28 September 2016

A Greek Odyssey - In Cyprus

I wrote this in 1996 after a particularly wonderful holiday experience in Cyprus.  Noelin was still on a South African passport.            

Chapter One:  Plotting a Course

 Since that fateful day in 1996 that set us on the path to a new life in England, the course taken by our lives has been navigated by a Higher Power.   I have had many arguments with Him about this, but I have learnt over the past five years that it simply does not pay to “buck” His plan.  We have had no say in our destiny, and have simply followed along the path that always opens up before us whenever we have had to make a decision.  When we have been tempted to take the wrong turning, he has blocked the path and we have been forced to follow his wishes.  I no longer argue.

And so too, it happened, when we decided that we desperately needed a “holiday.”  The overwhelming desire to “go east” built up to the point that we craved sun and sea like a drug that we could not live without.  I found myself becoming an avid collector of travel brochures and T.V. TravelShop was far more gripping entertainment than any soapie!  I could quote the bed & breakfast rates of a dozen resorts around the Mediterranean off by heart, and eagerly scoured the shelves in the travel shops for the latest editions.  My interest in Computer World and Classic Car seemed like distant childhood fads.  I still argued with him; I was too busy at work and a contract was in critical phase – the company brought my attention to the fact that if I did not take my leave still due by the end of May, I would forfeit it.  I said we could not afford to go on holiday – I got a letter from my credit card company saying that because I was such a good boy, they had increased my limit by £1000.  I said we still needed cash in our pockets to have a good time and to be able to buy the odd ice cream and pint – £300 appeared on the kitchen table with love from our children and their partners.  Predictably, I was not winning any of the arguments.

Therefore, off to the travel agent I went. 
“Where to?” the woman asked. 
“East!”  I replied, to a look that said, “You always get one, don’t you?”
“How far east?  Spain is east, France is east, Germany is east, and Greece is east.” 
    “Did you say Greece?”  Something about Greece…..no, about the Greeks, or maybe Feta cheese and olive oil, just seemed irresistible.  I still tried to buck the system –
“We have some fabulous deals to the Greek Islands for next winter,” she said, rapidly paging through a brochure that I knew better than she ever would. 
“No good, too long to wait.” said I. 
“When were you planning on going then?” she asked. 
Looking her straight in the eyes, I said “Day after tomorrow!” 
She turned deathly pale and with a glazed look in her eyes made a little mewing sound that, on the second attempt, came out as a hoarse “Oh dear.”  I was committing the ultimate sin – I was bucking the Sacred British System that says that holidays are booked and paid for at least a year in advance, so that the travel companies can earn the interest on your money for a full year before they have to give you anything in return.  No one, but no one, went on holiday “the day after tomorrow!” 

“It may be a little difficult,” she said with typical British fortitude, “but I’ll see if there are any Late Bookings available.”  She was a professional, I’ll give her that.  Late bookings are cancellations or unsold quotas that are usually discounted, but are then loaded with additional “late booking” charges.  She tapped away at her terminal, and then asked
                  “Which part of Greece?”
I said “Halidiki” before I could think – it looked like heaven in the brochures.  She tapped some more, then   “How about seven nights B&B at the Villa Kosmas near Thessalonica?” 
                  “How much?”
                  “£265 plus late booking charge and ticket on arrival charge and transfer charges.” 
                  “Sold!” said I, “and I also need travel insurance and long term parking at the airport.”
                  “Grand total £385.”  She said, and her terminal crashed – just went dead!  Blank screen.  The Big Hints were starting.  She made a call, then told me “The system is down” which is the standard excuse for all I.T. ills, anytime, anywhere.  “It will come back in a few minutes.”
                  “So we just have time for my wife to get a visa tomorrow?”
                  “Yes” she said, “if you get in the queue early enough.”  The E.U. countries issue a “Shengen” visa, which has to be obtained from the country of first entry, in our case Greece, but which then allows travel across E.U. borders.  Noel has had two from the French consulate, and one from the Danish consulate, always by getting to the consulate before the doors open, and has walked out a few hours later visa in hand (or rather, in passport.)  Spain is the same, as are Holland and Belgium.  I did not see why Greece should be any different.  I handed over the plastic, and she went through the motions, and then her screen lit up and she tapped in our names, address and birthdays, and meal preferences.  (I should have remembered to ask for Kosher, but how many Italian Jews do you know?)  Her printer spat out a heap of forms which she presented for my signature, mostly absolving the travel company from any and all responsibility in case we were murdered, poisoned, kidnapped or simply got sent to the wrong place, or the aircraft broke either on the ground or in the air.
               “These tickets are NON REFUNDABLE!” she made a point of saying, “and cannot be changed. 
                  “Sure,” I said, dialling Noel on my mobile to tell her the good news and to ask her to phone the Greek Embassy visa department and ask what time they opened in the morning. 
                  “We have a ‘no commission’ deal on foreign exchange, so if you would like to take cash with you in Greek Drachmas, please just go to our Forex desk.”  The travel girl invited.  I almost kissed and cuddled her in a fit of gleeful thanks, and made a beeline for the Forex desk, where I shoved £300 in Notes Of The Realm through the slot in the glass window, and boldly asked for the equivalent in Greek Money.  A pile of bills was pushed back through the slot, that should have had their own suitcase, but I managed to squeeze them into my pockets.

