Friday, 7 May 2010

Cyclists across borders

Cyclists Across Barriers

Cycle trip Karpaz to Akamas, Paphos, Cyprus 16 - 25 April 2010

Arrival: Thursday 15 April 2010; arrive late afternoon at Golden Sands Beach, Karpaz. Overnight stay at Big Sands café; camping or beach huts
Tel 0533 865 3488 to book bed (tbb)

Cycling Days:

Day 1. Friday 16th April; 25km cycle from Apostolos Andreas Monastery to Dipkarpaz/Rizokarpaso. Various options to stay.

Day 2. Saturday 17th April; 40km to Kumyali/Koma tou Yialou.
Camping or Notovikla Garden Hotel. Tel:05428517781 (tbb); hotel also hires bikes.

Day 3. Sunday 18th April; 36km to Kaplica/Davlos
Camping or rooms at Kaplica restaurant. Tel:0090 392 387 2031(tbb)

Day 4. Monday 19th April; 53km to Alagadi Beach. Camping

Day 5. Tuesday 20th April; 20km to Bella Bais/Girne/Kyrenia. Various options to stay

Day 6. Wednesday 21st April; 49km from St Hilarion to Guzelyurt/Morfou.
Guzelyurt Hotel (tbb) 0533 861 8973

Day 7. Thursday 22nd April; 35km from Morfou to Kalopanagiotis.
PEO TU apartments Tel: 00357 2286 6405 or 00357 99875 655
St Androniki apartments Tel:00357 99646 151

Day 8. Friday 23rd April; 46km to Stavros tis Psokas: Rooms/cabins/camping 00357 2600 1858 and food (orders early day before) 00357 99 425 822

Day 9. Saturday 24th April; 20km to Lysos
Paradise Hills Hotel Tel: 00357 2632 2287 or various hotels and camping in Polis 12km downhill to the sea.

Day 10. Sunday 25th April; 40km to Akamas, and back to Latchi port nr Polis by boat. Various options to stay

If you would like updates or to join all or part of the cycle trip contact:
Aydin Mahmet Ali: 0090 5338606174 or 00357 99958812
Andreas Michaelides: 00357 96781672

May 1st

Our cycle trip, 367km in all, is done and dusted…and we live to tell the tale. We were a Magnificent Seven, Four have already returned to the UK and we may not meet again for a while; but the journey will be well remembered by all of us for a long time to come.

Florian…30 years old and the youngest of the group, was the only one to cycle every kilometre of the way. Some others would have liked to but five of us had to share the driving of our support truck. Florian had been looking for adventure since he gave up his job some months ago, and this one has got him off to a good start. The best bike mechanic, we relied on him for adjusting brakes, gears etc
Andreas, Sabrina, and Aydin ….. the seniors, with Andreas the oldest, at 67. The chief organisers for the trip. Slower up the hills but nothing was impossible with our great 21 gear bikes
Doreen,…63, and a bit of a novice to cycling. (wasn’t sure she could put out an arm for a turn right hand signal!) She was a great main-stay in driving the support truck but also cycled part way most days. By the last day she was whizzing down hills with the best of us.
Lindsey…. 45, a strong cyclist and reluctant driver; she cycled all but 19km. She was riding for sponsorship to a dog and cat sanctuary in Cyprus. Kept the group laughing with her ready wit, and did the camera work
Ariane….40 and 5’3’’, a little one but with strong thighs! Always there to make sure that stuff was loaded on the truck, food was bought and generally oiling the organising wheels.

The journey
Starting at the Eastern tip of Cyprus, we spent the first two days cycling down the long thin panhandle of the island. This peninsula is only a few kilometres wide, and even when cycling in an inland valley, the sea is constantly appearing between gaps in the low hills. It’s wild, uncultivated land, with few villages, and even fewer cars. A joy to cycle through.
On the third day we crossed from the South to the North coast, through a low pass in the rocky spine of Northern Cyprus, the Kantara mountains, This end of Cyprus is much scarred by new giant roads currently under construction. On this day we were unable to avoid them, and had to wrap our faces up against the dust and grit for a 10km descent to the Northern coast. In both North and South Cyprus, road building is an obsession. We found there was much local opposition –there was no fault to be found with the existing roads, so why spend millions on new ones that eat up the countryside?

