We continued our journey West from Lake Van to Mount Nemrut, about 350km away. We took a slightly North Western route which avoided the regions directly bordering Syria. At the time of doing this route we had just heard in the news that fighting for control of Kobane, a Syrian town sat just before the Turk border had erupted. The Turkish were being chastised for their ‘inaction’ and refusal to send in troops. So we decided to keep safely away from any potential dangers.
Mt Nemrut was our last stop before hitting Cappadocia and Central Anatolia. It’s peak stood at a height of 2134m and at the very top King Antiochus (who ruled between 64 and 38 BC) had a shrine, or place of worship built. He had huge stone statues of himself alongside Greek and Persian gods made and placed onto three terraces that were cut into the mountain top. The terraces faced East, West and North. In the middle of them he had a small mountain of rocks built up to over 50m tall where I think his remains were also buried after his death. Unbelievably the shrine wasn’t rediscovered until the late 1800’s. The site still wasn’t really explored and documented until the 1900’s.
I had done a little research into the mountain and the National Park that it was housed in. Apparently you could drive to the local town of Malatya and then take the main road into the National Park and up to the mountain top. You could park up and do a 20 minute hike uphill to where the statues were. Gutted! There was no chance that Jerome would be able to make the hike. We were desperate to see the statues so I pored over our Pocket Earth app on the iPhone and found a lesser traveled track traversing the back of the mountain right up to it’s peak where the terraces started. Not only could we potentially reach the top, but the track itself was windy and full of switchbacks – our favorite thing! We reached just short of Malatya and branched off towards the mountain. The road was still paved right up to the last 7km or so of track, but it still proved to be excellent driving.
It made Jerome pine for his Ural motorbike back in Oz hardcore. The views were fantastic and as we completed the switchbacks we had great lookouts for the road snaking down below us.
As we reached the gravel road we topped a peak just before Nemrut Peak and we got some unreal views of the jagged mountaintop from above as we continued our climb. The area felt like another planet. We turned our last corner and caught a glimpse of the stones. Amazing! Our plan had actually worked. There was a small construction hut beside the walkway up to the stones and a guy emerged asking us to go back down. We quickly explained that this was the only way that we could see the stones. He kindly agreed to let us park up and take a look at the East and West Terraces. Sweet!
The Statues themselves were brilliant. The heads had fallen from the shoulders of the king and gods long ago and had been placed at their respective feet.
The whole area was being reconstructed very carefully and rumour has it that one day the heads will be reattached to the bodies. The heads themselves were over a metre tall.
We were incredibly lucky as there was not a single tourist up there, just a watchmen and a small crew of workmen on the Northern Terrace.
You could get a 360 degree view of the land below and it was crisp and quiet. We felt a great sense of achievement as we surveyed the land. A prayer call was being carried by the wind to us from the distance and it made the moment really special. So worth it.
We wound our way back down to the main road and headed for Keyseri and to a hotel for the night. Time for a wash and a bit of laundry. Jerome had to stock up on a few meds so we had some down time.
From Keyseri we made the short drive to Goreme, home of the crazy fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. We heard that our mates Georgie and Simon (A pair of pommies travelling from South Korea back to the UK) who we had met in Kazakhstan were also there. We hooked straight up and spent the night catching up with red wine and spaghetti in a field overlooking Goreme. They had booked a balloon flight over the area for early the next morning. The Cappadocia region is famed for being one of the best places in the world to catch a balloon flight. We had tried in vain to book a flight too. I had found one company in the area with a wheelchair friendly basket. At the last second of booking it the girl said that the basket hadn’t been used for months and that they needed a permit issued to take Jerome up. It wasn’t possible in the timeframe that we had and we were gutted. The next morning we heard Simon and Georgie leave to take flight.
I sat there stewing with jealousy until a whole bunch of utes towing balloon baskets started rocking up in our quiet little field. Turns out that we had chosen to camp right where the balloons take off!
Literally five metres from us people started to assemble the balloons at about 4.30am.
That morning I watched about 150 balloons take flight as the sun rose over the fairy chimneys.
It was so great to watch but a bit of a bitter moment for Jerome, who pulled down the troopy curtains and went back to bed. I can’t blame him really.
