Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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Lost In The Troodos Mountains

A Steven Katsineris piece from ten years ago about his trip to Cyprus. Steven Katsineris is a Hobart born freelance writer of Cypriot background. He writes short stories, poetry and articles. He now lives in Hurstbridge, Melbourne with his family.  

When we were traveling in Cyprus, like most visitors we went to the usual tourist places on the island, the lovely beaches, the pleasant towns, the historic monasteries and ancient ruins. But we especially enjoyed getting off the track into the high mountains and wild forests in the interior of the island.


Behind the coastal town of Paphos at the foothills of the Troodos Mountain Range are charming, traditional villages, perched beside sheer rocky mountain cliffs, with incredibly friendly people and modest tavernas to eat in. The picturesque region is largely forgotten and unaffected by the modern-day world, in a delightful time warp, in many ways this is the genuine Cyprus. 

Beyond these villages lies the rugged, western Troodos Mountains and the Paphos Forest. The Troodos Mountain Range covers a huge area in the centre of the island. The highest point is Mount Olympus at 1,952 metres. The Paphos Forest is the biggest in Cyprus and covers an area of over 620 square km. It is also the richest in flora and fauna. Unlike the cultivated vegetation and landscape of much of the coast, these areas are still virtually untouched and unspoilt. 

We would often hire a car and explore the wonderful region day after day. We would drive in these beautiful forest areas on narrow, winding, dirt tracks enjoying the exquisite natural scenery, observing the wild animals and experiencing outstanding highlights, like the stunning, panoramic views from the peaks of the surrounding areas and the breathtaking outlook down the valleys to the gorgeous blue sea below. 

We drove through this quiet, remote and mostly uninhabited region stopping at various picnic sites, strolling along the walking trails and resting in the wilderness in the midst of the pleasing smell of pine scented mountain air. Driving over steep ridges we would discover ourselves in deep, lush valleys of towering pine and cedar forests, moist and cool places, with streams and waterfalls of gleaming water flowing among dense vegetation.

One time after traveling for the most of the day through the forest, we stopped in the afternoon in a fertile, tranquil valley between some lofty mountains. We settled in a spot under pine trees next to a gurgling stream to have a break. It was so quiet, even the singing of the birds sounded muffled. After relaxing, eating, drinking and wandering around for a while we continued our journey. It was getting late as I drove down along a road out of the mountains and through the forest on the lookout for a sign to point the way south to Paphos on the coast. 

We found ourselves deep in the secluded, shady forest with dirt tracks crisscrossing in various directions. Amid this maze of unmade forest roads were signs pointing different ways. But the signposts were not in English, but in Greek, not helpful to us due our lack of Greek language skills. This was a sure testament to how far off the tourist route we were. Maps, signs and names are usually in English (or English and Greek) throughout Cyprus. I drove on until we reached another fork in the road and took the right hand turn, after I saw some buildings up that road. We stopped in the village to get directions, but found it was deserted. Over a period of time some isolated villages in Cyprus have become abandoned. 

I thought that there should be a sign in or around the village somewhere, but checked and didn’t find one. We roamed around for a short time to look at the village out of curiosity. Then we drove along that road looking for some clues as to what direction to go in. I decided we would continue on this track for a while longer and if we couldn’t find our way out I’d turn back and try the other fork. I wasn’t worried as I looked on our wanderings as part of our adventure. But I could see my wife (Laurie) was getting a bit anxious. Our daughters Sian and Chione on the other hand (being only four and two) were quite unaware and at ease about the situation. 

Eventually the track came out of the forest into the bright sunlight of a valley with stony hills covered in thick, long grasses and some trees stretching out in front of us. The track went through a small pebbly creek, turned into something like a goat path and meandered up the hill ahead. I stopped for a break and had a look around. By this time Laurie sounded worried and I assured her I’d go no further that way. 

I turned the car around and drove back through the empty village. As we did I noticed painted on the wall of a house, large arrows pointing right and underneath the word Paphos. Because we had come from the other direction, we had missed seeing this. The track after the house I turned right and about an hour later we come out from the forest into a valley with olive trees and grapes growing on the slopes and donkeys in fields. A short time later we were on a sealed road and driving through a village. We stopped to chat to a woman working in her garden and found out we were indeed on the road south towards the coast.

I took a brief look back at the soaring mountains, with the sun shimmering on the pine trees and patches of low cloud draping the forest clad ridges; it was a view of remarkable beauty. That day and our other trips to the enchanted and serene mountains and forests had a deep effect on me. In our travels through that exquisite region, I realised that the Troodos Mountains were not only the physical heart of Cyprus, but the spiritual heart as well. Sometimes the best things in life are discovered when we are a little lost somewhere, off the well-beaten track and astray in the wilderness. In going beyond ordinary boundaries and into the unknown we often find the hidden treasures and real wonders of this world and also emerge from the journey a little wiser. I guess true travel should be like this, an insightful, intense, learning experience.

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