The end of a hot day

Today’s hot weather made me dream of being back in Cyprus. It was after a day of slightly higher temperatures than this that we picked up an unexpected stowaway in our hire car…

During a visit back to the island last month, we’d decided to pop out for an ice cream and an evening stroll down the beach. A couple of miles en-route there was, unusually for Cyprus, a queue of traffic caused by a Cypriot wedding, as guests dropped cars on the corners of pavements and stopped unexpectedly to let out glamorous ladies in high heels. I could hear the sound of a cat crying and it seemed very close by. I looked around to see where it was, then as we continued we both noticed the noise was still with us. I even turned to check in the back seat. As the sound grew more distinct and insistent we had the awful thought that the cat could be injured somewhere under the car or shut in the boot, so we quickly pulled into the nearest hotel entrance and jumped out. The mournful crying hadn’t stopped and unbelievably it seemed to be coming from under the bonnet.

A couple of Russian tourists wandered over to see what was wrong and could also hear the crying. The bonnet was popped and we all peered into the engine… no sign of a cat. But the plaintive meow continued. I was worried the animal was trapped and injured. One of the Russians suggested we turn the wheel slowly because that’s where the sound seemed to be coming from. Seconds later he leaned into the back of the engine and lifted out a tiny black and tortoiseshell kitten. Amazingly it seemed fine and was still desperately crying. He handed the kitten over and said, “Here you go – it’s yours!” Neither of us could believe this tiny kitten had survived the drive a mile a two down the road and lived to tell the tale.

We were very relieved that it was uninjured and decided to return to the flat where we assumed it had crawled into the car. The kitten buried itself in my neck and even started purring. We bought kitten food en-route (we are softies at heart) in case it was hungry and to help with the shock of being in an engine. We hoped it would wander off and find its mother somewhere in the surrounding bushes where many stray cats seemed to be living. So with the Kitten left eating, we headed out for that ice cream…

The next morning we checked the car for any sounds incase the little chap had returned. There was no sound from the car, but wait a minute… there was a familiar cry and it was coming from a car behind us. This time we couldn’t open the bonnet and didn’t even know who owned the vehicle. Eventually after practically lying under the car the same kitten, with a dangerous passion for car engines, was coaxed out from the engine through the wheel arch. This time a local lady was on hand to carry it off to safety, away from the temptation of parked cars.

That old advert for Esso petrol sprung to mind, urging drivers to ‘put a tiger in your tank’, with the photo of a roaring tiger. We’d had a baby tiger in our engine but his roar had been more of a meow.

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the end of summer?

Today feels like coming towards the end of a very long summer holiday and the approach of September has a ‘back to school’ aura about it. The sand between my toes and now collecting in corners on the floor of the car is a tell tale sign of days spent at the beach. Damp towels, sandy snorkel masks and a striped beach bag in need of repair will soon be packed or thrown away, having served us for over two years.

It’s always sad feeling the summer come to an end. The past two years, although not a complete holiday, have felt more like a vacation than any other period of my life. Sitting watching the sun sink towards the horizon across the water tonight could hardly be more idyllic… as the sun sets on our time here. Even now there’s a warm breeze fluttering against my face while the sea is shimmering gold, and miniature waves lap with calming rhythm against the sand below us.

This week has been filled with ‘last times’ as we have revisited favourite haunts from cafes and umbrella lined bazaars in bustling Nicosia and the buzz of Kyrenia’s harbour at night to the remote wilderness of the Karpaz peninsular and its idyllic golden beaches.

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I don’t want to say goodbye to these places I’ve come to treasure and which are filled with happy memories of time spent with family and friends. Today we went to a different part of the beach and had a drink at a different cafe. This was partly for a change, but also on my part, I wanted to avoid the feeling of having to go somewhere knowing we’re not coming back any time soon. I decided I’d rather remember the last time there and hope we will return one day. I don’t like goodbyes.

Although we have been revisiting what I would call our ‘top spots’ on the island, we’ve also ventured out on a new experience.

