Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Thanks Alex, I'll take it from here. Rebecca was feeling unwell and stayed back at the hostel for the night, whilst I set out to meet the newly arrived Emily. We found an empty roof terrace and drank local beer whilst we caught up on the two days since we’d last seen each other and talked about horror movies for a few hours. I tried to convince her that the single scene in Kairo (“Pulse”) with the slowly walking ghost was one of the most terrifying in all of cinema.
“Nope, nope, nope, fuck that, I’m out of there” was the gist of her reaction, to be expected but no less vindicating. That was the end of that day.
12th August (clearly, the entry dates do not correlate to the actual days being described) was an early start for a long day. We had to get up at 4am to make it in time to catch the hot air balloons before they took off. So, after grunting at our phones and sleeping for another hour, we stepped outside into jumper weather (the first chill whilst in Turkey). A bakery was opening as we walked through town, and I treated myself to a freshly baked breakfast pastry that steamed in the cool air outside. Rebecca wasn’t hungry yet, but she did sample some of mine on the way.
The closer we got, the busier it became, and by the time we reached the base of the ridge from yesterday evening, a queue was forming. ₺2 to trek up the short way to the top. Every step we took, the amount of people climbing the ridge grew, until finally at the top we could see there would be little space for a clear view. People were already setting up their tripods, others were sitting in chairs, and others waited in their cars for the spectacle. One eager pair of newlyweds were having a photoshoot in full regalia in amongst all the uneven rocks. Others were going all-out with their Instagram outfits and preparing their poses.
The first balloons set off whilst it was still mostly dark. Their ascent was like that of fireflies sailing off to escape the first light of the day, except these fireflies were plastered with advertisements for company sponsors. By the time the sun was up the air was clogged with dozens of them, all battling for control of their own slice of the sky. You must assume that the operators (drivers? I don’t know the name for hot-air balloon people) know what they’re doing, and all the near-misses with buildings and serrated crags were just for the sake of entertainment. However, two of these balloons got into legitimate trouble when one of them stalled in its ascent on the route of another. As a result, both balloons hovered a few metres above the ground and bumped into each other repeatedly. Fortunately, they did eventually get free, but it wasn’t a sure thing. When the first of the hot-air balloons disappeared through the clouds, I knew that I had no desire to try it myself. Too high up for me. Imagine if it broke down. The ladder must be humungous.
Before we were even back down the ridge, we realised that even considering the idea of wearing a jumper was crazy. Too sweaty too quickly from too little activity. It wasn’t even 7am. Yet things were about to get a lot sweatier, since we’d planned to hike around Rose Valley/ Red valley about an hour’s walk from Göreme to the start, and a further four hours to walk the route. We met up with Emily beforehand, and altogether we set out in the late morning.
On the way, we noticed an unusual number of playgrounds – more playgrounds than you’d generally see when walking out of a town in the middle of nowhere. More suspicious was the fact that none of them had any children – or anyone else – in them. Who were all these playgrounds for? We passed through quad-bike territory, by stacks of concrete blocks, and ever-present clumps of isolated cave houses. Randomly, we found a tortoise at one point on the side of the dirt track we were following. There was no indication of where, how, or why it was there, but we tried to find a way to give it some water. We tried pouring some out onto a flattened plastic bottle, but almost all of it bounced off. At a loss at what else to do, we apologised to the tortoise that we couldn’t do more and carried on.
The signs on the side of the motorway we were walking alongside promised delicious food and great hotels in the town ahead, but the colours were so faded that it was difficult to make out the full advertisement. The town itself almost felt ghostly at first, as if everyone had left in a hurry. Windows open, with nobody home. There was an unusual level of disrepair too. Some houses were missing doors, others weren’t fully built. Then we turned the corner, and everything was fine. There were indeed people alive and well. Old women with headscarves emptied buckets of dirty water into the street, disturbing their chickens in the process. It’s nice to know that no matter where you are in the world, old ladies with headscarves and chickens are a constant. They are the bedrock of any modern society.
Unfortunately, I need to take a break as I’m quite tired now, but if I may skip to the present for a second, the fast-food burritos in Skopje are not very good.
