Europe | Turkey | Cappadocia – Turkish delights part 3: Cappadocia
Anyone who knows me knows I’m an avid Star Wars fan from way back. So I just had to make another pilgrimage of my own to the Cappadocia region, where Star Wars was filmed.
At this stage I was still travelling with Luke, the Aussie I met in Greece. We caught a night bus from Bursa to get to Cappadocia. Long distance bus rides in Turkey are a different experience altogether. They’re clean and comfortable, and there is an attendant who serves coffee, biscuits and water during the trip. They also splash perfumed water on your hands, which after rubbing together evaporates to leave them clean and smelling nice. I love that stuff.
I had seen photos, but I was still blown away when we arrived at Goreme, a tiny town with a population of two thousand. This town and some of the other surrounding towns in the region have dwellings built right into rocks. The rocks are roughly conical in shape, rising into the air and topped by a mushroom cap formation, a natural phenomenon which was created by wind erosion aeons ago. The dwellings have holes cut into them for doors and windows, and the rock is soft enough for rooms to be dug into them. We even stayed at a pension in a cave room. It was just like the planet Tatooine!
Thousands of years ago, these dwellings were used by primitive people. Around the 11th century, the Christians in the area escaped to these rocks to avoid persecution. Walking around the valleys in the surrounding region we climbed onto some smooth white coloured rocks to admire the view around us. We could see rock dwellings everywhere, most of them long abandoned.
In the Zemi valley nearby there are some spectacular rock formations, white in colour and best described as looking like whipped mashed potatoes. Luke described them as resembling meringue, which is also accurate. In the distance there is a large flat cliff with multiple colours. Brown rock on top, pink layers in the middle, and the white mashed potato stuff on the bottom. It was exactly like a giant slab of Neapolitan ice cream; chocolate, strawberry and vanilla! It was all so surreal.
The people of Goreme also exude that well known Turkish quality of friendliness and generosity. For example, we dined at the same cafe every morning and night, and they kept giving us a discount and refused to charge for the coffee. We got to know the staff quite well. Most of the locals can also speak English very well, and love it when tourists visit. Some of the locals still live a simple life. While most have cars and central heating in their homes, I did see some people still driving horse drawn wagons and gathering firewood.
In search of Star Wars in Selime
There are a number of travel agencies in Goreme offering tours around Cappadocia, but I always try to avoid tours whenever I can, especially when they charge a fortune for them. I had wanted to see Selime, where some of Star Wars was filmed, and walk the Ihlara valley. Instead of taking a tour we had to catch a bus to Nevsehir, another one to Aksaray, before catching another one to Selime.
On the road to Aksaray the bus driver suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and motioned for us to get out. I thought we were being dumped in the middle of the road, but he had spotted the bus on the way to Selime travelling in the opposite direction and waved it down, allowing us to get on here instead of travelling all the way to Aksaray. He had done us a huge favour, but such is the helpfulness of the Turks.
Selime is a very small village, complete with chickens running around and children playing outside stone houses. After walking down the road we saw some plains with some hills in the distance. A hill with pointy rock dwellings in front of it was one of the scenes out of Star Wars. When I saw them I sank to my knees and cried out in joy. I had found them! Then I got up when I noticed the farmers looking at me in a strange way.
We also climbed up to the monastery, a large rock dwelling riddled with holes and a maze of cave rooms. This was also apparently used in the movie although it may have ended up on the cutting room floor, but I still imagined I was on the planet Tatooine.
Trekking the Ihlara valley
When we came to the start of the Ihlara valley, we started walking along the Melendiz Suyu stream which flows right through it for 16 kilometres to Ihlara village. It was a fantastic way to spend a fine day, trekking through scrub and climbing over rocks. Along the way I saw and heard many interesting things: I marvelled at strange rock formations, poked among long abandoned cave dwellings, passed through fields of cattle tended by villagers (and avoiding cow pats), listened to the raucous mating calls of thousands of frogs in a pond, waved hello to villagers gathering firewood with their donkeys, and sat high on a rock face overlooking the valley and the river below.
After an hour and a half we reached the halfway point, Belisirma village, where we had lunch before continuing on our way. By the end of the walk we were already very weary but very glad to have done the entire walk. Although we had to catch a taxi back to Aksaray (there were no more buses running late in the afternoon), it was well worth it and still cost us less than a tour. And I’m certain we got to see and experience much more than anyone who paid to be driven around on a tour bus. What am I trying to say? Take the road less travelled; it is often more rewarding.
The next day we took it easy and went to the neighbouring town of Uchisar. The main attraction here is the Uchisar Castle, a towering mound of rock with holes in it. We climbed up to the very top where we sat for a while to soak in the view. We could see Goreme nearby, occasionally in shadow as large clouds drifted by. The last few days had been hot and sunny out here in the desert, and I had already taken on a tan on my arms.
After climbing down, we explored some of the rock dwellings again, and was surprised to discover that in this town some of the original primitive dwellings are still inhabited by people. We were invited into one to have a look around and found that other than the fact that it was built entirely into a mound of rock, the interior has all the mod cons one would expect from a normal home. Stoves, toilets, running water, electricity. It was however still heated by fireplaces, but that adds to the primitive charm of the place.
To walk back to Goreme we went through the Pigeon valley, a shorter walk than yesterday but marvellous all the same. The tops of the cliffs seem to overhang the rock below them, forming a perfect canopy. Sort of like a roof awning. We also passed more mashed potato rocks, but these ones had a pink tinge and looked more like marshmallows.
Back to Istanbul
I went back to Istanbul on the night bus while Luke stayed behind to continue southwards in Turkey. Prior to Turkey, my original plan was to spend only three days in Istanbul, but here I am almost two weeks later. I wish I could spend months travelling Turkey, but alas I have to continue my journey into Europe. Turkey is one of the most wonderful places to visit and I am sure I will be back to explore it more thoroughly in the future.