during the hike scraping up my left leg and left palm. No biggie though since I was towards the back of the group and didn't attract a lot of attention.

Our group had a nice lunch creekside of chicken and eggplant with couscous, lentil soup, salad and pita bread. The leftovers we enjoyed feeding to the ducks. The bus then took us out of the valley to explore more of the incredible scenery. We stopped at several viewpoints to take photos and appreciate what a large area is affected. It was intriguing to see how quickly the topography would change from fairy chimneys to flat farmland to valleys with sheer cliffs. One stop was at Pigeon Valley where we witnessed lots of acrobatic pigeons turn backflips in midair! They would slow down a little and then do at least one backflip, sometimes two!

My excursion the next day (my Mom's 70th birthday!!) started eventfully as the tour forgot to pick me up. After a phone call they sent a small car to get me with the plan to catch me up with the rest of the group. The driver was on the phone with the driver of the rest of the group coordinating the hook-up. My driver was on these dirt tracks along the top of the valley which are unmarked. He obviously took a wrong turn and went down one road that was a dead-end. He then couldn't get back up the hill; the wheels just kept spinning in the loose dirt. We spent quite a while there before eventually abandoning the car and hiking up the hill(no idea if the car was ever rescued).

It turns out the "larger" group was 10 people crammed into a LandRover. It was not open like a Jeep and the driver seemed averse to paved roads so we bounced around in the back of the car all day. Thankfully we never drove too far between stops. We visited many of the best groupings of fairy chimneys, some of which are still inhabited today. I have no idea what they do about plumbing and electricity. The fairy chimneys inevitably got a chuckle or two because of their unique shape.

The town of Goreme was quite small and easily walkable. It still managed to retain much its local flavor despite the many tourists. Cappadocia is a must see on any trip to Turkey and definitely a highlight of my tour!

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