Monday, September 27, 2010

Turkey Pt. 2- Highs and Lows

Back on my own I decided to head east to Kas, a small fishing town, for the sole purpose of kayaking to the sunken city of Kekova.

Kas was really cute and really hilly (which I wish I knew before passing on the hotels free pickup from the bus station), but the sunken city the next day was a bit of a letdown.

They claim there are Byzantine ruins submerged 6m below the sea along the shore of the island, the result of a series of earthquakes in the 2nd century. Where were the underwater mosaics? I didn't see a one!

Good thing there were some cool Germans, a Brit, Malaysian and Coloradan on the trip to add fun and give me playmates for the rest of my time in Kas, enjoying Turkish Independence Day.

On the plus side, we did get to visit Kalekoy, a fishing village on the ancient site of Simena, which is only accessible by boat (or kayak in our case). It was very charming, with the ruins of sunken Lycian tombs- that were actually there (like the Egyptians, they believed they needed goodies for the afterlife) and a Crusader fortress.

I also got to try Turkish ice cream, which is best described as gummier than ours and delivered with all sort of antics that make you feel pretty foolish, but funny--- games really meant to amuse kids but that doesn't stop them from poking you in the nose with ice cream or handing you the cone and making the ice cream disappear.

Before catching my next 14 hour overnight bus, I spent the day shopping in the town's trendy boutiques and enjoying the mezes at Bahce Restaurant, the first spot in all these months that I actually couldn't get a table the night before (making me want to go even more). Time at the Hideaway Hotel's pool and rooftop with views of the sea, not to mention the hospitality of the owners, really topped off the experience.

Cappadocia is tops of most people's lists (except the crazy sailor who told me to skip it and "just watch a video")-- it is the land of "fairy chimneys and valleys of cascading cliffs" formed when Erciyes Dagi erupted. Think Star Wars! Over time underground cities and cave churches were added to the landscape.

My friend Ambien and I arrived in Uchisar, a favorite of the French and much less touristy than neighboring Goreme, somewhat rested but still in need of a few hours sleep (again, it was too hot to do anything, so don't judge.)

The first step was finding the guesthouse that Gokturk recommended- an artist's house with AMAZING views of the valley. First problem- instead of getting dropped off in town I was dumped along the main road having to guess which way to town (I guessed right). Second obstacle- it is 7am. Third challenge- since I wasn't dropped in the correct place I couldn't find the proper starting point for my directions. Thankfully, after wandering around for a bit, two old Turkish men (right out of central casting) walked me part of the way to the house. I think he probably wanted to kill me as he was hollering at me in Turkish from atop the fairly steep hill and in my Ambien haze I bypassed the house (I quickly realized my mistake).

After the most over-the-top breakfast of 1,000 dishes and a day of rest on my private terrace I motivated for sunset atop the Uchisar Castle for the views of Rose and Pigeon Valleys and the Cappadocia countryside.

The Castle is a tall volcanic-rock outcrop with tons of tunnels and windows, and NO barriers to prevent you from plunging to your death.
Since day 1 was admittedly pretty lazy, I motivated on day 2.

Oy, it was some day! Despite me thinking hiking alone is a bad idea for the last 5 months, the guesthouse owners were very reassuring that the "nice walk" to the neighboring town of Goreme would be no problem (really, hiking in mini Grand Canyon is okay?? You can't get lost?). Yeah, not exactly how I would now put it. Literally, this was the first time I thought I might need that emergency evacuation insurance!

So, my first attempt at the "easy to find" path ended in a cliff--- backtrack (it is hilly remember, but yeah, more good Everest training). The second attempt I figured I needed to get in the valley. Needless to say, I was never quite sure if I was on the right path and at some point figured I had a better shot of finding Goreme than getting back to Uchisar (thank god I looked at that REI compass for the first time ever before leaving or I may have cracked).

The highlight- when I was trying to cross a small cliff with a tiny footpath and the ground started crumbling under my feet (it looked like a MUCH bigger path until I got there). Grab on to something- yeah, that was crumbling too. I was NOT having fun! Now I definitely wasn't going to backtrack. Safely across I just wanted to get to Goreme as the path continued to twist and turn through creeks, orchards, bushes--- can this really be the right path? Finally I exited the jungle to see another human, funny enough a couple from Chicago-- I wanted to hug them! They were also kinda lost.

Goreme does seem to exist just for tourists, but sometimes that makes life easier. While there I visited the Open Air Museum, yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, a cluster of rock cut churches, monasteries and chapels. The cave churches were decorated with frescoes that are in surprisingly good condition and you could really get a sense of how these early Christians lived.

You will be happy to know I caught the local bus back to Uchisar- I learned my lesson on that hike.

But before I left Goreme I booked a hot air balloon ride for the following morning- a "must do" in Cappadocia. It was strange- I seemed to have struck a good bargain without even trying. I am still totally confused why they sold me the ticket so cheaply, making me promise not to tell anyone else what I paid and listing the price on my receipt at 45 euro more than I actually paid. Still looking for the catch.

The next morning I rose with the call to prayer at 4:30am for the balloon trip. The barking dog outside the guesthouse gate totally freaked me out- was he going to be kujo once I unbolted the door (after I figured out how to unbolt the door, that is)? All bark and no bite thankfully. Then there were the chickens to navigate around.

Although I wasn't dying to do the balloon ride, it was really cool. The sun rose over the wacky landscape as our pilot took joy in driving the balloon into crevices, barely missing crashing into the walls, and then higher than all the other balloons. The views were stunning and while I appeared to be the only single person doing what may be deemed a romantic activity, I really enjoyed it.

Since that only occupied me until 8am, what was I to do until my overnight bus to Istanbul?

Well, of course, take various public buses to the
underground city of Derinkuyu, about an hour ride away. It didn't take long to find company for a private tour- the two Aussies at the bus stop in Nevsehir with a map were a dead giveaway ;-)

The underground cities were created in the 6th and 7th centuries by the early Christians (est. 10,000 people) to escape from the Persians and Arabs. This particular city had 6 different levels and room for livestock, cooking, food storage, school, church, a morgue and lots of wine cellars (I guess you need to drink a lot if you are living underground). They also had very advanced systems for keeping the air and water supplies fresh and climate control.

They never used these cities for any great length of time, only when they got the warning signals that were sent by lighting beacons atop the mountains- apparently they could send a warning message from Jerusalem to Constantinople in a matter of hours. It was really very impressive- people were so clever back in the day!

1 comment:

  1. look amazing!!!!!! i need what you're having!