The Bus to Urgup
Copyright 2018 by Robert Walton
Photo by Jon Walton.
weak, I stood atop a sandy ridge called Sunset Point. Some Turkish
bug still prowled the far corners of my body. My theory that
consuming liberal daily rations of Raki in Istanbul would immunize me
from such maladies proved to be wrong. My sons stirred beside me. I
took a deep breath and pondered both my own condition and our
immediate future. Bouncy and chatty, the boys (Jeremy's twenty-nine
and Jon's twenty-four) were boys again, excited by our coming
adventure. I had doubts, not the least of which was my unhappy
tummy. Still, one of the great joys of fatherhood is to do things
with your kids. We were undeniably about to do something together. Six
miles away in the blue distance we could see our destination,
Goremé, a small town in central Anatolia.
helpful young man from our lodging, Esbelli Evi, had driven us west
on the main highway and then, after a tire stretching turn, north on
a dirt road into the strange crags of Cappadocia. The geologic
features of this area remind me strongly of Utah's hoodoos, of Bryce
Canyon. A major difference, as we soon discovered, was that this
rugged countryside was heavily inhabited for a couple of thousand
took our first steps, I looked to the southwest. The tower of a
ruined castle, empty windows gaping skull-like, stood high on a
distant hill. Below it were the buildings of Goreme. I wanted to
make sure that I could recognize an obvious landmark before we
dropped into the maze of canyons below us. Our plan was to walk only
a few miles through the Rose Valley and find a midway village where
we could catch a bus. No problem, but I know how best-laid plans go.
were impatient, so we started before I'd finished fixing the castle
tower’s direction in my mind. We dropped steeply down a sandy
trail into a morning-shadowed valley. I slipped a couple of times
because I wasn't paying strict attention to where I placed my feet. My
eyes, instead of tending to business, were drawn to the
surrounding sandstone walls and towers, most of which bore the marks
of human hands. Many were hollowed into dwellings. Some, worn by
centuries, retained only a window opening the outdoors to the
outdoors. Others possessed a stray ramp or a cluster of galleries.
Early Christians lived here, thousands of them, for hundreds of
years. These ruins are the shadows of their lives.
to a place where the trail forked and there was no reason to choose
one branch over the other. Later, we encountered webs of trails -
trails weaving randomly across each other - all unmarked. This first
branching caused an argument. Jon and I voted to take the high road.
Jeremy pronounced us wrong. Ruben Batista and Patrick Allen,
companions on many a previous hike, symbolically joined our argument.
Though thousands of miles away and ignorant of the particulars, they
automatically, if silently, sided with Jon and me. They disagree
with Jeremy on principle, always have.
Jeremy continued to complain with his customary volume and eloquence,
Jon, Patrick, Ruben and I won the argument. We took the high trail. A
few moments of walking brought us to a rounded hill and a dead-end.
Jeremy expostulated in righteous justification. Jon and I refused
to concede, though we did take the downward leading path. Ruben and
Patrick were still silent.
trail became a wretched, eroded gully, steep and treacherous. We
slid, slipped and skidded for several hundred feet into what we hoped
was the correct valley. Going back up would be beastly. Just as we
reached more level ground, a German couple came around a corner. They
were struggling with the footing, too, and took the opportunity
to stop. They confessed that they were lost and wondered if we knew
the correct trail.
laughed. They smiled in mystification. Jeremy told them that the
road wasn't far. He told them to go up and then left and we all
wished them luck!
them, my sons had picked some sightseeing goals for this hike. One
of these, the white church, appeared before us. Rather, the cliff
out of which this church was carved appeared before us. The tunnel
entrance to the church was at the far end of a sloping ledge. The
drop from this ledge was twenty feet or so into a rocky streambed,
far enough to put a considerable dent in even my durable head. Advising
caution, I followed the sons out onto the ledge. It wasn't
exactly rock climbing, but I took great care where I put my feet.
through the entrance tunnel into a dark and narrow room. Beyond this
room, lit by bars of light pouring through high windows, was the main
hall of the church. It was some fifty feet in length, thirty feet
wide and at least twenty tall and it was indeed white. Decorative
columns, arches and vaults sculpted the falling light into graceful
curves and shadows. Alcoves for vanished shrines lay to the left. I
looked at all and tried to adjust my mind to the fact that this
beautiful room had not been built. It had been carved, carved out of
stone. The disciplined effort required, and the sophistication of
the society which supported this effort, gave me new respect for
those who lived in this place long ago. Further, the pockets of
cultivation along our path, mostly vines and fruit trees, reinforced
the notion that rural peoples, both ancient and modern, have much to
teach the world about sustainability.
