Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Göreme Open Air Museum

Some were surprised that this World Heritage site was not on KE's itinerary for our tour. So after breakfast this morning, Susan, Roy, Sue and I set off to find out why.

Arriving just after the 8am opening time, after a twenty minute walk from the hotel, we found our way around the site compromised by early coach parties. By the time we left, about 20 coaches were in the car park for the fairly small site. A tour guide's nightmare. But the four of us managed fine, squeezing into the small Byzantine churches with their comparatively well preserved frescos.

Pictured, is the frontage of the museum's most famous church, Karanlik Kilise, the 'Dark Church'. Apparently it's one of Turkey's finest surviving churches, taking its name from the fact that it originally had very few windows. The lack of light has preserved the vivid colour of the frescos, the upper of which have been spared by iconoclastic Muslim vandals in an era preceding the boom in tourism from the 1980s.

Pottering around the museum, views were enhanced from time to time by hot air balloons that were floating as close as they could to the rock pyramids that house the churches and homes that were occupied until around the 1920s.

By 10am we were back at the hotel, Turan received his generous tip, and our party, lacking 'Cookpot' Jane, 'Geordie' Anne (left for an earlier flight) and 'Tumbling' Tessa (stayed for a later flight), was soon on the road for a last journey in the bus, to Kayseri airport.

Now in Istanbul, we are down to five in number, as eight of the party are having a few days here. Sue and I have just Alan, Dave and Lil for company as we embark on a spending spree in an effort to dispose of our remaining 9Lire!

So it's goodbye from Turkey. I'll be adding an index page in due course, and a link to a slide show, and maybe a few comments (and edits) in response to those I haven't yet seen or haven't yet been made. It was great to have been on such an enjoyable, friendly, well organised and well led trip. We will miss you all. Do keep in touch.

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Tuesday 13 September 2011 - Ihlara Valley

This unexpected valley lies well hidden on the northern fringes of Mount Hasan - the volcano from which vast quantities of ash, aeons ago, landed to consolidate into the tufa that humans have subsequently carved into towns.

We reached the entrance to the valley after an hour and a half in the bus. A river runs through the wooded gorge in which pistachio trees - which only normally grow in the far east of Turkey - flourish along with poplars and willows.

Apart from habitation built into the walls of the canyon, the highlight of this area is the early Christian churches that have been carved into the rock and are adorned with frescos that have sadly been defaced. Today's picture shows Carey and Sue at the entrance to one of these churches.

Yesterday we saw a snake on our path, and a pair of Egyptian vultures soaring over the phallic towers of eroded tufa. Today someone thought they saw humming birds, but they were more likely to be willow warblers. On the other hand, Humming Bird Moths were busy feeding on the flowers that lined our lush surroundings. There was lots of chickory. The sun beat down.

Lunch was taken at a friendly restaurant on the river, before a trip to Selime ('amazing monastic complex hewn into the rock') was outvoted in favour of 'free time' back in Göreme.

Whilst the last two days have been a gradual wind down after the comparative rigours of trekking, they have been harder for Turan, who has much more to organise, without any support from Elif, without whom leading our group of sixteen has been likened to trying to herd cats. Elif was an effective backmarker.

Apart from that, Turan has toothache. I can sympathise.

After watching a beautiful moonrise, we've enjoyed another good meal at a local restaurant and have waved goodbye to Jane, who at 9.30pm jumped onto a bus that should deliver her to Izmir by tomorrow morning.

This excellent trip is drawing to a close.

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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Monday 12 September 2011 - Göreme Village

Sue and nine others rose early for a balloon ride over the 'Fairy Chimneys' of Cappadocia. Those of us who suffer from vertigo or lacked the desire to spend £145 on an hour in the sky enjoyed a lavish breakfast. Chips and boiled eggs featured prominently.

The balloonists returned elated from their experience.

Once everyone had reassembled, we hopped on the bus for a short ride to Zelve. Until the 1950s Zelve was home, for many centuries, to people who had built caves out of the solidified ash (tufa) from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. Then the cave dwellers were rehoused in a new town at the behest of the 'far sighted' Turkish government. That has opened the old town to tourism, and we spent some time doing just that - being tourists. It was a very interesting place, with homes, churches, bakeries, etc all carved out of the rock at several different levels in three separate valleys.

