Cyprus, 2004


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Cyprus, 2004
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It all began when a small travel towel arrived in the post with a cheque attached, and a note saying ‘go on holiday’. I considered looking for snow in my Niva. The Alps were too far to attempt in it until I have sorted the leaking radiator hoses, Scotland was forecasted to have a heat wave, so I decided to look further a field. I walked into the travel agents, told them the price limit, and my requirements, and watched them scratch their heads. “You want a holiday to somewhere where you can hire a 4 wheel drive vehicle and drive some dirt roads?” With those vague instructions Elizabeth did a half hours searching, and came up with a week in Cyprus, based in Paphos driving a Suzuki Vitara. When I got to work the next day I started reading the Rough Guide to Cyprus. It kept saying such things as “the road here deteriorates and the next 50 kilometres are passable only by a 4x4”. I got more and more interested, so searched the web for ‘Cyprus off road’. The first site I looked at said “Off roading is not something you normally associate with the Greek Islands, however Cyprus is different’. This got me very excited. I packed my bags, headed off to London, and spent a day looking at maps, reading the guidebooks, having saunas and drinking beer, courtesy of my brother. Every one should have a brother in London. It makes it very handy for the airports. I worked out when I would have to get up to get to Heathrow in time to coach over to Gatwick, and realised it would be a 4am start. This didn’t enthral me quite so much, yet I thought it better to do this rather than risk getting a taxi. Last time I got a taxi to Gatwick at that time in the morning the driver had been on since midday the day before and kept falling asleep. Dying on the way to a holiday does seem to be a waste. Much better on the way home, or while doing some amazing stunt on the last day of the holiday.



This trip to Gatwick was much less eventful, as was the flight, although finding out Avis had no record of my booking for the Vitara was a bit of a let down. After they found the booking. I set off to the hotel. The flight in had revealed miles of dirt roads heading up into empty hills, all looking ripe for the exploration. Driving the Vitara to the hotel reinforced this as I passed mile after mile of dirt roads, all turning off the highway. It also showed me how far 4x4s have come since my Lada Niva was designed. It must be said, road work in the Vitara was much more pleasant. It had power steering, and brakes that stopped you. However, I shall ponder this more as I get to drive it more. I checked in at the hotel, then popped over the road for a bottle of Ouzo ‘for later’, and then headed off the highway in search of a non-tourist restaurant somewhere in a village, somewhere off the main road. After driving down the highway for a couple of miles, I saw a signpost pointing to the right. I slowed down, took what I thought to be the turning, only to find I had missed it by a couple of yards. When there are no streetlights, and the road looks like the surrounding countryside, it is hard to identify where exactly you should be driving. Another mark for the Vitara and against my Niva: the lights on the Vitara actually illuminate stuff, rather than just filling up with water in fords. This was a good thing, as the road I was on wound precariously up into the hills, skirting inky black voids, which could have hidden cliffs of hundreds of feet (and having driven it later, I found did). However, the Vitara handled all this well, and got me to ‘I. Araouzos Traditional Tavern’. I walked in to what seemed like someone’s front room, and sat down to a plate of several different types of meat, yams, potatoes, pickled cauliflower, olives from Mr Araouzos’ garden, half a litre of wine from his grapes (“don’t worry, I wash my feet first”, he told me) all mopped up by freshly home made bread, followed by several oranges from the nearby groves. Each member of the family entered in turn, and asked me where I was from, why I was on my own, where I was staying, and what was I doing there. Afterwards I joined them by the log fire, where they sat, continuing their questions. When the bill came, I was surprised to be asked for just £6.00 (Cypriot pounds). The restaurant across the road from the hotel offered just the main meal starting at £8.50. It shows what getting off the beaten path even just slightly (about 5kms) can do. They treated me like one of the family, and everything I ate came from their land, or their friends’ land. They directed me back to my hotel via a much bigger road: bigger, but not better in my book. Tomorrow I want to have a look under the car to see where the vulnerable bits are, and plan to head off somewhere in the daylight, to try something a bit more serious. Meanwhile, there is the Ouzo I bought earlier to contend with.

I woke up at 7:30 Wednesday morning, and headed down to the sauna and pool. It didn’t open till 9:00, so I had time to kill. What to do? First I decided to drop the soft top on the Vitara. I have only ever used a Mazda MX5 soft top before, so the involved intricacies of the Vitara’s one took me ten minutes to work out. I finally got it sorted, and headed up the road to the Avgas or Avakas Gorge. From the signposts it seems it is called the Avakas Gorge, but the map calls it Avgas, which I think is a much better name. It reminds me of a friend who used to run his motorbike on avgas. But that is a digression. The road up to the gorge is mainly surfaced, with just a small concrete ford to cross. Just after the ford I turned right away from the sea, and up into the hills. The road was hard clay and rocks, with the only obstacles being a few little streams to cross, and the more frequent small ditches across the road from rain run off. As I got higher, and passed more signs saying ‘nature reserve’ I came across several Japanese 4x4 pick ups, clustered together with no one around. A bit further there were some more. Finally, parked around one of the ‘nature reserve’ signs I found several more, complete with locals dressed in camouflage gear carrying shotguns. They seemed friendly enough, and waved, but I couldn’t help feeling nervous. Anyway, they started shooting at game, and, as I climbed higher, I passed more people taking pot-shots at animals. At least, I hope they were shooting at animals, not me. Either ‘nature reserve’ doesn’t mean the same here as it does in the rest of the world, or poaching is common and open.

At the top of the climb, the road turned into a flat, winding road, covered in fine gravel, that the Vitara seemed happy to do around 80 kph. I had it in two wheel drive, so enjoyed drifting round the bends with the rear end hanging out. The scenery was incredible, with sheer drops on either side of the road as it ran along the ridges between the peaks. However, enjoying the view while sliding the back end brought me a little too close to the edge for comfort on a bend that tightened up half way around without me noticing, so I slowed down slightly. The fields around the road were full of grapevines trimmed back for the winter, looking truly bizarre as if someone had planted a whole apple orchard upside down, with all the roots of the trees sticking out of the ground.

The road was easy, and brought me out on a smooth tarmac road. I headed back towards the hotel; unable to believe how much fun I had just had within an hour and a half of waking up. I stopped off at a supermarket and picked up a few essentials, then headed back for our introductory meeting. I sat through half an hour of people trying to force us to get involved while making complete arses of themselves. The main gist of their talk was ‘get involved and meet Cyprus’. It was what I had been doing that morning, and what I would have still been doing if they hadn’t dragged me away from it!

