Cycling in Cyprus
I couldn’t possibly go a whole week without doing some proper exercise so I hired a bike from Colin at Larnaca Pro Cycles. I decided prior to going out there that I didn’t need a super high specced bike for the type of riding I was likely to do, although the Cannondale Evo Super Six was quite tempting. Instead I plumped for the cheaper but still more than adequate Cube Attain GTC with 105 groupset. As it happened, Colin didn’t have one of these in my size so I ended up with an Ultegra specced bike for the same price! Bargain. Not only that but when Colin delivered it for me it was a brand new machine still with some bits of plastic wrapping on it. He provided a good service too setting up the bike for me on delivery, attaching my pedals for me, adjusting the saddle and making sure everything was OK before leaving it with me. Communication with him was good too so all went well.
I didn’t do any huge rides on it, most were just short 1-2 hour rides around the local area. The roads were in the most part good though. As I generally set off at 5:30am so as to avoid the heat they were pretty quiet too. I rode through Protaras, out to Deryneia and Paralimna, down to Ayia Napa and out around Cape Grecko.
The most notable ride was the one day I headed off for a slightly longer ride into Turkey and back. I didn’t really know much about the tensions between Turkey and Cyprus nor about the hostile invasion of the northern part of the island by Turkey. I had however heard that you could cycle into the Turkish part of the island if you had your passport with you. I just assumed, naively so, that it was a ‘normal’ border between two neighbouring countries. I didn’t realise that there were still ongoing hostilities, that there was a British Military base between the two countries to keep them separated and that the border was quite so heavily patrolled by armed soldiers. I soon found all of this out for myself.
The ride there was fairly pleasant through Paralimni and Deryneia and then on through rugged, parched countryside with the odd little climb but mainly easy going. All seemed normal as I made my way through Cyprus. I then rode through what proclaimed to be a refuge camp but looked like a normal village to me. I then turned right onto the road towards Famagusta and soon came across huge signs saying that photography was prohibited. This was followed by several layers of high fences topped with razor wire as I entered the British Military base and the exclusion zone between the two countries. There were gun-wielded military personnel at all of the gate as I rode past. They watched me go but didn’t take too much notice. All was quiet but it was still quite early in the morning.
I cycled out the other side and on towards the border. I slowed down at the various booths but there was no one there as I entered Turkey, there were no checks made. I hadn’t needed my passport after all and I was now cycling through the wide, deserted streets of Turkey on the outskirts of Famagusta. To be fair, things were eerily quiet for such a large town even if it was still only around 7am. I stopped at a large roundabout with a massive statue. I wasn’t sure of the no photography rules were just for the military base or extended into Turkey itself so I quickly snapped a photo and headed on towards the coast.
The only people I had seen so far were a few machine-gun wielding soldiers on a street corner and a couple more similar armed soldiers guarding a gate to some sort of compound.
I stopped to check a map on my phone once I reached a small harbour and only then realised that there were actually a few more people around than I had thought. Trouble is, they were all in little turrets atop high walls. They were all looking out from beneath camouflaged military style tin hats, and they all had guns pointed at me. Hmmm, I tried to continue looking nonchalantly at my phone whilst decided that maybe the best thing to do was just head back the way I had come. I don’t know if I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be or if I was just a bit of an unusual distraction for them but I didn’t feel that comfortable where I was so jumped back on my bike and started retracing my steps. The barrels of the guns followed me as I made my way back along the otherwise deserted street. I took the opportunity to let them know I’d seen them with a smile and a nod of my head. The soldiers didn’t respond, they just continued to follow my progress with their guns and a slightly un-nerving steely gaze.. Fortunately none of them tried to shoot me which was awesome!
I soon found myself heading back out of Famagusta and back to the border, this time trying to leave Turkey and get back to Cyprus. There was no way I could simply ride back through the border in this direction. My way was blocked by an armoured vehicle with a massive gun on top of it and two armed military personnel in the road. They said nothing to me just indicated with a nod of the head that I should speak to the official in the booth.
“Morning” I said, “Do you need to see my passport?” The official in a white shirt with and captains style hat just looked at me and nodded. He studied the passport for what felt like a few minutes before handing it back to me without a word. I said “Can I go on through”, still he said nothing but just gave me a single nod.
I popped my passport back in my pocket, climbed back on my bike and set off slowly along the road. A couple of hundred yards further on I was stopped again. This time by a couple of smartly dressed military women sat on plastic chairs. One of them, who I noticed was particularly attractive, jumped up and stopped me. She was not only attractive and wearing a uniform but quite friendly and welcoming too. There was to be no strip search in a back room for me though she just said, “sorry, we saw you go the other way but we still have to stop you and check your passport as we’ve got cameras watching us”. She then chatted to me about where I was from, how far I’d cycled and such like whilst checking my passport and sending me on my way.
All was good, I was back in Cyprus, I had made it into Turkey and back on my bike. No one had prevented me access, no one had tried to detain me, no one had shot me and no one had tried to kill me in any other way either. Cool!
I did think afterwards though that considering my ignorance of the situation at the border it was a good job that I at least knew I was cycling into Turkey and would need my passport. The fact that I’d cycled from Cyrpus into Turkey without any checks had meant that I could easily have done so without even knowing it. I don’t know what would have happened once I returned to the border in the opposite direction if I hadn’t had my passport with me. I don’t think I would have been in any imminent danger of being shot or detained but I’m sure things would have been a little inconvenient. Presumably Anna would have had to have found her way to the border somehow with my passport. There were also signs around about a €1000 fine for something which wouldn’t have been great – still better than being shot though I guess.
The ride back home was nice and easy and quite quick too. Not that I was trying to get away from the machine-wielding Turks or anything it was just mainly downhill and I wanted to get back in time for breakfast at the hotel. All in all it was a good ride.
I stayed closer to the hotel after that though with more short rides in the local area before returning the bike to Colin (who came to collect it as planned). It would have been nice to have ridden in the Troodos mountains but they were just a little too far away for short day trips and I was on a family holiday not a cycling holiday. It was still nice to get out though and as always exploring by bike is one of the best ways to get around and still see things.