I met a guy named Ben from Canada at the trailhead for the Rose Valley. Like me, Ben just arrived in Goreme an hour ago, and had absolutely no idea how to read the trail map he was given by his hotel. Ben was standing in the shade with his brows knitted together desperately trying to make sense of the squiggles that was suppose to be the trail through and around Cappadocchia’s famed chimney houses. I was looking at my own set of squiggles and couldn’t even place myself in it. I went up to him and asked him if he had any idea where were suppose to go. No, he said. And like the countless of adventurers before us, we decided to join forces and explore the valley together. We figured it was better to get lost with somebody than to fall down a mountain somewhere alone with no means to call for help.
Ben was about the same age as me and was following a similar path traveling around Turkey. We immediately bonded over our shared love of Turkish food and traveling the world solo. We also happened to both want to go to the same place, the ancient rock castle known as Çavusin, which is suppose to be five miles away at the other end of the Rose Valley. After ascertaining that he wasn’t going to hack me into pieces and stash my remains in one of the cave houses surrounding the valley, we set off in search of the elusive Rose Valley.
Ben and I never did find the Rose Valley, although at that time we were quite sure that it was the Rose Valley we were happily hiking through. We started by turning left onto a dirt road was marked as the way to the Goreme Open Air Museum. It started out as an easy hike though a flat trail that was surrounded by rock formations known as fairy chimneys. I asked Ben if he knew if we were allowed to go up there. He said he wasn’t sure, so of course we decided to leave the trail and climb up the hill towards the cave house above us.
When we got up to the front of the cave house, we saw a couple of cows tied inside with an ample supply of hay and water. There was also a dog guarding on the outside, yet no residents. After seeing how easy it was to access the cave houses, we decided to go further up and see more. Some of the cave houses we saw were pretty basic and empty, but a few of them had carvings and drawings in the walls. Unfortunately, there were several cave houses that were full of empty beer bottles and other rubbish. Clearly, some of the local kids as well as the tourists have used those as impromptu bars/brothels.
After going up and down a couple of more hills, Ben and I decided that as long as we can see the main road from where we’re at, we should be fine going in further in the valleys and orchards on the other side of the hills. After a particularly challenging descent, we found ourselves in a dead end. The thought of going back up that hill was more than we could handle, so instead of figuring out a way to get back up, we decided to take the lazier yet somewhat riskier option of going around the valley until we found an exit.
Of all the crazy and stupid gambles we made in the two days we spent together in Cappadocchia, this one was what paid off the most. Just as we were about to give up, we found a small fissure in one of the boulders hidden behind some bushes that was just big enough for one of us to squeeze through. Ben and I dropped our bags, tossed it inside the fissure, crawled underneath it one at a time, and came out to the most spectacular vista. Rose and sand colored hills peppered with lush vegetation greeted us. The valley in front of us was filled with vineyards, and fig and pomegranate orchards. If you would have told me then that we have found the Garden of Eden, I would have believed you. We happily strolled around, and since we were hungry, decided to pick some grapes and figs. Those were by far the sweetest and juiciest fruits I’ve ever had.
After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, I grabbed a big bunch of grapes and happily munched on them as we explored the rest of the valley. The orchards looked like they haven’t been tended to for a while but the trees did not seem to slow down in bearing fruits. The figs were bursting with ripeness, and the pomegranates were as big as basketballs. There were low brushes around us, and the foot of the hills was lined by ancient poplar trees. Towards the back of the valley, we found what we were looking for, a way back to the trail.
As we were walked back on the original trail, we saw several people coming out of what seemed like an empty chasm. We soon realized there were two trails leading to Çavusin, the one on the “top” which was the dirt road we were walking on, and a second one in the valley below us. The valley below us was accessed by walking through the side of the hill that we were standing on. It also could have been accessed from the previous valley we were just in; how we missed it is beyond me. After we made the harrowing and slippery descent through the side of the mountain, we mercifully found ourselves standing outside a makeshift bar. The only alcohol they had was the local wine and beer; but they had water, they had chairs, and more importantly, they had shade. At this point, Ben and I have been walking under the scorching Turkish sun for fours already with only a small bottle of water each.
We stayed there for a good half hour enjoying the comfort of the cushioned divan while waiting for the sun to sink lower. As we sat there chatting, we got a glimpse of what life is like in Goreme before the hordes of tourists descended on it. We saw a woman driving a bullock pulled by two mules. In the cart behind her were who I assume to be her two sons. She was dressed in exactly how I imagined a babushka would be during Ottoman times, she had on a wool pullover jacket over a pair of voluminous harem pants, or as it is colloquially known in the US, “hammer pants”. Her hair was tucked under her scarf that she had rolled and wrapped around her head.
Later on, as the sun was starting to sink down, Ben and I stuck to the trail we were on and made our way to Çavusin castle. The last stretch of the trail passed by a cemetery, and what made it interesting was that the most recent death was in the late forties. The cemetery didn’t look rundown or neglected or even that old. It was small, but tidy and well-kept. With the rose colored hills awash in the late afternoon sun looming behind it, that little cemetery was the most breathtaking thing I’ve photographed that day.
After half an hour of nonstop walking, Ben and I found ourselves at the base of a rather steep and imposing cliff, Çavusin. High above us, the hillside was peppered with cave houses of various sizes and intricacies. At first glance, we couldn’t figure out how the people at the very top managed to get there as the trail seemed to stop at the cliff’s walls. A Spaniard yelled at us from high atop the castle and told us to take the trail a hundred feet to our right. The hike up to the top was the most strenuous and dangerous of the day. At certain points, it was a sheer drop and there were no guard rails. However, the view from the top was beyond gorgeous and well worth the climb and more!
As I looked at the jaw-dropping, breathtaking, surreal panorama around me, I felt a my soul leave my body, and for the longest time, I was looking at myself standing at the edge with the look of sheer awe and amazement on my face. No amount of superlatives and hyperbole can describe the sheer magnificence of the valley. It was at that moment that I fully appreciated what a wonderful and blessed life I have. As the sun slid down behind the mountains, it cast a blinding golden pink glow on everything, and in those precious few moments I knew what it felt like to be in heaven.