I decided to head up to ‘Cedar Valley’ after the meeting. My thinking was to head that direction, find some food about 1pm, then drive the valley. However, I was there before 1, after several kilometres of swinging the Vitara round smooth fast tarmaced bends. With the top down and the sun shining, I found myself seriously thinking about the possibilities of changing the Niva in for one. The Niva is a good off road vehicle, and an appalling on road one. The Vitara was making the tarmac sections fun, too. And it was a soft top. As I pulled off the tarmac onto the unsurfaced road to Cedar Valley, I found my path obscured by some ancient bloke driving a small 2 wheel drive car. I shot up the bank without slowing down, passed him, pulled back onto the road, and carried on leaving him in a cloud of dust. This road was quite passable by a standard car, but only if driven slow and carefully. I kept the Vitara in 2 wheel drive as I had recovered from my scare of the morning and was enjoying sliding the back end again. The road was cut into the hillside, through the pine forests, and was quite good, so I maintained 60 kph on the straights, slowing to around 40 kph for the corners. There were a few puddles around, so I aimed for these to try and get the Vitara dirty. The only obstructions (common, it seems, to all Cypriot roads) are small landslips, which partially block the road with rocks of assorted size and sharpness. As I hadn’t paid the extra insurance for tyre damage, I tried my best to avoid these. The signposts to announce my arrival at Cedar Valley passed in a flash, along with a few walkers. I stopped a few hundred meters further on, and had a look around, before carrying on with the track. It is around 30 kilometres in length, and is great fun for fast driving. It wouldn’t appeal to the 4x4 owners who think it isn’t off road unless you are winching, but I enjoyed it none the less.

However, it was soon over, so I headed for Mount Olympus. I could see the snow on the hills before I got there, and as the road wound higher, so did the snow at the side of the road. Soon it was up to the height of the bonnet of the Vitara, but I presume a lot of that height was from the plough. The Cypriot army seems to use the hill as a training ground, so I had to be careful what I photographed. I passed the ski resort, and headed up to the car park at the top of the mountain, but it was all a disappointment. The road itself was clear of snow, and all the side roads had about 5 foot of snow pushed across their entrances, which I didn’t fancy trying to bust through. Eventually, as I started down the other side of the mountain, I came across a car park with a few inches of snow in it. The sign at the entrance announced it was the car park to an asbestos factory, I believe, but that tourists were welcome to use it at their own risk. No one else had taken up their kind offer, so I dropped the Vitara into high 4, broke through the snow at the entrance, and spent ten minutes playing around on my own private skid pan.

I then headed down the mountain, looking for some dirt roads to play on. The map showed some that I could take to start me on my way back home. I realised I hadn’t had any food yet at this point, but being after 3pm, doubted whether anywhere would be open till around six. By that time I could have finished these tracks, headed back through Cedar Valley, and could find somewhere a bit closer to the hotel to eat at. With this in mind, I looked for the start to the trail. Helped by an old lady with no English or map skills, I finally found the track, and headed up into the hills again, passing only the obligatory hunters and their vehicles. I probably had to cross a distance of around 10 kilometres in a straight line, so confidently passed a petrol station on the way in without stopping. After all, I had half a tank left. 2 hours later, I was starting to worry. The petrol level was dropping, as was the sun, and I still hadn’t got off the hills. As the fear rose, I turned a corner to see the main road I was heading for down in the valley, about 500 feet below me, down a sheer cliff. I started taking any track that headed down in an attempt to get there, but ended up having to turn around as track after track petered out into the cliff. I wasn’t in any immediate danger, although the turning around was precarious, and the danger would escalate a hundred fold if it got darker (or I ran out of petrol). I finally came to a turn off that looked as if it went right down to the valley, but didn’t look like it had been used for a while. As the main track started to go up again at this point (which I didn’t want to do) I took the turning. Several of the corners required 4 or 5 reverse manoeuvres to get round, and I had to clear off a couple of large rocks from landslips to continue. This one petered out with hardly any room to turn around, and required low 4 to get back up to the main track. The fear started to rise, and I thought through all the rules of off roading. Never go on your own. Always let others know where you are going. Go equipped. I was on holiday, and was feeling cocky and had not done any of these. I began to work out what was best to do. I couldn’t find my way back again, so would have to press on. Even in the dark the trail was fairly good, so I could keep going. That left only the petrol situation to worry about. I got back onto the main trail, and carried on. As I rounded the next corner I saw lights, lots of lights! Well, several, anyway. A village! Soon I was on the village’s tarmac roads, heading down into the valley.

I got the map out and had a look what was best to do. It looked like the quickest route back to my hotel and petrol was back through Cedar Valley. I decided to stop for some food and think about it. The place I chose served me boiled lamb and yam (as nasty as it sounds, I think it had been boiling for several days on and off) and a bottle of lemonade (at least I didn’t have to do Cedar Valley at night after a carafe of wine), with a lemon and an onion on a side plate. I guessed the lemon was to squeeze over my food, but I am still at a loss as to why an onion was present. Other restaurants have given me a lemon with my meal, but this one took the prize as the only one to offer me a raw onion as well. As I ate, their son tried to get me to play with him by bringing out such toys as a guitar, a drum, and finally a football, which he kicked around the restaurant as hard as he could. Finally his parents had a huge argument in the kitchen, and what with lukewarm food (that probably wouldn’t have been made any better by being hot), footballs ricocheting off the walls and windows, and screaming from the kitchen, I decided to call it a day. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere would be better than that. The bill came to £4, which was far better than I expected, but which did not make up for the meal or the child. Heading towards Cedar Valley I passed a couple in a hire car looking lost, so pointed them in the right direction. Then, as my fuel gauge started to reach the top of the E for empty, I headed into the valley. For the 30 kilometres of the valley I tried to keep the Vitara in as high a gear as possible, willing it not to run out of fuel. I wasn’t sure what I would do at the other side, petrol stations on Cyprus being few and far between, and shutting early. It was well dark by this time, so the drive would have been most fun if it hadn’t been for the nagging fear that I would be sleeping in the Vitara up in the mountains for the night. Should I stay with the car and freeze to death, or try and walk out to find a bed for the night, I wondered, as the gauge kept dropping. Finally I hit the tarmac at the other end of the valley, and had only 3 kilometres to go to the next village. I decided to stop there and ask in the taverna if any one knew where I could get fuel from. I made it to the taverna, and walked in, partially frozen from having the windblast from driving with the top down in the mountains. First miracle, they had good English, and understood what I wanted. Second miracle, they had a 20-litre jerry can of unleaded which they used to fill the Vitara while I drank hot lemon in the restaurant. They seemed desperate for me to eat there (and if I hadn’t been still able to taste the lamb and yam from the last place I would have taken them up on the offer) or better yet stay there the night. Instead I bought a bottle of wine from them, paid them for the fuel and lemon, and set off feeling much warmer and happier. Typically, about twenty kilometres further on, I passed two petrol stations, both open! I doubt I would have made it that far though, so I have no regrets about filling the car up at the taverna. The fact they keep petrol is a useful fact that you would expect to find in guidebooks. Maybe the guidebook authors weren’t stupid enough to run out of fuel like me, so never found it out for themselves.

I made it home safely, still warmed from the hot lemon, to find 3 other Vitaras parked in a row, all spotlessly clean. I parked mine in the middle to show them what they should be doing with theirs, and spent a happy ten minutes getting the roof back on. I covered over 300 kilometres today, lots of it on difficult terrain. Tomorrow, I think I’ll take it a bit easier. A sauna and swim sounds a good way to start.

