Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cappadocia

Ortahisar

An old Iranian term meaning the land of the fast racehorses. Located in Central Turkey, in the Anatolia region, it is now famous for its interesting geology and ancient cave churches. 

I thought it was a Greek name, but Eveline, who has lived here for 7 years and is a tour guide, said no. I came to house-sit for her, and will be taking care of her three dogs: Nura, Say-no, and Meelo. Nura is the largest, a golden shepherd mix, about ten years old. The other two are long bodied terriers with Disney-dog faces.  

Every day we go down from her house to the big valley for a daily long walk. The first day I was here, we went to a side valley with some cave home ruins. Ruin is not a very accurate term as the homes are still there, just missing their fronts. The rooms were carved from volcanic tuff. Generally the floors are flat. Inside, benches, raised bed platforms and windows were carved out. Nothing about a cave home is straight or smooth.  With a large open entrance, they needed to be protected from the weather, so usually another room was built on the front, from the rock that had been carved out, and a wooden door installed. Some cave homes have had a wall built right inside the arched cave entrance with a door, but in the oldest examples, all that is gone.

Eveline’s home is partially cave. Rooms downstairs make a guest apartment in what was once the stable. The house is built above. My bedroom is literally carved from solid tuff.  There is evidence of past fires, black soot covers some of the ceiling. The two large vent holes were plugged with big rocks when the house was built on top. I suspect this space was a home in the far past as well as a stable. When she bought the property, there was no apartment, she designed it and had it built. There is a nice new bathroom and a decent kitchen with a raised floor. The bathroom walls are straight, created from blocks of tuff. Mortar was made from ground tuff so the color is uniform. On the floor are deep red, green, and black Turkish carpets and it’s decorated with old water jugs, wall hangings, and antique pots and pans. I fell in love with my little cave home the minute I walked in.

Kitchen

Looking into the cave bedroom.
Ortahisar is a village near the larger town of Urgup. A bus runs every thirty minutes between the towns. In the last few years tourism has increased dramatically. The valley, full of these cave homes, many abandoned because they are no longer safe,  has been bought up by rich people from Istanbul and converted into hotels, and boutique B&Bs. So between falling ruins and normal small homes, there are elegant hotels.

The streets are donkey paths, most not wide enough for even the small European cars. It’s easy to get on the wrong path and end up in a place where you can see where you want to be, but not how to get there.

Eveline took me to Urgup on Wednesday, my first day here. I had left my old hiking boots behind in Rio Gordo after the dog-sitting gig. I had planned to, it lightened the load in my luggage considerably. But now, winter is coming and I need something other than sandals.  There are two outdoor-stores in Urgup and I spent the better part of the afternoon trying on all the boots in town that were my size, finally paying more than I would have paid in the States for a pair of North Face boots.

Urgup is a major tourist attraction; big tour buses were lined up in the center of town. I could see a long ridge rising up with cave-homes and people walking around on top enjoying what must be a spectacular view. Off in the distance is a volcano covered with snow and in between -  the landscape of eroded tuff valleys.

So far, communicating has been challenging but not impossible. After the trip to Urgup, I took the bus back to Ortahisar. It dropped me off at the edge of the center of town. Eveline said there were paths from town down into the valley, and indeed there were several, but once in the bottom, I had no idea where to go up to get to her house. I could see the landmark tower and knew her home to be directly across from it, but I had no idea what the house would look like from that angle. As it turned out, I wouldn’t have been able to see it at all, too many other houses blocked the view. So, very lost, I ended up on top of the ridge at a dead end, with an elderly woman pointing down a steep dirt path as the way I should go. Fortunately I turned back and found paved streets, eventually a little grocery, and was able to ask where the Hezen Hotel was. Unable to follow the complicated Turkish directions, a girl volunteered to escort me down a couple of streets. There was the sign for the hotel on the only street I actually recognized. I thanked her and got home before dark. Whew!!