Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday, November 04, 2011

There are certain places that we dream of seeing and experiencing.  Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Munich, London, the big lovely cities, and there are those surreal places that seemed to only exist in ones imagination. 

The spellbinding land of fairy chimneys, the bizarre landscape strewn with sculpted rock patterns jutting up like mushrooms amongst white solidified hillocks of that region in central Turkey historically called Cappadocia – is one for my book and definitely every travelers – seasoned or otherwise – item on bucket list, or one deserving of in the list of "places to see before you die” so to speak.  

What makes it more an interesting subject and warrants a personal visit is that it is not just the pieces of rocks devoid of story as the region itself and its structures partake millennia of antiquity.  From the time of the volcanic devastation that drown the whole place with flowing lava and volcanic ashes, to weather’s sculpting of the landscape, the inhabitants who carved each and every existing rock dwellings.  The foreign colonizers on each period that invaded the area, every group of historical participants, people that partook and weaved their own culture into the fabric of civilization, the troglodytes, from the time of the Hittites who may have discovered the gift of natural catastrophe and started carving the soft rocks, the Byzantine Christians who took refuge and lived amongst the valleys and massive underground settlements and who created ancient rock-cut churches with colourful frescoes, the Romans who persecuted the Christians, the Ottomans who later repeated history. 

All these historical events shaped what is to become the magical central Anatolian region of Cappadocia.  But for whom do we owe the most in terms of physical aesthetics? Perhaps nature.

With the previous two days of hike – Zemi Valley and Uchisar Castle – I felt enthusiastic in doing a longer hike this day with my friend Ageel before we head back to Istanbul the next day. 

Our initial plan of renting bicycle proved futile as most of the roads are sloping and my legs are not accustomed as yet to the vigorous pedaling.  It was a stupid idea indeed.  After paying TL30 each for the bicycles, we came back returning it at the shop and decided to finally go on foot.  Unless you’re an experienced biker, go for the hike, it’s the best way to see interesting sights up-close, otherwise rent a quad bike if it’s around the town and the outlying valleys you want to explore.  

Goreme is the best town in Cappadocia that most travelers wanting to explore the region choose as a base.  No other town comes close to the number of interesting sights within walking distance. One could get to the valleys with its mythical ambiance dotted with myriads of fairy chimneys, troglodyte dwellings, rock-cut churches, glistening white rock hills, the Open-air Museum and UFO Museum are all a leisure walk away. 

The town of Goreme itself with its several cave accommodations has largely retained its enchanting character and fairytale-like setting, most lodgings were hewn out of the soft rocks on the edge of the valley or the cone-shaped rock formations pointing to the blue skies above like there is some mystical connections there.  Even the presence of newly built concrete structures have complimented and blended well in terms of color material and ambiance.  Our accommodation is one that combines the use of natural soft-rock cave as guest rooms augmented by the use of marbles or granite around the balconies and façade.

I was looking at the map given by our host at Star Cave Hotel and Pansiyon during that morning and the sight of “Love Valley” sounds interesting.  You could of course opt for a guided hiking tour with several tour operators specializing treks around Cappadocia, many tourists do that.  Perhaps you’ll get to discover the “best kept secrets” that you would somehow missed if you DIY, plus you get to listen to stories, tales and history from your guide, and no worries on getting lost.  Yet, I subconsciously like getting lost, for me it is part of the adventure and I’ve really set my mind about this DIY plan.  So off we go – started walking along the main highway exiting the town center.  

Kilclar Valley.

Dwellings carved on the sides of the hills.

We don’t have any idea where we’re heading but the just-do-it attitude in me steered us to Kilclar Valley after less than a kilometer of walk east of the town, just turning right off the highway (Bilal Eroglu Caddesi) through clear footpaths.  With the presence quad bikes plus the clear sign boards around the valley, I’ve realized we were already traversing the popular hike route. Several fairy chimneys (pointed rock formations) dotted this valley.  There were square windows or perhaps entrances carved out on some walls of the rock hills.  I could just imagine the dwellers of yesteryears, without staircases to climb onto it would be difficult to gain access up, a really good place to hide during the time of Christian persecution.

There was a sign scribbled in red ink on the rocks and not very far from Kilclar Valley is about a kilometer walk to Kizilcukur Red Valley.

Now, we're starting to climb some massive fairy chimneys.

Climbing to get the best view.

Stretching before getting on top.

Nice view from the top.

We came across two Australian girls hiking also and here is where I should caution female hikers especially the young ones.  There was this local middle-aged guy who was sitting at one of the rocks (which I find odd in a desolate valley).  He seemed friendly and started chatting, walked with us and showed us one of the caves.

The opening of the cave was about 5 feet high and a climb onto it require a push.  The old man came handy assisting all of us but my adoration to his “kindness” suddenly dissipated when I caught his fingers touching the crotch of one of the girls while pushing her up the high entrance.  I am certain the girl felt that too as evident from her uneasiness when we jumped out of the cave.  Feeling discomfort and awkwardness, I told them that we’d better keep moving.  Walking few meters away down the hill onto our next destination, perhaps sensing that we are not originally in the same company with the two girls, the old man asked us why we were with the girls – sound like we posed a danger to the girls? HA HA HA.