Despite last night’s ouzo, music blasting from the entertainments room and children screaming by the pool kept me awake till midnight, so I didn’t get moving till 7:30 Thursday morning. I stopped by the reception, and requested a room change, away from the pool and entertainments room. They asked me to call back at 9, so I decided to play around on the Akamas peninsula for an hour or so. I left the top on, and took to the highway. Ten minutes later, I was back at the base of the Avgas Gorge, which I drove straight past this time. The road was another fast, fairly flat dirt road, with the usual washboard corrugations and potholes. Suddenly, as the speedo slowly crept over 100kph, I spotted a large rainwater ditch across the whole road. I locked up, and slid into it, probably going around 30 to 40 kph. It reminded me again. Don’t get cocky! The road has lots of turnings off, both to the left (down to the beach) and to the right (up to the hills). A lot of these I found were worth investigating. They didn’t really go anywhere, but rewarded you with such things as some mud plugging (which I enjoyed, coating the Vitara) or beach driving on most of the left hand tracks, or more technical, slower off road driving on the right hand side. One of the turnings on the right petered out at someone’s farmhouse, but getting there was great fun. I passed an old sheep fold, and parked the Vitara outside for a picture opportunity. I made it back to the hotel for 9:30, only to find the hotel still hadn’t made a decision on rooms. I had a shower, and started taking the soft top off the Vitara. As I was doing so, the Avis rep came past, and saw the state of my car. He walked over, said hello, and then made the comment ‘I see you have been using it’. I am still not sure what to make of this cryptic remark.

It was 11am by the time I set off again, pulling out of the car park in front of everyone lined up at the bus stop. The mud covered Vitara certainly got a lot of stares. I headed back up to the Akamas peninsula, planning to find out if I could make it round the coast of the peninsula to Polis, without having to cut over the hills. As I headed off on the dirt road I had started that morning I came across a white Land Rover 110, turning off the road onto a dirt track to the left. I followed it for a while, only to find it was a safari tour for holidaymakers. Needless to say it wasn’t doing anything serious, or indeed quick. I got bored, passed it, and continued on my own. I had filled up first thing, so had a full tank, a whole day of daylight ahead, and lots of exploring to do. The road slowly deteriorated, until I passed a silver saloon car gently picking its way through rocks and potholes. It had red number plates, giving it away as a hire car. I wondered what on earth it was doing that far out, and passed it, looking down to see a very annoyed looking man at the wheel. About 10 kilometres on I saw a woman walking on her own, so slowed down and asked her if she was okay. She replied she was fine, and her husband was coming to meet her in their hire car. I smiled at the thought of what would occur at that reunion, if the man in the silver car was her husband.

The road ended near a sign warning me not to pick up any army equipment in case it killed me. A signpost pointed right to Fontana Amoroza, which I did want to get to, but just not directly. I had no choice but to take it, but then took the first hunters track off to the left as soon as I could. Pretty soon I was doing proper 4x4 driving, often in low 4, crossing dry riverbeds, clawing up long rocky sections, or burning through mud. A couple times the tracks I was following disappeared onto the beach, and I had to follow, clawing my way through the sand with my road tyres. I was busy playing ‘spot the route’, and missed it a couple of times in the rocky sections. After a few minutes back tracking I was on it again, though. This continued until I was a few hundred metres above the sea, but still following the shoreline, and on the last headland. Above me, on the top of the headland, stood an army fort, and the land dropped away from it steeply, all cliffs and screes till it hit the sea. The track ended abruptly, and I was left with no option except to back track to the last turning off up the hill and over the back of the mountain. This track was even worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint) and was all low 4 work, clawing my way from rock to rock, following the path of squashed plants and sump-scraped rocks. As I passed a large herd of goats (50 or 60, at a guess), I suddenly realised I had seen lots of goats, but no sheep. It made me wonder if the lamb they serve in the tavernas is really lamb. Still, goat is nice, so instead I concentrated on getting up the mountain.

Suddenly I came out on a track that led all the way to Fontana Amoroza. It was still a 4x4 only track, but was mostly passable in high 4, at least in the dry. What the steep, rutted clay would be like in the wet would be another matter. I kept descending the north side of the hills, until I reached Fontana Amoroza. What with it being marked on the maps, and signposted even on the dirt roads, I presumed there would be something interesting at the end of this road. There was a couple buildings that seemed to be part of a goat farm, a few mud tracks, and that was about it. No, that was it. However, there were signposts for Neo Chorio (isn’t that ‘new sausage’ when translated?), which looked on the map like somewhere that would have a taverna or two, so I went up the coast towards Neo Chorio and Polis. This was the road I had been aiming to meet up with, so I was quite pleased. The road was tricky in places, but was all high 4 work. The area has several signposted walks, including one to the ‘Baths of Aphrodites’, so I had to keep avoiding all the tourist hikers, all of who stared in disbelief as I drove down the path. The road did get tricky in places, and would have been much worse in the wet, but I didn’t think the sign that said ‘Dangerous Road, Do Not Enter’ was a little excessive. It was also a little late to tell me that, as I passed it on the way out. There was also a lockable gate beside the sign, which, fortunately was open. It would have been dangerous to try and turn around there. It shows how much luck I had. The road was dry, the gate open. It could have been much worse. Also at the sign sat an old Cypriot priest with a Chevrolet pick up stuffed full of oranges. He offered me one free, and got me to sit with him while I ate it. It may have been that it was the first food I had had that day and it was nearly two, but it was delicious. He sold me a carrier bag full for £1. He claimed it was two kilograms, but after I explained the road I had taken to get there he was overcome, and stuffed several more oranges in the already bursting bag, while waving an arm up and down (indicating, I think, the roughness of the road), and rattling off paragraphs of Greek. He was doing a roaring trade, though, and sold several bags while I sat and communicated with him. I say communicated as his English was limited to saying ‘£1, 2 kilograms’. If you find yourself in the vicinity however, stop in and try his oranges. It is a worthwhile experience. The road was tarmac after that, so I unlocked the front hubs (another plus for the Vitara over the Niva), and headed up to Neo Chorio in search of more substantial food. I found an open taverna, called ‘the Stone Taverna’. It was a fair enough name, as it was a taverna, and was made of stone. Several local men were sat round chatting and drinking beer as I entered. One got up to shout the women in to serve me. I had chicken kebab (about two chickens on spits it seemed) chips and salad (with a lemon on the side), which was very nice. The chips deserve a special mention. I’m usually not a great fan, but these were lovely. Great chunks of some vast mother of all potatoes, cooked to perfection, and no grease in sight. If certain American fast food chains made their fries like this I would eat there every day. More men kept turning up, and the women had to keep braking from cooking my meal to serve them drinks, so the meal took a while but I was in no hurry. I would love to know what was being discussed, however. In the corner sat an old woman, grating lemon peel. Occasionally she would settle whatever argument was in progress with a few words of wisdom (or at least, so it seemed to me), and peace would descend for a few moments till the next discussion would take place.

