Monday, June 8, 2009

Turkey –Hanging with the Troglodytes in Cappadocia

It was amazing how fast time went by on the gullet trip, given how little we actually did. But it was a much-needed break, which gave us energy for exploring the lunar landscape and underground cities of Cappadocia. Cappadocia is a fascinating region in the very center of Turkey, somewhat resembling the vast open planes of Wyoming coupled with the spectacular scenery of Canyon Country in Utah. With one key difference – people have lived in the rocks here for thousands of years. The region is characterized by Tufa stone, which was formed by layers of compressed volcanic ash. Tufa is extremely soft and easy to carve, allowing residents to build cave dwellings right into the cliffs and under their homes. We pulled into the Gamirasu Cave Hotel late at night, so we didn’t have a full appreciation of the countryside. Things started out auspiciously, as the kids were carsick from the ride and complained about funny smells (we were dropped off in a very impoverished part of the village, as the van could not go down to the hotel). But the hotel turned out to be a welcome surprise and our 3-room place was built directly into a huge rock. It was well-lit and even had full internet service – for the next few days, our emails would lead with; “I am writing to you from inside a cave in the middle of Turkey”! We met Yashar, our guide for the next two days, and we embarked on a fascinating tour of this region. Of particular note was the Goreme open-air museum, a cliffside network of 4 monasteries, which each housed over 350 residents during the Byzantine era. There were a number of hidden churches built into the rock, with well-preserved frescoes dating as far back as the 9th century. The irony was not lost on the kids that although I had promised we were done with museums and churches for a while and would be out in nature, here we were in a site that was both a museum AND a church! Who could have known?... We later went to another spectacular site with Dr. Seuss-like mushroom cap rock formations. It was hard to ignore that many of these are extremely phallic in nature, but it all started to make sense when we noticed a small shack selling various herbs as “natural Viagra” nearby – talk about an effective marketing campaign! We also got a big rise at the ceramics studio in Avanos, where the kids got a chance to throw their own clay pots on a giant foot-powered potting wheel. Of course, afterwards we were paraded through their display section and there were a few tense moments as Suzanne was eyeing a $2,000 ceramic bowl (although she asserts she was never serious about it). I had no problems playing the bad cop with the dealer and we got away clean. However, I couldn’t claim the same success the following day at the artisan jewelry center. There is only so much a man can do when his lovely wife sets her mind on a fine piece of native turquoise! At the end of the day, we were taken to an historic palace - which once served as an overnight outpost on the silk route - to see a religious rite performed by real live whirling dervishes. I always thought the term “whirling dervish” was cool, but I must admit I had no idea what it meant. As I now understand, dervish is a type of monk, and they get their name by spinning in a very spiritual dance ritual, which apparently puts them in a trance-like state and brings them closer to God. The music, chanting and spinning was quite mesmerizing (I got dizzy just watching) and seemed to put Dee in trancelike state, as we caught her nodding off at the end of the ritual!

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