Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Weekend Under Canvas


Saturday morning I woke in the cool mountain air to the long-ago-familiar walls of the van. We were camping in my old home, Platania.

The camping plan had come about slowly and surely following repeated requests from The Littles. Zenon had gone away for a night’s camp in Salamiou with his taekwando class, but had not had a great time, and Leo was dead keen to spend a night outdoors in the tent. Best Beloved -- although a bit fragile thanks to a chronic back problem – climbed on board. With his support, I knew that the endeavour would get off the ground, so I was glad when he came back from work on Thursday saying “Camping this weekend!”

The Big Ones baulked at once.


“I’m not going!”

Yet they had no convincing arguments, and “I just don’t want to!” doesn’t cut it. We decided that on Friday Alex, Leo, and I would drive the van up to the mountain Forestry Department campsite where I had spent the summer of 1991, taking the two big tents, the barbeque, the food, and most of the chairs; and that Best Beloved would follow with Sophia and Zenon when Zenon’s taekwando class finished at 4.30.

Leo and I arrived home from shopping Friday nooon to learn that the trip was off. “Sophia won’t go,” said Best Beloved. “I have tried everything to persuade her, but she’s not budging and I cannot physically force her. What she doesn’t realise yet is that that is the end for all t.v. and computer privileges for everyone indefinitely.” He was not pleased.

Neither was I, and neither was everyone else. But Madame was oblivious, and tripped around the house smirking until a lunchtime outburst from Leo prompted her to mutter: “Well if it really is spoiling everyone’s weekend, I guess I’ll go.”

We left after lunch. The van is approaching its twenty-second birthday, but has just passed its MOT and has had its exhaust repaired. The brakes are a little dodgy, but I drive sedately and although it took us well over an hour, we climbed up from the coastal plain into the forest, crossed the hump of the Troodos range, and arrived at the Platania campsite with plenty of daylight left to set up camp.

When I was single and footloose, travelling Europe and the Middle East in the van, I spent several months up there, waiting for friends to restore a sail boat in Larnaca and writing and photographing articles for Cyprus Airways’ in-flight, Sunjet. The mountains were a cool haven after the heat of the towns, and I fell in with a community of retired local people who summered in their tents and caravans every year.

“Park up with us,” they urged me as the summer wore on. “For the month of August, the rest of the campsite will be a zoo as EVERYONE and their mother comes up here for their annual holidays.” I parked up with them and was glad: the lower campsite heaved with tents and caravans, squalling children, and billowing smoke from countless barbeques. When the tide of humanity receded at the end of August, a scum of garbage was left. Forestry service personnel hauled it away by the truckload.

But the August hordes had not arrived yet, and most of the permanent caravans were silent. A school trip – fifteen identical tents of blue and silver – crowded a lower quadrant, a few families had set up scattered sites for the weekend, and in the ‘permanent corner’ – where I spent those months so long ago – newly watered pot-plants testified to some early arrivals.

Alex, Leo, and I set up the two tents on flat pitches near a cooking area, convenient to a water point, and not too far from the playground, toilet and shower block. Two hours later Best Beloved and the others arrived in the Land Rover.

What did we do for two days? Not much.

We went for a walk in the pine woods, marvelling at pine trees half a millennium old, twisted into the shape of giant bonsais and with branches bowed by snow. Leo and I lagged behind the others (“Well,” I told him. “You have short legs and I have a camera!”) looking at mosses and ferns and the lichens that veil the forest. I had forgotten how observant small children are, but he insisted that I slow my steps, look around, and explain everything.

We visited the old village at Kakopetria, examining the mud and lime plaster on the rambling village houses, and replacing the clay pot that Best Beloved used to cook in before the drama class accident that left it in pieces.

Traditional sweets for sale in Kakopetria.

We read in the shade, and relaxed in the coolness; cooked over gas and an open fire, slept in the van with the door open, and laughed as the children – Big and Little – played complicated games of Balance on the Seesaw and sniping in the woods. “Bang! Sophia out…. I blew you to submarines!” Somehow two new words confused Leo.

On Sunday we broke camp, met some friends for lunch at a trout restaurant in Platres, and make the slow trek back to the low-lands.

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