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!