Maybe it was the creeps, maybe it’s Maybelline, but I was quickly facing burnout after only being on the road for two weeks. I’m glad I buffered Morocco and Cappadocia with Istanbul because these were the most eventful travel sites of 2014.
I remember leaving Cappadocia feeling underwhelmed by it all (maybe I’m just not a big fan of rock structures?) but looking back, it was a pretty darn cool sight to see, especially to hike through. I can honestly say that I’ve never been enveloped by many penis-shaped rocks before. But that wasn’t the only first I experienced on this trip.
The Accidental Asian Tour
The first full day, I went on a tour after being told that it would be difficult to see all of Cappadocia if I don’t sign up for a tour. I shrugged; why not? From my research, I knew that there were numerous cities surrounded by even more sites. Given that I didn’t want to spend a whole week here, I decided the best thing to do was take a tour. Discounted, thanks to my Couchsurfing host.
When I arrived onto the first site, thanks to a private van that escorted me that was not at all because I overslept and missed the tour time, my first thought was racists! Looking around, everyone around me was Asian. Did they accidentally put me onto an Asian tour? But I shrugged, and asked one of the multiple boyfriends with a serious DSLR around his neck to snap a quick solo photo of me. I say quick, because I felt slightly judged that everyone else was very public about being in a couple.
I did what I do best and ignored the haters. Now, I’m glad that I chose to take the tour that day because I met an Australian couple that would turn out to be really good friends. I really had no choice in choosing my tour friends because they were the only ones fluent enough in English—even the tour guide had some trouble expressing his thoughts!
Basically, I introduced myself while we explored the underground city. We all know couples are harder to talk to when they’re so coupley so I took advantage of the fact that his wife was extremely claustrophobic. I think I’d be a great homewrecker. And then I used him to stage a mini photoshoot in the tomb.
Once we got to know each other a little bit (read: once I stalked him through many small rock doorways), he introduced me to his wife when we were again at Earth’s surface. Lucky for us, the tour ran like a full-time job and was scheduled from 9 AM to 5PM, taking us through the underground city to various famous sites.
There’s this, which was part of the Star Wars original series—at least, that’s what I think the tour guide said. It might as well have been “looks like we’re on the moon” for all I could distinguish. My companions shook their heads and shrugged; they couldn’t decipher it either. Fortunately, landscapes don’t need too much explanation; we knew when we were impressed and when we weren’t.
A lot of the places they took us to used to be inhabited by monks. From afar, I thought these structures were just stones that looked all funny, but apparently people chose these places to live in. I wonder how addresses worked back then. I live at that rock that looks like a face on one side and has two pointy things on the left?
One of the really cool parts of the tour was climbing down into a valley and walking alongside the river that ran through it. You feel dwarfed by the colorful rocks surrounding you, which distracts you from realizing later on that the river is usually a stream and you were going to have to get your feet wet to cross certain parts of the normally dry path. “Path creativity and willingness to get wet” should’ve been listed as requirements under the tour description. Ragged and squishy, we emerged successfully on the other side.
This wasn’t the only day that I’d have to clamber over huge rocks, though.
Right before the group separated at the end of the tour, the Australians and I exchanged emails. I am aware of how antique that sentence was, but phone numbers are really of no use when traveling. We agreed to continue being adventure buddies until both of us left 2 days later.
Embracing my inner Billy Goat
After moving out of my host’s apartment (story to come later), I rushed over to a hostel early in the morning, hoping to book, drop my stuff, and meet up with the Australians before long. The hostel was unfortunately not the cave type, but I really didn’t have many options. Note: try a cave hostel while you’re in Cappadocia.
This time, we weren’t going to go on another tour we couldn’t understand. We were going to explore this place on our own and I could sit back and relax, knowing that my older companions had done their research the night before. Trust is an easy thing to earn between English-speaking travelers while on the road. Boarding a bus and avoiding yesterday’s tour guide who happened to also be on the bus, we took off to the nearest church.
They were kind of one of those perfect couples where I could talk to both the husband and wife and have tons of things to talk about. With him, I’d talk about tech gadgets, traveling, geek things, and generally be immature and explorative together; with her, I’d talk about boys, traveling, travel style, and we’d be more practical.
