Cyprus

I thought Turkey was going to be sadly behind me but I came to the realisation a few days before my departure that, my next destination, Cyprus, was indeed partially owned by Turkey. I guess this kind of explained the cheap flight ticket that I had snapped up, as I swiftly discovered on the internet that I would be landing in the Turkish controlled zone of the island. After some frantic googling I discovered it would be quite simple to cross the border and that the arrangements that I had made in the Greek part of the island would not be scuppered. Unfortunately I also discovered that the car I planned to hire would only be able to drive within the Greek zone I hired it in.

My flight to Turkish Cyprus landed at Ercan airport and after waiting for an hour at the airport I was allowed to board a shuttle bus to the capital of Nicosia. Nicosia, similar to the Berlin of the Cold War, is split into two sections with the Turkish controlling the North. The bus deposited us in an inconspicuous parking lot and I was left to figure out my own way across the border. But first I would have to find it. Using the sun as my guide  I took the logical step to walk in a southerly direction. The only problem being it was around midday so south could theoretically be in any direction and the only direction I was sure of was that the sun was directly above me! Instead I jumped into a nice and cool travel agents and asked a very kind and fluent English woman for directions. Twenty hot minutes later I was at the border. The border, or the ‘green line’ as it is also known is a narrow strip of land passing across the island and through Nicosia. At the crossing point it is a bit of a tourist attraction and on both sides there are plenty of mazey streets and roads with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. Walking up to the border I had to queue on the Turkish side and have my passport stamped before I could walk through the eery ‘green line’ with it’s abandoned and locked up houses and shop fronts. On the Greek side I was simply waved through. In Greek Nicosia I searched for the bus station and a haggard old woman with a tonne of slap on her face and a cigarette half-burned down and limply hanging from her stained fingers reluctantly pointed me to the correct stand, upon which I discovered another lengthy wait for a scheduled bus. Lunch seemed to be a good idea and I found a great little cafe in the Nicosian backstreets and ate some delicious stuffed vegetables to pass the time. Eventually I boarded the bus and headed to Larnaca.

In Larnaca I had organised to stay with a Polish girl called Marta but she was currently in Poland and was not flying back until late in the evening. In the meantime I had decided to hire a car whilst staying in Cyprus and headed off to a local firm that Marta had recommended. Arriving at the car hire shop I discovered it to be closed. There was however a poster in the window with a phone number. Which is great if you have a phone. Fortunately, as I procrastinated on the kerb, two local guys turned up and rang the number and fifteen minutes later the owner arrived. After some back and forth negotiating I managed to book a car for three days. With backpack in the boot of the car I got behind the wheel (legally) for the first time in three years. Like riding a bike it turns out driving a car becomes second nature and I took off on an afternoon/early evening adventure while I waited for Marta’s plane to land.

Tiny hilltop fort

From Larnaca I headed down the coastal road. I stopped off randomly at a small island fort and took some pictures of the recently combined fields before reaching the Governor’s Beach. The beach is famous on Cyprus for its white rocks that contrast with the black sands of the beach. I relaxed on a sun lounger with few people in attendance around me and did a little reading. A young Cypriot man challenged me to a game of beach tennis and we played until the sun went down. As he went off swimming in the dusk I jumped in the car before stopping off near another beach, that I had seen when driving before, to go for a moonlight run. I cooled off in the sea and headed to the airport to pick up Marta. Marta was there on time but was unfortunately very sick with the flu and would remain that way throughout my stay in Cyprus. This meant that it wasn’t going to be quite the couchsurfing experience I would hope for, in that she would be able to show me around and do stuff together. On the plus side it did turn out she had an amazing apartment and even had a spare room and real double bed just for me.

The Governor's beach at sundown

Combined field dominate the lower land

The next day I took my hire car in an easterly direction, taking the back roads to a resort town called Protaras. This journey was not without its drama. After driving through one of the numerous British Forces bases (They keep the peace between the Greeks and the Turks) on the island I managed to drive up to a border patrol. Which would have been fine if I had brought any identification documents with me. Rapidly realising my error I did a U-Turn in the middle of the checkpoint before I was shot by the Turkish guards. A soldier on the Greek side cheekily shouted “Changed your mind?” through my passenger window as I sheepishly nodded and drove off to find where I had taken a wrong turn… Eventually I arrived in Protaras and although it was a nice resort, clean water, nice beach and plenty to do it wasn’t exactly the seclusion and adventure I had hoped for. After a quick lunch I got back in the car and headed to Cape Greco.

