Block above block, each story smaller than the one below, the houses rose like elongated clay droplets into the diamond blue sky to form what the locals call “Fairy Chimneys”. The droplets, all solid stone and naturally formed, covered the valleys like sown seeds. Each was a home, an apartment building, a hotel. Each dug into the hard stone. On both sides of the valley, the droplets ended and a plateau rose. Like a fantasy, these man-made caves continued inside.
We hitchhiked through the heart of Turkey and arrived in Cappadocia at mid-day and met up with Murat, our couch host for the next few days. He was a local tour operator with an unending smile. He was a roman candle: loud and happy with a herculean tone. He was fighting his aging process. The age in his lank hair, bald forehead, well-worn skin, and heavy greying eyebrows was covered up with a thick application of hair jell, boyish clothes, multiple types of sunglasses, and his constant attempts to flirt with any female. Echo gave his flirts a half smile.
With hands halving the air and sunglasses swaying around his neck, he told us “I am so rich that I bought a house for each of my children and put it in their names.” Unprovoked he continued “And I am so successful that each of my five children have a different mother.”
We nodded politely, and avoided feeding or questioning his narcissism. His energy faded and he moved onto a new topic, he told us about the people of this land, how they were ancient and predated America, Turkey, Islam and even the Pyramids. He gave us brochures, all linked to his travel agency, and pointed out the most expensive options. We declined his tours. He shrugged “Ok, Maybe next time then,” and offered us a local map. He had drawn it himself and photocopied hundreds of copies. We left our backpacks at his office and set out.
We were in a tourist mecca. There were endless expensive novelties to try: ridding annoyed camels, storming over desert dunes in a four wheeler, or flying over the everything in a hot air balloons. The price of everything from food and water to transportation and housing skyrocketed three, four and five times the normal cost in Turkey. We didn’t want to spend much money or any money, if that was possible. We avoided the local tourist traps, bought food from backstreet markets and headed out of the town.
According to the map, there was an interesting nearby desert valley. “Love Valley” had only one attraction: giant penis shaped stone formations. After getting lost on the dust soaked and unmarked back streets, we grabbed a lift on a pickup truck heading to Love Valley. The driver gave us a deep dimpled smile and a thumbs up as he dropped us off.
Salt flavored air settled over the dense desert bushes that frowned over both sides of the road. Dry-quicksand devoured our feet with every step. With every step we fought the beast, pulling our feet from the heavy sand.
“This is impossible,” Echo moaned as she dropped herself on the sand.
“Would you rather go through that?” I asked, pointing toward the thick bushes laced with painful brambles and hungry thorns.
“Let’s try it.” Echo said and led the way. She tore through the awaiting predators, smashing their limbs and burrowing a hole through the bodies.
On the other side, a dust-filled plane was full of vibrant life. Grapes, apples, watermelons, plums and squish grew in large numbers along even lines in the ground. Water is scares in a desert, but this wasn’t an ordinary desert, it was a desert farm. Mini aqueducts, carved from the sloped cliffs, ran down the sides and poured rain runoff into the large algae filled cisterns. Beside them, carved into the stone were storage caves full of tools.
We could see the giant penises, we headed that way, and the ground sloped solely uphill. The dust thinned, shallower, easier to walk. The ground shifted, steeper, the sand dispersed giving way to a red sandstone floor. Underfoot, sand rolled over the stone, screeching like two bricks rubbing together. Ahead, cylindrical, rose shafts of solid sandstone, 10 feet round, jutted into the sky. A blunt spear tipped head of harder, redder stone topped the shaft. They dotted the landscape, erupting from the stony ground and towering above like an alien city. Erect giant penises, carved by erosion: by time, by water, by wind.
The area was empty. No one else seemed to think giant penises in the middle of the desert were an interesting sight. We explore the penises. One penis had a tunnel burrowed through it. Inside the large domed room had sleeves carved into it. The roof and floor were sooty from a fire. Outside a pickaxe leaned against the wall. The head was a little loose, but it should work. After all, it was only sandstone that I would be digging into. The pickaxe thundered down and clang with the sound of metal on solid stone. My hands shook and hurt. I looked at the damage, hardly a scar.
If the giant, erect, stone penises or the secluded desert valley should have been romantic, I ruined it by explaining the long, multi-million year process of how the valley would have naturally formed. As I explained, going from eroded sediments to tectonic uplift Echo’s face began to sag in boredom. Around the time I described how streams washed away the sands she perked up, she was interested. She licked her lips and moved her head with mine. She waited; she leaned in, closer and closer. “But the top stone is more resistant to erosion” I said before she struck. She was a cobra, her he neck long an elegant, her fangs biting into me. Like a reflection in water, we trembled.
As evening approached, the sun hid behind the cliffs and powerful shadows painted the valley. We walked back, staying on the trail this time. When we made it back to Murat’s office was closing up. He took us back to his house, a deep cave he had dug.
Ripped from solid stone, Murat had crafted a wide kitchen furnished with a large dining table and a sky light, three bedrooms with bathrooms, two of which were already full of couch surfers, and a wide and tall hallway to connect the rooms. Inlayed in the walls were empty alcoves and candle holders. He run electricity and water from room to room by boring hole after hole through the rock.
A large PVP pipe, which could have fit my leg, extending from the floor to hip height. “Don’t put anything in here, it’s not a trashcan!” Murat emphasized by pretending to throw a bottle down. “The lady downstairs doesn’t have any windows, she lives underground. This gives her fresh air. If you put things in it, they will fall on her head.”
He left us in our room. The caramel floor was smooth from work and ware. The amber walls were pot marked with deep and jagged ridges. We dusted off the bed and made our plans for tomorrow. We would venture through another desert valley to a castle of caves where the kings of the land once reigned. We lay down and noticed the black, mold covered ceiling. We ignored it, having no idea the nightmares it would bring.