After a welcome tea break we walked over a small hill to admire the spectacular fairy chimneys of Pasabaglari (pictured), before a short bus ride took us into the Red Valley for a splendid lunch at Kizilvadi Restaurant, next to Üzümlü Church which is built into the rock and has old frescos.

After ravioli and pickles and other tasty offerings, Tessa went back on the bus with Recep - she is wounded from her many falls - whilst the rest of us enjoyed a short walk back to Çiner Hotel, through the weird rock scenery of the Red Valley.

Alan and I then savoured a trip to a carpet factory that apparently stocks 1700 carpets (can that be true?), before we all enjoyed a meal at a nearby restaurant carved out of the rock.

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Sunday 11 September 2011 - Lake Karagol (2800 metres) to Göreme Village via the Maden Gorge and a bus via Derinkuyu

Approx 12km, 1200m descent, 3.75 hours including stops. Then a bus ride.

Omelette with sausage was Adem's (yes, I've been spelling his name wrong for a week) parting gift to the squad, with Karen now recovered from her stomach bug.

Today's walk was entirely downhill, through the impressive Maden Gorge (pictured). Starting at 9am along a Jeep track - actually a mine road, we soon saw our bags pass by before we left the security of the dusty track in favour of a rocky, pathless descent into the fine gorge. Dippers flitted up and down, and a family of 'chukkas' (partridge) strolled back up the bank after going down for a drink.

It was rough going, and increasingly hot under the burning sun. Some were relieved when we came upon a bulldozed track used when pipes were laid to divert water from the gorge for use as a nearby town's drinking water.

Our eight day trek then came to a gentle close as the valley widened and flattened, passing fields of stubble and a picnic spot with benches (and picnickers) before the Demavend Travel bus came into sight.

Our last picnic lunch was taken beside a grey brook under a line of poplar trees dividing two fields of stubble. Turan stalked a couple of hoopoe in the field and got some good pictures of them with his Nikon.

After a short bus ride back to the village of Demirka where we started our trek over a week ago, we met the Jeep and said goodbye to both Ramazan and Elif, who could return home to her family before starting a new academic year at Istanbul University. She had proved a friendly and able assistant to Turan over the past week, and we had enjoyed her company.

A half hour bus journey on good roads led to the rather ordinary small town of Derinkuyu. This town's 'secret' is its ancient underground city, dating from around 400BC or earlier. It's one of at least 300 underground settlements, where local people took refuge from marauding Crusaders and others.

The city is like a small inverted skyscraper, at least 60 metres deep, with seven floors, lots of interconnecting passages, food stores, kitchens, stalls for animals, a winery, a church, a missionary school and much more, all serviced by a number of ventilation chimneys disguised as wells. It was fascinating to visit, and much more extensive than the catacombs we have seen in Alexandria.

A tea shop provided refreshments before we continued our short journey to Göreme, where Çiner Hotel is our base for the next couple of days. On the way we passed through an area of the 'Fairy Chimneys' for which Cappadocia, of which Göreme is at the centre, is famous. These are rock columns and pyramids that have been converted into all manner of buildings.

Our own agenda involved getting thoroughly clean after eight days of trekking. This was achieved by way of a local Turkish Bath, or by the hotel's efficient showers, according to preference. A few beers, etc, and a tasty buffet concluded the day.

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Saturday 10 September 2011 - A walk from the Yedigoller Plateau to Lake Karagol (2800 metres) via Kalesi Pass (3500 metres)

Approx 13km, 600m ascent, 6.75 hours including stops.

Whirling choughs joined the sun today in rousing us from another good night's sleep, though apparently there were a few gusts of wind that disturbed some of the group.

After a good omelette, etc for breakfast, we made our butties and, before setting off at 9am, tipped Mahmut and Bekir, who have served us well. Tessa may have added to Mahmut's tip - she was the only one of us to be served coffee in bed!

A winding path over easy ground led to a sizable lake (pictured) which is apparently the second largest on the Yedigoller Plateau. There were views across to the two peaks we have summited, shown in the above picture, and Carey took another opportunity for a swim - he's just in the picture. It took him some time to warm up afterwards; perhaps he should have taken his clothes off. Some wag suggested he take 'hyperthermia pills', another retorted that "his engine is too hot for that". Carey can fly along at a pace that puts the rest of us to shame when he wants to.

