Goreme, Turkey

I have now come to Cappadocia and the town of Goreme, deservedly a backpackers’ haunt for the last 20 years. Early Christians figured out that the volcanic rock of the region was very easily carved out and could provide fantastic shelter from the wind and the heat. So entire communities of cave dwellings were built, eventually expanding into large communities of bizarre looking cave homes dug into the cliffs, in valley after valley. Judging by some of the names of hotels and restaurants, most tourists think of fairy tales or the Flintstones. Having been born in the 1970s, it makes me think of Yoda’s hut. The guidebook says that you can pass an entire day just wandering around the Open Air Museum. Fascinating as it was, I spent only an hour. As far as I’m concerned, once you’ve seen 20 caves you’re pretty much saturated, unless you’re an expert in cave frescoes.

That doesn’t hold for the underground cities, where I’ve decided I would like to live, at least for a week or two provided with proper stereo equipment. Descending 8 stories under the earth, the underground cities are made up of incredible labyrinths of tunnels and rooms, resembling enormous human ant farms — or rather, dwarf ant farms, since by the looks of it the early Christians were very short. The cities were built to provide safety from attackers, and could sustain a village for 6 months if necessary. Each floor contains a massive round stone which could be rolled over the entrance, and only opened from below. I visited one underground city in which I had the whole cave complex eerily to myself. I crawled all the way down the miniscule corridors to the bottom where I looked up the ventilation shaft and suffered a fleeting moment of claustrophobia.

Being alone down in the underground city was unusual because this has to be the most touristed place I will visit this entire trip. That can have its advantages though as I had a free explanation of the open air musuem simply by walking behind a tour group from the American Heartland. But even more interesting than the drawn out lectures on names and dates is hearing only unintelligible fragments of a passing guide’s explanation, leaving the rest to your imagination. One sentence I heard mysteriously uttered in a thick Turkish accent as I wandered about the caves: “Before they kill them they give mud bath”, absurd no matter what he was talking about.