University of Iowa

Camel Shaped Like a Rock

October 16th, 2014

Zachary Schmelzer is a junior majoring in psychology at the University of Iowa. He is currently studying abroad on the Bogazici Exchange Program in Istanbul, Turkey. Below is an except from his blog To Istanbul and Beyond.

The holiday is over, and I am back to my normal schedule. As I said in my last post, I went to Cappadocia for the long weekend. Although I was only there for three days, I saw and experienced so many great things.

The weekend started by getting on the bus in Istanbul at 9 p.m. There were about 50 of us and we were mainly exchange students who went to various universities in Istanbul. Our first stop was Salt Lake. This place is very unique because it is the second largest lake in Turkey, and much of the salt used in Turkey is taken from this lake. The place we went to on Salt Lake actually had no water, and we could walk out far from “shore.” It was quite cold, but it was very cool to walk on the ground which was basically solid salt. I even tasted some of the salt!


A view of Salt Lake, which is the second largest lake in Turkey and where much of the country's salt is taken from.

After we visited the Salt Lake we got back on the bus for a couple more hours until we got to Cappadocia. Right away we started exploring. We first visited a valley where we got some free time to hike around.

 Let me give you a quick rundown of the history in Cappadocia. There are many “caves” carved out in the rocks in the region. These caves were homes and churches to many people back when Christians were persecuted. During this time, the Ancient Romans still practiced polytheism, which is the belief in more than one god. Since the Romans still believed in this, they didn’t want anyone to practice Christianity, a religion with only one god. So these people hid in the Cappadocia region. They were able to hide their homes and churches in these rocks in order to stay safe.


The camel-shaped rock in Imagination Valley.

After we hiked for a bit, we went to Imagination Valley. Where some of the locals have said that some of the rocks look like certain things, such as a camel, a fish, and even Mother Teresa. Some of these I could see, but many of them I felt were a bit of a stretch. The camel, however, was very convincing.

After the camel shaped rocks, we went to an open air museum, where we saw many of the churches that were built inside the rocks. Many of the churches had frescos of famous Bible scenes. I wasn’t supposed to take pictures inside, but after looking at my photos I think I might have accidentally taken one… or two.

After the open air museum, we went back to the hotel and showered after a long day. (Also, I forgot to mention that it was pretty warm in Cappadocia. That isn’t too surprising though because it was desert like landscape. It reminded me a lot of Arizona, if any of you have been to Southeast United States.) Once everyone was clean, some of us went and had some drinks and danced a bit.

The next morning we began with a 6km hike through a valley in Cappadocia. At the end of the hike we climbed through this old city carved into the side of a cliff. I found my very own place to call home here. A spacious two bedroom, one bathroom flat on the ground floor, private patio out back!

At sunset it was time for my favorite moment of the whole weekend. The infamous hot air ballooning over Cappadocia! At one point we were 1,000 meters in the air. I can’t fully put the experience into words, but I would absolutely recommend this adventure to anyone. Simply breathtaking.

After we floated back down to reality, we went for dinner and then to Turkish night. It was very fun and interesting to see the many different dances and costumes. One of the guys from our group got called up with the belly dancer and he had everyone in the room laughing hysterically.


Zachary at the infamous hot air ballooning event in Cappadocia.

The last day of the trip we did a little more hiking in a canyon and went to the largest underground city in Turkey. It was very interesting because this was also a place for the Christians to escape persecution. In one of the tunnels I got a little bit claustrophobic, but I clearly lived to see another day.

The bus ride home was pretty painful since we drove through the night. After all was said and done I got back to my apartment around 5:30 a.m Tuesday morning. It was all worth it though. I met so many amazing people and saw and experienced things that I never thought I would. I hope to have many more experiences like the one I had this past weekend.

Anyway, eat some more cheese, unless it makes you uncomfortable.