Tourist brochures offer an opportunity of a lifetime: a sunrise view, from a hot air balloon, of a town with stone pillars – a unique geological cemetery in Goreme, 450 miles east of Istanbul. But the hike offers the best views of Goreme’s ever-emerging landscape.
We had just finished a 3 mile uphill hike through the hamlet of Cavusin, passing a Muslim cemetery on the way, when we spotted a welcome sight for tired legs: two chairs by the roadside.
The owner walked over from his nearby motorhome with a smile. With Turkish not our cup of tea, with hand gestures, scribbles and a cell phone translator, we quickly got the basics right. Mid-fifties, broad-shouldered, he was Osman Hoca from Nevsehir, who spent much of his time in Göreme.
It seemed like nothing could survive in semi-arid Goreme, but Osman had planted an orchard of 50 quince, peach, cherry and pear trees. A truck brought water once or twice a week. Just enough to make them grow. A difficult existence.
Osman pointed at a dozing dog and her eight 10-day-old suckling puppies under the axle of a trailer that serves as his office and dormitory. Osman picked up one of the puppies, eyes still closed, and handed it to my beloved wife. Stray dogs, which survive on handouts, are common in Turkish towns, but Jessie, the mother – silvery, bushy-tailed, collared, Akita-like – had a pedigree.
Starting his van, Osman took us to Love Valley, one of Goreme’s most spectacular places, with dozens of asparagus-tipped pillars. (Others had more licentious interpretations, which is why the sight is nicknamed Love Valley.) It could be said to be a tourist spot of great value: four camels and a pony stood ready for trips. photo shoots.
Now it was in Ürgüp, a marketing center where we hoped to buy Turkish dried apricots. But first, lunch at Osmanli Simit ve Ekmek bakery. The baker spread the dough, folded it in the feta cheese Osman had brought, smashed it into a few eggs, and after a few minutes in the oven, took out lahmacun, Turkish pizza. A constant stream of customers, bringing their own ingredients, filled the shop.
With thick stubble and crumpled pants, Osman was a man of the earth. But when he stopped at a mosque in Ortahisar, answering the Muslim call to prayer, Osman showed himself to be a learned man: high notes, haunting intonation, delivered with passion and precision. He had memorized large portions of the Quran, he hinted, pointing to his head.
Then Osman insisted that we return to his property for Turkish tea. Jessie was standing, showing no signs of postpartum depression. With paws moving, she settled on an exhausted bone but quickly returned her attention to the leftover meat for lunch.
After Turkish tea, we asked Osman questions, which we carefully worded to demand yes or no answers, “Ya” for yes, “Yo” for no. Are there deer around eating your pear trees? Yo. Does it snow here in winter? Yeah. Osman stretched out his arms to show how much. Was this Jessie’s first litter? Yeah.
It was beyond my smartphone to identify Jessie’s husband. None of these puppies had Jessie’s bright silver faces. They looked more like Karabasche, a sad half-breed who was also part of the family but did not deserve a necklace. We walked from the edge of Osman’s farm to the top of a steep hill, with views in all directions. Jessie followed, dropping her bone halfway.
The Turkish lira was plummeting, but Jessie was unfazed. We wanted to leave Osman some money for lunch and fuel, but we didn’t want to insult him. I gave him 50 lire, worth about $ 5. “It’s for her,” I said, pointing to Jessie.
Mr. Kolatch writes on China, Japan and the Middle East and is the author of “At the Corner of Fact & Fancy”.
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