A zigzagy ascent past a large herd of sheep, many of which were rams, led to a col and a minor summit (Düzkir Peak - 3517 metres) just above the Kalesi Pass. Here we stopped for some time despite a cool nagging breeze. This cool wind had appeared overnight and has meant that today's rest stops have been cooler and shorter, though not unpleasant.

It was too early for lunch so we continued for another hour, first descending steeply down a ridge on a loose path. Whilst not difficult, the path challenged a few comfort zones, so Turan's very measured pace at the head of the snake was sensibly slow.

This was our last 'wilderness' lunch, just below 3000 metres in a wonderful rocky landscape. Up to eleven Griffon vultures were soaring in the distance, and Turan thinks a lone golden eagle also cruised past.

A final 100 metre ascend took us to picturesque Yildiz (Star) Lake, where Sue captured a mountain reflection on her memory card. There was evidence of moles here - giant moles judging by the size of the piles of earth. This would normally be a good spot for a long break, but today's cool breeze soon had us shouldering our sacks for the short descent to camp at 2800 metres, beside Lake Karagol, at the end of a Jeep track.

Tea was efficiently served by Adam, and all our favourite biscuits appeared alongside the tasty Turkish Delight. The smiling face of Bekir, who we thought we had paid off this morning, reappeared to refill our glasses. He had taken the horses back to Sokulupinar with our bags and had come round with them to this camp in the Jeep with Ramazan.

A Long-legged Buzzard soared around the cirque that houses our stony campsite. It's stony because it's a new site, and has not yet seen the irrigation and grass sowing of our previous sites. As the popularity of trekking in the Taurus Mountains increases, such sites are under constant development. Having said that, we have seen only one other party of trekkers in eight days, plus just a few independent travellers.

Adam's soup was delicious, as always, and he and Ramazan served up a delicious main course of deep fried trout and rice. This was slightly disrupted by the appearance of some ibex near camp. Dessert was very sweet but equally delicious tulumba. Sadly Karen missed all this as she has a 'tummy problem' and has taken to her bed.

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Friday 9 September 2011 - A walk from the Yedigoller Plateau to an Unnamed Peak (aka DKSK -3650 metres) and back

Approx 12km, 700m ascent, 5.5 hours including stops.

After a surprisingly warm, still, windless night at 3100 metres, with the only noise coming from the two Daves, someone who tried to trample our tent at 6am, and someone who tried to enter it half an hour later, the sun hit the tent before 7am and had warmed things nicely by the time we got up.

We are on the route to the toilet, and judging by all the clumping feet we were about the last to rise, on yet another 'blue sky day'.

Ann and Breda decided to have a day off, so of the six who decided not to climb Mount Emler yesterday, only four - the two Daves, Joanna and Lil - returned up the path to the col and on to the summit today. Turan went with them and they enjoyed a good day out, completing the there and back route in about six hours.

That was 'Day 7 - Climb Emler Peak' according to the KE itinerary.

The rest of us, having climbed that peak yesterday, could enjoy an 'optional' additional walk. Our horseman, Bekir, knew the way, so he led us up to the unnamed peak that we can see from near the campsite. Elif assumed her usual position at the rear. Her trousers are looking even more battered than Tessa's shorts (which takes some doing). We had an amusing incident with the shepherds a couple of days ago when one of them said to Turan (in Turkish) "You can leave her behind" - pointing to Elif. Elif is a mountain guide in her own right and acknowledged the compliment in Turkish, to the embarrassment of the shepherd, who then addressed her as 'sister'.

The more or less pathless route led across scree and a few minor rock bands before reaching a ridge that led to the summit. Far below us was a glacial moraine with a few patches of ice revealing the residue of the glacier within the bounds of the moraine. Carey lagged behind, then zoomed on ahead, returning down under his own steam. The youth preferred his own company today.

From the views (today's picture is of the camp site early this morning) you would perhaps conject that there is very little life in this barren area. But there is life. The rock crevices and even their shaley surfaces are full of life. Today Sue photographed a number of Alpine plants, and a large flock of snow finches entertained us with their acrobatics near the summit.

It was a great spot. We dallied there for about an hour then headed down a quick descent route. A superb scree run, joyfully led by Bekir. Everyone managed fine as we descended, quite sportingly at times, as there were intervening rock bands and narrow skittery paths to negotiate.