On Friday we were guests on board an 80ft yacht with a Turkish captain and his mother. http://www.velayachting.com It was an unforgettable time from the moment we stepped aboard and removed our shoes to the fond farewells at the end of the day. Yacht ‘Vela’ was a treat. A beautiful old sailing boat with wood lined decks, neatly coiled ropes and relaxing navy cushions everywhere became our home for a few hours. A handful of us enjoyed a jaunt down the coast of northern Cyprus for the day stopping off at bays for swims and snorkelling along the way. This time it was a relief to know that while I lounged on a deck cushion the responsibility for dropping and picking up the anchor was someone else’s nightmare. It was a kind of treat not having to heave ropes or jump across jetties to secure lines, although one member of the party couldn’t resist lending a hand! I wasn’t even required to go below and rustle up rations as ‘Mama’, (we had been instructed to call her this), had already prepared a sumptuous feast of Turkish dishes spread out on the table when we returned from our swim.

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Meanwhile, Captain Serhat was doing his bit precariously barbecuing fish and lamb at the bows. Peaceful music tinkled all around and during the lunch we were serenaded by what sounded like snatches of an opera. It was a surreal yet lovely experience and Capt Serhat had some good banter with the other skipper on board, as they exchanged plenty of old sea tales. He also impressed us with a tight 360 manoeuvre below the castle walls… although someone kept muttering, “bow thrusters are cheating”. During the day there was ample time to watch the coast go by, muse on the identity of a flock of birds and natter with friends who had joined us, while we sipped strong Turkish coffee from miniature China cups. It was in fact a perfect finish to our Cyprus adventure as we sail into unchartered waters and life back in the UK.

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Last night was also topped off with a mini ‘night exercise’ along the beach. Having swum with turtles and seen their carefully marked nests on the beaches here, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of some baby turtles making their way to the sea by moonlight. Torches in hand we followed a path and steps onto the darkened beach where the crashing waves drowned out all other sounds. We were alone on the beach checking the sand for signs of mini turtles or broken shells, even the tell-tale pattern of fin prints in the soft sand. Although we saw a few of these and some scuttling mini crabs, there were no turtles in sight. Gradually a silvery moon appeared from behind a cloud and we took a break on a couple of empty sun loungers. Sometime later I woke with a start realising we had both fallen asleep. We’d probably slept through the turtle-hatching bonanza and missed everything. Either way it was too late, as we drove back along the cliff tops a little while later, I wondered why the light seemed bright in the car and realised the driver still had his head torch turned on, adding a third beam to the car headlights on the dirt track… time to call it a day. The quest for hatching turtles will have to wait for another summer – maybe on a return trip?

A walk on the wild side

I may not have been living on berries or catching crocodiles to cook over a fire, but I have been doing my own foray into the wilds of Cyprus.

It started with a couple of nights ‘wild camping’ in some sand dunes overlooking the sea. As the track proved impassable without a 4×4 we had to lug water, tent, food and cooking stuff some way up a sandy bank through dunes and then discovered our lack of wooden sand pegs, so scoured the area for rocks large enough to weigh down the sides of the tent. Camp set, I asked the inevitable question….”Do you know where the toilets are?” A line of trees and shrubs was pointed out, but there wasn’t a loo seat in sight.

I’ve never been a scout or a guide, or even done Duke of Edinburgh treks, so the idea of digging a hole for some serious toilet business was fairly alien… but needs must! As I squatted in the bushes I stared up at the hill beyond and noticed a little cave with a meshed off rail just above me – hang on, was that someone with binoculars peering down through the trees? No, probably just a goat or a donkey…

Later, after toasting ourselves on the beach and cooling off in the sea, it was time to put our cooking stove to the test and light the lanterns. After lighting the new gas lantern we admired its glow for a few minutes, only to watch it flicker and fizzle out. Oh dear, we hadn’t checked the bottle or bought a spare, let’s hope we fair better with the stove. Eating outside beneath the stars, enjoying a glass of wine or two ( yes we even took real glasses!) was magical and I forgot all about the trek through the dunes in the heat and the open air toilets.

About 3am in the morning I woke up in a tangle and stumbled from the tent – not even bothering to walk to the ‘toilets’. The sky was dark and there was no moon in sight – all around was shadows and the sand felt cool against my bare feet. Lying back in the tent a few minutes later I heard a rustle and imagined someone snooping around the food bag, possibly attempting to run off with our milk. More rustling. “Did you hear that?” I whispered to the sleeping form beside me. He hadn’t, but he was listening now. We both heard the loud braying of a donkey not far away. I wondered if someone might be out there, or perhaps it was a goat, in which case it would eat all the bags and towels as well as the food. Maybe it was a fox or a wild dog. The rustling started again and I lifted my head to the source, where someone’s feet were rustling against the entrance of the tent! Time to sleep!

