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Cruising Cappadocia

Cruising the roads of rural Cappadocia in a pale blue ’72 convertible on a cloudless summer’s day.  Does life get any better than this?  We were the epitome of cool, waving to all we passed. For a day we were the celebrities of Cappadocia.  Not until later did we discover the peril of duping a Turkish car salesman in the pursuit of a good time.

Cappadocia is the ‘middle’ region of Turkey, caught between the European influenced west and the rugged, rebellious east.  Famed for its volcanic cones and eroded gullies of rose- and sand-coloured rock, Cappadocia is simply stunning. 

My travel companions were English lads, Damien and Wally, and fellow Australians, Mike, Kim and Tom.  We had arrived in Goreme at dawn, travelling overnight from Antalya.  After morning snooze in the underground rooms of Flintstones Hotel, we had explored downtown.  It didn’t take long to find our main attraction: a gleaming, pale blue convertible outside the car rental.  Visions of Fonz-like cool immediately coloured our collective imagination and we returned the next day ready to hire.

The Convertible Crew

The Rental Man insisted the convertible only legally carried five people, though we believed six of us could easily fit.  Feigning disappointment and backpacker-belly, I left his office and wandered to the edge of town, awaiting my funky, old school chariot.  Eventually it appeared: Mike at the wheel, Tom as wingman, and everyone else snug in the backseat.  I clambered inside, ducking as we passed back through town.

We took off across the countryside with Turkish music blaring, hair flying and the speed of a V8-powered lawnmower.  But this was about image, not speed, and we looked fantastic.

First sight of the Fairy Chimneys

Goreme is the fairy chimney realm.  Volcanic cones have been weathered to fantastical shapes of pale rock.  Geologists would refer to their formation as ‘differential erosion’, but I prefer to simply call it ‘incredible’.  Our exploration of fairyland came unexpectedly soon.  We pulled over to search for the map and the brakes stuck.  Revving the engine, letting it cool, taking all the weight out of the car – none of these ploys worked, so we simply had to take a few hours break to explore the chimneys. 

We walked past the roadside souvenir stands to follow a narrow road winding up, around and between the tall, wondrous chimneys. These fairy chimneys have been inhabited for hundreds of years and are riddled with tunnels and windows. They seem to be something from Tolkien’s imagination, a hobbit’s dream desert home for sure. 

Many chimneys have the practical purpose of housing pigeons as well as people.  In this dry climate, pigeon poop is valuable fertiliser.  The small plots of green and yellow squash nestled between the chimneys are proof. 

While Damien and Tom steam ahead, the four of us sit at the side of the road, gazing out at the plain below. The midday heat has sapped our energy levels.   I can imagine the powerful Ottoman forces thundering across the open plain, defending the land from marauding hordes. Still the battles continue, now a struggle between government forces and the Kurdish PKK in the east of Turkey.  But political upheaval and violent realities seem a world away from this peaceful, timeless scene. 

The clinking of a bell breaks my reverie; a woman, her donkey and her four children emerge from a side street ahead of us.  The woman spots us and indicates we should take a photo of her children and give her some money, but we decline and head back the way we have come.

More Fairy Chimneys

Two handsome gendarmes approach me as I rest in the shade near the souvenir stalls. They are obviously bored in their duties. The only problem out here is the irate merchants occasionally threatening each other.  Hakkan and Tamar unfortunately do not possess mechanical skills but invite the four of us to view their station, housed inside a fairy chimney.

Theirs is a most unique office. The first level is for business. A machine gun is placed on the small wooden table – ‘don’t touch, please’ – in the sparsely equipped room.  The second level is for relaxation, of which I suspect there is much.  The circular room is decked out with colourful pillows, rugs and low couches. The square cuts in the wall house artefacts rather than pigeons – lanterns, brass plates, and small pots.  It is the perfect place to escape the midday heat and irate merchants.

Hakkan informs us that Turkey has mandatory military service.  He gleefully adds that because he is university educated, he only has to complete eight months of service. Hakkan has ninety days to go, not that he is counting, of course! Tamar reluctantly admits that he has ten of his eighteen months of service to complete.  Still, this must be one of the nicest places in Turkey, if not the world, to sit out military service.

We head back to the car, collecting Damien, Tom and ice creams on the way.  To our relief, the brakes release and we are off again.  The road opens up before us and the scenery stretches out to the dusty horizon, a rocky verge of low shrubs and barren ground.  Mike’s Turkish cassette blares and we nod our heads in time to the beat, our eyes surveying the countryside from behind dark sunglasses.  Oh yeah, the Fonz has nothing on us.

By now it is late afternoon and we argue about the best route to take.  Mike drives us to a petrol station and a gang of man and children come outside.  It seems we are on our way to Ankara – definitely the wrong way! Back to the turn off for Nevsehir, famed for its complex of underground caves, where we abandon the car in search of food and an underground respite from the sun and heat. 

