Archive for June, 2008


June 25

June 25, 2008

Camping on the road is like turning your life inside out each night. First, you take your tent and equipment from inside your pack, remove everything from its bag and set the tent up. Then you take all the bags and your packs and put them inside the tent that came from the inside the bag that came from the inside the tent … After the third day in a row camping, I had little visions of unzipping myself and flipping inside out as we packed up this morning.

Another day on the road, ending in Pamukkale (which means “cotton castle”, apparently), and punctuated by two little contests.

Battle the First: War of the Bus Men
Mustachioed Man of Gol Tur v. Mister “Trust me” of Fethiye

Background: We arrived in Fethiye from Kas a bit before one. Mustachioed Man (MM) offered a bus that left at 2.30pm, and Trust Me (TM) offered one that left at 1.30pm. The two buses took a different route, and a war ensued as they battled for our custom.

Round 1

MM: He say his bus arrives at 5.30, but is always late, always takes five hours.
TM: Only four hours. You arrive at 5.30. Trust me.
WIN: Mustachioed Man. We arrived at 6.30pm, but hadn’t caught sight of MM’s bus yet either.

Round 2

MM: His bus small and old, very uncomfortable.
TM: Is 2008 bus, very new, air conditioning and big seats.
WIN: Trust Me. It was a lovely bus with a bit of extra leg room for Tom’s crook knee, icy air conditioning and plenty of space.

Round 3

MM: That road is very dangerous, many twists and turns and very little.
TM: Is good road, is the quick way. Trust me.
WIN: Well, neither, really. It was the long way but obviously Mustachioed Man had never been to Nepal, the road was quite adequate. I’ll award the moral victory to Trust Me.

Mustachioed Man’s unhappy parting comments indicated that Trust Me would be picking up lots of people on he way and we’d be all squashed in and feeling sorry we hadn’t taken the other bus after five hours. This was also untrue, there were only about five people on the bus as far as Cameli, and never anyone standing. The road we travelled on hugged a mountainside and offered some spectacular scenery, making us quite glad we went with Trust Me in the end, especially as we lost no time for it.

Being constantly lied to does make it rather hard to make a good decision, though.

Battle the Second: Fight of the Feet

Turkey v. Germany
Background: Turkey made the semi-final of Euro 2008 while we were in Goreme and it was awesome. We desperately wanted them to win, but for quite selfish reasons- the final will be held on our last day in Istanbul and would be a massive party.

Round 1

Turkey took an early lead at about 24 minutes and everyone got *really* excited. Unfortunately that excitement only lasted a minute or two before Germany’s reply at 26 minutes. Still, one-one and looking up, as Turkey had a good amount of possession.

Round 2

Germany scored again at about 75 minutes in a crap incident involving Turkey’s keeper coming way too far out of his goal in a failed defensive attempt. Boos and hisses resounded around the tele- but then wham, liquid football! A beautiful Turkish goal a few minutes later put us back in contention.

Round 3

Three minutes dead time started and at two-two it looked like we’d be taking it to extra time again, but at the 91st minute it was all over- Germany got their third and a few berserk attempts by Turkey to equalise died in the German defence.

Everyone, including us, left the pub in a sorry mood just after the siren. No big Istanbul leaving party for us- though seeing as how eleven people got accidentally shot when they made the semi, the Germans may have just saved our lives.


June 24

June 24, 2008

Last night was warm enough that we slept in next to nothing in our tent, negligibly covered by our sleeping bag liners. The light started early, and by the time the alarm went off (for the first time) at six thirty, I’d already flipped over a few times in disbelief at the amount of sun penetrating the fabric of the tent. I had some kind of peculiar survival horror quasi-nightmare about my toes getting hacked off in a large, decrepit mansion, but overall, it was a pretty good night’s sleep.

We needed to get down to the Bougainville Tour office in central Kas by eight thirty to catch our sea kayaking transfer to Ucagiz (pron. “Uchaz”), so after flinging ourselves headlong into the ocean a few metres away and then rinsing off, we stuffed in what we could of what was left of our supplies and carefully ant-proofed the rest in layers of plastic bags before hanging the food off the tree spreading over our tent.

The gathering at the tour office was fairly swift, and within a few minutes we were on our way to Ucagiz, a little tourist / fishing village directly opposite the offshore island of Kekova, the site of the 2200 year old sunken Lycian city which we were set to observe.

The background is something like this: the Lycians (Likyans, to the Turks) were the local people of this part of western Turkey a couple of thousand years ago, with a rich culture about which relatively little is still known. They had their own language and system of writing, which has been partly deciphered from inscriptions and textual fragments recovered by archaeologists, and a religion which included belief in the reincarnation of the soul. As a consequence of their belief in reincarnation, they placed a great emphasis on building things to last, so that their future incarnations could enjoy the fruits of their labours. So they carved a lot of their houses directly into rock.