Yesterday, not content with wild camping we ventured on a canyon walk up a spectacular gorge. Having parked the car in a restaurant car park called The Last Castle, we set off in the blazing heat of early afternoon against my better judgement. Wild living is all very well, I thought, glancing back reluctantly at the inviting chairs surrounding stone tables under a canopy of vines overlooking the sea, where the smell of barbecued meat was wafting towards us. But we were intrepid hikers intent on conquering the gorge. Some time later, after stops to re-tie boots and re-apply sun cream, the towering gorge began to close in on us and the path grew narrower. Menacing black birds were flapping their wings loudly as they flitted between nests in the cliffs high above. Water was splashing gently over the rocks and as we clambered over giant boulders, there were giant tree roots overhanging the path and water drenched moss on the damp stone walls beneath. The cliffs were lined with ridges in amazing curves and shades of sand, pink and even green in places. Around one corner a giant boulder was suspended over our heads bridging the gap between the sides of the narrowing gorge. Munching on an orange and sipping cold water beside a boulder in the dappled shade of some trees clinging to the cliff side, I knew why I like a taste of wilderness. We were all alone in a beautiful place. The only sounds were the gentle gurgle of the stream and the chirp of the birds overhead. I hope heaven is a wild place too.

But an hour or so later, after a hot slog back up the hill, sitting in The Last Castle, with a cool breeze on our faces, a cold beer on the table and the view of the sea spread out in front, I thought heaven might be a mixture of wild and wonderful. Because we all need a little luxury after a walk on the wild side.

 

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Follow that goat

I think that maps are overrated. For one thing they can be misleading and often give a false sense of security. I’ve had maps which I have followed religiously and yet still found myself miles off route. And this has nothing to do with my map reading, but is entirely due to careless map drawing. So, yesterday on a little trek through the Troodos foothills, I was skeptical about the accuracy of the maps posted at the start of the trail.

After a shaky start when two of our band of three thought the right direction was on the opposite side of the road, we admitted our error and paced off down the tarmac to the correct path a few hundred yards in the other direction. Point of clarification: I didn’t have my glasses with me, so took myself off map reading duty for the day.

Error 1 seemed to occur when we turned right up hill on a promising track that eventually came to a dead end. But we ploughed on. I was convinced the track had just become overgrown and it would magically appear through the steep undergrowth. A lot of sheep tracks later and we were half way up a steep hillside, with no way to go but up and no path in sight. After a rather hairy and what seemed like bramble and rock filled route, we spotted the track we had been seeking half a valley away. Luckily it wasn’t long before we stumbled on our original path which had wound its way up the hillside sensibly. We let out a cheer for paths and thought how good they were. Even when it was hard going, two of us were saying gratefully, “well, at least it’s a path.” We didn’t know what lay ahead!

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A little while later at the top of a lot more hills, lunch was a sumptuous affair and there was even a bench to sit on with a panoramic view and a shack with a window (in case it was raining!). From our viewpoint we heard the tinkle of bells and in the distance what looked like a herd of sheep, running along a grassy ridge parallel to ours. That we decided would be our route back. There was a problem however, because there was no direct path connecting us. The map was consulted and it was decided we would follow a riverbed down a valley which, quite simply, would connect us with the path we were seeking and our ‘shortcut’ back.

The herd of white sheep, who turned out to be a species of giant goat, suddenly appeared ahead of us on the path. Veering off Kamikaze-like into the sheer hillside either side as soon as they spotted us. We wondered later which route they had taken and I thought it was a shame they hadn’t hung around a bit for us to take directions. But I’m afraid goats are like that…very hasty!

We headed off optimistically across some medium height undergrowth following our leader. The goats had made it somehow, so how difficult could it be? Ten minutes later he was beating back the Mediterranean jungle with his feet (where are walking sticks when you need them?). The trees and bushes were getting larger and more dense and there was no path in sight.

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Spring in Cyprus means the snakes are just waking up from their long winter sleep. So I did a bit of calling out to let them know we were coming, “Snakes! calling all snakes!” Because we didn’t want to step on their heads or anything. The mention of the ‘snake’ word added the extra adrenalin needed to pick up speed and find the path ahead as quickly as possible. So no matter how many fallen trees trunks had to be clambered over or under, there was no turning back.

