A Day Trip in January
by Fred Moore, January 2011
We’re touring today with the local photo club and traveling to a few places before seen and a place not seen, because my 99 Mazda 626 IS NOT an off road vehicle. Some mountain roads are little more than narrow dirt or gravel paths primarily for sheep and goat herders, but I get ahead of my tale.
We begin our morning by meeting as a group to catch our 7:30 bus. I’ve been told there are around 30 in the group and on arrival at the meeting point; we fine two mini-buses, not one large bus. We’ve put up $20 a head and the buses with drivers have been contracted for the entire day; that’s a good deal for all day service. Mini-buses are perfectly ok transport but not real comfortable. The seats are too narrow for adult posteriors, usually, and in this particular van the seatbelt buckle is a permanent obstacle mounted in the side of the seat cushion; it doesn’t move to flatten out and pierces my hip making the seat somewhat uncomfortable.
The Turkish weather forecast has indicated rain all week and even for today, but we’ve seen only a few very light showers this week and simply press forward with our tour. “I” don’t have to drive and even if it rains we’re relaxing for a day of adventure. As I indicated, we’ve been to sites of this tour before (you’ve been there with us) but we rarely pass up an inexpensive adventure because even the same places can and often do hold opportunities for new and more exciting discovery. Most rewarding, of course, is the opportunity to meet new people and share an experience few get the privilege to do.
What rain we’ve seen this past week has cleansed the atmosphere around us of pollutants and the air today is crystal clear. This kind of clean air is rare anymore; we’ve not seen it this way in months. There’s always haze or pollution hanging in the air around the big city; it’s like viewing the world through a rusty screened storm door, our beautiful landscape vistas become nearly impossible to enjoy. We’re traveling on the autobahn for over an hour before exiting on the coast road along the Mediterranean. As you will remember, along the coast in this area we ride through ruins of many ancient Greco-Roman cities. There’s a smattering of ruins still very visible on both sides of the road and we highly encourage you to venture out and visit them; experience the country’s ancient history in this, your own backyard. The ancient cities along our route today are Limonlu, Kanlidivane, Kumkuyu, Adamkayaler and there are many others as you continue along the coast road traveling west.
We ride for another hour before arriving at our first site for today, the Corycian Caves or as they’re known currently, Heaven & Hell (the Turkish is Cennet & Cehennem). I’ve always found these names odd for two chasms in the earth, but it goes back to pagan times and Greek mythology (you can read about it online or in the tourist literature). The brown historic signs list the Chasm of Heaven and the Pit of Hell; the archaeological signs call them both hollows. Suffice it to say, when you stand in person before each of them, they’re deep, massive, geological depressions. You may descend into heaven 455 steps (70 meters down) to the small chapel built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the 5th or 6th century AD. An inscription stone above the entry to the chapel indicates it was constructed by Paulus, apparently a devout follower of Christ and the Virgin Mary. There’s no descent into hell (at least not here, my apology, I simply couldn’t resist that); you simply stand on a manmade overlook platform and gaze into the 120 meter deep depression. For those with a challenge of heights, this overlook platform is not all that inviting. Hell’s depression is fairly round in shape while heaven is an elongated rectangle with rounded ends and it’s probably 3 or 4 times the size of hell. Both depressions support plenty of trees and plants so the floor of both is fauna-friendly. One thing I don’t talk of often is wildlife and there’s a reason for that; we rarely encounter any sort of native wildlife on any of our adventures.