So we got heaps dogged on the balloons but to make up for it we waited for Simon and Georgie to return and then hired a bunch of quad bikes to explore the region with. We got a free guide and the quads were an awesome way to see Gorome, getting in and amongst the crazy ‘fairy chimneys’.
The Cappadocia region (and in particular Gorome) has a very unique landscape. It mainly consists of tuff which is basically hardened volcanic ash. Volcanos erupted in the area about 30 million years ago and layered everything with ash. The ash solidified but was soft and easily eroded.
The ash was then topped by a layer of volcanic rock which is much harder. Over the vast years water seeped through the hard rock and penetrated the softer ash, making underground cavities.
The temperature changes along with the water caused the softer rock to disintegrate and get washed away, leaving the hard rock perched on top of what remained. The results are rock formations that resemble mushrooms, or fairy chimneys as the locals call them. To me they look like giant cocks! Very phallic indeed.
Because the ash rock was so soft and easy to carve into, people started to make their homes underground there and even built underground cities; of which there are about 36! These people are referred to as troglodytes. The underground caves were also a refuge for the early Christians during the Roman period too. As a result the whole area is rather big on Christianity.
Anyways the quads were great fun and Jerome got us into trouble by cracking his sideways the whole time. (In fact we tried renting them again the next day but he had earnt a bit of a rep in town for hooning!). There is so much to see in Gorome that you would need several days, some good walking boots and a few guides to truly appreciate it. The whole area is very touristy but that’s understandable as it is so beautiful and fascinating. After our quad adventures we stopped for lunch.
Ahhhh, Turkish food. Amazingly we haven’t blogged about it as yet. The food deserves a post of it’s own really. Pide, stews, breads, cheeses, rice, roasted veg, baklava…… everything is to die for. Laden with sugar and buttery goodness. You can go to a horrid looking truck stop cafe and get a good feed. If you buy Turkish you CANNOT go wrong. A veggies delight too. We stopped cooking our own food, opting instead to eat out wherever possible. And when I say eat, I mean PIG. We both managed to put on all the weight that we lost in the previous 4 months touring Central Asia. All self control went out of the window and we will now die of high cholesterol and diabetes.
Another good reason to eat out: If you chose local restaurants it is cheaper than buying your own food from the supermarkets. They are a total wrought.
After stuffing ourselves stupid at lunch we cruised around for a bit doing the touristy thing. It was then that Simon and Georgie introduced us to the delights of Hamam, aka a Turkish Bath House. My mum would probably die but we loved it. You go in and perch on a hot large marble surface in a domed room (like a giant sauna) and boil yourself stupid before dousing yourself with cold water repeatedly for half an hour or so.
Then your skin starts to get loose and peel off. Cue large, old, gorilla-like Turkish man to appear from the mist and lead you to a room where you lay on a stone bed or a massage table. Said gorilla man then takes out a loofah sponge and rubs off all the dead skin on your body in little black rolls. ALL of your skin. Only the deepest nooks and crannies remain untouched. Then he soaps you up with this amazing turkish pillow thing that creates a mountain of bubbles. He then washes you whilst you lay there and combines it with a massage and some cracking. Then he rinses you off and wraps you in a towel like a baby. Men can have ginger rubbed on their nutsacks if they like. Not sure about that bit. It’s a great experience, and so cheap! Great when you haven’t washed in a week. Why wash yourself when you can get a turkish gorilla do it for you??!! It’s very relaxing and indulgent for about 10 dollar. The massage is brutally lovely. I could imagine my mum in the corner of the bath house screaming – ‘don’t touch me!’ hahaha.
In the evening we got a bit cultural and went to see the Whirling Dervishes. A beautiful, poetic display of faith and humility. It was a good experience for Simon, Georgie and myself but Jerome preceded to do an embarrassing granddad on me. They seated him literally at the foot of the small, round stage. He then fell asleep just minutes in and sat slumped in his chair snoring. The performers weren’t very impressed as I subtly tried pinching him and stopping him from falling out of his chair! It was kinda funny I have to say.
The next day we paid a visit to the Gorome open air museum, which is like a tourist zoo. Luckily all Turkish museums and historical sites are free of charge for disabled people and their plus ones so it was all good.
Afterwords we said our goodbyes to Simon and Georgie who had to fly to Spain for a wedding. We also left Gorome and headed on out, destination Mediterranean Turkey.
Cheers for reading!