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One Week in Cyprus by Caravan

I arrived at the Larnaca airport after a comfortable afternoon flight with British Airways. The average temperature on Cyprus at this time of year is about 16 C during the day and 6 C at night. The pilot announced that there had just been some bad weather, including rain and gales, but now the skies were dry. My brother Karel has been living in his retro-fitted cube van for a year and a half; the past seven or eight months on Cyprus. His initial crossing was to the south side (Greek) but he eventually found a nice university town (Famagusta) on the north side (Turkish) where he decided to stay for a long while. We were to tour both parts of the island, staying on beaches and cooking for ourselves.

I am a graphic designer by trade, but my passion is wildlife photography. I had brought all my camera equipment and was looking forward to getting nature shots as well as of various ruins and other local sights.

We parked on a road downtown right about the seashore. Normally my brother finds a beach or grassy field rather than the centre of a big city to stay, but we had some errands to run the next day so couldn't drive out just yet. We took a late-afternoon walk along the mostly rocky beach (I need to clear my head after flying) and -as it got dark- came upon a friendly-looking family restaurant on our way back.

Tourist season on Cyprus is summer (where temperatures can get to 46 C . . . far too hot for this Canadian!) so accommodations and establishments serving tourists were often closed up. However, what was open was inviting, offering very good deals and often freebies.

It was to be our only meal out during my stay, so I decided to order Meze -available as seafood or as meat, I opted for the meat- which is basically a varied assortment of dishes brought out at intervals. Each restaurant has their own version; it's meant to serve two but really there was enough food for four people! We sat drinking beer and catching up as more and more and MORE food kept arriving . . . finally we asked if it would stop soon! Our server laughed, assuring us that this was indeed the last dish. Our table for four was absolutely covered with food, including half a loaf of medium-dark rye bread, vegetables and three different kinds of dip. We simply could not eat it all and had to ask to have the remains wrapped up (we ended up getting one more dinner for both of us and a lunch for my brother out of the leftovers). As we were figuring out the bill the server brought us a couple of shot glasses and a bottle of locally-made Cyprus Ouzo.

We went to bed stuffed, tipsy and very satisfied!

The next day was spent in Larnaca running errands and getting supplies, including vegetables for salad and a couple of oranges for breakfast. Neither of us wanted to park on the same busy road, so we headed a small ways out of a town to a monetary (since converted to a Mosque) that some people had suggested. We decided to park at the structure and look around, finding a pack of wild housecats snoozing in the afternoon sun! There are cute, fluffy kitties running around all over the south side; they're not mangy or diseased at all as you would expect. My brother supposes that, since the fishers gut and clean the fish right there on the dock, the kitties have plenty of really good, healthy food most of the year. We took some photos but didn't want to disturb them too much. In the end it didn't matter because the guard came with a big bag of food for them.

We drove down a deserted dirt road past the monetary, stopping on a hill above a large field that extended out to the salt lake (where flamingoes come to feed this time of year). It would be getting dark soon, and it was still quite windy so I wanted to light a campfire. Dead wood was easy to find, but most of it was very lightweight so would burn quickly and -I soon found- gave off very acrid smoke. My brother had a wind guard stashed in his caravan which helped to keep the smoke down somewhat and protect the flames of the fire. I did manage to find some old boards and other discarded bits and pieces which burned more steadily.

Using a medium sized pot I portioned out enough meat for both of us to heat by the fire as my brother prepared a huge salad. He makes a killer salad dressing, especially if you like garlic (which I do). By the time we ate it was dark; we had the fire for light and warmth, the windguard to protect us, and -of course- a couple of beers to make everything perfect! Even this close to a major city the sky was totally studded with stars . . . Orion's Belt shown powerfully right over our heads. The wind started getting chilly and the fire was dying, so after a bit we went into the electrical caravan to watch a movie.

