Cappadocia was never on my Turkey travel plans. All I knew about this area was that people come here to take balloon trips. And balloon trips are not really something that excites me. Nor does my budget extend to the cost of such an adventure. But then I had the rental car and ten days in Turkey; it made sense to come see what the fuss is about.
I stayed at Kaya Kamping just outside Goreme. This area is the centre of Cappadocia’s tourist industry but the camping is quiet and filled with overlanders in campervans traveling between Europe and the far East. It feels almost like a halfway house for we traveling souls. Last night I stayed up until about 2am chatting with a Swiss couple driving a Land Rover to India and a German couple on a two week holiday from their PhD studies. We are all around the same age and yet our experiences are so different. That’s what I love about traveling; meeting so many cool people from all walks of life.
But I digress. The camping ground is right next to an entrance to the Red and Rose Valleys. An entry that is visually stunning. I turn a corner on the path and am suddenly in another world. One that is comprised of alien-like fairy chimneys. It’s amazing and I am instantly glad I didn’t skip Cappadocia.
The first section of the walk takes me through a deep narrow gorge. It twists and turns it’s way downhill. At times the path goes through tunnels cut into the rock, whether my man or nature I do not know.
As I exit the gorge I come to an open area with a huge fairy chimney smack in the middle of it. Like my mum, I was wondering whether these chimneys would be disappointingly small but they are not. Some are massive. You can see the scale from the trees in the foreground. This really is like nothing I’ve ever seen before and I definitely recommend exploring the gorge (or other gorges in the Goreme area) on foot.
The walls of the gorge are dotted with both churches and pigeon holes. Later, I learn that the main income for this region is pigeon poop. Yes, that’s correct. The soil is so poor that people own acres of land here and encourage the pigeons to roost in the gorges then collect the poop and sell it as fertiliser. I am told that, at one time, the poop was worth more than gold. There are signs showing images of pigeons near some of the sites in the valley so maybe it is a true story.
The gorge is not just a tourist destination. It’s also working agricultural land. There are many apple and pear trees, and grape vines dotted throughout the valley. Locals, mostly women, work to pick the fruit while the men drive the car or tractor or stand around the bags of fruit doing something. Life here in Turkey is gendered; something that I am not used to being from Australia. I mean, Australian women will talk about how gendered our lives are at home but compared with Turkey – Australian women can do anything. Here I have not yet seen a woman driving a vehicle; they are always passengers in cars, tractor trailers and scooters. There is clearly women’s work and men’s work on the farms too. Women seem to pick the fruit (except when the workers are Syrian – then men, women and children pitch in probably in the hope they will all be paid some money to help pay for the next leg of their journey to safety).
A random side trail leads me to a church. There are many here in the valley. A rickety wooden bushcraft style bridge crosses the deep drop between the path and the church. I decide to throw caution to the wind and cross. Inside I am greeted by a multi story space with this huge chamber on the second story. It’s incredible.
The incredible experience continues after I leave the church and follow more random trails up the side of the valley to the sunset lookout. There’s a geocache hidden up here so I that’s why I know to come up to this view point. The views from the geocache location are stunning; looking down at the valley from which I have just climbed. It could very easily become the set of a very eerie space movie.
More confident now with the idea that you do not have to follow the official marked paths, I take more chances on small random trails around the valley in the direction of the Cavusin. It’s absolutely wonderful. I walk and scramble and climb and slide along the trails. Some follow narrow ridges and others skid down steep slopes. It’s choose your own adventure and that’s exactly what I am doing.
It takes me about four hours to reach Cavusin due to my meandering hiking style and rest stops sitting in gorgeous places overlooking the valley eating either fresh picked apples (I take the approach that if the apple tree has more rotten apples lying on the ground than ripe ones on the tree then it is not being tended so taking an apple won’t hurt but I never take apples from trees that are obviously being tended to) or some potato chips (crisps) from the bag I bought yesterday. Cavusin is not much to look at. It’s a kitschy tourist place with the usual assortment of restaurants, trinket shops and tour buses. But it’s not offensive and the people are friendly when you politely decline whatever they are offering.
This is what the tour buses have come here for. This huge structure dominates the town. I have come here because there is a geocache hidden somewhere in this structure (I find it). It’s a typically Turkish site. You can just wander around to your heart’s content exploring the caves and everything. There are dark corners, scary ledges and rickety bridges. The only limit to your exploration is your own imagination. No signs indicate what this structure is but I think (from a quick Google search) that it’s an old church. I don’t need to know the story … I am just fascinated by the caves and rooms and frescoes. And ponder how on earth such a Swiss-cheese like structure is still standing after all this time.
Rain starts to fall as I descend from the structure. I pull on my wet weather gear and begin the 3.5km walk back to the camping. I decide to follow a gravel road instead of the path back through the valley. It’s quite an easy flat walk to Goreme but then a steep climb for the last kilometer up to the camping. The temperature drops dramatically as I hike back leaving me grateful for the hot shower and a change of dry clothes.
If you get a chance to hike the Red and Rose Valleys, I highly recommend taking your time and exploring the many small tracks that lead off the main path. There are guided walks and they probably give you background information, but the navigation is simple and there’s no need to worry much about getting lost. Just keep heading downhill towards the big structure in Cavusin and you will be fine. Bring water and snacks. There are some basic cafes on the way selling coffee, tea and fresh juice but I didn’t try any of them. Most have stunning views and comfortable-looking seating though.