Friday, 21 May 2010

A walk to Ortahisar

You would assume a walk to a nearby town would be a straightforward event. I am not sure what it is about us, but we tend to attract people that may be others would not, or who they would ignore.


We were camping in Kaya Camp a few kilometres up the hill from Göreme, towards the small town of Ortahisar which again was a few kilometres away. The campsite manager told us what a nice little town it was and worth a visit. So early one morning we set off to walk the 5 km. We made our way up the road, a slight hill, until we reached the main road from Ürgüp to Nevşehir. Crossing was quite a perilous affair and started to walk down the road into the town of Ortahisar.


Not really knowing where we were going, we just strolled along chatting and not really taking much notice of our surroundings. We were in mid conversation when we were suddenly aware of a funny little yellow beach buggy type vehicle which had drawn up beside us. The man at the steering wheel shouted out to us, first in Italian, then French, then German and finally he decided we must be English.


Not really sure whether to approach him or not, he called out to us again,
”Are you going into town? Do you want a lift? I am going that way”
We approached him with certain trepidation, as you do!
And I asked,
“What is the fare?”
as we have got enough experience to know that most things that are offered in Turkey come with a twist.
“There is no fare, I am going into town, you are welcome to have a lift, please jump in” he replied


So looking at each other, we made a silent agreement to jump into this rather strange looking bright yellow jeep. We had shook hands with the driver, an American man in his 50’s. He gave us a brief history of his life in Turkey; he had been there for 30 years and had begun his Turkish life in Istanbul, before moving to Ortasihar.




“What are you doing, where are you going?” he asked.
We quickly explained that my husband wanted a shave and I needed another memory card for my camera. It was soon arranged that he would sort out the barber and the memory card.


It was a rather bumpy uncomfortable ride into town, but it saved us our legs and quite a bit of time. He drew up outside the barber shop and we entered. He spoke to the barber and we sat and waited for the last customer to be completed. He was at the point of having his ear hairs waxed and burnt and then what looked like some sort of Chinese torture inflicted. His arms were being wrenched behind him.


It was my husband turn and the American organised the works; shave, haircut, massage, and the Chinese torture. During the hour and 20 minutes we sat there the America chatted with me in English, the barber in Turkish and a Turkish friend of his in German. It was quite an experience really and clearly not usual for tourists to be customers.


I guessed that it was also rather unusual for a female to be in a male orientated environment of a barbers shop and the young apprentice could not stop looking at me, every opportunity, in the mirrors or more directly.


Our American unauthorised taxi then drove us all of 100m to the next stop, the shop to buy my memory card. Having done that, he said,
“I will take you to see Crazy Ali, the poet”
This is when we started to get a bit worried and wondered what was in store, but the short 50m drive saw us pull up outside an old curiosity shop and this was the home of Crazy Ali the poet. There was a rather nice little terrace outside the shop under the shade of grape vines growing above and various antiques, books, postcards and other smaller gift items.




I went into the shop and there were some really nice antiques and some home made jewellery, and I bought a necklace. Crazy Ali was not really so crazy and spoke to me in perfect English and told me how he had come to be in the shop. A banker in Istanbul, he became sick and tired of the rat race and just packed it all in 6 years previous and moved to Ortasihar. He was an older man of maybe 60ish and wore a fisherman’s style cap, and you could see he was most probably a handsome man in his early years. His voice was soft and gentle and he asked if I would like to hear some of his poetry. So not wishing to be rude, I said yes and he recited three poems to me in quite an eccentric fashion. His style would make many people smile, but I enjoyed listening to him and watching his animations. Before I left, he wrote something on a card for me, about being friends which I thought was very nice of him.


I went outside to where my husband was sitting with the American and Crazy Ali came out with me. Sitting along side the American was a young man, of about 30, who was strikingly handsome, a big powerful man. He was introduced as Hasan a friend of the American. He spoke good English too, so we chatted for a while, before the American asked:
“How would you like a romantic trip to the panoramic view point by pony and trap?”
Ah here is the catch! I looked at my husband and of course it is difficult to say no, so we enquired about it with I would imagine puzzled looks on our faces.
“Ah Hasan has a pony and trap and he will take you tonight, for 20ytl” Uhmmm……… Hasan did not look like the sort of man you said no to, so we agreed that he could pick us up from the camp site at 7:00pm that night. I had visions of a nice little trap like with ones I had seen in Göreme.


We shook hands on “the deal” and said our goodbyes to the American and thanked him for his kindness. We said we would take a walk round and visit the castle. We wandered around back streets, and made our way to the castle which towered above the town.


