I am sitting in my tent in a farm, thankfully. Outside a cacophony of thunder is rippling constantly across the sky. This is the most incredible thunderstorm I have ever witnessed, as if Zeus just realized that no one worships him anymore and has returned with a vengeance. The sky sounds as if it is being ripped apart and whatever is doing it is going way overboard.
I saw it coming as I was completing the very involved task of cleaning my bike. I meant to switch my chain, but found that the casing had broken (word to the wise, do not store your spare chain at the bottom of a pannier for almost four months) and the chain was now quite intimately acquainted with a mixture of dirt, rust, sand and dissolved paper which formed an impressive mud.
So, I tried to salvage it, but also shrewdly cleaned my old chain just in case. To really clean the back cassette it is best to remove the wheel, so my bike is in a few pieces right now, getting a wash. I saw the sky darkening, but was unconcerned, for intermittent fits of rain are common out here in the plains, and until now I have been able to outride them. What fury is unleashed this evening! I saw the imminent evil and with a little luck and the speed of long practice, managed to erect my tent, throw all the necessary items in, and dive into a sound shelter just as the rain hit. Never have I heard thunder like this! I hope the trees I am camped under are strong…
This is an ideal opportunity to write up a blog post, long overdue.
Goreme I can say little of, the pictures can say much more than I am capable of to convey the magnificence of that special place. I think I mentioned that I met Sharayer and Marine from Istanbul for lunch as soon as I got into town.
The next day Sharayer and an amiable Ukrainian named Stas accompanied-
-seriously, the loudest thunder I have ever heard… surely there must be a sizable crater somewhere from that lightning strike-
me on a hike through Pidgeon valley up to Uchisar castle and back down through White valley and the subtly titled Love valley.
-I think I am in a bad place right now, I am actually a little afraid-
Figure out why they call it Love Valley?
The next day we hiked Red Valley and Rose valley, which are surely the main attraction for a tourist, though I am sure the locals know of many secret places. This day was super fun, we had a great crew! In addition to Sharayer and Stas we were joined by Emir and Marine, both of which I also met in Istanbul! You can see we were in high spirits.
Marine up top, Sharayer below, Stas on the right.
Sharayer was the one who recommended the dervishes in Istanbul, and she planned to go to Konya to see the Mevlana museum and another dervish performance, and I decided to tag along. Mevlana is the title of Celaleddin Rumi, who you might know is the famous Sufi poet. He is also the founder of the dervishes and had a temple in Konya. He is buried there, as well as a lot of information about the dervishes and their way of life. Our bus from Goreme was a bit late, and we stopped a lot, once passing a police checkpoint. An officer comes aboard and collects all of our id’s. We are the only foreigners on the bus. I drowsily hand my passport, and while Sharayer digs for hers the man continues to collect and forgets to grab hers on the way back, which I thought was funny. The police are at it for a few minutes before your ol’ Gunnar gets called out of the bus. I am not sure what will happen, and I make no assumptions. I sit there while they ignore me, and eventually they ask me for a phone number. I tell them I don’t have one. They say nothing and I stand there a while longer, before they hand my passport back. I look at them a moment, and then slowly board the bus again. No problem.
We arrive in Konya late, after midnight. We have to take a tram into the town center, which is a good 25 minute ride, Konya is no small city, with a population of around 2 million. We walk through town to the hostel we had selected, winding through small streets loaded down with luggage, and the town is alive! Families are out, children are playing, people are drinking tea everywhere. I suppose I ought to mention that it is Ramadan in Turkey, the month in which practicing Muslims abstain from food or drink all day, subsisting on an early morning breakfast, called “Sehar”- around 3 a.m.- and a meal at 8:30 in the evening, called “iftar.” This is a practice to experience what it is like to be poor, though initially I think the meals were once very meager, whereas now the breakfast and dinner are celebrated with much pomp- tables fill the streets and people fill the tables waiting for iftar to roll around. This may explain why the children and families were still out.