I told the girls to just say thank you to the guy and walk faster to get him off their way.

The Red Valley is peppered with fairy chimneys, tunnels and a frescoed rock-cut church.  We plucked some apricots and green grapes lying around. 

Inside one of the churches.
Us and the old man turning his back...hmmm...doesn't wanna show his face.

View of Rose Valley.

The four of us continued our hike going down the valley and passed through a tunnel out onto intertwining trees then came upon a nice apricot orchards where the girls went happy tweaking the reddish green fruits before navigating the dusty road with a yellow sign boards that says “Church of Cross Kalonlu Church”.  For some reason, we missed getting inside this church but found our way crisscrossing and climbing a narrow path up to the hill where the Hacli Kilise – a rock-cut church – is located.  A tea garden or café (oddly in the middle of an uninhabited valley) is just below the church with wooden tables and chairs shaded by straw mats overlooking a splendid view of the valley.  We had to take a rest for a while as the scorching sun is starting to get unbearable.  We ordered meatloaf and cheese toast and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice prepared inside the owner’s cave kitchen.

Kolonlu Church.

Hacli Church at the Red Valley.

The entry to the church is through wooden stairs.  The small interior inside the cave church has an apse in synthronon style, intricately painted in colorful frescoes of the Pantocrator (Christ) dated from the 10th century surrounded by several saints.  Gazing up facing the apse is a big cross assumed to be carved out of the rock ceiling during the iconoclastic era in the 7th century.  It’s a beautiful church both from its exterior and interior.

Inside the Hacli Church.
Christ - The Pantocrator fresco.

I thought we’re done with our hike for the day, the sun is really bright and I was exhausted up until I've heard those two Australian girls we've met at Kilclar Valley asking the café guy for the way to Cavusin.  That sounds pretty interesting? Similarly another couple inquired the same way so why let the opportunity passed.  I heard the guy saying only 15 minutes to half an hour walk and that he resides there.

So after devouring on my huge toast sandwich that I shared with the fluffy dog and a couple of bumble bees, plus some minutes rest, we resumed our walk along the same path where the others went – onto Cavusin – wherever that may be.

A narrow and slippery path going down.

The way is a winding up and down path along some pretty panorama of the valleys below and then we stopped to take some photos of us onto the edge of a huge jutting rock that resembled the back of an elephant.  Defying danger of the slippery grains of sands (skidding down – to death – on the valley below) in favor of daring excitement, similar to that incident at Zemi Valley, I walked to the edge of the valley.  My friend can’t bear looking at me standing about ten meters from him right on the edge, but he did snap a shot.  (See photo below).  Then I said it’s his turn, he said no way so – No.  Sorry, I just couldn’t help it.  

Dangerously exciting - at the edge.

Except for the narrow and sandy passageway that connects the two valleys and cliffs onto Gulludere Rose Valley the footpath is clear though the heat is starting to consume whatever energy is left in my body.  I got confused where the Red Valley and the Rose Valley begin and end but it sure is neighboring each other.

The spectacular Rose Valley probably got its name from the rose-colored rock mountain ranges that change hues depending on the time of the day.  Ascending, we found our way to the ground level where several pumpkins and violet grapes were lying around.  A kilometer more and we reached the village town of Cavusin and I was glad that we did not finish off from Hacli Church.  This place if short of breath-taking.

Rose Valley


Nearing Cavusin.

The old villagers used to live in the massive rock settlement carved on the hillside abandoned long time ago due to safety as the rock started to erode.  Standing from the road below and gazing up the huge “tenement-like” structure, one could marvel at its imposing old-age grandiosity with its ancient church and what used to be rows of dwellings on its façade from the lower level up to the top.

There are local cafés and small souvenir shops lining the road taking advantage of the tourism revenue that the small unassuming village has to offer.  Surprisingly – small as it is – the village has some pension houses and cave hotels too for travelers who may find it appealing staying around here.

The "tenement-like" old village dwellings of Cavusin.

The church is at one of the levels.

Until 1920, Cavusin is home to a large population of Orthodox Christians as evidenced by the existence of churches – the 5th century Church of St. John the Baptist located up amongst the massive old village and at the backside housed in a colossal rock structure is the 9th century Cavusin Church – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Cavusin Church.

After a full day’s hike from Goreme to Cavusin through the several outlying valleys, I may have beheld some of the most mind-boggling natural sights in Cappadocia, if not the whole country of Turkey.  I was exhausted but the reward was immense. 

With extremely low energy to hike back to the town of Goreme and it’s already late in the afternoon, I stood along the main highway in front of the big church along with my friend and two other tourists, I raised my thumb in the air to every vehicle passing by and hopped on the back of a small truck which fortunately is heading to Goreme


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