Kekova was originally a peninsula, and its tenuous connection to the mainland was ended by a series of major earthquakes over several hundred years starting in 200 BCE. These earthquakes eventually sank the city on Kekova six metres under the ocean, and forced the locals to move to occupy nearby Patara. It’s still possible to view sections of the submerged city just by following the northern coast of Kekova where it faces the mainland.

The briefings on kayaking were pretty stock standard, and after acquiring our lifejackets and sprayskirts Max and I were off in a double kayak, along with the eight or so other tourists and a couple of guides, one of whom was an amiable Alaskan guy called Dan, whose bizarre life history had him running a ropes course for corporate team-building in the UAE during winters, and summering in Kas in an apartment owned by his parents. The other was a brusque yet rather more experienced Turk, Emin.

It took us a while to sort out our paddling style – sea kayaks employ a foot-operated rudder, and Max, in front, was frequently concerned as to my use of this rudder, whereas I was more worried about getting the kayak to go forward, but after a while we were making good speed, and outstripping some of the others. Ok, that sounds competitive, but it’s still nice not to be last on these things, because if you are you always feel extra hurried.

First stop was a small sandy beach at the westernmost end of Kekova, which took us about forty minutes of paddling to reach as we crossed the bay over quiet waters from Ucagiz. Here there was a remnant of a huge Roman archway, and the ruins of several Roman homes made from bricks, as well as some even more impressive Lycian homes whose walls, carved out of single blocks of stone, still stood and carried peculiar hieroglyphs whose meaning was utterly opaque. We had a dip in the warm ocean as a booze-ship – a gulet on a multiple day cruise from Fethiye – came past carrying some decidedly satisfied looking tourists. This area could definitely be the Land of the Lotus Eaters. A chap in a dinghy with an outboard came up to the beach and tried to flog us insanely overpriced icecreams as well.

After about half an hour of lazing here, we paddled off again for the Sunken City itself, which is about three hundred metres of observable ruins. We saw a relatively huge sunken harbour wall, partially submerged Roman baths, the last remaining doorway of a Christian church (built after the first earthquake, according to our guides), and a host of other unidentifiable, but evidently human-made structures. It would’ve been great to be able to get out of the boats and have a snorkel, but a quite sound government policy forbids any swimming or diving in the immediate area of the archaeological site.

We took as many photos as we could manage without ruining our camera, which we’d stowed with us in a waterproof satchel. Then we set off across the water back to the mainland coast at a point called Simena, where a large castle remains. The guides encouraged us to forget the castle and stick to the cafes, but Max and I decided to hike up the hill anyway, and were rewarded by a whole vista of hillside dotted with Lycian tombs – sarcophagi of a kind with those we’d seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, but much more primitive. Each and every one had been busted open at some point in the past and robbed, if only for the gold coin with which every corpse was buried.

I then climbed a bit further up and sneaked in the back entrance to the castle at the top of the hill, circumventing (almost inadvertently) a YTL5 charge. The view from up there was excellent, but the castle itself was little more than a couple of crumbling crenellated terraces.

After an impromptu icecream on the way down the hill, and another forty minutes of so of paddling, we were back in Ucagiz for lunch at around a quarter past two, and it came none too soon – we were both getting hungry after two or three hours on the kayaks. It was a standard Turkish open buffet, with a lot of nice salads. We got talking with some of the other tourists, swapped travel tips and stories and so forth. The conversations assume a certain pattern, but usually we’re the ones with the longest itinerary and the most stories at the moment – Turkey isn’t anywhere near as full of the crazy-hardcore travellers (by which I certainly don’t mean us) as, say, Mongolia or Nepal.

We Skyped a call to St George back in Kas, to report our retracted ATM card, which made us feel better about that, not that whoever extracted it from the ATM would’ve been able to make purchases. Then we bought supplies for the evening and returned to the campground for a wonderful swim. It is a godly spot this. There’s a ruined amphitheatre facing the ocean about thirty metres down the coast road, and an amazing view of the bay from Kas round to “the peninsula”, a small, but rapidly growing collection of luxury villas. It seems that with the price of a bloody nice seaside home here still “only” around a million dollars, it’s a popular choice for those priced out of Greece or the French Riviera.

We have an entertaining Athenian guy for company at the campground, an aspiring writer (he’s on the edge of a publishing deal for his novel entitled “Epsilon: The Final Countdown”), with a ridiculously good tan and a penchant for philosophical discourse about the diversity of nations and the evils of monotheistic religion, and in particular, the destructive “evil genius” of St Paul. St Paul it was, of course, who brought the gospel to Greece and to Anatolia, an act which our friend views as having been decisive in the destruction of Classical civilisation. He can’t bear to live in Greece for long because of the overbearing weight of the Orthodox Church there, or so he claims. Oh, and he’s also lived in Fremantle (six months) and in Goa, India (two years). Interesting chap — he just gave me the manuscript of “Epsilon” to browse at my request and it’s a sort of philosophical novel, a sequence of dialogues between lovers centred around religion, art and the environment, as well as the restraint of Greece’s supremacy. It might be a bit silly I think, but it was a real page-turner and not devoid of style or insight by any means.

