On Middle Eastern Vacationing

One might think that I’ve traveled enough to avoid statements like ‘why would I want to go to Cyprus?’ I’m glad there are others wiser than me.

I love Cyprus.  I actually only ended up going because a girl who I was then dating couldn’t go to Syria (and then the program denied all travel to Syria anyway) and convinced me to go to Cyprus (“Hey Dan, we should go to Cyprus”  me: “ok”).  I figured that it couldn’t hurt anything other than the wallet and that I wouldn’t likely come up with another reason to go any time soon.  I plan on retiring to the island.

Despite being rather expensive – and significantly moreso than the rather cheap living in Amman – I desperately want to spend more time on the island.  We flew into Larnaca and experienced something I haven’t seen since leaving the States (with a minor exception in Palestine): a genuinely helpful, non-womanizing man who shook hands with everyone in the group, including the three women, without purposefully being a sleazeball.  For a little bit of explanation, there is pretty much NO acceptable contact between men and women (who aren’t related) in Arab culture – even between spouses – in public (public defined by any time there are 3 or more people and there is NO WAY a single man and woman should ever be together in any situation which does not involve at least 6 people and an even gender split – not exaggerated).  It was a great start to the week (so was the german beer I cracked open walking down the street).

We, four very good friends from my program, stayed in a rather decent hotel suite in Larnaca, a touristy city on the Southeast portion of the island, about 200 meters from the Mediterranean.  Beach time was well-employed and stuffed full of lounging, sleeping, eating and drinking wine while joking around and enjoying the weather.  I even managed a swim for a while!  The city is home to the church and catacomb of St. Lazarus – perhaps a fitting analogy for how revived we all felt by the trip – as well as an Ottoman era fort and a fantastic, if small, museum.  The guys at the nearby wine and liquor store got to know us well, since we bought something in the range of 4 liters of vodka and 14 bottles of wine from them – good wine for $4 US per bottle kicks (my) ass, but more on that later.

Our first day trip took us around farther west along the south end of the island to Limassol and Kolossi, two pre-medieval centers in a renowned wine region.  The castle at Limassol dates to the Lusignan period of control over the island, after the ruling family of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was forced to flee the Levant after the fall of Jerusalem in 1183.  Kolossi was home to the seat of the Knights of St.John of the Hospital (the Hospitallers) and the wine produced in the region was transported throughout Europe and the Levant during the Middle Ages.  Legend has it that Richard Lionheart even drank the wine and named the region during his wedding ceremony on the island during his retreat from the Holy Land.  That said, the wine is a very sweet dessert wine and I was not a fan.

The Temple of Aphrodite is one of the most gorgeous places on earth; I got to make out with my girlfriend in the seats of a Roman amphitheater on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean – life doesn’t get much better than that… or does it?

After that we ventured out to Paphos to see an older port defense and inland castle, both of which were interesting to me for different reasons, but probably not as interesting to most people.  I picked up a case of ½ liter cans of Lowenbrau – beer from Munich – and proceededto be very happy the remainder of the trip.  The trip to North Cyprus (Turkish-Occupied Cyprus) yielded one of the two most spectacular sights of the trip.  At St. Hilarion, a massive resort castle from the Ibelin family (watch Kingdom of Heaven), we had the breath-taking experience of watching the cold air rise off the sea and form clouds as it rose against the side of the mountain on which the castle sits. I’ve never seen anything like it and am still left in awe.  Despite my guttural rejection of the possibility, the castle may also have been the inspiration for the castle in Disney’s ‘Snow White,’ to give you an idea of the appearance of the castle itself.  On the drive back, I fell asleep with 2 of the other 4 while the one navigating got Mike, who was driving, lost for about an hour and a half.  I woke up, walked to the first store in front of me and had us out and back across the UN-Monitored Cease-Fire Zone in 5 minutes.

In all, we drank a ton, saw some amazing sights and bonded in ways I had never anticipated.  I wouldn’t trade a second of it (minus perhaps the parts I don’t remember) for the world and I will remember the trip for a long long while to come.  Making up for the repression of Arab culture makes it all that much sweeter.