Cappadocia, Turkey; February 27, 2013.
Apparently, the effect of dried apricots on the human digestive system is a well known phenomenon. After the fact, I did a search on google and I didn’t even have to finish the question before I got hundreds of hits. Dried apricots and… Indeed, some of my readers may have experienced it themselves and they can guess how this story will end. But in case anyone out there is not yet aware, let me be explicit and clear. If you are planning a romantic excursion with a special someone and you are hoping the excursion will conclude with a healthy display of warmth, tenderness and intimacy, don’t bring dried apricots to snack on during the excursion. They will ruin everything!
We take the 12 hour overnight bus journey from Istanbul to Goreme, the center of the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Ms. B. is feeling slightly ill when we begin with a sore throat and body aches. She climbs aboard the bus, almost immediately falls asleep and barely stirs until arrival. Goreme is a nice little tourist town with more hotels and pensions per square inch than people. We reserved a room at the Sunset Cave Hotel for fear the town would be crowded and rooms would be hard to come by. But that is not the case at all. True, Cappadocia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and Goreme is the center of it all, but right now is still the off season so we could have stayed almost anywhere. No matter, the Sunset Cave is fine. They pick us up at the bus station and welcome us with a delicious breakfast buffet. Afterwards, they show us to our cave. That’s right, we are living in a cave but it is definitely not primitive accommodation. With modern fancy hot watered bathroom, big bed, powerful heater, mood lighting and wifi, the novelty of cave living is counterbalanced by the luxuriousness of reality. With her superb skills of adaption, Ms. B. immediately derives the best possible use for the environment. She pretends like the B in her name is for bear and she hibernates. She crawls under the covers, gives in to jet lag and sickness and exhaustion and collapses into a deep dark sleep. There she will remain for almost the whole day.
I spend the morning exploring the tourist trap town of Goreme on my own. I find a pharmacy and buy some lozenges for Ms. B’s sore throat. I find a cafe that has real filtered coffee to feed my caffeine addiction and I visit a tour agency to get the lowdown on things to do in the region. For the most part, the throngs of tourists visit Cappadocia to see the unique geological formations known through the marketing brochures as “fairy chimneys”. These are basically mounds, mountains, and hillsides made of tufa; a soft volcanic rock that is light weight, porous and easy to carve. The entire region is riddled with caves some of which formed naturally and some of which were carved into homes, churches and other buildings by enterprising locals. Additionally, the soft rock interacts with the elements to become fascinating formations that resemble giant sculptures. Looking out at the other worldly landscape from the various viewpoints, it’s difficult to determine what is man made, what is natural and what was created by gods or creatures from outer space. Everything seems very bizarre and strange in a I just fell through a wormhole and landed in fantasyland kind of way. There really is no other place like it on earth which is why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
The tour agent tries to sell me an organized tour in a minibus to the various hotspots and highlights of the region. There is a red tour, a green tour and a blue tour depending on where you want to go and what you want to do. Or you can sign up for all three at a discount. I’m not interested in that kind of tourism but I do accept his free map of the many possible hiking routes. The other big thing in these parts is hot air balloon rides. Apparently, the air currents in Cappadocia are quite good for this because as I wander around Goreme, the balloons are advertised everywhere. This is a tempting and intriguing possibility though way beyond our budget. Is any activity really worth 200 bucks an hour? I don’t really think so but maybe the B in Ms. B. stands for balloon and she will want to try it. I will have to ask her about it when she awakes.
In the mid-afternoon, sleeping beauty of fairyland awakes from her slumber and we go out for a very nice lunch in a cheap local restaurant. Afterwards she goes back to the cave for more hibernating and I head to sunset point for the day’s finale. And what a finale it is! I walk a few miles along a dirt path atop the ridge as the sun slides into one horizon and the great big full moon pops up on the opposite horizon. I can hardly begin to describe the panoramic vision I am engulfed in. Giant sculptured hills honeycombed with caves spread out all around beneath me glowing in the ethereal light. No, I’m not smoking weed, but I feel like I’ve fallen out of reality and landed in a fantasy novel. I half expect an Orc or a Troll or a wizard to appear from behind a tree to ask me three riddles that my life will depend upon answering. But no, that doesn’t happen. Instead, I finish my walk and head back down the hill to find my princess sleeping in her cave.
The following day, Ms. B. is her normal charming self again. Apparently, the 20 hours of enchanting sleep in the fairy cave did away with her jet lag and illness. Now, she is awake and ready to embark upon an adventure. After another big buffet breakfast at the hotel, we head out on the hiking trail. Using the very unspecific map from the tour agency as our guide, we plan to traverse the full length of Butterfly Valley, pick up the road on the other side and then backtrack to the open air museum.
