Thursday, April 30, 2009

Finding Neverland, or at least fairies

March 24, 2009: [Cairo_Egypt]
My last full day in day in Egypt was spent doing what all visitors to Cairo should be doing, namely driving around a smoky cab with the windows down by a 15 year old Egyptian with a peach fuzz mustache. Among our many stops were the pyramids at Giza. I was really worried about them being overly populated by tourists, but can say on good authority that if you do it right it is one of the most inspiring visits you will ever make. My new friend Abdul claimed the only true way to see the stone cones was on the back of a horse or camel. As I trusted his informed opinion I choose to take a camel ride up to the pyramids from the back entrance. We entered from the non-sphinx side and after a polite yellow toothed man made sure my goal was not to blow up the sacred site we were off and running, or riding I guess. Our makeshift caravan was comprised of my guide on horseback, myself, and a barefooted Egyptian boy that had my camel by a long rope. At first you can't even see the pyramids, but as you ride on the craggy points start to peek out from behind the dunes like shy tortoise heads. Once we crested the hill, a large photo-op session took place with me jumping off of a then unhappy horse among other things. Note to readers: camels are very tall, its like standing up on Shaq's shoulders if he spat more often. The scale is profound once you get up close, and baffles the mind how workers could move just one stone, let alone that many. For all of our modern towers and spires, I still have yet to see anything as awe-inspiring size wise as those silent behemoths.

The night before I had an amazing dinner with Nashwa, her husband Wael, and their two beautiful children. On the last night in town I met up with Abdul and good friend of his Ramy [sp?] for yogurt drinks and some hookah. It was fascinating to learn more about the culture from those that had lived their mostly all of their life and I only wish we had more time to catch up. As my time in Egypt was running to its inevitable conclusion, I wished it goodbye and made my way to Istanbul for a solitary night on my way to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. The region made it onto UNESCO's world heritage site because of its rocky formations of volcanic tufa rock called "fairy chimneys" that were turned into churches and in habitations around the 4th century AD. Many of the initial inhabitants were Christians escaping the persecution of the pre-Constantine Roman Empire. Fleeing to Goreme and other areas of Cappadocia, they began carving out of the soft white rock to form tombs, houses, churches, and stables.

March 26th - 30th, 2009: [Cappadocia Region, Turkey]
I arrived in Goreme by one of the 158 odd Turkish bus companies, this one being falsely called "Metro". My hostel reservation put me at the Goreme Cave Pension, with my dorm room being carved into the interior of one of the stone spires, and thankfully not as damp and cold as a similar situation in Alberobello, Italy with the trulli houses. The first day I got in was relatively sunny, but the clouds thickened during the night to dump about 6 inches of snow on the ground the next day, which made me realize two things: check the weather of where you're about to go more often, and don't send home your long underwear until you're sure you won't need it anymore.

The next day I went on a tour of the various underground cities only rediscovered in 1962 by farmers stumbling on the 8 story deep labyrinth of tunnels and caves. Like all tours in big buses, it ended with us at an onyx market attempting to sell everyone on board overpriced jewelry. But the next day was time to explore again, and the previously mentioned snow was burned away by a sunny, gnat populated day in Goreme.

I set out to adventure in the Rose Valley, which is a pretty close hike and home to more examples of carved out architecture than I had digital film for. After a while I just stopped taking pictures manually and switched over to the TaylorCAM to have my eyes and hands free to soak in the surroundings. Everywhere you look is populated by a densely packed series of cave rooms and openings meticulously carved out of the steep cliffs. Most are upwards of 4 or 5 stores high, and seemingly inaccessible since their wooden ladders have been rotted away over the years. Either that or whoever lived in them had spider monkey genes, I tried to climb up to many of them only to land down on my back looking up a clear blue sky and circling pigeons.

Another interesting part of the construction of the carved dwellings is the residents closeness to the animals that they lived with. Not only were many of the lower caves used as makeshift stables for livestock, but the so called rat of the sky [or pigeon] was revered as an almost sacred entity, with the inhabitants of Cappodocia being dependent on its droppings for their livelihood. Next to many of the churches and cave houses are a series of carved out nooks reminiscent of a 2nd grade cubby wall. In reality these repetitive holes were used to house the pigeon population and more importantly, to catch the precious pigeon poop that was ceremoniously dropped down to the projecting sills. Pigeon dropping was used from everything to fertilize the farmland in the middle of the narrow valleys, to constructing a paste for the frescoes in the interior of the numerous rock churches. Underneath the pigeon holes is a 1 to 2 foot wide stone shelf that would be used to gather all of the droppings for use in the fields or churches. The early Christians lived right next to their animal counterparts, forming a symbiotic relationship in both proximity and the sharing of food. The pigeon would be coaxed to back to their constructed nests, and in turn would be supplied with more food than a dozen crazy old bird men sitting in central park could provide.

Staring at the long stretches of the valley walls, the elevation of openings formed an almost urban scale by their number and closeness to each other. A city of thousands if not more occupied the numerous valleys and ancient dwellings and up to the early 1920's, many of the sacred chambers were still populated by Christians and Muslims alike.

Strolling around the small town of Goreme after my day long excursion, I ran into a stone mason in the middle of the street working on blocks of soft rock for a soon to be opening hostel. Stopping a moment to study his technique, his face lit up into a mustached grin when I asked him what he was doing. By a series of frantic gestures and pointing we soon came to have a very good conversation about the various implements he was using and how the rocks were shaped for future use. The stones came rough on all sides and were shaped on site before being put into their final resting place in the building. With a theatrical flourish he whipped out his steel square and made a mark with pencil on the next rock waiting to be carved. After the initial line was drawn he propped up the stone and set to work on it with authority. I don't know if he was showing off for the benefit of the jaw open American watching his work, but without sophisticated tools he made a precise right angle cut with just accurate swipes of his rock hammer. He stood beaming as I checked his craftsmanship only to find no flaws whatsoever. This seemingly inconsequential event made a deep impression in me about the skill derived from someone that knows their craft, and amazed me at how the human body can be trained to do seemingly impossible tasks with practice and precision. I must have been overly appreciative in my thanking his demonstration because as I made to leave he told me to wait as he reached in his thick coat and pulled out a handful of Turkish raisins for me to munch on on my way home.

Thoughts on Traveling #13 : Its highly possible that Obama is endorsing the Turkish banking system with a low interest rate of 1.13%. See documented evidence below. So that's where all of our tax money is going to!!!

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