Another week down! We thought a month in Turkey would be way too long but the itinerary has been perfect with lots of variety. Week 3 of our 26 week adventure brought us briefly to Antalya for cook group shopping at a megamall, and then onward to Ihlara Valley. This valley is 100 meters deep and over 20 km long. We hiked a small portion of it, visiting cave churches along the way. In its heyday, Ihlara Valley housed well over 4000 dwellings and 100 cave churches. We visited a dozen of its best frescoed churches, and emerged extremely impressed. Our campsite that night was at Belisirma Village where we got lured into a late night excursion to a hot spring. Hot it was not but definitely memorable! The next day we visited Selime Monastery (at the end of the Ihlara Valley) before driving onward to Goreme, the gateway to Cappadocia. Here we had several amazing days, with the highlights being a phenomenal hot air balloon ride, celebrating Anthony’s birthday over unlimited alcohol at Turkish dance night, and hiking through the gorgeous valleys (Pigeon, Rose, Red). Cappadocia is simply amazing! We could easily return for another week here. We are down to our final few days in Turkey before we cross over to Iran. Not sure how good internet will be going forward so stay tuned…
06 May – Drive day today! We left Olympos and drove towards Antalya where we had a quick stop at a mega shopping center for cook group shopping (Team Robby, Helen and Lars). Since we were already at the mall, Kate told us that lunch would be on us, so we got some hummus, chips, cheese rolls and a half-liter tub of chocolate-vanilla ice cream for lunch, eating it cross legged in the parking lot right next to our truck. Real classy, our Oasis group! From Antalya, we drove onward towards Goreme, stopping late afternoon for a bush camp next to a lake outside the city of Konya. Team RHL made couscous with chicken in tomato sauce and a yogurt mint dressing…yum! No late night festivities as we had an early morning tomorrow so it was of to our tent right after dinner.
07 May – After breakfast we drove to Ihlara Valley….Cappadocia region, here we come! On the way we stopped for cook group shopping (Team Denise, Kevin, and Daniel) at a mall where we had a chance to stop by the ATM machine to get some more Turkish Lira. Connie told us about her doner kebab find (yummy sandwich with yogurt drink for a bargain 4 Lira), so half the truck ended up at the women-only establishment for an early lunch. Best lunch deal we found in all of Turkey and the two women who owned the kebab stand were overjoyed to serve us. After a bit more driving, we finally arrived at Ihlara valley where we had a quick truck lunch. Then it was a short hike down to the ticket booth where all of us bought the excellent value 3 day pass which covered entries for all sites in the Cappadocia area. Excellent value for only 45 Lira! We quickly calculated that if we did Ilhara Valley, Derinkuyu underground city, Gerome Open Air Museum, etc, the card would easily have paid for itself. Down in the valley, we ended up checking out the cave churches and frescoes with Helen, backtracking to ensure we saw all the highlight churches. Our truck was parked at the Anatolya Restaurant in Belisirma Village, and it took us several hours to reach our campsite where cook group 5 was diligently preparing our dinner. Kate greeted us with a new invention of warm Turkish Apple Tea and Captain Morgan, which was a great combo! After dinner a guy from the restaurant offered a trip to a local hot spring for 5 Liras each, promising the water would be a balmy 37 degrees Celsius. Since it was a cold night, we were certainly hoping he wasn’t exaggerating on the temperature! It took a while to organize our group as we had to split up into 3 different taxis. We ended up hopping in the car of an American guy (staying at our same campsite, and a semi-local since he and his wife had been living in Turkey for decades running a sign language school). Sadly, the hot spring wasn’t as hot as had been advertised, but we all huddled together to keep as warm as possible, sipping on our drinks and checking out the stars above. After procrastinating as long as possible, we finally tore ourselves from the water and immediately froze while quickly stripping from our wet bathing suits into something dry. Upon returning to campsite, we hit the sack straight away.
