The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This year’s challenge?

22nd February to 1st March 2008
11th Cycling Week Salamis to Limassol

Stoker at the Mosque

Day 86 Friday 22nd February Salamis to Larnaka

We think the Turks must be trying to keep us here. As we were about to leave we found that the rear tyre had gone down again. This time the management investigated the cause properly to find that the lining of the tyre had split and rubbed a hole in the tube. We put our spare tyre on. We have to carry one because of the unreliability of even the best tyres. We also kept the damaged one as a long stop. It would be good if Schwalbe did something about it. But the tyre manufacturers are just too big to care about the likes of us even when they have a product which almost works.

The road south to Famagusta and onwards to Greek Cyprus promised to be very busy. The next border crossing westwards at Beyarmudu seemed a better option for us. We set off cross country on minor roads.

The Turks had widened the road to the border and put down extra smooth tarmac. Even so we saw very little traffic.

When we were about 3km from the border we came across Turkish military with barracks and a watch tower. We cycled along beside the bit of Cyprus that remains for the time being British. Apart from some very old rusty barbed wire and some signs one would never know. Perhaps if we strayed from the road someone with a gun may be very upset.

Beyarmudu, the last village in Turkish Cyprus, is immediately before the border and is a long straggling place. Unlike the Irish borders in the bad old days there were no signs of shops aimed at selling things more cheaply on one side or the other. The stoker was upset because none of the shops sold Turkish tea. They had just about every other variety but we have a taste for the Turkish.

We heard the call to prayers from the mosque, perhaps for the last time on this trip. This mosque uncharacteristically sported the Turkish Cypriot flags on its rather inferior minaret, a statement that may have been better not made. No one could ignore the chanting five times a day which has been part of this journey.

We approached the crossing point at the end of the village. There was a guard sitting by the lifting barrier and three people sitting in a plastic cabin with windows.

We presented our passports and our details were typed into the computer. Obviously the wrong answer came out. “When did you cross over from the South?” we were asked. We explained how we had come into Cyprus from Turkey. They were incredulous that anyone could cycle from Kyrenia. We did not tell them the whole story.

One of the passport officers then realised that bikes could travel on the ferry. We were each issued with an exit visa from Turkish Cyprus, despite not having an entry visa. We found the procedure amusing though we suppose it could have been worrying if they had not let us through. We were after all British passport holders entering British territory.

Once the barrier was lifted we pedalled through and into the entry customs area. British customs lazily waved us through without even asking about our bottle of raki.

We cycled on for a few kms in British territory. The only indication that we had left it was when we saw a sign at the entrance to the large village of Pyle saying we were entering the UN buffer zone. There were a couple of white UN pickup trucks and blue uniformed troops about.

After our final border crossing by bike we needed lunch. We found some seats in the courtyard of a very new and ostentatious Greek Orthodox church. Some one was making a statement. As far as we were concerned it would have been better made if they had provided toilets and washing facilities for weary travellers as the Muslims do at every mosque.

At the end of Pyle we passed a sign saying we were out of the UN buffer zone and were now presumably in the south proper. In every respect the south looked more opulent than the north. We had clearly moved into the 1st World.

In many ways the 2nd World is better for cyclists. The traffic is usually less and moves more slowly. The roads are also more cycle friendly. We first came to a main road onto which we were not permitted. This was no great loss but the alternative route was not signed.

By trial and error we found the coast road which was characterised by a ribbon development of hotels mixed in with a stinking oil port. Must be a lovely place for a package holiday. We tried riding on what appeared to be a cycle path. It proved impossible because kerbs had not been properly lowered. But it did look very pretty in a kind of useless meandering way.

We went on into the busy little town of Larnaka. Following the Lonely Planet map we found a very pleasant apartment just where they said it would be.