“Hey, do you want to go on a longer hike?” he said eagerly, taking out his map and tracing an intimidatingly long route that eventually led back to our town.
“Yeah, I’m game!” I said, not knowing that by long, this was going to mean 5+ hours long. Or that I was going to have to crawl on all fours because that’s how steep some of the mountains we encountered on the path were. Path is the questionable term as there were not really any during the hike.
And that’s how we spent a whole day, getting lost in the midst of Cappadocia. After a while, it seemed like I was in a sci-fi movie and this was the part in between all the cool action bits. At one point, we found ourselves climbing all the way up and down a huge mountain as tall as a skyscraper (that might be an exaggeration); one was too much for me and I opted to stay on the sidelines with the wife while the husband explored to his heart’s joy. 30 minutes later, we got a little worried.
“I hope he hasn’t hurt himself,” she muttered, shaking her head. Then, she cupped her hands around her mouth. “DENNIS! WHERE ARE YOU!”
A few dozen yards away, we heard a faint response coming not from 10 or even 20 feet above the ground. No, the sound came from about 200 feet in the air. Craning our necks, we peered into the mountains, unsure if we were seeing him or if we were seeing another dark shrubby thing. A tiny man stood there, waving his hands hundreds of feet in the air.
“Oh my god. COME DOWN HERE RIGHT NOW!”
Another 30 minutes later, he rejoined us and we continued on our merry way.
I’m pretty sure we spent 40% of the time trying to find the path despite many graffitied signs of “THIS WAY” followed by an arrow pointing in both directions. The map didn’t help either because on it read descriptions like after you’ve passed yet another indistinguishable shrub, you’ll find a small shack where a man is usually found to serve tea. I can’t tell you the number of shack-like things we stumbled upon during our quest, but what I can tell you is that we never saw a man nor his tea. That was unfortunate because I really needed something to eat; I thought it was a hike and didn’t consider the possibility of a Lord of the Rings type trek. So I didn’t pack lunch.
It looks like the perfect weather, but you don’t know how hard it downpoured 15 minutes after taking this photo. Because we were a 20 minute walk away from any form of shelter, we hurriedly scanned the empty parking lot as the ominous clouds rolled over our heads. It was getting really dark, really fast. At the last minute, we spotted one. 300 feet from the only car in the lot was a couple, strolling down a steep path.
“That must be their car!” I said.
“Maybe we can time it so that we walk by right as they get in their car, mention that we don’t have a car… And then have them offer us a ride,” he said. And then it started pouring.
“Maybe we can just ask them outright,” I shouted while running at full speed towards our only escape.
They turned out to be a lovely Canadian couple enjoy the few days before their friend’s destination wedding. The rest of the day, we all enjoyed lively conversation (especially the couples, who engaged in too much couple-talk for my liking) in a lovely cafe while waiting out the rain, and then headed back home to prep for the hammam.
I’m a little sad that I wasn’t able to partake in usual tourist activities in Cappadocia, like the hot air balloon ride. Later on, the Canadian couple would inform me that they had done it earlier that day and it was perfect weather. It was hard for me to face the 150€+ price tag, though, so in an unusual move, I turned down that experience… even though they promised a breakfast buffet. Now, I think it would’ve been worth heading to the sky and seeing how large a place Cappadocia actually is. I mean, I know individually, the rock sites were quite huge, I just didn’t know how far it stretched or how many different variations there were.
Overall, it was an exhausting two-day crash course on Cappadocia and I felt physically spent as I boarded the plane to head back to Istanbul and then to Santorini, Greece. I’m beginning to realize that to really experience a place is to physically connect with it—hike some of its terrain or feel the sand between your toes. None of that wimpy stuff, like seeing London from a tour bus. You have to use all your senses while traveling to actually imprint a place into your memories, and I feel like that happened to me in Cappadocia. Not only did I completely immerse myself in the experiences here, but I left a part of me behind in the form of footprints and sweat.
As always, it was sad to leave friends that I had grown used to on the road (especially ones that I’ve seen naked), but I knew that there would always friends I haven’t made yet waiting for me at the next destination.
Have you ever been to Cappadocia? Is it on your bucket list?
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