At my side I have a tray containing leftover Turkish peynirli (crumbed fetta, basically), “kangal” (a scary but cheap spiced quasi-beef sausage) and Spanish onion, and one fresh tomato left to eat. Should be more than enough for a satisfying dinner!


June 23

June 23, 2008

Luxuriating on the Mediterranean- I don’t think I want to leave.

A bit of a harsh day of travel started with a half hour walk uphill to where we presumed the dolmus station was in Saklikent. We stopped in for a breakfast gozleme (billed as a borek, but I couldn’t peg the difference) at the beautiful roadside restaurant we’d asked for directions late last evening. The umlauted Olive made a show of making the meal- first cutting the herbs, then rolling the pastry, adding the meat and cheese and slapping it onto the side of the big metal oven, wood fire burning inside. We ate the meal with a cup of cay on the grapevine covered terrace, the sounds of the family getting ready for their day echoing behind us. Shortly after we’d eaten Olive, her son Graci and husband Suleyman brought out their meal of egg and potato salad with bread and sat down next to us to eat, topping up our cay on the way.

A few minutes later a dolmus arrived and Suleyman convinced it to turn around for us and head back to Fethiye. The trip took a bit longer than last time, but was also thankfully not at tourist prices, and we arrived in Fethiye with some energy remaining. Next step was to retreive our luggage left hastefully the day before, which was thankfully still present and accounted for. We then got tips on how to get to Kas, which first involved a two hour dolmus ride to a town called Kinik, before which Tom tried unsuccessfully to get to a branch of Finansbank to report our munched credit card and I gratefully accepted a glass of Fanta from a table of Fethiye’s finest dolmus drivers.

Another two hours found us in Kinik with a half hour stop before the dolmus to Kas. I must admit I slept most of the way, but when Tom woke me in Kalkan, we were following a coastal road abutting a dramatically turquoise sea. The rose coloured rocky cliff we were travelling on would occasionally break into a small sandy beach with lovely calm and impeccably clear water. All in all the ride into Kas took about an hour.

Kas is a fairly small, very manicured town populated mostly by local tourist offices and local tourists, as well as tourists from the neighbouring Greek isles a little distance away. Reportedly, it is possible to enter Turkey by boat at Kas, but not possible to enter Greece at the neighbouring port. We conducted a few items of business on the flagstoned main streets before making our way to Kas Camping, where we’d all but decided to pitch camp for the nest two nights. On arrival,we found the price tag a little extravagant at 25 YTL a night (about AU$22 to pitch a tent) but the grounds amazing- the campsite has a private rocky cove with a deck and ladder leading out to a swimmable depth. The water again is completely translucent with a beautiful turquoise shimmer, and camping includes use of the sunchairs and umbrellas arranged along the foreshore. We’re literally about 20 seconds from the water.

After setting up camp and having a decent swim, we wandered back into town to pick up the making of dinner- lettuce, onion, tomato, corn, a cheese somewhere between fetta and cottage, a horseshoe shaped “salami” (I’m not really convinced it was meat, but was made 50% of one unidentified ingredient and 50% of another), a loaf of bread and a bottle of surprisingly passable red wine. After some slicing and dicing we filled our bellies and that of a local cat who was looking rather longingly at the cheese, then debated what to do with the leftovers. The best answer we could come up with was placing them in a ziplock bag in the middle of a tree in the hope there’d be enough shade to keep the cheese edible for tomorrow’s dinner.

I think this is the first place I’ve been in the world where I’ve seen a beach better than those at home. I see a lot of lolling in the ocean in our immediate future.


June 22

June 22, 2008

Overnight buses are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you don’t lose a day to a tedious bus ride, and you don’t pay for accommodation. On the other, you get bugger all sleep and wake up with tonsilitis and an almighty pain in your spine from the ill-fitting quasi-recliner seat.

Today when I regained consciousness I had some kind of throat inflammation which had actually spread to one of my gums, producing a hideous toothache-like pain. I dosed myself with paracetamol and looked across at Max, who as always was still asleep. She usually takes longer to pass out, and doesn’t notice the light the way that I do. The time was about six o’clock, and we were still at least three hours from our sort-of-destination, Fethiye.

