Cyprus - Part 3 - Beaches and Mountains
It is the contrasts in Cyprus that stand out the most. Contrasts in nature, contrasts in time, contrasts in life. At one point I am standing on the lovely sandy beaches of Kourion visually uncluttered by the resort developments that I find in other towns like Agia Napa. A few minutes of driving up the hill takes me to the excavation of the city of ancient Kourion, perched on a hillside overlooking the beach. It became a Roman settlement in the 13th century BC. Let me do the math for you. That is 3300 years ago. Walking through the remains of the ancient city, I note the number and elaborateness of the Roman baths. Clearly the Romans in the city were obsessed with personal hygiene. Or did the lack of water to keep the baths going lead to their downfall? I am not able to see any obvious water sources for miles around.
Pushing past Kourion into the mountains of Troodos Massif I am looking at the country’s highest peak, Mt. Olympus. For a small country, the variety of landscape in Cyprus is astounding. Winter dumps snow in these mountains and Troodos becomes a ski resort only hours from warm Mediterranean beaches. Around the bend, and up the hill past the village of Kalopanayiotis with just 290 villagers is the richest and most famous of Cyprus’s religious institutions – Kykkos monastery. The fabulous wealth of the monastery is displayed in the Byzantine museum where again with effortless ease the artifacts state that they are from several centuries B.C.
Kykkos is also the home monastery of Archbishop Makarios III, ethnarch and religious leader of Cyprus as well as its larger than life President in its brief period of independence as a united island from 1959 to 1974. While this juxtaposition of religious leadership and political leadership may seem strange in many parts of the world, Cyprus has had a long history of this model of governance. And then of course history had to rear its head again in Cyprus . A CIA-supported Greek Junta plotted a coup. The coup backfired. Makarios escaped. The Turks invaded the north. Cyprus was divided into two. The Greek Junta in Athens fell. Makarios returned to preside over a now truncated state. And so on it goes with Cyprus’s history.
Even the sleepy fishing town and seaside resort of Larnaca does not fail to surprise with interesting tidbits of history and contrasts. It offers the tomb of Lazarus. He of biblical fame, raised from the dead by Jesus and expelled by the Jews from Jerusalem, came to Larnaca and remained its bishop for 30 years. Then he died a second time and was buried here.
And then of course there is Agia Napa, once a tiny fishing village, with a few houses, fishermen, and a monastery. Now it is the gravitational center of Cyprus’s fun and sun tourist industry with the predictable and often not very pretty run away development, that has resulted in a Flintstone cave bar with the name Yabba Napa Doo and another one called Organ Grinder. For a town with a resident population of less than 3000 people it offers three dozen bars and nightclubs with a rotating stable of DJs from Europe.
Towards the end of my trip Evie and her erudite husband Costas invite me over for dinner. Evie tells me that in her 20 years as a tour guide I am only the second person to receive this honor and the previous guest was the secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am clearly not worthy and feel a certain sense of burden. A very well read and intellectual couple, their house is a delight. It has an excellent collection of art from Cyprus artist Christos Christou, classical music and a stupendous collection of books on art, philosophy, history, and geopolitics. The conversation veers from Oscar Wilde to Epictectus to Noam Chomsky. And in a telling reminder of the powers of globalism, their daughter Laura works in the hi-tech industry in Silicon Valley just miles from where I live and work in the San Francisco bay area and their son is a chemical engineer faculty at the University of Edinburgh. Together Evie and Costas roll out the very best of the famed Hellenic hospitality. Their kindness and graciousness to a complete stranger from half way around the world moves me deeply and remains etched in my heart as the most defining and memorable aspect of Cyprus.
Now I realize why Constantine P. Cavafy wrote around 1899 in "Going back home from Greece":
"Well, we're nearly there, Hermippos.
Day after tomorrow, it seems—that's what the captain said.
At least we're sailing our seas,
the waters of Cyprus, Syria, and Egypt,
the beloved waters of our home countries.
Why so silent? Ask your heart:"