After a few weeks in and around the coast, freshly shorn by the kind barbers of Antalya, I though it was time to take my new Turkish look inland–to see Konya, home of the whirling dervishes, and Capadoccia, the desert region that either was, or was not, featured in Star Wars as Luke Skywalker’s home planet. (It depends on who you ask, and I asked plenty of people. Consensus: maybe, but it’s hard to tell with all the computer stuff, plus also Yoda was a distraction.)
Rumi, the founder of Sufi mysticism and an all-around holy man, something like a saint in the Muslim world, got his start in Konya and developed a religious practice that involved meditative and trance-like states in a search to unite with the divine. In other words, he encouraged his followers to spin around like tops, whirling for hours, until they knew God. Rumi also died in Konya, I think, and tens of thousands of Muslims travel there each year on a pilgrimage to his tomb. They also go to the gigantic stadium where actual dervishes whirl, each Saturday at 8:00. I don’t have any good pictures of the whirling (I have some videos, which I’ll post next time), but here’s a shot of the crowd.
Two things to note about the show: 1) The women/men ratio in the audience was something like 80/20. I don’t know why, but it made for a great display of colorful headscarves; 2) The whirling–and here I don’t want to insult a religious tradition several times older than my own country, but here it is–is pretty boring. Accompanied by live music, twenty young men bow, one at a time, to each other. This takes five minutes. Then they whirl about, heads tilted, arms spread wide, long white tunics spiraling around. After five more minutes of whirling, the music stops, they get back in line, the theatrical lights change color, and they go again. The cycle repeats four or five times. An object lesson in how personal religious devotion can only entertain a crowd for so long: by the time the lights had gone from blue to red to green, half the audience was gone, like Mariners fans leaving a 7-1 game in the sixth.
From Konya, I took a bus to Capadoccia, Turkey’s geological answer to Utah. For centuries, monks and others carved churches and homes into the rocks, starting some time in the 11th century. The Seussian landscape of “fairy chimneys” (the euphemistic name for the 100-foot tall phalluses of Love Valley), cave houses, and undulating waves of rock is now tourism central, and few people actually live in caves any more. Fortunately, a 50-meter walk away from the buses takes you into the country, and away from 98 percent of the visitors. I biked and hiked all day, from one valley into the next, passing only farmers tilling the sandy soil.
Capadoccia is also home to a gigantic hot-air-balloon fleet, which takes off en masse every morning at dawn. I hadn’t planned to go (expensive, and what’s the big deal anway?), but found a good deal and got myself up early to fly with Captain Nuri. Though we were one of the last balloons in the air, Nuri took good care of us and flew us deep into Love Valley (the Turks pronounce it Low Walley) for a treetop glide past the towers. When he sensed our interest was flagging, the captain cracked wise: “Everyone is have fun? First time balloon? Is me, too.” And “Okay, is time jump. No one jump? Okay, I go.”
Aside from a few kilometers between bus station and town, and a nice day ride in Capadoccia, I hadn’t been on the bike much in several days. So the Aussies and I were happy to ride out of town under blue skies, to Kayseri, where we’d catch a bus to the east of the country. It was a perfect day of cycling: getting lost on a dirt road that looked like a good detour, but wasn’t; pushing our bikes over fields and goat paths; getting surprise help from a young man in a car who saw us lost and confused, from across the river, and raced to our aid, driving 15 kilometers out of his way down rutted roads and across faraway bridges, to make sure we could find our way back to a paved route.
It wasn’t a great week of personal connections with Turkish people, but the small and unexpected moments like the helpful driver have stood out–unsurprisingly, the best experiences have come when we’re riding our bicycles, in and between villages, far from the big roads. We continue to drink tea everywhere, with everyone. And Malatya, where we are today, has been a fantastic place to meet and befriend locals. More about that next time.
Tomorrow, we’re pedaling south into the mountains, to see Nemrut Dagi (google it!). Friendly Kemal, in the Malatya tourism office, says,