The bus stopped off for tea and breakfast at a roadhouse somewhere in a classically Grecian Turkish valley at about eight thirty. You have to rub your eyes occasionally around here to wipe away the sensation of being in a myth, or an Asterix book. We are travelling in textbook dry Mediterranean countryside, with scrub-covered orange and white hills rising above valleys populated by gold and green wheat fields, vinyards and orchards. If the roads were cobbled you’d expect a pair of oxen to drag a cart over the nearest crest with an entoga-ed driver whipping them on.

We finally arrived in Fethiye a bit after nine, and given that we weren’t sure we really wanted to be there in the first place, it seemed fitting that our troubles began immediately. Firstly, it was a Sunday so all the banks were closed, but we needed money. We tried to use one ATM but couldn’t read the Turkish instructions, and it didn’t do as we told it. We went to another, and lo and behold, it stole our Visa card! Bit frustrating to say the least, given we’ve only got two of the things.

It turned out I’d been inadvertently trying to use my PIN with Max’s card, but I’m not sure our cards are on the right authentication network anyway. I should really look into these things at some point, but it’s not that high a priority as you can get cash advances over the counter at banks anyway.

After trying the phone at a nearby restaurant to no avail, we got the Finansbank number from the maitre’d / tout there and decided to hitch a ride to central Fethiye (we were at the otogar, three kilometres out of town) and visit the tourist information office, to see if they’d let us use their phone. After getting there, we of course realised it was shut. We decided to chuck in banks for the day, and swapped the last of our foreign currency at a money changer to see us through for the time being.

The plan for the day was to get to Saklikent Gorge, the longest ravine in Turkey, which is a short trip inland from the local coastline. We walked to the dolmus station (not the same as the otogar) and began quizzing the drivers as to where we could get the ride we needed. Lo and behold, a benefactor popped out of nowhere and had man-handled us half into his van before we mentioned we’d like to leave some of our luggage somewhere. He then man-handled us instead towards the side room of the nearest petrol station, and practically ransacked our packs with us as we re-arranged all the stuff we didn’t need into Max’s rucksack. With no luggage tags and mild feelings of unease, we were ushered into an idling dolmus full of Saklikent-bound tourists, many of whom were Turks out for a day trip.

After forty-five minutes more driving through the utterly stereotypical classical countryside, we arrived at a rather bizarre place. From somewhere we couldn’t quite discern, impossibly clean, clear blue water was gushing into a flat, expansive valley. The nearer banks of the river were lined with cocktail bars selling drinks to tourists sitting on “river tables” which allowed them to dangle their feet in the water. Signs everywhere said “RAFTING”, “TUBING”, “CANYONING” and repeatedly announced the presence of the “SAKLIKENT GORGE CLUB ADVENTURE SERVICES AND CAMPING”.

We’d been feeling a bit pressured, so when the dolmus driver initially tried to charge us for a return trip we didn’t want or need, and then tried to on-sell a campsite to us when he realised we were going to stay the night, we decided we’d better do a loop of the nearby area to see if there were better locations. Having established that there weren’t and calmed both ourselves, the campsite manager, and the dolmus driver, we pitched our tent and promptly wilted, the effect of walking for hours with our packs, little sleep, blazing heat and minimal sustenance finally catching up.

After Max took an abortive dive into the campsite’s somewhat murky swimming pool and cut her toe (no, it wasn’t too shallow, it just wasn’t … nice), beer and softies at a river table were clearly called for, and lazing for three quarters of an hour at one such location – ludicrously expensive, we found – revived our spirits. We had a tent in a fairly lovely spot by a beautiful river, and a gorge to explore. We also had no sensation in our lower limbs, because the river water was unbelievably cold. Given the exceptionally warm air temperature, we weren’t quite sure how it could be so icy, but all would soon be revealed.

From our riverside location we’d finally worked out where the gorge actually was. Only ten feet wide at its mouth, it was easy to miss, and I think we’d been on the wrong side of the bus coming in. We could see people entering via a ticket office leading to a boardwalk along its left hand side, and we rather cynically began betting with each other as to the price of entry. Max thought YTL5, whilst I tried to depress expectations and opted for YTL10.

It was actually YTL3.50, and it turned out to be money incredibly well spent. Saklikent Gorge (as a billboard informed us) is an 18km winding, narrow gorge across the inland plateau that ends abruptly at this distance from the sea. Where we entered the gorge widened, and a little way in was a cafe selling drinks and snacks to tourists draped across shaded cushions. Here a torrential underground river joined the more leisurely flow along the gorge, explaining the icy temperatures further along.

We took a very bracing swim at the confluence, which made me feel much, much better about life after a hot day of carting luggage around. Then we retrieved our possessions and began tramping along the gorge. It was an amazing space, marble walls rising up for about a hundred metres on either side of a cleft two or three metres wide, with little sunlight and no vegetation, and in most places we were walking in a few inches of water.

