Friday, April 18, 2008

Goreme: People Say a lot of Things

From the land of fire and ruins we moved on to the strange land of Goreme in the center of Turkey. One long overnight bus trip is perhaps the only way to truly get the effect of the overall region of Cappadocia (Land of Beautiful Horses). As the sun came up, a valley of strange rock formations spread out across the landscape. The formations are similar to Bryce National park in Utah with one notable exception, they are full of caves. Thousands of small openings dot the hills with even smaller hollowed-out nooks for pigeon houses. It seems that pidgeons were a sort of second currency in the valley and the usefulness of their droppings as fertilizer and their eggs as the base for paint conferred on the owner's wealth.

What initially seems quite strange became downright surreal when we checked into our cave that morning. You read that right, to add to the strange places that we have slept on our trip, we now have a cave. A well appointed cave, mind you, with a full bathroom and all. Once we settled in and stopped giggling (no sleep + cave = giddiness) we set out for the open air museum for a primer on the area. While the open air museum does cost money, it is by far the best place to see frescoes that adorn a staggering number of the cave. In addition to dwellings, over the past thousand years settlers hollowed our grand cathedrals and adorned them with beautiful, if slightly crude at times, paintings depicting scenes from the New Testament. The location of Cappadocia along the Silk Road has meant that it has not had the smoothest history. Numerous invaders and new settlers have come to the area including Arab settlers who, during the Iconoclastic age, set about removing many of the frescoes. Seeing those that remained gave us a taste of what the numerous caves we would see in the next few days might have looked like.

The next day we joined a group and toured an eight floor underground city with secret tunnels linking similar caves up to 8 kilometers away. Trying to imagine life underground for weeks at a time while battles waged above ground was quite interesting. The rest of the day we explored the largest cave cathedral in the valley, did a short hike and finally went to a Onyx factory to see local artisans shaping Onyx. Here comes the thing I am second most proud of (after summiting Kilimanjaro) on this trip. As our group watched the shaping of the stones, the gentleman giving the tour said that the first to answer his next question would get to keep the stoneworker's resulting onyx egg. This was my moment to shine. Before he had quite finished asking what the meaning of Cappadocia was, I blurted out "Land of Beautiful Horses" and scooped the prize. Don't ever let Kristi tell you that I never get her anything pretty.

We spent our final day before our night bus back to Istanbul hiking through the amazing valleys. While there are always signs letting people know where a trail begins, once you start you are often on your own. A few times we walked along what appeared to be the correct trail only for it to dead end at a sheer cliff. But at the moment we were the most lost, we met up with two older shepherds who have the best racket in all of Turkey. After speaking with them for a few minutes, one offered to show us the way out. After a protracted walk that required some deft slides on our backsides down steep ledges, we emerged on the real trail. At this point, our guide let it be known that his services would require a rather hefty payment (mostly to feed his dogs, he said). Seems the best gig in town is to hang out with your buddies in any of the valleys and wait for lost tourists to amble by. But getting out of the valley seemed worth the post-bargained price that we paid to him.

And, as for the title of the entry... It seems that due to the similarities of the scenery to Luke Skywalker's home planet from the first Star Wars movie, there are many rumors that the film was shot in Goreme. Rather than dispell the rumors, our hotel guidebook just said "people say a lot of things." We both loved the vaguaries of that statement and chose to believe what a lot of people say...


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