We managed to finish the last of our arrangement details early, but couldn't go too far out of town just yet because we were needed to return in a couple of days. We decided to head to Cape Grekko, which is a small national park on the south-east coast. The morning was getting quite warm, the bad weather having completely blown off, so I decided to put on my long shorts. The locals looked at me like I was quite mad; I had to laugh at them with their super-huge winter coats (more than I regularly wear for a Vancouver winter!) We drove along the coast, stopping for lunch by the beach where there was a tiny canal being used as a dock for some small fishing boats. We walked around a bit exploring and taking a few photos.

Our next stop was Agia Napa, which is a tourist town and not my favourite. We needed more groceries though, and to stop at an internet cafe. Neither my brother nor I eat a huge amount of meat usually; all that leftover Meze was quite enough for a few days, so we just got some vegetables. Including the hugest, plumpest cauliflower I have ever seen this side of Florida! And even there never in winter. We started looking for a place to park for the night. I had seen a dirt road running along a construction site which seemed to lead to the waterfront so we went to check that out. Sure enough, the road was not only by the ocean but beside a large empty field! The construction work was done for the day so it was nice and quiet. With the sun low in the sky I walked through the field, across a nice seawall path and to the rocky shorefront. It seemed like a good place for a fire, and I had spotted an abandoned crate and old pallet along the way which would make for some good burning wood. We trucked everything to the waterfront as darkness was falling, where Karel worked at breaking apart the crate while I got the food ready.

I poured a bit of olive oil into the bottom of a pot, squeezed in some lemon juice and added a few spices. Then I just layered the cut-up cauliflower, onion, garlic cloves with the skin still on, and some goat cheese with more lemon and spices. I added a healthy splash of beer before the lid went on then straight into the fire! My brother had some raw cauliflower with homous dip as an appetizer. It didn't take long to cook; we both realized how hungry we were as the aroma of bubbling flavours reached our noses. After dinner we watched the stars twinkling (even more now than the previous night, a real spectacle), listened to the waves crashing, and passed a small bottle of that Cyprus Ouzo (oh yeah!) between us. With no wind to burn it out, the fire kept us warm late into the night.

In the morning we headed to the national park at Cape Grekko.

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We got up a bit late after the long evening by the campfire on the shorefront - not to mention the many cocktails - and a really refreshing to sleep at the seaside. I'm a bit of a habitual coffee drinker so walked around Agia Napa until I found something open, while my brother went off to do some work at an internet travel place. We parked at the top of a hill by the monastery; the deep blue Mediterranean glistening under a mid-morning sun called to me! We stopped at a local grocery store for supplies before heading up to the national park at Cape Grekko.

It's difficult for a Canadian when travelling in Europe to go to a 'park' and find something very civilized. For us a park is sheer forestland, unadulterated wilderness. There may have been some logging or other activity at some point, but otherwise the landscape is completely unspoiled. At Cape Grekko I found cultured trails dotted with plenty of benches and garbage cans. The trees and vegetation are marked with signs indicating species, which was amusing while being informative.

We parked at the end of the road before the park, overlooking a cliff with the sea stretching before us. We went to check out a tiny, pure white church by our parking spot. I found it very dear and couldn't resist snapping a few photos; my brother just scoffed, "This is a little baby! You haven't seen anything yet." I was itching to hike the trails but my brother finds that boring. He likes cliffs and caves, which don't interest me much. So we went our separate ways for a few hours; when we met up again we laughed because we had both gone swimming! The locals thought we were absolutely mad. But when you hike or climb for a couple of hours in 19 C weather, a nice dip in some chilly water is quite delicious.

The Wee church nearish Agia Nappa

 On my hike I noticed a caravan share park; the picnic tables have little roofs over them, there's running drinking water, a large hearth for a cooking fire, and a proper toilet. Normally, when camping in Canada I would drive right by, but then I generally only go camping for a few days! Having already been roughing it for several days I was pleased at the idea of being able to give my hair a proper wash and rinse out some of my clothes. Besides, down the hill at the bottom of the hiking trail was a completely deserted beach, and a couple of other places to go swimming. If this warm weather kept up, I would go into the water a few more times!

