Saturday, October 31, 2009

Oxi Day in Akamas

The twenty-eighth of October is one of the year’s big holidays. It marks the day, in 1940, when Ioannis Metaxas, the leader of Greece, refused Benito Mussolini’s request that Italian troops occupy Greece to further Axis aims. Italy invaded Greece, Greek soliders repulsed the Italians through the murderous mountain winter of Albania, and the following spring German Panzers subdued the Greeks and began the Occupation that would last until 1945. Oxi Day is a day that the Greeks are justly proud of – and one that many Cypriots celebrate vocally “Hurray for the Patrida!” No wonder Turkish-Cypriots feared that they would be incorporated into a Greater Greece.

But that’s beside the point. For us it’s a day off. Best Beloved planned to stay in Nicosia so that he wouldn’t commute twice, and when I asked the Little Ones what they’d like to do for the day, the answer was unanimous: “A picnic!” Alex said that he could live with that, Sophia had a friend over and we arranged that we would collect Hannah, and I decided that sixteen years had passed since I had seen Avakas Gorge, and that maybe it was time to take my children there.

We loaded the Land Rover with baked chicken, spinach pies, an assortment of fruit, bread, peanut butter, cheese, juice, and water, and set out at 10.30, stopping at Kissonerga to collect Hannah.

How the road to Akamas has changed! When I was first here, it was single lane tarmac after Coral Bay, with only a few houses scattered on either side. Now it is ribbon development: houses, offices, restaurants, kiosks… all the way to the harbour at Agios Giorgios. I almost missed the turn-off for not recognising it.

At the parking lot for the Gorge, I had a little smile to myself. The place was full of safari Land Rovers that were just leaving (thank God!) and as each one passed us, the drivers checked me out. Very few women drive Land Rovers here -- I think I’ve only ever seen one other, and like me, she was a foreigner. I don’t know if these guys felt their masculinity in doubt, but I know that I saw some of them bridle.

“We’re not going for a walk are we, Mum?” Sophia said, looking dubious.

“It’s not far,” I answered. “And there’s no point in your coming and not seeing the gorge. It’s spectacular.”

Some eyes rolled. “But what’s there?” Teens!

But Zeen and Leo were already heading up the track, Alex in their wake, so the girls had no other option but to follow.

A few other people were on the path, and we joined them in reading the names of various trees and shrubs that the forestry department has thoughtfully labelled. The path is much clearer than when I was last here – trees cut back, and steps built into some of the rougher parts. A few stagnant pools of water were in the stream – in true winter, it often becomes a cascade, and I’m sure that I remember Exalt Travel, in the days when David Pearlman owned it, doing some kind of trip down the Gorge with inner tubes.

When the walls narrowed to the point where we could nearly touch them on either side, even the girls were impressed. The boys loved it, scrambling ahead, clambering over boulders, their shouts echoing around us. “A goat!” they cried, pointing to a precipice thirty feet above us, where a goat nibbled on some greenery. And “Look at the pigeon having a shower in the waterfall!”

About half an hour in, the girls elected to turn back, and Alex, saying that he was hungry, went with them. The Littles refused. They insisted on continuing for another hour and a half, so I went with them, sure that the Gorge would open out soon, and we would find our way back down the road like Best Beloved and I had done sixteen years before. Sometimes we followed a trail marked with red paint splodges, sometimes we just stuck to the streambed. There were no other hikers about, and the trees were full of bird song.

But eventually Leo flagged, and a couple that was descending said that it was at least another half hour until the walls ended, so we turned back. I sent Zenon ahead as I was afraid that the others would start to worry as we had been away longer than I had hoped, and he set off at once. I had to help Leo over the steeper bits and give him a hand over some of the bigger rock falls, but he never once complained. I carried him the last 200 metres, and we consoled ourselves with the hope that the others had left us some food.

We needn’t have worried. There was plenty left.

After lunch we drove further into the Akamas. Past Lara Bay where the turtles nest, we found some Hobbit caves and went up to explore them. Some old time shepherds had filled the mouths of naturally weathered limestone hollows with rocks to make simple shelters for their flocks, and we all enjoyed climbing and exploring. “Can we come out here and camp in the summer?” That was Sophia’s question and, yes, she was serious. But “Without an adult, I mean. Just a crowd of us?” I had to say no. Party-pooper!

Rain threatened, so we headed home, stopping at the kiosk by the harbour at Agios Giorgos for an icecream. It was a rip off. But nobody really minded. We had all enjoyed ourselves far too much to let something as insignificant as crappy ice-cream ruin the day.

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