2011
03.13

SYNOPSIS

A walk that turned into a climbing adventure through the bizarre landscape around Goreme.  The pictures are better than the story.

Did I complain the other day that explorers in the olden days had the real adventures whereas I, no matter how adventurous, always am traveling the beaten path?  Well, I got my unexpected dose of an adventure.  And I thank the entire pantheon for getting out all right.

Goreme is the heart of Cappadocia, a region defined as much in historical terms as in geological ones.   It is a city that is situated in a horseshoe–shaped valley surrounded by a rim that extends into a larger plateau frequently interspersed with other valleys.  All over this region you see bizarre mountain formations.  There are soft sloping, undulating shapes that at times seem to form recognizable shapes such as huge elephant paws, hippopotami, camels, or lions’ backs.   They flow into one another like thick gooey paste.  Other shapes are freestanding “chimneys” or mushroom-shaped formations which have stems and caps and rise out of the flat areas.  They pierce the landscape and form a nice contrast to the more flowing mountainous shapes.  I have never seen anything quite like it.  It’s jaw-dropping.

Every visitor in town will climb up beyond one of the hotels which has provided a viewing platform to look down into town on one side and into the untouched landscape on the other side.  That is the beginning of the horseshoe, if you can picture that.  The sensible visitors will then climb down again or go for a short walk and come back.

Since I “took the day off” from doing much, I thought I would walk the entire horseshoe, circle the village, and descend on the other end.  Not a bad plan.  But when I was about half way into just one leg of the horseshoe I realized how much farther it all was and how far from the city the full horseshoe would take me. So, I looked for a short cut.  Deep down in the mountainous valley I saw what looked like a well-walked, narrow, sandy path.   I only had to find a way down.   And I found it:  A small path even touched by human hands.   There were some tiny steps carved into the mountain.  It seemed to be the perfect way down.

To make a three hour hike short:  The climb down was a lot more treacherous than I had anticipated.  These beige mountains are actually as soft and sandy as you can imagine.  Even touching the stones rubs off material.  With my fingernails I could scratch into it and with any kind of tool you can carve.  The tiny steps cut into some of them were already worn and slippery.  There was nothing to hold onto and by the time I was down, often on my butt, I realized that there was no way back up should I change my mind.  I found the sandy path just as I had anticipated, but it was the dried-out bed of a small stream.  After following it, I ended up in somebody’s orchard.  I think, that’s what the short-cut was for.  Nobody was there and I continued to follow the path. It should have led me right back into the city if I could have behaved like water.  Water can fall 6 feet down, I cannot.  When I reached the point of the drop, my heart sank.  I could not make it back up.  Now what?!

The only way out was “sideways”.   Back to the orchard and out the other way.  I found more mini-steps carved into mountains but as much as I could slide down them, I could not climb up.  I had to find grassy areas, hold on to the grass and pull myself up, often going on detours.  Whenever I had reached another peak, I only faced another valley and another row of camel backs; three more times, before I reached the other side of the horseshoe which had a well defined road back into town.  Finally, I had made it across!

I took great pictures from the valley up into the white mountains and into the sunny, deep blue sky.  I was as remote from anyone as I could imagine. This valley was a lot more complex than it had looked from the top. There wasn’t a soul around.  And I realized that if I had slipped and broken my leg I would have been out there during the night likely freezing to a point I would not have appreciated.

But then, I had a whistle with me and perhaps, somebody would have heard me and come to the rescue?   I should learn the SOS whistle sequence, just in case.

Instead of wrestling with the shortcut for three hours, I am sure I could have easily walked the full horseshoe in the same time.  But I would not have gotten those cool pictures…

And that was my day off.

Good night.

2011
03.13

DAY 43 – TIME OUT 2

It’s been a month.  I need a day off.  ET

Enjoy the images from my 200 year old Hotel in Göreme.

2011
03.13

SYNOPSIS:

About the snow-covered Hittite capital of Hattusa, lion gates, and a miracle which manifested transportation for me.

I only confirmed what I had been told in Safranbolu:  There is no way out of Bogazkale other than via the rare microbus (which only goes when it fills) and back to Ankara if I wanted to move on; or via a $100 taxi to the next big town from where I could move on more directly.  I watched the microbus all morning – none left even though my guide book said that mornings are the best time.  “It’s winter!” was the answer.  Does this mean nobody goes anywhere just because it’s winter?  I needed a miracle.

But I could not worry about this now.  I was here to see Hattusa, the ancient capital of the Hittite empire.  I knew the Hittites only from their engagement with the Egyptians.  After their battle of Kadesh, they signed one the earliest peace treaties recorded in human history.  But who were the Hittites?  No idea.  I have to admit that even after I saw what was left of their mighty capital, I have a hard time picturing exactly what they were like.  The archaeologists say what looks to me like a few piles of rocks, a few gates, a few mounds, and a few carvings were actually a 100-step pyramid, multiple temple complexes, seven cisterns and residential areas for 50,000!  Wow – once again, I have to hand it to the archaeologists – how they can reconstruct this is beyond me.  But the snow, a picture-perfect blue sky and a completely deserted site made it a wonderful day.  I hiked up into what’s left of the city, and in addition to the stone remains saw several hawks, a few other unusual birds, and a wolf – I swear it was a wolf!  Not a dog.  It was bigger than a cat with a white-black thick fur!

The core of the capital can be surrounded on a 6 km long path.  When I had reached about mid-point, a car pulled up with the only other visitors of the day:  Four young German guys in their twenties on their way east to Syria, Jordan, and ultimately Nepal. They traveled in a van and their next stop was Göreme – just where I needed to go but couldn’t!  Thanks, St. Christopher, thanks Ganesh!  This was the miracle I needed.  They manifested a car with nice people and most importantly space for me and my ridiculously large suitcase.  I could not believe it!

