Cyprus, 2004 - Wednesday

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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.



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