My Travels in Turkey Part 3 – A Contribution From Our Old Friend, Allen Lai


We continue with the third instalment of Allen’s excellent photo essay on his recent vacation to Turkey. You may see the earlier parts here and here.

Cappadocia and the Hot Air Balloon
I set my alarm for 4 a.m., yet the night seemed very long. The cave was hot, the worst was no ventilation. The noise from the four fans was not helping. I could appreciate the ancient inhabitants spending their lives in this very same place without the benefit of those fans.
However, today was going to be a big day. It’s the hot air balloon day…
Cappadocia’s sweep of surreal valleys is one of Turkey’s greatest tourist attractions, and one of the most popular ways to view this landscape is from above. Hence, this is one of the best places in the world to ride a hot air balloon.
I kept my fingers crossed as our take-off point was at a plateau 1000 meters up and the weather can be very unpredictable.The government controls the permit for flying, and they have a different agenda than the tour company. I have heard too many stories about how tourists were turned away at the last minute despite the calm weather. And some waited a couple of days to get on one.
My lucky star was with us that day. We got the ‘OK” to take off. Imagine, with all the expectations, all in a sudden, nearly 150 balloons were blowing their torches, the noise, the lights, the fire, the people calling out, the crews busy in adjusting the balloons, all this was happening in the darkness.
We were helped to get into the basket and the very next moment we were floating in the air, in complete silence. There was only the occasional sound of the burst of the torch. Around us, there were hundreds of balloons, every now and then one would be illuminated by the fire it created.
I have no words to describe it, but amazing!
Magical sunrise
We watched the sunrise from this ancient land. Trying in vain to comprehend how people lived in those caves underneath us thousands of years ago.  I asked the pilot where they stored the parachutes, but apparently that wasn’t a popular subject to bring about. I was told the unwritten rule is, if the balloon loses lift, the fat ones go overboard first. Looking around me, I realised  I would get a few minutes to pray.
The ride is not cheap, it cost per person 240 euros plus tips for a one hour ride, and we have to pay in advance, you know, for obvious reasons. But it was worth every penny.
Having landed safely, and without the use of parachutes, we spent the rest of the day, wandering around this UNESCO world heritage site. This volcanic region has been home to many ancient  civilizations – Hittites, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, and Turks. Human settlement can be traced back to the Paleolithic era (roughly 2.5 million years ago to 10,000 BC), a time of cave dwellers and hunter-gatherers.
In later periods, the area became an important center for religion, particularly Christianity, as it was a haven for Christians escaping the Roman Empire. Houses, churches and mosques can all be found carved into the rock here. Cappadocia was also once an important junction on the Silk Road trade route.
Göreme is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastery cluster of rock-cut churches and monk cells that hold fabulous frescoes. The complex frescoes date from the 10th to 12th centuries, when Cappadocia was an important Byzantine religious center.
Kaymakli, is an underground city. Also a UNESCO site, people lived here for protection from Arabs and Roman soldiers. It goes as deep as 40 M and has 8 levels. The city was connected to another underground city through a 9 km tunnel. Because of COVID 19 fears, there were no other tourists. I can hardly imagine what it would be like if the tunnel was packed.
The Yasar Paba Cave Restaurant

At night, we visited a Cave Nightclub. We danced and I had my first taste of the traditional Turkish alcohol, Raki, which is 60% alcohol. Plus the endless supply of local Turkish red and white wine. We watched a Turkish belly dance, had a campfire party and everyone danced under the shinning moon. I forgot, for a moment that I was in a Muslim country and thoughtfully enjoying the local hospitality.

The restaurant entrance


The Floor Show


The party continues outside


Belly Dancer
The marvelous entertainment
Other than the belly dance, we also saw a revised version of the Sufi dance. Entranced by a 700-year-old ritual, the whirling dervishes, steered by rhythmic breathing and chants of “Allah”, as they seek to become one with God. Their white robes rise and fall in unison, spinning faster and faster. The right palm is raised to the heavens to receive God’s blessings, which are communicated to earth by the left hand pointing to the ground. As they continue turning in a spiritual trance, the dancers float between the two worlds. They are now in a deeply personal and intense form of meditation.
This dance is now banned for general entertainment for religious reasons. However, a revised version with some variations and light fixtures are still performing in nightclubs.
That night, I went back to the same hotel, same cave. Just in time to catch another party being held there. A balloon landed on the rooftop, plus all the laser lights lite up the primitive mountain caves. Western rock music blast out from the hidden speakers and echo in the valley. More drinks to toast. More reasons to raise a glass. Oh, I love Turkey.
And with all the alcohol in me, the dance, the midday sun, the party, the campfire, I slept like a baby that night. Of course the 60% alcohol – Rize, and the endless supply of delicious Turkish red and white wine, played a very important part. Also it helps me to understand why, of all the facilities in the cave city, there were so many wine cellars. That made perfect sense. (Actually, I was told, they cannot trust the drinking water because of sanitization, or the lack of it, so alcohol was the better choice.)

And once again Stewart Goes Walkies is grateful to our friend, Allen for this report and the wonderful photos and videos. I think it is safe to say that I’m insanely jealous.

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Published by stewartgoeswalkies

Happily married man to a wonderful lady. Living in Hong Kong. In my younger days I enjoyed hiking, camping and rock climbing. I've trekked in the Himalayas and climbed Mt. Kinabalu in East Malaysia.

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