Madeline Blount
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Trekking in Pafos: Town/Country

April 14, 2009 @ 5:16 AM | Permalink

I have focused so much of this blog and of my work here in Cyprus on the urban experience of old Nicosia: gritty, nostalgic, almost mysterious with its meandering streets, random food markets from Russia or Manila, and of course the troop-patrolled border.  The wound that somehow divides the city and pulls it slowly together at its center.  The morning haze and the either old-and-beautiful or concrete-1970's-block architecture are parts of the landscape I am used to here.  And even though Cyprus is an island, in Nicosia I don't see any water.  Or very many trees.

I was really excited, then, when some new friends invited me to go camp with them in the Pafos region, Cyprus' wild West.  We piled into a car on Sunday morning, drinking hot to-go Nescafe coffees from the town square's kiosk, and drove away from the bustle that takes over Nicosia every weekend.  

Only 20 minutes outside the city, the landscape changes dramatically.  There are villages, fields with wild flowers, and cragged mountain peaks with monasteries that seem to grow out of them:

I wanted to hike up to the top of this monastery, Stavrovounni, but the half-Cypriot young guy driving us told me that women are not allowed in the Orthodox monasteries.  I had to content myself with monkeying around the scrub and the cliffs, which smelled like a well-stocked spice cabinet in the spring heat.  When we drove on, I started thinking about a performance art piece, getting some women together to dress as men and seek entrance into Cyprus' high-altitude temples to monasticism . . . 

And in only an hour, the land changed again.  Cyprus is a microcosm (2 Greek words! mikros, kosmos) in the real sense -- a broad swath of history, conflicts, cultures, and climates, condensed (jam-packed, I can say) into a small island.  Here at Petra tou Romiou, where Aphrodite walked out of her sea foam, I remembered finally that Cyprus IS an island:

I was traveling with two half-Cypriots (= one whole Cypriot?) and a Frenchman, and we talked about the rich mythology of this rock.  "Isn't it also where Cyclops threw the big rock at Odysseus, when he got blinded?" the Cypriots asked each other.  "Yeah, I think so -- and also where a Greek warrior threw stuff at the Saracens."  "And Aphrodite," I said.  "Yes, Aphrodite -- you know she rose from white sea foam, the foam that came from Cronus cutting off her father's testicles?"  I said I had learned about the foam, but I guess I had never made that specific connection before.  

We made one stop in the village of Latchi for provisions.  These provisions ended up being Cypriot donuts, loukoumades, fried in oil right on the street and sold in large, syrup-dripping quantities stuffed with tahini, and which we put in our backpacks like everything else.

We drove on to the Baths of Aphrodite (which we didn't see, because my Cypriot friends told us they are kind of just ponds with a sign by them), packed our bags, and started the trek through the Akamas peninsula.  It was a two hour hike along the sea, with wildflowers, wooden boats hidden in pebble coves, and even Cyprus goats:

The goats carried little bells that rang -- no, chimed, or sang -- as they crossed the road, and the music from this made the already magical scene idyllic.  And we didn't see more than a few other hikers; we saw vestiges of the rural life, like whoever put those bells on the goats, but no farmers, no settlement.  My brain already filled with mythology, I could see ancient Cypriots trudging with their sandals and walking sticks around every corner.  As we walked my face hurt from smiling.  I was convincing myself that I could just be a goatherd out here, swimming in the sea and eating my own delicious cheese and clocking my days with the sun, when we walked past this sign:

Right, this is Cyprus.  Our untouched wilderness was in the heart of a British military base, the joys of post(?)colonialism.  I didn't see any military debris, though, and we made it unscathed to our camp site: the Northwestern tip of Cyprus, a little spit that we had all to ourselves.  

We gathered wood for a fire (I was still looking out for that military debris, wrong kind of fire).  The scrub along the beach ended up being wild thyme, and we cooked our potatoes right on the coals of this most sweetly-scented campfire.  I write this now and my jeans still smell like roasting spices.  I didn't miss the charred aroma of camp marshmallows, as our fire was too perfect, but I did mention them -- "S'mores, you know?  The chocolate and cracker and marshmallow sweets."  "Oh I've heard of them, they sound disgusting."  I thought about it, and I do think that Hershey's would have been disgusting in a way, ruining the rustic moment.  On that beach, with nothing but fresh food and each other's company, I felt timeless -- thinking back to the myths and the ancient sandaled-feet, I felt connected to this history, as if having been in that spot on the beach meant having been there, then.  We stared into the fire, hypnotized, swapping stories, particularly about places we've been (I added Sweden to my must-go list), and then I crawled into a sleeping bag, warmed, in all ways.

After a windy night in the tent, we packed up and hiked and drove back the way we came.  We all noted how the journey always seems shorter on the return.  Back in the city and walking home, when a car almost drove into me on the sidewalk (again), I vowed to go into nature in Cyprus more often.  It reinvigorated me in ways I didn't even know I needed, and reminded me why I love the Mediterranean in the first place.  As soon as I begin to define the island by its capital, or to make the mistake of attempting to define it at all, I remember that there is always more.





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Loved the ending on this. Related: I find that sometimes I remember a meeting or moment but can't recall what country it happened in. I also find that if I ...

Saleem Reshamwala on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-23

Thanks Saleem -- I've also experienced that tonguetied delirium from speaking multiple languages in the same conversation. . . interesting to think of meaning separate from words, does meaning require ...

Madeline Blount on Upon Waking, and Placelessness 2009-03-26

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