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!
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 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.
Thank you for visiting stewartgoeswalkies. I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment and, if you would like us to publish an adventure of yours, you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Help us make a commitment to the reduction of plastics in our environment. Don’t buy drinking water in plastic bottles when it’s easy to bring it from home. Let’s work together to save the planet.
Simon was meandering home from work. It had been a long day, the transportation was packed and he was in no rush to get home so he could listen to his Mother-in-Law telling him about how her sons and daughters were earning so much more than he was and living in much bigger, better apartments. Her name was Leung and she was the mother of three daughters and two sons.
He stopped off at a convenience store and bought himself two cans of beer. Taking them to a nearby park, found a secluded spot, well away from prying eyes where he could enjoy them in relative peace before going home.
Simon Leung worked as a senior accountant in a marketing firm and the work was mundane, unchallenging and to be honest, downright boring. However, it paid the mortgage and put food on the table and his wife, Lily, didn’t share his Mother-in-Law’s feelings. She was happy with their lot and felt bad about her mother’s constant nagging. She made it up to him for putting up with her mother by being a loving and attentive wife.
Simon relaxed, resting his back against a tree and sipping on the first of his cold, cool beers. His shirt would show signs of where he had been but at this point in time, he didn’t care. He finished the first one and set the empty tin down, opened up the second and it was then he noticed the old lady standing in front of him. She was obviously poor, judging at least by the state of her clothes and hair. She was looking down at him intently and Simon felt in his pockets for loose change. She was obviously going to beg for some money.
Simon rose to his feet, his beer can in his hand and reached into his pocket for some coins. When he looked up the old lady was smiling at him.
“Hello, Simon.” She said. Simon peered at her face, searching for a memory. She obviously knew him, but he couldn’t remember having seen her before.
“Of course, you don’t remember me,” she said.”But I remember you!”
“Who are you?” Simon asked politely, still wracking his brains as to who this person might be.
“Never mind.” She said. “The important thing is that I know who you are and I know what you need!”
Before he could think of anything to say, the old lady stretched out her hand and offered him something. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take it, but, if it got rid of her then what was the harm? He took the item in his left hand without looking at it. The old lady smiled and turned to go.
“Wait!” Said Simon. “Who are you and how do you know my name?”
But she was gone, walking quickly for such an old lady, and was soon out of sight amongst the trees.
Simon looked down at the object in his hand and saw that it was a rubber frog. Why on Earth would anyone give him a rubber frog? He wondered if it would croak if he squeezed it, so he tried. There was no sound, nothing. He tossed it into the bushes and finished his beer and decided that it was time to face his Mother-in-Law. He threw both of the empties in the nearest bin and set off. He suddenly remembered that his wife had asked him to buy some lemons for her mother. To forget them would be to incur more derision than necessary so he headed in the direction of the wet market.
After a few moments, he came to the shopping centre, under which the wet market was located. It was then that he saw a neighbour. It was a gentleman by the name of Chan who lived a few doors down from him. They had been known to spend a happy hour sitting in the park with a can of beer or two.
“Chan!” Simon called out, expecting a greeting in reply. It was entirely possible that they might end up having a beer together. Mr Chan heard the greeting and looked about himself. He looked in Simon’s direction and Simon waved to catch his eye. Strangely, there was no look of recognition on Chan’s face. It was as if he was looking straight through Simon without seeing him.
How strange, thought Simon. Perhaps his eyes are getting worse. Chan was usually such a friendly guy. Simon shrugged it off and carried on. The matter of Chan’s eyesight reminded him, that he needed a new prescription himself. The constant use of computer screens to create spreadsheets was tiring his eyes as well.
He stopped outside his favourite optical shop and it was there that it all started. There were two other shoppers, one on either side of him, and he could see them clearly, reflected in the shop window. But, where was he? He was standing slightly behind the man on his right and moved forward so that his elbow brushed against his. The man looked down but didn’t say anything.
He brushed his arm as if to get rid of a fly. Simon made sure there was no one behind him and stepped back. No. He had no reflection in the shop window. He could see everything else, people walking past, but he could not see himself!
