Our flight from Istanbul to the Cappadocia region was over in a blink, and to think that we’d toyed with the idea of taking the overnight bus. That might have been a great option to the young backpackers we met, who insisted a free nights accommodate made it well worth its while, but not us these days, especially when you think both modes of transport cost the same!!!
We arrived in the late in the evening to Goreme, a delightful town which is pretty much the central hub of the area. Its cool in the evening but just enough to be crisp and refreshing. But a wonderful greeting by a generous and helpful host at our new lodgings made it all very painless and just confirmed what we were discovering about the Turkish people. A late sojourn around our new spot meant we soon discovered a very small simple town that certainly catered for the tourist trade. Everyone seems so relaxed, happy and trusting, hardly the hard sell, hustling salesman, 'watch your wallet' type of environment I was envisaging.
We were told about the captivating site of the hot air balloons taking off early the next morning and the bonus was that we could see it all from our terrace on top of the Terre Vista hostel. Being a little over enthusiastic I find myself up here at 4.45am,a good hour before anybody else. But it was such fun to see all the build up action and watch the town come alive. First is the four wheel drive vehicles with trailer loads of baskets and balloons crashing and banging through the town. And theres not just a few of them, there’s a lengthy queue growing as they wait nose to tail on the road heading out to the take off points.
Next its the turn of the white vans, buzzing around the town picking up the passengers, then all merging on to the main road bumper to bumper they creep out in the same direction.
And I gather this happens every single day of the year, and is by far the biggest employer of the locals. Although some locals were quick to tell us how they’d never work on the balloons as it means starting at 2.30 every morning!!!!! Although the Hot Air Balloon industry is a huge part of this regions tourist business, the number of balloons is tightly controlled by the government ( never more than 100 at a time and this week there were 80 most days) and not run by a whole lot of cowboys like we first imagined.
The site and sound of the balloons taking off was just incredible. They seem to just keep appearing from nowhere, more and more filled the sky with a mass of colour, as behind them they sun was coming up over this stunning landscape. The view that morning from the terrace of the spectators on the ridge watching was an added photographers bonus.
The next day we were up there with them enjoying it from another angle. In fact we were up on the ridge almost every morning and evening as the view was so spectacular. The local wild dogs were up there getting in on the action and even an eager bride and groom amongst the action, getting some spectacular photographs!!!.
After our early morning starts we came back for a wash and then delicious relaxing breakfast up on the terrace overlooking the town. Why is it that some of our best memories are made over breaking bread with friends in far away parts of the world? And for me the most memorable is often that lovely slow breakfast, cooked by someone else, as we make plans for the day.
The walks up both Rose and Pigeon Valley were stunning. The Rose known for the wonderful colour of the mountains, which sadly I don’t thinker photos do justice to, and the Pigeon for the early inhabitants that lived and still live there. Every time you come over ridge or gaze down a valley you are just blown away by the captivating rock formations. I love it - not a fence sight and only a rough idea of where you should be going. Somehow it hardly matters as all the paths and tracks seem to lead the same way. Water was a necessity as after the chilly nights and early morning the temps rose pretty high during the day but it was wonderful dry heat.
This whole fascinating Cappadocia region in the central Turkey is almost like a moonscape. At one stage live volcanoes covered the area and the soft ash left by them has gradually been eroded over the years forming some amazing geological shapes. Known mostly as fairy chimneys, they are cone shaped, mushroom like, in appearance with soft ridges and deep valleys. The soft ash, or ’tuff’ as its known, has meant that over 1000’s of years people have dug into the rock and created dwellings which have been inhabits for many many years. But not just small places, they've created castles, churches, universities and even entire underground cities!!!
We visited Derinkuyu Underground City, which was fascinating. eight floors of this underground city are now open to the public but there are another eight further down not excavated. It was a bit a squeeze in some places but really a massive feat when you think about a town undertaking a project like this to protect its inhabitants (Christians) It could house as many as 25,000 people and but more importantly 700 to 800 people could live comfortably with enough water, oxygen, food etc down there for up to six months.
They created kitchens and huge storage areas, eating and sleeping areas, church, stable area for animals and even a morgue to store their dead.
The lhlara Valley gorge was like an incredible oasis amongst the arid dry conditions of this area. The track winds alongside the small stream at the bottom of the valley. There were a number of old Byzantine churchs built into the Valley wall just like the one we stopped at with some with wonderful frescos. In fact the early Christians were definitely drawn to this lush area with more than 100 churches being built in the valley and at least 4,000 dwelling built into the soft rock.
The added value of a good chatty tour guide on this day trip meant we learnt more about the region and the formation of this wonderous area. Although most of the volcanic landscape appears harsh and inhospitable, except for the Ihlara Valley, the soil is excellent for growing fruit and vegetables. We’d already seen evidence of this with small blocks of grapes and fruit trees dotted through the valleys close to Goreme but this time we could see acres and acres of potatoes with whole family's out in the fields working together. They’d set up camps right next door to the fields and stay there till the work was completed then move on to the next area for more work. It looked an incredibly tough way to make a living but 60 percent of this regions GDP is agriculture so it still employs the largest group of the population.
Finishing the night on the roof terrace overlooking Goreme, with the sun going down, the laughter got louder as we settled into an evening of raw entertainment spearheaded by a joke telling, roughty- tufty, Irish detective, who along with his trusty motorbike was travelling the world spinning yarns to anyone who’d listen. It really is a special time to be amongst a fascinating mixture of people ranging from 22 year olds to 65 year olds, sharing on the road experiences andpassions for life. What a great way to keep thinking 'young’ and to end five fabulous days in this magical part of the world.