The result of all this trekking through undergrowth was that my carefully epilated legs now offered a good base for a game of noughts and crosses with the pattern of scratches left from brambles. Eventually we found a dried up riverbed heading down an overgrown valley which we stumbled our way down. Between the sliding bed of rocks, the bramble strewn hillside and hidden holes and ditches, it was amazing we made it out at all. When we did eventually find a path, someone made a tentative suggestion about going in search of another path on the other side of the valley. But having found our way back no one was keen to return to the ‘jungle’ – let’s not push our luck, miraculously we had survived without twisted limbs or snakebites, despite our best efforts.

Along the track we discussed which route the goats might have taken and we noticed signs of them on the ground with hoof marks and other smellier offerings visible to the discerning tracker. They had definitely passed this way.

Next time I think taking a goat with us could be a lot more useful than a map!

colours of spring in March

Driving across the island this morning – I’ve decided this is Cyprus at its most beautiful.

It was just after 7am, warm and sunny with blue skies. The air was fresh like an English summer morning, with the scent of grass and flowers and the promise of a bright day ahead. The grass was glistening with dew and along the roadside there were bright yellow flowers everywhere. At one bend in the road a perfect picture of yellow flowers in the tall green grass sprinkled with scarlet poppies shouted to be noticed. I wanted to stop and take a photograph but airport check in time was calling and you never know what delays could be ahead, so I didn’t risk it.

This is a Middle Eastern spring and very beautiful it is too. We hardly experienced it last year, as the winter had been little more than a blip of cold snap with very little rain. Then almost without warning February and March had slipped into summer. But today the fields are lush and green, the trees are bristling with new leaves and wild flowers of yellow, red and blue lace the roadside at every turn. I’m worried that while I’m away the sun will burn up these colourful blooms and dry out the grass – returning the fields to parched mustard plains of scrub and dust. Please stay spring-like a little longer, just till I get back.

Cyprus has had one of longest and wettest winters for a long time, with piles of snow in the mountains too. Now just as the rain has done its magic and it looks like brightening up properly – I’m off to the UK.

A few hours in the air and this afternoon England feels a lot more brown, but beautiful in its own way. Here the trees are still bare, the sun is hiding behind some clouds, but there are patches of blue sky visible from the windows of the train. It seems like winter hasn’t hung up its coat yet.

I wonder why colours affect us so much? What is it about a blue sky early in the morning that makes us smile and happy to jump out of bed and start the day? Why are green fields more peaceful and relaxing on the eye than sand or desert? We love blue seas, but grey or brown waters look uninviting. There is no denying I like to live my life in colour and it definitely has an affect on how I feel.

Although England won’t offer as many ‘blue sky’ mornings as Cyprus, there are compensations. The sunsets are often spectacular with amazing cloud formations that are simply heavenly. There’s a soft light across the countryside here that we don’t get abroad – the difference between the gentle strokes of a water colour and the deep vivid shimmer of an oil painting. I was touched by nature’s beauty early this morning now I’m being wowed again from the train as the sun gilds a rippling cloud with gold and pink edges and spills its copper beams across the sky.

It really is true – ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’

Fact: Whether you’re in Cyprus or the UK.

below: spring flowers and blue sky at Salamis on Sunday

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Barbed wire and barriers

It was only a rusting wire mesh fence with pop cans threaded through it at random points and I peered over it, slightly puzzled by a suspiciously unimaginative sign at the side of the track, labelled, ‘Pop can fence’.

A few minutes later the relevance of the sign became clear.

Last week we visited the land of barbed wire and barriers that is Nicosia’s ‘green line’. Walking with UN soldiers on patrol down the dividing line between the north and south of the city, we passed Turkish soldiers keeping a watchful eye on members of the Cypriot National Guard across a narrow strip of no-man’s land barely a few yards wide at points.

‘Pop Can Fence’, we discovered was an important sign, marking the area around the last minefield to be cleared along the line. Our UN guide told us it was 99 per cent clear. Hence the fence, the pop cans and the sign – no-one wanted to be testing out for that one per cent chance of a mine.

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The Turkish look out post we had seen beyond the fence and an abandoned one around the corner had been the scene of one of the many spats between Cypriot and Turkish soldiers over the years. A Cypriot national guard soldier had been shot after creeping out and stealing the Turkish flag one night and then waving it at the soldiers in their tower, while he also dropped his trousers to make them really mad. His reward was a fatal bullet, sometime later.