As we continued up the way, the going became more difficult, and we had to clamber over a number of small, tricky waterfalls on the slippery rocks to proceed. Given I had a bag full of electronic stuff this involved a fair bit of going up and passing along to avoid getting it wet. The gorge was getting narrower and narrower and dimmer and dimmer, and the walls were contorted into strange shapes, sometimes looming over our heads. An utterly fantastic place.

After we’d trekked in about four kilometres we got to the point where most casual tourists like us were giving up – a particularly tricky series of climbs which we would’ve had no hope of getting up without getting our stuf wet – and turned back.

The going back was easier, mostly because we already knew the best ways to do everything, and the depths of the churning pools at the bottoms of the small falls. However, when we were just a few minutes away from the cafeteria again, a rather freakish and horrible incident occurred. Max was leading the way, when suddenly from a point I’d guess about five metres above her head, a metre-long adder dropped from the cliff and landed with a loud splash in the water directly – and I mean directly, less than a metre away – in the water in front of her. It swam away immediately, but then, just as it seemed to have disappeared, it swam back into view, approaching Max again before opting for the opposite cliff face.

Max by this stage was standing with her back to the wall, having had the fright of her life. I was also a bit unnerved initially. It’s not often a snake flings itself at you from a great height, and nearly wraps itself around your neck in the process. We finished the walk back to the riverside cafeteria in a slightly shaken mood, and were glad to get back there and relax on their cushions over the cheapest gozleme in Saklikent.

As the sun began to set, we decided to walk up into the nearby town to check where the dolmuses stopped and buy a bottle of water and something else to drink. The walk up the slope from the gorge valley was pretty taxing, but the glow the falling sun brought out of the hills behind us more than compensated. It was still an hour and a half round trip, but we got our water – and some fruit juice – at normal delicatessen prices, avoiding the campsite’s 200% markup. Sometimes penuriousness can be quite satisfying, especially if accompanied by an excellent walk.

We finally returned at nine o’clock as the last of the light was dying away, and evening was a mess of lazing around in double hammocks and dipping my toes in the icy river a little more, before retiring to the tent for a lazy, sated sleep.


June 21

June 21, 2008

Well, it didn’t start as a very inspiring day.

We jumped on our tour bus for the second day we had signed up for, and let’s just say that this type of thing is most definitely not our style. The day began at a “photographic point” while we waited for some people who had arrived late and needed to meet us. We were there for about fifteen minutes before the two old American couples we were in the bus with started complaining very rudely about the amount of time this was taking and that they wanted to start their tour, threatening to “speak to the office” and trying to get the tour guide sacked. One particularly grumpy man was quietly told off by his wife for his inappropriate comments, to which he veritably yelled “I’ll be the ugly American any time I want”. For good measure, a particularly annoying woman (also American) from yesterday’s tour also came up and threatened our guide, despite the fact that she was on a different bus today. She too was angry that we had to wait for someone, seemingly forgetting that yesterday she held the bus up for half an hour after insisting on using a bank.

Anyway, our next stop was one Tom and I were quite looking forward to, a short hike through Rose Valley, so called because of the iron ores lending the rock a pinkish hue. As we got off the bus, the tour guide quite tactfully took Grumpy American aside and commented that on yesterday’s tour he had had some trouble walking, and that the hike involved lots of ups and downs, to which he proclaimed “Don’t worry about me, I can look after myself”. Fine. So we got walking, Tom and I leading with the nice Argentinian women we’d met yesterday, followed by the guide and two other older couples. The scenery was pretty awesome, we were following the bottom of the valley and the pale pink splodges of rock loomed above us. The trail was quite wide and even for most of the way, so presented us with no problems- not so some members of our “team”, however. When we got to our major tourist stop, an old rock-cut church, there was a fifteen minute wait for Grumpy American and his wife to show up. We rather facetiously, though very politely, asked if they were okay, to which they replied “no-one told us it would be a difficult walk”. Right. Anyway.

After the church, which was a particularly magnificent example of the type, made in the second century and retaining a large chunk of its paintings and decoration, including a beautiful cross carved into the ceiling, we continued the walk along a ridge with a seemingly limitless view. We paused in a few spots to take photos on big white rocks jutting out into the valley so fell a bit behind the pack, then spent the remainder of the walk helping the Grumpies down the hill, including being used a number of times as a walking frame. Turns out Mr Grumpy is also rather afraid of heights.

We stopped for lunch at a local hotel then proceeded to Pigeon Valley, so called because of the large numbers of pigeon houses cut into the rock from back when pigeons were the main communication tool in the region. The valley was beautiful, and we were a little disappointed to hear that it was just a “photo stop” before being taken to an onyx factory where we would be briefly lectured at and then left for half an hour in a shop with the sales staff. But hope was not lost- we spied a sign saying “Goreme 5 kilometres” with an arrow pointing that way, advised the guide we would be ditching the tour and set about walking back to town instead.

