Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Road to Lapta

Cute little seaside cafes serving robust Turkish coffees to elderly gents. Winding ancient village streets giving way to isolated Mediterranean coastlines. A climb through orchards of lemon trees before reaching the quaint well-preserved town of my grandmother. Markets of ripe fruit, warm bread and fresh haloumi. Sounds a little too lovely? It was. Seems my idyllic version of my bike ride to Lapta was quite off the mark.

The port city of Girne (Kyrenia in Greek) where we docked was full to the brim with pink British retirees walking hand in pasty hand. Luxury cars jammed the ancient streets. Betting parlours and seaside casinos beckoned in the mainland Turks basking in the lax gambling laws. After an expensive Turkish coffee, the price inflated by the expats, we made a hurried getaway.

I’m afraid the road towards Lapithos would now be a foreign land to my grandma. Three things become quite clear. This is Turkish land, British retirees are plentiful and gambling is rife. Tacky casinos with their expected cringe-worthy names have planted themselves prominently on the coastline. It is a subtle hint that Northern Cyprus is much more secular than Turkey. Interspersed are several large soviet-realist style monuments complete with retired tanks and jeeps that pay homage to the 1974 ‘Turkish Peace Operation’.

There is obviously big money to be made from the English in this island tax haven. Real estate and construction agents have offices littering the roadside. Every few hundred metres we were struck with another placard advertising ‘English Breakfast’, ‘Steak and Chips’, ‘English V Montenegro @ 2200’, ‘Bingo’, ‘Trivia Night - 730 Start’, ‘Karaoke with Pete’.

I allowed myself a moment of hopeful excitement as we cycled upwards towards Lapta. The winding cobbled streets lined with stone walls was of my grandma’s time. Aging houses and the steeples of Greek Orthodox churches gave glimpses of ye olde Lapithos. Yet my mental bank of first impressions was soon overwhelmed by Turkish restaurants flaunting expensive doner kebab deals and the ubiquitous ‘Efes’ advertisements (Turkish beer). The central Greek church was now a Turkish art gallery, the bread we bought was imported and the fruit far from local.

As we continued our cycling through Lapithos’ snaking alleys, a head emerged over a fence and asked if we were in need of help. Fahri was staying with his sister and her children in Lapta. He was eager to aid some Australian travelers and invited us in for coffee and a tour of his prized cock-fighters. They lived in what used to be a bank. I didn’t ask when it was last a bank or how they got their hands on a bank building. Likely abandoned after occupation. After learning we were looking for lodging he was soon on the phone attempting to find us a room, “I like to help” he repeated.

Coming across an English speaking Turk eager to assist seemed very useful. I told him my connection to Lapithos and that I wanted to find out more information. ‘I can’t help you with that. People don’t want to talk. People will be scared you’re looking for your family’s property. Just tell people you are a tourist’, he cautioned, though with a friendly smile.

Fahri did come through with the lodgings though. His cousin owns a hotel set amongst fig trees and brightly coloured flowers. After settling in, I flicked through some downloaded notes on Lapithos (pre-1974). ‘It was unthinkable that there could be a house without a fig tree…Lapithos was renowned for its flowers, cultivated and wild alike.’ Pieces of my Grandma’s village were out there.

I apologise if some of this writing appears to have a slight anti-Turkish bent. As our previous posts should convey, our time in Turkey has taught us that it is a lovely country with very generous, helpful, genuine people.

I came to Cyprus to get a taste of the place my Grandmother grew up in as a Greek Cypriot. Her old village is now officially occupied by Turkey. Her place is now historical. My first impressions unfortunately contrasted with what I ambitiously and ignorantly hoped to find. As a result I may have painted the Northern Cypriots in an unaffectionate light.

I have also been anti pasty British expats. That was my intention.


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