Photo by Jon Walton.
the white church and made our way back to the main trail.
his nose behind a screen of tall brush and discovered a mysterious
tunnel. My sons have always been suckers for tunnels, so we plunged
into this one. It was wide enough for a couple of lanes of traffic
and tall enough to accommodate a school bus. A brook trickled along
its floor. Aside from the fact that it was not pitch black and did
not smell of bat urine, it reminded me of a certain lava tube we once
explored in Oregon. We followed its curve and emerged into hazy
sunlight after forty yards or so. We turned and looked back. The
great tunnel had obviously been carved to ease the passage of the
modest stream on its floor. That stream must become a great deal
healthier in wet months. Curiosity satisfied, we returned to the
scrambled up a goat track toward what we hoped would be a wider
trail, higher on the valley rim. Jeremy, trying to shorten our
scramble, started up a tilted slab. Fathers and sons inevitably have
embedded disagreements. One such arose now as Jeremy slipped, slid
and teetered up the slab. Did I mention the cliff at its bottom? My
older son insists on wearing leather soled boots rather than modern
hiking shoes. Now, cowboy boots are ideal for their intended
purpose: riding horses. They are miserable and dangerous for
climbing rocks. I commented on his poor choice of footwear –
something I’d done often before - and he objected to my
paternal carping. Fortunately, he lived through the short climb.
Several hundred yards of silent walking repaired our mood.
Valley dropped away to our left. We rounded a corner and found, of
all things, what appeared to be Aladdin's cave. Multi-colored rugs
adorned its entrance and gleams of polished brass shone from within. A
Turkish proprietor popped out of the cave as we approached. Jeremy
speaks fluent Turkish and engaged the young man in an animated
discussion. Turks tend to be amiable, open, confident and talkative.
They are universally delighted when some foreigner speaks Turkish. Even
my fractured phrases invariably earned smiles and helpfulness.
This fellow was no exception. He greeted us with great friendliness
and asked if we wanted tea. Yes, tea would go very well. He
conducted us to benches and a table just to the side of the cave's
entrance. We seated ourselves and glasses of tea appeared magically,
almost before we'd removed our packs.
from my steaming glass and took in the vista spread before us. Goremé
was again visible, as was the haunted castle above it. Also visible
were towering thunderclouds with their purple scarves of
rain sweeping the lands below us. Our future offered precipitation,
but I felt no dismay. I sipped more tea and felt content.
moments in life are pure. Each of us has them. They come when they
will and are recognizable treasures when they arrive. Such a moment
was upon me now. Sitting with my sons, sweet tea in hand, above and
within immense natural beauty: nothing is better.
raindrop plonked into my glass. Other fat drops shattered on the
table before us -time to move. We returned our glasses to the
cave-keeper and had a peek inside. It wasn't a huge cave, but it was
carpeted from top to bottom and from side to side. Red rugs, umber
rugs, brown rugs, bold-patterned rugs, subtle-patterned rugs
overlapped each other everywhere, all for sale. Brass lamps and
platters glittered in the light of oil lamps, Aladdin lamps. I was
tempted to duck inside and rub one.
cave-shop-keeper, realizing that we didn't intend to lug a rug or a
brass tray down the trail, ushered us to a table of more portable
souvenirs. I must mention here that I've long supported local
entrepreneurs. Small business commerce is the heart of any town. My
gripe with a market-governed economy is that some of the big boys
always cheat. Need I mention the current mortgage meltdown, Enron,
or the Savings and Loan collapse of the nineties? That's why I'm
always willing to pay a bit more to a local guy. That's why I
prepared to pay a bit more to this local guy. I forked over about
five bucks and got a small, simulated Grecian urn carved from
serpentine. I planned to put it in wife Phyllis’s stocking at
Christmas. Long-term husbands will understand my satisfaction at
making this purchase. Thirty-five years of marriage makes it tough
to come up with decent gifts for your wife. Travel affords new
parted with my money and tucked the quite substantial urn into my
backpack, the rain became serious. We secured permission from our
host cave-keeper to take shelter in an adjoining cavern accessed by a
rickety ladder. As drops pounded down and lightning zinged into
nearby peaks, we mounted the ladder (rickety was a kind assessment of
its condition) into a wide alcove. I was quite happy to sit and
watch the storm perform. The sons went exploring side tunnels.
twenty minutes or so, we were able to climb down the suspect ladder -
one at a time, gingerly - and resume our walk. We waved to the
friendly Turk and rounded another corner. The trail now ascended
gently, crossed a ridge and then turned down the other side of the
same ridge. Rose Valley, presumably, fell away on our left; another
valley, deep and eroded, followed us on the right. Cold wind,
impressive even by Salinas Valley standards, gusted from the north.
Another storm cell loomed behind it. Purple, black and sprouting
lightning, it prompted us to make haste. I mentioned to the sons
that we were the highest things in the neighborhood and that it would
be a good idea for us to make tracks. They didn't argue.
minutes of long-striding got us off the ridge and into flatlands
where we hoped to find a village and a bus stop. A vineyard lay to
our right. The large, gnarled vines, each in a shallow depression,
had been harvested already. A pinnacle caught Jeremy's eye. It was
across the vineyard about a hundred yards away. Both sons turned
immediately and headed for this new object of curiosity. They'd
spied a cave entrance partway up the pinnacle. I complained about
the impending rain, but they ignored me.