   Back home Noel was in a fit of frustration. 
                  “You phone that number and see if you can get their silly computer to tell you what time they open!” 
I did, and was greeted by an electronic voice that told me I was paying 60p a minute for the privilege, and then proceeded with the usual “If you have a star button on your telephone, press it now” routine.  After trying every option offered, and a good few pounds more in debt to BT, I still did not know what time they opened for business.  I phoned the travel shop, and asked them if they had another ‘phone number for the Greek Embassy Visa department, and yes, they did.  I tried again, this time greeted by a Greek woman, in Greek, to whom I said that I wanted to enquire about the opening time of the visa department.  Click-zzzzpt –              “If you have a star button on your telephone……..”  Back to square one.  At this point, I should have taken the hint from on high, but we were too hyped-up to take any notice of Him.  We celebrated our achievement thus far with a sundowner or two and planned our trip into London the next day.  We were determined to be early to be first in the visa queue at the Greek Embassy.  We would drive to Cockfosters and catch the Piccadilly Line tube to Holborn, change to the Central line and travel to Notting Hill Gate, from where we would walk up the hill and around the corner to the Embassy.  Sleep didn’t come easily that night.  It never does when the dawn is anticipated with such relish, but the alarm woke us at 5.30 am and we were in the car by 6.30.  Off the M25 at junction 24, around the round a bout, down the hill toward Cockfosters – and the traffic was not going anywhere!  Total traffic jam, and a crawl for the five miles to Cockfosters station that ate up an hour of our time.  Another hint?  By the time we arrived at Notting Hill it was 8.45 and we were last in the queue outside the embassy door.  The Greek diplomatic staff started to arrive just after 9 am, looking over the queue of people with a pained expression before going in through the security doors.  A woman eventually came out, walked down the queue, and handed out numbered chits to everyone in the queue, the same as those little paper numbers that you get to take your turn at the deli counter in the supermarket.  Our number was 76, but when we were eventually let in to sit in a completely closed waiting room with no air-con the “next” display on the wall started at 41, in big red letters.  We sat & waited & waited and sat until the display slowly counted to our number, 76, at 12 noon.
En route to the Greek consulate
                  We went into an office, sat down in front of a little old Greek woman, who took Noel’s application form that I had downloaded from the Web the night before, and after reading through it asked
                  “When are you departing?” 
                  “Tomorrow!” we said in chorus. 
                  “Impossible!” she said, “It takes three weeks to process the application!”    
But, but, but – no buts! 
                  “Applications have to be sent to Athens so it is not in our power to do anything.  Perhaps you should go upstairs and have a word with the Consul – he may take a risk.” 
This, we should have realised, was a mega-hint, only to be confirmed by the Consul, whose disposition progressed from interest to astonishment, to indignation, to sympathy and finally to self-righteous justification.  But never to taking that risk, whatever it was.  We left, totally destroyed, and with all our dreams in tatters, and presumably £385 poorer.  We dragged our feet down the hill and found a sidewalk cafe´ where we ordered a lunch that we never tasted.  Disappointment became anger and then resolve.  We would go back to the travel shop and “robustly express our concern about their failure to provide us with the correct information” regarding the procedures for applying for a Greek Shengen Visa!  So back onto the tubes we went, and re-traced our journey of that morning that now seemed to have been years ago.

The fact that the car had not been stolen in our absence, and that it started first time, and that there was no hold-up on the M25, and that when we arrived back at the travel shop there was parking right outside the door, suggest that we were on the right course. The travel girl was busy selling someone a trip to Disneyland, U.S.A.  Perhaps, I thought, she should go with to where she belonged.  We waited.  Eventually the cry of “Have a lovely trip” meant that she was free to face my wrath.  Noel decided to opt out of the coming battle by remaining at the rack of brochures, pretending to be completely unconcerned.  After I explained the problem in a very Brit-like manner (calm, cool & collected), she displayed all the sympathy of a dentist pulling wisdom teeth.  “The tickets are non-refundable I’m afraid and can’t be changed.”  When I told her that my position was that she had failed to provide us with the correct information regarding the visa application requirements of the Greeks, who were different to all of the other E.U. countries, and that she should have known this as she sold holidays to Greece, and that I would have no alternative but to phone Amex and cancel the credit card transaction, and that her company’s solicitor could talk to my solicitor about any problem that that may cause them, there was a miraculous change of attitude. 

“Well, we don’t want to see you lose your holiday, and the only way that the booking can be changed is with the co-operation of the tour company, so let me ring them and find out if they will bend the rules for us.” 
She rang, and explained the problem to someone, and thanked them, and said “O.K, they will agree to change the booking to another destination, provided you fly on the same day as the original booking.”  What possible difference this could have on their balance sheet, I could not imagine, but we were getting somewhere.

