As I mentioned, the entire region of Cappadocia is basically full of rock cut everything. Along those lines, there are two "underground cities", Kaymakli and Derinkuyu (spelling may not be correct and I have no wifi to check) close by. We were supposed to go for a valley hike the next day but Bridger had a headache, I had a blister and we had no idea where the trailhead was so we got lazy and decided to catch a local bus to see Kaymakli for the day instead. We jumped on the bus which dumped us at a bus stop in a middle city where we had to transfer to our next bus. It's where we also met a bunch of tourists also going to the underground city except they were all going to Derinkuyu. So we assumed obviously if everyone is going to Derinkuyu and nobody is going to Kaymakli, it must be better so we spontaneously at the bus stop decided to ditch our plan to go to K. and went to D. instead too.
We were prettty blown away by Derinkuyu actually! Essentially people so so many years ago dug these entire underground cave like cities where entire civilizatiosn would go periodically during times of conflict to avoid persecution. D. is the deepest of the cities descending 18 levels below ground, 8 of which are curretly open to exploration. The city itself wasn't even discovered until 1963, though I guess residents of the area had been playing in the tunnels as kids long before that. It really was quite incredible the level of engineering mastermindism that went into construction of this city..the advanced ideas and plans seem far disproportionate to what you would expect from the much more primitive time. They had hidden ventilation shafts all through the city, used wells from an underground river so the enemy could not poison their water supply, the tunnels leading into the city were carved very narrowly so only one person could fit through, meaning that an attacking enemy army would need to proceed single file and they had super heavy stone tablets to roll over doorways that could only be opened from the inside by some strategy that I cannot describe. These people literally had stables underground so all their animals came with them and life went on as normal during periods of evacuation. At one point I saw a long tunnel that looked like it had two offshoots each direction near the top and I took a wild guess that maybe it was a crucifix and the cavern was a church and sure enough, I was right! They even had a long tunnel dug between Derinkuyu and Kaymakli so people could move between the two cities. Gosh, just so amazed by the genius of people several centuries ago. They really somehow can design these very sophisticated plans/technology in light of very limited and basic resources. Makes me think how we think that we are so much smarter than people way back when but actually maybe not...maybe humans just have a natural aptitude for intelligence and will apply extreme sophistication to whatever they have at their disposal. Same intelligence applied to different resources. How's that for blowing your mind?!
Exploring Derinkuyu was a little scary and a little cold but really awesome. Definitely not for claustrophobics because certain stairwells and passages were really tight, pretty well big enough for a single hunched body. At one point there was a single stairwell that was both the entrance and exit to a chamber at the bottom so you had to call out to make sure nobody was coming down when you were coming up and vice versa in order to avoid a long back-out on someone's part. Prior to the visit I had heard horror stories about this tunnel from when big tour groups were there...people would keep coming down to the dead end chamber and filling but since people were still coming down nobody could come back up until the chamber was full and even more full but everyone was stuck. I'm not claustrophobic but that story haunted me for awhile before going ourselves. Luckily we were not sharing our visit with a large tour group...yet another reason to avoid them!
As much as we enjoyed our visit there, the whole time we were underground there was always that little voice in the back of my head that was hard to quiet that said, "what if there is an earthquake?!". I didn't say anything to Bridger because we had had a scary earthquake conversation awhile prior because none of us has ever experienced one and thought it would be pretty scary. But turns out I should have because when I told him I was worried about it after he just said something like "ya but if it is still standing now doesn't that mean that it has survived earthquakes before without crumbling?". Touché Bridger, my amazingly calming man, Touché.
Underground I was torn between staying long enough to get my $10 worth and getting out of there as fast as possible before an earthquake happened. Eventually the earthquake won (i should have just talked to Bridger about it so he could knock my fear down) and I breathed a sigh of relief that we were above ground again! Instead of heading straight back to the bus we decided to explore the town a little bit while we were here. In typical Turkish style, this town seemed like new homes were just built up around old, crumbled, destroyed homes that for me, were really interesting to check out. Occasionally you saw some sort of a porthole like thing that was all blocked off and I can only assume it was an entrance/exit into the underground city. What was bizarre about the town was that right next to the underground city gates was crawling with tourists, restaurants and knick knick stands but once you got about 20 feet away, there was not foreign person to be found...to the point where the little Turkish kids riding their bikes around town kept trying, in total Turkish, to tell us that we were going the wrong way, the underground city was over that way, obviously assuming that we were just lost being this far away from the gates! Though not surprised, I was shocked how little people wanted to step a few feet away from the main attraction to experience a tiny piece of real Turkey! Not gonna lie though, the town had some weird vibes about it...somehow it felt like a bit of a ghost town even though there were people everywhere. You got the sense that it was a very poor little town and people were trying to capitalize as much as possible off of the tourist presence. The one total bonus of wandering was that we found a little Turkish desert store and I just kept pointing out a million different things that I had no idea what they were to add to my desert box. Knowing the outrageous price of baklava in Istanbul (like 3 pieces for 8-10 Lira), I feared the cost but in the end I literally got a full box full of desert, like almost 10 pieces for 8 Lira and it was the most incredible desert I've had yet on this trip. Yuuuuuum!!! I dream of going back. See, these are the kind of treasure that those beehive Derinkuyu tourists are missing out on!
