*Photography note – for this trip I used the EM5, m.ZD 12mm, 45mm and 75mm, the Nokton 25mm and a Gitzo tripod.
As with the vast majority of my overseas adventures, we arrived in Göreme after a 14hr+ bus adventure from Istanbul with pretty much no idea what was going… The place, which is one of the main towns in the Cappadocia region, had been recommended by a friend as a top place to go for a walk, but beyond that neither Ed nor I had ever heard of it. Our confusion wasn’t helped when we arrived to discover that the Turkish equivalent of TasMaps seemed to equate to a bunch of squiggles (i think some represented hills, and possibly a track of three) drawn up in Windows 95 and printed on a disposable napkin…
Nonetheless we persevered, and after a day spent relaxing by the pool and consulting that bastion of topographic knowledge – Google Maps – be headed off in the general direction of ‘that hill over there’, with the vague intention of camping up high and watching the hot air balloons (which we were far to broke to ride) do their thing in the morning.
What followed was three days of the most surreal hiking I’ve ever done. If, like me, you’re not familiar with Cappadocia, the landscape is the result of millions of years of volcanic activity, followed by a whole bunch of erosion, leaving a truly bazaar landscape of valleys, gorges and rock pinnacles. Human activity over the last couple of thousand years has left an even more peculiar mark, as various societies have gradually carved out an incredible network of cave dwellings, churches and tombs, not to mention orchards, vineyards and fields wedged into every available nook and cranny of workable land.
The beauty of it all is that, beside from a few areas which have been set-up as pay-to-enter tourist spots, you are completely free to explore as you like. There is a ridiculously complex network of trails, all of which can be undertaken as day walks from Göreme or one of the region’s other towns, and all of which will blow your mind. These range from essentially wheel-chair accessible, to scrambly and challenging. Most of the more popular valleys have little tea-houses scattered around, often with hosts as gnarled as the place itself.
The route we took was largely made up on the spot, taking whichever junction looked the most interesting… As usual we started late, not managing to get on track until well after midday and well into the heat of the afternoon. After finding some food and drink in e local market we headed off in the direction of Bozdag (1390m), the hill from which we hoped to see the balloons.
I’m not actually sure where we went, but it was in the general vicinity of Meskendirçayi, Kiliçlar and Kizilçukur valleys – commonly known as the Rose and Red Valleys due to the colour of the local rock. It was a truly beautiful afternoon of exploring, made even more enjoyable by the fact that e never really knew where we were – something it’s difficult to do safely in Tassie! We finally made it to the bare and windswept summit of Bozdag an hour or so before sunset, and retired to a nice spot on the the edge of the escarpment with a bladder of wine to watch light fade over the valleys.
At some ungodly hour the next morning I woke to Ed shaking the bejesus out of my tent – 5.13am rings a bell… Despite the awful temptation of going straight back to sleep, I forced myself out of the sleeping bag and went outside in the dim half light. For the next two hours we were treated to quite the spectacle as literally 100 or so balloons rose gently from pretty much every available patch of land. The definite highlight being the dozen or so that flew right over our tents, close enough to call out to the passengers!
After the mornings excitement I promptly went back to sleep, before rising a few hours later to make our way back down into Meskendirçayi and onto a track that followed the lower rim of Bozdag. This took us through some much less populated areas than the previous day.
After a great morning we dropped down the Callider Valley and arrived in the town of Çavuśin in time for lunch and an explore of the fantastic cave city above the town. Climbing through interconnected passages, stairs, ramps and chambers, half of which were half-collapsed, reminded me strongly of playing Abe’s Odyssey as a kid.
After lunch we continued on in search of a tent site for the night. We had a bit of a detour over the fields after following some dodgy local directions, but finally mad out way into Baglidere Valley, or ‘Love’ valley – so named due to the remarkably phallic rock formations I’m assuming.
A few hours into the valley and we found a nice tent sized terrace and dropped packs for the night. Early the next morning I woke to a loud ‘whoooooooooooooooooooosh-PSH’ and, sticking my head outside the tent, was startled to see three hot air balloons floating down the valley, not 50m away and eye-level with us. Not a bad way to wake up!
We rose properly a few hours later and continued up the last section of valley, making it to the town of Uçhisar for a morning Turkish coffee. Then we had the final section of our walk, making our way down Pidgeon Valley (so named for the Pidgeon ‘houses’ carved into the cliffs – their manure was used as fertiliser) and back to Göreme and another day of R&R. Fantastic!