We find our hostel, but it is closed- not enough guests! There is another close by and it is cheap, so we drop our burdens at last and turn in after a long trip. The next day, first thing, of course, is breakfast. We look around a while- there are kebap shops galore, but no breakfast. The streets are narrow and full of shops. There are three mosques, and we get pretty turned around, eventually resorting to google to direct us to a breakfast spot, which happens to be across from the Mevlana Museum. We eat and then return to the hostel. From there we get lost again trying to get back to the museum, which we eventually find and tour. It was a fantastic experience! Mevlana was alive in the 13 and 14th centuries, and they still have some of his clothes and original books! The museum also has a beautiful collection of hand-written and illustrated Korans, reminiscent of the Christian illuminated manuscripts, though unique in their beauty. There was one tiny Koran that was so small that the author went blind from writing it. Huh. We are pretty sure we saw the tomb of Mevlana and his son, though part of the Mosque was under renovation, of course! Either way, we were within 20 feet of him for sure. He is one of the only dead people I was excited to be in proximity to, if that makes sense. An incredible man.
That evening we saw the dervishes perform. There were 18 this time, and a fuller band. The venue, though built precisely for this, was not intimate, with its modern feel, large speakers, and stage lights. The symbolism of this dance was interesting though, and the music was enchanting as ever. It is always fascinating to watch them spin as well. A few of these dervishes looked no older than 12 years old also, which makes me wonder whether there is a shortage of pupils… We were curious whether they still live as ascetics or whether this is but a vestige of a once all-encompassing lifestyle (Dervishes once had to undergo 1001 days of suffering to become a dervish, including a 40 day fast and periods in which one is not able to lie down, for example). Overall, we liked the Istanbul performance more.
Konya is the most conservative city in Turkey, by the way. There are also very few tourists, the museum and the dervish dance, which is free but only performed on Saturdays, are the only attractions Konya seems to have to offer, really. Our Turkish hostel host in Goreme said of Konya that if his bus is scheduled to go through Konya he finds another bus! Almost all the women wear hijabs, at least in old town. There are many burkas to be seen as well,- one woman I saw didn’t even have her eyes exposed, though there must have been a translucent strip for her to see through, just a black shroud over her head! I felt conspicuous in my shorts as well, but all I have are these and a pair of sweats, which I had to wear to the museum, but it was very hot!
The next day was Sunday, and we were headed separate ways- Sharayer to Antalya on the Southern coast, me back to Goreme to pick up my bicycle. There were only a couple buses to Goreme on Sunday though. We were shooting to take the tram back to the bus station together and I wanted to leave at 3:00. We went to buy tickets, and there was a seat available, but I could not buy it because I would be sitting next to a woman! Incredible! When you get your ticket it declares your gender on it. So, we stayed another day in Konya. I think no tourist has ever stayed so long! It was interesting, we found some night life in a more liberal part of town, though no alcohol is served anywhere. There was also some sort of speech at tje museum that night and it was amazing to see such a turnout! So many hijabs…
So, the next day we caught our buses, and in two hours I was back in Goreme.
There is a very interesting side-story related to the storage of my bike while in Konya. (The thunder and the rain have stopped- whew!)
Marine, from France, found a Couchsurfing host in Goreme. Couchsurfing, for those of you who don’t know, is a great website in which you can sign up to host travellers or crash at a host’s house for free, a great way to travel cheap, meet interesting people, and get insights into places only locals can provide. This host is a man named Ibrahim, born and raised in Goreme. He owns his own little valley just outside of town, which has been in his family for 400 years, he says. It has caves. Many caves. He has outfitted one for himself and another for guests, one large room that sleeps four and a bathroom, though without electricity just yet. There are a couple beautiful outdoor living spaces, campfires, and a kitchen which is also cut out of the living stone. I had already booked two nights at the hostel and was enjoying the hot water and wifi, but Sharayer and I went there to see the place my first night in town. The next day, to our surprise, Emir arrived, and after we hiked through Rose valley (and all the way around the plateau, actually) we had a lovely barbeque there. Abraham is an interesting fellow with incredible stories, chock full of them. His early life has something of the gangster, his later life something of Indiana Jones. He is a spiritual man, an eccentric, though not without very human weaknesses. He is not fond of the close-mindedness and greed of his countrymen, particularly some of the old families in Goreme (rough history). He has a house and a pension in town, but he lives out here on the farm, living simply. We hit it off, and I felt comfortable asking to leave my bike there. When I got back, I stayed a couple more days.
