From The Simpsons, season 8, episode 16, “Brother From Another Series“:
Sideshow Bob: Cecil, no civilization in history has ever considered chief Hydrological Engineer a calling.
(Cecil clears throat)
Sideshow Bob: Yes, yes the Cappadoccians, fine.
If you’re like me, you assumed the Simpsons writers had just made up that wondrous place. But it exists. In Turkey. And that’s where I spent 48 hours last week.
As I write this, my flight back home is mere hours away. I’m lying in bed, miserable with a chest cold, but must write down a couple of Turkey blog posts before I succumb to the scotch I am drinking in lieu of medication. Why do I have a chest cold? because Capadoccia is freaking cold this time of year. Not the impressive minus one billion degrees Canadian cold. No, the deathly zero degree but HUMID bone-chilling cold that sucks the life out of you.
I’ve seen multiple spellings of Capadoccia, so forgive me if I am inconsistent in how I spell it. The region is unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. It’s ancient and characterized by the bizarre, otherworldly rock formations that shape its landscape:
Volcanic activity has produced penis-shaped cylinders of limestone, topped with heads of basalt. Various civilizations, most famously the Hittites, have carved out cave homes and have produced a thriving culture. Agriculture was made possible by taming pigeons and collecting their droppings as fertilizer, hence the thousands of caves devoted to pigeon roosting. The region is thought to have been inhabited as far back as the last Ice Age.
There are many highlights of our Capadoccia venture. I was stressed, though, since I had a big CIHR grant due the same time, and was eagerly in search of a trickle of wifi to get it done. In fact, on the first night, when I should have been resting for a 5:AM wake-up, I was instead freezing in the cold night, comically in search of a wireless signal from various closed doors in the neighbourhood. See, our hotel was not informed that we were coming. And yes, all the hotels are in fact caves. Here’s a video of me looking for someone –anyone– to check us in:
The highlight of any trip to Capadoccia, though, is a hot air balloon ride at dawn. It was freezing. And terrifying. But glorious. Didn’t help that two days earlier, a hot air balloon had crashed in Luxor, Egypt, killing several tourists. Our pilot was named Dumurs. He said to me, “First time on a balloon?” I nodded. He replied, “Me too!”
Here are five videos of our ride:
Another stop was the Church of St George in the Ilhara valley. This involved a hefty stair climb into a high hill. And like everything else in Capadoccia, it was outdoors and cave-oriented. So we froze again. But here were centuries-old depictions of the patron saint of England, St George, slaying the dragon. Yes, St George was Turkish. Here’s a video:
I sort of lost track of the various religions cave sites we visited. Sadly, one of the most memorable of those sticks in my mind because supposedly it was scouted as a site for Star Wars. So here’s Adam and I posing as C3P0 and R2D2. Yes, this confused our guide immensely:
Among the most historically impressive features of Capadoccia is the underground city of Kaymakli. This place is at least 4000 years old and several square kilometres large. It’s a wonder of the world, to be sure. And terrifying if you’re claustrophobic. The people would hide in the “city” when armies invaded, or in times of bad weather. Here’s a pic of me in a grave reserved for the aristocracy of the community:
And here’s a little video that I think better sells the experience. It was truly exhausting:
Throughout this trip I recorded many audio clips for inclusion in an upcoming podcast. So stay tuned for more!