Balloons at Dawn and a Midnight Feast at the Police Station

I was awoken by the call to prayer from a distant mosque, the Muezzin had a wonderfully melodious voice, so for once I wasn’t upset at being awoken at 4.30. I lay back listening smiling, thinking of all the other calls to prayer we have been awoken by on this journey and others. Then came a distinctive unfamiliar sound, a rushing, blowing sound. A hairdryer perhaps? Jet engine? Unlikely, as we were camped out in the Cappadocian countryside under the weirdly sculptured “fairy chimneys”. Peeking out of the window into the half light I squeaked with delight, awaking Steve. Just 150m from us were 9 huge hot air balloons being inflated. Throwing on clothes, we rushed out to investigate and were even more delighted to find scores of balloons inflating on nearby hillsides. A few had started to drift skywards, their bursts of flame lighting up the pre-dawn sky.


The girls were slightly less enthusiastic, only arising on their own terms to sip hot chocolate on the truck’s roof and admire the spectacle, while Steve and I admired the fifty or more balloons in the sunrise from a nearby hill. The only others around were bridal couples dressed to the nines and fully made up, which must be painful at that time of the morning, for beautiful wedding shots.


It had been a long couple of days drive from the Georgian border to Cappadocia, it was on mostly wonderfully smooth highways. The first night in the country we drove up a tiny winding mountain road hoping to find a good place to park for the night, it looked ideal with small fields of recently cut grass drying in the last rays of sun in the evening. We were well away from any border or any army posts. Not wanting to trespass on anyone’s field we found a small flat patch beside the track and waved good evening to the couple of tractors that passed us by. After the previous night’s disruption in Georgia (see our last blog) we crashed out early and were all sweetly sleeping when I was awoken at 10 by the noise of a small truck outside. Peering out, I was alarmed to see two men dressed in black jeans and t-shirts with machine guns having an animated discussion just outside the window! I am sure this is not the way that most husbands wish to be woken up after a relentless day of driving “Steve! Wake up! There are men outside! And they’ve got guns! Big guns!” Poor man.

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As we lay holding our breath peering out, their conversation seemed to need a second and third opinion and they pulled out their mobiles. I allowed myself a little bit of oxygen, surely robbers or terrorists wouldn’t be dialling a friend before whatever they were planning on doing. Steve took the brave option and decided to dress and go out. With a cheery sounding “Hello”; a big smile; and a hand outstretched to shake, he walked up to the men. This approach was obviously the correct one, like the start of all male interactions in this part of the world they stretched out their hands to shake Steve’s hand, clumsily juggling with their machine guns. Phew! I allowed myself to breathe a little.

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Now we had to ascertain who they were and what did they want, it turned out they wanted to know exactly the same thing from us. We soon realised that Turkish and English have very few common words, thank goodness there was just enough of a phone signal to use google translate. It turned out that although the only symbol of authority they had was their machine guns (that is probably enough), that they were police men and they wanted us to accompany them to the police station.

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We set off in convoy, once back on the main road we were met by a squad car and they insisted that a policeman in uniform, but thankfully without a machine gun just a pistol, sit with us in the cab. Instead of stopping in the next village we drove off up a winding rough track. Eeek! Had we just been duped by some scary pretend police bandits and they were now taking us off somewhere else. We were very relieved when a sign directed us to a hilltop “Jandarma” By the time we had got to the station, they had clocked onto the fact that we weren’t of any threat to national security, so it was smiles all round. After about an hour of checking documents and waking up the local English teacher to translate over the phone, they gave us tea and brought out snacks to the truck for the girls. You never know what the road will bring you: I never envisioned any midnight feasts at police stations when we went to sleep that night. They then escorted us to a flat patch just off the main road, where they could keep an eye on us for the night as they passed on their rounds.

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Nearly 3 1/2 years ago in Central America we met Alex and Meira, a young Belgium-Spanish couple in a land cruiser. After meeting them several times in different countries we had a great week with them and others on a beach in Nicaragua, they were great fun and brilliant with the kids too. Since their Pan-Am trip a lot has happened, they got married and had 2 babies. We heard that Alex was going to be doing the Mongol Rally, a rally between the UK and Mongolia, in a Nissan Micra with a friend, we hoped that somewhere our paths would cross. Remarkably they did, before they turned east for Iran and on our path south we managed to meet at the town of Erzurum. Unfortunately due to both our driving schedules we didn’t get to camp up with them for the night but it was still good to catch up with him again for a hour at a garage.

After that it had been another long day’s drive, anxious to not repeat the previous night’s experience we chose our campsite well in a little picnic spot hidden in the woods. We had to cross a little stream to get to it and the girls had a wonderful time playing and climbing as I cooked supper.

We loved Göreme and its surrounding area, apart from the wonderful hot air balloons, hiking through the valleys filled with otherworldly shaped and naturally sculpted rocks. In the valleys between the rocky outcrops and thin rock spires were small fields and grove of fruit trees and grapes. Some people still live in the caves carved out and many more are used for storage or shelter from the sun. Everywhere you looked there were doors opening onto dwellings; specially carved dovecotes; or high up in cliffs rooms exposed to the elements after a rockfall.

Many of the larger and more elaborate caves were churches, carved out during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Some were decorated with simple religious symbols and figures, roughly painted in ochre. Others were true works of art with frescos dating from the 10th to 12th centuries.

It was hot, so we kept our exploring to the early morning unfortunately though we saw no more balloons, even though the atmospheric conditions seemed to be the same. The girls spent their free time making one of the nearby carved out caves their own. They made happy little troglodytes sweeping it out and decorating it with bunches of wild flowers.

Leaving the area we stopped at the underground city of Kaymakli. We purposely chose the most touristy one in the hope it would be well lit and not too claustrophobic, as our littlest troglodyte prefers her caves close to the surface. It wasn’t very busy and the girls loved it, climbing though all the tiny tunnels down to 4 stories deep imagining people’s life that took place there. The whole city was built as subterranean refuge there were 7 stories below in total and we got a sense of how deep it actually was by peering down the ventilation shaft to the bottom.

Years ago before we started this trip, I decided that apart from the Maths and English, we wouldn’t stick to the National Curriculum. Instead the girls would learn about the places we were; the things we saw; and what they were interested in. We’ve pretty much stuck to that but added in extra bits so that I made sure that they kept up with peers at home. The example I always gave to people was that why would they cover the Romans when they were scheduled to, when we were in Mexico and we could learn about the Aztecs instead. Which is why the girls had a fabulous time in Mexico skipping around the ruins and pretending to use a stingray barb for bloodletting as a part of an Aztec ritual. Now in Western Turkey, it was the chance of the Romans!


Archeologists have been hard at work uncovering the ancient secrets of Sagalassos, with a long history much of the ruins are of Roman origin. High up on a mountainside, we had a peaceful night beside the tiny road and for the first time since Tibet we were forced inside in the evening due to the cool temperature. We explored the sight in the morning, enjoying the rebuilt fountains; and imagining the Roman citizens watching the gladiators at the amphitheater; the racing at the Hippodrome; and getting a good scrub down at the baths. School was a breeze after lunch, for once, as they were hungry to know more.

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