Day 87 Saturday 23rd February in Larnaka

We spent Saturday being tourists in Larnaka. It has a pleasant seafront and some reasonable shops. Unfortunately there are no pedestrian areas, which in a country where cars park on pavements makes life uncomfortable. We were very surprised at the attitudes and plain ignorance which the Greeks Cypriots we talked to seemed to have about the Turkish Cypriots. It does not bode well for the future and the Turks could certainly do with the Greek input and vice versa.

We found it almost as difficult to adjust to the south as it is to change countries proper. The stoker immediately noticed that her status did not automatically depend on her gender. In Turkey and Turkish Cyprus the management took priority. If he was there she was sometimes ignored and seldom looked in the eye, bringing back memories of Italian behaviour. While the south could hardly be compared to what she is used to in the UK it was at least an improvement. In the south women are out and about and there are fewer groups of brothers eating in the restaurants.

On the downside we missed the friendly helpfulness of the Turks. During the past six weeks we have got used to Turks always being caring and interested in our journey. Very occasionally it became a nuisance, particularly when we have had to deal with touts and beggars. But in the main it added a huge amount of enjoyment for us.

Day 88 Sunday 24th February Larnaka to Limassol

We were in no particular hurry to leave. We had planned an easy day, the intention being to stop short of Limassol before going to our final destination tomorrow. Getting out of town was easy and we took the back way to the airport.

As we approached the airport we joined the main road which goes between two salt lakes. We were looking for flamingos and they appeared on cue on our left. The backdrop of the airport buildings was incongruous but the birds were very impressive. Unlike the single flamingo we saw in Italy these had pink feathers and even the salt lake itself looked pink. We dallied and took many photographs before happily going on our way.

We were soon diverted from the planned route. This was because the airport is being extended, unbelievable with oil prices rising fast. The new airport is being built on land which must be of great environmental importance. We suppose that it would be too much to expect Cypriots to be environmentally friendly. In our lifetime they have experienced civil war and the interference and incompetence of both the British and American governments. They are now hosting our forces complete with nuclear weapons. But they should care about their environment and they don’t seem to, let us hope that joining the EC will eventually change that.

Being diverted because of the airport may have been a good thing as the management had planned a short cut through the salt lake. This would not have worked and would have scared the flamingos. Furthermore the salt could have done great damage to the tandem’s moving bits.

As we went on we were surprised at the width and smoothness of the road. According to our map it led to some small villages and then back to the main road via several kms of dirt road. There was not very much traffic and we were overtaken by several groups of road cyclists on Sunday morning training rides. Most were not very friendly which we put down to them not being fit enough to ride and talk at the same time. This was confirmed later in the morning. We had a superb tail wind over flat treeless fields and we had the sadistic pleasure of seeing these roadies struggling back against the wind. And many of them were struggling.

As we went on, at a great pace for us, we realised from the road and distance signs that we were on a direct through route. Finding a very pleasant seat on a low cliff a few metres from the blue sea we took a slightly early lunch stop. Because of the headwind we were already well over half way to Limassol. Decisions had to be made and we decided to go on into the city rather than stop in one of the hill villages as planned.

During lunch time several cars came and went. One however, a large and expensive Mercedes with a single male occupant, stayed. The elderly driver, a northern European, remained in his car reading the newspaper. It was a pleasant thing to do. We could however not avoid thinking that had he been Greek or Turkish he would have walked or cycled to his local café and now be playing backgammon with his friends. Maybe he would not have an expensive car but we know which lifestyle we would prefer.

As we left the lunch stop something did not feel quite right. Our legs seemed to have turned to jelly and progress was slow. Our lovely tailwind was now on the nose and our legs did not like it. It was too late to change the plan to go on but the management wondered whether it was the right decision.

With a view to taking the most direct route we ignored the direction signs and went as near to the coast as possible. We had not however planned to cycle through the industrial part of Cyprus which few tourists see. Right on the coast, an area which would now be prime holiday bungalow land, were an enormous cement works, a power station, and several factories including a chemical plant. It was interesting although the stench and dust stayed with us for the rest of the day.