A thought crashed into his mind. The frog! He had to find the frog! In a panic, he rushed back to the park and the tree he had been sitting under when the old woman approached him. He scrabbled through the bushes and, thank the gods! There was the frog!
He clutched it to his chest as if it were made of gold and peered down at it. He looked around to see if anyone was walking in his direction. There was a couple but they were some distance away. Tentatively, he pressed the frog. He didn’t feel anything happen. Standing there he waited until the couple was closer and as they walked passed he said, “Good evening.” They turned to look at him and nodded, unsure of who he was and why he would greet them. He was visible again.
Simon held the frog in his hand and a combination of fear and excitement rose in his chest.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2017 – Not for Distribution
As Lansard and Wibawa’s team were setting off for the clearing, Superintendent Shum and Sergeant Wong were having breakfast in the hotel cafe. It was an alfresco affair and overlooked the beach on the other side of the road. Wong was looking intently over the rim of his coffee cup.
“Looking for topless Australians, Sergeant?” Asked Shum.
“You never know your luck,” said the Sergeant with a smile.
Shum was arranging his file on the table beside his cup and saucer with the picture of Lansard on the cover. As the waitress began to clear the empty dishes and pour fresh coffee she happened to notice the picture. She recognised the man in the photo. He had stayed at this hotel just a few days ago and she had been paid handsomely to bring him a live chicken on the night of his arrival. What he had done with the bird she had no idea and he had paid her enough money not to ask any questions. She left the table without saying anything.
As the afternoon wore on Wibawa’s son called Lansard over to join them at the fire they had lit. He told Lansard that the time was right for his father to explain the history of the dragons and a little of what was going to happen that night.
The men sat on mats that the porters had set out for them at the edge of the clearing. They were brought tea and as they sipped the hot sweet beverage Wibawa’s son began to talk. Lansard realised that he had never introduced himself, other than to say that he was Wibawa’s son. At this point in time, he had little interest in asking.
“Many years ago,” the man began, “my father was a shaman, a holy man that lived in these forests. In those days the white men came, the Dutch, and they butchered anything that they thought might provide them with riches. They sought out the dragons but fortunately found they were unsuitable for consumption or hide.
However, they killed many of them, sometimes for sport and because they were thought of as ugly monsters. The real monsters were the white men with their weapons.
The people didn’t trust the Dutch and their teachings and people like my father, there were not many of them, were sought out for guidance. By this time my father had lived amongst the dragons for many years and they never harmed him. Somehow, he found that he was able to communicate with them.
Then he discovered the three God Dragons. Three dragons of enormous size and cunning and wisdom. As my father sat in the woods, in an area such as this they would come to him and speak with him. They taught him many things and he venerated them. Occasionally bringing them sacrifices and one night they revealed to him the secret of longevity. It was all a matter of great trust and he allowed the King God to bite him on the arm.”
Lansard remembered his father telling him that Wibawa had bitten him on the arm during his ceremony. He didn’t notice Yudianto looking down at his own forearm. The son continued.
“Eventually my father had to leave Komodo. The Dutch decided to arrest the shamans. They believed that they might cause trouble for them. In reality, nothing was further from the truth. My father had no interest in their politics and wanted only to live with his dragons. He went to the island of Bali which is where your father found him all those years ago.
“He told me that he saw in your father a genuine seeker. Someone who might well take up his faith. But that was not to be, having accepted the gift of longevity your father once again sought the company of his own kind. He left Bali and with him, he took the curse.”
Lansard interrupted. “What do you mean, he took the curse?”
“The Dragon Gods bestow the gift of longevity on their faithful, but it comes at a cost, Once a year they must return to the island of Komodo and sit with the Gods. And, once in every normal life span, say 80 years, they must bring a sacrifice with them. My father explained all of this to your father, but in his arrogance, he believed that he could ignore his commitments. The commitments he did indeed avoid, but in time, the curse made itself known to him.”