That meal came to about £5 with a can of Sprite, which I would have paid for the entertainment alone. I got out the map, and looked for where to go next. I had ¾ of a tank of petrol, but it was getting close to 3pm, so I decided to head back to the hotel by way of the road over the top of the mountain that I had seen signposted from the other side. This was directly accessible from Neo Chorio, so seemed ideal. I headed out of the village, straight onto the dirt road. It is important to remember that these are roads to the locals, complete with signposts (in places) and road rules (obeyed in places), so many of these can be attempted with little worry. I started by taking signs for Fontana Amoroza (from the other side of the village to the one I entered) which took me past the ‘Akamas Peninsula’ fire observation post. If the gate is open you can drive up and have a look at the views. They are incredible in all directions, and well worth the 5 minute detour. At the bottom of the turn off to the fire lookout point is a sign telling you when the British Army are using the peninsula for live firing manoeuvres. By this time it was a little late as I had been driving in their practice area for 4 hours, but is worth checking out anyway. Shortly after I passed signs for ‘Pyrgos Tis Regaenas’. According to the ‘Rough Guide’ this is the remains of a Byzantine monastery or a Lusignan fort. I thought I ought to stop and have a look as I had missed the ‘Baths of Aphrodite’, and hadn’t stopped at any other sites of archaeological interest. I stopped, took pictures, and then headed off for more fun. I followed the road to Fontana Amoroza until the turn off labelled Peyia. I wasn’t going there, but it was the right road. This road isn’t on any map I have seen apart from the one on the board near Neo Chorio (unless someone has shot out that board by now; all the others seem to have died in the line of duty), but exists, and was comparatively easy compared to the hunter’s track I had come up the hill on. Near the bottom I met another couple tourists in a hired Daihatsu Terios bravely attacking the hill. It looked amazingly clean, but top marks to them for actually getting out there and visiting the peninsula. The rest of the drive home was uneventful. On the road back down the coast I did a few detours along the beach, and stopped to play in a river (which was bridged, but where is the fun in that?) and look at a ‘turtle-nesting site’ (read ‘load of uninspiring sand dunes’).

I got back to the hotel, put up the roof, changed rooms (from 02E to 20E, is somebody playing a joke on me?), and headed off to try to read my emails at ‘Coral Bay’s only internet café’. None of the computers could handle any page that used frames, for some reason, so all I got to find out was I had sixty odd new emails and enough money in the bank to keep me eating and putting petrol in. I crossed the road to the ‘Coral King’ for dinner. It is in a tourist area, so I didn’t expect it to be too genuine, but was pleased to find local meals at good prices. With the bill they gave me a ‘complementary glass of brandy’, so if you go, make sure someone else drives. I had to turn it down, which really jars with my nature. It was the least awful looking place in Coral Bay, as it had no flashing neon signs advertising how English it was, and had a good range of local foods. I only did 180 kilometres today, but most of that was off tarmac work, some in serious low 4 mode, so I am quite pleased with the day. Tomorrow I think I’ll head into Pafos and do some shopping, and see if I can find internet access that works. Maybe a little more exploring in the afternoon, or maybe I’ll stop in Pafos and see some archaeological things. Who knows?

I think I have got enough ‘extras’ together for couple brief asides here. The Cypriot outlook is very different to ours. At road works, for instance, instead of traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic they have a man with a white and a red flag. The theory seems to be he holds the red flag at one lane of traffic, stopping it, while waving the white flag at the other laning, allowing it to go. It gets a bit more difficult when he gets bored of giving clear directions, and gives a perfunctory wave of the flag, so you have to be alert. However, should you approach the road works when he is eating or smoking (which is constantly, it seems), he holds both flags in one hand, which makes his minute gestures even harder to comprehend. This is presuming he notices your arrival at the road works, and isn’t chatting to his friends.

Another comment is about hotels in general. Every night so far I have spread the spare blanket over the bed. I don’t feel it is cold enough to put the heating on, yet one blanket isn’t enough. Every morning I go out, leaving the blanket spread neatly over my made bed. Every evening I come in to find the blanket folded up in the cupboard and the bed remade. Why is the blanket in the cupboard? The hotel tells the maids, I presume, to fold the blanket and put it in the cupboard, so they do it without thinking how irritating it is to the poor guest who has to get it out again. Do they not realise I put it on the bed because that is where I want it? Then I moved rooms. I told the desk clerk that there was only a hand towel and no bath towel in the room. When I got back after dinner I found 2 more hand towels, a bath towel, and 2 pillows on my coffee table. With the 2 pillows on the bed, and the 2 in the cupboard, that makes 6 pillows, 3 hand towels, and a bath towel I now have. And my blanket folded neatly in the cupboard. In the new room I can’t get the TV to work. I couldn’t in the last room, either, and my first night here reported it to the reception. About ten at night a bloke arrived, who ‘fixed’ my TV. His solution was to add a few more layers of gaffer tape to the battery compartment of the remote control, and show me how five minutes of pressing a button and waving it wildly in the direction of the TV could change the channel to another channel with sound but no picture (or visa versa). He then went away proud of himself and his talents. I decided that the TV in this room can stay broke. I am of the opinion that a good, cheap hotel room could be got at this time of the year wherever you need one, in any village or town. It would probably save a whole lot of money, and they can be found just by asking at the taverna. In fact, people are trying to persuade you to take a room without you even asking. If I come again, this is the route I’ll take.

Now I know I said that today would be a tourist in town day, but it rained hard all night, so when I woke up at 7am, I thought I might as well go and see what changes the rain had made. It hadn’t made a lot of difference at all. The roads were less dusty, so I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing a dust trail behind me as I went, like some cowboy riding across the desert. The potholes were easier to spot as they were full of water, but the downside of that was I had to keep putting the wipers on as the water sprayed up onto the screen. The fords were up slightly, but nothing to worry about. In fact, despite hitting all the mud I could find, the car came back cleaner that it was last night! That depressed me, so I had a shower and went into Paphos. I found a parking spot, under a sign that said something in Greek about parking. I figured if I wasn’t meant to park there they would see the red number plates and realise I was an ignorant tourist and let me off. Besides, everywhere else wanted me to pay, and had signs to that effect in English.

I wandered down to the market, stopping in to look at sunglasses in an opticians. The guidebook said Cyprus was cheap for genuine designer sunnys, and I fancied a pair of Oakleys. I found a pair I liked, but they were over £100, and I wasn’t sure about the genuineness. I found two pairs of polarising Oakleys, and held them up with the lenses at right angles to each other. The owner kept going on about how good the glasses were, and how genuine they were, but I could see right through the alleged polarising lenses. Crossing them at right angles should have cut out all light. I pointed this out to the owner, who said ‘so you know all about lenses then’ and walked off. Oakleys they were not, so I went into the market and got a pair for £5. Not nearly so nice, but a good shape and a stamp on them that nearly says Oakley, and £100 saved.

The market apart from that was a let down; I looked in a couple shops, but the prices were high, and everything was designer labels at designer prices. The shop keepers as well were polite, but distant. I much prefer the asian/oriental market seller’s attitude. They want you to buy, they tell you you should buy, and they won’t let you leave till you do. Mong Kock market in Hong Kong is my shoppers paradise. They show you something you don’t want, you tell them what you do want, and they get it for you. Then you start arguing over the price. Here the shops had nothing I wanted, and apparently they won’t barter, so I got even more depressed, and went to the internet café. After sorting my bank balance, and reading over sixty emails, I headed out for lunch. Down a back street, between old stone buildings housing carpenters and welders, I found a little café that had no English signs, and was full of old men shouting at each other over games of backgammon. There was no fake Greek chintz, here. Everything was plastic chairs, vinyl tablecloths, and cigarette smoke. The cook and I tried to communicate, until I hit on saying ‘kebab’, which seemed to work. I grabbed a can of guava juice from the fridge, and sat at an empty table. After a while my pork kebab came. It had huge lumps of burnt pork fat in between piles of tomatoes and cucumbers, all sandwiched in a toasted pita bread. The chef grilled it in front of me over hot coals. No late night burger van chilli sauce and five raw onions in it. No, this tasted incredible. And it came to less than £2!