I came in from the bus stop and headed straight there. Abe (Abraham is the Western form of his name) and Emir were having dinner, and I got in on some, with relish. I had missed seeing Marine off by a day, she was headed back to Istanbul to work at Harmony hostel, dof all places. Emir and Abe hit it off and it looked like Emir would be staying for a while. I asked if I could spend the night and explained that I would like to do some work for him in exchange for storing my bike. Abe consented, with a casual “if you want to, but you don’t have to” attitude. Emir had dug a new firepit and we sat around talking under the stars late into the night.
The next morning Emir and I cleared a bunch of scrap wood and various debris out of a small stable- Abe is raising pigeons and he wanted a safer place to keep them. He had recently learned that this stable was actually on his property, actually- it was quick work with the two of us and by the end of the day Abe had a window screened in, sealed up the building against predators, fitted some nesting cubbies, and hung some poles, and moved the pigeons over.
After we cleared the stable I ran a few errands in town- I desperately needed to do laundry- and on the way back ran into Emir who was coming in to fetch two German girls who were coming to join us. We bring them up and we all take a rest day, the girls- Christine and Theresa- recuperating from a long bus ride from Izmir and the rest of us, already familiar with the area, whiling away the hottest part of the day. The girls crocheted, I worked on a story, and the boys smoked and idled around. After it cooled a bit, Emir and I took the girls up out of the valley to see the sunset. We explored the valley above Abe’s place, which I had not seen. This was super fun, involving a lot of climbing and picking of apricots and mulberries. We caught the sunset, returned to the farm, grabbed some beer and listened to some more truly remarkable stories from our host’s life. Would that I felt at liberty to retell them! Abraham, like Goreme, deserves to retain some secrets.
he next day the girls slept LATE. Me, I heard what sounded like blowtorches and realized the balloons were out:
We boys had a full morning, and it was already hot when they joined us. We had planned to see Rose and Red valley that day, with Abe as our guide, which excited me, because he surely knew of some secret spots. Everyone seemed inclined to lounging though, and I grew quite restless. I announced that I was going to pop into town, and as I left Abe, who had been elsewhere on the farm, caught up with me and asked me what I was up to. Turns out his mother needs looked after (she lives in town) and he wouldn’t be able to hike today. He told me to take them myself and give his apologies, and that we should go now, for the hike takes a couple hours. Okay, I can do that. I go back and relay the message, and the girls are up for it. Emir is not. This amused me. Alright, I will just take these two beautiful girls with me out into the canyons myself! He must be playing a long game, but both these guys think a little too highly of themselves. We have a lovely hike through the canyons, me an effective tour guide now. I also dragged them further up the valley to some houses I hadn’t explored yet despite the threatening clouds. I am glad, the houses were cool!
We swung back and the conversation switched to food… a barbeque had been mentioned, but we weren’t sure whether it was actually happening. I tried to get them to eat in town first- I had but two meals in the last two days- and then eat more at Abe’s, but they talked me into just hitting the grocery store. We grabbed some garlic, eggplants, yeast and flour- they wanted to cook doughboys over the fire- and along with some beer, returned to the farm.
The boys were there, sitting by the fire, smoking. No barbeque was laid out. Abraham had cooked for himself and his mother and Emir had made himself some eggs. Well, so much for rolling up to the smell of food! I bid the girls sit a moment- we were pretty tuckered from the hike- but soon hunger had us on our feet. Theresa whipped up some garlic dipping sauce and some garlic butter, Theresa made dough, Abe and Emir were kind enough to prepare the vegetables while I gathered some sticks and sharpened them for the doughboys and brought out the plates and silverware after helping to get the yeast going.
Me and the girls were in high spirits- really, this was some of the most fun I have had around a campfire! A little delirious with hunger, we joked around while the veggies cooked and began to dip cheese into the oil-lemon-garlic sauce. Then, too hungry to wait, we began rolling cheese into dough and wrapping it around sticks and cooking it over the fire. Once browned, we spread garlic butter on them and the first one was so good I almost desperately cooked a second one, fiending for another! After that the vegetables: eggplant in sauce, onions, peppers, zucchini, potatoes! Oh, it was all heavenly and we really crowned a fine day with a fantastic evening meal! Maybe it was the fatigue, or the beer, or just the company, but it felt so good to come together and make a meal, a little family, so natural, simple, and innocent. I want my life to have more of this in it.
Next day, however, I left. Did I have to? No. But did I have to? Yes. The open road called. I hope to return someday.