Student Stories

Houses of Earth and Wind

Joel Putnam, AB’08, spent his childhood hoping for adventure. “I would dream that someday some magical portal or phantom tollbooth or something would sweep me out of this world and into some other one for the adventure of a lifetime,” Putnam said in an e-mail. “But I remember looking up at a world map in my room at one point and thinking, ‘If that doesn't happen, I'll go out into this world and find that adventure on my own.’”

And that’s exactly what he did. In September 2008, Putnam hit the road with three shirts, two pairs of pants, and one goal: to reach all seven continents.

Putnam is documenting his travels in a blog, JTrek. This entry was written during a visit to Ürgüp, Turkey, where he stayed in one of the town’s famed cave hotels.

You can read more about Joel’s travels here. 

-Susie Allen, AB’09

I have spent the last couple of days living in a cave. I recommend it highly.

People here in Cappadocia have been living in caves for thousands of years now. The caves are man-made, and they've been carved into the super-soft rock, known as tuf. The rocks come up in peaks, and if you look closely, a lot of them have little holes in them for windows. Some of them are little one-room caves, but not all. Many Christians in Roman times holed up (sorry) inside these caves and even made churches out of them. There are elaborate altars with 1000-year-old frescos of Jesus, Mary, the Prophets, and other biblical characters. Unfortunately, a lot of them have been defaced. I mean that literally—their faces are gone. It's a combination of Christians (among others) taking a piece for good luck and Muslims and also early Christians removing the face intentionally—the eyes first, because early Christians felt that Jesus was watching them, and then the rest because images of all kinds, but especially of holy people, are forbidden by Islamic tradition.

After catching a bus from my cave hotel in Ürgüp and hiking through the Rose Valley filled with abandoned cave houses and churches, I came to the abandoned village of Çavuçin. It's not just a set of caves, it’s a vertical labyrinth.

It's been a long time since I've had so much fun exploring a place. I was traversing ledges, finding tunnels and hidden stairways, following the wind through the cracks to find little nooks with fantastic views over the valley. I couldn't decide whether I felt more like I was in an Indiana Jones movie or just an adult-sized McD PlayPlace made out of stone.

But that place was a little vertical tube compared to the underground cities. There are hundreds of known underground cities, and one of the biggest open to the public is in Kaymakli. If you've ever wondered what the inside of an anthill looks like to an ant, I think this might come pretty close. It's an eight-story network of underground tunnels, pits, and caverns. This is the kind of thing you think must exist only in fairy tales. Let me tell you, the real world is full of them. Not as full as you might like, and not usually in the places you think they would be, but they're there.

My only complaint? The days are too short to enjoy the place. Though of course that doesn't stop enjoying things like Turkish food, or even more so, the company of the Turkish people themselves.

I feel like the vast majority of places I go, people are friendly to travelers, but in Turkey, especially here in Cappadocia, the people take it a step further. I've lost track of the number of times people have come over, just to ask me where I'm from, and try to talk with a mix of my phrasebook Turkish and their high-school English. They're almost always smiling, happy to see me, and often aren't satisfied until they've given me some hot tea in one of their trademark tulip-shaped glasses. When I leave, they want to know when I'm coming back.

I think my Turkish vocab runs about to "Hello", "Do you speak English", "I don't speak Turkish", "Please," "Thanks," "What's that," "Toilet" and "Where's the bus stop." It doesn't matter if those are the only words we have in common, I still get a seat, a tea, a lot of smiles, and any kind of help I can figure out how to ask for. I remember the word for yes, but I keep forgetting the word for no. I wonder if that has anything to do with why people seem to like me so much here.

Before coming to Turkey, I figured out that I had a dozen or so friends who just happened to be connected to Turkey or really like Turkey, and I was a little surprised at the coincidence. Now I know it isn't a coincidence at all.