Northern Cyprus – Part 1
Something wasn’t quite right. As Lisa (my wife of 3 months) and I scanned our fellow passengers aboard the flight to Northern Cyprus we were both filled with a strange sinking feeling: Had we made a terrible mistake? We were by far the youngest people on this package holiday, a trip which was in fact our honeymoon.
Feeling the pinch of post wedding finances we had jumped at the chance of a cheap honeymoon. The Yorkshire Post was offering a week-long package deal to Northern Cyprus – including flights, two 5-star hotels, meals and guided tours of historic sites – for a eye-bulging sum of only £149 per person. We read through the offer several times in disbelief and could find no apparent catches so went ahead and booked the thing, feeling incredibly smug. What made things even better was the fact we would be going in January, thereby missing a good portion of Britain’s coldest and most depressing month. The post-Christmas blues would truly be shot to pieces by sunshine and Cypriot culture.
I had been on a package holiday once before – a post A Levels blowout in the most hideous place I have ever set foot in: Lloret de Mar on Spain’s Costa Brava. Lloret’s chief tourist pursuits included fighting with other nationalities, drinking suspicious spirits from buckets and vomiting and/or urinating in public. Having tried at least two of these activities and found them not quite conducive to relaxation, I had vowed never to go package holidaying again, yet here I was. Not that this “5-Star Cultural Tour” to Cyprus had much in the way of binge-drinking on its itinerary. Looking at our travel companions it was clear that their hedonistic days were well and truly behind them. For some of them, we were sure, this would probably be their last holiday.
After making a brief stop at Antalya in Turkey we made the short connecting flight to Ercan in the Republic of Northern Cyprus. We later learned that this seemingly pointless diversion was due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Northern Cyprus. This, we learned, is a price this controversial country pays for not being recognised by any other nation save Turkey. All of this was explained on the bus to the hotel by out tour guide, Tunç, with whom our group would develop a strained relationship over the coming week. He was welcoming but never warm and his early news that our first hotel was practically in the middle of nowhere went down like a fart in a spacesuit.
We were visiting Cyprus at a potentially significant time . Only one week earlier talks between the Turkish north and Greek south had been held in Geneva in an attempt to bring peace and re-unification to the island following the Turkish invasion of 1974. So far progress had been slow and Cypriots on both sides were skeptical that an agreement could be reached. On this side of the border there were constant reminders of the conflict in the shape of numerous war memorials and, not least, an enormous illuminated Northern Cyprus flag (like an inverted version of the Turkish flag) on the side of the Pentadactilos mountain range. This had, no doubt, been constructed in a defiant frame of mind and designed so that the Greeks across the border had a good view of it at all hours of the day. Tomorrow, Tunç promised, we would have a chance to visit the southern side on our trip to the capital (Nicosia) and judge which side we liked best, which was a rather uncomfortable invitation.
It was close to midnight by the time we arrived at the hotel in Iskele. The geriatric grumble that went around the bus was indication that perhaps the heralded 5-star rating had been greatly exaggerated. Admittedly, the place was out of season but the entire complex had a sad and faded air to it; it looked and felt like a ghost town from 19th century Mexico, consisting of grubby-looking villas and small apartments. When first built this place must have been magical but now it looked unloved and in serious need of a bulldozer. Accepting our fate, we all glumly collected our keys and shuffled off to our homes for the next 3 days.
There was a bottle of champagne in our room, sat alluringly in the midst of various chocolates and dried fruit. Had our parents organised this, or did the travel company know this was our honeymoon? Despite my enthusiasm for necking the stuff immediately Lisa cautioned that we might have to cough up for the pleasure upon our departure. Clearly 8 years of living in Yorkshire had hardened her resolve to keep her purse strings tighter than the Gordian Knot. The room itself was light and spacious, with an enormous bed and some sort of curious wooden turret projecting through the ceiling. There was a roomy balcony too, from which we could just about spy and smell a silent, stinking marsh below. There was the sound of waves gently lapping against a shore, too. Were we by the sea? In the darkness it was difficult to tell much about where we were, which gave me a strange, sickening feeling in my stomach. Had we made the right choice in coming here? For the price we had paid the Yorkshireman inside me said yes, but only the new day could answer my fears.