Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ayia Napa and Famagusta, Cyprus

The Jewish holiday Shavuos fell during our Israel program this year, with the result that we had a five day holiday.  Receiving a brilliant tip from a couple of Israeli girls, six of us used a last minute budget travel website (in Hebrew!) to book a cheap vacation package in Ayia Napa, Cyprus!

I discovered that my initial method of entering Israel- crossing overland from Jordan- proved to be unintentionally smart; the security at Ben Gurion airport (in Tel Aviv) was rigorous to say the least.  After finally giving enough satisfactory answers, we were boarding a propeller plane to Larnaca.

While I was excited for the opportunity to get another passport stamp, I knew nothing of the country, let alone ever hearing of the city.  I soon learned that Ayia Napa is often compared to Ibiza and Mykonos as a tropical party capital.

I typically spend weeks researching every detail possible about a pending destination, so it was a bit fun to go to a country on a whim with no idea what to expect.

Upon arrival I was immediately delighted by two things: the Greek language, and the fact that the cars have the steering wheel on the right (and drive down the left side of the road).

I'm not sure how to describe the sheer awesomeness of this trip!  We spent the days sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, boating, cliff diving, and exploring for hours on 4-wheelers... took brief evening naps, went out and danced all night, came home around 8 am for breakfast, and did it all over again.

The city has a large main square, where you wander among the endless clubs with hilarious and cheesy themes such as "Flintstones", "Pirates", "Aruba", and our favorite, "Castle".

On a more serious and probably more intriguing note, Cyprus has a very interesting political situation going on.  The southern half of the island is controlled by Cyprus and inhabited by Greek Cypriots, but the northern half was invaded and occupied by Turkey in the 1970's.  Ayia Napa is located on the eastern coast of the Greek side of the island.  On a boat tour, we went up to the border and could see the city of Famagusta, which has been abandoned ever since its inhabitants fled during the occupation.

I had heard of this "ghost town", but was stunned to see the size of it.

According to Wikipedia, "Because of its isolation and neglect over the past 30 years despite being such a historically and culturally significant city, Famagusta was listed on the World Monuments Fund's 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. Additionally, in an October 2010 report, Global Heritage Fund named Famagusta one of 12 sites most on the verge of irreparable loss and destruction..."

Our tour guide was from Famagusta, and was visibly distraught telling us how he can remember fleeing his home in the night as a young boy.  He pointed out the line of buoys in the water marking the border, and told us that any boats crossing are shot at, including misguided tourists who have gone astray.

For more on this subject, I just stumbled across this lovely site of photos.

annnnnnnd, here's my cliff dive :)


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