Frıends: Barking dogs prevented us from having a very sound sleep at the Berlin campground in Göreme, our first non-wild camping of this journey, but the sight of a handful of balloons emerging practically at arm's length over a ridge just beyond our tents when we ducked our heads out shortly after daybreak made us very happy to have camped where we did. We grabbed our cameras and raced to the ridge.
We were greeted by an even more amazing sight--more than forty balloons at various heights drifting over the phantasmagorical landscape of all manner of spires. Each gondola held up to fifteen passengers, who had paid 150 dollars or so for the privilege, well beyond our ten dollar a day budget. David went camera-crazy with his digital, shooting both stills as well as video footage. Before the day was done wandering amongst this breathtakingly unique scenery, he said he had never taken so many pictures in a day, more than he ever dreamed he could possibly take. This will provide some sensational footage for the movie he hopes to make of our adventure.
There was one balloon not more than 100 meters from us that was struggling to gain altitude. As it approached us we noticed a guy running along underneath it holding a bottle. I thought it might have been a bottle of champagne they'd forgotten to take for the tourists, but it was actually a bottle of fuel. The balloon was struggling to gain altitude and needed an added injection. When balloonist and bottle-carrier reached the hill David and I were standing on, they were close enough for the guy to toss the bottle up to the balloonist. He immediately began squirtıng it into the burner and it slowly gained altitude, just barely clearing a tall jagged spire. None of the passengers packed in expressed any concern, just happily waving at David and İ, some with their cameras pointed at us, while David videoed them, fearing he might have some sensational Hindenburg footage of a gondola dumping a dozen or more passengers when it hit the pinnacle.
After half an hour or so all the balloons were well aloft and distanced from us. We had laundry to do before setting out for a hike into this wonderland. The Polish cyclists recommended a valley a short hike away, rather than paying to go into the national park. They assured us the scenery was equally fantastic and wasn't choked with tourists. İt ıs past the prime tourist season, but we still saw bus loads, many from Japan. It is cold enough, near freezing at night, that many of the shops and cafes in town try to attract customers with signs saying "warm inside." There were only two others in the campground, a backpacking Russian and an Englishman driving a VW pop-up van.
We only encountered two other couples in our two hour meander through our valley of "fairy chimneys." One was a French couple from Toulouse. The woman said she had been here in July with a tour group and was so staggered by the beauty she had to come back with her boy friend.
The soft compressed volcanic ash is very conducive to hollowing out caves and underground cities. There were a handful of Christian chapels carved into these upthrusts, some wıth religious murals in tact. As David said, this region of Turkey, known as Cappadocia, ought to be on every traveler's bucket list of places to visit.
We set out for the large cıty of Kayseri, 50 miles away, after our afternoon hike, returning to our preference of wild-camping. Loomıng over Kayseri is the 13,000 foot volcano Mt. Areus, whose ample shoulders are cloaked with glaciers. Argeus is one of three volcanoes in the region responsible for the geology that created the "fairy chimney" landscape. It is their compacted ash from eruptions ten million years ago that has eroded to form these waves of upright formations, some quite phallic.
Kayseri is near the center of Turkey and is slightly beyond our half-way point to Lake Van and Mount Ararat, the true monster of Turkey, another volcano some 17,000 feet high. We saw our first sign for Van leaving Kayseri, just under 600 miles away.
We had a 1,500 foot climb out of Kayseri up onto a high plateau nearly a mile high of more steppe scenery for 200 miles to Malayta. We began the day with the temperature in the 30s, but on the long climb I stripped off all six layers I began the day wearing and put on my short sleeve shirt. But by nightfall, when the sun dipped under Argeus, we were layering back up quick.
Last night was our coldest yet. It was 26 in my tent when I awoke. The cold left fragments of ice in my water bottles, both those in my tent and on my bike. When I set the bowl of yogurt I was eating outside the tent during break down, ice crystals quickly formed in it. But the sun was shining bright and we were soon unlayering.
I burned a candle in my tent last night for the first time and it made a significant difference in keeping me warm until I fully crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. It elevated the temperature near the top of my tent to 50 degrees, while it was ten degrees colder lower down. It is a slight risk to be burning a candle in the tightness of my tent, but I think I have made adequate safeguards to prevent me from knocking it over or brushing anything against it. David fears he is too clumsy to take such a risk. He knocked over the cup of coffee he warmed up on his fire last night. Fortunately there wasn't too much left in it and it was no great catastrophe.