Since the caravan park was so organized I decided I'd like to sleep in the tent. We found a spot sheltered by some bushes, with a nice view over the water. My brother wanted to keep sleeping in his caravan (he's got a nice big bed set up in there) so we only put up one of his tents. We had been eating so well for the past few days that we had bought just vegetables, humous and goat cheese.

Before twilight I wandered off trail around the caravan park looking for firewood. Clearly people had made good use of the cooking hearth, so the immediate vicinity had been picked clean! After a while I started diving into the midst of the clumps of bushes; on the outside there was only living wood so I had to go through more effort to find dead, dry sticks. It was not easy going . . . the scratches on my legs took a couple of weeks to heal over! Finally, a bit of a ways along I found two sturdy branches that had died on the bush, but I couldn't break them off with my bare hands. My brother came up with his trusty saw and made short work of them, then started a nice fire in the hearth.

I made a variation of the roasted veggies in garlic and lemon from the other night, adding to that a tomato and onion salad. It's a traditional Czech recipe that our mum makes all the time; I've since enhanced it by adding goat cheese. Just slice some onions very thinly, as much or as little as you like, cut the tomatoes into thick slices, douse in vinegar or lemon, a bit of olive oil and seasoning. My brother doesn't like to eat yoghurt, but will tolerate it in a dressing. I like to add it to make this salad creamy. My mum always added some sugar but I prefer it without (although sometimes a glob of honey really hits the spot!) Once it's all mixed, chunk up the goat cheese and let it sit for the flavours to blend together.

The next morning I hiked down to a wee kiosk I had found the previous day to have my morning coffee. I sat at the bottom of a flight of wooden stairs on the edge of a boat launch. Unfortunately I'm a shortie and my feet didn't reach the water! No matter, I would find opportunities to get wet later. Back at the caravan park, just as my brother and I were deciding what to do, a British fellow walked by with his dog. As I said before there are pretty, fluffy kitties all over Cyprus, and this place was no different. The night before, during our food preparations and eating, a tiny thing came up meowing for food. It was back in the morning, hoping for some scraps. When the Brit fellow's dog immediately went after it we struck up a conversation. He'd been living just outside the park at Cape Grekko for a few years and was kind enough to point out various sights in the vicinity on our map.

My brother decided he wanted to drive to some rock formations the fellow had described, but I wanted to hike more of the park. Apparently there was a Neolithic settlement recently discovered that I was eager to find. Later in the afternoon my brother needed to get back to the internet place to do some work, so I took the time to go to the grocery store and get more supplies. I'm always looking for the best food value for my dollar, and don't mind getting my hands dirty chopping apart a large hunk of meat. The lady at the store told me they didn't sell whole chickens, kindly pointing me in the direction of the local butcher instead. A quick glance over their product board made my mouth water: all kinds of pork plus some beef. But the cheapest thing by far was 'country chicken'.

When I looked puzzled they told me I would like it. I realized it must mean 'free range' or 'farm fresh', whatever the term is for the most natural chicken that can be found in this modern age. Back at the grocery store I loaded up with more supplies; vegetables, bread and of course beer. I bought one artichoke; bigger and more succulent than I have ever seen here in Vancouver, and with the long stem still attached. The lady told me not to cook it, that they eat it raw as salad. She also told me they don't even bother to eat the leaves, just go straight for the artichoke heart! But I couldn't bear to let that delicious go to waste.

Back at the caravan park my brother and I had to go quite a ways along the trail to find good firewood. I had spotted some boards on my morning hike so we set out with his saw. In the end we found quite a bit, which was good because I had planned to cook up the whole chicken, bones and all. We would need to keep a rather hot fire going for well over an hour. As my brother set to work building it, I divided the chicken into it's usual parts, discarding the back and neck. For once I didn't have to skin it! I was looking forward to tasting a real chicken, like when I was a kid. I simply popped that into a pot with some olive oil, roughly chopped onions, a couple of whole garlic heads (uncut, unpeeled), some spices and a healthy splash of beer. I created a tight seal with aluminum foil then put a lid on as well, just to be safe. My brother and I picked what we thought would be the most stable part of the fire (can't have the pot tipping over and spilling our dinner all over the coals!) with a steady, hot flame.