Ortasihar is a quiet and pretty little town, nestling in a dip in the landscape surrounded by derelict rock cut cave houses, and the lemon mafiosi where lemons are stored in the rock caves. There is not the hustle and bustle of tourists in this town like neighbouring Göreme and has none of the commercialism. We were told that not many tourists visited the town and that everyone knew everyone else, which did not surprise us one bit. It is a typical little town, charming to a point, where the local men sit on benches or sit outside shops and drink tea, watching the world go by. They watched as we walked by, but never make us feel uncomfortable and no one hassled us. Everyone was friendly and offered the occasional “Merhaba” as was wandered around. Many of the shops were workshops of carpentry and some iron work etc.




The centre piece of Ortasihar is the 86 metre rock castle that once housed the entire population of the town. It can be explored but on closer inspection, did not look such a safe prospect, so we plumped for taking lunch at the bottom of the rock, in total tranquillity. We ate Pide and drank tea and soaked up the lovely warm sun with glorious unbroken views across the valley beyond. We were brought a glass of Ayran, which I hate, but managed to drink most of it out of courtesy.



 With lunch over, we wandered off again (yes we did a lot of wandering that day!) climbed a few steps to the bottom of the castle rock. The views in this direction across Ortasihar town were of rock houses mixed with more typical Turkish houses and in some instances the rock houses were part of the more modern structure. Meandering through tiny streets, we eventually made our way back into the square were Crazy Ali’s shop is and carried on up the street towards Göreme. We were walking past a shop and someone called to us, and it was Hasan.
“Do you want tea?” We declined thanking him and promised to see him later.


When we arrived back at the camp site, we asked the manager if he knew of the American. He did! But it was clear he would not be welcome at the camp site, so we decided not to tell him about Hasan either and that evening, wait for him a little further up the road from the campsite.


It was soon time to meet Hasan and we waited a little way up the road where the Rose Valley and Red Valley walks begin. Soon we heard the clip clop of horse hooves and saw the pony and trap with Hasan in the driving seat heading towards us. Well when it came closer we could see it was not a trap at all, it was a small cart, the sort the famers use to transport their fruit and vegetables. We laughed at the prospect of riding in the cart, but what the hell… nothing lost, nothing gained.


Hasan pulled the cart in and turned in the direction down towards the Rose and Red Valley and in we climbed. We adjusted ourselves and off we went. The pony looked in reasonable health; something I am always concerned about, the welfare of the animals, but she did have a small raw place on her hind where the strapping rubbed. So we were off, down the Rose and Red valley route, past lemon houses to our right, with vineyards and orchards to our left, trotting through the rocks synonymous with the whole area. Red rocks (laver) at the bottom, with a layer of white ash at the top. You could smell rotting lemons that had been left out in the sun.


The pony trotted along the rutted path and it was quite tricky in places to avoid the big ruts. I had visions of the cart tipping over, but Hasan was skilled and steered the pony in the right direction. We reached the road and turned left up towards the panoramic view point which was a steady climb for the pony. We passed fields of grapes, watermelon and pumpkins, littered with a few fruit trees.


During our journey he talked about himself and what he did and we told him what we did. He was a very nice young man and we had certainly misjudged him earlier. We had discovered that the American man was the one who was rather strange, had a drink problem and a reputation in the town. We never did get to know his name and it transpired that he was half American and half Russian, and quite an intriguing fellow.


We reached the view point and there were already several people looking for the best spots to watch the sun set over Cappadocia, with Göreme to the left of our view and Üçhisar on the right. We climbed up higher to where there a group of young men sitting on the edge of a steep drop overlooking the rocky landscape. Some of the rock looks like meringue and were shaped by the weather thousands of years ago after volcanoes erupted. As the sun was setting, Hasan suggested we go up higher which we did. We watched the valley change colour with the dying sun, strips of yellow, red and white according to the rock type. The green of the orchards and vegetation in the bottom of the fertile valley grew darker.




Within about 10 minutes or so, the sun had set, and we began to make our way back, past the few stalls looking for customers. We climbed back in our cart and headed back, and this time I took the reins. The pony responded to me and she knew that someone unfamiliar had her reins. We headed off along the road and then back down the valley path with the offer of more from Hasan; a trip to his fruit garden, to go into Ortahisar for a drink, but we had had a good day and needed our dinner, so we declined and thanked him.


We got out of the cart and watched him go on his way in the near darkness to his fruit gardens below our campsite. The end of a quite incredible but enjoyable day.

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