Sunday, June 10, 2012

A friend and I took Martha Stewart's recommendation to ride a hot air balloon in Cappadocia and we would agree that it is an amazing, once-in-a-life-time experience! It is well worth it if you are ever in Turkey. I'll let you check out her website and pictures because her professional team will do a much better job illustrating the beauty and uniqueness of the area.

But, what I'm sure Martha didn't do was take three buses a dolmus, a taxi, and a ride with a farmer to explore the area. She also probably didn't enjoy the company of four stray dogs. So, I will give you the real Goreme, Turkey without the a tour guide or production crew. My friend and I met at the Masti (big bus station in Malatya) on Friday afternoon at 2:00 pm excited about leaving Malatya and heading west towards tourism, English speakers and alcoholic beverages. This six hour bus ride to Kayseri was in a modertly modern Mercedes coach with entertainment systems built into eat seat back. This sounds like fun but everything was mostly old American shows dubbed in Turkish..not fun to watch. And, when I inquired about Wi-Fi (there was a USB port) the driver looked at me like I was from Mars..either that or he didn't understand my Turkish. So I settled in for a nap.

After about 2 1/2 hours the bus made a dinner stop at a fairly clean bus-company owned rest area. Not realizing this was "dinner" I bought a banana and a bag of peanuts which helped pass the time for the next 3 hours. We arrived at Kayseri and promptly looked for buses to Goreme (the heart of Cappadocia).Unfortunately, the best we could find was a bus to Nevesehir which would get us to within 10 km of our destination. After a quick second dinner of manti (Turkish ravioli) we took the 1 hour ride to Nevesehir. Thinking that Cappadocia was this amazing world travel destination we were surprised to be the only tourists on the bus. But we struck up a conversation with a man aross the aisle who spoke a little of about five languages and helped us located a passenger on the bus who was going to Goreme.

Arrival at theNevesehir bus station led us to believe that we were taking the very non-touristic route. As a matter of fact, the bus station was dark, only three of us disembarked, and there was neither dolmus nor taxi to be found. We were now following a strange Turkish male whose only word I understood was "gel"(come). He appeared to knows what he was doing but this is a common Turkish trait. In the quest to be hospitable, many offer to help. Because we were in the middle of nowhere we had to follow him for awhile, but I was mentally planning my exit strategy should it be necessary, and secretly very thankful that I was not alone.

After about 10 minutes a dolmus (small, local minibus) arrived. It wasn't going to Goreme but the driver said he would take us to a place that would have a dolmus to Goreme. By now it was getting late..10:00 pm and I was a little concerned that we were following a strange man through a deserted part of Nevesehir to an unknown destination. I was also sad we were not sipping wine in our luxurious cave hotel in Goreme. We passed empty tea shops, hardware stores, and clothing stores...all dark for the evening.

Another 10 minute walk plus a 10 minute wait in front of a late night market finally rewarded us with a dolmus enroute to Urgup (not Goreme) but the driver said told us to hop on. He could take us to a taxi stand. Fine. I was imagining a 2 minute jaunt to a corner taxi stand, but it turned out to be a 15 minute "local" picking up and dropping off passengers along the way. The man we had been following inquired of all the passengers how to get to Goreme. (I knew he didn't know what he was doing.) At the next stop, a dark dusty road in the middle of nowhere, a man got up and motioned for us to follow him off the bus. He would call us a taxi. I said "No, thanks." I would ride to the end of the line if necessary...better than get off in the middle of nowhere.

Luckily, we did not have to wait long. A few minutes later we saw a four star hotel. We made a quick decision to get off, walked into the lobby and asked the receptionist to call a taxi. Another 10 minute wait and our taxi arrived. At this point I was hoping the hotel would still be open and they would have our reservation. What I should have hoped was that our driver had GPS or knew his way around the cave hotel district. After three phone calls and lots of dead ends, we finally arrived at the front door. Luckily, the long rides were worth it. The hotel was beautiful and a small bottle of white wine was waiting for us in the mini bar. We admired the beautiful view and got to bed early in anticipation of the balloon flight scheduled for the next morning.

The next day's transportation consisted of shuttles to and from the hot air balloon and walking. It was a pleasant touristy day. Followed by a nice dinner cooked in a clay pot.

On Sunday morning, after hiking through caves, villages, and hot desert landscape, for several hours, accompanied by three stray dogs, we decided we should try again for a local dolmus to take us back to our hotel. The sun was baking hot, we were out of water, and we hoped to catch up with a Malatya tour group for our ride home. While walking along the small shoulder of a busy highway, hot, sweaty and tired, we looked behind and saw what looked like a white dolmus van. We put out our thumbs and the van stopped. After hopping on and saying goodbye to our sad looking dogs, we looked around and realized this was a family van not a dolmus. But, a seat is a seat and a ride is a ride, so we stayed on. They farmer, his wife and daughter and son seemed happy enough to give us a lift. We bounced along chatting in Turkish and German until arrival back at our destination..

For our ride home, even though we'd purchase tickets for regular buses, we were able to tag along with a Malatya tour group for free. (This coincidence is almost an entirely new story) The ride home was an awesome experience because I met my new friend Fatma and the group toured a winery. What a surprise!

So, 3 buses, 2 dolumuses, 1 hot air balloon, 1 taxi and 3 dogs later, we returned to Malatya. It felt like a lifetime of experiences in 2 short days.

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