08 May – Selime was our first destination today (highlights were The Church of the Virgin Mary and the Fairy Chimneys). This was a good introduction to the landscape and carved stone dwellings that we should expect to see in Goreme. After a quick walk around, we drove to see Derinkuyu Underground City. Shockingly, there was a huge queue. We cheekily attempted to avoid the long line since we already had muli-entry cards, but were quickly told that most of the visitors had cards as well, so back of the line we went. Apparently today is some kind of local holiday, hence the hundreds of local tourists in line to visit with us. It ended up being a 30 minute wait to see the underground complex, which was worth it. Apparently, only 10% of Derinkuyu is open to visitors. The deepest level of the city is about 60 meters down and the site could have housed approximately 20,000 people. We spent an hour underground before linking back up with the truck and heading towards Goreme. There we were camping at Nirvana Camp, which is right in the middle of town under a couple of the fair chimney’s…perfect location! The majority decided to upgrade but one look at the stinky cave dorm and we much preferred sleeping in our tent. After settling in, we took showers and washed some laundry before heading over to Sultan Carpets for a free dinner (buckwheat accompanied by stewed lamb…delicious) and free wine followed by a carpet demonstration. The demonstration was interesting as they showed us a few carpet types we have not seen before, and our guide gave us some interesting details about how the carpets are made. We agreed beforehand that we would not buy any carpets on this trip, but seeing them really tempted us for just one more. Fortunately we were able to resist and headed back to the campsite earlier than most of the group in preparation for an early morning. Just above the campsite Kevin took a spill down the stairs in the dark and he was lucky that he did not seriously injure himself.
09 May – We were up at 4 AM for breakfast and a hot air balloon ride with Butterfly Balloons. They had a nice breakfast spread, which was a bit too much so early in the morning. A shuttle drove us to the balloon site that was a little out of town. We were envious of all the other balloons that we passed because they seemed to be catching the sunrise and we were still on the shuttle going farther out of town away from all the other balloons. Our balloon was being inflated when we arrived, so it was a short wait until our pilot (Mike Green) told us to load up. Mike is the Chief Balloon Pilot for Butterfly Balloons and it was immediately obvious that he had many years of experience. After taking off he explained why we started so far from all the other balloons, so there was a method to the madness! It was nice to get away from the cluster of balloons in the valley, and because we started further, our balloon ride covered a longer distance than the other balloons, allowing us to drift high above the Goreme valley. The ride was spectacular, and we were completely mesmerized by the views. Back on the ground, (Mike landed our basket on top of the trailer…talk about mad skills), the crew served champagne, strawberries and cake. Talk about getting spoiled! We chatted with 2 fellow Texans who had joined our group for the hot air balloon ride and they were also in the know, as they had the foresight to ask for Mike Green of Butterfly Balloons. We definitely felt like we had scored the best balloon ride in Cappadocia, one of the premier hot air balloon destinations worldwide! Back at camp, we decided to head out straight away to see the Goreme open-air museum, which was covered with our Cappadocia multi-entrance card. We were the first visitors of the day for the first 20 minutes, and then the site was deluged with visitors. The staff here was very strict about taking photos of frescoes in the churches. We understand that it is to help preserve them, but it seemed that they could just require photos without flash. Oh well! After the open-air museum we ran into the rest of the group, and Mark helpfully suggested several must see Goreme highlights. Based on his advice, we went to a church near the small lovers valley and the attendant told us that it was 5 lira each to enter. When we balked at the entrance fee, he immediately reduced the price to 5 lira for the three of us. We still weren’t keen since we had already paid for the Cappadocia museum card. Finally, after Ichiyo mentioned she was from Japan, it was like the magic doors opened. He gave us free entry, allowed us to take pics, took us to the pigeon tower, offered up free massages, and made us hot tea! We are taking Ichi with us everywhere in Turkey…the men here freaking LOVE her!!! Afterwards, we hiked through the small lovers valley, and then up to the sunset lookout point for nice views over the town and surrounding landscapes. Next we went into town to get a doner for lunch and continued hiking through the valley over to Uchisar. A nice local guy that runs a horse ranch stopped and gave us a lift in the back of his pickup truck part way down the valley so that he could check on his horses, and we hiked the rest of the trail uphill. There were amazing views all around Uchisar castle. We could have paid extra to climb up to the top of the castle, but since we could walk most of the way up for free, we were perfectly content with what we could see from outside. On the return hike back, we walked along the main road before looking for a place to cut back into the valley. Ichiyo was talking to one of the local guys about how to get back down to the