Friday, April 26, 2013

Turkey: Hot air balloons and lucky hitch hiking

Back in tourist territory. CD burning, tour packages, “big English fry-up”, scooter hire, Irish pubs, souvenirs etc. We had arrived in a world we had not been a part of quite some months. A place that was once inhabited by an ancient civilisation who carved their homes out of the rock face was now purely a tourist town. A place where the local is a minority, and where you are seen more as a dollar bill than a person. Cappadocia.

The town was beautiful, surrounded by rocky mountains all dotted with little black holes, showing where the caves were carved out for people homes many thousands of years ago. It was so barren and dry that, to me, it seemed uninhabitable. This then impressed and amazed me further still that people chose to carve their little homes, shelves, walkways, seats, baths, even their stair cases up to the openings out of this stone. Incredible.

Waking up early we dragged ourselves out of bed to see the hot air balloons take off. As the sun rose so did the balloons. They gracefully climb in elevation as the “driver” unleashes big bursts of flame often in tune to a song, much to the amusement of the spectators and onlookers. The balloons seem to twinkle with all the flashes from the cameras on board.

As the sun rises the sky’s colours change and the balloon no longer are silhouettes. It’s as if a child let slip a bunch of party balloons releasing an array of different colours.  All the different colours start to appear- striking and brilliant against the natural rock formations and caves surrounding. 

As the sun rose, so did the hot air balloons. Some swooping almost low enough for us to try and catch a ride up. Hundreds of balloons of varying colours, carrying varying company names stamped on the sides all bopping up and down narrowly missing Cappadocia’s famous rock formations sharp enough to pop the side of a balloon for sure. It looked like the escapee balloons of a birthday party when you let one go and watch it rise up and up and up.  The range of colours of the balloons all striking against its natural earthy tone background all carrying hordes of tourists wealthy enough to treat themselves. This was definitely a sight worth getting up at 5am for! 

It felt almost like being transported back in time with the caves carved into the sides of the rocks, where people lived. 

We were then eager to head to Mustafapasa, a a smaller town with Ottoman-Cappadocian style architecture, that was beautiful, but was less touristed than the surrounding towns, which we were particularly happy with. 

We had arranged to stay with a gorgeous local, Caner, who was so enthusiastic and helpful with our travels (later he organised for us to do some olive picking on his auntie’s farm) and almost dropped his work and studies to join us on the road!

We set out along the hot dirt path, thumbs out and ready trying to secure a ride. Most people at first who drove by slowed down curious and smiling, but no offers. We started walking still with our thumbs out trying to cover some distance in case we had to walk the whole way when a black van rocked up with tinted windows and a guy with a serious beard poked his head out the driver’s seat, looked us up and down and then (much to our relief) gave us a smile.

“In in!”

If it were not for his genuine smile this situation make have appeared quite dodgy loading two foreigners in the back of his big mysterious black van. When he opened the boot, we realised we were not the only passengers. The back was full of three boys, in the middle seat there were two girls and in the front there was mum and dad. A whole Iranian family on vacation in Turkey. Even though it was a tight squeeze they were nice enough to squeeze us in. 

Sitting perched on our backpacks trying to steady ourselves as we climbed hills and rounded corners it was great to talk to these gorgeous Iranians, all with fantastic English and a keen interest to practise it on us. After the first “rock stop”, where we all climbed out and took many photos of an interesting shaped rock, I was then moved into the middle row to join the ladies, as it was not a suitable place for a woman stuffed in the back. I didn’t mind so much.

With two shy girls next to me covered up modestly we soon broke into a karaoke type dance party singing raunchy lyrics from Beyonce; “Your so sexy, tonight I am all yours boy / The way your body moves across the floor”, and performing some sexy moves, smiling cheekily from under their traditional Hijab. 

We bid them farewell as they fussed over the stuffed koala souvenir, our parting gift, and headed out onto the next road that would take us to our destination. Luckily no more than two minutes passed before we had secured our next ride into the nearby town, a little hatch back with a friendly middle aged Turkish man happy to keep us out of the hot sun and heat.

Jumping out at the next town we walked through trying to find the exit road that would finally lead us to Mustafapasa and to meet up with Caner. We had heard if we couldn’t get a ride that there were some buses that went to the next town, but we thought as we waited for the bus to give hitching a try, considering our great luck from that day.

An old lady sitting at the bus stop did not find us amusing at all. As she impatiently waited for the bus she scowled at us and shook her head, disgusted at our spectacle. But sure enough after 10 minutes a nice new sedan pulled up with a young guy, keen to lend us a hand. As we climbed in the car stuffing in our backpacks the little old lady came up and pushed in the front seat demanding a ride as well, we just sat in the back smirking, pleased by her slight embarrassment.

Finally we reached Mustafapasa and met a beaming and enthusiastic Caner, eager as anything to show us the town and cook us some delicious food (as he was studying to be a chef). We spent the next couple of days exploring the town, visiting the little churches carved into the rocks, and talking with the locals but best of all sampling some delicious food!

The morning we were to leave, we woke to a disappointed Caner, flustered in the kitchen. He had tried so hard to make some cookies before we had to bid him farewell, but unfortunately his oven had stopped working that morning.

He was then left with a tray of cookie dough balls lined up neatly on a baking tray and nothing to cook them with. In a rush to get to work, we bade farewell to Caner, sure we would see him again, as he set off to work hitch hiking with a tray of cookie dough hopeful to bake them at work. We were sure it would not take him long to get a lift with those in hand!

To get to the next town we tried hitching, however, even though there was traffic and it was only short distance to the next town, no one seemed to want to pick us up. Defeated we walked in the hot sun to the next town to check the bus schedule. After a rather uneventful bus ride we arrived in Urgup, not the destination that we wanted, or the way that we wanted to get there, but still it was on the way down to the beach in the south.

We arrived in Aksaray already ready to leave. We had arrived with a bit of time to spare before we could catch the next bus out of the city. It was a fairly conservative area, all the women were covered up, so we thought it was best if we didn’t part ways. Walking round the city we stood out and attracted quite a lot of looks. There was a sense of decay in the city, with cracked buildings, giant potholes, broken street lights and just a thick dense atmosphere, like you could eat the quiet and intrusive air around you.

The greatest thing in Aksaray, and the reason why I would not call it a complete waste of time was an accidental discovery at a local Kebab store. A 1.50lari meal combo of chicken kebab with ayran, a yoghurt drink. That is around 80cents!

It is possible, I suppose, to create a hypothetical circumstance when you would be pleased to arrive in a city like this, mid way through a journey, like ourselves. Perhaps down a massive earth quake, where the only ground still intact is that beneath your feet. In the normal course of events, however, it is unlikely that you would find yourself lost in translation in a lonely conservative main street thinking, “well thank goodness we’re here!”

Never-the-less we sure were happy to jump back on a bus to Anatalya, one step closer to the Mediterranean and therefore- the beach, hopeful not to get stuck there again.

View Turkey 3 in a larger map

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