Within volcanic rock

Tree and Ihlara Valley

By taking us further than we could have gone on our own, today’s tour was very worthwhile. Starting in Goreme, we visited the eight story underground city of Derinkuyu: hewn from solidified lava and used by Christians to hide from attacking Arab armies. The amount of effort that must have gone into construction must have been immense, with dozens of large rooms per level and hundreds or thousands of tonnes worth of rock to extract to the surface. While both my father and I found some of the passages extremely low – I was hunched over with my small backpack scraping the ceiling – many of the rooms were impressively large.

After a forty-five minute drive through tiny villages and barren countryside, we arrived at the lip of the Ihlara Valley. The small river at the bottom, about as substantial as Mosquito Creek in North Vancouver, is the only running water we have seen so far in Turkey. The canyon was somewhat deeper than Capilano Canyon, and was likewise composed of layers of hardened lava from nearby volcanoes. Walking through it, we had a chance to get to know the other members of the group. I got to talk shop with a fellow photo enthusiast wielding a Leica rangefinder.

After walking down the valley for an hour, we had lunch and headed over to the Selime Monastary. Like the underground city, it was composed of rooms carved from volcanic rock. It was unusual in that it was carved into some of the large conical rock structures that are all over the countryside here. Inside are about fifty rooms, some large cathedric spaces with upper galleries. The whole place was like the ultimate fantasy of any child who has built a fort, and it ranks among the most enjoyable things we have seen in Turkey. Leaving the tour group to explore some galleries and passages with Ivanka – my headlamp and MagLite being put to use – was excellent fun.

Most tours in Turkey seem to involve a ‘demonstration,’ in which the group gets led through the shop of a very expensive merchant and given apple tea. Today’s was a shop dealing in precious and semi-precious stones. To me, all the jewellery, vases, and miscellaneous other things looked just like the stuff that gets trucked out at garage sales and sold at second hand shops. It may be made of Onyx and weigh three times as much but, to my eye, it looks exactly like the cheap plastic knockoff and just as ugly.

To those who find themselves in Goreme, I recommend Andromeda Tours (though agencies and hotels seem to change names often here). Their price was good for a tour that went so far, had such a capable guide, and included a good lunch.

Tomorrow’s plan is fairly amorphous, but will probably centre around walking in the countryside and visiting the open air museum. Tonight, the plan is raki and backgammon, followed by a traditional Turkish dinner being made by the family that owns the place where we are staying.

Best wishes to all, from cold fingers.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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