October 26, 2014

Lamb instead of Pigeon. Hiking in Cappadocia

Slow cooked lamb kebabs
I was lost. And now I could go no further. The path I was following had suddenly stopped at a huge fissure, with a thirty metre sheer drop and no obvious means to cross it. There was no way to climb down, and if I did get down there I might not be able to get back up again. There was nothing for it, I would have to return back and retrace the steps of my two hour journey to this point. As I was reluctantly making up my mind to return, a man in a faded cap with a small herd of goats appeared behind me. He looked at me with slight interest, probably as few tourists wandered into this valley, and then walked up to me.

I had set out early on a bus to Uchisar, visiting its spectacular rock castle before wandering down into the valley below. This was the valley which began the 4km walk to Goreme through gorges passing fairy chimneys, multi story houses and pigeon coops, that had been cut into the rocks since Roman times. I followed a path that seemed pretty well worn, but saw no signposts. The path climbed into another valley cutting through bramble bushes, and it became slow going as the grit on top of the path acted as small marbles causing me to constantly slip back as I climbed. The scenery was stunning, and I seemed to be going South, the general direction of Goreme, and I continued happily until I came to the rock fissure in front of me.

Beautiful, but not Pigeon Valley

Mehmet, that was the goat herders name, knew little English. Our communication was somewhat limited, me repeating 'Goreme' a number of times (the small Turkish town I was headed for) and him nodding and pointing. He pointed up, to a big ridge crowned with rocks high above the valley I was in. There was no path. No way was I going to do this, so I smiled and thanked him and started to return the way I had come. Mehmet shouted at me, and then grabbed my arm. He pointed up again towards the rocks, nodded, and then bounded off ahead of me. He had decided to become my guide. The goats could look after themselves for a while.

I followed a few steps behind. It was quite hard going and I was not sure of my footholds, particularly as we got higher. Mehmet must have been close to seventy in age but he was much surer of foot and easily outpaced me having to often stop and slightly impatiently wait for me to catch up. We got close to the top and then squeezed through a narrow tunnel in the rock, which led into another valley which had a gravel path to the bottom. Again this was like walking on marbles, Mehmet shouted 'Technique' over and over again, his only English, or maybe French, word and walked bow legged on the sides of the path, telling me to do the same.


At the bottom he met another shepherd who had just set up his charcoal grill to prepare lunch. I was not that hungry, but watching the lamb kebabs slowly grilling along with vegetables at least gave me a chance to rest. Sitting under a tree I became hungry and gladly shared the meal when it was finally cooked. Served with great hunks of fresh bread the meal was better than I had recently in any restaurant, juicy kebabs, grilled tomatoes and onion, and even a fresh chilli (I was seriously missing spicy food in Turkey). Tea from a pot placed on the embers of the fire provided sweet refreshment.

After resting for a while in the shade of a tree, we set off again, and thirty minutes later Mehmet pointed to a wide path and muttered 'Pigeon' repeatedly. I shook his hand and gave him a large tip for both his guiding and the food. He returned back to his goats while I finally set off on a much easier walk. It was almost flat the whole way, did not cross into any other valleys, and had no difficult marble covered paths. It even had signs every half a kilometre. The walk was extremely beautiful, and was the best hike I did in Cappadocia. Two hours later, I stumbled into Goreme and did not even feel like dinner. Goat herders may have a hard and lonely job, but they do know how to eat well.

Pigeon Valley

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