Day 4 found us cycling along the beautiful northern coast to Alagadi, Turtle Bay. As the name suggests, this is where turtles come to lay their eggs. We set up camp in the sand dunes behind the beach, but then found the gates to the beach locked for the night, and the beach café closed and unlit, because it’s the turtle mating season. Some of us woke before dawn and crept down to the beach, hoping to catch the turtles in action. Nothing doing, but we noticed that a very bright light lit up the beach from the nearby oil refinery, enough to disorientate every turtle coming that way.Oh dear, not much joined up thinking going on there.

We continued along the northern coast the next day to the busy port of Kyrenia. We were now into a heavily populated area, littered by half-built, unoccupied villas and hotels. We had no choice but to ride the main road. Although our route was short, only 19km, it wasn’t a pleasant journey. We kept our support truck close behind us for safety, as vehicles were fast moving, and of course traffic piled up behind us. Every now and then we had to pull in to let a queue of cars and big trucks pass us. All our anxieties and tiredness evaporated when we reached the Bellapais Monastery Village, a luxurious holiday complex, and we were honoured guests. We enjoyed our first hot shower since Day 1, and an evening meal with Ozbek and his daughter Tulip. Ozbek (Ozzie to his friends) runs a travel agency and is keen to promote cycling in Northern Cyprus, so we had plenty to talk about.

Day 6 was our last full day in Northern Cyprus, and was The Day of Disasters. This was to be a long days cycling, with over 50km to ride, But first we had a lavish breakfast at the Village and a photoshoot with the press on Kyrenia’s very pretty old harbour. Our starting point for the day’s cycling was to be St Hilarion Castle, high on the hill behind Kyrenia. The only access to it is the main Kyrenia/Levkosia road, which appears to go almost vertically up the mountain. No choice but to ferry cycles, cyclists and luggage up the hill to St Hilarion and we didn’t get on our bikes until the sun was hot, at 2pm.

Once we got going the route was sublime, riding high along the rocky Kantara ridge, with spectacular views down to the northern coast, and then to the southern plain, Levkosia city in the distance. We stopped for a picnic lunch mid-afternoon and then…locked the truck keys inside the truck. We were in an area dominated by the Turkish army; in fact travelling on the only permitted road, with the nearest village 10km distant.. We stared through the windows at the keys on he seat, in disbelief at our collective stupidity. What to do? Lots of things….Lindsey cycled off to the village to get help; Aydin rang a garage in Levkosia, and Florian looked at possibilities for breaking into the truck without damaging it. Then the army chaps appeared, and obviously wanted us to be moving on. The truck was duly broken into (and damaged); we waited, and paid for, the mechanic from Levkosia, and finally got going, catching up eventually with a lonesome Lindsey. In the hazy distance, far across the plain, and through a gap in even more distant hills, we could see our destination for the day, Morphou/Guzelyurt.

After a whirligig descent from the ridge, the sun sinking low, we stopped at Kozan village coffee shop to assess the situation. It would be dark soon; we had only a couple of bike lights between us and several kilometres still to go, 10 of them on a severely potholed road. We decided that we would have to part ride, part ferry. At last, we all arrived, hungry, cold and late at the Guzelyurt Hotel, whose staff didn’t seem to remember that they were expecting us. Nevertheless, they made us welcome, helped us unload our many bags and bicycles and ordered us take away pizzas.

Next morning we were tired, not quite ready for another long day, but made sure that we got off to an early start. Ahead of us was a border crossing to the Republic of Cyprus and a long haul up the foothills and slopes of the Troodos mountains. The border crossing was a non-event; there is very little through traffic here and only a couple of officials on duty. Our alternative passports/a white piece of paper with the N. Cyprus logo were duly stamped and we passed through. Up to this point Aydin had been our interpreter and fixer, and from now on it was Andreas’ honour. Our first night on the Greek-speaking side was to be at the mountain village of Kalopaniotis. The Cypriot trade union PEO have apartments, ‘workers rest homes’ here but the season had not yet started. They were very supportive of our aims and kind enough to offer us free accommodation, opening up just for us. As always, there were great kebab-making facilities, but no outside lighting. We sat in some state, on the terrace, and ate our kebabs by the light of our head torches. They could not have tasted better.

We were now well over half way, 750m high and confident of our ability to finish the course. Everything from now on was well known territory to Andreas and Sabrina, but so much more interesting and beautiful when experienced from the seat of a bicycle. A hard uphill pedal next day took us to /m and Kykkos Monastery, where we lunched. With the euro riding high, prepared food is now very expensive on the south side of Cyprus, so we mixed and matched fresh salads from the monastery café with tasty things we had bought earlier. Then on, following the contours of the massive Troodos hills, to the Forest Station of Stavros Psokas.

