I didn’t know too much, if anything, about this region of Turkey called Cappadocia, but I knew I must be there when I passed some really weird rock structures that looked like fairy chimneys capped with flame-shaped rock. Funnily enough, they were actually called Fairy Chimneys.
I took at turn-off and followed my map to the ‘Pashabagi Fairy Chimneys’. They looked worth a wander, so I switched the bike off and went exploring. I’d heard about the rock people of Cappadocia, and for the first time I saw some of the homes they used to live in, carved completely out of the soft volcanic tuff (solidified ash). In some areas people still live in them. Inside they provide a dark and cool escape from the heat of the summer sun.
Zelve Open Air Museum
Further down the road I came to the Zelve Open Air Museum and bought a ‘Museum Pass’ that gave me entry to several sights for a much reduced price; I thought I might as well disguise myself as a tourist whilst I was here.
The large rock city of Zelve was inhabited right up until the 1950s, when increasing erosion eventually made their homes unstable. Set across 3 valleys, the early Christians who lived here were later joined by Muslims, where they lived together in harmony for many years. It had churches, mosques, a winery, flour mill and all the other mod-cons you’d expect in an ancient city dug out of rock.
Some of the rock homes were high up on the cliff face, and the inhabitants must have been pretty nimble to scale up the rock ladders carved into the near vertical walls.
Pigeon houses are a common sight, easily recognized by their small rock pigeon holes, where farmers collected the droppings of pigeons to use as an excellent natural fertilizer on their orchards and vineyards.
The whole area of Cappadocia is like another planet – full of really weird rock formations I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. These formations are the result of the erosion of softer sediments, leaving exposed the harder volcanic rocks below.
The good news for an Adventure Biker is there are off-road tracks and trails all over the place. Many local tour operators offer ATV tours, but I had my own 2-wheeled ATV, and had great fun whizzing over the undulating terrain of sand and rock.
After my day of intensive sightseeing, I was hot and needed a swim. I dreamed of finding a cheap campsite with a swimming pool…
Well, someone must have been listening, because just a few miles away outside Goreme, I found exactly that!
It was perfect, and I couldn’t believe my luck. Before I even unpacked, I quickly changed into my swimming shorts and took a dive into the heavenly, cool water.
Goreme Waterpark Campsite was virtually empty, being out of season, but for me I think it was the best time to come (September); the weather was hot and sunny, but no too hot, it wasn’t too crowded with tourists, and the evenings were refreshingly cool.
That evening I took the short 15 minute walk into Goreme and had a delicious Testi Kebab, a meat and vegetable casserole cooked inside a clay pot (from the days they didn’t have casserole dishes).
99 Red Balloons
Around 5am the next morning I was woken by what sounded like several jet planes taking off next to my tent. I got up to investigate and what I saw was one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen, which I never thought I’d say at 5am in the morning:
I later learned Cappadocia is one of the best places in the whole world to do a balloon ride, with reliable winds and incredible views across the Martian-like landscape at sunrise. Many balloon operators also compliment your ride with champagne breakfasts.
Ihlara Valley is a 16km (10mi) long gorge cut into volcanic rock by a river in southern Cappadocia.
During the first centuries, the first Christians fled here to escape Roman persecution, and the whole area is still honeycombed with their settlements carved into the soft rock.
The man-made rock caves include hundreds of old churches, one of which is the Saint George Church I visited with its still visible frescoes.
Hidden Underground Cities
As well as hidden valleys like Ihlara, early Christians also dug hidden underground cities in order to escape persecution. Around 30 have been discovered in Cappadocia, and probably more exist that haven’t even rediscovered yet. I went to the largest one in Derinkuyu. To be honest, I didn’t fancy it too much, as I’ve been in a lot of underground tunnels and they all look remarkably similar. However, with this one I was actually pretty amazed.
The tunnels led deep underground into a rabbit warren of rooms connected by more tunnels which seemed too get smaller and smaller. At one point I was crawling on my knees in the pitch black to access some deep tombs. What short-arses they must have been back then!
Only part of the old underground city is accessible by tourists. It is immense. To give you some idea, it drops down up to 60m (200ft) in depth and used to house up to 20,000 people together with their livestock and food stores.
