Cappadocia: Chutes and Ladders
Sleet had been falling on and off all morning. In the village the men huddled around a tea shop next to a barren mountain in the gray, bleak Turkish countryside. Inside—that is, inside of the mountain—I was precariously wedged midway up a 30 foot vertical shaft that connected two levels of a vast, hidden underground city. I paused in the darkness and looked down into the abyss, a lone useless rope dangling between my legs and disappearing into the black space below. The space above me was illuminated by a flashlight held by a mustachioed man in a leather jacket, a Turkish Burt Reynolds. The chute was no more than 24 inches square, having little pockets dug into its walls to serve as toe and finger holds, carved into the solid rock by villagers seeking protection from invading Hittite tribes some 3,600 years ago. I tried to imagine how I might utilize the rope should I lose my grip on the walls, seeing as how both hands and feet were busy keeping myself wedged in the shaft, but every mental scenario ended with me lying in a crumpled heap, the dangling rope faintly tickling my lifeless body.