Next was the true tourist thing. I went down to the bay, and paid my £1.50 to get into the ruins. I was not expecting much. I’m sorry, but I don’t get excited over things like this. Stonehenge, to me, was a pile of rocks. Its just the way I am. Until I saw the House of Dionysus, however. The mosaics on the floors are incredible. That a farmer ploughing his field around 25 years ago discovered them is incredible. Then I went outside, around the back of the building that has been put up to protect the mosaics, and found you are allowed to walk around some of the excavations. You can walk on some of the mosaics, and bend down, and touch them. Stonehenge is a pile of rocks you can’t even get close to because of the fence. This site covers the Greek and Roman periods, and you can walk in amongst it all. It is amazing. There is an amphitheatre that you can sit in (it has been repaired in places), old city walls you can stand on, buildings to walk around, a castle to explore; it is incredible. In the Roman villa you can see the under floor area, which reminds me of my seventh grade history lessons, where we learnt about the Roman’s under floor heating system (sorry Miss Wolters, I can’t remember what it was called) where slaves worked bent double. Could this be what I was seeing the remains of? If you go, take a torch as there are a couple of caves you can go in (one is in the bank behind the amphitheatre. I couldn’t tell how deep they were as I didn’t have one with me. Also, see everything while you are there. It is worth the walk. If, however, you are too tight to pay the £1.50 there is a ruin just outside the complex which you can go and see for free. I asked the tour guides where the ‘early Christian basilisk’ was, and got the reply ‘but that is just ruins’. I wonder what they thought they were showing people round, show homes or something? Anyway, I left the complex and went to see the ruins, and found it very similar to what is inside the complex, but not as spectacular. Unless it is a choice between eating or paying to go in, pay and enter.

I enjoyed that so much I decided to head up to the Tombs of the Kings (which was never used by kings, and doesn’t have any dead people in it) where upper-class people of the era were buried. I paid my 75 pence, and went in, but I am afraid I had overdosed on history by now, and ended up getting irritated by it all. I walked around the first few I came across and took pictures, then legged it. Fortunately you don’t have to leave by the guards section, so I could leave without having to admit to the guard that 5 minutes was all I needed there. Apparently there are some much more spectacular tombs than those I saw (just holes in the ground), but I just couldn’t hack it. I needed a break, so I headed back to the hotel.

By the time I got to the hotel it was about dinnertime anyway, so I had a think where to go to eat. I fancied trying the Lara restaurant, which was out on the Arkamas peninsula, next to a turtle-breeding beach. It had the bonus that it was out up a dirt road, which was just what I needed. I had fun getting there, but found it was closed, with no lights on anywhere. I had half expected as much, especially as the one before it had been closed as well, so turned back to a fish restaurant I had passed earlier. I’m not sure what it was called, but it is on the coast road just north of Coral Bay, and has a swimming pool outside. It was the typical set up, with the family in the corner watching a TV, and no other guests. I was getting the impression that no one eats out at this time of year. They took me to the fridges, where I chose my fish, which they took off to grill for me. While I waited they brought out other food (all included in the price of the fish). First was fish soup. Not fish flavoured water, but something more solid than liquid. It was full of fish. I only had one bowl, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to eat anything else. Then they brought out salad, chips, humous, olives, whole cooked sardines and chillies, and of course a lemon. I ate this (chips with humous are great). Then they brought out my fish. Grilled whole, then filleted, and served in some sort of olive oil dressing, it was wonderful. It was the most expensive meal to date, at £11, but worth every penny, and far cheaper than it would have been in the UK.

When I got back to the hotel I decided I ought to try and be sociable, so went to the bar to try the brandy sour, a drink that Cyprus is meant to be famous for. After trying it, I decided I won’t try another, but finish it and headed back to my room. You know where you are with Ouzo.

Saturday morning I decided to head to Lemassol, to see what it had to offer. The drive there was good, I got the Vitara up to 140kph, and it could have done more, but there was a ferocious side wind, which threatened to blow me off the road, so I stuck to 120kph. A police car passed me with his lights going (the speed limit is 100kph), but it seems they drive everywhere with their lights on, so I ignored it, and he carried on without bothering me. Lemassol is as boring as Paphos, in my opinion, but I stopped at the castle, which was worth visiting, and at Kolossi castle, which was also good. In a shop I saw a post card for the Calendonian Falls, so I decided to drive inland and look at that. On the drive into the hills it started snowing (did I mention how cold it was), and I stopped in a small village, with a tiny taverna, with two tables, a wood stove, 4 arcade machines from the eighties, and the usual several old men, drinking tea or something. They seemed surprised to be asked for food, but rustled me up some bread, cheese, tomatoes and cucumber, and some local lemonade all for £3.

I headed on, stopping briefly at some other falls, where a rock fall tried to kill me, but as the snow was thickening, headed back up to the Troodos mountains and Mt Olympus. It was –7 degrees C here, the roads were thick with snow, and a blizzard was blowing. The Vitara coped well, only sliding if provoked, and even with the rear window unzipped, the heater kept me warm. I decided to head back through Cedar Valley, to see what that was like in the snow. On the way I stopped at the tomb of some Archbishop, and look out from a viewpoint, both of which are signposted as major tourist attractions. The tomb is merely a small building with a giant stone coffin in it, a plaque, and a picture. The viewpoint is a couple minutes walk up the hill from it, and has spectacular views, which are a bit wasted on me as it was blowing a gale and I had to hang on to trees and rocks to get up to it. The below zero gale cut through me like a knife, and after a couple of pictures I half ran half slid back to the Vitara and got the heating on full blast. Cedar Valley showed me how much the smooth dirt tracks were beginning to bore me. I got the Vitara sideways on a couple bends doing 80kph, and kept pointing it at the clay banks to see if it would climb them, which it did unless I exceeded the ramp over angle (which was quite easy to do, which surprised me as it is such a short vehicle). I decided I had to get back out to the Peninsula to do some proper off roading.

I stopped at a taverna, where I had a quick meal of meze (several different dishes all pilled on to your plate) and wine, before returning to the hotel. In another attempt to be sociable I went to the bar, where I realised it must be Valentines Day. I had an ouzo surprise to drink while I read my book. The surprise was the drink was red and orange, and tasted not unlike the brandy sour of the night before, but I’m sure it gave those around me the misapprehension that I was gay. Before I got chatted up by the wrong sort of person I went back to my room, and continued reading with my old friend neat ouzo. Much nicer, and far less colourful!

