An-an tells me she spent half an hour waking me up. I have no recollection. We hastily pack our things and jump into the cab t go to the airport. It’s a slightly hazy day, and we’re still woozy from the night before.
I am concerned about timing but when we arrive at the airport, we realize the flight is at 9:50, not 9. We chill, feeling mostly miserable until it’s time to board and sleep.
Cappadocia is warm, a balmy 60 degrees and sunny when we land. The terrain is certainly different, not quite mountainous but rocky and hilly. A warm breeze blows past us.
I’m still not feeling altogether stellar, but we find our way to the tiny Nevsehir airport, and sure enough, on the other side of a short conveyer belt spitting out suitcases, there is a Turkish man holding a sign that reads “Lisa Xia”. It’s so smooth I can hardly believe it.
Expecting a full load, I am surprised to board the shuttle and find that it is only An-an and I and one other Japanese man. If you asked me again in 24 hours, I would tell you that I thought the only people who visited Cappadocia were Asian tourists.
The drive is a short 25 minutes, and we are captivated by the door and window openings on the stones outside that signify that these rocks are indeed homes. Whizzing by small towns along the way, we try to snap pictures of caves flashing by, convincing the driver to stop only once so we can snap up some more. We knew what we would be expecting to see, but it’s still rather unreal when you see it. It’s unlike any terrain I’ve witnessed.
The town of Goreme is quaint and cute, a long cobblestone main road that leaves us right at the door of Rock Valley. I knew it wasn’t exactly a cave—it isn’t at all—but the “Pansion” [did they all just spell it wrong collectively?] looks cozy. An-an has never stayed in a hostel before and I had warned her ahead of time we would be roughing it. I am secretly nervous that she’ll be grossed out by the dorm room. If you feel uncomfortable, we can switch and upgrade, I say.
The reception is manned by multiple Turkisk men, with others relaxing in the den sipping on apple tea. It’s hard to tell who works here, who’s just hanging out and who’s a tourist. There is a tall Turkish boy sitting behind the desk, clacking away on his Facebook. “Ummm.. checking in?”
An older man greets us, with a charming smile that’s just slightly toothy. The interspersed grey hairs give away his age. I think he’s about 50 perhaps.
Welcome girls, he says, and gives us the key to room 5.
Can we do ATVs, I ask rather quickly. We had seen a line of them rolling in, and conjuring up images of Costa Rica, I instantly want in.
Yes, he says. I will make a call. There is a tour that leaves maybe at 2:45; it is 45 liras. You go for about two hours.
I glance at the clock quickly. Ok perfect. We’ll settle in, maybe walk around a little bit and we’ll come back.
Ok, he says. 2:45.
Yea, yea, it’ll be fine.
We lug our suitcases up a rickety flight of stairs that almost reminds me of a ladder more so than stairs.
I’m afraid to think about you and these stairs when you’re drunk, An-an tells me.
There is no one in our room when we go in. It’s cozy, stacked with six single beds. I’m secretly happy that for her first hostel experience, these aren’t bunk beds.
It’s 2:25 by the time we set ourselves ready to check out the town. We’ll be back, we yell to the reception. We’re just going to walk around.
Are you sure?
I think they’re surprised that we don’t want to sit and relax. Americans are always in such a hurry; it doesn’t make sense sometimes in Arabic countries—or otherwise—when people really appreciate the time to breathe.
It’s a little cold when we step foot outside, but certainly not the 32 degrees we had expected it to be (that weather.com had suggested). The streets are rather quiet, some of the storefronts closed or dark. An occasional old man walks slowly, white hair tucked under a biker’s cap, hands curled behind a hunched back. It’s an image out of a photo book.
The road slants down slightly, and we balance on the chunky square stones, snapping photos of the houses. There is small playground in the middle of the street, paint chipping in a hideous shade of pink. Yet the draw of the swing set is such that we both stop to strike a pose.
Walking past the store fronts, there are displays of jewelry and headdresses. I try one on for fun, wrapping the sides around my head.
How much? I ask the store owner.
10 liras, he replies.
No, no, too expensive, I say. Not that 10 liras is all that much, but I do feel like he’s ripping me off and I really have no interest in buying this hat.
An-an is looking for an evil eye piece of jewelry, so we walk into another store front further down the line where the owner brings out his array of silver rings. He offers us apple tea—like Morocco and their mint tea.
An-an tries on six or seven rings while the owner inquires into where we are from and if we are students.
No, I work in consulting, An-an says.
I know that she wants to dispel the notion that we are young students by affirming her prestigious role in corporate America—she wants this store owner to be impressed—but I want to kick her. Surely now knowing that we had jobs, our faces as young students would instantly turn into dollar signs in the eye of the shop owner. We had money, and he knew it.
How much is this one, she asks.
Placing the ring onto an electronic scale and taking out the calculator—as if it were some sort of science–he announces grandiosely: 180 liras. Special price for Chicago girls.
Fortunately we have Chinese on our side.
It’s very expensive, An-an whispers to me. I didn’t think it would be that much.
He thinks you have money, it’s over, I say.
That’s expensive, she says to him. Can it be lower?
It’s not just the silver and materials you pay for, he says. You know. It is the design that is very special. Each one is made by hand, and the money is for the designer.
I roll my eyes. $100 for sterling silver ring with CZ and glass stuck to it with cheap glue.
Ok, well we’re going to go to an ATM and look around some more. We may be back, I say.
Ok girls, he says, smiling warmly with hospitality. I can’t figure out if he’s being genuine or how much one of those things should be.
Looking down at my phone, I’m instantly aware that it’s 2:41. Shit, we gotta go back, I say to An-an. We hastily leave the store and start again uphill back to the pansion. Halfway up we get moderately disoriented only to find the pink playground again.
