Up, Up, and Away
Is what I should have done had I checked my computer. Instead of opting to fly to Cappadocia, I thought the bus ride would be fun as it would allow me to see another part of Turkey. First the bus travelled at night, so not so much to see. Second, the trip was not 4 or 5 hour like i thought - Turkey is big! - but was 12 hours. On a bus. Need I say more. And people snore!
The journey to and from Cappadocia region was the down side of the excursion, but the place itself made it all worth while. Oh, my! As I may have mentioned earlier, how can each place I go be more fantastic than the one before. The country side around the area is made of different layers of volcanic debris some softer rock than others. Over time, erosion of wind, water, and cold has caused the landscape to become very lunar. There are rocks (tuffa) with caps of basalt, there are sheer cliffs of basalt, but most fascinating where the dwellings carved out of the tuffa. Entire areas were settled by people living in the rock caves which were a complex labryinth of tunnels and dwellings. To make the area even more special, this is where early Christians came to settle, first as hermits, and then to hide from the early persecutions. To visit the chapel of St. Basil the Great, as well as Gregory, Onufrius and so many others made the connection to the early church so much stronger. How these people lived, survived, and died is truly a testament to their faith. Of course as with all eras, there must come and end. Eventually the communities died out or moved on, or were killed, and various other events like the iconoclast period and the invasion by the Muslim peoples, caused these communities to die and many of their churches be defaced as they depicted people - the icons of the time. Faces were removed, eyes were scratched out, and other forms of desecration occured, but even that couldn't kill the Spirit.
The history of the Cappadocia area is long - spanning back 6 or 7 millenia. The Shitites, the Hittities, and various other tribes of people had made this fertile area their home. But as time passed, one people died out or were conquered and the next left their mark which became mingled with the one previous. This went on for centuries, so there was so much for the rocks to tell,
The area is also riddled with underground cities carved out of the same tuffa. They would inhabit these cities in times of danger. Everyone, including the animals would move underground and be barricaded in. There were fresh air shafts - some going down 55 meters into the earth - which supplied ventilation. There were wells for water and various sectons could be closed off with huge millstones rolled across the corridor. The halls were low which would have been difficult for invaders to attack. The genious of these fortresses was brilliant.
Of course, what is at trip to Cappadocia without taking an early morning balloon flight. My morning started at 5:30 when the transfer came to my SOS Cave Hotel in Goreme. We met at a central locations where the group was divided up into balloons, and then we were off to the launch site. I have never watched a balloon being inflated up close before and it was interesting to see them blow air in with an industrial strength fan. When it was quite full, the propane was lit and the air was heated which caused the balloon to expand and stand up right. We were urged to get into the basked, divided into sections and for some reason mine only had three instead of four like all the others - bit of a weight message? - and the captain gave us our landing position instructions. Then with a whoosh of gas, up we went.
There is not many words that can describe the beauty and the tranquility of a balloon trip. Except for the occasional blast of flame, there is no sound. The balloon drifit in a controlled manner horizontally and vertically. We started below a ridge, and as we crested the ridge, were able to see the sun rise for a second time that day. So very cool. We went up to about 900 meters and then plunged down to the ground, and then slowly ascended again. I thought I may have a bit of height anxiety, but the overwhelming beauty removed all that. It was glorious.
The next part of the day was spent touring and walking in the Ihlara Valley, which was also a hiding place for early Christians. Again, there were a multitude of cave dwellings, but what made this area unique was that in about fourteen kilometers of valley, there were over one hundred chapels. Again, the forces of nature were visible as vast faces had eroded taking much of the history with them.
Cappadocia, inspite the horrendous bus travel, was so worth going the discomfort. History ancient and more recent came to life in so many ways.