Friday, October 17 Goreme to Derinkuyu
I was reminded of one of the most quotable scenes from the movie Forrest Gump today as I dug a little more deeply than I wanted to play a little chess game with the weather. In the movie, Forrest had run across the continent twice over a three year period and had developed quite a following. In this scene some of Forrest’s most dedicated fans, disciples even, are running with him when Forrest suddenly stops. One young man quickly directs the others around him saying, “Quiet, quiet! He’s gonna say something!” Forrest speaks up and flatly declares, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.”
That line was coming to me today as I noticed that the more resolution I have about the issues underlying this pilgrimage, the less push I have in my legs. I am convinced that our body gives us clues as to what we need if we learn to listen to them. It was clear that until Thessaloniki some unknown force was pushing me forward. That is the difference between a tour and a pilgrimage. If this was a tour I would still have one more stop on my itinerary. But, Konya is now feeling almost anti-climactic and an after-thought. Of course, I am still going to visit Rumi’s Tomb. I wouldn’t miss that for anything at this point.
But, like Forrest, there is a tiredness in my bones now and I just want to go home, especially because my heart can see and feel what home looks like now. Before I left I had a number of competing directions I could go, but none of them gave me that feeling of peace that told me I had come to terms with the choices in my life. I was feeling that I had to choose between financial security or family and community. But, that either/or thinking dissolved away during this time on the bike. So, mostly now I am just riding in order to physically get home and slightly annoyed that the weather is not going to allow me to just coast. I have to keep working at this just a little longer.
I beat the rain by about an hour this morning into Derinkuyu, a small village that also hosts one of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. My original plan was to ride to Soganli, but with weather predictions that are somewhere between fall and winter I took advantage of a route that allowed me to cut 50 km off my distance. It was windy and cold, but I only got sprinkled on occasionally before the afternoon and evening rain showers. Rain is expected through Sunday and Sunday and Monday are expected to near the freezing point in the morning hours and only reach 54 degrees at the peak of the day. In Portland, that is called winter!
At the start of the day I rode up the hill out of Goreme toward Uchisar where I enjoyed the full frontal view of the castle sitting at the top of the hill. I didn’t pause long as I was in a race with time and the weather, but I stopped long enough to take a few pictures of some of the more interesting landscape in the area. One area looked almost as if a hundred ice cream cones were rounded up in a herd with their soft melting texture.
It was clear that I had left the more popular resort areas as I cycled through a handful of small villages. Of course, without talking to more of the people, I can’t say for sure, but these areas seemed to be very traditional Muslim communities. In other areas I had gotten used to seeing the mix of people, partly from other countries and, more than that, just seeing the diversity of religious and secular Turkish people. Today, though, I really knew that as I cycled through and stopped at small markets that I was the one person who looked different. I don’t think it was a problem; it was just very noticeable and most everyone seemed to have some response to my presence. Some men were very helpful trying to point me to stores and where they thought I was going. Many seemed curious and a few even wary of me. And the children all waved and yelled hello as if I was Ronald McDonald riding through town. It was a little strange realizing that my riding through town was some kind of event.
When I entered Derinkuyu I had a brief time of wondering if I would just ride on through town. It was the first town in Turkey that looked very similar to the images I had seen on TV during the Iraq War. I am not sure where people live as I didn’t see evidence of houses as I know them. Most of the blocks in the center of town have abandoned buildings and falling rock structures. There are plenty of businesses, but most of them seem tired much like what one might see in a disintegrating rural America. Men were driving rather recklessly around in old Fiats and Peugots. And the energy of the town felt haphazard. It was hard read where I would be welcome and where I would not.
But, I decided that this was a real opportunity to ground my stereotypes in something real. There were three hotels in the town center and I picked the one that looked the most reputable. I settled into a very clean room (although I still haven’t gotten used to the smoke smell in many rooms). I hadn’t had lunch, so I decided to find a little café before touring the Underground City. Immediately a taxi driver wanted to help me. I tried to brush him away so that I didn’t feel pressured, but he persisted and somewhere in there I realized that he was trying to help me. He put his fingers to his mouth asking if I was looking for something to eat. As I indicated that yes, I wanted to eat, he left his post by his taxi and personally walked me over to a kebab solonu and handed me off to the owner.
My personal encounters all afternoon and evening have been similar. The café owner offered me Turkish coffee after my lunch and before I left. Later as I had another coffee just to get out of the cold and rain, the owner there pursued my trip a little more after discovering I was American. He was glad to hear that I wasn’t heading east as he said ISIS is a real problem and U.S. citizens wouldn’t be safe there. “Here it is good,” and he shook my hands three times before I left.
My tour of the Yeralti Sehri Underground City was another one of those, “You’ve got to be kidding me” experiences. I paid extra for a personal guide who could describe exactly what I was seeing and answer my questions. We went eight stories down into the bowels of the earth and explored, literally, the sections that would make up a full city. There were living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, stables for livestock, wine pressing and fermentation rooms, a monastery and churches. In addition, because of the underground nature of it there were elaborate ventilation systems, traps to slow down or disable enemies, and tunnels that connected six other underground cities as far away as six kilometers. The only thing I didn’t see was a 7-11.
I went in with the impression that these were permanent cities that people had lived in for decades, if not centuries. My guide corrected me. We would think of them basically as shelters in the event of foreign intruders. The cities could accommodate up to 10,000 people for two months in what we might call the world’s largest and most impressive bomb shelter! I am so glad that I had the opportunity to see this marvel of our ancient ancestors (plus, I really thought this, it was a great place to get out of the rain for afternoon).
I am actually really glad that I have you to write to each evening (or morning, as sometimes happens). My sense of purpose has jumped 10,000 kilometers west back to Oregon. My heart is there with my loved ones, the extended community I have there and those of you I am connected to by blogs, even if I haven’t met you. I don’t even have a good book to read right now. I tried to find something in Istanbul in English, but the choices were William Shakespeare, William Shakespeare, and Turkish-English translators. So, this time that I spend sharing with you is important to me. It keeps me from going into emotional isolation. It keeps me feeling connected in a world I don’t recognize, where I know no one, and where even language is not something I share with the people around me. We connect, but it’s not like home.
Tomorrow, I’ll look for a four-hour window in the weather that will get me to Guzelyurt. Despite the less than ideal weather I still enjoy being on the bike very much. That will always be a joy I will have wherever I go. I guess that’s where I differ from Forrest Gump. I don’t want to quit riding. I just want to be riding at home now. It’s time to come home.