Sunrise at Love Valley and hiking with stray dogs in Cappadocia | Turkey

We arrived in the little village of Göreme at 4am where a group of four gigantic dogs greeted us off the bus. The sky was pitch black and the air freezing cold but lamp posts led us to our hotel. Of course the dogs followed us right to the door and one even took a seat on a lounger outside. Our room wasn’t available until midday so we scrolled on our iphones, tried to nap in a chair and then at 5:45am we said sod it and we headed out on a hike. Cappadocia is famous for the hundreds of hot air balloons that fill the sky at sunrise so we wanted to put ourselves in a good location to photograph them. As soon as we took a few steps outside we headed straight back in – it was unbelievably cold. We put more layers on and tried again. The temperature was -1° and it was quite a shock after our balmy days on the coast.

Once we left the village we joined a dusty track and turned our head torches on. I always find it strange arriving in a place at dark with no idea about the landscape that surrounds us. I was quite comfortable but Craig was cold straight away so I gave him my scarf which he wrapped around his head like a hijab. We both wore socks with sandals, a look we could get away with on a dark night and Craig tucked his trousers into the socks to complete the look.

We decided to head for Love Valley as it seemed like the balloons would get close to us there. As we meandered our way through the valley the temperature plummeted. It must’ve been around -5° and we were ill prepared for it. Luckily two dogs appeared and they were as delighted to see us as we were to see them. Cuddling them sounded like a great idea to warm up, had it not been for them itching frantically from fleas. The sky was beginning to lighten and our surroundings were now visible. It was quite a surreal place as we were suddenly standing amongst dozens of giant penis shaped rocks. That’s basically how the valley got it’s name, and it was certainly appropriate.

We didn’t know the best place to be when the balloons started rising, in fact we didn’t know if the balloons would even take off – it’s all weather dependent so trips can be cancelled if it’s windy. We took some narrow trails and our wool socks became covered in tiny spiky plants that stuck to us like Velcro. The clouds began to turn pink yet there were still no balloons, it seemed strange as some of the flights are supposed to start before the sun even rises. But then we heard a strange noise… I’ve heard it once before, right outside our campevan in America when someone was inflating their hot air balloon at the crack of dawn and I’d originally thought it was Craig breathing heavily. It was promising news but we couldn’t see any from down in the valley so we made a brash decision to run back up the ridge-line to try and see them.

We had a view across the village of Goreme where buildings were nestled beside bizarre rock pinnacles and above them were dozens of hot airballoons. Dozens eventually turned into a hundred or so and we were running around like hooligans trying to get the best view. The balloons would come so close to us, drifting above our heads and then there would be a loud roar as the 20ft flames shot through the balloon and rose it up.

The ridge was quite wide so we were running between each side, one way had them departing in Goreme while the other side had them dipping into Love Valley. It was so much fun watching and photographing them and the really nice thing was we had the whole place to ourselves. We could see on the opposite ridge of Love Valley were hundreds of people who had either driven, paid for a tour or got a taxi.

The sun slowly thawed our bodies and after about an hour of excitement the balloons began to land. They seemed to skilfully do so by actually landing the entire basket onto the back of a pickup truck. As the air was deflated from the balloons their shape totally changed and I couldn’t help but remark that they looked like testicles which made us laugh a lot.

We headed back to town and desperately needed something to eat so we joined some other guests on the top floor of our hotel where there was a nice roof terrace. They’d put out a very impressive spread of food on the breakfast buffet so we spent an hour nibbling away and sipping endless cups of coffee. They had savoury and sweet pastries, fresh bread buns, yoghurt and honey, boiled eggs, salad and a variety of cheeses so I could basically eat Greek salad for breakfast, yum, meat for Craig and chips too. Obviously not a good breakfast when compared to back home but for Turkey it was amazing, especially as breakfast was included in the rate of our spotless double room with en-suite just $16 per night for the two of us. People tend to stay in rather fancy cave hotels and ones with ‘instagramable’ roof terraces where they pay $100 a night, but we were so happy with our choice.

We finally checked in, washed the farty night bus air off us and figured we should take a nap, but somehow we weren’t that tired anymore. So we ended up heading out for another hike, this time to the Rose Valley. I actually had a plan for a loop hike to end in a scenic spot for sunset but our progress was very slow as we were having too much fun exploring. Trails spread off everywhere as we walked amongst the pinnacles and caves which the area is famous for. Doorways and windows were carved into many of them and Craig was thoroughly enjoying climbing the interiors which had many unexpected rooms. We entered a fascinating castle where worn steps carved into the stone led us up to a second floor, and then some very tricky to use foot and handholds led through a hole in the ceiling to a third floor!! We couldn’t believe there were actually rooms and they were properly lived in after our visit to Petra where all the effort was on the exterior and inside was just one empty stone room. Some of the caves still had paintings on the walls and pillars carved into the original rock interior, it was very impressive.

