Adventure in the Avakas Gorge

by Ilona Kauremszky
Special to The Toronto Sun Travel Section

PAFOS, Cyprus – Outbacking isn’t a sport you’d associate with a Mediterranean island. But here we were racing up a secluded road kicking up dust on a windy route through the Akamas peninsula.

“Out of the way,” summoned our driver as a herd of goats grazing among the stone ruins blocked our path, 100 km west from the capital of Nicosia and 10 miles north from the UNESCO world heritage site of the ancient city of Pafos.

Known as the birthplace of the goddess of love, Cyprus is capturing the hearts of nature lovers, pleasure seekers and is emerging as an ecoseeker’s paradise.

Situated on the southwestern side of this most easterly Mediterranean isle, the Akamas peninsula is a bountiful basket of endemic flora and fauna. It’s a piece of heaven where Aphrodite is said to have bathed in an isolated grotto now known as the “Bath of Aphrodite.”

Named after Theseus’ son, Akamas, the hero of the Trojan Wars, the peninsula covers 250 square km and is visually stunning with its dramatic cliffs, deep gorges and sandy bays all of which can be traversed by a handful of safari excursions.

Drive a few feet and encounter an ancient terra firma packed with figs, dates, pomegranates and citrus. A sign points right to the Avakas Gorge, our first stop. Christos from Ecologia Tours and Travel slams on the brakes. An “Enter at your own Risk” sign warns us of falling rocks.

“Follow me,” he waves. “See this,” he pulls out some green sprigs, “Alyssum akamasicum, unique only to this area. And this,” he fans a bush, “Phoenician Juniper, another special plant, native here.” So begins our nature tour.

Often described as a country at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, Cyprus is laden with unique flora and fauna. This naturalist’s Garden of Eden alone reports 530 plant species, 33 of which are endemic to the Akamas. There are 168 birds, 12 mammals, 16 butterfly species and 20 different reptiles including the unsavory serpent.

Ahead, a jagged carpet of rocks interrupts the shallow stream flanked by towering limestone cliffs. Though not as spectacular as other gorges, the Avakas holds its own beauty and mystery. At times, it seems the meandering cliffsides intertwine, leaving little wiggle room to move forward. My shoulders could touch either side of these limestone walls as we squeezed into the narrows.

“Stop, listen,” Christos whispers. It is a high-pitched squeak, the operatic notes from the lonely fruit bat that reverbs and echoes, singing an ode to the gods. The long-toothed mammal with a 30 cm wingspan, I learn is the only fruit bat in all of Europe.

Scientists estimate the island formed when three tectonic plates rubbed together rippling skyward millions of years ago; thus the visual encyclopedia of facts and figures. Since the seventies, Cyprus has protected sea turtles. In 1976, the Turtle Conservation Project was established, designating 10 kilometres along the Lara Bay beachfront for nesting of the endangered loggerhead and green turtles. Turtle lovers can view the action in the summer when marine scientists tag them and set up cages to protect the fragile nests.

Around this wilderness refuge, five hiking trails meander of which two are appropriately named, “Adonis” and “Aphrodite.” Weaving along the spine of the limestone bluffs, both trails meander 7.5 km and can be traversed in roughly three hours. Plan a daytrip since camping here is prohibited.

The Land Rover lurches forward as we clasp the handrails preparing for the inclines ahead. The switchback road seems to trail off the mountain’s edge as our fearless driver kicks the speed up a notch. Suddenly the horizon opens to a wondrous vista of Chrysochou Bay. You can see the spit’s end from this beautiful promontory that could fit perfectly in the palm of a Greek god.

Ancient terraces once used for farming are speckled with stunted maci trees. Today, only a handful of farmers inhabit the deserted area. It is in Ineia, one of 12 farming villages studded between these hills where lunch is served at the Dionysus Taverna. In true Cypriot-style, the waitress lays out platefuls of Meze (tiny dishes), which evolve into a parade of plenty on the queue of “Kalin orexi” (Good appetite). Chunks of feta stock up a greek salad while a bowl of locally picked olives make their way around this culinary merry go round of 30 dishes.

We discuss the day’s odyssey and wonder about the next day’s adventure. Since we romped around the fields of Aphrodite’s playground, it seemed only fitting to end our visit in Pafos, a short drive from the legendary birthplace of the goddess of love herself.

As we exited Dionysus taverna, I knew the gods were smiling for I felt the gentle breeze of Zephyros, the god of wind, blow across my face as if to say “Welcome to Cyprus.”

-30-

Photography: Stephen Smith


If You Go:

An excellent guidebook called “Nature trails of the Akamas,” is available complimentary from the Cyprus Tourism Office and is a definite must-have.

Where to Stay
Cyprus has a large selection of off-the-beaten path bed and breakfasts. The scenic village of Goldi located on the periphery of the Akamas Natural Park has some available. For more info visit: cyprusvillages.com.cy

Guided Safari Tours
Ecologia Tours & Travel provides customized tours. I took a four-hour tour that included a guide, transportation and lunch. Ornithologists be sure to pack your binoculars and take lots of film for your camera. Dress for the outdoors and wear hiking boots. For more info, visit www.wandern-zypern.de

For tourist info: Contact the Cyprus Tourism Organization, 13 East 40th St., New York, NY 10016 telephone: 212.683.5280 or visit www.visitcyprus.org


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