Fantastic Island


Walking down the tourist strip in Limassol (you know, the one so conveniently split in two by a dual carriageway), stumbling past the bottles of beer and fast food wrappers on the pavement, I’ve always been struck, though only metaphorically, by the amount of dross available at souvenir shops. Beside the nudie postcards and the racks of ‘genuine Ray Rans’ and pirated DVDs, hang T-shirts such as those emblazoned with the Calvin Klein logo and the words ’Cyprus Kypros’. The one shirt that I found most fascinating, though, was adorned with the phrase ‘Cyprus- fantastic Island’.


Looking outside the store to find positive proof of the declaration on the shirts, I saw merely a dirty, busy road, a few disintegrating apartment blocks and a pavement peppered with litter. Intrigued, I, along with my best friend, decided to adopt the phrase, and we endeavoured to use it as often as possible.


Driving down the road we would bump over a hole big enough to act as a trench in case of war. Knowingly we would look at each other and one of us would say “Cyprus- fantastic island”. The occasional stench of sewage in the summer, the fact that you can’t get a decent meal in town for under a tenner, the flattened cats in the streets, the crumbling buildings with their falling balconies, these would all be greeted with the words “Cyprus- fantastic island”.


Which is a shame, really. Because Cyprus can be a lovely little place. Over the last few years, I’ve had a chance to get out of town and visit some of the villages, to stay in village houses, to drive around and walk through the Akamas and to see parts of the island I hadn’t seen before. A recent trip with some friends to the little medieval village of Lofou, with its cobbled streets and stone houses was more than worth it. We ate at a little tavern (apparently sweetcorn and curry are traditional ingredients of Cypriot cuisine, which was news to me) and walked up to the school yard for the festival of palouze. Now for those who don’t know, palouze, known as moustalevria in Greece, is a traditional Cypriot grape-must jelly. It tasted fantastic and thankfully we left before the speeches began. As I understand, there were several, as well as two singers and a local folk dance troupe.


Why is it that Cypriots make a whole song and dance about everything (quite literally in this case)? A visit to the North London Cypriots’ Wine Festival, which notably included an indoor exhibition with several stalls set up by travel agencies and banks, but interestingly none serving wine, resulted in me having to sit through ten speeches. Maybe it was eleven or twelve, but I lost count after the eighth. There was also a half hour show of folk dancing, but, thankfully, no singing.


Cyprus is about more than wine, dancing and song, and it certainly is about more than sandy beaches and the 300 days of sunshine we so proudly claim to be blessed with. Cyprus is about trekking through the woods of Troodos on a cool spring morning, it is about sitting on a porch in a village house drinking, eating meze and talking and laughing with friends. It is about watching the sun setting over the Mediterranean, it’s about sipping a strong coffee while you sit outside on your patio or veranda in the morning, it’s about walking through the Avakas gorge and looking up to see the sun struggling to shine through the rock, fishing on a pier by the sea, walking through a quiet village or climbing up the Aetopetres in Akamas to see the wilderness stretching below. Cyprus is about all these things and more. And there, I believe, lie the makings of a fantastic island.    


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