The Ballards - Cyprus


Cyprus is such a beautiful country; it's such a shame that it is torn apart by the ludicrous division following the war in 1974.
We will always have a soft spot in our hearts for Cyprus, as we honeymooned here in 1991.
Over the past 30 years both Greece and Turkey have proved intransigent in the extreme concerning the internationally unrecognised Peoples Republic of Northern Cyrpus.
The EC has made the removal of this state a precondition of Turkey's entry in to the EU, so the problem is at last receiving some attention. Hopefully the island will soon be reunited.

Cyprus is an island of contrasts: from the warm sandy beaches of the Southern coast to the cooler, rockier beaches of the North-East corner, to the high, rocky mountains of the interior. From the laissez faire, modern attitudes of the "tourist Cypriots" to the traditional, black wearing village folk in the hills.

Recently, some terrible incidents have marred the usually excellent Brit-Cypriot relations: in particular the murder of a Danish tour guide by some squaddies a few years back.
The "Lager Lout" attitude of many young (and not so young) Brits on holiday is entirely to our detriment: I dread to think what the Cypriots in Ayia Napa think of us, and we probably deserve everything bad they do think of us.

Cyprus is such a strategic island, situated right at the Eastern end of the Med, that it has to remain studiously neutral in it's international relations. So we have British Sovereign Areas like Dhekalia as well as the PLO being in the phone book under "P".....
It's like the IRA having a telephone number in the Belfast telephone directory under "I".

I was told lurid tales of Mossad agents chasing PLO terrorists around Larnaca Harbour, firing machine guns and commandeering boats like something out of James Bond.

Nicosia is a big, modern city in Cyprus's central plain. It has a modern ring road, an airport, traffic jams, buses..... and right in the middle, looking like Berlin circa 1967, a line of barbed wire and concrete running from East to West, cutting the city in half.
The Turkish sector looks abandoned: many of the houses still have 1974 wallpaper and posters visible from the viewing gallery on the Greek side. Young Turkish soldiers manning machine guns eye tourists nervously from the other side of a 50 yard strip of dead ground separating the combatants, along a line drawn by, and maintained by, the UN since 1974.

Elsewhere on the island, approaches to the Green Line are monitored by ethnically-indeterminate troops with binoculars in UN-labelled Land Rovers. Why do the UN always drive Land Rovers? Do we give them away for the advertising:"Land Rover 110, as used by the UN...."?

In remote areas of the island, usually unvisited by tourists, lie ghost villages that once were full of Turkish people until 1974, when the Greek Cypriots marched them all North in response to the division of the island.
The maps in these areas lie desperately, trying to prevent you from accessing these villages.
But a compass, two maps, a 4-wheel drive and a good sense of direction got us in and out without harm. Thanks, The Duke of Edinburgh for teaching me how to navigate properly in those pre-GPS days...

The diving in Cyprus is good, driven by squaddies who want something to do on their days off.
Unlike many holiday destinations PADI does not reign supreme, and many shops display the BSAC sign instead. As a result, it has to be said that the technical standard of diving is higher.
I love scuba diving: I learned with BSAC in the Fulham Pools 20 years when stab. jackets were new-fangled and we learned with yellow ex-RAF horse-collar inflatables that seemed determined to flip you over on to your back all the time. I had a very pretty instructor called Christina who looked good in a wetsuit and rebuffed my advances, but I digress....
I soon became aware that open water diving in the UK is a sport reserved for masochists: the water is cold, the viz is dreadful and there is nothing to see down there anyway unless you count a deliberately sunk Westland Wessex in Stoney Cove. So having trained, I vowed only to dive in warm places where there was something to see.
Being a BSAC diver abroad is an interesting experience: you turn up in a group to dive and the instructor wants to see your logbooks. Everyone gets out PADI logbooks, you get out your BSAC logbook. He starts explaining to them how the kit goes together and how to put a wet suit on, meanwhile they just pass you the kit and let you get on with it instead, because they assume you know exactly what you're doing.
I've even been asked to help with the PADI guys.
Awesome: nice to get some respect occasionally......

We dived on an old ro-ro car ferry in Larnaca harbour, amongst other places. It was fab, you could see the trucks on their sides in the cargo hold. Loads of lovely fish, very colourful.

Right in the South East corner of the island, beyond the suspension limits of normal hire cars and tourist patience, lies Cape Greco.
Right at the end of Cape Greco lies the most extraordinary sight: a British Army listening post.
It consists, unlike the normal Daventry / Barford St John array of vertical posts and guy wires, of what looks like a radiotelescope.

It's absolutely bloody huge, it's steerable, and it's pointed East.
I'll bet you can hear Saddam Hussein fart on the loo through that.
This, of course, is why all the other bases are there: to tell the world to keep off our listening post.

Rumour has it that there are some pictures of Cyprus in the files that I may get around to putting in here at some point (provided MI6 don't confiscate my listening post negatives first.....)