The Day We Went For a Long Hike, Met Some Narcoleptic Turtles,
and Hitched a Ride Back to Town With the Turkish Air Force.
On our second-to-last day in Cappadocia, we decided to hike from Göreme (the town our hostel was in) to Uçhisar via Pigeon Valley. Things started off rough. We lingered too long over breakfast and didn’t get started until just before noon. There was no breeze, the sun was hotter than ever, and despite the fact that we were in one of the most beautiful places on earth, we were both a little grumpy.
Eventually, the discovery of a little stream, some shade, and the stillness of the valley softened us. Pigeon Valley is a beautiful place.
About three-quarters of the way to Uçhisar, we saw a cardboard sign that read Hasan Tea Garden. Now, the last thing you want towards the end of a long and sweaty hike is a hot glass of tea. But when you are on said long and sweaty hike and a shack with benches and cushions and a man with a teapot appears out of nowhere, you stop.
We were still out of breath from the last pitch and Hasan intercepted us before we sat down. His face was expressionless. “You have reservation?” We stared at him blankly for a moment, and then his eyes crinkled and the three of us laughed together. He served us tea and little cookies and a dish of peanuts. The sparrows fearlessly begged for some treats, so we crumbled some of the nuts and tossed them at our feet.
When we finished our tea, Hasan asked us if we had seen any turtles. We said that we saw a turtle shell earlier in the day, but no live turtles. “I have turtle. She sleeping.” He motioned for us to follow him. He brought us to a tree that had a ladder leading up to a platform with a pink blanket on top. “Turtle sleeping. You look.”
He herded a thoroughly skeptical Tony towards the ladder, and as soon as he started up the rungs, Hasan turned to me and pointed excitedly at my camera. I waited for Tony to gingerly lift up the corner of the blanket.
Hasan was very pleased with himself. He generously sent us back on the trail with one of his turtle’s “babies.”
The landscape smoothed out into soft pink ripples as we approached the top of the valley. We finally reached Uçhisar. We stood in the sun at the main road and realized we hadn’t checked the bus schedule. Not a big problem. Since we had just hiked uphill the entire way to Uçhisar, the road back to Göreme would be an easy descent.
We hadn’t gotten very far when we saw a blue van pull off at a scenic overlook, and some men in blue camouflage and berets got out to take photos of the valley and of each other. We said hello and exchanged the usual friendly “where are you from”s and continued on our way. A few minutes later, the van pulled up alongside us, the side door slid open, and the man in the front passenger seat offered us a ride.
The one who spoke the best English told us they were members of the Turkish Air Force on their way to report for duty. This was three days after Syria shot down one of Turkey’s fighter planes. We weren’t sure if it was related to that or not, but we didn’t bring it up. And we didn’t take any photos. They laughed and joked to each other the whole way and dropped us off a few blocks from our hostel. We wished them good luck, headed back to our cave bunks, and spent the rest of the afternoon in the swimming pool.
We had been looking forward to going to Cappadocia since before we even sold our house. We saw a photo and, in our best Liz Lemon impersonations said, “I want to go to there.” So we did. After a few days orienting ourselves in Trabzon, we took a night bus to Göreme, in the very center of Turkey. (The night bus itself is another story for another time.)
Besides the epic hot air balloon ride at dawn, we also were able to get our Indiana Jones on. We hiked through dusty canyons and scorched ridge lines and felt our skin cringe and shrivel under the relentless sun. We climbed up and into and through only a few dozen of what must be thousands and thousands of cave homes and churches carved into the soft and strangely eroded volcanic rock. It was exhausting and exhilarating and we always stumbled back to our hostel completely filthy.
On one of our hikes near Rose Valley, I had wandered off to stare at some wildflowers, as I am wont to do, and when I returned to the spot where I left Tony, he had already made friends with Brooks From Atlanta. We took each others’ photos and exchanged email addresses and went our separate ways. Later that evening, Brooks saw us having dinner in town and we made plans to meet up the following day and hike through the abandoned cave city of Zelve.
Zelve was inhabited by Muslims and Christians (mostly simultaneously) for over 1,500 years before the citizens were evacuated from their increasingly unstable cave homes in the 1950s. Today you can hike through the three valleys on the nice government-installed footpath, or you can be a little more intrepid and blaze your own trail.
Other than the sunbathing lizards and the flocks of swallows and martins zipping through the air like mini fighter jets, we mostly had the whole place to ourselves.
As you are reading this, Brooks From Atlanta is now Brooks From New York City, since he just moved there to go to law school. It’s so great when we cross paths with people who can share our adventures with us for a day or two. Those are the best days of all.
4:30 am – Wake up in our cave-dorm to be shuttled away by Ürgup Balloons
6:30 am – Jump into a basket that is just about to win against gravity.
Far off in the distance, over 100 kilometers away, stands the extinct volcano, Mount Erciyes. Legendary site of St. George’s dragon slaying, and source of the geologic material that has eroded into the Cappadocian wonderland. You can just baaarely see it here.