When researching places to stay on route we had been unable to locate any official camp sites, either in north or south of the island. We had all brought tents, mats and sleeping bags and wanted to use them. As it turned out, most of our night stops did have quite decent camping possibilities. But at Stavros, the senior 4 opted for the Residence, a typical colonial brick bulding, built by the Brits in 1947. It was a Saturday night and turned out to be a fortuitous choice. Whilst we slept in silent forested splendour, the campers, Ariane, Linsey and Florian, were kept awake by a rowdy group of Cypriot teenagers who partied late into the night. (and they had the cold showers). No matter, we were now in striking distance (19km) of Lysos, and a gentle morning’s cycling brought us into that very familiar place, with time enough in the afternoon for a descent to the eucalyptus beach and a cool swim.

And so to our last, triumphant day. The last few kilometres, through the Akamas, is a wild nature reserve, with rough dirt roads. The plan was to cycle down to Polis and exchange our road bikes for mountain bikes, and, when we reqched the island's end, arrange a boat ride back to Latchi, with bikes.. However, when we arrived at the cycle shop we found that our hirer had got cold feet -perhaps the winter storms had destroyed the road completely, and he would have to come out personally to rescue his bikes. So, quick revision of plans...we would ride our road bikes to Baths of Aphrodite, where the tarmac ends, and then walk the rest of the way. This we did, and then arranged a pick-up by boat back the the Baths. A suitbaly exciting finish, as George's boat turned out to be a little speed-boat, which he raced back at top speed. And finally, bubbly on the terrace of the Bths of Aphrodite cafe.

Anything after that was going to be an anticlimax, but laying about on the beaches for the next couple of days wasn't too hard to bear. Would we do it again? bet.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Half way across Cyprus -20th April 2010

Dear children, grnadchildren and friends

Here we are, in the lap of luxury in the Bellepais Garden Hotel, overlooking Kyrenia, and with the rocky Kantara mountains behind us. This is the first time in 5 days that we have had access to internet and a warm shower, and its lovely!

But lets start at the beginning....WE picked up out hire bikes in Polis for Ariane, Andreas, Lindsey and Doreen. , Aydin, Florian , and Sabrina have their own . They have all turned out to be brilliant and have travelled the 175km so far with only minor adjustments needed. All those 21 gears have been working hard up and down the hills, and barely had us sweating. But first we had to get them to the other end of Cyprus to our cycling start point. This took a whole day, and we didn't arrive until after dark. It's very early in the season for hotel openings....and after the excitenet of getting ready and off it was a real downer to find the little beach hut encampment in complete darkness.

Oh dear, where to go in this most remote tip of Cyprus? Then across the bay we spotted a little light and set off down a bumpy track to find 'Hassan's turtle beach' - a little makeshift cafe with wooden beach huts in the sand dunes. Hassan himself appeared and made us at home at once. (turned out he lived in Clapton for several years but now enjoys a rather idyllic-looking beach existence). Next morning we see it in all it's glory. A long board walk leading down to the sea; a raised sheltered platform with tables and chairs set out for breakfast, and that's all in a huge bay of sandunes rolling down to the sea. What a fantastic place to start from. We all wanted to stay longer, but we had cycling to do. the sun rose high and hot in the sky we set off.

We posed first for a group photograph at Apostolos Andreas monastery, and set off for short day's cycling, 20 km. All of us, except Aydin,who had cycled this first section of the route before, were pretty nervous about whether we would be able to do the distances planned. We had seen the terrain we plaaned to cycle thru on our first two days on the journey in the truck andit looked long and hilly. However, we felt alot better after day one, having mastered the bikes and the ups and downs in the most beautiful seaside scenery.

At the end of our first day we had reached Dipkarpaz, a little backwater of a town, dominated by the army. It's has an usual claim to fame though. After the turkish invasion in 1974, the greek cypriot villagers refused to leave. There were 6000 then, but this has dwindled down to only a few hundred now. Andreas and Sabrina walked down to their coffee bar/taverna early next morning and had a coffee with a few of the early risers.