What a walk! The one well marked trail quickly tuned into a network of areas where the undergrowth was more trodden down than most, and we found ourselves wending our way through tangly forest and old rock-cut dwellings, masses of pigeons flying in and out of crevices above our heads. At one point we ignored a large trail that looked like an access road for some plumbing and ten minutes later were faced with a rather unscalable-looking calcium cliff-face. Some miniture panic attacks and protestations later (rock climbing and I are not terribly compatible) we did both end up on the other side, and only a minor scrape or two to show for it. As we came over there was a local man hanging about who looked rather bemused. He pointed at us and said “difficult”, then indicated a path around the bottom (invisible from the other side, of course) and said ”easy”. He then promptly disappeared back into the terrain, which he appeared to be farming, leaving us to continue on our merry way.

The trail then led past the top edge of a dramatic gorge, filled at the bottom with thick, dark green jungle enjoying its own microclimate. After we were done ogling the gorge, we ran into a bit of a problem in the shape of a sheer white cliff-face. A few tentative steps out showed that any attempt to cross the rock would effectively be suicide, and we turned back defeated and wondering exactly what to do next. Enter the local man again- we asked how to get to Goreme from here and he said “three ways to Goreme: two difficult, one normal” to which we rather predictably replied that we’d take the normal one, please. The man then led us over another, smaller cliff that I admit I would have immediately discounted as a route myself, and after he had uncovered some slight indentations as footholds, we climbed up. We then made our way uneasily along the thin white ridge to another seemingly random point where we scrambled, climbed and fell down with varying amounts of competence.

Around fifteen minutes and a decent tip later we were on our own again, and back on the straight and narrow. The man had explained before departing that that we had somehow strayed from the friendly-named Pigeon Valley into the somewhat more ominous Canyon Valley, hence why the trail had fairly abruptly ended. Still, I’d quite enjoyed the detour, which had pushed me past what I thought I could achieve in terms of rock-climbing (well, climbing rocks at any rate).

The rest of the walk was mostly spent gazing upwards at the tall rock formations, and we returned to the hostel in the late afternoon and sat about in the lounge to kill some time before jumping on the night bus to Fethiye.


June 20

June 20, 2008

Tur-ki-ye! Tur-ki-ye! Tur-ki-ye! Ok, that was completely awesome. We just watched the Turkey-Croatia quarter final of Euro 2008 at this little tourist bar (packed out with locals) called Fat Boys, in the centre of Goreme. To cut a long story short, after a 119-minute war of attrition, with one minute of extra time remaining, Croatia scored due to an error by the Turkish second-string goalkeeper, sending the whole place into an agony of mourning. But then, like Lazarus once more, Turkey scored a freakish equaliser through their substitute attacking midfielder Semih, fully ten seconds past the allotted time added on, with the ref holding his whistle back for the end of the last sequence of play.

Cue berserk scenes of joy, a laughably simple penalty shootout in which half of the shell-shocked Croats simply missed, and then a few dozen raucous bogan laps of Goremes central plaza by all the locals, honking their horns with bright red Turkish flags hanging out the windows and off the roofs of their cars. Put simply, you couldn’t have picked a better time or place to observe the sub-species of the Turkish football fan. There was no aggression, no hostility, just an absurd degree of patriotism and a huge festival of dancing and chanting.

Next Wednesday, the semi final – we’re scheduled to be on a night bus to Pammukale, but we might have to change things around so we can enjoy the next episode!

Rewinding back to the start of the day, after waking and breakfasting on another fetta, olives, tomato, cucumber, egg and bread smorgasbord, things seemed to be starting to go wrong. We were supposed to be being picked up by a Cappadocian tour provider at nine o’clock, but they didn’t arrive and we thought for a minute we’d lost our service voucher. We found it, worked out who they were, got their number from the internet and established with the help of the Rock Valley manager that they knew we existed and were actually going to pick us up at some point.

The minibus did eventually arrive, at around ten thirty. It turned out that one of the other tourists on the tour had been found on the front steps of her hotel tearing the face off her hotelier over some incident involving a “bad smell”, and the tour company had had to spend a considerable effort on intervention and damage control. Once we’d boarded the tour minibus, hearts sinking a little at the average age of our co-tourists, she sat on the seat nearest the door and fumed quietly until she could be dropped at a new hotel, apparently too angry to participate in any activities that day.

We were starting to wonder about the true nature of the “easy-going, traveller style” tour we’d been signed up for in Istanbul by Monty of Magnaura Tours, and sure enough things were a little mechanical. The guide, a Turkish woman of nine years’ experience called Deedam, was utterly emotionless as she recited the volumes of information she had stored up about the area. As we arrived at each stop, she would say “ok we stop here, now I give you some free time, you have twenty minutes then we meet back here at the bus at … 11:45”.