We made our way into the Rose Valley where there were many rock churches from the 10th century. One of which was extremely creepy inside when we headed up a few stories with just the weak light from my phone. We realised we were running out of time, the winter sun was almost setting so we ended up returning the same way, deciding we needed a full day to explore these valleys.

The following morning I (reluctantly) woke up at sunrise again to see if the balloons were taking off. It seemed like it was too windy but the sunrise was beautiful from our roof terrace at least. Today we wanted to head the opposite direction and hike up Pigeon Valley. It’s quite amazing how Goreme is full of tourists, yet as soon as we go hiking we barely see a soul. Everyone seems to just go hot air-ballooning, watch the balloons from their fancy hotel terrace or they go to the expensive open air museums (imagine hundreds of tourists squeezing into ancient cave churches at the same time). Pigeon valley however didn’t impress us much, it was quite bushy and narrow so we couldn’t appreciate the unusual rock features until we reached the end as the valley met up with the village of Uçhisar. Here there were beautiful pastel pink rocks around the top of the valley, and they also housed the only pigeons we saw!

We headed up to Uçhisar which is famous for its castle that protrudes above the town. This village was aimed for the swanky elite, although in winter it was more ghostly than appealing. We paid $1.50 to enter the castle and it was such a waste of money. Some steps led us through empty cave rooms and then we were standing on the top where we were supposed to get outstanding views of the surrounding area. It was such a vast view that we didn’t like it at all, it didn’t help that the weather was cloudy but it was pretty crap in our books.

As we exited we spotted two lovely dogs that looked like the ones who’d greeted us off the bus when we first arrived in town. Almost all of the stray dogs in Cappadocia are Anatolian Shepherd’s, native to this region of Turkey. They’re huge dogs with massive heads, cream fur and black featured on their face. Actually stray dogs in Turkey seem very well looked after by locals, most of them have been spayed or neutered with a clip on their ear to say they’ve been treated. So we headed straight for these two beastly dogs who rolled over for belly rubs. A man actually filmed us on his iPhone from his shop and thanked us for giving the dogs attention, he said “everyone else ignores them because they are scared of big dogs, but not you two”. Much to my excitement the dogs followed us when we headed off.

We walked down a trail through a place I hadn’t heard of called the Valley of Castles. It was a fascinating place filled with carved rocks and caves, I guess many of them had been castles in the past. The scenery was like a film set, with cartoon houses shaped like gnome hats and wonky windows carved all the way up the rock face. We climbed into some buildings and sat on the stone window ledges, looking across the bizarre landscape. Of course the dogs were with us the whole time, sat right beside us while we sipped tea.

We quickly learnt the characters of the two dogs, who we named Daisy and Rosie. Daisy was a little lazy, she’d lay down as soon as we stopped, sometimes making strange beds in prickly bushes or digging into sand for a cool spot. Rosie was always beside us, not wanting to be left behind and Daisy would wait until we were out of sight before she’d run after us again. It was funny after we took some photos with the dogs we headed off, Daisy obviously stayed for a while and we looked back and saw two tourists approach her (with an intimidating hand above her head) and she let out a little growl and ran towards us.

We had to walk along a section of road to reach our next destination, the White Valley, which I didn’t like doing with the dogs. We considered shooing them away back to the village but they seemed so happy adventuring with us and they didn’t even want any of our food. As we reached the turnoff for the White Valley a new dog greeted us and our dogs gave her permission to tag along.

I loved how the scenery changed in each valley, now we were walking above this white moonscape. Eventually our trail led down into the valley and the dogs had fun chasing cats up trees. We didn’t have much water on us so we really wanted to find some for the dogs, they were a smart bunch though, they knew where to look but all of the sources were dry. As testament to how cold the area gets in winter, particularly at night, our path turned into a thick slab of ice. The dogs clearly knew that it meant water so they all scratched it like mad with their claws and jumped down with their front paws like a fox hunting in the snow, but it wasn’t breaking. Thankfully around the corner there were big puddles of water and they lapped it up joyfully.

My map suggested our trail went up an insanely steep track, almost like a natural gutter down a cliff. You could probably precariously slide down your bum on it but going up without any grip was impossible so we had to find a new way. We managed to get out and made our way back to town, looking rather hilarious to the locals with our three huge dogs in tow.

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