Turkey Part 3

26th September

We leave Fethiye and head for Ankara, saying farewell to my Dad and Pam over a nice roast beef dinner. We leave at 6:40pm, anticipating that the drive to Ankara will take about 10 hours. Along the route, again, some of the roads are under-construction and unfinished, which slows us down. After 5 hours of driving we reach a large service station, where we decide to stay for the evening.

Cappadocia   27th September

I wake up at 7am and start driving the remaining 250km to Ankara, while Nicole sleeps in the back. We arrive in Ankara, and find the Uzbekistan embassy very easily.  We pay $80 each for visas and move on to the Pakistani embassy.  Nicole runs in, but as there is no news, we now have to get our visas on the border in Sost.

We leave Ankara via the D750 around midday and head towards Cappadocia.  Unfortunately our GPS decides to play up and wants to reroute us via Istanbul. However, we seem to manage with the paper maps.

As we drive along we enter a huge plain.  I notice something to the left and say to Nic ‘Is that a Tornado?.  Then I see another in front of us to our left, ripping the crops straight out of the ground one by one and throwing them onto the highway. The tornado suddenly changes direction, turning north towards the highway.  It is now right in our path. Not knowing how strong it is, we decide to stop to let it pass. As we drive on we see another four smaller tornados. We watch in awe, as we  have never seen one in real life before.

We arrive in Cappadocia around 5pm and stop to take in its fairytale, unique scenery.  We meet a local “fixer” who insists on showing us a few places in town to stay.  We finally settle on a cave room.

In the evening we head in to town for some dinner and find a restaurant serving Thai Green Curry, Neither of us can resist; it’s very hot, not to Nicole’s taste, but it goes down well with me!

28th September

We decide to explore the Cappadocia valleys, firstly stopping off at the Goreme open-air museum, a collection of rock cut Christian churches and monasteries, filled with frescoes.

We then head off into the valleys, (Red, Rose, Love, Fairy chimney valley). We come to a sign for Rose valley but the road looks more like a trail rather than a road.  There are steep ruts going uphill which are not very wide and we head up the track to find ourselves off road in the middle of the valley.  We see a faded track running along the valley to a large hill which we take the car up.  At the top we are rewarded with unbroken views over Red valley. At this point on top of the hill, we must be sticking out a mile in our black vehicle, against a completely white back ground.

In Red valley, we come across a small hidden church carved into the cliffs. Inside there are about 5 rooms, some with frescoes, and others with a circle and cross carved into the floor, wall or ceiling.

In the evening we head out to town for dinner, trying a traditional pottery kebab- one beef and one chicken, cooked in a clay pot for 3 hours, then broken at the table and served with rice.  It’s delicious, a mixture of meat, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and spices.

Today we stay at the Anatolia pension, a good value for money room, and according to the owner ‘the best breakfast in town’.  We are pleasantly surprised that it possibly is!

29th September

We are awoken by a loud roar and then another.  Looking outside, we see a hot-air balloon right outside our window. We are lucky it didn’t hit the hotel as apparently a lot of the pilots here are not very well trained.  This is probably a lucky escape for those on board too!

We leave the pension after a hearty breakfast of filled pastries, eggs, freshly baked bread, fruit and fruit juice, setting off at 9.30 on our tour of Cappadocia.

Cappadocia, in Turkish means the ‘land of beautiful horses’-so called as when the Persians first arrived here there were many different types of horses living wildly.  The different rock formations are the result of rain, wind and snow erosion.

First stop on the itinerary is Goreme panorama and the ‘wish’ tree, its branches covered in hundreds of handkerchiefs symbolising a wish.

Next is a hike by the river in the Ilhara valley, changed from the original plan as the guide receives a call to say the underground cities are crowded this morning and our group should wait until after lunch to visit.

We walk down the picturesque valley for about two hours until we reach a restaurant for lunch.  Lunch consists of chicken casserole and chicken shish with rice, salad and soup.

We are then taken to the Selime monastery involving a steep climb up the rock with narrow foot-wells, reaching an amazing maze of interlocking rooms making up the monastery.  Some of the upper parts of the monastery are unreachable, despite our best efforts. The tunnels leading up had collapsed and we are unable to go any further. The guide points to the women’s monastery across the valley.

