Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wombling

It was a full day today, spent both under- and overground. Not as far overground as we'd hoped, alas: the classic thing to do here is a hot air balloon ride, and though we saw scores of them going up for the evening session last night when we arrived at the hotel, this morning when we'd hoped to be up there ourselves, it was all cancelled because of winds - which, as it turned out, we couldn't either feel or see in the clouds. But there was plenty to distract us from the disappointment.

Mainly, the reason for the balloons: the amazing rock formations here, coloured sculpted tufa surmounted by basalt caps making one of the most remarkable landscapes I've ever seen. It's not just the 'fairy chimneys', it's the assiduous burrowing into the soft rock that's gone on for 1000 years plus, resulting in a fantasy scenario out of some animated movie, with pointy monoliths drilled through with holes. Inside, it's apparently a constant 16 degrees (bit chilly by Coober Pedy standards, where it's always around 22 degrees), dry and comfortable, and an extension is only a bit of scraping away.
We went to the outdoor museum of Goreme, where besides houses there are lots of churches and chapels with varied degrees of decoration, some quite elaborate, but all of them quite intimate, size-wise. We visited a cheerful, hospitable lady called Fatma, squeezing into her living room hung with carpets on the walls as well as, most unexpectedly, a signed photo of Helen Clark in election doctored-teeth mode (she was a visitor here too). She talked about living underground, and how she had had to educate herself because there was no school for girls in her day (though she's proud her grand-daughter is at university), but seemed perfectly content and certainly happy to welcome more of the Insight Vacations visitors who no doubt have enabled her to install her Nilfisk fridge and a flat-screen TV in her burrow.
Then came a carpet factory, natch - it's Turkey, after all, it's compulsory. The guy at Golden Yarn Carpets runs a slick operation, serving us aniseed-flavoured raqi (or beer, wine, soft drinks or tea) as his people flapped and laid out with great flourish rug after rug in the big showroom. There must have been around 60 by the time he was finished: various permutations of wool and silk, the finest an incredible 400 knots per square centimetre. We watched the women knotting them, but they are so fast and dextrous it's impossible to follow their fingers unless they deliberately do a slow-mo. Beautiful rugs, but expensive, though, again, some people bought them.
After another underground city visit, we morosely watched the balloons go up without us (no spare places in the huge baskets, alas) back at the hotel, and then went to an evening of traditional (and less so) dancing in an underground theatre that started out pretty perfunctory and soulless but soon became energetic and impressive and hugely entertaining, even if the belly dancing was actually kind of creepy to watch.

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