                  “So,” I asked, "Where can we go, departing tomorrow, where my wife will not require a visa?” 
                  “Let’s see,” she said, and reached under her desk for a massive book called “The Travel Reference Guide.”                  
                     “Let’s try….Tenerife,” and she paged to the appropriate page.  “No, no good.” 
                  “Try Commonwealth countries” I said.  “Malta!” 
Back on her terminal and no late booking availability for Malta, tomorrow. 
Where the hell was Cyprus?  Pages turned, and there it was under ‘Visa Requirements:’  Entry visas are not required in advance for tourists staying for 30 days or less who are nationals of the following countries:-  and buried way down the list “Republic of South Africa.”  This was Mega-Hint number two!  Back on the terminal, and yes “The two last seats on tomorrow night’s flight are still available with seven nights Bed & Breakfast accommodation at the Elia Holiday Village in Latchi.  The cost is a bit more than Halidiki, though.” 
                  “How much more?” 
                  “About one hundred pounds per head more.”  
                  “Can we book half-board?”
                  “Yes, half or full board.”
                  “Let’s have half board.”  Half board means breakfast and dinner included which is usually cheaper than paying locally for meals.  At lunchtimes, we would be out and about anyway.
She tapped, and said “Sorry, the system won’t accept half-board.  It’s shown on the options menu, but when I click on it, it won’t accept it.”  He was at work again! 
                  “Fine, we’ll go B&B, and eat out.” 
                  “The accommodation is either a studio apartment or a maisonette; both have cooking facilities.”
             “Let’s have the maisonette.”  I figured that with two rooms, my snoring wouldn’t be a problem for Noel.
               “Sorry – same thing – it won’t accept the maisonette option.  Don’t know why, but we could try later.” 
                  “NO!  It’s now or never – we’ll lose the seats!” 
I booked B&B for seven nights in a studio apartment, 100 yards from the beach.  We could swim in either of two pools, use the gym and sauna, participate in the Group Activities, go to the Kiddies Club, and generally have a good time.
                  “When does the flight leave, and from where?” 
                  “Gatwick, Cyprus Airlines, departing at 22.30, arriving at 04.30 local time, at Paphos airport.” 
Where the hell was Paphos?  Why 4.30 in the morning?  What do they do in Cyprus, dear Lord?  They milk goats, make cheese, drink like fish (which they catch and eat a lot of) and do not worry about anything!  Marvellous.  She took more plastic, printed more paper for me to sign, and reminded me to change my money to Cyprian Pounds.

Back at the Forex desk, I pushed the piles of Greek money through the slot, and the clerk counted forever before saying “That’s £274.75” 
                  “Cyprian?”  I asked. 
                  “Sterling!” came the smug reply. 
                  “But why do I lose over £25?” 
                  “Well, because of the difference between the buying and selling rates.” 
                  “No, no – I can’t afford to lose £25 just like that – I must find a better rate.  I’ll be back if I don’t.”  He pushed the pile back through the slot and I set off from bank to bank to Thomas Cook to Lloyds.  My own bank could give me £275.85 if I waited until tomorrow as their system was down!  I went back to an even smugger smile and collected my £274.75, which I pushed back through the slot and asked for Cyprian Money.  He tapped, and said, “That’s £220.00 Cyprian Pounds.” 
                  “Oh yes – the Cyprian Pound is more powerful than Stirling – the rate is about £1.20 Stirling to one Cyprian.”  And this on Goat’s cheese?  I gave in and took the slim little sheaf of notes he gave me and stuck them in the back of my wallet.

Chapter Two:  Going With the Flow.

                  Back home, we started those chaotic pre-going-away preparations that leave you wondering if it’s worth it.  Suitcases have to be found, last winter’s old clothes that are in them have to be put somewhere else,
(the charity shop bag), a note to the milkman, the heating turned off, toothbrushes, toothpaste,  deodorant and adaptor plugs, mobile phone chargers, and call the mobile phone company to say you’re not going to Greece, but to Cyprus, and will your phone work there?  Tell the neighbours you will be away but your kids may be in and out (switch the heating back on) and decide what clothes to take.  One more Sleep and you wake up on The Day trying to remember what you have forgotten, and to the realisation that it is really going to happen!  How far is Gatwick?  Allow two hours – make that two and a half – no, had better make it three in case there is a hold-up on the M25.  Check-in two hours before departure – that is 22.30 minus two, that is 20.30 minus three, that is 17.30.  Slap in the middle of peak rush hour!  So we’ll leave at 15.30 to miss the traffic.  Half past three in the afternoon to catch a plane at ten thirty at night?  But then, this is London, not Bloemfontein. 

The M25 at mid-afternoon is like a horde of ants on the march, and seems to go on forever.  Over the Thames and through the Dartford toll and you are on the home stretch.  Gatwick Që.  Long Term Parkingì  Zone Cë.  Find a slot, not there, there – near the bus stop!  Switch off, lock the steering, put the radio face in the cubby, cover the dash with Noel’s boot protector, and wonder why you have the feeling that you will never be back?  Unload the luggage and haul it all over to the bus stop.  SHUTTLE BUS STOP No.8-> the sign says.  Do we need to strap the wheels onto the big suitcase?  No, not yet.  The bus pulls up, lug all of it onto the luggage rack, and find a seat.  We look at each other and silently say, “We are really going.”  The bus drives up and down the rows of cars, stopping occasionally to pick up other people, some as bemused as we are, some in suits carrying just a briefcase.  The terminal looms, and we lug all the bags off the bus onto the pavement and go in search of a trolley.  Load it all onto the trolley and argue about which to put on top.  Push the trolley through the terminal doors and follow the signs to DEPARTURES>>>.  Some kilometres later arrive in a check-in cathedral and look for EUROCYPRUS PAPHOS 368.

                  There it is, at the head of that queue of 300 people!  Smugly, you congratulate yourself because 300 people made the same time & distance calculations that you did, and they all arrived at 17.30.  All shapes and mostly large sizes, they are dressed in everything from shorts to beach shirts.  Kids are using the luggage trolleys, packed high, as an obstacle course, chasing one another around in circles, screaming.  Parents take no notice and move forward like robots.  Oh God, six hours locked up in a flying bus with this lot, we’ll never get to Cyprus sane!