We then head to Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in the region, possibly home to up to 10,000 people at a time.  Entering through a low stairwell, we firstly reach the kitchen area, recognised by the tell-tale signs of chimneys to allow the smoke to escape and the blackness of the rock, which would absorb it.

Each of the cities are linked by tunnels, 9km long, but not accessible due to collapse.  Starting on the fourth floor, we go down to the 5th then the 8th where we see large stone doors, which once closed can only be opened from the inside.  This being the last line of defence in case the enemy discovered the secret cities.

Communication holes had been made between each floor to allow information to get from one part of the city to another.  These were especially useful during times of siege when people may not have been able to move around the city so easily.

The residents of the city survived with stores of food and wells for water, which could not be poisoned from the outside.  They used linseed oil candles to light the tunnels as they would not give off any fumes. The city also had about 25 large air vents which were up to 170 metres deep.

We are taken to a confession room, church and animal quarters with the feeding troughs still visible on the sides of the walls.  It seems the cities were very well equipped for normal life as much as it is possible to achieve underground.

We walk through lots of low long tunnels, uncomfortable for us, let alone the taller people in the tour group! Some of the people in the group with claustrophobia decide to sit this one out and wait outside!

On our way up, we are told that we would have to wait while another group comes down the narrow passage way.  Martin, a little bored asks ‘can we go down this one while we wait?’ so we proceed down a tiny tunnel almost bent over double, with the rest of the group following closely behind us.  We end up in a tiny room; a burial chamber, but there is not much to see.  Very quickly the room is getting extremely crowded.  We try to head back up the tunnel but more people are following us down.   Maybe this one was a mistake….! Martin finally persuades a couple on the way down to head back and the group of people behind us out.  To top it all off, it was now our groups turn to head up the 150 steps back to the fourth floor. They did not seem too happy with this, already being out of breath!

Nemrut Dagi    30th September

Embarking on a 350 mile journey to Mount Nemrut, we leave at 11, heading towards the second highest mountain in Turkey, passing old men on old chugging tractors.

The landscape is wild and changeable, one minute flat, the next rocky with streams and gulleys.  Pass through a tiny market town, with groups of local women in headscarves and traditional Turkish dress sitting in groups, chatting over cups of Turkish tea.

Suddenly a huge herd of sheep crosses our path-we don’t see any shepherds, just a big dog!

It feels like we are on a long road to nowhere, surrounded by plains and mountains in the distance.

Over the mountains, we drive over a 2000m pass where we see no-one until we get to the top, where there are two Slovenian overland motorcyclists.

Heading east, we don’t even stop for lunch, hoping to make it to Nemrut before dark.  However the light is fading fast and we still have 30 miles to go, driving along dusty tracks.

We eventually start driving the winding roads up the mountain in darkness, with sheer drops to our sides. At a fork in the road, we are not sure of the right way, the signposting being slightly ambiguous.

We are pointed on by a passing car, but instead end up at a cafe, where we eat and stop for the night.  Ready for an early drive up the mountain, our alarms are set for 4:30 in time for sunrise.

1st October

This morning I wake up at 4, extremely tired after a bad night sleep.  Start the journey apprehensively as it’s been raining and the roads are wet.  I arrive at the ticket office and pay the 10TL entrance fee.  We start winding up a pitch black track, not knowing what is ahead, whether it be just grass or a sheer drop down.  After 40 minutes of climbing, we reach the summit where it begins to rain and the wind also picks up.  Two mini-buses of tourists arrive who seem very shocked and unprepared for the stormy weather, drowning their sorrows in cups of Turkish tea.  We wait patiently hoping for the rain to stop.  As the sun rises, our hopes of being at the top while the sun rises fade.

I decide to head up to the cafe, overhearing an Englishman saying ‘You win some, you lose some, you have to be philosophical about this’.  An American joins in saying quite aggressively ‘I’ll stay here all day if I have to, until the rain stops.  This site is the only reason I came on the tour’. The rest of the group just stares at him!  In addition to complaining about this, the poor American didn’t have a very good jacket without a hood, which he was also moaning about!