Above these massive depressions to the south are some Hellenistic Ruins, the more major one presents us with its north wall of the Temple of Zeus. The temple sits on the edge of the current roadway that runs between heaven’s chasm and the temple. That wall apparently is suffering some movement because the road has been partially roped off; this leads me to believe maybe the traffic is causing vibrations that could topple the structure. Behind the temple are a number of other ruins, mostly fragments of their former grandeur. The temple was constructed in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and was reportedly transformed into a Christian Basilica in the 5th century AD. Much of the rest of the site must be creatively transformed by your imagination. For example: I’m standing within the temple foundations that barely escape the surface of the ground, but I can see and imagine the massive size of the original structure. I step to a lesser portion of the back wall behind me and lay my memo pad on a building block to make a few notations (yes, I do keep a few memory joggers) and Carol catches me with her digital camera; she calls her resulting photo: “The Scribe “. Beyond this ruin I find several other smaller remains and conger up what might have been where I currently stand. This is quite possible after you’ve walked about ruins for several years and read archaeological temple descriptions. Stand with me for a moment, close your eyes and imagine a Roman bath complex with all its individual rooms (there’s the caldarium (hot water), tepidarium (lukewarm), and frigidarium (cold)), a colonnade between structures (think marble columns with a beautifully ornate covering) or a basilica (a massive majestic structure of stone blocks and columns all around). All of these once stood here as this was another Roman city of significance in its day.
Today, it’s a tourist attraction with a visitor center complete with a large covered patio populated with cushioned benches and tables and smaller tables with four chairs for relaxing with a soda, maybe a bottle of water, some ice cream or some other snack available from the vendor there. The visitor center sits on the rim of heaven’s chasm across the road from the temple. There are restrooms and souvenir shops within the center; outside we find some local residents who have brought two camels up to the center as an added attraction for the truly adventurous tourist who want to ride one of the beasts. Turkey is no longer a natural habitat for camels (if it ever was), contrary to what some folks might believe, but many times these tourist areas have camel rides on offer. There are three animals; 2 here at the front and 1 grazing in the back today; but, there appear to be no takers on rides while we’re visiting.
Once everyone has returned from their individual adventures, we board the buses and travel less than 5 minutes, just a short distance further up the hill, to the asthma cave. There’s mythology associated with this cave as well; however, leaving that aside, it’s suggested this cavern can aid in the easing and even cure of asthma. The ubiquitous tourist visitor center has been built squarely over the entrance to this site. A steel spiral staircase has been inserted in the mouth of the cave; it descends into the 20 meter deep cavern below the center. This earth cavity is reported to be 200 meters in length, filled with geological formations and it maintains a constant temperature of about 56 degrees. The cave is extremely humid with readings fluctuating between 85 and 98% constantly, depending on the season of the year. In the parking lot outside the center stands another camel at the ready; well, it was standing, he’s now down on his hunches relaxing. We were standing up wind of the beast and the smell was quite strong and far from an inviting aroma. I kid about a ride, but have little intension of actually participating in such a thing.
After those who wished to descend are back top side with us, we re-board the buses and return just below our original tourist stop to have lunch at “Kahvalti Cenneti”. This is a fairly new restaurant and one we’ve not noticed in our trips here in the past. We’re told we should have Tantuni (something we’ve never eaten) and Carol goes along with the suggestion, but I go with another option on their list of lunch offerings; I order Sac Kavurma. Kavurma is an old favorite of mine from 25 years ago and when I see it on offer I have to try it. We’re sitting in a very large 3 sided, roofed aquarium; that is to say a room with a high ceiling and 3 glass walls. Our booth is situated at the south windows and we have a stunning view of the Mediterranean. It’s truly amazing; from every angle the water takes on a wholly different hue, from brilliant blue to silver gray and even dull green. While we wait for our lunches to arrive, we get a visitor under our table and between our legs; a beautiful kitten with gray and black tiger markings. I reach down several times to stroke it and notice it enjoys the attention as it lifts and cranes its neck to get more attention. I ignore it for a moment and it goes off in search of more willing clients. Here’s our lunch. The tantuni looks like a small diameter wrap maybe 10 inches long; it’s very thin pita bread filled with chopped onions, tomatoes, and lamb. It’s garnished as you eat with a squeeze of lemon juice making it excellent (Carol’s commentary added here). Mine is a stir fry, basically onions, tomatoes, green peppers and chopped lamb served in a small wok with fresh bread; it too is very tasty, although the portion is quite modest by Turkish standards. We each have ayran to drink and enjoy the new foods. My kavurma is not as I remember my first; but then I’ve not found anything like my first in over 20 years. One of these days – I’ll simply have to return to the location of my first kavurma!
