Cappadocia – Kalkan
Life, it is said, is a winding road. You never know what is around the corner. Depending on your perspective it can either be a terrifying experience ending in tragedy or a tremendously exciting journey ending in fulfillment. Traveling intensifies this experience, amplifying every aspect of the road; higher highs, lower lows, bigger crests, deeper valleys. The road while traveling is filled with impossibly tight turns, ludicrously high speed straits, and of course, the unexpected potholes and breathtaking vistas along the way.
This is why we travel; a year of experience in a day, textbooks of knowledge in a weekend, a decade of growth in a week, and friends for a lifetime.
For me however, it is amazing how often this comes into focus not just on a metaphorical road, but on a real one as well.
The last week had not been short on excitement. In Cappadocia I spent a day hiking ancient villages carved from limestone rocks, spires, chimneys, and caves. The following morning I rose at 4am with a group of pan-continental friends. We set out in a hot air balloon across the massive windswept peaks and valleys of Cappadocia. The ever-expanding horizon warmed with the pink light of sunrise as we rose into the sky. One amongst hundreds of balloons, we floated like a million candles across the horizon.
From there it was off to Kizkalesi where an ancient roman castle floats in an impossibly still blue bay, adjacent to it another castle, large and imposing, still standing from antiquity. To climb to its highest reaches and look out over the Mediterranean is to put your feet in the shoes of peoples eons past.
Then, back inland to Egirdir, a picture perfect town nestled on a hillside perched above a massive glasslike lake. The peaks that encircle the lake are tall and green. The town itself shoots a spire out into the lake in the form of a manmade causeway connecting the mainland to a small island like a raindrop running for its freedom. Day one in Egirdir, a 60km bike ride through small rural villages, over peaks and into valleys. Day two a 30km hike lost in the wilderness, crossing private herding grounds, granite quarries, and military training bases. Both experiences capped off by coming home to the lovely Charly’s Pensyon (hostel) where Carla, an adorable British women, and Ibrahim, the Turkish owner, entertained and cooked remarkable fresh caught seafood.
Yet, it was the road out where it all came together. Departing Egirdir I take a quick detour to Sagalossos, one of the best preserved archeological sites in all of antiquity, built between 25BC – 200AD. That deviation has unknowingly sealed my fate, setting me up for one of the most fantastic stretches of road, ever created.
After 100 or so km on standard highway the sun is starts to set. A deep rose hue fills the periphery, wavesof magenta jut upwards clashing with the stark black at the globe’s zenith. Stars begin to light up the night sky as a sliver moon rises with absolute clarity. Tall thin trees rise up along the street and in lines out in the pasture to denote property bounds like so many green and yellow q-tips. As the sky goes entirely dark I turn off the main highway onto a tiny stretch of heaven, the 60km stretch of unnamed road between Elmali and Kaz. The GPS simply says “Proceed toward Çeşme Köyü Yolu”. Yes, yes I will.
As I turn the street lights drop away, as does the traffic. Towering pines appear eerily in the distance. The road narrows from 2 lanes to 1. There is no centerline anymore, only two solid yellows on the periphery. The pavement too subsides. Not into rock or dirt, but a finished/unfinished hybrid. A semi-paved base covered in gravel. Loose, yet perfectly flat, uniform. The trees now are all that's visible. The surroundings suffocated by blackness, what little light emanates from the crescent moon blocked by the dense old-growth canopy above. The meek lights of the little Dacia struggle to illuminate the surroundings, only a brief glimpse of an uphill cliff-face or downhill drop pop momentarily into view. This is a mountain road, that much is clear, and the drops are perilous.
The road begins to twist and turn, shake and tremble, to heave and wretch. It’s violent, almost unimaginably immediate and wrenching. Each successive turn harder, steeper, more bombastic, more dramatic, more gripping as it begs you to slow down, dares you to dial it back. I won’t have any of it. There are no guard rails, just reflective signs that indicate peril with incessant warnings of slippery surfaces, hard bends, landslides, reduced speeds, wildlife, and of course, no passing. The little Dacia and I get into the zone. There are no cars within miles and we are going to take full advantage of the opportunity.
Each turn is devilishly tight, combining unimaginably tight radii or changing radii with massive elevation changes. A figure-eight so tight it forms an infinity sign with three 100+ foot elevation changes. Long right handers morph into double-tight double-lefts as they descend like corkscrews. 90 degree rights house 200 foot camel humps or dips at their apexes.
This is the design for the most fearsome roller-coaster never produced. It is simply savage. With each corner entrance I stab at the breaks, sometimes shifting down 3 of the 5 gears. At each apex we slide all four wheels, the semi-lose surface providing just enough slip for serious hooliganism yet enough grip for predictability. The hand brake allows for mid corner corrections when under-steer asserts itself too fervently. At each exit I bury the throttle, sending all 90 turbocharged diesel horsepower through the tiny front wheels, clawing the car forward like a manic wolverine.
This is magic. Too much fun. The little Dacia is the perfect companion. Basic and boring, but predictable, soft, patient. It simply does not have enough in it to get in trouble, the engines to small, the chassis to feeble. There is not a big engine bringing us to 200+ on the straights, so when a tight turn arrives, we can slow it down. Yes the limit is 50 and we are trying to keep the needle pegged at 120+ on the straights but it’s all so manageable. When we over-slide a turn exit, we can reign it in. When we overcorrect, we can rescue it. The little turbo provides just enough torque to pull us up the steepest of hills but not much more.
We are becoming friends. It’s earning its name, Eore. He’s sad, and boarding, beleaguered and begrudging. But, he’s also dependable, loyal, honest, and lovable.
The miles continue and the road just keeps getting better and better. As the mountains spit us out the road becomes paved again, traffic resumes, police again patrol the streets, and signs indicate the way. What a shame. At least I can find solace in the magnificent view of the Turkish Riviera to my left, and a new friend all around me.
In all it’s a wonderful reminder that it’s not always about the destination, but the journey itself. And as it would happen, on the road of life, the most important thing to have is a great companion.