The walk is delightful. We see dozens of caves, many natural formations that look like sculptures and several “fairy chimneys.”. This is when we discover that the term “fairy chimney” is really a euphemism. The truth is, the natural rock formations in question look like giant phalluses. But Cappadocia would probably not be one of the world’s premier tourist destinations for families if it advertised itself as the land of giant penises so instead it’s known as the land of “fairy chimneys”. Metaphor and marketing are important in this universe. It’s amazing the difference a word can make. A simple turn of phrase can transform an entire region from a vulgar place to a magical one. And another simple turn can twist it back around. “Hey pretty lady, wanna see my fairy chimney? It’s so full of magic you wouldn’t believe it.”
The magic valley is confusing though and so is our vague map. Not surprisingly, my somewhat warped sense of direction leads us astray. We end up in a small offshoot valley or canyon that dead ends at a steep cliff. By my estimation, we could “theoretically” scale the cliff and reach the road that is probably located above it. But Ms. B. thinks the vicious sounding barking dogs up there are a sign so we decide against the attempt. Instead, we backtrack to the start of the trail and take the main road to the open air museum.
The museum is impressive. It consists of about ten different thousand year old churches or chapels carved into the volcanic rock and then painted in exquisite detail. I wonder why so many different spiritual buildings are located so close to each other and conclude that they are a result of creative inspiration rather than a need for more such buildings. Afterall, the soft volcanic rock is the perfect raw material to work with for an inspired artist or builder. Christianity was the metaphor of the time so that was the theme the artists worked with. The congregations didn’t need more space to pray, the artists just needed to create, create, create. I’ve witnessed a similar kind of creative expression in Hindu temples, Buddhist stupas, Islamic mosques, and the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt. Religion is the form, spirit is the substance and the end result is masterpieces. Sometimes, the religious metaphors that possess the minds of men help make this world a more beautiful and interesting place… Sometimes not.
In the evening time we return to our cave and I use the wifi to check the international news. I love using cave and wifi in the same sentence but the news is rather tragic. Actually, international news is almost always tragic because that is the marketing strategy of the news broadcasters. In this particular case, however, the tragedy is relevant to me and Ms. B.. Apparently, there was a hot air balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt and thirty tourists were killed. Cappadocia is a long ways from Luxor but I was just there a few weeks ago and we are great believers in signs. Ms. B. was on the fence for the hot air balloon ride before, and the sad news pushes her off. There will be no hot air ballon rides for us. That’s okay though, we really can’t afford it anyway and Cappadocia is plenty of fun to explore on foot.
The following day we hike the trail that runs through Rose Valley and it’s another wonderful adventure. Essentially, we cover the same general territory as the red tour except we walk it alone instead of riding in a crowded minibus, we have no guide and we don’t have to pay 50 bucks a person for the experience. The highlight of the day is the canyon that is so narrow we have to walk single file and so steep as to only be passable by climbing down ladders. Two tiny humans make their way through a crevasse or crack in the great mother earth. What do we see when we reach the other side? Giant “fairy chimneys” of course. My god, this whole valley is like the ridiculous background set for a very bad pornographic cartoon.
We see lots of caves too and they are really awesome. The giant rock formations that look like sculptures of gods rise up all around us as we zig zag among them and the bright sunlight on the red rocks is quite spectacular. It’s one of those days. How much fun are humans allowed to have? In the mid afternoon we reach a small town and have a delightful lunch at the world of kebabs. Afterwards, we visit a large cathedral carved into a mountainside; very, very impressive. It’s much bigger than the other carved out buildings we’ve seen here. It’s almost as big as some of the tombs I saw in Petra.
The long walk home around sunset is a bit arduous. Clouds move in to cover our perfect blue sky. It starts to sprinkle but thankfully doesn’t rain hard. Ms. B. is weary from the long walk and she is giving me that “why do I let you drag me along on your overly ambitious epic journeys” look. But I know she really enjoyed it and when she reaches her comfy cave to hibernate she will appreciate the effort and exertion. We do make it back just before dark and reward ourselves with long hot steamy showers in the modern stone age bathroom. Afterwards, Ms. B. collapses on the bed with that satisfied smile that can only come from a day well played.
