We followed Google maps’ directions behind a gas station, continuting tentatively past a rooster cage and a few RV-looking vehicles. When we found the the owner, he told us the campervan we were about to drive around Turkey was on it’s penultimate trip. Hearing that wasn’t the most comforting thing, but I was not surprised whatsoever after getting a look at it – the Fiat Ducato had seen over 330,000km of road. At least they gave him some new shoes (break pads) to ease the pain of the couple thousand more we were about to add.
We named our home for the next week Gerald – Gerry for short – or an ironically accidental dig at his geriatric status. Despite his grumblings at ascending anything that resembled an incline and smoking like he was at a cigar bar after a few minutes of braking downhill, he kept us warm and safe all week. He even had a speed alert at 100kph/62mph, like any proper old man sitting in his front yard yelling at passing cars to slow down.
Prior to meeting Gerald in his hometown of Antalya, we did a quick stopover in Trabzon from Istanbul to visit the Sumela Monastery and eat some more incredibly tasty food courtesy of Berweuli Ala Carte Restaurant. We didn’t prebook a tour from Trabzon and desperately needed sleep on arrival so we ended up taking a cab that afternoon, which wasn’t much more expensive than the group trip when split two ways.
From Antalya, Gerald carried us east along the Mediterranean coastline. I wish this was where I started gushing about how gorgeous it was it buuuut most of it was littered with gimicky resort towns and rocky beaches. While that was a bummer, we eventually got to the first of many ruins sites – Syedra. The settlement was inhabited from the 7th century BC to 13th AD, and here we were, watching the same sun that set there thousands of years ago set as we flip flopped down the main promenade.
Descending the steep hill on which Syedra was situated had Gerry’s new brake pads all hot & bothered, but we pressed on through the dark to find our resting spot for the evening. That’s right, find it! Wild camping – parking wherever on public land – is legal in Turkey. Prime spots seemed to be abundant during the day, but autumn’s early sunsets made it a truly wild time trying to scope out a roadside patch with enough buffer from passing vehicles. Nonetheless, we persisted with varying levels of success ranging from a cemetary parking lot to amazing coastal vistas, and accidentally trespassing on an outlook over Cappadocia!
After breakfast overlooking the Mediterranean, our first stop was Mamure castle. It was intially disheartening to find out that it was closed for renovations (again), but we were offered some consolation tea by the very tenured castle gardener. Recep was so sweet and then for whatever reason decided to take us inside for a mini speed-tour! His knowledge was unmatched after having worked there for like 30 years, but, more impressively, he still maintained the energy and joy of a child after that long. The most childlike thing I’ve achieved by age 30 is just undiagnosed ADHD…
I carefully positioned the rose in an airvent in hopes of covering up the fact that we didn’t use the silly camper shower situation as we drove off toward out next destinaton. Kanlidivane is, you guessed it, another semi-organized pile of old rocks! The wild thing about this site is that it’s built around a massive sinkhole:
A couple people even took the time to climb down into the sinkhole and carve sculptures into the walls. On top of those novelties it had crumbling churches, dwellings, olive oil refineries, and homages to the dead – all classic ancient civilization stuff! Not to make it sound boring, because it wasn’t.
Around midday our tummies were starting to talk and the search for roadside chow began. I had low hopes given a few mismatches between Google maps and restaurants existing in real life, but holy hackerel did we hit the jackpot. As we entered the next town, I saw Cigerci Ramazan, theoretically located on the main road. I looked up from my phone at the opportune time to spot it and get big G pulled over in one fell swoop.
That spread, the kebab servislir, might have been my favorite meal we had in all of Turkey. Fresh flatbread + tasty grilled meat with a mix-n-match heaven of smoked eggplant dip, yogurt with herbs, grilled veggies, mixed salad with balsamic, tomato salsa, marinated onions, seasoned fresh onions, and *deep inhale* sliced lime for a final touch! It makes no logical sense that it only cost $4 USD per person.
I spent the next chunk of drive time recovering from/dreaming of/talking about that lunch, so it went quickly. We arrived in Guzelyurt at dusk to our final playground of the day – the hidden village.
This pocket casually located off a road through town consisted of a few dwellings carved into the rocks. It was quite neat to explore, not really knowing what would be around the next rock or corner. Cute and all when, while searching for place wide and flat enough to turn Gerry around, we found an even more extensive cave network just a bit further down the road. It was dark by this point so, by the light of our phones we went! There were much larger caverns, with passages that lead to other rooms and ladder-esque carvings leading up to additional levels.
I now know that calling those particular caves “the” hidden village is quite a bold statement. There are hundreds of such settlments across Turkey, many of them around Cappadocia (Kappadokya). We’d driven there in the dark and plopped Gerry in a dirt lot overlooking the city center and had no idea what we were in for over the next 24 hours. #wokeuptothis…
So not only is this region home to some of the most alien terrain I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, but these rock formations, more often than not, look like termites went to town on them. But the termites were humans and I hope they didn’t eat their way through all that sandstone. Some of these civilizations dated back 2700 years and, yes, a few of these caves still have folks living in them.
We spent all morning weaving in and out of rooms in the Zelve outdoor museum. Crawling around through the caves had my imagination running wild.. I felt like a kid again! We backtracked into town to see the central castle, which was “just more carved rock” but situated up high on a hill, providing a 360 view of the valley and all of Mother Nature and Father Time’s sculpting skills.
I probably burned an extra 500 calories from being excited all morning so a hearty lunch was in order. House of Memories gave us everything we needed and more – warm tea, a relaxing break while we waited for the clay pot stew to finish simmering, some furry friends to play with and that view! All before we got to scarf down this amazing spread!
We attempted to hit another of the open air museums on the other side of town, but the guards wouldn’t let us in due to the proximity to close. Jokes on them, though, because my curiosity caused us to take a couple hour hike through the valley just behind it, which wound up spitting us out on the neighboring overlook. Got the birds’ eye view for free! Oh, and then this!
Instead of walking on the road back into town, we opted for the hiking trail on the other side. These wild chimneys were obscured until you were right on top of them. The carved tunnel at the base transitioned into a narrow gorge, opening into a field with more rock chimneys and eventually the road back through town and most importantly, Gerry and a hot shower courtesy of the campground we sprung to stay at!
For mostly better, rarely worse, Turkey is massive and diverse. I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking of smashing eight days on the road into one post.. so I won’t! You know the drill, wait for the next ‘new post’ notification to hit your inbox 😎 (and if you don’t get those at the moment, it’s about time you subscribe!)