A sting in the tail took us over an unexpected knoll, then down steep rock, past the horses to the camp site. It had been a great circular route, taking from 9.15am to 2.45pm. We could see the other four descending with Turan and some back up transport (one of our horses is unwell), about half an hour behind us. They joined us for tea with Mahmut, our jolly chef, who unfortunately has a tedious case of heartburn.

The rest of the sunny afternoon was spent relaxing, though Carey, Sue, Alan and Elif braved the icy waters of the nearby lake.

Others used various means of cleaning themselves, from a rudimentary drippy cold shower to baby wipes. The clever people (Roy and Susan) had left a bucket of cold water to warm in the sunshine. It works!

Today some threatening clouds appeared and we even had some brief periods of shade! Cloud hung over part of tomorrow's route, but by dusk it had become fluffy and disparate. Hopefully the weather will hold.

Despite Mahmut's heartburn he prepared another tasty dinner for us - soup, couscous with stew and salad, melon, beer, tea, etc, after which the cool of the evening drove us back to our sleeping bags, following a lengthy game of Uno.

NB Whilst I think these postings from Turkey are transmitting, albeit there was no signal at the 'top camp' so several days will be posted at the same time, no comments are getting through to us here, so if anyone has made a comment we probably won't see it until we get home.

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Thursday 8 September 2011 - Sokulupinar (2000 metres) to the Yedigoller Plateau (3100 metres) via the Celikbuyduran Pass and Emler Peak (3723 metres)

Approx 16km, 1750m ascent, 8.75 hours including stops.

A fine mountain walk on another day of wonderful weather as the sun hammered down on our group of eighteen, now that Carey and Dave, who appears to have made a miraculous recovery despite being told by the village doctor to rest for three days, had rejoined the party.

Breakfast at 7am was a bit earlier than usual, but as we are going to sleep at around 10pm, and it gets light at 6am, it presented no problems to anyone except Jane, who tells us she lives in the shadow of a viaduct and is known at home as 'The Bag Lady of Hammersmith'.

Turan had laid on a special breakfast - Adam, who we wouldn't see for a couple of days, had manufactured a scrambled egg with mince and peppers dish.

After leaving our kit bags in a big pile, lunches were made - we manufacture our own from a wide selection of ingredients and fresh bread from the village, before setting off at 8am.

The climb to the col at 3450 metres took around six hours at Turan's 'steady' pace, including a long lunch and sunbathing break at a spring just below the col.

On the well graded ascent we were passed by our five or so ponies, carrying about five kit bags each and sundry other stuff. They looked happy, and are no doubt loved by their gentle owner.

It felt remote up at the pass, with barren landscapes in most directions, and jagged peaks backed by bright blue skies.

Turan's suggestion that last night had everyone scampering to their beds was discussed. The majority were in favour of a further 300 metre ascent to Mount Emler on this fine day. Turan wanted to keep the group together. Some felt unable to continue upwards. We would all therefore have to go down. Turan recognised some dissatisfaction with the decision and wisely split the large group into two. Six tired people descended to camp with Elif, reaching it by 3.30, for an early shower. The rest of us strolled on upwards for another hour, reaching the summit at 3pm.

It's a fine viewpoint with great views of the south side of Mount Demirkazik (the highest summit in the range) and of the distant volcanic peaks of Erciyes and Hasan, near Kayseri.

Many photos were taken and entries were made in the summit book - buried in a plastic bag under a pile of rocks. The cool wind we had encountered lower down wasn't really evident here.

The prospect of tea at camp eventually drew us away from our fine perch, and we headed back down another skittery path to the col. The 'skitters' took a further toll on Tessa's shorts; she is quite proud of her record of bum slides (five to date) and always comes up smiling.

Some small Saxifrage plants distracted us briefly, but it was a fairly speedy descent (pictured) from the col over bare rock with a shingly veneer, that drew us past a small lake to our neatly positioned campsite.

Mahmut is our cook here. A very jolly chap.

Swim club comprised Carey, who apparently had a quick dip, but the water is no doubt cool up here at 3100 metres.

The day finished with a history lesson from Turan - an overview of Turkish history and a little explanation of the 'Kurdish Problem'. I will not try to repeat the lesson here.

Dinner had been served soon after the sun went down at 6.15, after which it cools down quite a bit at this height. So although we have an enclosed dining tent, most folk had drifted off to the warmth of their sleeping bags by 9pm.

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