The underground cities had large round millstone doors they could roll over the entrances if they came under attack, although I’m not too sure how effective they were.
At Uchisar and Ortahisar there are huge natural rock fortresses that were once used as Roman Castles.
I climbed the one at Ortahisar, giving an impressive view of the surrounding area from its 90m high summit.
Many of the castle’s rooms hollowed out of the rock were connected to each other with stairs, tunnels and passages, although increasing erosion has made many of them unsafe to explore.
At the bottom of the fortress I was invited to sit down by an old man to eat some refreshing grapefruit. It was just what I needed, so I accepted, not minding if he ended up charging me something.
‘Crazy Ali’, as he liked to be called, had once been a tour guide and now owned a gift shop (outside which we were sitting), but his passion was poetry. He showed me a hand-written book full of his poems and I took the time to read a couple; they were good. I stayed and chatted for half an hour or so, and when I left he gave me a pile of postcards. On the back of one he wrote: “Even in a short time you can make good friends”. And he wouldn’t charge me anything.
Göreme Open Air Museum
My final bit of sightseeing was Göreme Open Air Museum, which is basically a collection of old churches calved out of the rock in the 6th or 7th century. The most famous one is called ‘The Dark Church’, some of which has collapsed, but has some of the best preserved 11th-century Byzantine frescoes in the word (which you weren’t allowed to take photos of). The reason the frescoes are so well preserved is due to the low amount of light which penetrates the church, hence its name.
Back at the camp I was getting spoilt with my daily swimming pool swims. I also went for my first jog since my accident one month ago. My conclusion = I was very unfit! I was huffing and puffing all the way and couldn’t seem to catch my breath, but I battled on and completed 30 minutes. I’m sure it will get easier; it usually does.
Being Saturday night, I treated myself to a night on the town, and then decided to spend another day there doing nothing by the pool. Anyone would have thought I was on holiday!
The only thing I didn’t like about the campsite owners was that they kept their Alsatian dog, Zavla, chained up outside and never seemed to take any notice of her. The poor thing was out of water when I first found her (on a really hot day) and I fed her a massive 2 litres before she stopped drinking.
I bought her some beef slices one night and she almost bit my hand off. Actually, she did catch my thumb! But no matter how badly she appeared to be treated, I suppose she looked in OK condition (although a bit thin) and looked better off than the hundreds of stray dogs I’d seen roaming the streets without a home looking for any scraps they could find, so I didn’t say anything to her owners (fearing any form of backlash on the dog).
One afternoon I asked the old boy owner if I could take her for a walk, as she was desperate for some attention and some exercise (she went crazy every time she saw me), and they let me. I didn’t intend on running with her, particularly after my poor effort trying to jog the day before, but that’s what I ended up doing in my flip flops (which is easier said than done), as she just so desperately wanted to. We ran for about 30 minutes in all, and then she was spent; she even turned around to go back on her own.
That night I bought her a pack of raw chicken drumsticks from the supermarket in town. On the way back to the campsite to give them to her, I met another Alsatian, this one only a male pup, and made the mistake of giving him one of the drumsticks. From then on, he wouldn’t leave me alone, and followed me all the way back to the campsite.
When Zavla saw me arrive with another dog, she went crazy and almost pulled the tree down she was chained to. For once I was glad she was chained up, for I think she would have killed this poor other pup. When I fed her the drumsticks she swallowed them all whole, almost taking my hand with them. I had to drop the last couple on the floor to avoid losing my arm.
I went back to my tent and the pup followed me; I couldn’t shake him off! I knew the owners would go crazy if they saw him, so I had to walk him all the way back into town where I’d found him. I then hid, hoping he’d go away, but he kept finding me and jumping up me, thinking it was a game. I felt bad, but I kept hiding until eventually he couldn’t find me and wondered off, leaving me safe to go back to the tent alone.
I could have stayed at that campsite for a long time, but I was on a time limit to get to Greece. I had to leave my bike at the Triumph dealership there to get the starter motor fixed while I flew back to the UK for my brother’s stag party on 26th Sep. That only gave me 10 days for the rest of Turkey.
I’d had a superb time exploring inland Turkey, but now I could not deny it was time for some sand and sea action. I re-set the compass south and prepared for a trip down to the Turkish Riviera to explore her Mediterranean Coast.