There was a big, beautiful Christian church just across the way from the underground city entrance so we casually wandered over that way to check it out and take a quick picture. We were the only ones anywhere near it so as we walked over, a local man literally sprinted over to us from out of nowhere and, without even asking, started giving a weak little tour enthusiastically showing us how to get look inside (it was closed and unrestored, which led me to wonder what a big attraction it would be if it was restored and open for exploration) and rolling a cylindrical stone block around that I'm quite certain, had no purpose at all. And then a woman carrying a basket of the most atrocious scary looking dolls came next asking us to buy for 2 Lira (one dollar, i.e. nothing) and encouraging us to take her picture for cash. For some reason I still can't put my finger on, it was such a bizarre experience. We experience this type of thing all the time when entrepreneurial people set upon us but this somehow felt different, just a bit more frenzied and desperate than usual. It still kind of haunts me a bit and to date has been one of my bigger moral dilemmas that I have some regrets about. See the thing is that we say no to people trying to sell goods/services so many times per day that you just kind of go into auto pilot with your "no response" to anyone who asks anything and sometimes maybe it leads you to miss some opportunities where out of compassion, you should just kind of override that no and say yes instead. And I struggle because on one hand buying/accepting the tour reinforces and further encourages this type of relentless behavior on other tourists who, like ourselves, maybe like to take a picture in peace, which to be honest, we have a right to do. On the other hand, they weren't just begging for money, they were trying to offer goods/services with what little opportunity they had , the one unmanned, unregulated, un otherwise controlled attraction that the gaggle of tourists lingering nearby might possibly stop by to see. And they were persistent but smiling and friendly and not at all hostile like some peddlers become when you decline. Did I need an ugly, poorly constructed Turkish doll? Nope, most certainly did not but in that situation I just felt like the right thing probably was not the thing that we usually do by principle which is decline. That one dollar for each would have gone far farther for them than for us and sometimes, unfortunately you only get perspective too late.
We hitched the bus back no problem and marveled at the incredible scenery, volcanic looking hills, cliffside ruins and cliffside rock cut structures as we made our way back to Goreme. Maybe there's something about air quality or something in giant underground layers because both Bridger and I immediately crashed within minutes of being home. I was out so hard that I was dreaming that I couldn't open my eyes and I was tripping over everything.
Goreme was our last stop before Turkey so we were toiling over our Africa plan alot feeling the pressure of needing to book a flight asap somewhere. This was all further complicated by the fact that Bridger was dying to climb Kilimanjaro but it is SO expensive so not sure if it would be affordable and to what degree of debt is it worth it? Do we go to Tanzania first, making sure that he climbs Kili and then be in whatever kind of debt comes in the two countries after. Do we go to Uganda/Rwanda first and then climb Kili at the end once we see where the money situation is at? Further complicating that, my mom was also planning to come visit us in Africa for a few weeks, whoop, brave lady!! Since she had a very specific window that she could come during, we had to know exactly where we would be during that time so we could tell her where to book a flight to and from...and once the flight is booked there is no flexibility to just not get to the "out" designation in time! Very counter to our usual way of traveling where we play it by ear anyways. We spent hours mulling through all the different permutations. Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda? Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania? Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda? Ahhhhh I don't know!!! Eventually we settled on going to Uganda first and then Rwanda because they were our initial "For sures" in Africa and then Tanzania at the end once we could better evaluate what the possibilities could be for there. God bless my flexible mom, we decided to have her book two one way tickets, one from Calgary to Uganda and then one from Rwanda to Calgary assuming we would travel overland somewhere in between. We booked our flight, and crazy enough, we were going back to Dubai for a second time. I guess Turkey to Uganda is not a common route :) And even more exciting, we would have a 9 hour layover in Dubai from 1 am to 9 am or something terrible. Knowing the flight from Turkey to Uganda was going to be BRUTAL and we were like 12 hours away from Istanbul by bus, we decided to just bite the bullet and book a flight between Cappadocia and Istanbul instead of bussing back, and possibly being killed by a full 3 horrible days in transit. Once that was done, total weight off our shoulders so we could just enjoy the rest of Cappadocia.
