Kappadokya – Amazing people and underground cities

During our visit to Kappadokya one of the highlights was the other travelers we met. We were there in low season, so there weren’t many tourists. Of the few there were, not many of them stayed for more than a night or two.

We were staying at Yufuk Pension (yes, go ahead and chuckle at the name), one of the many cave hotels in the town of Goreme. Our room was carved out of the (kind of) solid rock of the hillside! The rock is actually a very porous, soft, kind of tuff it’s relatively easy to dig out. So easy, in fact, that they’re able to carve it. Our room had alcoves carved into the walls, and decorations in mid-relief.

For the first few nights, we were the only guests. One day we got out of bed, looked out the window and saw a parade of young Koreans streaming into the courtyard.

At breakfast we introduced ourselves to the leaders of the group. Here’s where the story gets interesting.

Travel School

Sunny Lee and her family traveled full time for three years. When they ran out of money they went back to Korea to figure out what to do. Other families they knew were amazed at their children; how self-assured they were, well-spoken, educated.

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The kids were/are multi-lingual, musical, confident, they had seen some of the world. Other parents remarked on how “alive” the kids seemed compared to their own who had been following the traditional school progression.

It was then that Sunny and her husband decided to create their “Travel School”. For the last eight years they (with one other teacher) have taken 12 students travelling for 10 months of the year. Several of the students we met were doing their second year. I could see the difference between the first-years and the second-years.

They travel to some of the same places repeatedly, it was Sunny’s seventh time in Kappadokya. Sometimes they do an African/European route, sometimes an Australian/Asian one. I think they’ve been as far as South America!

While they travel they study, play traditional Korean drums, and cook most of their own meals. They also run every morning! When I heard that, I practically begged them to let me lead them on a trail run the next day. That’s a whole other blog post.

They were kind enough to put on a (reduced scale) drum, flute, and singing performance for us in the small common area of the hotel. Playing the Korean drum is such an athletic activity, I think all teenagers should have to do it for an hour a day. It’s probably good for their state of mind as well, banging out their frustrations!

It was amazing to see; twelve teenagers studying independently, getting together to practice the ocarina, heading into town and coming back with groceries and water for the whole group. I can understand why their families back home would see a big difference when they return.

The Underground City

Many of the stone outcroppings and hillsides in the Kappadokya area have some kind of dwelling or pigeon roost carved into them. The underground cities are on a whole other scale. What’s available to visit today is about 1/10 of the total. Many sections have been closed off as the tunnels fall into disrepair or just collapse. The small bit you can visit still took us about two and a half hours to monkey around all of it.

The city is built into a hillside and the entrance is at the top. The main route through the city is marked with arrows, but there are plenty of rooms, holes, and tunnels heading off every which way. I think we explored every single one of them.

Between each level is a locking door. By that I mean an enormous wheel of stone that could be rolled into the doorway. Basic, but very effective.

This allowed the people that lived there to retreat, level by level, from any attackers. Apparently there were tunnels that led down into the valley below for escape.

While we were exploring we kept seeing the same guide leading groups through, passing us as we monkeyed around. When we finally reached the exit, we had a little chat with him. He told us he grew up in the village nearby. He and his friends had grown up playing hide and seek in the underground tunnels and rooms. Without flashlights. No thanks.