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.

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  1. SOS whistle sequence, Morse code style: Three short toots – followed by 3 long Bleeps – and concluding with 3 more short toots. If confused with which comes first -the toots or the bleeps- think of Beethoven’s Fifth (Da-Da-Da-Daaaaaaa) to get you started correctly. Now all you need do is remember to bring your whistle!