The track we were walking down was lined with tumbled down buildings draped in barbed wire and littered with sandbags. We were following one of the most fought over and highly disputed pieces of land in the world, which runs through the heart of the capital of Cyprus. There was an immense sadness about the road and even the debris, shoes, footballs and rusting cocoa cola signs seemed to say they were tired of all the fighting too – it was so worn out.

Bullet holes and bomb damage on buildings lining the road told their own story of the battles over the years which culminated in the Turkish invasion of 1974. There was Annie’s house – the home of Annie, a Cypriot woman who had refused to leave her house when the invasion happened. She stayed living there – her front door opening out onto the green line and no-man’s land. Every time she wanted to go shopping she had to be escorted by UN soldiers and taken back again. This woman ignored the divide and made no distinction as she handed out cups of tea to soldiers on both sides. When she died a few years ago, both Turkish and Greek Cypriots attended her funeral. Unfortunately, this sign of unity wasn’t the beginning of peace.

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Further down the line, a hole in the wall was pointed out to us by one of the soldiers who explained that it was a machine gun position mounted to deter UN soldiers from using a Cypriot café, which had an entrance onto no-man’s land.

And around another corner there was a line of open tea chests forming a wall. The Cypriots had complained about them being filled with rubble to strengthen the wall on the Turkish side. When the Turkish soldiers were asked to turn them around to show they were empty, they eventually agreed. They then proceeded to turn one box around every month, to the frustration of the other side, so it took over a year for them to comply with the request.

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Towards the end of the patrol we came to what was the Knightsbridge of Nicosia, but where most of the high-end merchandise has largely been ransacked and carried away. There was one large block that has stock remaining and inside we could see dusty display cabinets, ancient leather suitcases and shoes and slippers still in their boxes. It was like stepping back into the 1950s or into a desert museum filed with memorabilia and bottles and posters. Further down the road was a former car showroom, with cars that were once shiny new speed machines and were now coated in inches of dust and grime. Inside you could peel back a layer of plastic covering the leather seats, but their engines had long since seized up. One car formed an unsightly coffin for the parched body of a dead cat, which was draped over the engine. It seemed to sum up the atmosphere – death and decay had been preserved in this place and the evidence is still there, 40 years on.

After a couple of hours we turned our back on the green line, emerging from one of the guarded entrances; we stepped back into the sun soaked streets of Nicosia.

On my future border crossings between north and south of the city, I won’t be able to forget the desolation of the road that lies between and soldiers who continue to walk the borderlands each day – trying to maintain a form of peace that looks like it will be a long time coming.

 

 

 

goodbye Tinkerbell

I’d forgotten that sadness makes your tummy hurt.

Yesterday we faced the cruel reality of the speed of cars on the road past the house, when we made the awful discovery that one of our orphaned kittens had been hit by a car. It was so sad to see her soft grey paws lying lifeless, when half an hour earlier she had been gently tossing a hair bobble across the carpet. That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach is how it feels to be so sad because something bad has happened and there is nothing that can be done to change it.

I didn’t expect to be so upset about a pet we hadn’t asked for and who only arrived last October, but one of the saddest things was looking at her fluffy tailed brother wondering where his playmate had gone. ImageImage

We’ve now almost completed a year in Cyprus and it has gone so fast, I’m panicking that it will soon be over. Our first proper visitors of the season have come and gone and we have more family arriving next week – the pool is heating up and the sky is mainly blue – the summer is getting into full swing and there’s lots to be excited about!

Our boys are coming to the end of education as they both move into full time jobs this summer and our only daughter is getting married….the times are changing. In the midst of all this I am trying to keep my head, while I write a best seller (or two), keep up with the daily news and earn some ready money. I also need to work out the best way to transform myself into a half decent ‘mother-of-the bride’ (MOB).

This is more challenging than I’d thought because no sooner do I embark on the 5:2 diet, which involves trying to limit myself to 500 calories two days a week, than we are invited to tea with friends from church. Walking into their lovely bungalow overlooking the sea, I make a mental note to refuse all cakes and accept just a cup of tea. Half an hour later I am helping myself to drop scones and jam and carrot cake – Oh dear. Life on a diet is cruel. I am considering doing some lengths in the pool and or going for a run – instead I have decided to catch up on my neglected blog. There’s little hope for this ‘would-be fit’ MOB.

Last night we raised a toast to Tinkerbell, chinking a few glasses of wine on the terrace with two cat-loving friends who called by to commiserate. We had buried her under the pine trees opposite and said a little prayer of thanks. This morning my stomach still feels strange, but it’s not as bad as yesterday.