Next I cut the stem off the artichoke, and chopped off the rough outer skin. I sliced it then doused it in lemon juice. I don't even think I added salt! We both chowed on that and agreed it would have been a shame to cook. The head of the artichoke I cut into quarters then cooked in a pocket of aluminum foil with a big splash of olive oil and some lemon. I had seen this on the cooking channel and was dying to try it. I put the foil pocket inside a pot then picked a spot on the edge of the fire to cook it up. My brother and I were chatting away when the sound of juice bubbling and the smell of it cooking distracted me. We let it cook for a few more minutes, not sure if it was burning; but in the end we should have kept it on for just a minute or two longer.

It came off the fire, sizzling and spitting; we were hit in the face with a delicious aroma upon opening the foil. Just as I had seen on the cooking show, the edges of the artichoke leaves were charred to the point of being wholly edible. What a shame it would have been to discard! We ate like total pigs, until we got to the artichoke heart. I almost lost my mind with how good it was. Just that one thing alone could sustain me for the rest of my life! Imagine a diet consisting strictly of these monster artichokes.

With our hunger temporarily satisfied we sat around drinking beer for a while as the chicken cooked. I figured that, if it was still raw on the inside, I would chop it off the bone and stick it back in the fire in a pan. But it was PERFECT. I mean, it was way better than chicken roasting in a dry oven! Even though we stuffed our faces as much as possible there was plenty leftover. We ate chicken for the next three days actually.

The next day I was determined to go for a real swim. I had explored the park trails and found the perfect spot to go in. I don't really like swimming off a beach because I am incapable to not ending up with sand creeping in to all sorts of uncomfortable places. I went down to the rock I found with my little bar of soap and a wee bottle of liquor in my bag. After hiking all morning and working up a real sweat, I couldn't wait to get in the water. Even still it was pretty chilly and I had to stand at waist level for a while to get used to it. I made good use of the time by taking a few nips out of my mickey bottle. Underwater the cliff rock ended on gorgeous white sand where I stood with sea water up to my neck. I found a patch of sunlight and was able to stay thus submerged for about 20 minutes before the first shiver of chill hit me. "Time to get out!" my body was saying. "This is nice but no longer." I jumped out, quickly putting my long sleeves on, to warm up right away.

Another night by the fire, eating our leftover chicken and more tomato salad. The next day I soaked my clothes in a bucket, finding the water fountain very useful for rinsing. Since there was no one else around, I spread my clothes all over the picnic tables to dry in the sun. In the afternoon I washed my hair, being careful to rinse the shampoo and conditioner up by the toilet where it couldn't contaminate the water table. Feeling crisp, refreshed and relaxed we headed back to Lanarca in the evening. We were to pick up the newly-filled propane tank first thing next morning.

From there we were free to embark on the North Side!

Next time .. . Famagusta.

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We drive the short distance from Cape Grekko to Larnaca as the late afternoon sunlight begins to fade. There's a spot in a rather posh neighbourhood my brother knows about where we can park at the beach. The sand is piled up about a metre before the grass starts, making for a good windbreak. I pitch my tent nestled under the shelter of two large Willow-like trees, then go in search of firewood as usual. Before dark we have a nice little flame going. We don't need anything extravagant since we're just heating up chicken from the day before. Again a couple of fluffy kitties make themselves welcome, looking for scraps. My brother tosses them whatever skin and gristle he doesn't want to eat.

The next morning we have to get into town early before the fellow that has filled the propane tank leaves. I go back to my familiar coffee shop for a cappuccino, my brother joins me later to make use of their wireless signal. He wants to spiff up his van a bit, adding a storage cupboard and some shelves, so we go off in search of a lumber dealer. I offer some advice on grades and sizes then he sends me off to do my own thing while he deals with the details of getting measurements and bartering with the staff.