Matti, Mark, Chris, and Nico – we visited the rest of the site together, went astray on a beautiful and slippery walk searching for some rock carvings which we ultimately found – but only after giving up on our walk and taking the road up to a boring parking lot…  And then we drove on together to Cappadocia, one of the most unusual regions of Turkey which we reached after dark.

The guys are done with their studies and are taking a few months between university and their next jobs to explore the world.  For now they are traveling in this car, which they purchased for the trip and hope to sell again.  Then they will be trekking on with their backpacks.  A really nice bunch!

And so the day went!

In gratitude for their help, I took them out to lunch and bought two bottles of wine which we consumed at my next hotel in Gerome, the Kookaburra Pension.  The hotel was as boarded up as all the other hotels I had stayed in recently:  It’s winter, for god’s sake!  But after much calling and turning on lights in the beautifully decorated hallways, the owner Eson emerged.  My room had 3/40 degrees last night and warmed up to a whopping 8/46.  All night I lay in my bed as stiffly as I could in order not to hit any ice cold spots which I had not yet managed to warm up with my body heat…  This will take some getting used to. But the view from the terrace is unbeatable, and the city should be fun to explore for a few days.  The guys are heading out to Nemrut tomorrow – I could have gone with them.  But I need more time.  And I am sure things will work out from here on out just as much as they have worked out so far.

Thanks, guys!  And a wonderful further trip to you!

Good night!

2011
03.13

SYNOPSIS:

A boring entry.  Not worth reading.  I was in transit from Ankara to Bogazkale, a remote village.  About the citadel in Ankara and how Ganesh worked his miracles once again.

This morning I finally understood why Ganesh put me in this ugly, high-rise, run down, three-star hotel in downtown Ankara, a place I would have never chosen on my own.  You may recall that I arrived in Ankara the day of the snow storm.  In the shuttle from the otogar to town I communicated as best as I could with a bus full of non-English speakers about my destination:  Angora House Hotel at the Citadel.  One man confidently assured all others he knew exactly where I was going.  He even directed the bus to go one block out of its way to drop me off near the… ugly high-rise four-star Angora Hotel…  Close in name, yet far from where I needed to go.  It was full and I was sent to the ugly, three-star, high-rise Baskent Hotel around the corner.  The streets were impassible, I had a 25 kg heavy suitcase and myself to maneuver through ice, snow, slush and traffic and I was mad!  The worst hotel I had stayed at so far.  Yes, it was warm, the water was hot, there was a TV, but where was the charm, where the citadel?  I don’t need stars for my hotels, I need authenticity and character.  How could this be?

When I went to the Ankara Museum the next day, I explored the citadel behind it and finally understood why I was not at the Angora House Hotel.  Even though it was a beautifully restored 200 year old building with great views and décor, it was way off the beaten path.  The streets leading up to the citadel were completely iced over.  For a full day longer than the rest of Ankara, people were cut off from town.  No taxi made it up there or down.  I would have been left in the snow at the bottom of the hill with almost 30 minutes to walk through snow and ice – impossible.  And how would I have gotten down this morning to move on without an expensive taxi?  From my ugly high-rise, I had a three minute walk to a bus from where I got to the otogar for $3; $30 saved!  OK, Ganesh.  I see that you at times have to force me for my own good.  I won’t question you anymore.

The citadel is an enclave quite unlike the rest of Ankara.  It goes back to the 9th Century.  Inside its massive fortified walls there is a small village with people living like 100 years ago.  The views across Ankara are stunning.  The adults were shoveling snow off their roofs and dug out their cars from under the snow.  The kids were playing and rolling around in the snow.  Angora House Hotel looked deserted.

Today I was in transit with another overland bus from Ankara via Sungurlu to Bogazkale, my next UNESCO destination.  I knew I could not make it in one stretch.  But I did not worry.  Something usually works out with transport.  But it was unusual:  There was no real otogar at Sungurlu which I have come to expect, but the bus simply stopped on the highway.  The bus attendant got my luggage out and pointed me to the nearby city:  Sungurlu.  I had no choice but to walk.  Thankfully, the roads had been cleared enough for me to pull my luggage into town.  I cannot carry this suitcase any further than a few hundred yards.  It is simply too heavy and bulky.

It took almost 1.5 hours to fill the little minibus in Sungurlu to go to Bogazkale with 8 passengers.  12 is the preferred number…  If they don’t fill, they don’t go.  I began to wonder if I should not just offer to pay the full fare for the microbus to finally move on.  I am definitely out of season and few travelers make it to Bogazkale without either a tour bus or their own car and certainly not now.  At Sungurlu I saw a few city buses lined up and before boarding the microbus I inquired about how to move on from here.  Capadoccia was my next stop.  No bus, nothing, I was told.  You have to go back to Ankara and go from there.  No way!  If you look at the map, that is a ridiculous 4 hour double-backing detour.  How could this be?!  So travelers, beware.  These are the backwaters!

When we finally arrived in the late afternoon, I checked into a hotel in Bogazkale which, like all the other hotels, was empty.  I got a freezing cold room and an electric heater which made slow progress in getting me comfortable.  The 13-15 degrees in Safranbolu began to look like luxury.  I am living in single digits now bundled up to the neck…

I circled the town in less than an hour.   Geese and goats, ducks and dogs, and the occasional cow, that is the upshot.  If I weren’t sure that a UNESCO site looms in the mountains right outside of town, I would have to wonder what on earth anyone would do here.  I was told there had been two Japanese travelers in town just a few days ago.  They had left.  I was it now.

After a bowl of tomato soup in bed and catching up with the blog, there was nothing to do but to curl up and go to sleep.

Good night.