3: Gourd artist Melih Cappadocia

Our stay with Melih was the longest. Just because it was so easy going and we were in one of the most beautiful area’s of Turkey: Kapadokya. We were Melih’s first workawayers and he was our first Usta (master in Turkish). The master of creating pumpkin lamps.


Melih is a 53 year old artist, who started to make pumpkin lamps 15 year ago in his home town Adana, since three years he lives in Goreme. The most touristy city of Kapadokya. He has a sweet little shop in the middle of the center. Just across the mosque to Melih’s inconvenience.

First days

We arrived in the evening at his shop. He welcomed us with his face out of his apartment window. Melih speaks little English, understands a lot if he wants but speaks the basics. Enough to communicate though. However after he asked us in which hostel/hotel we stayed, we got Anna his 35 year old girlfriend on the phone who speaks perfectly English. We had expected to sleep and eat in exchange for work at their place. Anna told us we could sleep in the cave room two floors up, but that it was a bit dirty. However for us poor travelers this was super luxury, only the dusty bed was not very tempting. The shower meant filling up jerry cans and let them be warmed up by the sun, very sustainable and also great.

The first three days we spend with Melih alone. Our work was basically getting tourists in the shop, while putting the colorful bits in the finished pumpkin lamps. Sitting outside, so that curious tourists would come and have a look what we were doing. However we decided to start the morning with the kitchen, because it was pretty dirty. The three days were super chill, we had some talks with Melih, we started to make our own design for a pumpkin lamp, cleaned up the place and also rest a bit, because the first days we were still struck by a big headache, probably from the sun. Melih made sure we felt at home, he kept emphasizing that what is his, is also ours. “Your home” was a common sentence coming from his mouth. And the second evening we even sold a lamp, a big one, to some a nice young American couple! We celebrated with wine and beer. In the evening as an artist it was obviously “wine time” .


Troubling business

Melih explained us that three years ago, business was booming. There was lots of tourists and he had troubles to keep up with the demand of lamps. The year after it already became worse, less tourists and this year is a disaster. People in western countries only hear about the bombings and cancel their flights and the political dispute with Russia makes it even worse, especially because the Russians make up 30% of all tourists. So Melih really suffers this year. This, while he wants to save money and emigrate to Greece. He does not want to stay in Turkey anymore. He watches the news three times a day which does not contribute to his happiness. He worries about the future of Turkey a lot and he as an atheist has a hard time now Turkey politics become more religious everyday. Erdogan is calling people that don’t pray animals on national television and Melih feels offended. A lot. He praises Ataturk and he drowns in nostalgia when thinking about the old national hero.

After three days Anna came, and we noticed that things were becoming a bit different. The home atmosphere changed a bit into a “work” atmosphere. The days before we saw with our own eyes what needed to be done, but now Anna felt the urge to take up a bossy role. Which did not feel really nice for Chris and me. We got some new tasks. For example the animal cave needed to be cleaned. They wanted to make a showroom out of it. So Sara began to work on the animal cave the coming days and Chris made a table out of a door. The animal cave was super dusty, dirty, dark and messy. So after four days of cleaning wine branches, hay plastic bags and, trash and goat shit Sara was fed up with it, coughing black dust out of her lungs. The table was almost ready, so we decided to also enjoy the beautiful environment and rent the car of Melih to go an underground city: Mezi.


To read more about our trips in this magical environment, see the bottom of the page.

Melih’s friends

However it was very nice to have a base in Goreme at Melih’s. We started to get to know the neighbourhood and likewise. Like Nihaad, our neighbour who ownes a souvernir shop and loves to drink two bottles of wine and two packs of sigarets a day. Sometimes we had to get the stack for him otherwise people would gossip, especially because it was Ramadan. During the day he invited us multiple time for cay and food. We met Emre, a young leather artist that owned a souvenirsshop or Hassan a 80 year old tourguide, the first of Kapadokya! Mustafa, a 41 year old employee of a restaurant that had the hots for Chris and created a very weird situation by inviting himself to Melih’s home for a massage. When he arrived we told him we were a bit busy. Freaky. And of course Ibrahim. Ibrahim, a 50 year old wine, raki, opium and marijuana lover that owned lots of beautiful land in Goreme and surroundings and who wanted to marry Sara.

However they all had there little strange entities, Ibrahim and all the others were super generous, inviting us for cay, beer, wine, barbecues, cherry, strawberry, apricot picking, and they were fun to communicate with. Ibrahim also had lots of carpets and mattresses which he was happy to give us and we could perfectly use for our showroom.


The three weeks we spend after our first we did all kinds of stuff making necklaces, dreamcatchers and of course we worked on our lamps. Chris finished his first already quickly, while Sara had troubles with the big drill that had drilled too big holes in her lamp. Every tuesday and friday there was a bazar where we got our fresh vegetables for nice dinners and breakfasts. Two mornings we got up at sunrise to see the famous balloon flights that rise every morning with tourists. We also started to make a website for Melih: http://www.melihsgourds.wordpress.com. so check it out if you want some pumpkin lamps.