                  The queue slowly shortens, and by 18.45 there it is, in front of you – The Check-In Desk!  You shuffle the luggage to hide what you are carrying on with you and heave the rest onto the scale conveyor.  32.5 kilos.  You are under weight, so why carry that shoulder bag.  Never mind, its Noel's cosmetics, and always goes on board with her! 
                  “Did you pack your bags yourself?  Are you carrying any prohibited goods?”  How the hell do I know what’s prohibited.  Cocaine?  Not likely.  “Would you like a window seat?”  Her or me?  Her.  Yes please.  “Boarding time is 22.00; please watch the monitors for the gate number.”  You suppress the urge to kiss her, and wander away shuffling passports and boarding cards as if you are in a game of bridge.  Let’s go and find a pint; I don’t have to drive any more!  Let’s go through emigration and get it over with, and then find a pint.  We pile our shoulder bags onto the x-ray conveyor and Noel steps up to the detector arch and says to the security police    “Are you ready for this?” and proceeds to walk through to a bedlam of sirens and bells.  “It’s these,” she says, pointing to her arm bangles “They always do it.” 

                  “Step this way, please madam!”  Do not pass go, do not collect £200, miss your next turn, and she becomes a suspected terrorist and gets the full treatment.  Because I’m with her,
                  “Step over here please, sir” and I get a frisking that makes me wonder if the police officer is a.c. or d.c.  I could never carry anything there without risking permanent injury whenever I sat down!  “Boarding card please.”  Now where are they?  Who is taking our bags off the x-ray conveyor?  Will we ever see them again?  All of the other passengers are calmly walking through the security point with no bells & whistles, and they all look at us in a funny way. Are they glad that their plane is not going to be hijacked?  Are they glad they aren’t going to die?  No, they are just glad that someone else is being punished for their frustration.  Creeps!
                  “Thank you, have a nice flight.”
We are not going to goal!  We’re free!

                  We find a pub-come-restaurant on the upper floor of the duty free concourse, proudly displaying signs that proclaim “Hot bar food all day.”  I ask for a menu at the counter and a large yob in an apron glares at me and shouts “No food, no food!”  We take our custom elsewhere, and gnaw on stale baguettes washed down with a pint of Australia’s best lager while watching the ‘planes take off and land and find their way to gaping tunnels waiting to suck the passengers out like giant vacuum cleaners.  Appetites suppressed, we wander down to the duty free shops and find Johnny Walker black label for £6.00 a litre and cigarettes for £32.00 for 300.  So why on earth are we lugging this green bag around weighed down with a bottle of Sainsbury’s Scotch that cost £9.00 and a bottle of Irish Meadow that is the only thing that I can afford to drink at £3.00 a bottle?  We buy 400 cigarettes for Noel for £25.00 because we recon that customs at Cyprus will allow us 200 each duty free, and a bottle of Southern Comfort for me for a mere £6.00 a litre.  Another bag to carry, this time plastic, with “Gatwick Duty Free Shopping” on it to tell everyone how stupid we are.

                  Eventually the monitors say “368 – Paphos – Gate 15 – Wait in lounge.”  We follow the signs to gate 15, and after a 15-minute walk along moving walkways, arrive at a glassed in area lined with plastic seats, already almost full.  We sit, and eventually a smart hostess comes to the exit door and says, “The passengers for seat rows 20 to 30 please board first, followed by those for rows 10 to 20 and finally those for rows 1 to 10.  We are in row 10, seats A & B.  We wait, and take our turn to walk along the tunnel and onto the A320.  There is congestion because some passengers have fought their way back from their seats and are trying to get into the toilets.  Already.  A hostess shoos them back to their seats and we find row 10, A & B.  by the window.  It’s nighttime, so why do they ask if you would like a window seat?  All you can see is the little flashing green light on the wingtip anyway.  My feet hurt.  Noel has a migraine.

                  No matter how often you fly, you are always convinced that either the aircraft is never going to get off the ground, or the pilot is mad and thinks the aircraft has STOL capabilities and can climb vertically.  This one was one of the latter; I swear the thing had afterburners and rolled just seven feet down the runway before we were lying on our backs under eight Gs, going straight up!  No one says a word until the power comes off and the seat belt light goes out, and then everyone chatters at once like a cage of monkeys.  Drinks, then dinner and pretty good dinner it was for airline food.  Things were looking good but my feet still hurt.  Six and a half hours later, we are told to set our watches back two hours, and to prepare to land at Paphos airport.  No sign of the dawn yet, and we touched down and rolled to a stop under full reverse thrust and brakes in about ten feet.  We taxied behind a “Follow Me” truck to a terminal building that was just beginning to be silhouetted in the dawn.  We Had Arrived!  Down the stairs and a short walk to the terminal and bleary eyed immigration officials waved everyone through with a glance at their nice red passports, and then came Noel.  The procession stopped. 
                  “South African?” asked the official in the rumpled shirt and skew tie. 
                  “Yes.”  said Noel. 
He said “No Visa!”  Oh Lord, why us?  Noel said, “I was told I didn’t need one.”  He said “Fill in this card, you buy one here.  Five Pounds!”  A scam, I realised with relief.  She didn’t need one, but he needed Five Pounds.  Deal.

