Why Cyprus? Well it is about a 40 minute flight off the coast and my roundtrip flight only cost $100. That’s the cheapest international flight I have ever taken. Plus as you shall soon see, it has beautiful beaches and mountains. (Kelley: perhaps a Davis Utopia?? I can wave to Matt on the mountain top while I lounge on the beach!?…..alas he went without me…..we will have to return to test my theory!)
The backstory… Similar to many places in the region, Cyprus has a storied history but let’s start at the beginning in a land before time… Millions of years ago the island was forced to the surface as the African Plate and the Anatolian Plate (i.e. Turkey) collided. This collision formed the mountains of Cyprus, which reach an altitude of 1,952 meters (6,404 feet) in a very short distance. It is only about 20 miles at the crow flies from the ocean to the mountain tops!
The hunter-gatherer settlements began to develop around 10,000 B.C. and the island has been a nautical crossroads ever since… the list of island conquers reads like a who’s who list of empires… there were the Greeks… then the Assyrians… then the Egyptians… then the Persians… then Alexander the Great… then the Romans… then the Byzantines… then the Arabs… then the Crusaders… then the Ottomans… and finally the British annexed the island in the early 1900s.
From here it is a bit complicated but Britain offered Cyprus to the Greeks as an incentive to support the Allies during WWI. That did not really work out, so Cyprus remained a British colony until the 1950s. During this time the native population began to launch attacks against the British which eventually resulted in the island’s independence, although the British retained two military bases as part of the deal.
Throughout all of this the island’s native population was majority Greek with a small Turkish minority (15-30%). Being the minority, the Turkish who were less enthusiastic about a united Cyprus and desired a partition between the north (Turkish side) and the south (Greek side). As a result, after independence tensions grew and there were sporadic protests and violence on the islands as extremists from both sides pushed opposing agendas. This caused the Turkish Cypriots to withdrawal from the government and UN peacekeeping forces were brought in… The UN forces drew a green line on a map of the capital (Nicosia) dividing the capital into Greek and Turkish sides, thus forming the ‘Green Line’, that lives on to this day.
From here it reads like a Tom Clancy novel… with the Cold War at its peak, Cyprus had immense strategic value for the British and the United States to lay its eyes on the Soviets but the government of Cyprus was not taking sides… so what’s Team USA to do??? Sponsor a coup of course! This failed and pissed off the Turkish government, so 5 days later they invaded citing a right to intervene to restore the constitutional order from the 1960 treaty of Cyprus independence (This has rejected by the UN and the international community). By the time a treaty was signed and the Turkish troops halted their conquest, they controlled 37% of the island… and this is how it remains today… The Green Line runs the length of the island ever since with the UN maintaining a peacekeeping force (+ Turkish forces on the North’s side). I did not see the Green Line first hand but it is a no-man’s land with a huge barbed wire fence, bombed out buildings, and guns, lots of guns. There have been attempts at unification since this time and recently additional border crossings have been opened. Let’s be cautiously optimistic!
Okay back to my trip… I arrived in Cyprus on a Thursday afternoon and my first objective was to drive from to Polis. It is only about 2 hours away but being a former British colony they drive on the left – WTF? And to save some money I rented a manual car… as a result my brain was working double time as I made my first left turn out of Enterprise rent-a-car… I had to remember to 1) stay on the left side of the road, 2) which pedal was which, 3) how to shift with my left hand, 4) Steer with my right hand, and 5) which direction do I go around the traffic circle… I had a slight mental overload on the first turn and drove on the wrong side of the road for a quarter mile until an oncoming vehicle reminded me of my error.
Other than the first faux pas, I arrived without further incident at the Bay View Apartments in the early evening…
Prior to the trip I purchased this great guidebook called Cyprus South and North, which was a fantastic resource for the hikes on the island. For being such a small place it has a lot to offer from sandy beaches to mountains dotted with colorful wildflowers.
For my first full day I decided to first explore the western tip of the island, an area called the Akamas Peninsula. The area is not very developed but is crisscrossed by a large number of 4×4 roads. The first hike was through the Avakas Gorge about 1 hour drive from Polis. Our friends at Google Maps took me a wacky way through extremely narrow streets in a village and then down this incredibly steep rutted road, which was more terrifying than I care to admit. Regardless, I made it or so I thought to the starting point…(Kelley: I think he’s writing these things to get me to come home sooner and bring some sanity back to the adventures…..yikes!)
I was trying to piece together the route description with the Google Map with the topographic map I had but nothing really made sense… There was no obvious canyon in front of me, nor trail markers… Hmmm… let’s just starting hiking and see where my feet take me…
After hiking a couple of miles along some dusty roads, I stumbled across this nice beach…
… and then the pieces fell together, as they typically do and I discovered my destination…
The canyon was gentle at first but slowly the canyon walls rose around me into a lovely slot canyon.
After the slot, the canyon opened up into more rolling terrain and the trail became more rugged and I began to question my choice of footwear – Chacos. This was punctuated by a group of German hikers who laughed at my shoes (Note: I was faster than them!). Eventually I was able to exit the canyon and reach a road that took me back to my car.