valley and he told her that it was dangerous unless we walked a bit further towards one of the cafés up ahead. As we were walking away her new friend and another guy started professing their love and inviting her to an evening was barbecue dinner. She declined and left them broken hearted, ha. We found that the Turkish guys really love the Japanese. Making our way to the café the guy had mentioned, we found a rough unused pathway to carefully scootch our way back into the valley for the final walk back into Goreme. We were tired when we got back to the campsite so we took a short nap before doing some admin work. In the evening, we went to Turkish night to watch local singing and dancing along with an endless supply of drinks. Our group was the first to arrive at the restaurant and it felt a bit awkward to be in this massive room as the only guests. After a while other groups started to arrive and we figured that someone just planned our transport arrival just a bit early. We had drinks so we just got started earlier than everyone else and were having a merry time before everyone else showed up. The show started with whirling dervishes. Then it was a couple of local dances, and finally audience members were being dragged up on the dance floor to shake it up. Since Turkish night was all about celebrating Anthony’s birthday, Kate and Kyle got him a surprise birthday cake which was brought out about midway through the show. After cake, the dancing continued and by this point we were all happy with several drinks in us. The next dance act was a male belly dancer that was dressed as a female. He had on a veil and the lighting was low so it was difficult to tell at first. One guy from a Korean group got really excited about this dancer. Even after the dancer revealed his face the Korean guy was still excited. He even came out to dance with the male belly dancer and stuffed money into his costume. Our table was getting a kick out of the Korean guest moreso than the professional dancers! As the show started drawing down, we started stockpiling the remaining booze from other guests’ tables to smuggle away with us. We ended up with several bottles of Raki, wine and vodka. Between our naughty group members, we managed to get about 8 bottles of booze out and back to the campsite without being noticed. At the campsite, everyone wanted to go to Fat Boys for a count down to midnight so that we could properly celebrate Anthony’s birthday. The bar was empty when we arrived, but we made the party with music and a couple of drinks. After wishing Anthony a happy birthday at midnight, we eventually broke free from the party and headed back to our campsite. Fun day today!
10 May – For our last full day in Goreme, we joined Lars and Ichiyo for a walk in the Rose and Red Valley. The landscapes from the valleys were different than what we saw yesterday, but they were just as awesome. We walked all the way to Cavusin and looked for a place to have lunch since we were all starving. There were a couple of little girls with baby rabbits on the road that approached us so we could take photos. They walked over to a restaurant and it looked like a good place to eat with reasonable prices, so like the dumb tourists we were, we happily sat down and ordered up a lunch meal of kofte meatballs. What we actually got was way different than what had been expected! Our meal was several nuggets of processed meat balls that had been deep fried. We were severely disappointed. Lars decided to order some yogurt to help his meal go down and got sticker shock when our bill came in as he had been charged an outrageous 8 Lira for a couple spoonfuls of yogurt! From Cavusin, we hiked back to Goreme and got caught up in an afternoon storm. Thankfully Andy had been considerate enough to take down our laundry and put it in our tent…thanks Andy! Back at the campsite, we got caught up with some admin work. Our plan was to climb up for a sunset view but it was too cloudy to bother, so we went for a walk to buy Becky a warm poncho (so she can be twins with Lars and Ichi). We were keen on Korean for tonight, but one look at the menu and we decided to join the rest of the group at Fat Boys. Their strawberry cheesecake was devine, and the kofte meatballs were fabulous. Two thumbs up for Fat Boys of Goreme!
11 May – We woke up at 5 AM to catch sunrise with all the hot air balloons in the background. Waking up that early was dreadful but the view was really nice and well worth the effort. After our early morning photo session, we went back to the campsite for breakfast and left at 8 AM. Today’s plan was to drive towards the Black Sea and bush camp somewhere along the way. So it was a long drive day with lots of reading, napping, and daydreaming. Our bush camp was an awesome hilltop where we started drinking vodka cherry juice. Lars used Raki from the Turkish night to created Raki Daki (Raki Lemonade). It was not a pleasant drink, but it is a ton better and more palatable than drinking straight Raki! Robby, Lars and a few others gathered a heap of wood for a fire but it started raining so that put a damper on our campfire idea. A couple of our tents started blowing downhill, so we had to chase them and stake them to the ground. Pre-dinner festivities included SCUBA Gill painting Robby’s toenails. That’s when we found out Kate has a slight phobia of men with painted toenails so Robby of course had to chase her all around the campsite with his girlie toes! After dinner, the group turned in early…no camp fire, no late night party animals! Everyone was in bed well before 10 pm…bunch of losers (ourselves included), ha ha.