In Göreme national park, known to the rest of the world as the centre of Cappadocia, the beauty of 1,000 year-old caves and exotic (erotic?) natural rock formations is often accented with the echoing sound of quad bikes.
BRRRR BRRR BRRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMMMM
We saw them soon after entering the park. Three chubby dudes in chopper helmets blazed past our car, leaving a cloud of dust behind them. Mook and I looked at each other and thought, AWESOME, that is definitely the way to get around. Göreme’s famous landscape is widespread, full of large and long-fingered valleys that would take ages to walk through. But with an ATV? No problem, we could easily peel through sandy distances and get right into the corners where all the cool caves and rock formations are.
So we drove around for a while, then rocked up to a few places and enquired about hiring one. The first two offered scooter rental, but quad bikes were for tours only. “It’s 80 lira per hour. But guide is free!” chirped one girl. “But we want just the ATV–no guide.” Her face darkened. “Oh no…. no guide is problem.”
Problem for what? We had seen loads of carefree foreign couples careening around on these things, usually either all smiles or the girlfriend on the back with a look of terror on her face. There were no guides around.
We rocked up to a third place, and they seemed happy to rent just the bike for only 60 lira per hour. We went into their office, and under the watchful eyes of a young man, immortalised in a photo hanging behind the desk, Mook handed over his ID and signed a paper. We were given the same cool chopper helmets as we saw before, with stickers on the front advertising the rental shop next to a stylised photo of the same young dude (presumably someone’s deceased son, yay), and led down to see the bikes. One guy instructed Mook on the controls, and they nodded approvingly as he zoomed around the parking lot. We made to leave and another guy jumped on his scooter to come with us.
“But…!! We want to go by ourselves, no guide,” said Mook flatly.
The older man frowned and pointed at the guy on the scooter. “But it’s free! It’s good, you go everywhere. You go to Rose Valley, Red Valley, Zemi Valley, Love Valley… two hours, no problem.”
“But we just wanted to drive around by ourselves,” Mook said again.
The man pleaded. “I know but if there is problem.. the police come, they get angry, it costs money…”
Mook reiterated in his best German robot monotone, “But we just wanted to drive around by ourselves.”
The older man sighed. “Ok. But nothing special, no special moves! These bikes are new.”
We sped off and headed to the entry point for the valleys, then followed spray painted arrows directing us towards the Rose Valley. As we drove the path got narrower, and it didn’t take long before we ended up wedged in a crevice that was definitely not meant for ATVs. The bike thudded and I slid off the back, my bodyweight detaching the fender from the rest of the bike. Little black plastic pegs littered the ground. Whoops.
We found ATV tracks and drove around in that area for a while but couldn’t find an entrance down into the valley itself. Eventually we ended up back at the road and found a good-looking way in, guarded by a giant sign that said in Turkish and English, “NO AUTOMOBILES”. To illustrate, the sign had a cartoony illustration of a scooter, a normal illustration of a car, and a photo of a helmeted rider gaining air on his quad bike.
But we ignored the sign and went in, because we’ve been travelling for two months now and have learned that most people consider posted warning signs to be meaningless. When in Rome, right? We drove around the Rose and Red valleys and saw some awesome caves, churches in caves, and more caves.
It was obvious that the hikers didn’t like us as we cruised around, kicking dust into the air when we drove past them. BRRRRRR BRRRRRRRRRRMMMM!!! A group of Koreans were the only ones to greet us happily.
The locals liked us even less. We headed towards another valley entrance, where some souvenir hawkers had set up shop. As we got closer they stood up angrily and made an X sign, then signalled that we should turn around and fark off. Okay, we get it. We tried to figure out which direction we’d come from, but on our way out we passed a little cafe we hadn’t seen before. We paused to figure out where we were. The owner looked like he wanted to spit fire at us, but could only conjure up his best broken English.
“Get out! These can’t come in here!! Leave!! If you don’t leave you pay 280 lira fine. Police can see you!” He pointed to a tower of three security cameras posted at the junction across from his cave.
So we left. We tried to find somewhere else to go or some other entrance to the valleys where quad bikes are allowed, but in the end the only place it seems ATVs are allowed to go is roads open to cars and the tops of some of the valley ridges. Boring…. We realised retrospectively that we could have just cruised around with our car and saved 120 lira, but Mook enjoyed the off roading and our illegal entry saved us a couple hours of hiking.
Over-priced hot air balloon rides that cater to older people will probably remain the preferred form of tourist sightseeing for Cappadocia locals (quiet, unobtrusive, lucrative), but I think the demand for ATVs and scooters isn’t going away now that younger flashpackers have caught on to the fact that they’re the best way to get up close and personal with Cappadocia’s epic landscape.