The owner of our hotel in Polis doesn't seem to like me a whole lot. He's friendly with J., but when he looks at me, he squints, sending me waves that seem to express: "I know what you're up to. We don't take kindly to people like you around here." He must have me confused with someone else. He offers us a drink, or some sweets? twice and we say no thank you, waiting for him to hand over the key, so we can retreat to our room.
We go for a little walk around town and find that it's neat, but not much to speak of, which is good, for we are in search of peace and quiet. When we get to the centre, there are cafés, restaurants and sports pubs lining the tiny pedestrian zone. The footie is on and droves of sunburnt creatures are sitting there, watching the game, drinking beer, munching on chips and other non-local delicacies.
Due to a sanitary emergency, we have to join in on the fun in the first-best café we come across, at least until the urgent business is over and done with. Unsurprisingly, said creatures are neocolonial Brits, some
of them tourists looking like freshly-boiled blond lobsters, most older proto-expats with leathery, saggy skin and this expression of thorough unhappiness on their faces that might indicate they either didn't tie up the loose ends back in the UK or haven't found what they were looking for in their new home.
One of the many Wayne Rooney-look-alikes present walks around, rocking his tiny redhead son while his peroxide wife sits there, typing texts on her iPhone. After a few minutes, they switch, and he takes out his iPad to let his chav friends on Facebook know that he's 'havin' a good time in Cyprus'.
Where there's chavs, bogans, Prolls, rednecks and other scum, there's quad bikes. Some tourists are renting them in the shop next door, undoubtedly to find some dunes or off-road dirt path to race about, alienate the locals, and destroy the local flora and fauna. They can't help it, they need to do something with all that excess testosterone, and hey, it's not as bad as genocide.
We find a nice tavern a bit away from the tourist strip. For starters, we have saganaki, basically feta grilled with tomatoes and capsicum. There's grilled bread
drizzled with olive oil and zaatar on top. When I ask the waiter what the local word for zaatar is, he says it's just wild oregano. J.'s main is vegetarian moussaka, whereas I go for a veggie dish consisting of mushrooms sautéed with onion, kritharaki with tomatoes, zucchini, aubergine and potatoes. The food is great and the service friendly and attentive. After we finish our meal, the waiter shouts us a drink, brandy for the gentleman, fruit punch for the lady. The brandy is lethal, and I drink it in small sips, which get consecutively worse, but I down it anyway, just for our nice waiter.
Seeing that we have a kitchen in our hotel room, I go buy groceries in the supermarket next door. Thus we eat a nice breakfast of granola with sheep yoghurt and milk, halloumi, tahina, tomatoes, nashis and Dilmah tea.
We go to the beach at the camping grounds a bit outside of town. There's very few people, all exposing their white skin mercilessly to the sun. The sand is dark-brown, in some parts green-ish from algae, and gets very pebbly towards the water, which is turquoise
in colour, clear and cold. The lack of people and other rubbish on the beach is enough reason for us to base ourselves here for the morning.
After a nice, refreshing dip and a bit of chillin' on the beach, we go eat lunch at a gyros place. Finally, a place where the locals eat. There's a group of smartly-dressed, middle-aged locals pausing in their conversation to stare at us as we enter in our beach outfit. Or maybe it's because of the body mods. Or the interracialness. Who knows. We ask the friendly waitress for pita with veggies and grilled halloumi and get it soon after together with chips, tzatziki, tahina, gherkins, chunks of white-pink pickled celery, peperoni, olives, and a mysterious pickled leafy thing. We polish everything off, even the stalks of the leaf pickle, which is very tasty. The waitress looks happy that we enjoyed the food so much, and tells us our coffees are on the house.
Later we go back to the beach. I go for a little run towards the Akamas Peninsula, while J. stays back reading. After about 3km I enter Latsi harbour with its posh yachts, fish restaurants and pubs
that have 'Sky Sports' written on their signs. I pass myriad posh villas, many of which unfinished, some mere skeletons looking like they haven't been worked on in a while. There are oversized signs all over depicting luxurious homes, advertising building companies, luring potential expats in English and Russian. I wonder how long it'll take until they add Chinese and Hindi.
After an hour and a bit, I'm back at the beach. I go and cool off in the water, which is a lot choppier now than in the morning. I swim and bodysurf for a while, savouring the feeling of being back in the ocean.
For dinner, we go to a posh fish restaurant in town. J. has swordfish with veggies and chips, I eat pasta with a vegetable sauce that would have been better had it been cooked by me. I try a locally brewed Carlsberg, which is unpleasantly bitter and not as good as Keo. The waiters are more well-dressed and attentive than in the tavern the night before, but they're also less cordial and welcoming, and the food isn't as good.
Osama bin Laden is dead, says the TV. They show footage of
Usonians celebrating in the streets, waving flags, jumping up and down, chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!". I'm immediately reminded of the celebrating Palestinians after 9/11. I have trouble making up my mind which one is more odious, 'U-S-A, U-S-A!' or 'Allahu Akbar!'.
