Retire Mechanical engineer. Student at California State university Channel Island studiyingAbout Me

July 26, 2015

Cappadocia, Land of Magic

Cappadocia, Land of Magic by Behcet Kaya

Turkey is unendingly, unmitigatedly surprising; each area having a look of its own distinction.

At the beginning of the four-hour bus ride from Ankara to the area known as Cappadocia, one hardly sees a steep hill, but rather miles of endless, golden wheat fields. Then come the marshy shores of the great salt lake, Tuz Golu.

For miles, there is nothing but salty, dry, white earth.

Far on the other side of the lake, one can see small houses and minarets pointing up, like needles into sky.

Occasionally, there are billboards with beautiful models showing off bare bellies and long manicured fingers pulling on Wrangler jeans.

The landscape begins to change once more and then, around a sharp curve, comes a scene that shocks the imagination. Out of nowhere, a land so different, so wild, so old, and so rugged; a fantasy land of strange rock formations, fairy chimneys and cave houses, some still inhabited.

Imagine if you will, a countryside with combinations of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, all intermingled.

I was traveling with my American wife and my Turkish mother, who lives in Ankara. Our bus stopped at the center of a small town called Goreme and parked next to several other tourist buses. Some tourists were just arriving, others leaving.

There were tourists of every age and economic class, some in jeans and carrying back packs, others wearing pretentious outfits and healthy golden tans.

We arrived just as a muezzin was calling afternoon prayers. Several tourists were shouting to their companions, trying to figure out where the loud singing was coming from.

At eighty-one and still very active, my mother led the way, as if this used to be her little village, asking a young man which way to the Ataman Hotel. To her, everyone is honest and friendly.

She enjoys the beauty of the landscape, but more importantly she enjoys the local people she encounters.

For my wife, there is just not enough time to soak it all in. As an American, even if she tried to dye her hair darker and put on local clothes to blend in, she couldn't. With her blonde hair and Nordic looks she announces to the world she is a tourist.

As for me, the locals cannot tell. I could pass for either a tourist or a Turk.

After checking into our suite and enjoying an afternoon cup of cay, we decided to do some exploring. I had not driven a stick shift in over twenty years and knew it would take some time to get used to.

With a perplexed look on the rental car owner's face as I ground some gears, we were off.

I managed to navigate the car down a narrow, rutted dirt road in hopes of finding one of the ancient cave churches that dot the landscape.

As we climbed out of the car, a local woman approached us with the familiar, "Merhaba, iyi gunlar!"

I explained to her that we wanted to see the cave church, but my mother didn't want to explore with us. The two women were instantly friends, chatting away. The local woman provided my mother with water to wash her hands for her afternoon prayers and served her cay.

We left my mother perfectly content to sit and talk with her new friend. My wife and I struggled up a steep slope to the entrance of the cave church.

A young guide offered to show us the cave. From the intense afternoon sun, we entered the coolness of the cave, navigating through narrow, dusty passages to find the alter where early Christians prayed.

The place began to give me claustrophobia and I felt one of my anxiety attacks coming on, but we continued our exploring.

According to our guide, the church was also used for making and storing wine. He showed us where the grapes were smashed and the large pit where the juice was collected.

As we returned to the front of the cave, our guide pointed out a large circular stone. He explained how the early Christians used to roll the heavy stone in front of the entrance in order to hide themselves from their barbarous enemies.

In Turkey there is a saying, "The earth opened and gobbled everyone up."  I could see now, how the ancient people could disappear, seemly swallowed up, their enemies unable to find them.

Having had enough climbing for one afternoon, we returned to our hotel for dinner. My mother excused herself to say her evening prayers.

My wife and I relaxed on an outside patio and watched the sunset; its last rays washing over the cliffs with a rainbow of colors.

As we dressed the next morning, we watched as hot air balloons lifting off from the top of the cliffs across from our hotel, carrying tourists into the air for a view of the entire valley.

Our windows opened onto breathtaking scenery of cliffs, caves and strange rock formations.

Our hotel itself was partially carved into the rock cliff and the restaurant was a large cave.

Having missed breakfast, we walked the short distance back to the center of town to check out the local restaurants. As we read the menu at each restaurant, we were good naturedly enticed to come in.

At the third restaurant we came to, I heard some American tourists on the balcony above us and thought this might be a good place to eat.

On the way up the stairs, I tried to hold my mother's arm. She slapped my hand with irritation. "Ben elden ayaktan dusmedim!" she said, meaning, "I can take care of myself!"

