Walking through haunted lands

Together in Cappadocia, Turkey
Together in Cappadocia | Photo by Lauren Girardin

“You’re still here?”

The question drifts out to us from a dim storefront as Todd and I walk around Göreme in search of dinner. Göreme’s a small town so it’s not hard for our faces to become familiar to someone who’s set up shop on the street. It is our fourth and final night in Turkey’s Cappadocia region and, as the question seems to imply, is a bit longer than most people stay.

Throughout our explorations of the Cappadocia landscape, we’ve been surrounded by ghost towns. We walk through empty, damp subterranean passageways that wind eight stories deep in the underground city of Derinkuyu. We pass by hundreds of crumbling cave houses carved into fairy chimneys, their tenants long gone. We forage amongst fruit left to rot on the vine at a small, isolated farm plot; a single tomato is just right for picking and, still warm from the sun, is the tastiest I’ve ever eaten.

Despite a pervasive sense of abandonment, there’s an occasional sign of life.

Hot air balloons and flowers, Cappadocia, Turkey
Hot air balloons and flowers, Cappadocia | Photo by Lauren Girardin

Hot air balloons catch us by surprise when they pop over ridge lines, carrying tourists upward on warm drafts. Empty bottles of Efes beer taunt us from where they’ve been discarded at the side of the trail.

Far from town, just beyond the steep midpoint of a miles-long trail, a lone man in a cave sells us fresh-pressed pomegranate juice. (He later tells us that he’s watching his brother’s shop for the day – he’s really a guide. Would we like a tour?)

And, as happens multiple times a day throughout Turkey, the sound of the call to prayer reaches us from the mosques back in town. The sing-song call bounces off the faceted and fractured landscape, the echoing voices forming a beautiful, chaotic and ghostly chorus.