I’m staying in a little hotel in Goreme, Turkey, at the center of the Cappadocia region, enjoying a little lunch in the café, when an old gentleman in the corner asks, “Do you play backgammon?”
“Well, I know how the game works.”
How could I say no? This is exactly why you travel abroad – to make connections with the locals and perhaps learn a new skill.”
“Would you care to make a small wager?”
Uh oh. I can smell a fleecing coming on.
“How about 1 Turkish lire?”, I suggest. (That would be 37 cents.)
“Sure, to start. And then we shall see.”
Needless to say, I lose a lot of money over the next week, but what a pleasure it is, playing backgammon with my new friend, Kamal, eating doner kebabs, and exploring the amazing “fairy chimneys” of this very unusual region.
When I say “fairy chimneys,” I’m referring to the fascinating rock structures that dot the valley. Apparently, millions of years ago, ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed the region in thick ash, which later solidified into a soft rock called ‘tuff.’ Thanks to water and wind erosion, the harder elements were left behind, forming the “fairy chimneys,” some of which stretch over 100 feet into the sky.
As I come to learn rapidly, a week isn’t enough time to explore Cappadocia. Hot air ballooning (the biggest tourist attraction)? I never get to it (nor can I afford it after my backgammon whipping at Kamal’s hands). But I do manage to explore some of the very-cool cave villages and underground cities in the area, carved out of the soft rock. One particular highlight is Goreme’s fascinating Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its 17th Century Byzantine, rock-cut churches, chapels and monasteries. Not sure you can do it now, but when I’m there, people are free to roam around the site without much monitoring, scrambling up stone chimneys from floor to floor, like a hyperactive Flintstone character.
Goreme is a singular place, worthy of much exploring. But what I remember most is my many long afternoons, beating the heat in my hotel café, losing SO many hard-fought games to Kamal. Did I win any of them? If I did, it wasn’t many. But I consider myself a winner all the same.
When is the last time losing was winning for you?