After a leisurely lunch we’re off again to our next site, Adamkayalar; you can find this word as one or two words. Carol and I haven’t visited here because the lane that goes back into the site is a narrow gravel/dirt path. Our mini-bus driver does a very odd thing here; he begins backing into and up this lane (the historic sign indicates its 2 Km – that’s well over a mile to back up). Now, I’m thinking, if this guy has to back all the way into this site, maybe there’s no way to turn around. This reinforces my past decision not to try this adventure in our car. Not far up the lane we encounter a pretty serious looking mud puddle twice the width of the lane and longer than our mini-bus; the driver slows, down shifts and trudges onward, no sweat, with a little slipping and sliding sideways and some light spinning of the wheels we’re through it and moving on. We don’t go far now and the driver swings the bus around in another wide spot in the lane and we continue on forward rather than backing up. I surmise he’s done the backing because he wanted the traction wheels into the mud hole first to drag us through it (my opinion – could be totally wrong, HaHaHa).
As we progress, the lane raises and falls, curves first this way than that way; we encounter another soggy stretch with no challenge and in a few minutes we’re at the site; there’s a rather nice parking area here too which I didn’t expect to see. I’m surprised as we pull to a stop; the grassy parking area is plenty large for several mini-vans and turning around is quite easy. We leave the bus and begin our individual discoveries. I head for the higher peaks to the west of the van to investigate the ruins above us; there was a fortress once standing here. There are a number of walls and arches still remaining; but, like many sites of ancient history your imagination must engage to fill in the blanks. As is the standard for these types of sites, the literature is sparse to non-existent; there just are far too many sites in this country and if they’ve been excavated, they’re not written up or simply not found “exciting” enough to write up. This site gets a paragraph in several of my antiquity books, but no real explanation except to say it has never been an archeological dig. Below on the walls of the canyon are a number of reliefs of Roman soldiers, a family scene of man, woman and child, reclining royalty and the like. The fortress/castle gets little mention in the literature so I can’t even begin to give you its particulars. Unfortunately, the reliefs are below and out of my line of sight; the descent and subsequent climb out of the gorge make it difficult for me to consider a descent or to see the actual carvings. The reliefs are shown in the literature however and I’m standing on a mountain with a view I hesitate to begin to describe for you because I simply lack adequate words; it’s magnificent, simply a stunning panorama. Thousands of feet below me is a river flowing through this gorge and the view of the Mediterranean as I lift my gaze from the river is awesome; the sun is filtered through thinly layered white cotton clouds and it casts a silver glow across the water. We couldn’t have dreamed of a more beautiful day to be exploring these ancient majestic ruins.
The geological formations around me are primarily volcanic creations; the rocks look similar to hardened sponges with pitted surfaces all over them. Except for the massive building blocks within the ruins themselves, the landscape around me looks other-worldly. There’s scrub brush and plant life casting a green hue over the ground with the rocks several shades of gray except where they’ve been broken open by road construction equipment. The government obviously runs a road grader through here periodically to keep the lane somewhat passable.
While I ascend the peak to investigate the ruins just above our parking area, I notice across the expanse on the rim of the canyon there’s a Turkish lady perched on a rock. This lady is standing right on the rim of the canyon as if standing on a street corner waiting for a cab. Minutes later she’s joined by a gentleman who sits on the rock at her feet and obviously enjoys the spectacular view offered there. These are not young people, they’ve got to be my age maybe older; I wonder what brings them up here to crawl around these rocks and then think – why else, because it’s a gorgeous day and the view is spectacular! I get back to my own climb and in a few minutes I’m standing a top some building blocks that form the wall of what used to be a magnificent fortress or castle. All through this area around me are walls and arches that made the castle what it was hundreds of years ago; this structure had to be huge as I climb around and discover more parts of the same facility. After ten or twenty minutes of playing “mountain goat”, I decide to venture over where the Turkish folks are enjoying their view.