As I made
my way carefully through the vineyard, Jeremy was already partway up
the rock wall guarding the entrance to the cave. This wall was ten
or twelve feet high with an overhanging lip at its top. Jeremy's
long reach had gotten his shoulders and chest over this lip and
partway into the cave. At this point, his feet lost contact with the
rock and the cave's smooth floor afforded no further holds for his
hands. He began thrashing and flailing. His sweater rode up and his
pants slipped down. A new moon rose over the vineyard. Jeremy
called out urgently, stridently even, for help.
emergency paralyzed Jon and me, though not with concern. We folded
over and laughed raucously. So far were we from sympathy that we
both heartily wished Patrick and Ruben could share the moment! Jeremy
continued to flounder on the edge of disaster, however, so we
each reached up, grabbed a foot and shoved. Jeremy yelped in pain
and slid into the cave. He suffered tummy abrasions, but was
up the wall, thrashed for a moment and then rolled past the lip into
the cave. I stretched my arms and prepared for action. I gripped
convenient knobs, raised my right foot to a high hold and overheard
my sons pondering how they would ever get old dad over the
intervening lip. I've been a rock climber for thirty years. There's
technique to climbing an overhang. I pulled up, straightened my
right leg, transferred my weight to my downward pushing hands and
stepped gracefully into the cave. Rare are the moments when paternal
competence is made obvious to one's sons! They must be savored! Even
exploited! The boys recovered from their surprise at this
display of paternal competence all too quickly, however, and surveyed
It was a
most uninteresting cave. We decided to leave immediately. The boys,
with youth's disregard for gravity, leapt out of the entrance and
landed in the soft soil of the vineyard. More mindful of gravity's
potential toll on old knees, I reversed my climbing acrobatics and
had only a three-foot drop to negotiate.
regained our trail and continued our search for the missing village.
The trail became a road and reached an unmarked junction. There are
few road signs in central Turkey. If you don't know where you're
going, to heck with you! Both roads continued in roughly the same
direction. The right hand fork was rutted, overgrown, muddy and
unpleasant looking. Ignoring Robert Frost, we took the smooth,
well-maintained left branch. Rain pelted down. We hunched our
shoulders and walked on.
fifteen minutes, we realized that we'd taken the wrong road. Our
choice had curved around and was now headed vaguely southwest toward
Goremé. The main highway was visible off to our right. We
decided it wasn't worth the effort to retrace our steps. We'd
probably miss the bus anyway. We re-hunched our shoulders and headed
for Goremé. Rain patted us on the back.
and tired, we trudged along the road. Despite our discomfort, I felt
contented and sensed that my contentment was shared. We'd had a fine
adventure. Still, the next half hour was a weary one. We were all
relieved to reach the highway and ultimately the bus stop in front of
a tourist shop. Goremé is used to foreigners, so no Muslim
sensibilities were offended, Ramadan though it was, when Jeremy
bought several of the little green bottles of mineral water he so
mini-bus - a battered, pale blue vehicle - pulled up after twenty
minutes or so. These buses are heavily used and are staffed by both
a driver and a conductor. This is a good idea, one which I wish we'd
emulate in the U.S. Perhaps I've been stuck in one voice-mail system
too many, but I think that paying a human being to perform a useful
service is often far more efficient than devising some machine to do
an inflexible, impersonal job.
paid our fares and we found seats at the back of the bus. The bus
doors clattered shut and, belching diesel smoke, it pulled away from
the store. We drove for a mile or so on an increasingly steep road,
an ancient shortcut to the main highway. When the pavement switched
from asphalt to wet cobblestones, our bus lurched, groaned and
stopped. Gears ground and clashed. I only became alarmed when the
abused machine slid backwards. Then engine, belching like a hippo
afflicted with gas, it lurched upwards again. Complaining mightily,
it inched forward at a mile an hour or so. I glanced at the other
passengers. None seemed concerned.
chariot finally leveled out on the main highway to Urgup and I
breathed a sigh of relief. I leaned back in my seat and looked out
the fogged up, rain-spattered window. I figured I'd earned a beer -
Efés for preference.
I'm an experienced
writer. My SF novella
"Vienna Station" won the Galaxy prize and was published as
an e-book. It is available for Kindle on
co-wrote The Man Who Murdered Mozart with Barry
and it was published in F & SF. Most
novel Dawn Drums won both the Tony Hillerman best
award and first place in the Arizona Authors 2014
recently, my “Uriah” was included Assisi, a literary
journal associated with St. Francis College, Brooklyn.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Robert
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