Finally the wind and rain retreats.  With Nicole still asleep, I decide to head up to see if I can get a glimpse of the sunrise.  The path is wet and slippery.  Halfway up I see two groups of tourists starting to head up too.  I think maybe I should go back and get Nicole but also that I’m halfway there now so can’t turn back.  Once at the top, I find myself alone with the heads, and no sun rise due to the cloud and decide to go back to get Nic.

Trekking up the mountain together is not too strenuous. The stone heads at the top were built by a 1st century BC King, today separated from their bodies by earthquakes.

Around the other side are the larger stone heads representing the Gods.  The sun makes an appearance, bathing the ancient heads in its rays, and allowing spectacular views.  On the way down, a large cloud seems to be following us.  We hope it doesn’t start to rain again!

Driving back down seems to be a lot easier going than travelling up.  The temperature is cool, a nice 15 degrees.

We make our way through the valleys towards the Georgian border.  We take a ferry across the river and speak with some inquisitive Turks, who don’t hide the fact that they dislike the Kurds.  The landscape consists of grass with large boulder-like rocks everywhere.  There seems to be emptiness all the way to the horizon, like in the film scenes when they ride through the desert.

Now driving at 1800m, a group of about ten men all stop to stare at the car.  Donkeys and herds of cattle accompanied by a lowly shepherd seem to block the roads frequently!

Driving through the gravelly mountain paths in darkness is certainly an experience we won’t forget, competing with Albania for the worst driving conditions!  At times, we can’t see the road ahead, the wrong steer of the wheel meaning a drop off the side of the mountain.  We hope to find a large service station in Erzurum to eat and sleep, but we don’t see one and carry on through to Tortum.  At around midnight we finally find what we are looking for.  However the restaurant has only one option on the menu so we can’t be choosy tonight!  Luckily it is good, a mix of meat, potatoes and veg with bread.  We fall asleep very easily.

2nd October

We wake up at 7am to a very cold start, being only 2 degrees in the car last night at 2200m.  We continue our drive towards Georgia with 200Km left to go.  The incomplete mountain roads takes us up to mountain passes (3000m) and down into the valleys, at 1700m.  The roads are unpredictable, one minute solid tarmac, the next pot-holed with huge bumps in, to gravel tracks, to one foot of mud and then to single track muddy roads. As we pass through the small mountain villages, the children put their hands up to shield themselves from the sun to catch a glimpse of our car speeding past them.

For miles and miles we don’t see another car or truck. However there are hundreds of horses and carts ushering their livestock to market!

The road suddenly turns into a single muddy track, where we reach a small village.  Not knowing where to go, the GPS says the road is on our left, but it doesn’t seem to exist! We try a couple of routes and end up going the wrong direction through very deep mud.  Eventually a local farmer ventures out and points us in the right direction.

With 75 miles to go to Hopa, we hope the mud road will widen out soon!  As we drive down the road, we see local people chopping wood for the coming winter, everyone in the family helping out from tiny kids to old ladies.  We descend 500m where we arrive at picturesque canyon with a river running through it.

Finally we arrive at the Georgian border, but the drama doesn’t stop there.   As we enter the border area, we suddenly have lots of ‘helpers’.  Not knowing if they are official or just there to make a few lira, we are wary but follow their directions and we get through Turkey.

The next hurdle is the Georgian crossing.  Looking at my passport then looking at me a couple of times, the woman then asks me to follow her, not divulging further.  She speaks to a police border guard; they both stare again and he then starts to question me, asking first how old I am.  ‘I’m 28.’  There is a look of surprise so I then gage that they think I don’t look old enough.  I ask if this is the case and then go back to find my driving licence to prove my age and that I am telling the truth!

When I return with it, he is still not too sure. ‘Where are you going? First time in Georgia?   Are you travelling with your father?’ Umm… not quite!  ‘You’ve been stopped before at border? No, first time’.

After explaining our route, what I do, where I went to school and uni, and our plans, he finally relents, stamps my passport and lets me through!

Martin & Nicole