Sunday. What can I say except sorry Vitara, sorry Avis, and thank goodness I took out the extra insurance. I woke up at 7 am, and updated the last couple of days happenings on my laptop. It was freezing cold (literally, the receptionist told me it was the coldest she has ever known it on the coast), so I delayed getting out of bed until about 8:30. I thought today I could head back down the Akamas Peninsula and play on some low 4 tracks. On the way I saw signs for ‘Adonis Baths and Waterfall’, which was up a nice looking road, so I took it. I could carry on to the peninsula later, I thought. The road was quite passable in 2 wheel drive, but from it I saw a lovely, flat, muddy play area, with banks up one side. Perfect. I selected high four, and went to play. It wasn’t as muddy as it looked; the ruts had obviously been made when it was wetter. However, it was bumpy fun, and the bank took low 4 to climb. It had some great holes and ruts, including one route where a hole just before the top nearly swallowed your whole tyre. You couldn’t avoid the hole, or you risked smacking your undercarriage on a large, sharp rock. On the second attempt I made it, then did it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke, then a third time when I stopped with my front left wheel above the hole, and the back one below it to take pictures. I then carried on up the road to the Adonis Bath and Falls, which was a high four road from that point. The entrance to the falls (through a nice looking museum and café) was closed, but a little ingenuity and walking along a footpath to the right of the building got me to them for free. I took a couple of pictures, had a look around, and then returned to my playground. I spent five minutes blasting around the field at the bottom of the slope, before hitting the hill again. I should mention at this point that I had been noticing a little reluctance on the Vitara’s part when I reversed it. It would go a few feet without any problem, but then seemed a little resistant to going any further. I don’t know whether this had anything to do with what happened next, but as I hit the hole at the top of the hill there were two loud bangs, followed by a grating noise, and me just spinning the wheels. My first thought was a broken half shaft. I killed the engine, left it in gear, and ran round to look. From the front diff ran a steady stream of oil. Bugger. I reversed down the hill, and made it across the field in low four, accompanied by a lot of banging and grating noises. I got it back on the road, and had another look. The front drive shaft was hanging out of the diff, surrounded by a cracked metal housing, and lots of oil. My first thought was ‘thank goodness it is not the sump’ as I hadn’t paid the extra for the ‘sump screen and tyre’ damage waiver. I had paid the excess waver, fortunately, which cost me about £25 for the week, instead of £500 for the excess, so I was covered. However, my next problem was how to get it back. I unlocked the front hubs, and put the transfer box if 2 wheel drive, which I figured should disconnect the front diff and drive shaft altogether. It drove fine like that, all the way back to the hotel, where I took a couple pictures, put some cardboard under the diff to stop the oil draining onto their parking area, and called Avis.

Calling Avis was something I had been dreading. However, they couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetic. Within ten minutes they had arranged a Mitsubishi Pinin (short wheel base Pajero/Shogun) for me, which they allege will be delivered to me in the hour. I am sat typing this as I wait. A sum up of the Vitara? Great fun, great on road, good gentle off road vehicle, but breaks a little too easily. Looking at the drive shaft, I wonder if something has wrapped round it (wire or rope) and caused the break, but I can’t see for the mud. I don’t think I would have one. My Niva is much tougher than that, but then bits would have been falling off the Niva if I had hammered it along rough roads at the speeds I was doing in the Vitara. I think I’ll keep to my original plan of saving up for a Jeep Wrangler, and keep the Niva till then. Actually, I don’t like to think of getting rid of my Niva. It would be nice to keep alongside whatever I get next. Anyway, I’ll return to the reception, and await the delivery of my next steed. Expect a write up of the Pinin this evening.

Well, Mitsubishi, how appalling! I did want to like the Pinin, despite its auto box, and truly bizarre 4 wheel drive indication system, but after half a day driving it, I am now scared to try anything serious. I took it up to the petrol station to fill it up, where I encountered the strange system the Cypriots use to fill their cars outside of staff hours. First you go to a machine on the wall of the shop and insert money into it. When it has registered the money, you tell it which pump you are at, and go and fill up. I spotted a dirty Suzuki Jimny at a pump opposite, so asked them if they are headed into the hills. The two Irish teenage lads and their girlfriends were up for it, and said they’d follow me. I headed off fast, but they kept up. As I turned off the road onto the beach to overtake a slow car in front of me, I notice how much the Pinin wallows over bumps, so much so, in fact, that I have to slow down for fear it will ground and a rock. At a stand still it looks like it has better ground clearance than the Vitara, but the suspension will loose it all for it, if you are not careful. It does do a wonderful job of soaking up fast bumps, but this leads to its second problem: the auto box. I hit a large puddle at around 60kph, and find the car stopped dead, even though I had my foot to the floor. It took a couple moments before the Pinin worked out I wanted to go forward, when it changed down the gearbox and set off again. This almost made the Jimny run into the back of me, and if the puddle had been deep mud, would have got me stuck. In the Vitara I made sure I was in the right gear before hitting the puddle, but this is incredibly difficult with an auto box. Trying to drop the gear lever from ‘D’ to ‘2’ or ‘L’ while bouncing around is near impossible, but just about overcomes the problem. It is a problem I face on the slow uphill and downhill sections, as well. I manually select which gear range I want to limit the auto box to, but it takes a few moments to respond. That is if I can get the lever in the right place. A couple times I end up neutral, and once I nearly end up in reverse. As an aside, why do they feel the need to make it beep in reverse gear like a truck?

The Irish lads had obviously never done this before, and were a little gung ho about it all. The guy driving wanted to slide it every corner, and hit every puddle. As the road got rockier, I noticed his front plastic bumper area developed a huge crack, and I kept waiting for him to roll it. I did a section on the beach to slow them down a bit, which revealed something about the 4 wheel drive system in the Pinin. It was still possible to get rear wheel spin, even when in high 4. There is a little 4 wheeled diagram on the dashboard, which says ‘Super Select System’ or something like that. In 2 wheel drive, an orange light in the centre of the car flashes beside the word ‘lock’. In high 4, the light still flashes, but the front heels are lit up as well. In low 4 the lock light stays lit. I’m not sure if that means that in high 4 it only applies power to the front wheels if the back slip, or something, but it is puzzling. The ‘lock’ certainly does not mean a diff lock of any sort, as I found out later.

After the beach, I led them onto the track over the Akamas Peninsula, that I had done a few days before. After they worked out how to use low 4, they seemed to enjoy crawling over the rocks, and heading up steep banks. The Pinin seems strange going over slower obstacles. With a manual gearbox you can let the engine crawl you up the bank or rock. With the auto box it just holds you there, hanging halfway up a steep bank. As you slowly accelerate nothing happens, until it suddenly starts to pull. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, it just takes some getting used to. It takes it all okay, but does seem to ground a lot more than the Vitara. I think it is all down to the super soft suspension. We headed into Neo Chorio to pick up a couple of bottles of water. The Irish lads park in the middle of the street while they buy all the crisps and sweets in the little shop. This caused a traffic jam, so I pretended not to be anything to do with them till it was sorted out. As we headed back down the mountain, I notice they keep throwing sweet wrappers out of the window. I suppose it is their upbringing, but I found it rude and ignorant. That, as well as their constant attempts to roll the Jimny, and the way they kept shooting up to within a few inches of my rear bumper made me glad when we hit the main road back to Paphos, and they disappeared off, front bumper hanging off. I have had 5 days of my own company. I suppose I will have to readjust to people again when I return home. I’m not looking forward to it!

