October 7, 2014

Cappadocia: Claustrophobes need not apply.

Whimsical rock formations
Kurban Bayramı is nearly over. Having Friday to Tuesday off is pretty luxurious.

It's Tuesday afternoon here in Talas. Our rental car is parked outside, waiting to go back to its city home in a few hours. We will come back by bus and resume our car-less  life. Tomorrow, we will go back to work.

"Love Valley"
I want to share a little about what Alan and I did during the holiday. After our impromptu visit to Cappadocia, Alan and I returned the following day to see more fairy chimney action and tour an underground city.

Let me paint a picture of Cappadocia. According to Alan, it looks a lot like Southern Utah. To both of us, the novelty of Cappodocia's beauty is reminiscent of Sedona, Arizona. The arid plain is dotted with colorful rock mesas. Jutting out from the earth are also these pointy spires. Some are shaped like isosiclies triangles, some are more organic and whimsical, and some look like they belong on a naughty cake for a bachelorette party. Into the hillsides and pointed rocks, previous civilizations have carved homes and entire cities. Some sections mimick adobe homes of the Southwest, and others look a lot more alien. The vast majority of Cappadocia is free and open to the public, so tourists can explore unimpeded nearly everything. Even the incredibly dangerous and scary stuff, like unlit cave tunnels with uneven bottoms, no clear signage, and no help if one is trapped. I did not encourage Alan to push his limits in the caves.

Cappadocia is beautiful. The landscape is colorful, whimsical, and practically begs to be explored. As rich as the place is in beauty, it is also full of history. Alan and I visited a church designated as a world heritage site. The church was carved into the mountainside and wonderfully preserved over the centuries. We climbed up modern stairways to see the ancient rooms painted with depictions of Christ's life and teachings. Most of the faces, save those painted on the ceiling, had been scratched out, presumably by Muslim or nomadic conquerers.

The second world heritage site that we visited was the underground tunnel. We began our second day of Cappadocia there, and I'm glad we didn't have much planned for afterward. The tour was intense.

Okay, admittedly, an ancient "underground city" pretty much tells you what to expect. Dark, damp, rocks, maybe some tighter spaces. Wow. For this particular city, claustrophobes need not apply. The first 15 minutes of the self-guided tour were tame enough. Easy clearance, larger rooms, no hallways. But then, as more and more tourists piled in behind us, we came to a bottleneck stairway which was part of the tour and exit route. We waited for several minutes as tourist after tourist climbed out of the stairway, looking exhausted and a little aghast. As soon as the train of people ended, Alan and I fell in line with a Korean tour group. Bent at 90 degrees, we crept down the staircase in single file (no room for doubles here). My backpack scraped at the ceiling of the stairway, and my knees nearly knocked my jaw as I treaded down the uneven stairs for several minutes. We passed huge stone disks that were once rolled in place to keep the enemy out. I muttered curses and encouragements to myself as I listened to the Koreans squeal with fear and delight behind me. Finally, we emerged at the bottom, in a chamber. To our right, the church section and to our left, the graves section. My heart rate was sky high from the adrenaline of the tight staircase, and the thin underground air and increased pressure had me feeling dizzy. Somehow, I was convinced to travel down the even tighter tunnel to the grave section. There weren't lights in the tunnel as it was too tight to fit them, but there were lights in the ambiguous grave room. Nothing much to see there, really. Unfortunately, before we could make our way back out of there, a party of boisterous Turks made their way in. Their loud and excited chatter made me feel really closed in, but I had to wait until every last one of them filed back out before I could reenter the passageway.

Alan showing the size of the tunnel to the grave section
The tour of the underground city wouldn't be complete without a look down the perilous well, or a look up the disparaging ventilation shaft. After a solid half hour eight stories underground, we were ready to get out of there. The problem was, if your remember that single file staircase, we were now on the other end. Waiting for loads and loads of people to come down. With no tour guides to manage the staircase situation, the noisy Turks from the grave section began yelling and gesticulating. If I can imagine the only way to make the underground city more scary, it would be to have an angry mob rushing a one way at a time staircase. I tried to take deep breaths (wondering how much oxygen there really was down there) and stay focused on getting out.

It occurred to me to make a video of the ascent on the staircase, so I have about 90 seconds of footage featuring a stranger's butt as he ascended the stairs in front of me.

We weren't out of the woods yet, though. After the staircase, the exit route included a ridiculously awful second staircase that was even smaller than the first. My thighs were burning as we crept through the dark tunnel, bent over, legs not even able to straighten. Without an alternative, I just kept going, pushed onward by the crowd behind me. Emerging into the sunlight, I thanked my lucky stars that I survived.
Free puppy guides!
We bought post cards and headed back out to the open plain for more exploring. Highlights of that excursion included an easy to explore section of larger structures, some potato chips, and a free puppy guide.

  

Cappadocia has captured our hearts. The surrounding areas are so open and naturally beautiful, not unlike Northern Arizona. Though touristy, Cappadocia is still relatively wild. I'm sure we will be renting more cars to visit this place again in the near future.

Coming next: Ankara, city of freeways.