I’ve been to some strange places, but this week must be one of the weirdest. We went to the beach, that’s not weird…but this was a bit of a different beach. After parking by an unremarkable hotel we followed a trail of people down a little path between two scruffy buildings. On one side there were a lot of signs with images of soldiers and a camera crossed out. The beach opened out to an absolutely stunning golden sandy expanse, with palm leaf umbrellas in rows, and beyond these a sparkling turquoise sea, framed by a strip of rocks in the distance, which the waves were gently crumbling against. The beach curved slightly to the right and a spur of sand reached out into the bay. A group of boys were taking it in turns to run straight off the beach and summersault into the water. It was a typical holiday scene. Almost.
Settling ourselves down on the sand, and creating shade with an umbrella, we gazed out at the travel brochure view in front of us. But behind us was another story. The scene at our backs was a stark reminder of the conflict that still rages in Cyprus. A tall green wire fence was the beach backdrop and beyond that hundreds of bombed out crumbling hotels looked bleakly out to sea. An abandoned construction crane was visible between two partially destroyed buildings. Some of the hotel names were still legible, with various letters hanging down sadly out of line. Most of the front of the buildings had gone, so you looked straight into room upon room, just the same, where people will have holidayed in the past and enjoyed the same crystal sea view. On the far right there was a concrete lookout tower, where uniformed soldiers with guns occasionally appeared and they could also be seen with helmets and binoculars silhouetted against the bright blue cloudless sky.
There is something rather chilling about basking in the warmth of the sea, feeling the sand between your toes, and yet never able to forget what is behind you and what stories lay buried in the rubble.
Later in the afternoon we picked up our flippers and snorkels and headed into the water towards the line of rocks. The sea was like a warm bath and I saw plenty of fish, one was as long as my shin bone, completely white with a very long pointy noise, which was basically most of its body. I’m going to call that a Pinocchio fish. To be honest we weren’t looking for fish because we wanted to see ‘Dude’. Finding Nemo lovers – you know who I mean. After a lot of time spent adjusting and readjusting my mask, so that it wasn’t full of water, I eventually began searching properly. Apparently the mask was too wide for my face – which is good because it proves I haven’t got a fat face! We had been told turtles like eating the sea grass, so I was concentrating my search where I’d spotted grass waving at me from the ocean floor. I also tried a little singing, through my snorkel. This was because whales and dolphins like to sing, so I thought turtles might like it too. I was humming a bit and calling out his name, just in case. It came out rather gurgled, but it seemed to do the trick because it wasn’t long before I spotted a lovely little turtle, a bit bigger than a large pizza, just below me. He was flipping along, dipping down to take mouthfuls of grass and then paddling his way up to the surface for a breath. He didn’t seem bothered by us. And continued to appear from different directions in his search for ‘grass’ – ah Dude – it makes sense.
It may be a weird place with a poignant story that lives on, but the turtles are a beautiful sight and they will take us back.