As I was on my own again, I started having a look at the Pinin. I saw a rutted turning off which would let me test the articulation, so I took it. Heading down, I found the front has none at all, and the back is quite limited. All the wheels stayed on the ground on the way down, but on the way back up I managed to get one back wheel a good few inches off the ground. I stopped, took pictures, and found I could slide my entire foot underneath the tyre. Now this wasn’t some really severe two-foot drop I was taking it over, but just a rutted lane. I got back in and found what I think is its most severe problem. With one wheel off the ground, and a small lump in front of the front wheels, I tried to set off. But the car stayed there, spinning the wheel that was in the air. I tried low 4, but got the same response. This has really scared me; if it did this so easily there, how about next time, when I don’t have the option of reversing out? I think tomorrow I’ll have to take it to the bank where I broke the Vitara, and try it there.

Speaking of which, I think I unfairly criticised the Vitara for weakness. I have heard of Vitaras breaking half shafts before now (see to see video clips of it happening) but this was different, and much less provoked. Maybe something had hit the prop shaft, or got wrapped around it. I still don’t want one, though.

I took some photos of the Pinin on the beach as the sun set, before trying out its ramp over angle on a bank I had got the Suzuki bellied out on a couple of days before. The Pinin hit its front bumper on it as I approached, so it definitely has a worse approach angle. However, when taken slow, I think the ground clearance is better, as it got further before grounding. Now I want to bring my Niva out to try it on the same stuff! I then headed for the easy food option: one of the tourist restaurants in Coral Bay called Andria. The staff were exceptional, and the food good, but not exceptional. It was too anglicised for my tastes. When in Cyprus I want Cypriot food. If I had wanted English food, I would have stayed in England. However, if you want your food slightly anglicised, it is good food, well prepared.

Now I have to decide what I want to do for the next couple days. And whether to head to the bar or not. After today’s attempt at being sociable, I’m not sure I do. My summation of the Pinin so far? As a nice soft road car, very nice. But I don’t see why they bothered to put a low 4 ration in with the incredible lack of articulation and soft suspension. And the clock doesn’t light up with the lights. You can’t see the time after dark. I also couldn’t get the heater to work. I could get the air conditioner to chill me or just blow out regular air, but could get no heat. And how what on earth is that 4 wheel drive diagram with flashing lights meant to mean? The Vitara made sense from the minute I got in. Everything was obvious even if it wasn’t fancy, and everything worked. Never mind, it was good of Avis to find me the Pinin. Especially after what I did to the Vitara! This is why it pays to pay extra and go for a big, global company rather than a local.

Monday morning I headed out in the Pinin, filled it with petrol (£10) and decided to try the Avakas (Avgas) Gorge again. It had been raining all night, and the roads were wet, but the fords weren’t up at all. I turned right at the signs for the gorge, crossed the first ford, passed the path up the gorge, and then turned left through a second ford that took me up a steep rutted road up the side of the valley below the gorge. The road was easily passable in the Vitara, although to be fair, it was dry then. In the wet the Pinin just slid anyway it wanted. I was trying to avoid dropping a wheel in a deep rut, or going off the edge, but in the end was pleased just to make it to the top. The road after the farm is a fast gravel road (where I got a little rear sliding happy in the Vitara), so I decided to head back down the road, and walk up the gorge. Fortunately, as I was turning around, I worked out the transfer lever. It has 4 positions, 2 wheel drive, high 4, high 4 lock, and low 4 lock. So far I hadn’t been using low 4, just high four lock. To get low 4 you have to be in neutral (not park, for some reason), and push the selector lever down and forwards. If I hadn’t worked that out, I doubt I would have made it. As it was, gravity combined with wet clay, poor tyres and super soft suspension slid me into every rut there was. I would slide into the rut at the top of the slope, where it was just a small rut, not capable of harm to anyone, but just deep enough to mean that I couldn’t get out, no matter what I did. The rut would then get gradually deeper and deeper, till I was scraping on the underneath of the car. A couple of the ruts headed off the side of the road into the gorge. When I was stuck in these I pilled rocks in front of the front wheel until The Pinin found it easier to get out of the rut than stay in. The ones that ran into the ditch at the other side of the road were generally easier to get out of as there were plenty of rocks already in the ruts from small rock slides. I finally made it to the bottom, crossed the ford, and parked up beside three Land Rovers at the start of the footpath. Most Cypriots I met were very friendly, but these Land Rover tour guides all seemed surly and rude; not interested in talking to you or even smiling or saying hello unless you had paid them.

I hiked up the gorge, very glad of my gore-tex boots. The path to the gorge is fine, but the gorge itself is very narrow, and most of the time you are walking in the stream. It is worth the walk though, as the gorge is deep and narrow, and closes over you like a cave. A sign as you go in warns you about rock falls and flash floods, and having walked up it, it isn’t exaggerating. I got stuck behind the tour group from the Land Rovers, a bunch of very friendly and pleasant seeming Germans, but it was a good trip, and one I would recommend. Especially as it is free.

I then headed off down the Akamas Peninsula to play around, but found the Pinin was hideous on the wet dirt roads. It went anyway it wanted to, ignoring any input I gave it. On some roads it went in a straight line as I turned for the corner, and kept going in the straight line until I was off the road and bouncing through rocks. These seemed to give it the traction it needed to turn. Then I would be back on the road, with the Pinin in the deepest ruts (its choice, not mine) until the next corner. It was okay when it could get traction, but their was no excuse for its complete inability to find any on flat, gravely roads. I decided I was flogging a dead horse, so did a run to the airport to make sure I could find the way, and to see how long it should take. On the tarmac as the heat rose, the Pinin showed what it was built for. I turned the aircon on, and buried the accelerator in the muddy foot well. When the pedal is completely to the floor, it holds the gear until the redline (6,500 rpm) before changing up. I would never dare to rev it that high in general use, but it is quite effective, and soon the speedo showed 160 kph as the box kicked into fourth. I decided that was fast enough, especially as the speed limit was 100 kph. I might get away with 120 kph, but I doubt even the Cypriot police would turn a blind eye to 160 kph. The airport came, and went, and I headed back into Paphos, then back up to the slope where I broke the Vitara. (Sorry, I should say ‘the road where the Vitara broke’ in case anyone from Avis is reading this. It wasn’t my fault, honest!) The Pinin slid down the road to the slope (which didn’t give me much confidence), and dropped itself deeply into the mud flats at the bottom of the slope. Whereas with the Vitara I had gone tearing around the rutted field, bouncing everywhere, I kept the Pinin to the edge, on the driest ground I could find, before dropping it into the ruts and heading for the slope at the last minute. It started spinning its wheels (in low 4 lock, whatever the lock means) half way up the slope, and was sliding backwards in first gear, low 4 before I even got to the rough bits. It made it half way up, but just behaved so badly I didn’t even dare risking going back to the bottom of the slope in case it got stuck in the ruts. I headed off sideways (the way I escaped with the poorly Vitara), got back on the road, and haven’t taken it off the road since.

