Sunday, September 23, 2007

I’ve noticed it before: that night-drive home from Gatwick acts as a kind of eraser, smudging my vivid recollections into a blur of heat-hazy blue horizons with only highs and lows etched unforgettably.
Waking at dawn in Agios Georgios as collared doves croon and stepping directly from our patio into the pool, that’s indelible. Basking on the soft sand of Turtle Beach & floating in the translucent shallow water of Lara Bay. Sipping beer in shady courtyards, scrumping figs, watching sunsets.
And of course, the cycling – my raison d’etre for a week in the Pathos region was to test-ride the Headwater holiday ‘Secrets of Cyprus Cycling.’ One of those ‘tough job but someone’s got to do it’ assignments. The organisers provide the bikes, book the hotels, and transfer our luggage. Our task is to cycle past olive groves and vineyards watching the sunshine dazzle on the Mediterranean, stopping occasionally for cool Keo until we reach the next friendly hostelry where our bags and supper table are waiting.
And write about it, of course, ideally with enough enthusiasm to encourage others to leap into the saddle and experience the joys of freewheeling 9 kilometres from Kathikas down to Coral Bay and chicaning along the unmade paths of the Akamas to secluded beaches where the turtles lay their eggs and the rare wild lilies grow.

In this idyll, can there be any lows? There was that feral cat that jumped into our moussaka. The occasional peripatetic mosquito.
My main gripe, though, is serious
– and I'm part of the problem.
It’s the English.
Last time I was in Cyprus was 5 years ago and I stayed in a rural village in the central area. I was besotted with the harshly beautiful landscape, the gypsum hills, ochre grassland, scorching blue of the sky. I walked for miles, and resisted expat dinner invitations, preferring my balcony with figs and halloumi cheese and local wine watching the sun set. And during this time I saw a tiny house in a lemon grove which was up for sale for £24,000 and if I’d had any way of raising that much money then I’d have bought it.
So I’m not standing in judgment from any high moral ground. I understand why the entire coast, and even fertile farming land, is smothered with new-build holiday-homes like virulent nappy rash. It’s the dream for so many of us: sun, sea, sand, and sound property investment. Only, with prices ten times higher and air travel unsustainable in cost as well as carbon footprint, it seems impossible this goldrush bubble won't burst. Thousands of bougainvillea-edged pools, while Cyprus reservoirs are gutted after two arid years. Thousands of quickly-constructed edifices locked up empty for months, in place of the rural families that gave the land its energy and spirit.
Well, I don’t want to come across like a glum Green Meanie, but believe me, these ‘English hills’ gave us much to ponder as we cycled.
..... It's the rich that get the pleasure,
..... It's the land that get the shame,
..... It's the same the whole world over,
..... And we're all to bloody blame.

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