We start early the next morning to go to the Baths of Aphrodite and do a hike in the Akamas Peninsula. The Baths are a rather disappointing affair. Set inside a pretty botanical garden, the small cave with a malarial-looking pool and some bushes on its edges somehow fails to inspire my imagination. What am I supposed to be imagining, anyway? That a voluptuous Greek goddess came here for a rinse after getting gang-banged by a bunch of divine hunks? Wicked!
We embark on the 7.5km Aphrodite Trail, which starts from the Baths, and goes along a scenic path with great views of the Mediterranean. After a few minutes only, I see a big ornate dragon lizard running across the path towards the rocks on one side. He stops every now and then, breathing heavily, sensing danger, as I approach him to take a closer look. The markings on his back
are intricate and symmetrical, and he has a minor 'beard', a cluster of spiny scales, on the sides of his head, not unlike the Australian Bearded Dragons, just much smaller. I'm ecstatic to see such a big lizard, more dragon-like and full of character than the tiny skinks we've seen in the Troödos.
After about 500m, the trail leads inland, up a steep incline towards a mountain chain along the slope of Mouti tis Sotiras, at 370m the highest mountain of the Akamas Peninsula. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and the weather just perfect, with a cloudless sky and a merciful, warm sun painted atop the mountains. After a short while, the landscape changes again, now closely resembling the Central Australian outback, just less burnt. There's all the shrubs and rocks and red sand, which is just not quite as red as on the Southern Continent.
There's lizards everywhere now. We see one running and jumping from rock to rock, pausing to bob his head to signal 'Danger!' to a friend of his, who emerges shortly afterwards from underneath a rock to join in his mate's flight. I'm so fascinated that I can't stop watching and taking pictures
Baths of Aphrodite
Loutra tis Afroditis in Greek; according to legend, this was something like Aphrodite's bidet, really: she used to come here after entertaining her lovers...
of them, trying to catch one mid-jump.
The hike uphill gets quite strenuous, but as it's still quite early, we're the only people there, apart from a goat herder driving his animals through the shrubs, calling "Hee hee hee!" and other amusing onomatopoeia in a high pitch. The goat shit all over the trail had us wondering and looking out for an elusive, mythical wild beast, but when we heard the maa-ing mixed with bell ringing and subsequently beheld the herd from our already quite elevated position, the conundrum was solved.
If someone had shown me the pictures I'm taking right now on this hike before I went to Cyprus, I would have wanted to go. Hiking in such beautiful surroundings is simply great, I feel elated and thoroughly relaxed. The shrubbery gets increasingly colourful, there's red and bright yellow ones, with pretty wild flowers in between and loads of goat droppings everywhere.
The scenery changes yet again from rocky coastal Mediterranean to woodland. We pass by an ancient ruined Byzantine monastery, the Castle of Rigena, Pyrgos tis Rigenas in Greek. A kilometre or so later, we're overlooking the ocean again, having walked in a big circle
on the slope of Mouti tis Sotiras. There's a lookout at kilometre 4, giving you an amazing view on the coast, the sharply soaring cliffs and the multi-coloured ocean, which almost looks like a sea of coral from above. One can trace the outline of the Akamas Peninsula with its anvil-shaped tip.
The path goes down a steep, windy path now, which resembles almost exactly the one we took on the Bolivian Isla del Sol. There's a few people hiking the path in the other direction, mostly Brits and Germans, but towards the end, a group of Cypriot or Greek tourists (pretty much impossible for us to tell) start making their way up the mountain as well. We finish the hike in three hours and twenty minutes, and back at the parking lot, we find big tour buses and souvenir stalls. There's tourists crowding around the Baths of Aphrodite as if it's the best thing since sliced bread. Lucky we came early.
We drive up the stunning coastal road towards Pomos in search of a place to eat. We settle for St. Barbara's restaurant just between the pebbly beach and the road.
The only people there are elderly British expat couples, all of whom seem to know each other. They're eating massive meat dishes and drinking pints of beer or wine. I go for a pint of Leo, the second Cypriot beer, a nice, light lager, definitely better than Carlsberg. J. eats veggie kebabs with the ubiquitous chips on the side, I go for a humongous village salad with feta. Our waitress is a blonde British chick, who was probably imported for those expats who couldn't stand the local waitresses anymore.
After another swim at the beach, we go to a nicely decorated café, set in a lush garden amidst trees and flowers. The German owner welcomes us, desperately trying to fake a British accent. We eat some nice orange juicy tart and apple white wine jelly cake. I drink the biggest motherfucking café au lait ever, more like three regular lattes, served in a big bowl.