But we are not done yet. When it comes to walks around Goreme, we saved the best for last. Or, at least, that is what I tell Ms. B.. In truth, it’s not necessarily the best, just the longest and most difficult. It’s all part of my diabolical plan to push Ms. B. into top notch physical condition. She’s not really in bad shape. But she spends too much time hunched over her jewelry bench and not enough time hiking great distances. The primary plan for this years travel is to trek a good portion of the Lycian Way which is a 300 mile trail that stretches along the mountainous Mediteranean coast of Turkey. Of course we can’t do the whole thing. But I want to do as much as possible so I’m pushing her now on treks through Cappadocia to get her warmed up for the main event.
“It’s called the Valley of Love,” I tell her. “We have to do it. It will be romantic.”
She likes romance and is pumped from yesterday so she agrees to go along. But we do make a slight modification to my original overly ambitious plan. We take a bus for the first leg of the journey.
The day is like a fairy tale. We are the enchanted lovers frolicking about the wonderland. The sacred carriage of a public bus takes us from Goreme to the ancient town of Uchisar. There we wander the maze of cobblestone streets until we find the gargantuan fortress. The town is built at the base of the largest mountain in the Cappadocia region. A thousand or so years ago, the mountain was hollowed out into an impregnable castle to keep the locals safe should they be attacked by enemies. There are no enemies to worry about now so instead the castle is open to tourists. Ms. B. and I pay our entrance fees and climb our way up through the center of the mountain. Part way up, the passage emerges outside but the trail continues to wind around up to the very top. From up there, we have a view of the whole magical kingdom of Cappadocia. We are as high up in the sky as the hot air balloons and we can see fairy chimneys and honeycombed colorful mountains and valleys spread out all around us with a few modern civilized centers scattered here and there. We are on top of the Cappadocia world.
After we descend from the heights, we find a vendor of local goodies at the base of the mountain. He has available a vast collection of dried fruits and nuts separated and arranged into an enticing display. We should get a snack for our walk. What do we want? Almonds or peanuts or raisins or…. Wow! Look at those dried apricots! Shining golden orange, they look like tiny dollops of magical morsels fit for gods to munch upon. And they’re good for you too right? I dare say they are the perfect snack for our romantic romp through the valley of love. So we buy ourselves a half a kilo and thereby subject ourselves to the evil curse that always seems to underly every single fairy tale.
We wind our way through Uchisar until we find a cafe perched on the edge of a cliff above Pidgeon valley. We stop for a cup of Turkish joe in fancy colorful cups and then descend to the bottom. The walk is a wonder. Carved caves and natural caves riddle the valley walls. A winding stream snakes it’s way alongside the path. Ms. B. is shooting photos left and right while I climb and explore every nook and cranny I can find. After an hour or so, we find a random bench in a grove of trees. It’s the off season now so vegetation is somewhat spare but this must be a luscious garden in the summer. We sit there in the idyllic world like two lovers in a story book and munch upon the golden apricots. Oh how delicious they taste. How good is this life?
A short while later, we find the side path that leads out of Pidgeon Valley up over the road and into the Valley of Love. Is this a perfect day? Will we perhaps make love in a special place in the valley designed for that very purpose? Dreams sometimes do come true in this world… Then again, sometimes they don’t.
The beginning of the walk really is quite beautiful. The sun shines down upon us as we descend into a white canyon with interesting rock formations. After a short while, however, the darkness descends. Heavy clouds move onto the horizon and a sprinkle starts. The apricots begin to effect my digestive system; the gas expands in my abdomen until I feel like I swallowed a helium balloon. We round a bend at the bottom of the valley and learn why this place is called the Valley of Love. There are dozens of giant stone phalluses protruding from the sides of the cliffs. No doubt it is a very amusing image and worth a few comical photos but it is not exactly what I call romantic. By the time the clouds open up and the hard cold rain starts to fall, my bowels are erupting with a non stop continuous string of very loud and obnoxious gas explosions. We have to run for a tiny cave to seek shelter from the storm. So, here we are, in the middle of nowhere, huddled in a small uncomfortable cave, surrounded by giant stone penises as I am suffering from the absolute worst case of gas in my entire life. Forget hydro franking, all they have to do is feed me apricots and tap my butt and the energy crisis is solved. Do I know how to romance my lady or what?
The really funny thing is, Ms. B. ate as many apricots as me so she has the same problem. Luckily, we’ve been together long enough to not be overly offended by the strange sounds and noxious fumes that occasionally emit from each others bodies. Anyway, our delightfully romantic excursion into fairyland has devolved into a bad skit from Saturday night live. Oh well, what can we do. We laugh and fart and laugh some more. That is one foul cave by the time the rain stops and we leave. But we do survive the ordeal and make it back to our room after the storm. Oh my goodness gracious, I will never eat dried apricots again.