It is my last couple days of holiday (I fly at 5 pm tomorrow), and yet I find I just don’t want to even try it anywhere else. In the dry it coped well up to a point, if you took it slow. In the wet it handles like a lovesick sea slug. I think I’ll spend the rest of this afternoon in the pool, then head out for a final meal at the best restaurant I found, the fish place, to try the local delicacy – grilled octopus. Tomorrow I’ll probably head into town. The Pinin is that bad.

I went to the fish restaurant, and had calamari. Three complete octopi chopped up and fried with all the accompaniments of last time, but with a bottle of beer to wash it down to celebrate my last night here. The beer was called Leon, and came in a 63cl bottle, of which I managed three quarters. It was only 4.5%, but tasted really good. The ingredients were water, malt and hops. No extras, no additives, and all the better for it. The cost of the meal was £5, cheap at twice the price. What surprised me most about the evening was pulling out of the hotel car park and seeing the Vitara still there, waiting to be collected. As I saw it I felt sad. It had done so well and was being neglected. Did I like it that much, that I have personified it, and have emotions for it? Maybe that is why I hate the Mitsubishi so much. Anyway, only tomorrow to go now.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, my last day, started fine and sunny. I packed my stuff, gladly gave in my key (I doubt I will return to that hotel again), loaded the Pinin, and set off for Paphos. This is where I was glad to have the Pinin, if only because it was a hard top. It meant I could leave all my luggage (okay, both my small rucksacks) in the back and leave the car. I had a last look round the town, checked I had money in my bank account for when I hit England, ate some food, then headed out for my last off road jaunt. The map showed a road that led from Paphos harbour south east along the coast. After turning into a track, it was shown as terminating in the Ezousa River. The interesting thing about this, is the airport is just the other side of the river, so I wondered whether I could take a shortcut to the airport by fording the river. The river, when I got to it, looked to be slightly in flood, and was to muddy to see the bottom, but the path in and out looked rocky enough to provide the Pinin with enough grip, if only the bottom was the same surface, and it wasn’t too deep. Now someone will tell me that trying a ford away from any help, on your own, just a couple of hours before you have to be at an airport in a vehicle that isn’t very good off road, isn’t a great idea. I know. But it was a worse idea than even I could have imagined. I took the ford slow, ready to reverse out at the first sign of trouble. The water got deep, up to the top of the wheels, but not deep enough to worry about. Three quarters of the way across I came across a little gravel bank, so hopped out and took a couple pictures. The Pinin made it all the way across no problem, and that is when I realised my error. Coming from that side of the airport meant if I went any further I would be driving onto the airstrip itself, and that was probably not the best idea in the world. Add this to the army helicopter I’d just seen land a few hundred yards away in the direction I was heading, and I decided it would be prudent to turn around. As I entered the ford again, the army helicopter took off, and flew low towards me. By the time I was half way across the ford the helicopter was overhead. It followed me till I made it back to the tarmac, and then disappeared. I decided to test the speed abilities of the Pinin at that point, and get somewhere else, fast.

As it was such a nice day, I headed up into the foothills above the airport. I turned left off the A6 to Limassol, and headed up the tarmac for a few miles before turning right onto a dirt track. I was tired, the day was sunny, and I didn’t want to get stuck anywhere, so I stopped the car off the road after having a play in a gravel quarry. I looked over the landscape. And figured if, when the time came to head to the airport, I cut across the field in front of me, and down a few banks, I could probably get to the road I could see in the distance. Checking with my map, the only tarmac road I should be able to see from that point would be the one that headed down, across the A6, and to the airport. Perfect, I thought. Again, somebody needs to pop up at these points in my life, and warn me off these great ideas. I read for an hour, laying on the grass, with no noise at all except the whistle of the breeze, and the occasional faint noise of some construction going on in a valley between me and the road I planned to head towards. Again, where is somebody to warn me at these points? My alarm went off, so I climbed back in the car, and headed across the fields for the road. The construction noise grew louder, and soon I hit a track, leading in the direction I needed to go, and directly towards the noise of construction. The track rounded a corner, and directly in front of me was a large gate, with a large fence, about twenty foot high and topped with barbed wire stretching in either direction. The gate was open, no one was around, and the road headed the way I needed to go. Please, nobody ever let me go anywhere on my own again. I figured I might be on the wrong side of the fence already, and perhaps should go through the gate. Okay, it was a feeble attempt to persuade myself, but it worked. I drove through. The road was now tarmac, and lots of building work was going on, so I stopped and asked a guy digging a ditch which way Paphos was. He pointed the way I was going, so I took that as permission to carry on, and did so. What was being built looked an awful lot like army barracks, and there were a suspicious amount of soldiers stood around, directing the work. As I passed, they all stopped, and watched me go, as if they couldn’t work out whether I should be there, or they should be challenging me. Soon I came to the gate at the other side of the compound (yes, I had been on the right side of the fence originally, and now was on the wrong side). This gate was manned by a soldier with a semi automatic weapon slung over his shoulder, and he raised it and stepped across the gate as I approached. He wasn’t pointing the gun at me, just holding it up as if to order me to stop, so I did. He walked around the Pinin, and to my window. I put on my friendliest smile (I probably was grinning like the village idiot) and said ‘Paphos?’ pointing the way I was going. With a puzzled look he nodded, so I drove off rapidly, but not fast, while he stood back into the middle of the gate, watching me go, with the gun still raised. Never underestimate the stupidity of your actions.

I headed down to the airport FAST, ditched the car there, posted the keys through the Avis letterbox, and got in the check-in line quick, hoping that if anyone did come looking for the Pinin, I would have nothing on me to associate myself with it. I’m now sat in the airport departure lounge, looking out over the car park. In the corner is the Pinin, still on its own, with no soldiers in site. I think I got away with it. I feel I also should put in a disclaimer here in case any Cypriot officials read this to say all I was doing was driving. Both episodes were accidents; I took no photos of anything sensitive, and am sorry for my stupidity. There remains nothing for me to say now, except thanks again, Avis, for being so understanding about the Vitara. It wasn’t my fault, it must be bad maintenance or something, and sorry Mitsubishi, the Suzuki beat your effort hands down. Would I come back? Not on my own, that is for sure. I think I exhausted the possibilities for off roading on your own. I’d want a couple mates also with vehicles, a little better prepared for off roading. But you can’t hire those anywhere I saw, so maybe Spain or France next. Anybody want to lend me a 4 wheel drive to test anywhere like that?


I thought I ought to add a post script to this. How does it feel to return to the Niva after driving much newer machines? To be honest, for the first 15 minutes I hated it. It was harsh, clumsy and crude. Then I stopped noticing it. Now it feels natural again (except I still indicate with the wipers occasionally). The only thing I really dislike about the Niva is the over heavy steering. To done any slow speed turning moves on tarmac is a nightmare. The day after I returned a lady drove into the back of the Niva at a junction. The Niva had a few scratches on the bumper and a damaged exhaust. The front of her car was completely mashed. I know the Vitara and the Pinin would not have come out of the accident so unscathed. I wonder if I can get power steering and better brakes on the Niva. Then it would be near perfect!

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