The first time I came here I was nearly sold to a priest for a bag of oranges. It took a while for me to cotton on to what all the gesticulating was about. But it soon became crystal clear; he gets me, my family get the oranges. Luckily, my husband was there at the time and quickly stepped in to intervene with: “How many oranges..?”
I opted for a scattergun approach to hiking in Cyprus, visiting various unconnected areas accessed via a mix of public transport and my own trusty boots. For one reason I wanted to pack as much as possible into my short stay but in truth I found the maps sadly lacking (I love you Ordnance Survey) which curtailed my trailblazing somewhat. The Cyprus Tourism Organisation describes the island as a “land fit for gods” so as they say, if it’s good enough for them….
Today, I’m here on the stunning Akamas peninsular in Cyprus close to the baths of Aphrodite and I plan to travel along the South Western coastline to Lara Bay and Aphrodite’s Rock over the course of 2-3 days. First, I decide to take a peek at this famous bathing pool.
There’s a striking scent of jasmine amidst the faint tinkling sounds of water. Legend has it that Adonis came upon Aphrodite as she bathed here. Locals maintain that she was trouble with a capital ‘T’ pitting men against each other in a battle to win her affections. Daggers at dawn and all that. What a girl.
My route onwards is awash with olive trees and men loading huge bunches of unripe bananas into trucks. I take a short cut through an orange grove where the fruit hangs so heavily on the trees that my world is bathed in an orange glow. I can almost taste the juice as the scent is so strong. One thing I love about Cyprus is the light. It’s so clear and intense that even a novice like me can produce some pretty acceptable photographs. With minimal photoshopping.
Falling into an easy stride in the warm sun I continue along my rocky route just as a snake slithers right across my path. It’s big and black so thankfully not the highly venomous blunt nosed viper which inhabits the island. Although chances of an encounter are slim it’s essential practice to wear ankle high walking boots and to carry a walking pole or stick with which to prod logs and rocks before sitting down to take a breather.
Official snake encounter advice is to remain still and silent. I just about manage the first one but am too late to smother a loud shriek. The commotion attracts the attention of a goat herder who – bless him – comes over to offer advice. “You sing” he said “snake go”. After a few language setbacks and many hand gestures I work out that if I make a bit of a racket as I stride along, the snakes will stay well away. So would you if you’ve ever heard me sing. I did Google this later that day and apparently the snakes pick up on the vocal vibrations which sends them into hiding.
Moving on, I give it a go. As the entire snake population of Cyprus scrambles for earplugs (do snakes have ears?) I belt out my tune. I have absolutely no idea how or why I chose the song…but I settled on Eric and Ernie’s Bring Me Sunshine. I know, I know. I was tempted to add the little departure dance as I left the hillside but from the sobbing I guessed the goat herder was already on the verge of self destruct. A man can only take so much.
Lara Bay is a long, shingly stretch of undeveloped coastline and is preserved as a haven for loggerhead turtles which return every summer to lay their eggs. Monk seals also inhabit the caves in the area. Access is via dirt tracks littered with pot holes ensuring that the area never gets too crowded and the beach is closed to visitors completely during the breeding season. I heard a really sad story whilst I was here. Apparently, as the endless development continues unabated in nearby Paphos, the turtles returning to Lara Bay to lay their eggs are becoming disorientated by the light pollution from nightclubs and bars and are veering off course. Finding their nesting bay is now a much more difficult affair. How terribly sad.
Further along the coast is the site of ”Petra tou Romiou”, the rock of Aphrodite where the story goes she came ashore after her birth. Various local legends abound here. One rumour has it that if you swim around this rock at midnight during the full moon, Aphrodite will make you ten years younger. Another relates specifically to men and states that any man who wants to look ten years younger should bathe naked at Aphrodite’s birthplace; however, it must be at midnight and on Friday the 13th. As I was checking with a local about the likelihood of a full moon that evening, he scuppered my anti-ageing regime. “Yes” he agreed “those who swim around the rock ten times at midnight will look ten years younger. But take care! You must swim in the right direction – otherwise the transformation will have the opposite effect.” Like low fat cheese, alcohol-free lager and nipple piercing…some things are just too awful to contemplate.