I make my way down off my side of the mountain and work my way across to the rocks where the Turks are sitting. Climbing over and jumping between major boulders in nature’s obstacle course is hard work, HaHaHa, but I get to the rim of the gorge and the view is worth the effort getting here; it’s fantastic. Many of my fellow travelers are below me climbing around the ledges and trails on the canyon wall. They are mostly young people and still extremely agile so I envy their youth and most certainly their views of the reliefs. I can immediately see why these Turkish folks chose this perch; I can see for miles westwardly and the Mediterranean Sea coast is jagged and wet. There’s a major river delta on the horizon just above the canyon view I have; this must be the terminus for the river far below me. The young people start shouting in the valley listening for their echo and I do them likewise shouting down to them. One of them is standing precariously close to the edge of the cliff down there and I shout to him, “hey, remember, you can’t possibly fly”. He shouts back something but by this time I’m moving away from the ledge to give a couple guys camera time where I’ve just been standing.
I work my way back toward the van and the group that’s not climbing around the canyon walls or the peaks above. The Turks who have come to visit are now at their car. They’ve been collecting fire wood from around the site; this is very common here, they will use it in their cook stoves or even for heat once they return home. We mill about the parking area for several minutes while the drivers blow their horns to summon the stragglers that we wish to get on with our afternoon. Our next stop is Kanlidivane, 20 minutes east; when the driver spies the historical sign he turns north up another side road. This too is a site we’ve visited a number of times in the past; there are many more intact ruins here and it’s well worth a visit. I always remember this place fondly because of a warm invitation to have tea with the local caretakers; their tea is green, made from a local mountain ‘weed’ for lack of a better word. I’m sorry I can’t tell you the ingredient, but it grows locally. I remember it being very bitter and they assured me it was “good for my health”; that makes sense since most thing good for you taste so bad, HaHaHa.
Today we pull into the very large gravel parking area and our driver pulls straight up toward the earth depression of this site. This depression is about twice the size of ‘hell’ but not so deep; it has been created by the same geological elements as those of the other chasms. There are several ruins at the rim of this depression; the one on the far side is an ancient church/basilica. Thirty minutes or an hour is little time here; but if you’re not an in-depth studier of ruins, probably plenty. As I’ve been here, I decide to sit and have a tea, regular not green, although the lady tries her best to get me to take a green one. I find it most interesting, the green one has no floater this time; in my past experience the weed was still steeping within the cup. While I sit and relax I get a visitor who seems very friendly; another quite lovely gray/black tiger cat similar to the last. After a minute of petting and no aggressive behavior by the cat, I reach down to pick it up; I sit it in my lap and it reclines for more attention. We get bored with each other after 10 or 15 minutes and I let it go on about its business. Carol has wandered off down the trail around the depression and I decide to walk that way.
There’s a small herd of goats wandering through the ruins and I decide to follow and see if I can get close enough to pet one since I see no large herd dog with them. These large herd dogs are very protective of their charges and not always friendly toward intruders; I never attempt to approach a herd when they’re around even if there’s a shepherd with them. I was raised around goats and still have an appreciation for them; I can get fairly close, within a step, but not close enough to touch. These are cautious animals and let me only so close before they move away to safer ground even though I talk to them as I approach; obviously they speak no English and I don’t know enough Turkish to ease their fears. I’m following them through the necropolis stepping into and over ancient graves as I walk behind them trying to get closer. It’s not to be; they wish to be left unmolested so I move on and join Carol for the walk back to the van, waiting for the group to return. It has been a full and wonderful day and we head back home as the sun escapes below the horizon.
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