The traffic built up as we approached the first hotels when we were about 12km out of Limassol. For the rest of the way in they were closer to the main road and more packed in. We thought we had done pretty well to cycle on quiet roads for most of the way. Unfortunately Cypriot drivers are in the main totally incompetent. In the north where most of the vehicles are slow and old this is not much of a problem. Here in the south where souped up cars seem the in thing we felt vulnerable. Many drivers here appear to behave like Jeremy Clarkson, showing no respect for their own or anyone else’s safety.

Reluctantly the management took to the narrow and poorly designed cycle path, incorrectly judging it to be better than the road. Just a short distance from our destination two in line skaters and some pedestrians blocked our way. We stopped quickly. Tired and surprised by the management’s sudden action the stoker was not ready and we gently fell off.

The management stepped off while minimizing the stoker’s fall as much as he could. She needed to be helped up but was more annoyed than hurt. This has been the only fall of this trip and it is ironic that it happened so close to our destination. It brought home to both of us how lucky we have been. As usual the stoker now has some large bruises which are inevitable with her medication but she has had much worse without falling off a bike.

We picked ourselves up and cycled straight to the planned hotel. We were both exhausted from today’s long ride but delighted to be at our final destination.

The management trying a new cycle path?

Days 89 and 90 Monday and Tuesday 25th and 26th February in Limassol

Rather than just one celebration for reaching our destination we decided to celebrate all the time we are here. We booked into the “executive” suite of the best apartment hotel we could find. It is set back from the noisy sea front road and opposite the park. Being on the top floor we have sea views and, barring earthquakes, will be very comfortable.

Last night we went to a local café for a meal. Southern Cyprus had just that day elected a communist president. Cars were roaring about waving flags and blowing their horns. The noise was deafening and the danger great. We asked our waiter, who was not a Cypriot but lives here, what he thought. We said we were surprised that such a chauvinistic selfish capitalist lot had voted communist. He shrugged his shoulders and said that the south was a mass of contradictions. He said it was probably good because the president was in favour of reuniting with the north. If the Greeks do reunite with the Turks most of those we have talked to will need a major change of attitude towards the Turks.

In the morning we went pedalling off to find Grimaldi’s shipping agent. We wanted to check when our ship would be in and also to discover whether the parcel we had sent from Italy had arrived. The downside of coming into the city centre is that to go anywhere we have to vie with the heavy traffic. Using the techniques learned by cycling in London we managed this. We are also beginning to find the less busy roads.

Following the directions obtained from the internet we found the agent’s office near the port. Andreas of Manda Shipping was very helpful and said that the ship was expected to depart on Sunday but he would phone us on Friday to confirm the details. He also had the parcel for us which he had been keeping since early January.

Back at the hotel we unpacked the parcel containing the computer and some other bits and pieces. The computer is a second hand IBM ThinkPad and cheap enough for us not to worry if it were lost or broken. Fortunately it worked fine straightaway. ThinkPads are tougher than most but not indestructible. After all these weeks of doing everything on the tiny XDA it was a pleasure to have it.

On Tuesday we took things slowly, got up late and then spent the day exploring the old town on foot. It is easy, particularly for the stoker who is not a lark, to wake up very late. Turning on the radio it is then possible to be lulled into working on British time. There are two British forces radio stations here. The one we listen to most obtains its main news and current affairs programmes from BBC Radio 4. All the time checks are therefore two hours behind Cyprus time. For travellers like us it is a great shame that the BBC World Service on both radio and TV don’t do the same. It would make a lot better use of our money than their current attempts to copy CNN and Al Jazeera.

We did the Castle, the shops and the old market and enjoyed lunch at a pavement café sitting in the sun. We also decided that we would like to visit the local mosque. Despite being in Turkey for so long we had never managed to do more than look into mosques from the outside. Here in the south Muslims seem to get a very raw deal and being truly British we wanted to show support for the underdogs.