Later, as other tourists trudge back to their air-conditioned bus, we gleefully conduct a photo session in the car park.  Mike revs the motor excessively and we try to launch ourselves into the car James Bond fashion.  Other tourists watch enviously from their comfortable bus as we burl away in a cloud of dust, but they have the last laugh.  A few miles out of Nevsehir we hear a blaring horn and loud roar as the bus overtakes our little two-stroke motor.  Everyone on the bus waves at us in undisguised glee. We might have style but they have the speed.

Inside a family chimney

The flat stretches of Cappadocia rise gently to a grassy plateau.  Cows graze and wander the road with collective will, unheeding of oncoming vehicles.  We pass a couple riding a moped. They putter across the plateau.  At last, someone we can overtake! 

From the plateau we enter the rocky hills again.  Walnut trees appear amidst the long grass, their thick branches bearing fruit.  We pull over to take in the scenery in the Soglanli Valley.  A series of steps lead upward from the road into the rocks, a rusted sign points the way to ‘tea’.  It seems we are still in hobbit country. We drive back to Goreme in the cool of the evening. The sky is a blanket of stars and tonight we are sleeping underground again.

The next morning we still have a few hours remaining on our 24-hour rental.  However, we have heard along the grapevine that The Rental Man is very displeased with us.  It seems that the Turkish countryside is not only beautiful but has many eyes and ears, not to mention many telephones that ran hot to report sightings of six foreigners in his famed convertible. 

I cowardly refuse our last ride of the morning, knowing it will culminate in meeting the Rental Man.  I suspect seeing the six of us will add to his ire so I await a group report poolside at Flintstones.

The Rental Man was justifiably angry and we happily admit we were in the wrong to have an extra person in the car, but his anger seemed exaggerated.  We hardly hit sixty kilometres, let alone met the highway patrol. In hindsight, we hoped it would have been a fine and a slap on the wrists at worst.  Though, admittedly, someone in the backseat always tried to duck when we passed through a town.  This, perhaps, was a blatant indication of guilt? 

As far as we were concerned, the car had been returned in perfect condition and the issue was closed.  The Rental Man ‘won’ by retaining our deposit and we had a day to relax before our bus to Istanbul. Kim and I hoped for poolside peace after the excitement of the previous day, but this was not to be. 

Darvish, our local friend, arrived back from town. He was very worried after his tense conversation with The Rental Man. A barrage of phone calls and messages from The Rental Man ensued, with Darvish acting as medium and mediator.  Apparently a registration paper was missing. Our initial reaction was total denial.  Then early in the afternoon Mike discovered it in his backpack, alongside his passport.  Forty-degree heat and a walk into town were hardly appealing.  Especially considering The Rental Man not only had our deposit but also had released the car to someone else that day without this ‘very important’ paperwork. 

Poor Darvish watched on anxiously as Mike and The Rental Man swapped terse words over the telephone.  He sounded as lazy as us when it came to moving in the heat of the day, telling Mike to bring the paper to his shop immediately. Eventually Mike handed the phone to Wally with the curt instruction,
“Wally, deal with this guy.”

Damien and Catherine

Thanks to the cinematic efforts of Guy Ritchie, Englishmen seem to have gained a reputation for being hardened men when it comes to ‘sorting’ problems; especially those with thick, indiscernible accents, such as Wally-from-Hull.  In his best imitation of Vinnie Jones’ style of no-nonsense negotiation, Wally spoke to The Rental Man,
“You are a criminal, you are, mate.  If you want your paper, you can come and get it.” 
After a short pause, Wally replied to the screeching voice on the other end of the line.
“Yeah, mate, you and whose army?”
Another pause. Wally gave a laconic, “All right, then,” and calmly hung up the phone.
“Apparently he has ten or fifteen military with him and he’s sending them over,” Wally informed us and promptly went to sit beside the pool with his book. Darvish looked really worried now.

The only way to alleviate the threat was an unappealing walk into town and I for one, did not want to see The Rental Man face to face. The rest of us followed Wally poolside and awaited the arrival of The Rental Man’s army.  Kim and I privately hoped it would be Hakkan and Tamar. 

Later that day a car pulled up at Flintstones.  We watched with anticipation.  A man … his dog … and a little boy got out. So much for the military!  Wally handed over the important piece of paper, Darvish shrugged and said a few placating words to the messenger, and the issue was over.  Our kneecaps were still intact and there hope of us catching the next bus out of Goreme.

As we boarded the bus that night, we spotted The Rental Man outside his shop, playing cards with his companions. He gave us a triumphant wave, thinking he had won.  But we know the truth. Sometimes even the Fonz has to let his enemies have the last laugh. It’s just all part of being cool.

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