Is that mine?
Over at the luggage carousel we watch all the suitcases going around and around.  All of the other people seem to find their cases, boxes, prams, bicycles, skateboards, baby seats, golf clubs and all manner of things immediately.  Somehow, we always wait forever for ours to appear through those black curtains.  Always convinced that ones cases have been sent to Chicago, one stands there, eyes glued to the mouth of the conveyor, trying to look unconcerned but never quite succeeding.  The relief when at last one familiar item appears!  Is it really ours?  I don’t remember that bit of tape on the corner!  Grab it anyway before it goes past and someone else gets it!  If it’s mine, I may never see it again.  After waiting so long, I’m not going to let it out of my sight!  It’s Mine!  Then it won’t all fit on the trolley.  It all fitted at Gatwick, so where did the extra come from?  Relax – Gatwick had bigger trolleys.

Luggage retrieved and trolley loaded, we walked through the green to be faced by a squad of smartly dressed women each holding up a board with the names of different tour companies.  We looked for AirTours and joined the three other couples grouped around it.  We were led off through the doors and directed to a minibus with a “C” in the windscreen.  Our luggage went into a trailer hitched on behind and we settled into our seats and waited for the adventure to begin.  Daylight had come, and we were eager to see what this mystery island looked like.  Our driver’s name was Marius and soon we were on our way.  Through the suburban streets of a fair sized town and then onto a motorway.  Maurius had a familiar third-world driving technique – foot flat or foot off.  He applied both in turn at short intervals, accelerating in bursts from 55 to 60 and then letting the speed fall off to 55 again.  Noel decided that she could not see well enough from her seat and climbed over the engine hump and sat in the very front next to Marius, who did not seem to mind.  A tape of Zorba the Greek music played continuously.  This concerned me, as we were not supposed to be in Greece.  We turned off the motorway, following bi-lingual traffic signs written in Greek and English to POLIS/ΡΟΛΙΣ. 

    The road narrowed and wound around hills and up steep passes before descending through a little village where the road disappeared and became a track between earth movers, barrels, bollards and heaps of rubble.  They were re-making the high street!  Soon we were back on tar and entering a very pretty area with an enormous lake on one side of the road and a cliff on the other.  Above the cliff were multi-story houses, perilously hanging on to the very edge.  Big lake, I thought.  Then I realised…..the lake was the Mediterranean Sea!  As blue as the sky and not even a ripple, never mind a wave.  If their ocean did not move, what were the people like?  A left turn and up a wide brick-paved road lined with palms, to a white building with red roof tiles and a sign that said “Elia Latchi Holiday Village” and above the door, “Reception”.  We Had Arrived!
Latchi Holiday Village

Chapter Three:  A Fellow Well Met.


                  Clean, airy, comfortable and from the balcony that vast lake of Mediterranean water was visible through the trees.  They even provided a fresh loaf of bread, some butter, cheese and a bottle of red wine in case we could not wait for breakfast.  By the time we had unpacked, the dining room was open and we surveyed the buffet, arranged in three sections:  Fruit and cereals, Cyprian Food and Brit. Food. 
Our room at Elia Village
The Cyprian food was a wonderful choice of cheeses, cold meats, smoked fish, olives, yoghurts, and croissants, six varieties of bread, honey and fruit juices.  Typically, the Cyprian side counter was deserted, but they were six deep around the Brit stuff, piling their plates with greasy fried eggs, bacon, sausages, and of course that staple British fare, baked beans in tomato sauce from Mr. Heinz, which is ladled over the top of everything on the plate.  I guess it was the olives and yoghurt that put them off.
Yiangos Stuanoy