We arrived at the mosque at afternoon prayer time. Even so we were warmly welcomed and invited in. We both had to remove our shoes and the stoker was asked to cover her head and to wear a cloak thing which they called an apron. We watched the short service in silence while the men knelt and prayed in the way we have seen them do so many times on TV. Neither of us has much time for religious dogma from any quarter but we enjoyed our visit and are glad we went.

Day 91 Wednesday 27th February in Limassol (Cycle ride to Akrotiri)

It was time for a bike ride and we went off to explore the Akrotiri peninsula which is of course familiar to many who served in the British armed forces. The ride out of town was slightly better now that we are finding the quiet routes. At the northernmost part of the peninsular we crossed into the sovereign base area which is British territory. The only sign that it was not Cypriot territory was that the tarmacked road ceased and we were cycling on a broad unmade track.

We stopped almost immediately to look at the birds on a scruffy looking lake inland of the beach. There were some flamingos, herons and several other species. We were soon joined by another person who was much more knowledgeable and identified them for us. We mentioned that we had hoped to see flocks of flamingo on the nearby extensive salt lakes. He said that because it was so dry the flamingos had not come and were only in this little “fresh” water lake because there was nowhere else for them to feed.

We continued along the Lady Mile Beach dirt road which is actually 5km long. The beach is rather pleasant at this time of the year before the searing heat of summer sets in. The southern end of the peninsular is a restricted area for the armed forces. When we approached the military fence we turned inland across the salt lake to St Nick’s monastery and had lunch at the village of Akrotiri. St Nick’s monastery is well known for its cat population which was originally brought in to kill poisonous snakes 700 years ago. At least 14 cat descendants seem to have survived. Akrotiri is the only village in the base area and the inhabitants have dual nationality. It is on slightly raised ground and gives a great view of the vast shimmering salt lake.

After living in town and having cycled through the tourist sprawl it was a pleasure to be in this silent undeveloped area. Rather like the area the troops occupy in Dorset the Akrotiri peninsular has been preserved from the pressures of developers. We were sorry not to see huge flocks of flamingo and hope that this was not caused by climate change.

Days 92, 93 and 94 Thursday, Friday and Saturday 28th, 29th February and 1st March in Limassol

There is a slight downside to travel by cargo ship and in theory it should be of no importance to us. We have to be here several days ahead of the departure date in case the ship goes early but it may also go late. Unfortunately even in the best of places the management gets restless when he has little to do and he then makes the stoker’s life a misery. While the apartment and hotel here is fine and probably the best we could get Greek Cyprus is not. The wait is becoming irksome for both of us.

The stoker set off on her own to do some girl things. She talked to people who were both ignorant and prejudiced against unification of the island and the whole Turkish population in general. She then went to a branch of the Hellenic Bank to change Turkish Lira into Euros. Apart from being rude and unhelpful the staff refused to recognise the existence of Turkish currency. The normally non-confrontational stoker told the manager what she thought of his bigotry and walked out. The day bankers put their political prejudices above making money we all need to worry. This in a country, albeit two thirds of one, which belongs to the EC. We despair and wonder why they were allowed in prior to unification.

We were delighted when late Friday afternoon we received a call from the shipping agent to say that the ship would be ready for boarding on Sunday afternoon. We went about the business of getting ready for the voyage, buying supplies and in particular books. We also managed some long walks and even went to the cinema. We will leave Southern Cyprus without regret. We travelled in Ireland during the troubles but seldom, north or south, came across the unpleasant and dangerous levels of animosity as those expressed in Cyprus. Before coming here we were surprised that Kofi Annan had put so much effort into trying to sort out Cyprus. Having seen what it is like here we are no longer surprised. The alternative to a political solution is unthinkable. Change is essential for these people who live isolated and blinkered in their own ethnic communities.

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