That said, we went to some great spots in the morning, including two of the high points of panoramic valleys around Goreme, Prasgabe and the Devrent Valley. This was followed by a pretty amazing tour of a local pottery workshop, which began with a demonstration where one of the local potters produced a centimetre-perfect lidded Turkish amphora in about three minutes, using a kick-operated wheel of the same type that has been employed in Cappadocia for millennia. Pretty impressive. The point was to get us to buy their wares, though, so we were subsequently subjected to twenty minutes or so of wandering their large cave showroom looking at their products. Admittedly, some of it was amazing. The company is run by a celebrated potter called “Galip” and makes a point of producing work not just in Islamic styles, such as those of the Seljuks and later Ottomans, but also Byzantine-styled work, and even Hittite designs. The Hittites favoured circle-shaped amphorae, which they would fill with wine and leave in a high place for the sun’s rays to bless before consumption.

We progressed to a pretty massive open buffet lunch at a barn-like, relatively undistinguished restaurant at a little village near Avanos. The food, however, was plentiful and good. Over lunch we spoke to a couple of women travelling from Argentina and a Portuguese-Brazilian about South America, economics and biofuel.

The tour continued with military precision. First stop after lunch was Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO-listed heritage area made up of several square kilometres of cave houses, stores and Christian churches dating from the Byzantine and even pre-Byzantine era. Here we saw some pretty amazing places. The churches were each devoted to a particular saint, but are now better known by the names given to them by the Cappadocian locals. Compared to ordinary churches, the cave churches used by Christians in the area are tiny, perhaps they’d average six metres long by four metres wide, with a cruciform floor plan. In times gone by they were used as classrooms for teaching aspects of the faith, so there’s a strong emphasis on instructive interior decoration. Throughout the area local to Goreme Christians carved out more than one thousand small churches, and at one time the locals used to worship on rotation, praying at a different church each day of the year.

At Apple Church, we saw some magnificently well-preserved tenth century frescoes painted directly onto the carved sandstone cave walls. Bright blues, reds and yellows made from indigo, grapes and saffron respectively remain very vivid after all this time. These frescoes were made by monks invited from Italy prior to the schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches, and the style of the painting is reminiscent of the old frescoes you can see in Italian churches, with each holy figure bearing a solid yellow halo.

There were some interesting figures, like one of the local saints, a long-haired hermit renowned for wandering naked in the wilderness without food or drink, his modesty preserved by the fronds of a palm tree in the fresco. Quite reminiscent of the gurus of the subcontinent, we thought. All of the images were captioned in fairly incomprehensible Byzantine Greek – about the only things I could make out were the word for saint, which seemed to be rendered as “oagios”, and some proper names.

The Seljuks, on conquering the area, had visited almost all the churches and systematically scraped off the eyes on the frescoes, due to the Islamic proscription of figurative paintings of beings with an immortal soul. It has to be said, though, that it was nice of them to leave the rest of the paintings pretty much intact.

In the few places where sunshine had worn away the paint, the older, strikingly primitive crosses and animal figures of Christians from the second century CE coulc be made out – paintings made by people practically of an era with the last of the apostles. These artworks were entirely in grape-red, and no humans were depicted. The animal figures, on the other hand, walked on two legs and looked suspiciously animistic. One seemed to be a bipedal tortoise with a walking stick, and the fish symbolism of early Christianity was also all over the place. It was easy to imagine a modern day Christian “fundamentalist” wandering in to one of these places and declaring “these people weren’t proper Christians!”.

We went on to visit Snake Church, the church of St Prophinius, several cave rooms used for secular purposes like dining, cooking, winemaking and sleeping, and a handful more micro-churches where the original decorations had never been enhanced, and would’ve liked to stay longer, but unfortunately our tour operators thought otherwise, and we had to move on.

Just outside the precinct of the museum was probably the most impressive site of all – Buckle Church, a much larger two-tiered cave church with a vast array of frescoes from the ninth through to the twelfth centuries CE. These depicted the life of Jesus in lavish detail, as well as including portraits of the apostles, evangelists, saints popular with the artists (doubles of St Theodore facing St George, both on horseback and looking like they’re out to kick arse are abundant in the area), and images of Constantine the Great.

This church was probably twenty-five metres from entrance to rear walls, with a T-shaped plan. It had been the main site for Christian services since the early days, and beneath it in the cellar was a plain second church, smaller but with the same interior design, that still had the original decorations. Off to one side next to the main entrance was a blackened cave kitchen where the Host had been prepared, and there were also depressions all over the floor for storing wine.