                  A good breakfast always helps the digestion, or rather the walk afterwards, and so we set off to explore what would be our hometown for the next week.  We had seen the village across the road from the hotel grounds, and we walked down the road and into the main centre, which is more of a marina than a village.  A very pretty harbour with lots of yachts, ski-boats for hire, big day-trippers and a naval patrol boat in its own berth.  Lining the quay are tavernas and restaurants all offering their own menus of fish mezes and, for the Brits, plain fish & chips.  We strolled down the main quay, the harbour water a blue mirror on our right, the sky a shade deeper, and the sun burning our legs and arms.  I bought a kakhi baseball cap with adidas on the front; I was not going to look like a lobster-faced tourist!  Near the end of the main centre, sitting on a chair outside a restaurant called the “Sea Nest” was an elderly man with a jolly face and a great white moustache.  He was busy weaving the floats onto the edge of a fishing net with a miniature shuttlecock and nylon thread.  Ever curious, Noel was drawn over to watch him work.
                  ”Hello, what are you making?”  she asked.
                  “I make the net for catching fishes,” he said.
                  “Can I watch how you do it?”
                  “Please – sit down and have a drink.  What you like, some beer?”
Never one to turn down a pint on a hot day, we enthusiastically accepted and sat at the table next to him.
                  “Please, will you have something with us?  May I buy you a beer also?” I asked.
                  “I never drink beer!  Only Zinovia.”
                  “What is that?”  I asked.  He nodded to a good-looking young man hovering in the background and presently two ice-cold bottles of Keo, the local lager and a half jack of clear spirit coated in frost and two shot glasses were plonked down on the table.  He poured a shot of Zinovia into each glass, handed me one, clinked his against mine with a “Salut” and downed his in one gulp.  Not to be outdone, I followed his example.  With my eyes out on stalks and my sinuses now clear, I could only grin and nod.
                  “Good?”  He asked.
                  “Very!”  I croaked, and immediately my glass was re-filled. 
                  “Salyut!”  Why me, Lord?
                  “My father only drank Zinovia all of his life and he lived to the age of 117!”  He said, wiping each side of his moustache with the back of his finger.  We were halfway through the Keo and I was feeling more chilled out than I had in years when enormous salvers of every kind of grilled fish were placed on the table, with great bowls of salads and baskets of delicious breads.  Plates, cutlery, and two more bottles of beer followed, while Yiangos, as we now knew his name was, downed another shot of Zinovia.  After a while, we thanked him for the hospitality and made to leave.
                  “No, no, you must eat something!”  He ordered.
Introductions in order, we learned that his name was Yiangos Stuanoy.  He introduced us to his wife who was sitting at a table preparing vegetables for the kitchen, and to his daughter, Katina, who managed the restaurant and did all cooking.  Two of Yiangos’ friends joined us, one an old man wearing a fisherman’s cap, with whom he had fished as a teenager.  The other, Yiannis Ctoris, had come to the south as a refugee when the Turks invaded the north and was now a vegetable and fruit farmer and from whose farm all of the salads on the table had come.  Then, there was Miceal – the good-looking one in his early thirties who was everyone’s friend and seemed to help everywhere, in the kitchen, serving tables, clearing up, and who took Noel’s plate onto his lap and dissected the bones out of her fish with his fingers, before feeding her the flesh soaked in olive oil and lemon juice.  They sure know how to eat, those Cyprians!  We ate our fingers off, and when I took out my wallet, I was indignantly told to put it away!
Latchi Waterfront
                  Lunch over, we were entertained with stories of Yiangos’ diving exploits as a teenager, the whereabouts of the rest of his family (Australia, New York, South Africa) and by Yiannis’ account of how he and his wife had been forced to flee from northern Cyprus when the Turks invaded the north in 1974.  He was wearing nothing but shorts and sandals at the time, leaving behind a successful business in construction and a family home.  Given state housing and the use of a piece of land, he now farms vegetables and fruit, mainly in tunnels and supplies the needs of most of the area.  We reluctantly parted from our newfound friends in mid-afternoon, slightly inebriated and totally entranced by the hospitality we had enjoyed.  They had made us promise to return for dinner that evening to meet their wives.  We wandered back to the hotel for a much-needed snooze as our bodies were telling us that it was 4 pm, although our watches only said 2.00.  We had been awake for thirty-six hours.
Mikael and GS

                  We woke at sunset and had a sundowner on our balcony overlooking the sea.  Sunset over the Med, on a clear evening, must be experienced to be appreciated; suffice to say it is different to anywhere we have ever been, and is diffused with a sense of peace that is enhanced by the calm water.  At 8 pm we walked back down to the village to exercise our right to buy a small snack for dinner at the Sea Nest, as we couldn’t imagine being seen in any other restaurant and offending our hosts of that morning.  The whole crowd that we had met that morning, plus the rest of Yiangos’ family, were all seated at one long table when we walked in the door, and we were ushered to join them despite our polite protests.  The meal was waiting to be served; a large platter of fish casserole prepared to a “special” recipe of Yiangos’ that is a favourite of the family, with the now familiar bowls of fresh salads and baskets of breads.  We were asked what we would like to drink, and when we said wine, a bottle of a special Cyprian estate white was brought, opened, and poured.  They make excellent wine in Cyprus!

                  The warmth and hospitality that evening were overwhelming, and we chatted and laughed and drank and joked late into the night.  We met Yiangos’ two daughters, Christina, who “owns” the Sea Nest restaurant and her husband, and Katina and her husband, who runs the two pleasure yachts, and Yiannis’ wife who had studied and worked in England and whose English was very good.  Language was no barrier to anyone, though, and we felt as though we had known this family all of our lives. Our itinerary was organised for us; we would be taken out for a trip along the coast on the motor yacht the next day with a barbeque lunch on board, and we had to visit Yiannis’ farm when we returned to harbour.  We were invited to a family engagement party on Saturday night, that of Yiangos’ nephew.  We were told that two thousand guests would be attending!  Yeh, right!  Two thousand?  Fishermen always exaggerate.  We learned of a son who was a lawyer living in Australia, married to a Barrister.  Their son, Yiangos’ grandson, was a close friend of Prince William, having spent most of his school life as Prince William’s roommate.  Now they would be going to university together in Scotland.  (It was only three weeks after we had returned to London that it was announced that William would be attending university in Scotland and not Oxford).  We also learned that Yiangos is a close friend of Prince Philip who often came to Cyprus on holiday, the family connection going back a long way.  The conversation and food and drink continued until, at around 11.30 I cornered Katina in the kitchen and asked her to please allow me to contribute to the cost of the meal, and she shooed me away saying “My father would kill me if I allowed it!” 
Mdme Stuanoy

                  As we said our goodbyes, Miceal asked if we had heard live Greek music, and insisted on taking us to the hotel down the road where a live Greek band was playing.  We were shown to a table next to the dance floor and listened to some of the best bouzouki music we have ever heard, while flattening a bottle of Cyprian brandy between the three of us.  A touring coach group were also among the audience and one of them, a Glaswegian by his accent, sang a few pop numbers to a Karaoke backing.  He was incredibly good and drew a standing ovation from anyone sober enough to stand up.  We stumbled out on to the pavement at 1.30 in the morning and, refusing Miceal’s offer of a cab, led each other down the street and along the quay, back to the hotel where we fell into bed in a stupor.

