Cappadocia was a bit of a nightmare, but it wasn’t Cappadocia’s fault. I went with a friend who’d gone off her meds, and as a result I spent two ten hour bus rides and shared a hotel room with a mercurial crazy person with a real anger problem. By the time I got home my shoulders were up to my ears and I was miserably heart sick.
But Cappadocia, despite the cold, was beautiful.
We went there for New Years, since I finally had a few days off. I was on the fence about going, because of the anger, and because I was trying to be very careful with money, but I had been working so hard, and I wanted a little adventure. I hadn’t been outside of Istanbul since I got here two months ago.
We took an early morning bus to Ankara, and transferred to a bus to Göreme. We arrived in the late evening. Our hotel was built so half of it was carved out of the living rock, which was very cool looking, but smelled funny. We changed our clothes and headed out for dinner. The town was as desolate and shabby-looking as any off-season tourist destination. There was one main street with a few leather shops, a few clothes and jewelry shops, and a ton of travel agencies that could book you hot air balloon rides and off-road four wheeling tours.
The next day we went for a horse back ride.
I haven’t been horseback riding since I was a little girl, and I was super excited. A man in a van, (did the van smell like pot or was that my imagination?) picked us up at the hotel and took us to a little farm that specialized in horse riding tours through the crazy, martian valleys. The farmhouse was partially dug out of some rock formations, and the yard was full of critters. The farm might have been the best part.
I learned a lot about horseback riding in Turkey that day.
In America, you know, they use the really old, slow, placid horses to bear skittery, inexperienced tourists. Probably in America some horse-back riding companies tranq the horses up, too, for extra insurance. ‘Cause in America, we have a litigious culture, and everyone’s always thinking about liability.
Not so, here.
There were four people in our group- my friend and me, a man who, (small world!) turned out to have gone to Johns’ Hopkins and had lived across the street from where I shared a house with three girls in the late nineties and who now lived around the corner from me in Kadiköy, and our guide, the man from the van. The man from Johns Hopkins was an experienced rider and was probably chaffing a little at being held back by two nervous, incompetent women, but he was gracious about it.
We set off along a trail behind our guide and within a few hundred yards it was clear that our horses were not docile, and they did not want to follow the leader. Mine kept stopping to eat, (see above picture) and no amount of nudging in the ribs on my part would budge her. The guide kept having to come back and grab her by the bit to drag her away from whatever bush or clump of grass had taken her fancy. Behind me where I couldn’t see, my friend’s horse had taken a violent dislike to Johns Hopkins’s horse, and was trying to nip him and run him off the road. We tried to rearrange the line a few times but whatever order we were in, my friend’s horse did not like her proximity to Johns Hopkins’ horse. My friend was getting more and more agitated and tense. We had an hour and a half left to the tour.
The views from the back of the horse were amazing, but the beasts were so poorly behaved it was hard to enjoy them. When they didn’t like the path the guide chose, they tended to simply take off on their own. Sometimes they would run ahead, sometimes they would refuse to budge. We were on very narrow paths with steep drops on either side and the whole experience was rather nerve wracking. My friend got off her horse at one point and refused to get back on. The guide was beside himself. I was mortified.
“I’ll walk!” she said. “It’s fine! I’ll just walk!” He coaxed her onto his own horse, and he led both horses by foot. At this point we were nearing the farm again, and Johns Hopkins, who had been so patient, asked if he could gallop the horse back on his own.
“Take her out of sight before you start to run her,” the guide said, “or the other horses will follow.” Johns Hopkins disappeared behind a rock formation and was gone. The three of us limped along the winding path, surrounded by breathtaking expanses of rippled rock. We rounded a corner and came to a straight dirt road that ran by a large field. I could just make out the outlines of the low barn and the corral’s fence on the other side of the turf. My butt and thighs were killing me and I breathed a sigh of relief that we were nearly home. Imagine, I thought with horror, if we’d signed up for the four hour tour.
Just then Hopkins zoomed by, bent low over the neck of his cantering horse. My horse flicked her head and gave a small winny and took off across the field, after them. I bounced helplessly on her back, suddenly acutely aware of how many bones I had that could possibly break. “I don’t know how to gallop!” I screamed at the horse. “Stop! I don’t know how to gallop!” A lesson from my one week at horse riding camp in 1990 came back to me just then and I realized that all along my stirrups had been way too long. You should be able to stand up in your stirrups, butt completely off the horse. It gives you more control. I couldn’t, and I felt in danger of being bounced off. The left stirrup wrapped around my ankle and I had visions of being dragged behind. I pulled the reigns hard and low until that horse’s head was nearly touching my nose and still- you could almost hear her singing “Born Free!’- she ran on to catch up with her buddy. Eventually a man came tearing out of the barn on a four wheel vehicle and intercepted us and grabbed the horse by the bridle. We lumbered into the corral, and I gratefully slid off and waited for the guide and my friend, who was unimpressed.
“You weren’t going at more than a trot,” she scoffed.
“Oh, is it called a trot when all four of the horse’s feet leave the ground at the same time?” Forgive me. I’m a little rusty on my terminology.
That night we went to a bar carved out of a cave called The Flintstones, that had a sign outside that read:
There was dancing,
and a fire pit outside and it should have been a lovely evening, but never mind.
The next day we went to see an area with lots of caves that had once been a monestary. There was a fair going on nearby and I rode a camel. It cost 20 lira to go 10 yards and back. I total rip off and yet, totally worth it.
From there we went to a little town nearby, where people still live in houses that are half cave, with small agricultural plots tumbling down the hills in front of them. Half the houses were ruins and looked like they had been since the (euphemistic) Population Exchange, and it was an eerie little town as a result.
We took a nightbus back to Istanbul that night and when I got home at 7 in the morning I have never been so happy to go into my room and close the door behind me and fall into bed. Cappadocia is beautiful, and vast and strange. I would like to go back one day and take it all in when I’m not distracted by the dread of the person next to me bursting into a fit of inexplicable rage.