Tuesday 29th May 2018 Aphrodite's Island
Too smooth a crossing - 28 hours mix of slow sailing and lots of motoring, but we finally arrived in Latchi - a small harbour of fishing boats, local owners' boats and excursion boats. Visitors are few and far between, but we were offered the berth of an owner going to Turkey for a month. This was arranged through a loud, larger than life, helpful Brit Chris and Panos, the local harbourmaster. First up, the port police really, really wanted us to go and do our clocking in formalities toute suite, so we obviously kept them happy. But as it was a Sunday, we couldn't complete them all until the following day, as the Customs lot had the day off. They were all cheerful and obliging though, and nothing was a problem.
This is Aphrodite's birthplace (goddess of love and fertility) and you cannot escape her presence. There is Aphrodite's Rock, where she emerged from the sea foam and sailed to the shore on a shell towed by dolphins. Those unlucky in love or with fertility problems tie handkerchiefs to appeal to her help. Two legends - (she had lots of lovers) - the first that after a night with an illicit lover, she returned to this spot to regain her virginity swimming in this sea. The second is that swimming around the rock at full moon will make you a year younger for each lap. Last night was a full moon - how many laps do you reckon? There is Aphrodite's Baths, a cove to the north with good bathing and crystal clear water. And restaurants and villas and boats…..all named Aphrodite.
It has been unseasonably hot - all the locals are complaining - and also very dusty. Many are blaming the unusual amount of reddish dust on the bombing in nearby Syria which is causing dust storms. Whatever the reason, the weather is certainly odd - sunny one minute, cloudy the next, thundery, then sun again. But hot! We booked ourselves in for 10 days and soon sorted out a hire car for a week. And then took off exploring. We are based in Cyprus (ie the "south") so cannot take the boat into the north. If you pay the extra insurance at the border, you can however take a hire car to the north and back again, so planned to have a go that way. We have done pretty much the lot, (but light on the touristy beach holiday and villa stuff). We did the main towns of Paphos, Limmasol and inland to Nicosia, but for the most part they were busy, noisy, a bit tatty round the edges - we visited the "must-sees" (castles, mosques, markets, churches, etc) and escaped.
Brilliant Archaeological sites: the Tombs of the Kings (an underground necropolis system of caves and rock tombs, used and re-used from about the 3rd C BC Hellenic period to 3rd C AD Roman time). Then on to Paphos (so glad we didn't think to bring the boat around here, would have been terrible) where the ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kato Pafos is fantastic - it is huge, spans 2,000 years of continuous life as a former (obviously wealthy) capital of Cyprus with beautiful mosaics, a theatre, agora, workshops, houses, palaces and more. Kourion, originally a Sanctuary of Apollo and founded in the 12th C BC by Mycenaean Greeks was a centre of culture, politics and religion - it suffered badly though from 2 earthquakes in the 4th century. We have done castles and old towns and walked miles in the heat.
One does need a bit of variety however, so next up: Mountains: The Troodos mountains form a whole region in themselves. They have species of flora and fauna that occur only there (Troodos Cedar for example). It is home to the mouflon, a species of wild sheep (and a symbol of Cyprus) that almost became extinct but which is now flourishing once more. The roads twist and wind, the little villages perch on top. There are ridges and valleys, rivers (already drying) and dozens of waterfalls (we climbed up to one) and it is a green area, unusual in the Eastern Med. There are vineyards - they produce a dark, sweet wine called commandaria - the Commandaria region's 14 villages have produced this dessert wine sine the 12th century - and Maratheftiko, a full-bodied wine from an ancient grape variety. There are oranges and cherries, black pine and white oak. There are eagles, vultures and falcons, and lizards large and small. We drove up and up, first to a famous monastery called Kykkos (Richard looked decidedly odd in a purple modesty gown) and to the nearby tomb of Archbishop Makarios. They both have magnificent views. It was still hot, so we carried on climbing to the highest point we could (1,870m) which is almost to the top of Mt Olympus (1,952m). Cooler here, there were snow markers on the side of the road. Apparently they get up to 3m of snow and there is a ski station offering a few halfway decent runs! But not now.
We did a 2 day trip and ventured into the "TRNC" (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). The Greek Cypriots, who have been friendly and delightful and helpful, became monosyllabic when it came to the "North" and the divide. The rancour is very real, current and enduring. And the contrast between the two regions is striking. The south is relatively prosperous, the roads in general are very good and, because of the British presence, most people speak some English. We crossed at a small border crossing on the north coast. The security is tight and weapons prominent. The border lady on the Greek side had been born in Kyrenia (north), but at the age of 13, she and her family were dispossessed and forced to move to the south. The border chap on the Turkish side was very helpful and nice and spoke the last English we heard for a while. The Turkish side seemed instantly poorer, the roads were in worse shape and it was a struggle using the map (as the names on the map were all in Greek and the actual road signs had different Turkish names). But we were on a mission. We visited three fabulous castles, the port of Kyrenia, stayed overnight at a funny little place back near the border (basic room but great meal of mixed mezes and fish), and worked our way south to Nicosia to cross back into the Greek side in the city.
Two of the castles we climbed up to were perched right on top of sheer rock. The first, St. Hilarion, is the best-preserved top stronghold in North Cyprus - it has umpteen turrets, royal apartments, a church, monastery, kitchens, cisterns, refectory. The climb to the top is not for the faint hearted, where the railings themselves look vertical. The second castle was Buffavento (as the name suggests, buffeted by the wind, and is in less good condition). We had to go here because Sophie had been many years ago and it had obviously made an impression on her. It is the highest castle (over 3,000ft above sea level) and built probably in the 10th C. The climb up is long, winding and tiring (we bravely managed Sophie!). In fine weather you should be able to see Kyrenia, Nicosia, the Troodos mountains and even the coast of Turkey (over 100 miles). Suffice it to say, as we neared the top a sea fog rolled up the north side and down the land side of our craggy rock - it made for an eerie experience. Exhausting, but we woul d not have missed it for the world.
Meanwhile, back in the south and other landscapes: One day it was other parts of the Troodos mountains via smaller roads to pretty Panageia and searching out various dams (impressive engineering but already seriously low). Another day, on the western side of Cyprus is the Akamis peninsula, a protected area, only some of which is accessible by car, but a favourite hiking area. There is a protected Turtle Beach, where turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs. We went in search of the Avakas gorge and walked about 7km through a good bit of its length. Again, there are species here that occur only in this gorge, most notably the Centaurea Akamantis (a feathery knapweed with pretty pink flower that clings to the limestone cliffs). Pictures do not do justice to the scale of the gorge, towering gaps carved through chalk and limestone, but it was the best of days.
We have loved Cyprus - the people are wonderful, our harbourmaster Panos is ever helpful and we have also managed to stock up on a few British favourites from the local supermarkets. Latchi has been a perfect little port from which to explore. Yesterday was a bank holiday and over the last two evenings we have been treated to live music from across the harbour. A fitting end to a great visit. We have crammed a lot in, so apologies for the length of this!
Tomorrow, we bow out with Customs and Port Police, and head to Turkey - we think Alanya, which is about 90nm. In order to guarantee arriving in daylight we will do another "overnighter". Bye bye Cyprus and thank you.