Turkey is a strange untidy mixture of ancient and modern, which at first glance appears to work better in Cappadocia than on the South Mediterranean coast. Our trip was a chapter of misfortunes, but contained some amazing highlights.
After a late session at the bridge table the night before our journey, my phone rang. It was midnight. Mustafa told me our pickup time was 6.30 and not 7.30 am, and would I please notify the five other travellers in the hotel…
Riding in a brand new VW coach, we picked up another eight passengers from different hotels along the coast before finally embarking on the 6-700 km trip. Konya was the first major stop. We joined hundreds of pilgrims shuffling through the reverent atmosphere of the Mevlana Museum where many forms of the Koran were on display – parchment, scrolls, books and cameos. The allocated forty-five minutes sped by, and we were hustled back on board.
Akman, an excellent guide, got over the awkward bits in the beginning. He bullied us into buying all the extras of the trip, one of which was an “upgrade” to our hotel in Cappadocia, by recounting a sorry tale of one former customer who insisted on sticking to the original agreement and sorely regretting her decision. We all had to cash more Lira, which was of course no problem for Akman to arrange.
In Akseray, about an hour’s drive from our destination, things went wrong. The bus broke down, fittingly facing an open dustbin, and we waited on the roadside for an hour while Akman and the driver helplessly lifted the bonnet, and then called for a replacement.
We were bundled in haste into an ancient but serviceable replacement and driven at speed to watch some Whirling Dervishes performing their trance-like dance in a tiny circular theatre. The haunting, wailing music brought everlasting scenes of sand dunes to my mind and the guttural chanting voices of the instrumentalists sounded like wind in the desert. Now I know the meaning of bible verses which refer to men “groaning” as they pray.
At our hotel (a pleasant contrast to Bogaskent) there was further argument, over rooms this time. They had booked three double rooms for our party, even though we’d ordered one double and four singles. Kate and Jenny were travelling companions and Kelvin and Ann were married, so that was easy. Chris and I were left. Akman eyed us both with raised brows. He wanted an extra 7 Euros a night each if we insisted on separate rooms. That was outrageous. Well….? The implication was unmistakeable, and we snorted with indignation at even the suggestion of us sharing a room.
“Kate – are there three beds in your room?” I shouted as she headed off with her room key.
That was me settled.
But Akman still demanded 7 euros from Chris, despite the fact that three rooms now accommodated six people.
The supper was good, but the hotel did not even have a whole bottle of red wine for us to share.
The initial “all inclusive” cost of the trip was 85 Euros (260 Turkish Lira). We had to pay extras: 3 lunches – TL90; dervishes – TL75, Cultural evening TL75, Hotel “upgrade” TL18 (by the end we suspected this was the ultimate con, but what could we do?). We were cash cows being milked dry and felt like kicking back, if only because we had not been warned up front of the extras.
The next day was full. Akman whizzed us from viewpoint to viewpoint and we wandered through the amazing rock dwellings and castles.
We even visited a rock church with its ancient frescoes at Gureme at the end of a pleasant walk along a path through the rocks. Akman retrieved a rusty key from its hiding place and opened the door. It was densely black inside.
“Come,” he beckoned.
We stepped blindly over the threshold and crowded in the tiny space.
“Dont worry, it will get brighter if you wait. Look up at the walls.”
We waited in silence, and watched while light filled the place, gradually revealing amazing colours. I took the photo without a flash.
We crossed the Red River twice and were treated to a feast of beautiful Turkish decorated ceramics and watched the potter form a sugar bowl.
We took pictures of “penis town” in Love Valley., and saw stones of many hues in a gemstone shop before an excellent lunch in Goreme – traditional Turkey beef casserole cooked in a clay pot, then yoghurt drizzled with apricot honey.
I had booked a horse-ride along a stream through a green valley; there were many rock houses, and I noticed one with a modern glass door set into the rock. We passed a tiny patch of wheat and a pocket-handkerchief vineyard. My bay pony was a willing and comfortable ride, the saddle new from Germany. But my guide’s father was ill in hospital, and when we got back, in his haste to get away I forgot to ask him to take a photo of me! But I was treated to delicious fresh baked bread stuffed with cheese, apricots on grape sauce and some apricot tea. Turkish hospitality is amazing (away from the tourist rat-race).
We enjoyed a civilised start at 8 am the following morning. We’d missed our visit to an underground city the first day because of the transport problems, so Akman took us to a small one at Kirkgoz for a forty minute dash round.
Chris and I tailed behind a noisy tourist group, and savoured the cool silence and peace. We spotted several fascinating round stones to seal off the tunnels against marauders. They had spy-holes in the middle and were far too heavy for us to budge.
I was still looking for a pair of peasant Turkish trousers, and found something at the shop, but they were too small. An irritable Akman collared me outside and marched me back to the coach; I was keeping everyone waiting.
At a nearby Karavanserie on the Silk Route (a caravan has to consist of at least one donkey and two camels – camels follow donkeys) I found a pair at TL30, and changed into them in the toilet.
This tickled Akman, who said tourists used to buy them, but no longer.
The driver raised his thumb at me in approval, and the market teller where I bought Roy some Turkish delight couldn’t stop giggling at the sight of me.
They are most cool and comfortable, and were my constant apparel for the remainder of the holiday.