Our second day was a longer ride, around 40km, continuing along the narrow pan-handle of the island. Riding was leaisurely and easy, except for one big hill near the end. Doreen has the least cycly expereince of the group, and had t be coaxed onto her bike on the first day. Now she had gained confidence and was thoroughly enjoying the ride. She has howecver remained as our main driver of the truck, as she cant quite manage the longer distances...and that has been very nice for the rest of us
We arrived at the tiny fisher port of Cumiali/Koma tou Yialou expecting to stay or camp at the little training hotel by the sea. Unfortunately our arrangements failed as the caretaker was not there and the hotel was shut! We found refuge by the beach in front of another deserted restaurant and camped there. The swim was glorious after our first long journey. Our quest for a restaurant in the village resulted in the group spltting up but still both having a lovely meal. The night was full of the sounds of fishing boats litterally trying to take off, peacocks singing and when the cockrels started we realised it wss nearly morning. The ealry swim cured everything and restored the body for the 36km to Kaplica/Davlos. The preprepared muesli lovely was a nurishing breakfast as was the lovely coffee at Nitovikla, a restored Inn The owner Kaisir Bey was very interested in our ride offering to sponsor one of the day rides from Dipkarpaz/Rizokarpaso to his little village with drinks by the pool and a full reception and a welcome by the village Mayor.

Sunday, 11 April 2010


11th April 2010

Andreas and I arrived in Cyprus a week ago. We have spent most of that time, with our friend Aydin, making arrangements for and going over our cycle route. We will be cyclng 300km over ten days, starting from the Eastern tip and ending at the Western end.The first six days will take us along the coasts and mountain ridges of Northern Cyprus; the final four days skirting the mountains and along the coast of Southern Cyprus.

Until this week I hadn't realised just how unusual a venture this will be. And here begins a very brief history of the current situation for those too young to know about this divided island

Ever since it became colonised by Turkey, as part of the Ottoman Empire, Cyprus has been populated by people of two ethnic origins -greek and turkish. Due to the events of the past, people's pride in their ethnic roots and different religious practices there has been little inter-marriage in the intervening 500 years; and greek and turkish cypriots have remained as two distinct ethnic groups. They have lived and worked side by side, usually amiably. But there have been ethnic tensions and outbreaks of violence -much of which has been blamed on the British, who were the colonial power on the island between 1878 and 1960.

All that changed in 1974 when the Turkish army invaded Cyprus, and a line was drawn from east to west, dividing the island in two. Greek cypriots were pushed into the south side; turkish cypriots into the North and the 'Green line' was uncrossable. For older cypriots the tragedy was lost homes and land, lost communities and livelihoods. For the young, the tragedy is that they never knew their fellow countrymen and women. Andreas' neice Irini met turkish cypriots for the first time when she came to study in London.

About five years ago, after long negotiations, the borders were opened a crack; a crack that has been slowly widening as new border crossings are opened and restrictions on visits are relaxed. But bitterness remains on both sides and many cypriots don't take the opportunity to cross over. Someof Andreas' relatives live within spitting distance of the Green Line but has never crossed over. The hurt is too deep. For some cypriots it would be little short of treachery to go over and enjoy the countryside and hospitality of the other side. Not surprising then that a cycle ride which determinedly sets out to cross borders should be planned by two cypriots who have lived outside Cyprus for most of their lives. And our wildest dreams are that it starts something bigger; an annual ride which becomes a popular event; new connections, new friendships. All you reading the blog, and who can ride a bike, might like to join us next year!

Back to the cycle trip. We have hired bikes and Hadjicostis- a cousin of Andreas- is lending us his diplokambino ( a little truck that seats five people and can carry bikes and luggage in the open back.)Four friends, Ariane, Lindsey, Doreen and Florian, will fly out from the UK to join us this Thursday and we will travel next day to our starting point, Apostolos Andreas. The monastery is right at the end of the long thin Eastern peninsula, on the Northern side. It's pretty much in ruins now, although the church itself is maintained by a few devoted greek cypriots. One of Andreas' earliest memories is the long bus ride fron Nicosia with his parents, carrying a candle as tall as himself, to plead the assistance of Apostolos Andreas for his recovery from whooping cough.

We have already checked out our route through North and South by car, and are putting out the route information through a few journalist contacts, inviting others to join us. We have no idea if any will, as it's all quite last minute. The route takes us thru some fabulous scenery. Although we will only be riding on average 30km a day we feel a little daunted as very little is on the flat. The presence of the little diplokambino is a very comforting thought. Our great adventure starts on 15th April. We may be far from internet conctions for awhile, but will try and keep you posted, and hope that you'll write something back in the blog reply section. We love knowing that you exist!