The road was pleasant and I passed by a number of goat farms along the way.
The road did offer a fine view of Lara Beach and the road side was glowing with amber waves of grass, stout oak trees, and sparkling with these small purple wildflowers. Very pretty!
What was not pretty were my feet!!! They were not well adjusted to my Chacos and were in much distress after hiking ~15 kms… as a result I had lots of blisters on my toes and across the top of my foot where the strap was rubbing. No bueno!
Despite this, I found it wise to take on a more ambitious hike on the other side of the island… so I hopped back in the car and drove to the trailhead at the Baths of Aphrodite.
It was approximately 4 in the afternoon when I began the second hike (this time in a proper hiking shoe – my running shoes). The trail was a long costal path that follows the jagged coastline and accesses many beautiful secluded beaches. It terminates at Cape Arnaoutis, which was pretty but somewhat anticlimactic after dancing along the beautiful coast.
As you can see in the picture, the sun was making its long march down across the horizon and I was cast into twilight for my hike back. Around 9 p.m. I limped back to the car tired with feet full of blisters and famished. I was too hungry (and dirty) to go to a restaurant, so I stopped by the grocery store and purchased 0.5 kgs of pasta, sauce, 1 kg luscious strawberries, 2 1L beers, 3 cucumbers, and 3 tomatoes…
Once back at the apartment a feeding frenzy began (I ate all of the food listed above) (#feedingmattdavis) and I assessed the damage… My feet have never looked so bad! I will spare you the pictures but I had about 8 blisters and felt like Kelley after Day 1 on our infamous Davis Death Marches with PFD (i.e. my dad)… and I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, since when I popped one of the blisters blood sprayed across my face – NICE! (Kelley: GROSSSSS!)
Alas, I must hike on as there was still much to see… one would think that I would ratchet it back for day 2, instead I planned to do 3 hikes albeit slightly shorter in overall length… My first hike took me back to the Baths of Aphrodite, since I never actually saw the baths the previous day!
The baths (or more appropriately a swimming hole), were quite lovely and I can understand why Aphrodite (The Goddess of Love) would want to seduce here lovers there with the babbling brook and the sultry shade of the fig tree. (Kelley: yup, he seriously went here without me (Matt: What can I say? I am my father’s son.))
From there I continued on at a rapid clip to the summit of Moutti tis Soriras, which offered an imposing view of Cape Arnaoutis (i.e. where I hiked yesterday). It was a little overcast but still a beautiful vantage point of the surrounding terrain.
Once I returned to the car, I headed to the other side of the island for two wonderful hikes.
The first was Petra tou Romiou – the birthplace of Aphrodite. Diving into the myth deeper I discovered that “her birth was the consequence of the castration of Uranus by Cronus (father of Zeus), who threw his genitals into the sea and “the foam” from his genitals gave rise to Aphrodite”… awkward silence…
Moving on… the beach is beautiful!
From the beach I slogged through the sand and cobbles but eventually connected to a trail that led me to the cliffs above the sea.
The view was pretty but I was next to this loud highway, which took away from the feeling of serenity. About an hour later, I arrived back at the car and proceeded to drive to the Pissouri Bay for my last hike that day (It is located at the star in the lower right corner of the map above). My guidebook describes it as “possibly the most impressive coastal walk on Cyprus” – I can’t miss this one! You would think that for being the most impressive walk there would be some signage to indicate a trailhead or simply mark the path – well you would be wrong. The trail starts by passing through a burned out building – a great way to start any hike!
After taking a right at the burnt out building, I was wandering high above the ocean below not knowing if I was on the correct trail but trusting my intuition and basking in the lovely Pissouri Bay.
After scrambling through a small ravine, I slowly worked by way up the Trachonas Plateau on a ever so faint trail…
The plateau rises over 200 meters above the sea and is home to some badass goats… who were less than excited to see a bipod.
Trotting along the plateau was quite lovely since I was on a proper trail thanks to the large military complex on my right, which was playing tunes from the originally Blues Brothers movie – quite odd but I did enjoy it. After about a mile of Minnie the Moocher (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZ5gCGJorKk), I made it to the end of the plateau and was greeted by a fabulous looking beach 200 meters below…
… but the trail was virtually non-existent and the terrain was very steep! As a result I turned on my mountain goat mode and lumbered down the terrain until I stumbled onto the beach 30 minutes later. The beach was rocky yet beautiful and I had it all to myself. I contemplated taking a dip but hiking for 1.5 hours in wet soggy cloths sounded like a recipe for chafe, the last think I needed since my feet were recovering from the beating of the previous day.
After a second lunch, I was hoofin’ it back up and across the plateau because I wanted to get back to the birthplace of Aphrodite to watch the sunset and take some long exposure shots. However, when I got back to the car, I was severely parched, so I stopped by the store and purchase 1 L water, 2 L beer, and 2 L of coke. Note I did not drink it all in one sitting. The sunset was dull due to the marine layer but I was able to get some nice (I think) shots of the beach and surrounding area. The water was this vibrant blue that really pops!
After the beach, I headed to the mountains but I will share more on that next week. Stay tuned!