This was one of those magic excursion days, laced with impromptu adventures and spontaneous encounters with animals. It was a pleasure to meet Simon and Paulina with their two daughters, Emily and Lyra from the U.K. during August 2019. We spent several hours exploring some special places in western Cyprus with specific focus on spectacular nature areas and special places where you can contact some of the most friendly four-legged inhabitants of the island. We did kind of a meze of the landscape!
We started off by visiting the Ayios Neophytos Cat Park — a must-see place for anybody who loves animals and has a soft heart for cats. We’re talking about lots of cats, like over 800 cats! You enter, find a place to sit down, and the cats just come to you seeking exactly what the Beatles sang money “can’t buy”: Love! This place is “super-good” and the whole experience is pure “positive energy.” If you introduce to the equation this family, especially with their two girls Emily and Lyra (individuals with true open hearts and spirits): you just watch the magic happen. It was difficult to tell who was happier: the two girls or the cats! These photos say it all:
Next stop was almost next door, the Holy Monastery of Ayios Neophytos. We were able to explore the fantastic cave (called locally “Enkleistra“) of the hermit monk, Neophytos, who lived here between 1159 and 1190, after which he moved to another cave higher up the cliff until his death roundabout 1214. The main cave complex is decorated with magnificent wall paintings from the late 12th Century, some painted by one of the most celebrated artists of the day, Theodoros Apsevtis.
After this we all agreed: it was time to get wet! So we drove our 4×4 vehicle to the western coast of Cyprus and visited the spectacular Thalassinies Spilies (“Sea Caves”) and then moved further up the coast to the sacred sands of Lara, where we could observe the active conservation of sea turtles, lots of nests, and even a few hatchlings of both Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles swimming around in a protected tank. (These young ones will be released into the sea after a few weeks.) We had a quick dip in the clear blue sea, just metres away from the turtle nests. In fact, Simon and Lyra reported seeing a small baby turtle swimming in the water next to them whilst they had a paddle! We were lucky to visit Lara in late August, which is still during the hatching season.
Here’s where the day took a complete turn: after swimming in the sea, we decided to head inland and engage in what I call “valley-hopping,” where we traverse different river valleys to experience the diverse landscapes on display from valley to valley. The late afternoon lighting gave us dramatic scenes and extremely picturesque vistas. We found ourselves in one of the many abandoned villages spread across the hinterland of the Paphos District. After a quick stroll through the deserted streets, with old buildings of stone and mud-brick still intact, we drove some distance along little-used dirt tracks to reach the stream bed of the valley.
Here we encountered more magic: We stopped at an isolated location next to the river, where huge cliffs of white chalky limestone towered above us on one side and just below the cliffs a small area had been deliberately fenced off making an enclosed compound. Suddenly, we noticed there was movement inside the enclosure, so we went inside to investigate.
As we entered, three sweet, super-friendly donkeys came walking towards us, smiling at us and beaming with expressions of expectation on their faces. (Yeah, that’s right: donkeys can smile, didn’t you know?) Well, this is where the fun begins: I always travel with a bag full of “donkey goodies,” just in case we run into this kind of situation. I pulled out my bag of tricks, carrots, celery, and a large loaf of sliced bread. Two of the donkeys were all over us when they saw the bread and carrots. They quickened the pace of their approach, coming very close and gently pushed their heads forward to us, sometimes giving us light head shoves as we offered them carrots and bread slices. We all reveled in the moment, and the two girls, Lyra and Emily, were having a great time feeding and petting our new four-legged friends. The third donkey, however, I think the youngest of the lot, was a bit shy at first and would not come close. If we approached, he would retreat a bit and not let us come within a 3-metre radius. We tossed some of the “good stuff” towards him, which he happily gobbled up from the ground.
Eventually we exhausted our supply of donkey treats, so we bid a reluctant good-bye to our new best friends, and moved on further up the valley. There had been a freak intense August rainstorm the previous day –a local farmer said there was even strong hail at times—which made our passage alongside the river quite muddy at times. But we soldiered on and powered through the mud puddles until we reached a section of the river where the limestone changes abruptly to lava. Within the space of 50 metres we moved from an open agricultural landscape with lots of ancient olive trees into a dark, thick pine forest. The amount of water in the river increased significantly and it was fun to drive our 4×4 vehicle through sections of an actively flowing river as we crisscrossed through the upper valley. We came across an idyllic spot, where an old stone bridge arched over the river water. Fresh water flowing down a stream in front of you can be irresistible, especially in the middle of August. Carpe diem: get in there and really say “Giasou!” to the Cypriot Nature! The whole scene was enhanced by the constant soothing sound of running water and the strong aroma of the vegetation and forest around us.
With the setting sun and failing light upon us, we decided it was time to move on towards home, so we drove out of the rapidly darkening valley towards asphalt roads and civilization. Thus ended our truly magic day exploring the “real Cyprus.”
Thanks Simon and Paulina! And a special thanks to Emily and Lyra, whose great spirits and positive attitudes made the day a big success.