I awoke at 4am to have enough time to hop in the shower before our 4:30 pick-up. Shivering, my new friend and I headed to the van. (Cappadocia is like the desert in that it cools off considerably at night.) We were handed little safety cards showing how to get into landing position (think holding a squat for several minutes – I think my thighs still hurt!) and the name of our balloon pilots. It turned out my friend had a different pilot, but we were able to switch with another person flying solo so it all ended happily.
The van took us to Cappadocia Balloons’s offices, where we sat with over a hundred other people drinking tea, eating the best simit I’ve ever had, and waiting. Then it was back in the van with the other dozen or so people who were to be in our balloon. We drove out a considerable way past the other companies, whose multi-colored balloons we could see being gradually inflated and taking off, till we got to ours.
I was so busy looking around me that I didn’t even realize we had taken off till my friend said something and we were already several yards off the ground! And I have to say that I really was ok during the flight. I never went to the edge of the basket or completely relaxed, but I really enjoyed it and I had a great view even if I did stay in the center. In fact, the smoothness of the ride, the quiet, and the sense of being outside your normal environment reminded me a little of scuba diving.
They kept the balloon inflated and all of us passengers in it to float it up and over a trailer. Once the balloon was tied down, they let loose the rip cord and slowly, slowly the balloon deflated.
We ended with a Turkish cocktail: Turkish bubbly and sour cherry juice. We had had a camera attached to the balloon basket at a slight angle above us taking pictures every twenty or thirty seconds, so I bought a DVD of the photos.
Then back to the hotel in time for a sustaining breakfast including protein and, even more importantly, coffee! At 9:30 I got picked up for my green tour, which promised to be much more challenging physically than the previous day’s red tour.
We started out gently. Can you guess? It was a stop at a panoramic view!
Then we had a 30-40 minute ride to the deepest underground city (yet discovered) in Cappadocia, Derinkuyu. We were able to go seven stories – 55 meters I believe – underground, though it extends much further. Both because of lack of stability of parts of the structure, and the possibility of getting lost down there, the Turkish government has purposely blocked access to 90% of the city, even going so far as to build walls to block off parts.
I understood why the city was not recommended for claustrophobics, but it took a couple of minutes to understand the warning for those with high blood pressure, asthma and heart conditions. You walk literally bent in half up and down several stories worth of stairs. I’m of average height and narrower than average shoulders and I had a hard time squeezing through. In fact, though I’m not at all claustrophobic (my fear of heights is quite enough, thank you very much), I had a really hard time down one passage where the middle had no light and I was bent over double.
However, with all that said, I strongly recommend visiting the city if you don’t have one of the above listed conditions (or really bad knees) because it is really unusual and fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like it. These cities were built for hiding from raiding, warring enemies and the uppermost levels date back thousands of years.
My legs even more sore, I was ready for our 3-4km hike in Ihlara Valley! Actually, it was a super-easy hike through a lovely valley spotted with cave houses and churches, alongside a river (more like a big stream). I had been worried about the descent because of my fear of heights, but the government had recently put in a set of steps (over 300 of them!) so it was quite easy.
We had the best tour lunch I have had this far, and not just because all that activity was making me hungry. It wasn’t a buffet, which may have helped.
After lunch, we had a long drive to Selime Monastery (a cave monastery high on a hill) and the “Star Wars set” landscape. While Star Wars had scenes shot in Tunisia, not Turkey, it seems that Lucas did pay a visit to this area:
The path up to Selime isn’t really a path, more a scramble up an extremely steep, sand/scree covered cliff. I made it up to the kitchen level but then my fear of heights kicked in and I was terrified of how to get back down. My lovely tour guide helped me down before the others, and it wasn’t too bad, but I was so upset and embarrassed! In retrospect, having had so little sleep and a physically exhausting morning surely didn’t help moderate my reaction. But at least I did get a better view of the monastery even if I didn’t make it up to those higher levels.
Our final stop was a panoramic view of Pigeon Valley, so called because it’s full of those honeycomb-looking pigeon niches and, therefore, pigeons. (Apparently their um, excrement makes good fertilizer and the egg whites were useful for frescoes).