Easy Riders and Hard Ons

This blog entry about the events of Monday, June 06, 2011 was originally posted on June 09, 2011.

DAYS 4-5 (PART 1): “Do we have to make a reservation for the testi kebabs?” I asked Mustafa, our Turkish go-to guy from the Kelebek/Sultan/Coco Cave Hotels in Gorème — three separate “cave hotels” that shared facilities built in and around the wild rock formations of central Turkey’s Cappadoccia region.  I was inquiring about the testi kabab, a regional dish that we’d heard about and seen around town — meats and vegetables stewed for at least three hours before serving in its individual clay pot — with the gimmick that you smash the pot and then eat the contents inside.

“We don’t make testi kebabs,” he told us with a bit of disdain, representing the Lonely Planet-recommended Seten restaurant (coincidentally down the stairs from our hotel’s reception), which specialized in real regional Anatolian cuisine.  “We only make local food.  Testi kebabs are for tourists.  We don’t eat that.”  It was a pretty convincing argument coming from someone who sold activity packages to tourists to do things that locals definitely don’t do, like go hot air ballooning in the area at almost $250 USD/hr.

Jeff, who has traveled extensively like myself, was more of an off-the-beaten-path kind of guy, and suggested we stray away from the touristy things that “old people do” by getting off this beaten tourist path/airspace and do as the locals: eat the real regional food, and travel around the area like they do — by means of a couple of motorbike scooters.  We figured rental scooters would get us to every place that all the big package tour buses would go (and more), and at our own pace — and without having to be stuck being coralled with the loads of package tourists around town (most with American accents from what we were hearing). 

No matter what mode of transportation, the main attraction of the region is the landscape after all, a moonscape of tall volcanic rock formations that jut out of the earth.  The little touristy village of Gorème lies within the heart of the most interesting-looking of these, which was our base of operation after an early morning flight from Istanbul to the regional Neveshir airport.

Most of the rocks jut out of the ground, some standing over 100 ft. tall, and with peculiar phallic shapes that can either look like asparagus tips or erect penises, depending on how dirty your mind is.

“She said, ‘I like the round one,’” Jeff told me, translating a group of Chinese tourists giddily admiring a pair of hard penis shaped rocks.  “And the other girl said, ‘I like the big tall one.’”

In and around Gorème, there are many peculiar rock formations-turned-tourist attractions that we traveled to via motorbike, like Uçhisar Castle, a massive rock “skyscraper” which contains little cave “apartments” carved inside — even with stairwells between levels and rooms inside the rock.

“What were those creatures in Star Wars?” Jeff asked me.  “Not the Ewoks.  From the first one.”

“Jawas,” I answered.

“Yeah, they’re like Jawa houses,” he realized.  “Everything’s better with Star Wars.”

Climbing up the Uçhisar Castle, we saw the interior of houses, each showing that they could be really good properties, even in modern real estate terms; good neighborhood, natural air conditioning (caves naturally stay cool in summer and warm in winter), and… just look at the view!  Inside one main cave house purposed for tour groups, Jeff and I saw that they could be quite spacious, even with TV, DVD, and a garden in the back.  “Deed it mayne,” Jeff said as we took a break there, with a couple of drinks. 

THE SCI-FI AND FANTASY COMPARISONS continued through the day; houses carved into shorter rocks were hobbit homes, while the bigger ones were like Smurf houses.  “But life-sized and for real,” we said.  Even the man-made structures looked like something out of Star Wars; newer, shiny metal-domed mosques looked like buildings in Naboo or something.

We saw all these structures as we zipped around the region on the two motorbike scooters, which was just as fun and exhilharating as it was for me in Hanoi, Penang, and NaxosI clocked my little 200 cc motorbike scooter at speeds up to 95 kph (about 60 mph) on the bigger highways.  On the way we saw the landscape that surrounded us — surreal places like Pigeon Valley (named aptly for its plethora of pigeons) and the big cliffs overlooking the town like Ürgüp.  Just south of there is a town called Mustafapasa.

“Que pasa?” Jeff said, setting up a joke.  “Mustafapasa.”

The junction near Mustafapasa led us southwest through less surreal albeit beautiful parts of the area: farmlands, cypress trees, and smaller villages with entrances to underground cities (but more about that in the next entry).  And as any biking enthusiast would tell you, it’s one thing to watch the landscape from a windshield, but it’s another to be a part of the environment. 

Closer to our home base of Gorème were places you could get to on foot, like Zemi Valley (where we did a short hike amongst rock formations, vegetation, and cliffs), and the main attraction of the area, the Gorème Open-Air Museum, a collection of some of the more important cave dwellings, many of which were used as Christian churches and tombsFrescos of Jesus, Mary, and St. George — important figurehead of Coptic Christianity — are found inside.  As historically important as it was, it still reminded us of homes on the planet Tatooine because “nothing is better than Star Wars.”  For little children, it was a like a really big playground, with little rooms, halls, tunnels, and stairs to climb.

MY BODY HAD COLLIDED with a lot of bugs while motorbiking around, and I definitely needed a scrub down, so Jeff and I hit the local hammam at the cave hotel — a sexy place built inside a cave structure where central Asian women (and a young boy, no homo) serviced us with a traditional Turkish bubble bath scrub.  From there, we clinked a couple of Efes before having a “real” dinner of bulghar wheat-covered meatballs, lamb kebabs, grilled vegetables, and a local stew made of white beans, tomato, and cured beef.  I don’t know if not getting a testi kebab was something I’d regret (we tried ordering at a place in town once and were told we should have ordered hours ahead), but perhaps that whole “testi” thing is just a touristy gimmick anyway simply because the rocks all around look like penises.

(Penises in Star Wars, that is.)

Next entry: Lost? There’s A Turk For That.

Previous entry: It’s Not Racist If You’re Already Asian

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Comments for “Easy Riders and Hard Ons”

  • NEXT UP: Days 4-5, Part 2, which covers the same two days, but with more about the Turkish people we encountered on the way.  Also, the Underground City of Mazi!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  08:05 PM

  • I guess I’m the only one that can see the pictures after I login in flickr and look at them individuals cuz we’re linked…  fun stuff! 

    I’ll also admit, I chuckled after reading ‘testi’ kebabs in the first sentence….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/09  at  11:06 PM

  • My bad…. all flickr pictures set to pubic now.  That’s right; I said “pubic.”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/10  at  03:55 AM

  • asparagus?  nope, didn’t see that

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/11  at  07:25 PM

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This blog post is one of nine travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Jive Turkey," which chronicled a trip through the Eurasian country of Turkey.

Next entry:
Lost? There’s A Turk For That.

Previous entry:
It’s Not Racist If You’re Already Asian


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