The route led us through the town briefly, before we turned back out and to the start of the trek. Almost immediately, the climb became hard and steep. We quickly climbed around seven hundred metres onto a wide, flat plateau that stretched forward for at least half a mile. The views from this height were spectacular. We were at the highest point for miles around; nothing else came close. You could see the full length and breadth of the Cappadocian countryside. There were so many cliffs and isolated rock formations, and at least... four variations of the colour brown. To be fair, Red Valley was certainly living up to its name. From what we could see (which was a lot) it would zigzag back towards Göreme, snaking around itself for row upon row of valleys.
Up ahead we had a walk along the sun-bleached roof of the world. Up here, there was no relief from the heat, but I had my shirt off before we'd been halfway up (pro tip: don’t wear long-sleeved white shirts when going hiking). We stopped for a few snacks on the edge, our legs dangling above the sheer drop as we ate. My momentary addiction to Biscoff began at that time. It took perhaps half an hour to walk from one side to the other, where we found a Turkish flag struggling to stay up thanks to the meagre wind. We flirted with the idea of claiming the plateau for a resurgent Byzantine Empire, but none of us remembered to bring a flag.
By this point, we’d been walking for three or four hours, and despite still having to arrive at the start of Red Valley, we decided to take the most direct route home so as not to get caught in the day’s dusk. This meant finally coming down off the hill, which turned out to be much spookier than you’d think. The path was often sheer and always sloping downwards. The ground was loose gravel and slippery rockfaces; below was a very welcoming drop onto more jutting rocks. Yet, for some reason, people were having wedding photos taken here. You have to respect the bride for hiking up in those heels. Emily had the most trouble, which isn’t to say that she had a lot. The shots of adrenaline when you lost your grip and slipped down the slope weren’t so welcome.
Can I take a second to mention how Emily had downloaded an app specifically for walking trails that somehow included a tiny half-missing pathway in the middle of nowhere? How does that work? How did they map something like that? Did someone walk every hike in the world, no matter how small the track? How long would that have taken? Absolutely insane. Shame I don’t remember its name. The clear benefit of this was that our route home was much simpler to follow, once we’d found our way into the valley. The little nooks and crannies along the way were often hiding cave-houses. You could peer into a hole and discover a phantom community of overlapping floors. Very cool.
Towards the end of the valley, we started seeing arrows on rocks here and there. We followed them to a miniature café. I’m not joking: here, in the middle of nowhere, by more cave-houses were a fruit juice stand with outdoor seating, a small interior of one of the houses filled with rugs and a few men talking loudly around a low table, and even a few rails to tie your horses to (as four people had done already). Although none of us bought anything to drink or eat, we did spend a few minutes enjoying the shade. We listened to the guitarist practicing his open-mic set, against the backdrop of a quiet Cappadocian afternoon. Though we could have stayed longer, it was time to get home.
We followed just far enough behind the horse riders for the fresh dung to guide our way. Ahead of us was a member of staff from the café, who eventually stopped for a break at the most photogenic spot imaginable, which meant I was unable to take the selfie of a lifetime. Not that I’m bitter enough to mention it here, of course. Emily had begun to pick up rubbish from the trail because she’s nice like that. We reached the end of the valley easily enough; we knew because pumpkin patches began to appear. One of the novice riders ahead of us was bucked from her horse which everyone in their party responded to very quickly. Even the dog following them seemed to run to her aid, if only to bark at her. Dogs are dumb.
The final march – it was a march at this point – was back through the quadbike zone, where we had apparently hit rush-hour. Every single quadbike in existence converged at once and then scattered again, repeating as we tried to cross the park. But cross we did. The rest of the day is pretty easy to summarise. All in all, the walk took around six hours. Rebecca and I stopped by the hostel to change out of our sweaty clothes, and we met Emily again at Nature’s Little Kitchen for dinner. We’d both been thinking about that dessert all day, so we ordered our food and enjoyed our last meal in Cappadocia together. By 10pm, Rebecca and I were on the night bus to Antalya. I would argue that the short amount of time we spent there was the perfect amount to experience the area around Göreme. Clearly, there was more to do if you were so inclined, such a horse riding or quad biking, but for us, it was the perfect length. I don’t think we would have had anything left to do without transport, and we’d already found the best part on the first day. ‘Dada’ is an event all of itself.