Anna had to go back to Istanbul for a week which gave us the time to chance to move a bit more freely. We finished the animal cave finally, after cleaning the rest we made the ground even. Chris made a rock table, we threw in bags of sand, cleaned the dust of the walls and finally we could place the nice carpets. And oh My, it started to look like something nice. Carpets after carpet it began to look better and eventually it was great to stay more than 5 minutes in the room. Melih started to decorate the room with lamps with help of Chris and Sara cleaned the antique pots we found under the hay. And when Anna returned from Istanbul the couple had a new showroom for the special collection. We made the hallway nicer by covering it with the plastic foil of our old tent to protect Melih, us and newly wed workshoppers against the sun.


Kapadokya trips

There is too much to tell and visit about and in Kapadokya. We try to make some nice summarizes about the things we experienced because you can spend years in Kapadokya if you want to see all the historical heritage or just enjoy the psychedelic landscape.

We started to explore the area with hikes, a museum card for three days that allows free entrance for almost every underground city, open air museum, church and so on, and bike rides. The first days we met een Indian guy where we hikes the pigeon valley with, and we chilled out at Harun, Turkish hippie bar owner that wanted to live in the mountains. He could tell us about India and unfortunately we missed the time to get a nice yoga session from him.

We visited our first underground city Mazi, which was awesome. The underground cities were built by the Hittites, 8 centuries before Christ to hide during invasions. The Christians started to make use of them later and extend them: 7 floors deep. In Mazi we climbed the chimneys, we were the only ones in the underground. We could borrow a lamp and we started climbing: really cool experience and pretty amazing piece of architecture.


We also started to watch the German football matches which was pretty fun, except the half finale of course. The nice things of watching football matches in cafe’s is that you meet fellow travelers. The first match we met Katy and Virgile from Australia. We took the car of Melih next day and drove to the biggest underground city Kaymakli. A 75-year old tourguide Mustafa seduced us for a cheap tour, and he remembered all the lines of 50 years ago: ” Ladies & Gentlemen as you can see on the left..” It was great. Also great to spend time with the Ozzies.


With our museum card, we hopped for three days thousands of churches, open air ” museums and the beautiful Ihlara Valley. We rent the car of Melih and started our trip with the Goreme Open air museum.  The Goreme open air museum obtained also numerous of churches and was the baken of John Baptiste and two others that started a strong Christian community that said that even in the worst hunger and you find a bread, you share it with someone even poorer than you.


Next day drove 90 kilometers to Ihlara Valley and stopped on our way to the second largest underground city Derinkuyu. Although it was raining, it was pretty awesome because the rocks are immense! This valley has 105 cave churches and just lots of cave houses, you could spend more than a week there. But half a rainy day was also nice. Chris first did a nap in the green mosque hut and Sara walked in the rain and thunder. For five minutes.


We also visited legally Zelve Open air museum this time, three big valleys full of beautiful cave houses, monasteries and even a mosque. People were living there until 1952, until they got kicked up by the government because of danger of collapse. We mountain biked through Rose and White Valley which was freaking awesome, no pictures though because we for once did not take the camera. Then we ended up in Love Valley which meant all kind of rocks shaped penises. On our way we ended up by Mustafa, guard of two churches that was happy to give us the key to the one of top. We ended up in a massage session with him, clothes we kept on so no worries. It felt kinda weird though that he was insisting twice, three times to massage us, but ah well three cays and ten apricots later we left him and promised him maybe we could go to the hamam of his cousin with him. Choose eventually not to.


For the rest, Sara also got her birthday present in Kapadokya, The Turkish Hamam. Unfortunately, it was in a pretty touristy, but we got the car to the next place Urgup where we got a good price 15 euro for 1,5 hour of Turkish steambath, shower, sauna, pealing,full body wash, and massage. We lost all our tan, and the guys were shocked how much dirt was coming from our bodies. We felt so fresh and so clean clean afterwards. Only we lost all our tan, that was a bit of ashame.


The biker group

And then we met the biker group. What that means? Four bikers that drive around the world and one motorbiker. First we met Mark. When we were shopping the colorfol bits into the lamps in front of the shop he passed by with his bike. Mark is 49 year young German that quit his job in order after creating the idea 20 years ago, to finally make his world travels by bike. But not just by bike: by electric bike with a solar panel! After six knee operation after some motor crossing it would not be able to do it without. Our last days in Goreme we chilled with him, saw some German football matches and he bought Chris his first lamp! Mark had again met two other bikers: Julian and Koen, a Berliner and a Leidenaar (from Holland). One of our last nights we decided to make a nice diner with all our biking gear nearby white valley. In our last week we also met Paul, a German motorbiker that had traveled from Bangkok till Kapadokya and had crossed Pakistan. He could tell us lots of useful information and funny stories of course. And then a Portuguese/American cycler which cycled 150 kilometers a day at the age of 57. Without electric support. It made him talk about himself a lot.


So yeah Kapadokya was our biker meeting point. We continued our way with: Mark, Julian and Koen to the Black sea (Karadeniz) and maybe to Georgia. We left on a friday morning, supposed to meet at 10 but Mark, Chris and I arrived an hour later because of the bazar and because of our goodbye to Melih. It was nice to leave and to go for a new adventure, but also a bit sad. Because, look at the 1000 pictures: it’s just so magical. For more biker group adventures see Turkey.