At one point we almost decided to rent an ATV and go on an ATV tour around the area. But in the end there was so much we wanted to explore that we decided to rent a scooter for 24 hours instead so we could get farther and it was also way cheaper. My gosh, I'm terrified of them every time but it's the cheapest, easiest way to get around and am I ever glad that Bridger can drive one! I was so happy this time though because the rental guy gave Bridger his own thick, awesome helmet with a perfect strap (what a find!) and I got to literally pick my helmet out of the brand new helmet delivery box, plastic still on it and everything. Anyways, turns out Bridger's driving skills were really tested because this bike stalled out every time you let off the gas. On all downhills we were inevitably always left coasting which was no problem on wide open quiet spaces but sometimes the downhills happened inside a busy little town with traffic but Bridger was a freaking pro, didn't miss a beat. Well except for one time when it stalled as he was doing a U-turn in the middle of the highway with vehicles barreling forward, that one was a little sketchy.
Having heard about the infamous Turkish bath experience, we were itching to try one. Unfortunately the bathhouse in grossly package touristed Goreme got terrible reviews about rip off, tourist trap and crap service where the one in neighboring Urgup got raving reviews for it's authenticity and thoroughness. So off we headed to Urgup with the only reservation on my mind being whether or not I was supposed to get completely naked or wear my bathing suit. Woman problems. Turns out we got there, no apointment scheduled, and the owner informed us that in 5 minutes there was a group of 20 kids coming and then made the crazy signal by spinning his finger around his ear. We took that universal sign as a good indication that we should postpone our visit, either coming back later in the evening and driving back to Goreme in the dark on a stally scooter or coming back tomorrow. We chose the latter.
On our way back home we stopped for a few photos at a spectacular viewpoint looking down over the valleys. So spectacular that all the tour busses also stop there unloading their, not to be overly stereotypical but there are undeniable patterns, relatively naive passengers off, only an important distinction for what happened next. As we were walking away from this congested area of rather ill informed tourists carrying my camera, two 20 something year old rather friendly guys rode directly up to us on their motorbike and offered to take our picture. Our guts registered a subtle level of oddity here, so we declined and we both continued on our way. And here is a subtle fuzzy grey area of traveling that, prior to so many months on the road, we probably wouldn't have necessarily have been able to discern. People offer assistance all of the time while travelling so it's not necessarily uncommon for locals to do something like this. But this was different and I'm entirely certain that best case scenario, they would have asked for money once it was all said and done or, very much more likely, they were going to rob us, driving away with the camera. For one, they initiated. This is always a red flag while traveling. When people initiate with you, directly and purposefully with intent, it probably means they have something to gain and have a purpose for interacting with you. The caveat to this being if you are actively doing something that requires assistance and notably failing at getting it OR if you happen to randomly be standing near a local and make eye contact in some way. Under these conditions when someone initiates with you, it is relatively normal. But across the world in our experience, it is entirely culturally deviant to go out of your way to attract the attention of someone who has otherwise shown no interest in you and no signals that they might need something. Two, having been many places in the world, we recognize that it totally violates cultural norms that young guys this age would offer to do something like this on their own accord. Seriously, imagine any 20 year old guy in Canada...would they walk up to someone totally without being asked and offer to, of all things, take your picture. I know many young guys who not only wouldn't do that but who would be quick to pass the camera off to their female counterpart if someone directly asked. Three, back to naive tour bus people...that sort of opportunistic scamming is always far more rife in areas heavily trafficked by package tours and tour buses.
Our next stop was to a town called Orthisar to see the Ortisar castle. It seems there are giant castles carved out of rocks all over this area! Unfortunately it was closed so we couldn't go up but we wandered through some of the narrow little streets of this quiet town, once again seemingly built around the crumbling abandoned homes of years past. It was really neat to see because these empty ruins literally had house numbers on them in some cases. As always, you didn't go far before seeing something cut out of rocks reminding you that at one point, this entire region lived, literally inside rocks.
After this we stopped at one of the many rock cut churches in the region, again, off the road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Though there was a gate and an entrance looking stand, it didn't seem that there was anyone around and the sun was starting to set so I assumed the caretaker had gone home for the day. So I just started walking inside when a man, literally popped out of a hole in the rock and scared the living shit out of me! He passed us flashlights and sent us on our way into the giant painted chambers of the church and through the tiny carved hole that was the stairwell leading into the top level, us beign the only people inside. I think it took the entire visit before my heart stopped beating wildly in my chest which may explain why I was so scared to pass through these narrow pitch dark tunnels! It's crazy because the rock is actually so soft that I can scratch powder off of the walls with my fingernail and it litters soft white powder all over the ground around it. If I can take it off with my fingernail, it's beyond me how it doesn't just collapse?!
It doesn't take long in Cappadocia to find something that looks interesting to explore so on the way back we stopped to climb a large rock with a Turkish flag mounted on it. There was absolutely nothing "touristy" about this rock but it afforded us the most amazing views of the valleys and landscape as the sun set over it. Absolutely breathtaking. Seriously, rocking sunsets can making everything SO surreal looking!