I plan to go for a walk on the pretty seawall, but end up stumbling upon a bit of a market zone and am magnetically attracted: everything from fresh olives to pashminas, lace tablecloths and goat cheese. Before I know it my hour is up, but not before I manage to stock up on some staples like nuts, dried fruit, sweet sesame treats and a couple of gifties to bring back to Vancouver. The afternoon is just beginning when we set on our way to the north side.

We reach the border in the bright sunshine and are asked to give our passports through the car window. We both use our Euro passports (Czech) instead of our Canadian . . . just to keep possible questions to a minimum. The guard tells us to pull up ahead then get out to get our VISAs. The whole operation takes less than five minutes, and even that is only due to so much traffic. My brother points his van directly towards his favourite beach spot, by the Eastern Mediterranean University in Famagusta. He's so happy to be back on the north side! He finds it cheaper, the people generally friendlier and the beaches just that much more pristine.

I have a bit of trouble finding the right kind of firewood (most of the stuff is light-weight, fast burning and very smoky) so wander to an abandoned construction site to pull some old boards out of the discarded pile. I return to our fire spot to find my brother hauling a huge dead branch out of the trees. We'll have enough wood for days! We finished the last of the chicken; part of my purchase at the market in Larnaca was some sausages. I lay them in the bottom of a small pot, then layer onions and various veggies on top. I make some more of the tomato and onion salad as well. The meat dish is good except I should have put some onions or something on the bottom as the sausages burned just a bit while the veggies finished cooking. My first failure! Oh well, we eat it all anyways.

My brother tells me that - while the south side is filled with roaming kitties - the north is filled with stray dogs. A bit strange that it would be divided so neatly, I think. I make sure my brother puts all pots, dishes and foodstuff into the van for the night. The last thing I need is for a pack of dogs to turn their attention to me sleeping in the tent after their hunger had been piqued by our leftovers! My brother wants to watch a movie but I decide I'd rather gaze at the stars, even though the evening is a bit windy. So he leaves me with a torch and a blazing fire, plus his wee radio which is catching an English broadcast. I'm surprised to find myself missing familiar sounds and music. I have trouble keeping a good fire going in the stiff wind, and the torch goes out twice but I stick it out until almost 11:00.

My last night in the tent is cozy and comfortable, except I have to climb out briefly to close the air vents. The tent is aiming directly to the sea, and the constant flapping is driving me nuts! When I awake I just have to unzip the tent and am staring right out at the Mediterranean. My brother tumbles out of his van very soon after I have settled myself back into my night spot with the wee radio. A bit later I'm at the van brushing my teeth when I see a pack of dogs (and big dogs too like retrievers and labs and stuff!), first two then three trotting along briskly keeping up the rear, pass by us on the beach front. Perhaps tenting in this particular spot is not the best idea!

My brother is itching to re-connect with his familiar internet spot and get some real work done. He drops me off at the entrance to the Old City (within the walls), making arrangements to meet me at around lunch time. I've got to be off back to Vancouver this afternoon. I wander around the old streets for a while then stumble upon a square surrounded by a grand old church (since converted to a mosque) and a few cafes. They don't serve cappuccino here, but who cares! when I can order a real Turkish coffee. When I ask for toast the fellow tells me they make it with garlic butter. 'Lay it on me!', is all I can think.

I sit at an outside table writing in my journal as the sun gets warmer and the chattering of idle taxi drivers fills my ears. I am served a big stack of toast (the bread is almost tart, it's kind of like sourdough) and a side of this lovely butter that is flavoured with more than just garlic. The coffee is so good I order another, which I drink while wrapping up the rest of my buttered toast. Should make a good snack later! I walk the entire old city, snapping photos along the way. I've been very lucky for this trip, to have had unseasonably good weather. The sky is clear and blue; my photos turn out great.

I must leave my brother in his travelling home, he goes on to pick up a British friend of his he met in Prague and circle the entire coastline of the island. I am back in dark, rainy Vancouver with a bit of a tan and a good summertime feeling.

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