Saturday, November 22, 2008

Back to the land of the fairy chimneys. Göreme.


M
y first visit to Cappadocia was six months ago - it was early summer and the valley was filled with verdant green vegetation and wild flowers in bloom. It is now early winter and although the backdrop of the surreal, rocky landscape remains unchanged, signs of winter are in the foliage - leaves have fallen off the trees and berries have replaced the flowers. It is still as an enchanting landscape now as it was back then.

My first full day back in Turkey started with being woken up by a knock on the door. It was Şahin. I told him I would meet him at his shop in 20 minutes - I wanted to catch a few more precious moments of sleep. The second knock on the door was Şahin's cousin telling me that Şahin was waiting for me at his shop. I scrambled out of bed and immediately headed out for the short 5 minute walk to Şahin's shop - Göreme is a very small village :-) The clock read noon as I walked into Şahin's shop - it had been a very long 20 minute snooze :-)

Waiting for me there was Şahin, his friend Ersin and a young couple (Virginia and Fabio) from Italy who are also staying at the Dream Cave Hotel. A few minutes to get supplies from the market and we headed out for what would turn out to be a 5 hour hike, punctuated by a lunch break, in the famed valleys surrounding Göreme.

It was a cloudy day as we started out. Our first destination of the day was Pigeon Valley and via the town of Uchisar. Unlike my previous walk through the valleys, this was truly a hike - steep climbs and descents were common. Luckily, I have good shoes!






























As we made our way out of Göreme, I was reminded of the unique beauty of the landscape - fairy chimneys everywhere. As usual, I brought up the rear taking pictures.



Every now and again, Ersin would pick fruit for us to eat - grapes that had been left to sweeten on the vine (so good that I don't think I will ever enjoy store bought ones ever again), apples, cherries and even walnuts. I was munching as much as I was walking.















A short walk from Göreme and we soon found ourselves in the Pigeon Valley with its tunnels that early residents carved into the landscape to help raging waters flow past their homes - early form of flood control!




































































Along our entire walk, we were accompanied by a stray dog whom we found out later is well known to residents in Göreme. Even though he had a bum right front leg and a bum left back leg, he managed to keep pace with us every step of the way. Later on, someone told us his name was "Catchup" - pretty appropriate. Looking at him, I suspect he's part beagle and maybe that's why I fell for the l'il thing but he was just an adorable walking companion.

Up and down steep hills that were sometimes hard and rocky and other times soft and sandy, Şahin kept a watchful eye over my steps - I think still remembers the time that Lei told him I have a habit of falling.

After a while, we arrived into the outskirts of Üçhisar - easily identifiable by the castle carved high up in the rocky hills.























Past Üçhisar and we were on our way to the White Valley. Snow capped Mount Ericyes loomed large in the distance.

















As we walked, we gathered wood that started out as walking sticks but were eventually used to build a fire with. Before I knew it, it was time for lunch and not a minute too soon as I was famished. It also started to drizzle lightly but not enough to dampen our spirits. While we took time out for lunch, Catchup wandered about, digging holes everywhere - must have gotten the scent of something that he was dying to have.

















Şahin started the fire and Ersin began prepping by trimming down sticks that he would later on use as skewers.










































After making the skewers, Ersin took the skins off spicy Turkish lamb sausages. By now, I had figured out what lunch would be and I was beginning to salivate at the thought of grilled Turkish sausages....so greedy, I am :-)

Skewered sausages were put to grill on the fire along with peppers and sliced tomatoes. Put on soft Turkish bread, it was the perfect lunch!

















Lunch by a fire.....it had been many years since I had done that and I was reminded of just how much I miss the simple things in life. No fancy tableware or utensils, not even a table. Humble food, cooked simply on an outdoor fire, eaten in one of the most unique landscapes Mother Nature has ever created. Perfect antidote to my usual hurried days back home. I was beginning to decompress and savor life.






























Lunch ended with simply cups of Turkish tea (çay). Back walking, it did not take us long to make it to Love Valley (Baglidere). By now, it was late afternoon and the winter sun was casting an intense orange light over the landscape - the hills looked like they were on fire. A few minutes later and the orange light faded to a gentle pink casting a rosy glow on the rocks. So, so beautiful.


















And then night fell and I was wondering how we would make it back in the dark. Luckily, we wouldn't have to walk as of Sahin's friends came to pick in his van. The five of us along with Catchup piled in for the short ride back to Göreme.

A quick cup of tea at Şahin's shop and then it was back to the hotel to rest and clean up.

When Şahin told me that I was going for a hike through the valleys, I wasn't sure I wanted to spend my first day back in Turkey doing that but I'm so glad I did as there is really no better way to appreciate the unique landscape of Cappadocia than on foot!