The view from Cape Greco

Cape Greco was much more what I was looking for and represented what I would eventually enjoy the most in Cyprus, its rugged and rocky landscapes. I parked my car in a dusty car park off a trail and took the short hike up the rocky headland. A Cypriot wedding party were having their small reception at the top, but apart from that the area was virtually deserted apart from me and the hundreds of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks. I hiked around the headland and moved my car further down the cape to an area with lots of coves where the water was calm and crystal clear. I spent the next few hours diving off the rocks and swimming in the warm Mediterranean waters. My peace and tranquility only being disturbed by the odd yacht or now and again a booze cruise heading in from nearby Ayia Napa. I drove back late and went out for dinner at a local restaurant in Larnaca. I had a delicious lamb dish at a place called Taratsa. If you ever make it to Cyprus I thoroughly recommend it. The roof terrace over looks the old church square and they serve traditional and delightful local dishes.

Cliff diving and swimming spots around Cape Greco

Lizards...everywhere

The next day my travels would take me inland and away from the beaches and rocky coastline and take me to the Troodos mountain range that dominates the centre of Greek Cyprus. My main plan was to climb the almost 2,000m high Mt Olympus. My journey began on the highway to Limassol  before taking a series of B roads that gradually became steeper and more winding the further I penetrated the mountain range. I hoped to visit one of the Byzantine monasteries that the area is so famous for but I was limited to poking around the outside of the one I chose to visit as it turns out they are less than welcoming to visitors. Instead I continued with my main mission and upon discovering a hub for many of the numerous mountain paths, I parked up my car and took off an a breathtaking four hour hike around the mountain. On my journey I encountered the now ever present population of lizards and also encountered my first snake of the summer. Despite it being rather menacing and very black it didn’t cause any concern unlike the ones that I would encounter over the next few months…

The landscape was a mixture of the barren ophiolite rocks that have been uncovered from millions of years of erosion (ophiolite is the petrified pillow lava rock from the magma chamber beneath the upper crust of the earth) and low density forest. From the upper faces of the mountain you can see out to the coastline and there were even a few waterfalls and disused mines that were scattered around. My quest to reach the actual summit was scuppered by the existence of a military observation post at the very top but I did discover that you could ski and snowboard on the mountain in the winter months, which was a little difficult to imagine when it was 35 degrees Celsius and blue skies when I was there. I headed home tired but satisfied with my trip and enjoyed another meal at Taratsa despite feeling a little lonesome.

Slopes of Mt Olympus

The view across Southern Cyprus

Peaking into the mountain monastery

Disused mine

On my final day I took the opportunity to have a nice long lie-in, fearing that I would not have a bed this comfortable for a few more weeks. My flight was in the evening so I used my day to visit Faros, a quiet pebble beach maybe 15km away from Larnaca, as well as visiting a mosque that sat on the edges of a large salt lake on the outskirts of Larnaca. The mosque was not as impressive as those that I saw in Istanbul, far from it, but it did have a unique rural charm and it’s setting against the whiteness of the salt lake was dramatic. Later in the day I returned my car and took a little time in Larnaca to photograph the sea fort, church and some of the more charismatic buildings in the old quarter of the town. I bought Marta a small gift to thank her for letting me stay and we ended up splitting a cab to the airport as she had been called away on business.

Tired old buildings in downtown Larnaca

The old church in Larnaca

The old fort in Larnaca

Quiet pebble beach

Salt flat mosque

Inside the peaceful mosque

I wasn’t really sure what to expect in Cyprus. Despite being split between Turkey and Greece it is predominantly influenced by British culture, especially in the Greek half of the island. I managed to stay away from the heavy tourism resorts and tried to get a feeling of island life for the true Cypriots. Cyprus has a unique charm. On first impressions it is dry and rocky, almost desert like, but it does have character in it’s people and the few landmarks that I managed to visit. The beaches are not amazing in terms of having soft white sand, but they kind of match the feel of Cyprus with their black sands, pebbles and inconvenient and difficult to access coves. If you embrace the challenge of trying to find unique and secluded places it is possible to feel a sense of adventure in Cyprus beyond the holiday homes and tourist resorts and I’ll certainly never forget swimming and diving in the secluded clear Mediterranean water coves.

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