ghost town with attitude

I don’t want to spread alarm, but yesterday I came face to face with part of the island’s underground army…
After a pleasant stroll along the cliff tops, we decided to take a peek at what would normally be a very busy tourist beach, lined with expensive hotels. Driving down through the network of shops and apartments towards the sea front, we began to feel like we were heading into a Wild West ghost town. What had been buzzing cafes and restaurants, now had their curtains drawn and instead of an array of tourist shops selling anything from buckets, spades and blow up rings to shell jewellery and ‘hand-made’ Cyprus pottery, the windows were plastered with paper and the stalls outside had disappeared. The pavements were empty as well and every house and apartment in all shapes and sizes appeared to have its shutters down or blinds pulled. The streets were dusty, there were no other cars and the sky was slightly overcast, while remnants of newspaper and packaging blew across the road. The atmosphere was eerie. And then we spotted them…

First there was one, slinking slowly across the road in front of us, then another sat watchfully on a wall, its eyes following the car as we passed. A glance to the left and two more were heading down a side road…the streets were filled with cats. As we turned a corner, one particularly huge ginger beast, that looked more like a lion than a cat, crossed the road and strode menacingly towards a raised area outside an empty shop. The cats appeared completely at home and had now become the main residents of the area. They owned this place and no-one could challenge them – at least that’s how it felt. Instead of the mangy underfed specimens we had seen in the summer scuttling between restaurant tables for food, these cats were large and well fed, confidently patrolling their home territory.

As we drew into the empty car park, surrounded by buildings, a wide path between two hotels was all that separated us from the beach. But before reaching to open the car doors we both hesitated and glanced around. They were here too and not just one…there was a tortoiseshell sentry sat boldly upright at the top of the path and his bright green eyes were watching us. In the top corner of the car park another pair, a ginger and a white and tabby cat, were pacing. It certainly felt like an organised group patrolling their area. We decided to take our chances and boldly headed down to the sea, hoping to leave the cats behind. As we turned left along the decking walk beside the sea, there was no-one to be seen. All the umbrellas and chairs had been removed from the hotel grass and a solitary line of white sun beds had been left in a row on the beach, where a lone waiter was settling them in line. The sea looked a bit more English, more grey than blue, with just two swimmers a few metres out, their heads bobbing in the water.

Suddenly I spotted a movement on my left and very large tabby cat appeared on the walkway striding towards us. We hesitated…but it was just a cat, after all. Further ahead two more were munching on something on the slope leading down to the beach, there was another weaving its way in amongst the deck chairs as it ‘patrolled’ the beach. We were surrounded. It felt like a ‘Dr Who’ set where cats had taken over the world and the humans were just their staff. I let out a sort of nervous laugh, what harm could they do, they were only cats? Then as a very well fed black and white specimen began approaching, I stepped away quickly. They had a knack of making us feel uncomfortable, as if they were saying – “What are you doing here off season?”

Time to move on. After a quick swim, during which I fretted about cats running off with my shoes and towel, or worse the car keys, we headed back to ‘cat car park’. We were escorted back up the path to the car by another couple of sentries, who sniffed at the tyres and watched us change. Glancing back as we sped off in the direction of normal civilisation, I could see them crouched at the top of the path again. There were no waves goodbye, they were just watching and waiting. I don’t know what they were waiting for, but I had a feeling they knew something we didn’t. Could it be someone was coming with food, or are they in fact busy planning an invasion right across the island? Watch this space for updates.


Unexpected visitors

Last week marked the departure of our last guests of the season…or so we thought.
It was Monday morning and I was thinking about getting up, when I was summoned to the garden, where two of the tiniest kittens I have ever seen were crawling up on a windsurf board by the fence and crying plaintively. Both of them started to run towards me and then one went under the car. They were no larger than my hand, but very cute looking, with pleading blue eyes.
One of us had to get to work, so it would be down to me to see where they came from and try and find someone who could look after them. I went inside and poured milk into a plastic plate, hoping they could lap it up. Setting it down near the gate, they rushed towards it and started dipping their heads towards the liquid, not quite sure what to do. But they were obviously thirsty and it wasn’t long before they seemed to be lapping some of it up and still looking at me and crying. Kittens’ cries are not like cats meowing; they are sort of squeaky and sound a bit desperate.
We are not big cat lovers in our house, having had a dog that chased them out of the garden for many years…but this was difficult. Next plan was to phone a friend who liked cats and might help take them. The trouble is in Cyprus there are hundreds of cats and kittens, many feral, who are often seen scavenging for food outside restaurants. So there is no demand for kittens, however pretty and cuddly they look. Our Aussie neighbour was sympathetic though; he came across to see them and lent me a cat box and some food.
“Give them evaporated milk diluted with water or they’ll get the runs,” he explained, “and you don’t want that!”. He already has several cats and I wondered if he’d like these as well.
“No thanks….they are cute though…why not keep them?”
We don’t do cats, I thought.
Well, we weren’t intending to keep any kittens or cats, if anything we would be looking for a dog, but not till we are back in the UK. So who could have them?
More crying…they were hungry. So I tried them with a little kitten food with water, which they seemed to like. One started chomping away with his/her paws right in the food and the other began gently licking round the food – signs of the sexes already emerging.
Eventually I got through to the ‘Cat Oracle’, alias one of the forces wives who runs the animal welfare group. Unfortunately, they had no funds at the moment and all the ‘foster parents’ were full up. The nearest place that would take them was a two and half hour drive away on the other side of the island. This was looking tricky. The kittens were now well snuggled up in some soft material in the cat box, fast asleep.
With the best intentions we tried to be logical and resolved to drive them to the rescue centre later that week once they had got over the trauma of being abandoned – big mistake! It started with a trip to buy evaporated milk and some kitten food…by the weekend we went in search of cat litter and a tray. By Sunday we were talking in terms of when we needed to get back to feed the kittens. Someone screwed up balls of newspaper for them to play with and let them fall asleep on his lap. But who has the heart to turn their back on two orphaned kittens?
The trouble is, these unexpected guests look like being here for some time. They may not need their sheets washing, but they like their meals on time and although they are good at entertaining themselves, they are always pleased to see us home.