The explanation for the bizarre geology of the local area is pretty interesting. About ten million years ago, there were a series of volcanic eruptions at three volcanoes in the local area, the largest of which is Ergis, today a four thousand metre dormant volcano. These eruptions buried the entire area in a variety of depth and density of volcanic ashes, that were subsequently eroded by weather conditions. Variations in the mineral content of the ash – some containing iron oxide, some containing copper oxide, calcium or magnesium and so forth, produced the impressive colours of the local hills, and the layering of multiple ash deposits the strange capped towers or “fairy chimneys” that dot Cappadocia. The sandstone ground is easy to scrape out, so using man-made caves for homes was a natural decision for a whole sequence of civilisations that have inhabited Cappadocia, right through from before the Hittites four or five thousand years ago.

After Buckle Church, the tour drove on to Uchisar Castle, the highest point in the local area, a carved fortress used by Byzantine Christians in the past as a fortification, and as a warren of houses in more recent years. Although we were informed by our guide that we couldn’t ascend the tower “as part of the tour” because a death by falling a few years ago had spurred the local tour operators’ insurance companies to withdraw cover, we decided to skive off and climb it anyway. A woman from Melbourne who was also on the tour, and had trekked all over Nepal, was also game.

After a couple of false starts at finding a trail to the hillside, we scrambled up a typical sandstone slope covered in weeds and piezolytic pebbles to a bottom door. Inside were cave rooms in a serious state of disrepair, with passages leading both up and down. We roamed around vaguely inside and had thought we’d come to a dead end when an old fellow began speaking to us in French: “c’est possible,” he insisted, marking a narrow passageway just behind a lip of stone at the back of the tunnel we were in. Under his tutelage, we were able to get quite a bit further, and on the way he explained a few things to us in halting French: when young, he and his family had lived inside Uchisar Castle, but after a geological shift opened up large cracks in their area, they’d moved outside (this correlated closely with what our guide had told us about the current vacancy of the place). He showed us the sleeping areas, the old kitchen and breadmaking spaces, and a number of chambers further on, until finally we couldn’t get any higher in the direction we were going, and we had reached a precipitous full-height upper window, a cave door opening onto fifty metres of nothing.

By this time, we were all creepingly aware that we would be holding up our tour-mates, so we rushed ourselves back down the hill and as anticipated, found everyone waiting for us with varying degrees of impatience. We apologised as sincerely as we could, but I was secretly buoyed by a young American couple who congratulated us for getting off and doing our own thing.

The last stop of the day was a carpet-making (and carpet-selling) demonstration. Although laden with embedded commands to buy, buy, buy, it was quite a fascinating weaving display, and lecture. We learned the difference between a carpet and a kilim, and between a Persian and a Turkish (naturally superior) knot. We learned about the various fabrics – silk, cotton, and wool – and the legitimately possible ways of dyeing them. And a lot about knot density. One interesting factoid was that the rural women who weave Turkish carpets are usually trained to produce exactly one carpet design, and they then repeat that design endlessly for their whole working lives. The high quality carpets typically take more than one person-year to finish, and are worked on in most cases by only one person. The intricacy of the design produced is not a factor in the final price – only wool quality, dye quality and knot density matter. The robotic precision and speed with which the weavers knot strands of wool onto the warp is pretty amazing to watch, but I can’t imagine it makes for a very fulfilling career.

After making it back to Rock Valley pension, we swam in their pool through a Cappadocian sunshower that ended with an amazing double rainbow, that seemed to have a few extra bands of colour – ROYGBIVIVIV instead of the usual ROYGBIV. The time up until the football started was used up by playing cards with Kate, a Sydneysider working at Rock Valley, and her Canadian buddy Stephanie, who was just in from Budapest and looking for work locally. We hooked up with a New Jersey-an called Jason – with an uncanny Jeff Buckley resemblance — who we’d met on the bus when we headed down to Fat Boys for the game.


June 19

June 19, 2008

Recipe for a relaxing day in Turkey


One Tom
One Max
Clean showers
Fourteen hours of gentle sunshine
One packet of bizarre, alien Cappadocian landscapes
A dose of easy, pleasant strolls in the hillside
One swimming pool, preferably deep and blue
Two inflatable beds, already inflated
Two late and sizeable breakfasts
A handful of smooth tunes
One cup of hearty conversation
Three rounds of card games
A well balanced barbeque dinner


Take one Tom and one Max, stirred liberally from a night of bus travel. Sprinkle with showers until they appear healthy and alert, then add breakfasts to taste.

In a separate bowl, mix the sunshine, landscape and stroll until thoroughly combined and pour over the Tom and Max mixture.

Slowly add this mixture, with stirring, to the combined inflatable beds and swimming pool and allow to simmer gently.

While the mixture in simmering, prepare a receptive communal lounge by roughly chopping the smooth tunes, card games and conversation. Leisurely introduce the Tom and Max mixture, leaving to brew for three or four hours.

Garnish with dinner and serve on a bed of clean sheets in a small, bright dorm room.

Serves two.