Leonidas of Avagas: Man from Another Centruy
One of the most remarkable and unforgettable characters I’ve ever met anywhere on this Planet (!) was this old shepherd guy named Leonidas. Actually, everybody called him “Leo.” He came from Inia Village in the Akamas area of Paphos, but spent a significant portion of his life herding goats on top of and within the spectacular Avagas Gorge, one of Cyprus’s premier natural wonders, about 7 kms from his home village.
As recently as the early 1990s, he was still living in a primitive stone hut with his wife and animals, just off the upper rim of the Avagas Gorge. No running water, no electricity (What? No Wifi???), nothing of modern civilization. (Well that’s not entirely true: he had a cigarette lighter!) He still wore clothing and costume* that could have been straight out of Cyprus in the 1920s: but it was 1988! The man was literally a step out of time, still living in the late 19th/early 20th Century!
We became great friends, and I used to walk with him for hours as he made the rounds with his goats. I learned much about the secret history of the area from him. He became my teacher, my “Professor of Traditional Cypriot Studies.” People often ask me where I learned to speak the real Greek Cypriot Dialect: Well, I went to the University of Leonidas!
I once asked him the date of some event that had happened in his life, and instead of responding with a calendar date, or saying “10 or 20 years ago,” he said: “Oh, that would have happened around the time that my cousin Andreas got married…” It was clear he was completely uneducated –who knows if he had ever been to school? I’m not sure, but I believe he couldn’t count or even write. However, what he may have lacked in formal education, he more than made up for in strength of character, true “kephi” and simple, but clear honesty. He was a person who displayed the raw and genuine integrity (“axioprepia”) of Cypriot people at their core.
In the early 1990s, we were able to get a RIK camera crew up to the top of the gorge, where Leo lived with his wife in a primitive stone hut (no running water, no electricity, not even WIFI!). We found Leo, his wife and son Philippos bagging up carobs just bashed from trees near his house.
He was a chain smoker, and died at the ripe old age of 96 sometime around 2004. He was a happy person, however. Probably the truest “pure Cypriot” I ever met! I grew to love the old man, and now I miss him dearly. Definitely one of a kind…Cyprus could use people like him, especially these days.