Don’t you DARE go and balance on the mushrooms! It’s dangerous and fool-hardy, not to mention incredibly stupid. Did you leave your brain-cells in the cave this morning? What if you were to fall, we’ve not seen another soul all morning. There’s no way I’m running up that steep hill to get help. I promise I’ll divorce you if you do it. AND I’ll tell your mother!
My words fell on deaf ears as hubbie strode confidently along the precipitous ridge of one of Cappadocia’s most bizarre rock features. The ‘mushrooms’ of Pigeon Valley (or Güvercinlik Vadısı in Turkish).
My heart was in my mouth as he told me to shush and make sure I took lots of photos. Sure, I thought, the coroner will want evidence of exactly how the accident happened. Sweating profusely, and not just because of the unexpected mid-February heat, I snapped away, taking a step back and nearly sliding down the cliff myself. Luckily no-one was there to notice. Dangerous business this photography. Apparently a photographer once fell to his death from up on Uçhisar castle after stepping too far back for a better shot.
Hubbie was now a tiny speck on top of the mushrooms and I grumpily considered leaving him there until I realised he had the key to our hotel room. Minutes later he breezed back with a huge grin on his face, telling me how safe it was and that the rock was deceptively solid underfoot rather than slippery and sandy as it had looked. I ignored him and stomped off down the valley. Perhaps the heat was getting to me, or maybe it was because we’d just spent 2 hours scrambling up and down steep slopes, coming to lots of dead ends and then having to backtrack, all in order to gain a mere 20 metres! Whatever the case, I was not amused.
We’d set off after a hearty breakfast at Taşkonaklar boutique cave hotel with the idea of walking the length of Pigeon Valley from the top at Uçhisar to the bottom at Goreme. Our vague plan went hand in hand with the vague maps of the area – they could learn a thing or two from the Ordnance Survey. The best we could find was a hand-drawn birds eye view with a few squiggles we assumed were footpaths. Just about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Assuming it really couldn’t be that difficult to simply walk down a valley, off we headed, leaving the latest bus-load of tourists at the trailhead taking photos of their epic 5 minute stop.
Walking down the path past the evil-eye (called nazars!) laden tree, we hoped the charms would be a good omen for our little adventure.
To begin with it was pretty slippery and sandy underfoot, and the tiny local children playing nearby put me to shame with their sure-footedness. Soon we reached the valley floor and continued past the towering ‘fairy chimney’ rock cones with their countless pigeon holes.
The inhabitants of Uçhisar and Goreme used to encourage the birds to roost in these little dwellings so they could use the dung to fertilise their land. Indeed there was plenty of evidence of argriculture going on in the valley, although possibly February wasn’t the best time to see this as it was now just mud and dust. Some entreprenurial folk had painted the outside of the holes white to help the pigeons locate them.
Hubbie decided we should see what it was like being a pigeon and scampered up the side to explore one of the larger pigeon holes. It was surprisingly enormous inside, and would be a good hidey-hole in bad weather. Luckily the pigeons were all at the trailhead being fed seed purchased by the coach tour group so we had it all to ourselves.
As the path meandered downwards, the valley began to branch out in several directions and it was impossible to know which route to take. After some careful consideration of the positioning of the sun and time of day, we ploughed on without a clue as to where we were heading. We really should’ve taken a compass. Still, as we always say, it’s all part of the adventure.
There were several times when the eerie barking of ferral dogs echoed around the valley, and although we never saw the animals who were clearly warning us off their patch, it did make me walk a little faster. They were soon forgotten however as the valley opened up into a wider canyon not unlike something you might find in Utah or Arizona. The landscape was unbelievably beautiful, and to have it all to ourselves was magical.
It was there the magic ended however, along with the path. It just stopped. Could be something to do with the big cliff in the way. Perhaps at one time there was a rock-fall and the path had never been re-routed. Whatever the reason, we certainly weren’t continuing any time soon. Rather frustrating since we could see the path continuing shortly up ahead.
So we retraced our steps and climbed up one of the side valleys, thinking we’d just pop over the top and down again to re-join the path.
It was whilst we were ‘popping over the top’ that hubbie decided to strut his stuff along the mushrooms.
Luckily he didn’t slip (and in fact on closer inspection he was right, it was as wide as a highway on top, even if the drop was long) and after his safe return we slid our way down into the next valley. I was very proud that despite the steepness my bum didn’t touch the ground once. Ok, maybe just once, but don’t tell hubbie!
Just as we were nearing the bottom and prematurely congratulating ourselves on our navigational skills, another sheer cliff separated us from our goal. My sense of humour was rapidly disappearing as we turned around yet again, and trudged back up to where we’d just been. About half way up hubbie spied some intriguing tunnels cut into the rock and we wondered if it was part of a short cut around this infuriating rocky outcrop. It wasn’t, but it was fun to squeeze through them (shouldn’t have had that Turkish delight at breakfast!) even if they led absolutely no-where.
Back-tracking clearly being the order of the morning, it was with some surprise that we eventually managed to re-join the original path we’d spied over 2 hours ago. All that time and effort for just 20 metres. But it was the best 20 metres of the hike, and it was great to get up high for the stunning views.
The remainder of the walk was more or less without event, although we did come across another person (our first and last!) as we neared our destination. Wherever that would turn out to be! Then the sign posts appeared…where were they when we needed them further up? They still didn’t make much sense but as they marked the way to civilisation we decided they must be a good thing.
Eventually we emerged between some rocks to find we were in fact on the outskirts of Goreme, right next to the Kelebek Cave Hotel where we’d spent the previous few nights. A knowing grin passed between us. We hadn’t been lost. We’d known all along we would end up where we wanted. It was simply a matter of having faith. Yeah right. Sometimes you just have to get lucky.
We plodded into town and made a beeline for the nearest café for lunch and much needed cold drinks. Wisely deciding it was too hot to walk all the way back we hopped in a taxi for the return to Uçhisar, looking forward to a well-earned glass of wine and a date with our hot tub.
Go early in the morning in summer (or in the winter when it’s hot!), there isn’t much shade.
Take a compass so you can make sure you stay on the correct route…it’s so easy to get lost by taking a wrong turning into a side valley.
Start at the Uçhisar trailhead and finish in Goreme – so much more enjoyable walking downhill!
Allow more time than you think you need for all the detours. It took us about 3 hours with the ‘detour’.
Go hot air ballooning on your first day – you get a great view of all the valleys and a bit of perspective that certainly isn’t available when on the ground. You can also decide which valley you want to hike – there are several, each with their own unique features.