The guy is there waiting for us with a car to drive us to the ATV place. Great, we say, hopping in, only to find that the car drives us right back to where we started walking from—four blocks away.
There is a string of ATVs waiting for us and after paying a short Turkish man with piercing blue eyes and a scraggly beard, we join the 4 other Asian tourists (and 2 Turkish girls) onto the ATVs. Two guys from our hostel are coming as well and I’m reminded of the stories of Moroccan men who try to charm their way into foreign women’s lives in efforts to get married and be rescued from the country. What has become of me and my suspicion?
The ride is cool at first. Fortunately, unlike the ATVs in CR, these do not have manual gears to kick. Hit this to accelerate, and use the left hand for back brake, right hand for front brake, the guy on the motorcycle tells us. Easy.
Then we’re on our own, across the gravel roads, onto the dirt roads. We make three pit stops to take photos of the landscape along the way. Our guides point out the Red Valley, Love’s Valley, and small towns that dot the road.
Climbing atop a land rock structure, we make note that some of the cave formations resemble circumcised male genitalia.
They look like wieners, I say.
Following our third stop on the ATVs, at a small, lone picnic table sitting at the edge of a valley looking down, we begin to feel the droplets of rain.
The light pitter of water soon grows stronger and the wind begins to pick up.
Shit, I really think it’s raining. It’s really cold.
We all feel a bit battered and one of our guides moves to turn our ATVs around to head for home. I pop my helmet on and hop onto to the machine. I am wearing the sweatshirt of one of our guides, and I can feel the water start to seep through the cloth.
Oh shit shit shit.
My engine goes with a start, and as we start our way down the hill, the freezing rain begins to pelt down. Rain spitting down onto my ungloved hands, wind whipping at my knuckles, I am in hell.
As we pick up speed, I notice looking back that part of our party is missing. It’s no use now turning back because our train of four ATVs are speeding on forward, and there is no possibility that I’ll actually have anything to benefit by turning back.
By now, my hands are so cold that I have jammed them as little balled fists into the sleeves of my sweatshirt. I am pushing the accelerator with my fist with no immediate access t to the brakes. I just hope there won’t be an occasion to need to brake.
The rain feels like knives now, penetrating into my thin sweatpants. I can feel every droplet ripping at my skin, and I wonder how long it would be before I could potentially damage my skin permanently. I hunch over, folding my body, trying to use my torso to protect my legs from further onslaught. It kind of works.
Looking out at the road, my helmet is so fogged up that I can’t quite tell where I’m going. But, if the alternative is having freezing rain whipping at my face, I’d rather have partial vision.
We only stop once on the road back to wait for the other crew. I’m almost angry that we’re waiting and freezing. The Turkish guide jumps off his ATV and runs to me, rubbing my hands in his and giving me a slight hand and back massage. I’m a little skeeved—his rubbing on my hands actually is more painful than it is warming—and the back massage reminds me of Nour.
It’s a straight shot afterwards back to the ATV rental place. As we turn the corner, I can see Goreme down the valley at a distance almost too far for comfort. Knowing that we still have such a distance to go and feeling as cold as I do, there is a fleeting moment when I think that I won’t be able to make it.
When we’re finally back at the ATV rental shop, I hop inside to warm myself by the stove. Shivering, my dude hands me a cigarette. I really don’t want to smoke it but I don’t want to be rude, so I take it.
The Turk with the bright blue eyes chats to me about Erciyes.
We’re trying to go tomorrow, I say, but we’re not sure yet how we’re going to get there.
He re-confirms my notion that we’ll need to take a bus to Kayseri, and then from Kayseri take a dolmus to Mt. Erciyes.
It’s different for me, he says, because you know, when I go, I take my private transport. In fact, I was just there three days ago.
Oh yea, and it’s good?
He smiles. It’s good.
I’m itching to have a glass of wine and perhaps get out of my wet clothes. I’m comfortable, albeit a bit tired.
My dude tells me he’s going to take me back to Rock Valley.
No I’d rather just wait here for An-an to come back, I say.
No, blue eyes tells me, I just got a SMS. They had to stop to seek shelter. They found a cave or something. When they come back, they’ll go straight to Rock Valley. I wonder if they are trying to separate us on purpose.
When’s the storm going to stop? I ask.
I don’t know, do you want me to ask God?
Yes, I say, can you please send him an SMS?
Haha yes, he says, picking up his phone. It rings.
Is it God calling?
My dude gestures for me to go back to Rock Valley and so I hesitantly get up to go. Outside, it is still raining, and I don’t know why he feels compelled to take me. He’s not doing me any favors; I’d rather stay in the warm tour office until the rain stops.
He’s got his mind made, although he stops to pick me up a bottle of wine, gesturing something about 7:30 and making drinking gestures. I’m very confused, although receiving gifts feels like an invest to me—something he feels he can put in first to swindle more out of me later. I’m not sure what the situation is, and I certainly can’t understand him. He makes “sh!” gestures at me and again with the bottle of wine.
Once back, I try to relax. I don’t even have the strength in me to peel off my wet pants.
Deniz, the woman who I had been emailing with, introduces herself. She is a jovial woman, in her forties or fifties perhaps, who exudes a very motherly and warm disposition.
It’s always so nice to put a face the name, she says. How are you enjoying Goreme?
It’s lovely, I saym although a bit cold. She helps explain the lay of the land.
An-an comes into the room 20 minutes later, make-up dripping, looking cold. Can we hamam?now?
Deniz lets out a hearty laugh.
Can we hamam now? I love it.
She leaves to get us vouchers. I can’t tell if she’s friendly to be friendly or if she’s getting a cut. Maybe something in between both.