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Maria & Brett's HUGE Trip 06-07-08-09-? ok, so the Socceroos lost in 'that' penalty against Italy; Adriatic summers aren't long enough (bliss!); and we found that you should never use the term "Eastern Bloc" when talking to a Czech (Central Europe, please).

The Absinthe Tour of Cyprus

CYPRUS | Thursday, 24 July 2008 | Views [1466]

... so thick and hot and delicious!

... so thick and hot and delicious!

(See our photos here: http://journals.worldnomads.com/maria_brett/gallery/11201.aspx )

What to do with a week of your life and a visit from your good mate from Oz? You activate your Out of Office reply on your work emails and head off to sunny, dusty Cyprus. Tim stopped by our humble place in Prague on his whirlwind bachelor tour of Europe - not a bad destination for a young man full of sprite and enough charm to get your grandmother into... a lot of trouble! I was just stoked to have him here, to share a piece of our little world, and to have a part of back-home with us for a wee bit.

So it was off to Cyprus for a bit of action, dust, history and good ol' kul-cha! What did we know before getting there? Not a lot: it's a small island which is governed by two countries (Cyprus on the south and Turkey on the north, with only the Greek-influenced southern side in the EU); it's a small island (did we mention that already?) and a popular tennis player by the name of Marcos Baghdatis calls this place home.

We couldn't leave Prague without stocking up our duty free supplies, clinking our way onto the midnight flight with absinthe, baileys, cigars and a wee dram of Czech slivovice (like rakija or grappa). Ouch. And this was all just to help us to cope with the 3:30am arrival in Larnaca!

Picking up our rented 4WD at 4 in the morning, there was something not quite right about the grittiness under my bum, on my fingertips, and the mysterious but pungent odour emanating out of the seat covers: it was dust, dust and sweat. Lots of it. Thinking we'd been ripped off, it wasn't til we woke up in the bright heat the next morning that we realised this place is defined by the dust and you just invite it into your heart unconditionally - or else risk making an enemy out of it.

We quickly found our groove, shirking the main highway and heading up into the hills on our road to nowhere - actually, to Lefkara, a small village known for its traditional lace. And we were in search of a good feed and some cool beers. We got it all: old women who would try every trick in the book to make us buy something we really didn't need ("something for your mama's cousin's gardener, perhaps?"); a crock-pot of spiced lamb and couscous (yum! after months of no lamb in Prague); and MONSTER beers, the good old Big Bot served in its full glory to the table with a shot glass-sized tumbler to wash it all down civilly. Welcome to Cyprus!

Winding our way down towards the coast, we stopped by Choirokoitia to walk amongst neolithic-age ruins (up to 7000+ BC!! Crazy!), before winding our way into Lemesos on the southern tip - part fortress town; other part modern metropolis buzzing with youngsters josting for a seat at outdoor bars to watch the finals of the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest on huge outdoor TV screens (the cafes all playing the game "Mine's bigger than yours!" - well it worked for us). As we downed ouzo-on-ice and watched young blokes fly past us on latest model sportsbikes without helmets or other protective gear, we definitely had the feeling this was a unique place on earth: a cosmopolitan island in europe.

Our trusty 4wd seemed to know exactly where to take us: first to the southernmost tip which hosts a 'monastery for cats' (Agios Nikolaos), where furry friends seemed to laze around unthreatened by caretakers shooing them away. Continuing along the salt pan which oozes with life at other times of the year we called in at Kourion - a site of worship from as far back as 6000BC which was prominent during the Greco-Roman times. This place with its ruins of forums, stadiums, baths, houses, laneways, columns and private houses sits atop some pretty dominating cliffs that stare almost all the way to Egypt - and you could imagine the Egyptians cruising past 3000 years ago wondering whether to stop in for a bit of Egyptian diplomacy.

Cyprus seems to remind you all the time of its long-chequered past. Almost everyone's been here and called this place their own, most of it by force: we're talking Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, early English, Venetians and Ottomans. More recently the Brits came back and set up military bases here and there (bringing English Brekky tea and driving-on-the-left which still exists), and the Turks got a piece of the action when they decided to occupy the northern half in 1974.

Pafos took us in for a couple of nights while we set out on day trips and explored the huge archaeological parks that seem to creep up on the town from all directions and threaten to swallow up the Pommy bars, tattoo parlours and scooter rental shops. We were blown away by the Tombs of the Kings - built entirely into bedrock right by the seaside - talk about prime location.

Looking at the map of Cyprus we spotted a road that hugged the rugged shoreline in the northwest, all the way up into the Akamas peninsular. Thinking it would make for a cruisy arvo drive we set off the next day in search for a lunch spot, a swim and some chilled sea vibes. What we got instead was a free spinal shake-down worthy of a theme park and enough dust in every orifice to allow customs officers to question us about illegally exporting natural resources. We will never trust a Cypriot map again! We were a-bumping and a-grinding through some of the most desolate and no-man's-land terrain we'd ever seen, and we reckon our 4wd's shocks hadn't been changed in years. What looked like 45 minutes on paper probably took us about 3 hours and a lot of frayed tempers.

