By Brianna 27/October/16 Turkey
The other-wordly Cappadocia makes for a great sci-fi film set. And a great place to spend a few days camping, hiking, exploring, scootering, making friends and selfishly enjoying the landscape devoid of its usual throng of tourists.
Tumble weed danced down the Goreme's main street, the touristic heart of Cappadocia. On either side, shops weaved their webs of postcards, tacky souvenirs, expensive hot-air balloon tours and horse ride offers, waiting expectantly to entangle passing foreigners. But decent prey was a bit thin on the ground. It looked like tourist hell. It felt like tourist hell. But it wasn't. It was more like a ghost town. At first, the long slog uphill to our campsite seemed fruitless as when we got there we thought it might be closed. The whole place was deserted; swimming pool empty, mini-mart bare and not one tent in sight. Thankfully, despite such unfortunate circumstances, the owner had kept the place running smoothly (minus the swimming pool). We pitched our tent in a prime spot, overlooking the spectacular surrounding valleys. It was as if we were looking out onto another planet with its baron, pink-tinged, rock formations from millennia ago that had eroded into abstract space-agey shapes.
Hidden in the valleys below were man-made caves hollowed out over the centuries to create homes, churches and any other type of shelter needed. Still being discovered today, we explored impressive structures, some of which were two stories high, and places of worship with religious carvings, burial chambers and alters still holding up to the elements. A few caves we stumbled upon suggested the cave shelters hadn't quite been abandoned yet. Because we were the only people around, we felt like proper adventurers, uncovering forgotten places for the first time. Lara Croft (me, obvs), Dora the explorer and Curious George continued our exploration up to the famous Paşabağ's 'fairy chimneys'. En route, we met a lovely dog who decided to take us for a walk. She showed us the off the beaten path way to view the chimneys, taking us up to a viewpoint with an panorama of the entire valley. After she successfully delivered us to our new destination, she wagged her tail goodbye. Even Cheddar, who can get a little bit jealous when we make other animal friends, fell a little bit in love, nicknaming her 'Sandy' and sharing with her his beloved cheese and Marmite crackers.
One of our favourite things about Turkey in general was the constant, sincere hospitality. This was no more true than when a small gesture of offering a woman a lighter lead to us tucking into breakfast with a lovely family from Trabzon. Despite some serious linguistic barriers, we had some great conversation whilst sharing a feast of delicious eggs à la Trabzon, a cheesy fondue, home-made fig jam and pastries, bread, and of course, copious amounts of çay. Even after devouring a good deal of their food they still invited us to dine with them that evening! Hearts and bellies warmed, we went in search of a scooter-rental to enjoy the region from further a field. Being the weekend, the tourist trade had picked up a bit now, drawing in a huge mix of people.
We had a lot of fun scootering around the martian valleys and towns embracing the landscape with 'cave hotels'. We even let Cheddar get behind the handle bars for a bit until the reckless rascal decided to cut a corner by going up a one way street. Towns were going about there business, fields were full of hard-working farmers, impressive backdrops loomed in all directions and we (and by we I mean Alex, don't panic mums) drove all morning until we reached the Ihlara Valley. It was much greener, steeper and sharper than the ones we had walked through yesterday. A nice area for a walk and a nosey around some less-forgotten caves but didn't quite live up to the terrific scenery we had witnessed from the back of the scooter or the day before. The day ended with as much food as it began. Köfte, a meatball speciality of the Trabzon region, was served up in sandwiches with salad and, of course, cup after cup of çay. The desert was provided by us. It was a risk as we had no idea what it was or what it would taste like but it seemed to go down well. We spent the evening chatting away about their home lives (skyping various relatives), the delights of Trabzon and filling them in on our own travel experiences. In fact, they promoted Trabzon so well that we decided to make it the next stop on our Turkish tour.
After two failed attempts, on our last morning we finally got to see the hot-air balloons ascend over Cappadocia. 5am was too early, 7am was too late, 6am was just right. We opened the tent to a sky full of balloons, rising up from the valley below. The dawn sky covered in multicoloured balloons, accompanied by the occasional whoosh from the roaring fires keeping people afloat was beautiful. One by one, the balloon rides came to an end (see our time lapse in the video channel section), meaning it was time to enjoy a final breakfast with our adopted Turkish family and bid them a final farewell.
We left Cappadocia with massive smiles on our faces. It was selfish that most of our unforgettable experiences had stemmed from the poor economic downturn of the region, but sharing an entire campsite with one family and a couple of lovely Turkish photographers, as well as having the freedom to roam without the usual crowds really made our time there special.