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The trip around the world takes us to the moon
Pros: friendly people, most surreal place, Istanbul-wonderful city
Cons: none

Cappadocia and Nemrut Dag, Turkey

Thursday, Oct 23, 2003 05:28

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I doubt we will ever forget arriving in Cappadocia, Turkey. For starters, we had taken a 12 hour, overnight bus to "the Cappaodica region," unsure exactly which city we would arrive in due to translation difficulties. We had somehow managed to fall dead asleep when, in complete darkness someone shook me awake, barked out that we had arrived, and then proceeded to escort just Susan and I off the bus in a rush, grabbing our bags and unceremoniously dumping them on the roadside. The bus then took off with a roar, leaving the two of us entirely alone.

Then there was the landscape. Susan's first mumbled words were, "This looks like the moon." All around us were these towering columns of rock, some of which oddly had windows in their sides. It was absolutely still and obviously very, very early in the morning, and although it was clear were in a city of some sort given the buildings tucked in between these weird rock formations, I thought maybe I should have planned a bit more before heading off directly to the interior of Turkey.

But no need to fear. Someone eventually wandered up to us, explained we were in the city of Goreme -- where I was aiming for, score one for Sharad -- and then sent us off to a very nice hotel which fortunately had a room free.

After several days here, we can say that without a doubt Cappaodica is the most surreal place we have ever been to. The land here once had a huge volcanic eruption that covered everything with soft volcanic lava, ash and rock. The rock was so soft that it was easily eroded away leaving fantastic shapes -- including one area called, uh, "Penis Valley." It's a strange place. People have been carving homes and villages out of the rock for over a thousand years, many of which exist to this day. We spent hours walking in secluded valleys where a small opening to a cave takes you into a vast multistory complex with whole churches inside, complete with cathedral like columns. Many early Christians came here fleeing Roman persecution, and painted beautiful frescos right into the cave ceilings. There are also many underground cities spread throughout Cappadocia, built to protect villagers from invaders. It was amazing to see how complete they were, with homes, wineries, and even stables to support the villagers for up to six months at a time while the invaders just wondered where everyone had gone off to. In short, Cappaodica looks like it is from out of this world -- and, unsurprisingly, one of the scenes from Star Wars was filmed here. Its difficult to explain without seeing it for yourself, and pictures simply cannot do it justice.

The people here are great too, just like virtually everywhere we have been: very laid back and relaxed, and they make Cappaodica one of those places you come for three days and can stay for a month. We didn't have time for that, unfortunately, but we did manage to see our first familiar face on the trip so far. Cecili Sessions, a friend of Susan's from residency, is stationed in Turkey, so she really couldn't get out of seeing us. It was great catching up on things, and Susan loved talking medicine to someone who actually understood what she was saying.

After a few relaxing days here, we decided to plunge deeper into Turkey to see the famous giant heads of Nemrut Dag. Okay, we hadn't actually ever heard of Nemrut Dag before, but a picture of it was on the front of our guidebook. As we headed further east, we felt like we were really leaving western civilization behind us. Certainly no more internet cafes, practically no one speaks English, no idea how to get around town, and on top of it all we had entered the land of pit toilets. I had to handle all the transactions since no one would really talk to Susan. There was even this ridiculous situation when we tried buy cold medication. She attempted to start a conversation with the pharmacist, who kept looking at me the entire time. Since of course I had no idea what we needed, we settled on a strange game of telephone where Susan would tell me in English what the name of the medication we needed, I would then repeat in English what she had just said to some nice man who insisted he spoke English, who would then engage in a conversation in Turkish with the pharmacist which to our untrained ear sounded something like "I have no idea what these crazy foreigners want." We never did get our medicine, but eventually found a very helpful tourist information guy who said I didn't look too sick and put us on bus to Nemrut Dag in no time.

The heads of Nemrut Dags are a series of statues surrounding an ancient, pyramid-like funerary mound for some famous king whose name escape me, and is almost 75 meters high. Seriously big. To get there we followed this winding path up a desolate mountain for four hours. The heads are all that's left of these huge statues of Gods and Kings that watched over Turkey. The heads alone were taller than Susan and it was great seeing another beautiful sunset with these ancient heads surrounding us.

We had been looking very forward to Turkey after travelling through Europe, particularly to a bit of rougher and more exciting travel, and it has not disappointed. But no trip to Turkey is complete without visiting Constantinople, aka Byzantium, and now known as Istanbul. So we changed directions and headed west on yet another overnight bus. Oh joy!