We sat at a corner table with a view out over fairy chimneys and cave houses. While I ordered our meals and drinks, my wife started to take pictures. Our waiter made a comment about saving her film because what we were seeing was nothing compared to what was out there.

A few minutes later, he brought bottles of local beer for my wife and I, ayran for my mother and a slab of pide bread measuring over one-and-a-half meters long, filled with local cheese and butter. We all looked at each other. Surely the waiter had made a mistake?

This wasn't what I had ordered.

I called him back. "You must be mistaken! We didn’t order this bread!"

The young waiter smiled and said, "It's compliments of the house."

We enjoyed the freshly-baked lavash and started to wrap up the remaining to take with us. The waiter came back and told us he would give us fresh bread to take when we were ready to leave.

During our lunch, I overheard an American tourist asking for directions. I offered to help her and she was relieved that I could translate for her.

My wife asked how she was enjoying Turkey and she replied ambivalently, "Oh well, you get what you pay for, I guess." She explained that her hotel had great views and service. "It’s just, it's okay," she remarked.

"Come now, what's the matter? You're enjoying the great views and service, right?" I asked her.

"Well, it's the bathrooms," she finally admitted.

I had to laugh. "Yes, it can be a bit difficult having to squat every time Mother Nature calls."

I remembered back to the first time I brought my wife to visit. She had a difficult three days and finally I had to take her to a hotel. I certainly understood how this American tourist felt.

I was born and raised in Turkey but have been away for over thirty-five years and find it difficult myself to use the older form of toilet.

One interesting thing I have noticed on this trip is that there are now more and more of both kinds of toilets in most public places; all kept very clean, all with water jets targeted at that particular spot. I have found it quite soothing, using water jets rather than irritating dry toilet paper.

To my surprise, my hemorrhoids healed the first week after we arrived.

The Turks, however, use the jets for a different reason. Islam requires one has to be completely washed in order to pray.

After brunch, carrying a large take-away bag with fresh pide and cheese to munch on later, we walked back to our hotel to check out and retrieve our rental car. I stopped at the rental car office on the way out of town and asked if there were any guides available.

The young man who had rented us the car told us that we would have had to book a guide the day before.

Seeing the disappointed look on my face, he told me he was born and raised here. Although he was not university educated, he knew every cliff, every cave, and every scenic place around Goreme. I asked him to join us. My wife climbed into the back seat with my mother and Faruk joined me in front.

Our first stop was a place not many know about. Faruk called it 'ghost town.' My mother declined the climb, telling me that she didn't want to be a tourist. When I asked her why, she told me she felt sorry for tourists, always hurrying about, trying to see everything, tiring themselves out and never really happy.

She was content to sit in the open air restaurant drinking her cay.

We started our climb. Each cave we poked our heads into was more amazing than the last. There were ancient cave churches with faded frescos, mosques, all with carved-out walls facing Mecca, and space for the imam to stand and pray, and cave houses that had been inhabited thousands of years ago.

How many civilizations had passed time here? Assyrians, Hittites, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans? At the top of this particular climb, we had a breathtaking view out over pastoral valleys.

We climbed back down, collected my mother and traveled on to Avanos, located on the banks of the Kizilirmak River, Red River. The red clay from the river banks has been used for centuries to make pottery, still formed by hand with potters using kick wheels.

We purchased a beautiful wine container painted by hand with a Hittite pattern and were given papers to certify that the piece was not one of antiquity.

Happy with our purchase, Faruk next took us to the Zelve Valley with an open air museum and canyon filled with fairy chimneys, churches, mosques, cave houses and a large monastery.

A central ridge separates the valley into Christian and Moslem sections, with a church and mosque carved back to back out of the same rock.

We were then on our way to Pigeon Valley, where pigeons were kept for poultry and fertilizer. Faruk told us that farmers still use the pigeon fertilizer and insist that Cappadocian fruits and grapes are most sweet and succulent because of the pigeon droppings.

Late in the afternoon, our last stop was a little village perched high above a valley filled with more fairy chimneys and cave houses. Faruk knew one of the shop owners and we sat with him and his wife enjoying ayran and locally made ice cream.

We took strips of paper napkins and tied them around a wish tree, making our wishes. We said our goodbyes to the shop owner and his wife and returned to Goreme to catch our bus back to Ankara.

As I turned in the rental car, I handed Faruk seventy lira. How could we possibly thank him for such an unforgettable day? He proudly declined the money and told me how much he had enjoyed the day as well.

I turned and handed the money to his boss who discretely said he would give it to Faruk later.

We said our last goodbyes with promises of returning. There was so much more here to see.

We had only scratched the surface of this magical land of Cappadocia and we knew we would be back.