Cyprus

3 May 05 - Larnaca


Larnaca - 3 Map 2005

Eric writes...

Determined to make the most of the long weekend known creatively in the UK as "Late May Bank Holiday", I decided to take an extra day off work and head to Cyprus. Apparently, I wasn't the only one. Brits outnumber Cypriots in Cyprus by about 20-to-1. (This weekend, anyway.)

Weather.com was forecasting sunny warm weather for the whole time. (The BBC website called for rain all day Saturday, but as everyone knows, the BBC has a strict policy of making all foreign locations seem as inhospitable as possible, in an effort to keep Britons satisfied with the home climate.)

Already tired from a late night out with my friend Marco Betancourt the evening before (Go Liverpool!), I caught a 10pm flight out of Heathrow. As usual when I'm tired on an overnight flight, I was surrounded by shrieking, squirming, kicking children the whole time, so I was very tired when we landed at 4:45am the next morning.

Upon arrival in Larnaca, I ate breakfast and caught a bus to Lemessos, in south central Cyprus. After seeing the castle there (made famous when Richard the Lion-Hearted became the first English tourist in Cyprus), I went to find adventure in Paphos, on the island's extreme western tip.

In Paphos, I had dinner and went looking for a place to sleep. I set off for the local Hostel (at four Cypriot Pounds (~$9 or GB5), well within my C10 nightly budget), set in a residential section of town far away from everything. I got lost several times. As the evening got darker, the neighborhood got dodgier. I kept looking, though, and finally found the sign marking the spot where the hostel USED to be, having subsequently been demolished to make way for a vacant lot. Shame.


Under Construction?

So, I headed to a better part of town. Everything was quite expensive, C40-50. Out of my price range. So I headed for the beach.

Despite my backpacking credentials, I've always felt like a bit of a fraud because I never "slept rough" (or "was homeless" as it's known in the States). While many central European backpackers brag about the number of bus stations and parking lots they've crashed in, I always opted for a roof (or at least a tent) over my head. Even my friend David Stead's praise of park benches never quite convinced me. "Tonight's the night", I resolved, because the conditions were perfect...
> It was relatively warm (~60 F / 15 C)
> It wasn't raining
> I was exhausted

So, I went down to the "municipal beach", walked away from the city lights (and incessant Friday night disco beat of the tavernas). After a while, I stumbled along a rocky path near a barbed-wire fence. A local had told me earlier about all the archeological sites nearby. Bitter about the land usage, she noted "we never voted to have them, so we cut holes in those UNESCO fences". For a moment, I was tempted to find one of those holes to slip in, but how much lower could you sink than stealing into mankind's cultural patrimony?


My Beach Paradise

I kept walking, trying to find a place that wasn't too windy, didn't smell too strongly of kelp and didn't have too many rocks. After badly stubbing my toe (wearing sandals on a rocky beach in the dark = bad idea), I eventually found a rock to break the cool Mediterranean breeze, and settled down.

Looking up at the starry sky, I dozed off. I slept for about an hour, until I woke up cold. I fished two more T-shirts out of my trusty backpack (all I had) and settled down again. Because my eyes were now adjusted, I could see every cloud passing by. More and more came by, and they came lower and lower. (Surely, the BBC wasn't right, was it?)

I snoozed a bit longer, but got colder and started shivering. It was getting steadily cooler and the wind had picked up. It was around midnight, and I realized I had another five hours of dropping temperatures. It became apparent it would be too cold and windy to get a decent sleep. I gave up and headed back to town, found a little dive and fell asleep after repairing my now bloody toe.

The next day was interesting, but relatively un-adventurous. I saw the magnificent "Tombs of the Kings". They were Tombs alright, but no Kings were buried there. It was a cemetery for the top of Greek society in Cyprus back then. The top of the top: famous nobles, wealthy merchants, financial analysts, etc.

From Paphos, I travelled to Lefkosia / Nicosia (the capital divided between the Greeks and Turks by the 1974 invasion). Nikosia (the Turkish side) is terribly depressed, as apparently is much of that 37% of the island. It's quite poignant to see the differences between the two economies. The whole city was wrecked in during the war, and has not since recovered.

I headed back to Larnaca, which is where I'll fly from tonight. It's a pleasant town, also with it's share of archeological sites. At 330 days of sunshine per year (that's from a non-BBC source), it's a lovely relaxing place. I see why Lasarus chose here to retire after his supposed resurrection.

If you still have time, I have one more brief tale to relate. Back in Paphos, the day after the aborted beach-stay, I was strolling around and came upon an old lighthouse that I recognized it from the night before. I was curious to see in daylight all the rocky forms I had tried to discern in the inky gloom. So, I walked toward it and found my erstwhile lodging. I had definitely picked the best spot around, but it still hadn't worked. I walked away, slightly dejected at my defeat.

As I walked along, I came again across the barbed-wire fence. All of a sudden, I encountered a hole cut in the fence. I remembered my Cypriot friend's description and was intrigued. The hole was about two feet tall, and just wide enough to slip through. I couldn't, could I? I wouldn't, would I?

Yep, I did. Expecting to be instantly set upon by a pack of dogs, a group of surly guards or some ancient curse, I squeezed through. The rush of adrenaline pulsing through my veins from saving the C0.75 entrance fee convinced me that I must have been a grave-robber in a previous life. I wound my way through a rocky outcropping and tried to figure out where the interesting bits were. After a few circles, I spotted someone gaudily colorful in the distance. A tourist perhaps? A few minutes later, I was once again surrounded by the warm glow of Birmingham accents!

Determined to take maximum advantage of my black-hearted act, I made a point of seeing everything. I struck up a conversation with a family from Yorkshire. Incredibly, they had no idea that I didn't belong there! At one point, I saw a guard and, feeling a bit cocky, asked to borrow his pen. "Do you need a ticket?" he asked. "No, I'm just leaving." I used the pen to write a note. It said, "toward repair of the fence". I slipped it into the Department of Antiquities donation box, accompanied by a C10 note.