Sometimes when backpacking you come across a place on the globe and you think “how could I have not known that a place like this existed?” Cappadocia Turkey is one of those places. We arrived to the small town of Gerome on a 12 hour over-night bus from Olympos.
I was awoken by the first beams of sunlight, spearing there way through the curtains and into the bus at around 5:00 am. When I groggily opened my eyes to look out the window, the things I saw made it hard to believe I wasn’t still in a dream wonderland. Strange “fairy chimneys” sprouted from the ground, about 10 hot air balloons hovered in the morning sun, and in the entire white, red, and golden valley were carved rocks and caves.
A place like this is hard to explain, it’s like Supermario World meets the Flintstones. Hundreds of cone shaped pinnacles (fairy chimneys) have been carved and hollowed out to make homes and hotels. One of which we stayed in. We’ve stayed in a lot of interesting rooms in our travels but it will be hard to top the cave room at Shoestring Cave Hotel, Gerome.
It was perfect for budget backpackers. Carved from the lava deposit stone (as are the old Byzantine homes in the town), our room was literally inside a cave. Which was actually quite nice with a queen sized bed and a couple of windows to let in ample light, the rock walls of the room kept a nice cool temperature inside, when the temperature soared to 35 degrees outside.
The extreme topography of Gerome and Cappadocia was formed many millennia ago when Mt. Erciyes Dagi erupted. Since then The Byzantine people settled in the area and cut hundreds of rock cut churches, monasteries, tunnels and homes that once housed thousands of people. All the complexes remain in incredible condition and many of the old homes and caves have been converted to hotels to facilitate the recent influx in tourism. Gerome itself is the most interesting village in the city because it has the most fairy chimneys and it is rimmed by some of the finest valleys, mountains, and hiking trails we have ever seen. This is a perfect place for hiking.
There was so much do in Cappadocia that we could have stayed there for weeks. We limited ourselves to seeing a few of the main sights and doing some nice hikes. On the first day we just walked around the beautiful town of Gerome and took in the amazing dream-like terrain while the sun was setting.
The next day we took a bus to the town of Kaymakli to see an underground city. We have been to the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam where soldiers lived underground in tunnels while they fought in the war, but those were mostly just narrow passageways and hiding spots. Kaymakli was once inhabited by 3000 Christians, who were forced to dig a home for themselves in the ground to hide from the coming Persian armies in the 6th and 7th centuries.
The city is not just a network of tunnels and caves, there are huge rooms, kitchens, wine cellars, churches, shafts, wells, and even horse stables all built an amazing 8 levels, 100 m underground! Walking around the city it was very easy to get a feeling for how the people lived. Walls were still charred from cooking, stone rolling doors still sat by the entrances, and the air shafts absorbed light just as they have done for centuries. In fact, archaeologists date the oldest portions of the city back 4000 years! The Christians in the 6 and 700’s only made them more elaborate and deeper.
Seeing a sight as amazing as Kaymakli seemed hard to top, but Cappadocia is full of traveler’s gems. Another day we headed out on a 6km hike through the Pigeon Valley and into Uchisar. Pigeon Valley was a stunning hike through arches and tunnels of stone surrounded by peaks and strange shapes.
A little creek cut through the valley and all the flowers were in bloom. When we arrived in Uchisar we headed for the castle, a massive complex of tunnels and windows set atop a hundred meter high cliff. Built in the Byzantine times, it was the perfect vantage point to see all of the Cappadocia region, even the 3916 m high Mt. Erciyes which is responsible for creating the landscape that exists today.
With all the valleys and trails around Cappadocia we could have hiked every day for a month and still had things to see. We chose one more hike to do in our time there. We walked the 12 km from Gerome to Cavusin via the Meskendir Valley, The Red Valley and Rose Valley. Everywhere we looked were more of the strange shapes and formations and as we made our way through the valleys, each one changed color, from gold, to white, to red, and finally rose colour just before we made it to Cavusin.
We reached Cavusin castle just as the clouds and rain came and it was lucky we brought our raincoats because it poured down hard. A river formed in the city and washed out all the roads while we watched from the top of the cliff at the castle. Eventually we gave up on waiting out the monsoon and headed down the steep slippery slopes into the town center. We couldn’t cross the roads because of the rivers that rushed down them so we had no way to get to the bus station.
Luckily a local guy about our age saw us on the sidewalk, clearly frustrated, and offered to drive us to the bus. The cool thing was he wasn’t even in his car, he was just having chai (tea) with his friends and felt bad for us sitting out in the rain. So he dropped us off at the bus stop and told us the bus would be there in about a half hour but we got inpatient so we hitch-hiked into town instead. It’s not really hard to get a ride in Turkey. I guess a couple of soaking wet backpackers don’t look too threatening sitting on the side of the road.
We left Cappadocia after 5 days but we could have spent weeks there. The hotel was cool, the people were friendly and the hiking was world class. Oh and the food was amazing! One night we ordered a “Pottery Kebab” which is like a stew in a sealed clay pot with a hole on top where they put bread dough.
They stick it in the oven and the bread on top bakes while sealing in all the delicious flavour inside the stew. When it was done cooking, they brought it to the table with a hammer and we cracked it open and ate the bubbling hot heaven right out of the clay. It was the best chicken stew ever (except Mom’s of course, that goes without saying).
We hiked, ate, drank, explored and saw everything we could in Cappadocia in 5 days so we hopped on the bus and headed for Gaizantep (Antep). A big modern city famous for pistachios!
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