 Chapter Four:  Enlightenment.


 We surfaced at around nine the next morning, just in time for another Greek breakfast with lots of coffee, and tried to justify our experiences thus far.  It seemed impossible that it had all been sheer chance and accident, and we both felt that we were being steered along in a pre-determined way.  Two foreign tourists with no previous experience of the place or the people simply do not get that lucky without His influence!  We had met, and had been made to feel at home, by a family of some standing in the local community, a family that were completely open and as warm and close as our own.  We could have walked another way the day before, and not seen the old man with his fishing net.  We could have gone to Greece and not come to Cyprus at all.  We could have done many things that would not have brought us to meet Yiangos.  Why had we come this way?  Only He knows His reasons, ours not to wonder why.

The Koulla
                  We were due on board the “Koulla” at 10 am, so we postponed further analysis of our fate and gathered our hats and cameras and hurried down to the harbour quay.  Christina was waiting for us, and ushered us on board.  We were not the only passengers, but were joined by four other couples who had booked for the trip – they only take ten people at a time.  We waited a while and Christina apologised for the delay, but told everyone that the delay would be worth it, because we were waiting for her father who insisted on skippering the boat that morning, as he had friends on board.  You know that feeling when everyone is staring at you?   Yiangos and his ships mate, Christo,  soon joined us and fired up the engine, a v-twelve Detroit turbo-diesel of some 260 horsepower.  He turned the boat neatly away from the quay and once clear of the breakwater, he set a course north-west up the coast. 

                  The sea was calm and blue as usual, and the sun blazed out of a clear windless sky.  Yiangos was in his natural element behind the big wheel, and clearly knew every nook and cranny of the coastline, as well as the reefs and coves.  We sailed close inshore at places of interest; 
Aphrodite's Rock
Aphrodite’s baths, where according to legend Aphrodite  was born, St. Georges Island where the pre-Roman inhabitants of Cyprus quarried rock for the original harbour at Latchi, Aphrodite’s Rock, where legend says that any woman who swims around it at midnight, at full moon, naked, will gain ten years of youth.  We sailed all the way to Cape Akamas, the westernmost tip of Cyprus before turning back and anchoring in the crystal clear water off Fontana Amorosa.  Christo prepared the barbeque fires, suspended over the stern, and soon the aroma of grilled pork knuckles and chicken made everyone ravenous.  While we waited for the food, Yiangos got a small reel of fishing line, tied on a small hook and baited the hook with a piece of bread.  Calling to Noel, he cast the hook over the side and we watched as fish worried at the bait in the clear water, but none took the hook.  After three or four attempts, he handed the line to Noel, who threw the hook over, and was immediately rewarded with a bite and the flurry and flash of a silver fish on the hook.

"I've got a fish!"
“I’ve got a fish, I’ve got a fish!” she cried and Yiangos helped her pull in a very nice sized Sea Bream.
                  “This I cook especially for you, later,” he told her. 
If it had been a Bluefin Tunny, her grin would not have been any bigger.  Needless to say, everyone then wanted to try their hand and they were throwing bits of bread into the sea around the bait, to attract the fish.  Strangest thing you ever saw, the fish would eat all of the bits of bread, but not one went near the bread with the hook in it!  No one caught another fish that day.  If you can’t catch them, join them.  The water temperature was around 25C and so clear, every detail on the sea bed was visible, and soon some of the other guests were jumping over the stern for a swim.  Noel showed them all how it’s done, by effortlessly swimming to the shore of the bay some 500 metres away and combing the beach for shells, before swimming back at a lazy crawl.  She wasn’t even breathing hard when she climbed back on board.

                  The food was laid out buffet style in the wheelhouse, and we helped ourselves to marinated pork, grilled chicken, salad, and breads.  Delicious!  Yiangos then took a large jar filled with what I thought was feta cheese from under the shelf, and extracted a large chunk of the cheese which he cut into pieces with his knife. 
                  “This is special Houmouli cheese from Micael’s goats,” he told me, “just for you to try,” and he put the pieces on the grid over the barbeque coals.  Scorched and hot, there is nothing on earth like the taste of that cheese.  Sheer magic.  A woman passenger took only salad from the buffet, and when asked why, she said that she did not eat red meat or chicken, and as there was no fish, she would eat only the salad. 
                  “You are unlucky today,” said Yiangos, “only one lady caught a fish and I must cook it for her,”
I immediately volunteered my wife’s catch for the good of customer relations and reluctantly, Yiangos agreed to grill it for the poor woman.  I hope she appreciated what she ate!