Strangely enough, there's only German customers, and when another four of them arrive, I'm pretty sure I know one of them, a lesbian-looking anorexic chick with a Greaser hairstyle. I'm thinking it can't be, staring at her a bit too obviously, and when
she passes me later, I ask: "Entschuldigung, are you from Berlin, by any chance?" She smiles and says yes. "Don't you work in that former Blindenwerkstatt museum?" She does. "I was there last year, I talked to you about other Gedenkstätten-type museums, and you gave me some recommendations." -"Oh yeah, now I remember you! Schräg. That is so schräg." Schräg actually means that something is on an angle or oblique, but it can be used as slang, meaning cool, just in a weird way, or weird, just in a cool way. She tells me she's here with her girlfriend and the gf's parents. We talk for a bit, or rather it's her talking to avoid any awkward silences.
When we later go down to our hotel's reception area to catch the wireless signal, the owner asks again half-arsedly if we want some sweets. We say yes, thank you, just because we can't avoid it anymore. He gives us two pieces of old, dry cake. I actually know that type of cake from Turkey, so I know it's supposed to be spongy and moist, which makes it even worse. Nonetheless, I dutifully force it down, while J. wraps hers sneakily
into a serviette to ditch it later.
The following morning, we leave Polis to return the car at the airport in the afternoon. Via the curiously named village of Stroumpi we drive to Paphos to visit the archaeological sites there. We first stop at the Tombs of the Kings, a set of well-preserved underground tombs and chambers used from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD by members of the higher social classes, not by kings, as the name indicates, of the ancient settlement of Nea Paphos.
The site is very spread out, with the seven tombs scattered all over a desert-like landscape picturesquely set next to the ocean. Wildflowers abound amidst the shrubbery. There are quite a few tourists out and about, indicating that we've made it back to the beaten path. Still, the entrance fee is a pleasant €1.70 per person, the same amount as in Kolossi Castle and Ancient Kourion. And that's for a World Heritage Site. I can see other countries charging €10-15 for something comparable, and Peru demanding €35. The Baths of Aphrodite, one of the country's most touristy attractions, were even free of charge.
So far, Cyprus has been very good to us.
Still, when we drive on to the Paphos Archaeological Site, we inevitably pass through an utterly overdeveloped, revoltingly tacky strip of fast food restaurants, karaoke bars, strip clubs and Irish pubs.
At Nea Paphos, or the Paphos Archeological Site, we enter the enormous compound occupying the western segment of Kato/Lower Paphos, just next to the harbour. Founded in the 4th century BC, Nea Paphos formed part of the kingdom of the Ptolemies, whose capital was Alexandria. As an important strategic outpost, the city grew considerably during the coming centuries, but went into decline after a massive earthquake hit in the 4th century AD.
The most captivating aspect of the site is most likely the collection of intricate, breathtaking mosaics in the House of Dionysos, and to a lesser extent, in the House of Aion and Villa of Theseus. Most of the mosaics are based on Greek myths, so all the popular characters make an appearance, including the angry monster Scylla, sinker of ships, the handsome Narcissus, who falls in love with his own reflection in the water, and the naked boy Ganymede, whom Zeus falls in love with
and kidnaps in the form of an eagle.
On an amusing sidenote, in the House of Aion, an unsupervised small girl climbs down on the ancient central panel of the room, jumping up and down on the meticulously reconstructed millennia-old mosaic. Her parents are busy taking pictures and reading the signs, and only when J. asks loudly "Hello, whose kid is this?" does the dad see his daughter raping the poor legendary Greek figures and rushes to get her.
A bit further away, there's the obligatory amphitheatre, which I just can't get enthusiastic over anymore, as well as a lighthouse and a few more ancient tombs and catacombs. The familiar feeling of getting ruined out sets in, and we are off on our way shortly thereafter.
On the road to Limassol, we pass by Aphrodite's Rock and Beach, the spot where Aphrodite emerged from the sea, according to legend. It's quite a beautiful beach, actually, but seeing that the weather is not quite right for a swim, we just take a picture and move on.
About twenty minutes away from the airport, we stop at Choirokoitia, another World Heritage Site,
but one that's often overlooked and the country's least visited. I find it almost more fascinating than the ones at Paphos, as Choirokoitia is one of the earliest permanent human settlements in Cyprus, dating from 6800BC. The architectural remains have revealed that the inhabitants lived in circular houses with flat roofs, some of which have been painstakingly restored using the same architectural techniques and building materials that were utilized in the Neolithic period. The atmosphere of the place is intriguing, making you wonder how people used to live back then, what language they spoke, and how they would react were they to encounter somebody from the modern world.
In the bakery-café next to the parking lot, we eat a yummy giant custard-filled phyllo pastry-cake doused with syrup and an incredibly tasty toasted halloumi-sandwich with tomato and cucumber whipped up by the friendly, pretty daughter of the family-owned place. We linger around for a bit, drinking hot chocolate and Cyprus coffee, and finally drive back towards the airport to return the car.
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