As we sipped drinks together in the local tea garden he asked me all sorts of things about my life in Cappadocia but the one question that really stuck in my mind was a blunt one: “Don’t you get scared?”
This brought me up with a start because, no, I never get scared and for a moment I couldn’t even imagine why he might think I would be. But then I thought about it more carefully in the privacy of my hotel room, and the more I did so, the more it occurred to me that it was actually a very natural question, and that what was perhaps rather more odd was that I wasn’t scared.
Think about it. I live in a complex of caves, and caves are usually thought of as dank, dark holes in the ground in which prehistoric people took refuge because they didn’t have any alternative. Certainly, people associate some show-caves with dramatic stalactites and stalagmites. Some also come with hidden lakes -- I particularly remember an Iranian one around which I was rowed with a group of tourists for whose enlightenment quotations from the Quran had been nailed to the ceiling. But when I lived in Bristol in the UK one of the nearest tourist attractions was Wookey Hole in Somerset, a cave that was said to be home to a very scary witch.
Then there’s the wildlife that tends to lurk inside caves. Many years ago, I visited the wonderful Niah Cave in Borneo into which large clouds of bats fly every morning, just as equally large clouds of swifts fly out. In the evening the roles switch over as the bats set out to forage in the dark and the swifts return to nests made from their saliva that line the roof of the cave. Meanwhile men scramble up terrifying-looking scaffolding to knock down as many nests as they can to sell to the Chinese merchants who wait with their scales, keen to snap up the basic ingredient for bird’s nest soup.
Spiders, scorpions, snakes. All these undesirable creepy-crawlies also tend to hang about in caves, and who in their right mind wouldn’t be afraid of them? But of course the Göreme caves are not like this at all. Some of them are certainly natural but most are man-made hollows that have been lived in for eons now. Yes, we get the odd scorpion, but for the most part the animals in our caves are the ones we’ve chosen to stable there.
I tell you what is scary though and that is having to navigate derelict cave properties such as the one right next door to my home. “How many rooms does it have?” people ask when I admit that I own it, and the truthful answer is that I don’t really know because I’m far too scared to scramble down the fallen staircase that leads under it. Nor do I fancy my chances on the worn stairs running up the side of the fairy chimney to access the topmost room that presumably has the best view of all.
Scary? Well, yes those staircases certainly are unless you approach them equipped with crampons and climbing boots.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.