Wednesday, 9 November 2011
How I Won Over Cappadocia: 09/11/2011 and 10/11/2011
"I want to see mountains," I told someone in Antwerp in a very Bilbo Baggins-esque way. Since my route through Europe followed the rivers, there weren't any mountains to be seen there, and I've had to wait until Cappadocia for real mountains.
It hasn't disappointed; from Aksaray, I was riding along the Peristreme Valley, and the great bulk of Mount Hasan glowered over the whole area. I was riding towards it for two days, and I chose a campsite within sight of it, so when the sun set and the moon rose, its slopes glowed in the moonlight.
The Peristreme/Ihlara Valley was a rare beauty as well, a narrow patchwork of rocky canyons and volcanic remains riddled with ancient dwellings and churches burrowed into the caves and canyon walls where the early Christians hid from persecution. Even the modern houses and inhabitants use the caves as parts of their houses, or as cool storage spaces during the hot summers. I'm enjoying the cool bright November days here, but this place must be a boiling hell in the summer.
Mountains means climbing, though not as much as you might expect. This region seems to be a series of plateaus, and the passes between them are not especially steep, though they are very high. On Tuesday night I camped near the summit of Sivrihisar Pass, at an altitude of 1600 metres ASL. The highest I've ever camped, or even been on a bike.
I chose a spot not too close to the road, and next to a water trough which I used for cooking and washing - and drinking. It seemed to be flowing straight from the mountain, so I thought it would be fine.
Camping next to a water source and on a well-trodden footpath with livestock tracks on it is bound to have consequences, and since I lazed in my tent until well after 8, waiting for the sun to rise and warm the ground (the night had been so cold that I'd used my bivvy bag as a sleeping bag outer for the first time), while I was eating my breakfast semolina the cattle arrived to drink their morning water, then the donkey, then the sheep, and finally Ahmad and Jamal, two very serious boys who were shepherding during their school holiday. I gave them half a pack of extra strong mints to share, they gave me a bit of their dinner, and they watched me strike camp with unnerving intensity. I gave them a wave as I rode away up the pass.
I was reminded of how lucky I am to be in such a dry climate; the one water source had frozen into ice across the road in Sivrihisar Village. The rest of the pass, though, was dry and clear and fabulous for cycling.
It was a day of kids being interested in me and my bike. The constant shouts of "Hallo!" did wear after a while, but I answered most of them with a wave, if not a smile as well. Most of them. I stopped for an afternoon snack and when a young lad came over saying "hello", I pissed off straightaway, saying "I just want five minutes to myself!" I'm sure I heard him shout "Arsehole" after me. He was certainly shouting something. Ten minutes before that, one young boy stood in front of me to make me stop, but I won that particular game of chicken. I was going slowly enough to have braked before I hit him, but also slowly enough that he could chase after me and try to grab hold of a pannier. I snarled at him to let go: I guess I don't always deal too well with being the centre of attention.
I had been in a much better temper earlier in the day, when I'd stopped in Ciftlik for some bread and snacks; a gang of young lads gathered round my bike, so I offered the nearest one a ride on it, and had to stifle my laughter when he could hardly balance it, let alone ride it. He was pleased to have made the attempt, though, and one of his mates rode alongside me for a while over the next pass, Sekkin Bogazi Pass, where the tallest mountain in Cappadocia, Mount Erciyes, first came into view. I hope to ride along Tekir Pass when I leave this area, as that rises to 2500 metres beside Mount Erciyes, and should be spectacular, if the days are as bright and clear as they have been.
For today, though, I'll enjoy wandering around the fantasy rock formations of Göreme National Park. It's completely off season, but there is still a fair dusting of tourists in the area. This place must be grockle central in the summer, judging by the number of guesthouses and shops selling souvenirs. It's quite a contrast to the serenity of the upper Peristreme Valley and the down-home realness of Ihlara, but quite an enjoyable change as well. I'm off the bike today, and no one gives me a second look.