Turkey, part three – Cappadocia

Turkey, part three – Cappadocia

If you never heard about Cappadocia (Kapadokya in Turkish), imagine giants playing with coloured sand in a huge playground, building castles and columns and fortresses. In our case, these giants are called wind and water erosion, and later on, our meagre human hands joined the party, contributing a small portion too. It is a truly unique place, and we wouldn’t want to miss it for the world, no matter how cold the weather was. That is why we opted to take a bus up there, and then our aim was to find volunteer work and hike the valleys in our free time, so we could stay warm for the night.

Volunteer work in Cappadocia

Since the area is around 1200m high, winter is still present in the beginning of March. It turns out there are a ton of horse ranches in the surrounding villages and the namesake town, Cappadocia (which is super touristy with all the accompanying shenanigans), and we ended up on the biggest one. The place looks awesome as the workers and even the horses live inside the caves. Sadly, it was another hit and miss, they wanted us to work way too much (have you ever tried to shovel horseshit for 5 hours?) and we barely had any opportunity to ride the horses, which would have made it worth it.

By the way, hey mom, don’t freak out, but I fell off a horse who was put in the wrong place in the queue just on the second day, which didn’t help matters. Due my undying  luck (or protecting angel, take your pick), nothing major happened, even though I arrived just like in the movies, face forward, from a galloping horse pulling the brakes pretty hard. Nevertheless, instead of two weeks, we left after one, but through all the bitterness, at least we learned how to take care of horses (brushing, saddling, cleaning), Alan tried riding first time in his life, and I refreshed my horse-riding knowledge. On top of this, we got to sleep in an actual cave, so not all is lost. 🙂

In Pigeon valley
Night in the cave
The first cave hotel we saw
The ranch from above

Caves and valleys

Finally we had time to hike (oh yeah, free time as it is, was nor really existent on the farm) all the famous valleys and amazing hand-carved caves, while the weather was in our favour. We didn’t even care that we missed the balloon view everyone is on about (the days were too windy for them to fly), nature is cooler anyway. J The most stunning thing was something we just stumbled upon, and had no previous knowledge about. From the outside, it didn’t look much, just some caves carved in the side, but once you crossed the narrow bridge and stepped inside a small door, another world opened. We found a huge basilica (it’s in red valley – kızıl vadesi – if you ever wander that way), and we stood in awe for the human willingness and ingenuity.

Love valley
Red valley
We had no idea
Not so far now 😀
The basilica from the inside

The rocks are made of sandstone as I hinted at in the beginning and it is not so hard to have a go at them, but still, it must have taken god knows how many hours to carve all these caves, chambers and columns out. There are several huge things like this, but all the valleys are also spotted heavily with small rooms hand-carved inside oddly shaped rocks, where people actually lived (and still live) for thousands of years by now. Currently the big connected caves in the surrounding villages are occupied by hotels and other commercial things of course, but the government is thinking about evicting a few, to preserve the condition of them. I know it’s hard for the hotels themselves, but maybe it’s not an entirely bad thing in this case (actually this was the reason we couldn’t get work at a hotel, but it worked out fine).

A typical small cave church
The cave hotel in Ürgüp

Heading east and our first visa application

Eventually it was time for us to leave, and because we were running out of time on our Turkish visa (Europeans get 3 months), we took another overnight bus to Trabzon, where we ended up staying more than a week while we waited for a package and our Iranian visa to be ready. The city is not so impressive, but poses a challenge for cyclists and walkers, because it is built on a steep hillside, so getting to the less expensive areas require pushing through some 20% climbs. Once we got to our host, we choose walking and dolmuş (Turkish minibus) to get down and up instead, we didn’t feel like torturing ourselves.

If you’re planning to get this visa on the road to Iran when you are travelling, I really recommend doing it here, the embassy is exceptionally fast and you can do it without having to pay an agency for the e-visa reference, just do it directly on the Iranian website. Call the embassy like a week before going there, they will explain everything and you can also inquire about opening times. Don’t panic if you get rejected in the first time, the government sends out random rejects to get more money through the agencies. Alan’s application got into that lottery as well, but we just applied on the website again as advised by the embassy and everything was ok.

Our feel about Turkey

An unexpected encounter took place as well, when we realized that a face we didn’t think we would saw again showed up on a warmshowers friend’s phone. Jeoren was the last person we thought we would meet again, but I guess the bus has its advantages, and we were glad we could chat with him about our experiences in Turkey and our expectations of the road ahead. Of course everyone will feel differently, as it depends on your personal encounters, but for us, it was not as amazing as most people would tell it, and we don’t feel like we will be coming back again.

Yes, nature is beautiful, and there are a lot of really hospitable people, and as always, the warmshowers community is really strong and don’t necessarily represent the country. Regarding the general population though, maybe they got a bit jaded from the crazy amount of tourists they receive every year, but we thought they are not so curious about the world and we felt that famous Turkish hospitality was a bit insincere (especially now that we can compare it to Iran) in several of our encounters.  It looks like they just repeat the usual questions out of habit. I think the actual public sentiment is not helping either; the country is not in the best spot right now.

Trabzon and waving goodbye to Turkey

Regarding our stay in Trabzon, we were really happy and grateful that we met Görhan, who was among our best warmshowers hosts, letting us stay in his apartment even for the weekend, while he went away on a trip. He was a cheerful and super humble guy, saying sorry so many times it looked like it was his motto. I finally learned to play backgammon (a typical eastern table game), we met some other travellers and had a first taste of the friendliness and happy nature of Iranians, as he had quite a few guests from Iran during our stay (the flat was big, he said that one time, he hosted more than 15 people!). Iran was getting really hyped up and we were eager to see it, like teenagers going to their first date. But before that, we had to go through two other countries, which, for most people, are quite unknown.

Our host in Rize and her mountaineering club

Georgia and Armenia was waiting for us, and we quickly made our final stretch in Turkey to the border, cycling along the coast of the Black see. This was the first time we saw tea plantations, which covered the hillside next to the sea for tens of kilometres, while we enjoyed cycling along the water again. Our last Turkish host was actually a border guard and a really nice guy who even gave me a gift (that baggy Turkish trouser I wanted for ages, which you can see on many Instagram pictures by now). So when we waved goodbye to the country, a friendly face bid us farewell.