The ballooning premium
This is a wonderful time of year in Cappadocia. The tourism season has come to an end, freeing friends from their full-on hotel and restaurant businesses to sit about and chat in what has been a pleasantly mild late autumn, with the yellow leaves of the dying vines gilding the landscape and wisps of mist wafting fairy chimneys in and out of view.
But it's at times like these that the changes that have swept across the area make themselves felt most forcefully. Those with long memories will remember the end of the 1990s when the Turkish lira was in a such parlous condition that it was denominated in millions. "We're all millionaires now," friends would laugh, although there was a certain edge to that laughter given that, at that time, most people here were poor by any global measurement of wealth.

Now, though, I listen to my hotelier friends bandying about the millions, and this time they're talking in terms of the new, strong Turkish lira. They're talking real wealth, in other words, a wealth that has rippled through the village in the space of a mere 10 years, poured in by a tourism that now aims unabashedly at the more monied part of the market.

The boutique hotels are part of the story, of course, but at heart this is really a tale of how hot-air ballooning took Göreme from its poor troglodytic origins and turned it into one of the country's biggest money-spinners. One only has to look at the price of a flight, multiply it by the number of passengers who can fit into a basket, then multiply by the average number of balloons in the sky on any given day to get some idea of the stupendous sums now generated by a business that, back in the 1990s, took some years to get off the ground.

"Would you like a tour of Cappadocia?" a hopeful Sultanahmet travel agent asked me recently.

"Well no, I live there," I answered.

He looked at me suspiciously. "Do you have a house there?" he asked.


"Then you're rich!" he tossed back at me, which threw me for a moment until I realized that he was referring to soaring local land values. A house that had cost mere pocket money in 1999 would now fetch very considerably more than I paid for it. It had, in other words, metamorphosed from being just my home to being a very desirable piece of real estate. At the same time, dinner-table conversations had started to hopscotch off the details of home decoration and on to house prices in the same depressing way that I remembered having happened in Bristol, UK, when I lived there in the past.

My friends are only joking when they urge me to sell up and move on, but there's an edge to that jesting that makes it semi-serious. I'm happy for them, of course, especially since almost all of them have grown rich on the back of the sort of hard work, enterprise and risk-taking that looks to be the only way to dig the world economy out of recession. Still, it's odd sometimes to find myself the only person around the table who isn't measuring their worth in millions.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.

PAT YALE (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-22 12:00:01
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