However.... the scenery from no-man's-land was in some places breathtaking (because we were chocking from the dust), calling into Lara beach for a well earned swim and snooze - not before negotiating a track that had been overcome by grazing goats. This is where we really let the Med soak our bodies clean from all the grit, and it was pure bliss to stretch out on a bench under a thatched hut and just snooze off with the sound of the sea calling from distant parts of Asia.

The worst of the bumpies behind us, we couldn't resist pulling off the track at Avakas Gorge, and luckily we had a geomorphologist with us (Tim) who was able to explain the behaviour of the river which, once a trickle, turned deadly as it carved layer upon layer out of the soft layers of rocks. As we trekked and scrambled our way up through the cool and moist gorge we were seemingly miles from the dusty scrub that had tortured us earlier. We only had to dodge the falling rocks set loose from the wild mountain goats above us... cheeky buggers!

Our fling with the Republic of Cyprus was coming to an end and it was time to point the 4wd north through the Troodos mountain range and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the north.

The mountains took Cyprus to a whole new level: thick Cyprus pines, gorgeous wildflowers that we'd not seen down by the sea, winding roads through the greenery that lulled us into a dreamy mountainous vibe - must be all that fresh air! Drunk with all of this we thought it'd be cool to stake out a 11th c. monastery in the hills that houses some amazing frescoes. We wound our way through mountain-perched villages and around narrow windy bends until we crossed a river where the sign pointed out the way to "Agios Ioannis Lampadistis". We arrived too late in the day to expect any kind of civil welcome, but bugger that - we've come too far for niceties - so we asked the first girl we saw (sitting in the rosegarden tapping away on her laptop, hmmmm) if we could take a peek inside. "I'll see if I can find the keys" she said with a well-educated euro-english accent, returning after a few minutes with the priest's keys and opened up the church.

Moving aside huge sheets of protective plastic hanging from scaffolding to reveal vast panels of ancient frescoes, she explained that the church and its frescoes were undergoing restoration by a team of academics, scientists and artists - basically anyone who has an educated interest in winding back centuries from the clock and all the damage over time: some crusaders had even gouged the eyes from some of the icons and left the rest of the frescoes untouched. We felt like we had crept inside someone's house and they were due home any minute. After a very generous amount of her time (she had been working on the restoration all day and it was now quite late) we thanked her and left the volunteers to catch up on their Facebook or write emails home to mum. Bizarre.

We shacked up in a mountain village called Pedoulas and had only one request: we wanted to try the multi-course meal called mezze. So when we asked the owner (who we supected owned the whole street)how much it was, he said "no problem, you enjoy it tonight - you see". Yeah, but how much? "I also give you homemade wine, no problem". Yeah, but we don't want you to rip us off, you hear? "What time you like? Eight o'clock? Ok". Arrrgh!!! ....

So we cleaned up and came downstairs where several little plates greeted us: olives, cheeses, hommus, dips, breads, more cheese, little meaty things, some fish, chips (mmm!) then large plates of meats (pork, chicken, more fish, lamb, beef - all marinated or curried or bbq'd)... it was just one endless procession of torture by the end of it. Thank god we'd ordered some ouzo to help it digest!!! The local wine was pleasant but not memorable apart from the fact we sculled it at the end to finish off the meal - and then passed out for the night.

Maria was violently sick the next day - I reckon it was the WILD CHERRIES she ate from a roadside tree, she reckons it was the water from the taps. We'll never know; but we'll also never forget how sick she was. All through the day (we were on the move again in the 4WD) and into the following night AND next day, she was sick, sick, sick. Ask her what she remembers about it and she'll be able to describe different ceilings in intimate detail, passing from one place to the next.

In that time we hit up the capital, Lefkosia/Nicosia, but on the northern or Turkish side. Taking a couple of trips in the daytime we climbed the ancient fort at Keryneia (Agios Ilarion) and had a gorgeous last supper at the benedictine Belapais Abbey which sits atop a mountain range above the coast. What I remember most about the north is the constant reminder that you're in a part of Turkey (Turkish flags proudly flying everywhere, even a giant version is cut into a mountainside, possibly a km long); with this came tasty foods, spices, loads of barber shops, men walking the streets everywhere or playing backgammon on the footpaths, smoking, people taking their tea on chairs outside their shops, cars that were either left- or right-hand drive (shipped over from mainland Turkey vs driven across from EU Cyprus), and most of all the friendliness of people we met.

We could have easily stayed another few weeks to soak up more of this tiny place of which we only scratched the surface.

 

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