Lansard remembered that last terrible night. The night they had eaten Baker and the half-man, half-lizard that his father had become. He had wondered how soon it would be before his father attacked him.
Wibawa’s son paused and looked at Lansard. He could see the thought processes going through the man’s face. Lansard was beginning to understand what his father should have done and what he needed to do. Lansard didn’t notice Yudianto and the porters slip away into the night.
Then the son was talking again and Lansard was aware that the insect-life noise from the surrounding undergrowth had gone silent.
“You inherited some of the longevity your father possessed but, in order to have a true longevity you must undergo the same ritual that he did.”
“You mean I must let Wibawa bite me.”
“Yes,” said the son. “And then a sacrifice must be made.”
Lansard stopped to think. He had killed people and feasted on their flesh to keep the curse at bay and also to feed his father. However, this was somehow different, it was an avoidable death. Was there no other way, he wondered, to avoid the curse.
“So,” he said to Wibawa’s son. “In order for me to gain your father’s gift I must sacrifice a human being to the Komodo Dragons.”
“The person receiving the gift must make the sacrifice.”
“Then, I must sacrifice someone… Yudianto?”
“No, in fact, Yudianto will not be your sacrifice. You will be his.”
The words slowly sank into Lansard’s brain. Suddenly he realised what the wound on Yudianto’s arm was. And then, just as the realisation hit him, rough hands grab his arms and hauled him to his feet. Wibawa, his son and Yudianto stood before him.
“Your father betrayed my father’s trust. Never before had any gifted person run from his responsibilities to the gods. Now you must make amends for his betrayal.”
“No – wait! Yudianto! Help me! Please!”
The men held him firmly, his arms behind his back, he could feel the tendons in his shoulders popping as they marched him forward towards the edge of the clearing and there to his horror Lansard saw the three Dragon Gods awaiting him, three Komodo Dragons of incredible size. He was able to twist his head about one last time, hoping to beg Wibawa for a chance to prove his worthiness, to Yudianto for forgiveness, but all he saw was Yudianto gazing at Wibawa’s face with a look of pure adoration. Then lansard was flung to the ground before the Dragons and the last thing he saw was the life-giving saliva dripping from their jaws.
Inspector Shum was pleasantly surprised when Major Suwanto called him with the news that an informant had spotted Lansard in the company of several Balinese men embarking on a boat headed for the island of Komodo. This had happened several days ago. The major suggested that he arrange transportation for the three of them to the island as quickly as possible. Shum agreed and told Wong what he had learnt. He then sent an email back to PHQ Hong Kong to keep them informed of his movements. All they could do now was wait for the major to contact them again.
The major had suggested that they charter a small plane to take them to Komodo but Shum didn’t think his boss would be pleased with the expense so the next best option was to take one of the fast cruise ships headed that way. Major Suwanto used his connections to obtain three, first-class cabins and they departed that same afternoon.
They arrived late the following afternoon and went straight to the Ranger Post located in the port village. The officer in charge of the post did not recognise Lansard from the picture he was shown. It was possible, he said, that Lansard and his party had come ashore at another location on the island in which case there would be no record of his arrival or departure if indeed, he had actually arrived. There were many other islands he might have stopped off at. In order to search the entire island, he would need the cooperation of the Indonesian Army and it was highly unlikely that he was going to receive this. Given the impossibility of carrying out the search by himself, Shum decided that the investigation, or at least this part of the investigation, had to come to an end.
On their return to Bali, Major Suwanto promised Shum that he would keep his eyes and ears open for any sign of Lansard. A day later, as they shook hands at Denpasar airport Shum thanked the major on behalf of the Hong Kong Police and assured him of his full cooperation should he ever require assistance in Hong Kong. The Major’s brain went into overdrive thinking of possible reasons to visit the former British Colony and his eyes lit up at the thought of the kind of cooperation he would require.
As the Garuda flight took off and flew across Bali on its way back to Hong Kong, Shum looked out of the window at the lush verdant hillsides and wondered if anyone would ever see Lansard again.
Somehow he doubted it.
(c) Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2017 – Not for Distribution