                  All too soon, it was time to set course for home.  While we surged back across the bay at a steady six knots, I stood in the wheelhouse and chatted to Yiangos.  He told me tales of his youth, when, assisted by his boyhood friend, who we had met at the Sea Nest, he had started out in his teens as a sponge diver.  Back then sponges were a valuable commodity, there were no synthetics to make the plastic ones we have today, so every woman who wanted to bathe with the luxury of a soapy sponge, had to buy a natural one, harvested from the sea.  Soon he became the “Sponge King” of the Mediterranean, buying up the harvest of all of the sponge divers in the Mediterranean region, and selling them on to the world’s markets.  I guess he must have made his fortune in a similar way to the Ostrich feather “Kings” of Oudshoorn, who also supplied a priceless natural commodity that was in worldwide demand at the time. 
Latchi harbour

                  He told me of the time during the Turkish crisis when a young British soldier, attached to the U.N. forces, had disappeared while skin-diving off Fontana Amorosa.  After three days of unsuccessful searching, the U.N. command had approached Yiangos for help.  He had mobilised every fisherman in the area, and together they had combed the seabed and searched the coastline for a further three days without finding a trace of the man.  Then, the day after the search had been called off and Yiangos had gone out in his fishing boat to set his nets, he happened to glance over the side and he saw something in the rocks, in about seventy feet of water.  He donned his mask, which was all he had with him, and dived over the side to investigate.  He found the missing man, and what he had seen from the surface was the sun reflecting off the scuba tanks on his back.  He had been spear fishing, and had pursued a fish into a cleft in the rocks and become jammed by his scuba gear.  He could not go forward or back, and must have run out of air struggling to free himself.  The body was by now so bloated that Yiangos could not free it, and he returned to Latchi where he notified the authorities.  They sent a diving team out with him, and they could not free the body either.  Eventually Yiangos went back home and returned with a hammer and chisel, dived down himself, and chiselled the rocks and coral away until the body came free.  In return the U.N. presented him with a lifetime free travel and accommodation pass with which he could fly anywhere in the world and stay free in any city, for the rest of his life.  He has never used the pass, as he feels that to do so, he would be profiting from the death of a family man who left a wife and three young children.  Such is Yiangos.

                  We reached Latchi harbour wishing we could have stayed at sea forever.  Cruising on the Mediterranean is the most effective chill-out medicine in the world.  Forgetting that we had made tentative arrangements with Miceal to go and visit Yiannis’ farm, we strolled back to the hotel and crashed on our beds until eight o’clock.  I then had a desperate craving for sugar, so we strolled into the village, found a coffee shop open, and ordered baklava.  Served warm with a glass of iced water, it was so good we could not resist seconds.  After a friendly chat with the proprietor, we strolled back to the hotel, watching the fruit bats flit among the trees.  Another fantastic day.

Chapter Five:  Around the Mountains


                  We had booked to go on the Troodos Mountains Jeep Safari, as we wanted to see the Kykko monastery, famed for its gold décor, and also something of the interior of the country.  As we did not have a hire car, as do most tourists, this would be the best way to see what we wanted, and then some.  These safaris comprise of four Land Rover Defender station wagons, which travel in convoy to places inaccessible to ordinary cars (with the possible exception of Yiangos’ Mercedes.)  We had to get up early, as our jeep would collect us from the hotel at 7.30, and sure enough, it was right on time.  Our guide and driver, who was also the safari leader, turned out to be South African.  He introduced himself as “Ryan”.  Noel immediately responded with,
                  “What do you mean, ‘Ryan’?  Dis mos ‘Riaan’, is it nie?”  He broke into a huge grin. 
                  “Thank God someone can pronounce my name!  I have to call myself ‘Ryan’ so that everyone can say it.”  He was a Boere-seuntjie from Port Elizabeth in the Cape and had married a local girl of Cyprian decent.  Their second child had been born three years previously, whereupon they had come to Cyprus to show the baby to his wife’s parents, and had been persuaded to stay.

Our Safari "Jeep"
We drove from Latchi through the pass to Paphos where we met up with the other Land Rovers at a local garage-come-tearoom.  While we waited for the drivers to fill their Land Rovers with diesel, we grabbed a substitute breakfast from the tearoom; I had a stale Danish pastry and a fruit juice, which turned out to be off, and ever cautious, Noel had bottled water.  One of the other drivers was also South African, from Uitenhague.  You can’t go anywhere…….

                  With our Land Rover in the lead, the convoy set off for the first stop of the day, the forest station in the mountains at Stavros Tis Psokas, where the Cyprian government had established a breeding station for the Moufflon mountain sheep.  We remembered seeing Moufflons at Johannesburg zoo and never realised that they were so rare.  They are large, dark brown, longhaired sheep with enormous curved horns.  Native only to Cyprus, they are on the endangered species list and only about 300 of them are left, none in the wild.  We made good time, as the roads through the Troodos Mountains are very good, as they also lead to and from the Capital, Nicosia.  We only had a short distance to go once we left the tar and followed gravel roads into the forests.  The diversity of tree species is extraordinary once you climb above 2000 feet.  Real Cyprus trees are everywhere, not the diminutive cemetery kind, but giants in every way.  Indigenous forests still cover much of the mountainous areas, and with a climate much like the South African Low-veldt, everything flourishes. 
Riaan's team
We stopped at the Moufflon station and Riaan gathered everyone around one of the large picnic tables provided by the forestry department, on which he stood, introducing himself with ‘My name for today is Ryan’,  and lectured us on the rules of the day.  We were to swap our seating arrangements around after each stop so that everyone could have a turn sitting on the more comfortable rear passenger seat instead of the bench seats fitted along each side of the rear.  Then he led us all off to walk the perimeter fence of the Moufflon enclosure, which was more of a hiking exercise than anything else.  We managed a glimpse of two Moufflons before returning to the vehicles and setting off for the next stop, this time with Noel & I in the back with a young German couple.  The huge English lady who had travelled in the front passenger seat had to stay there, as she could not fit anywhere else.  Why are the Brits so overweight?  We have been trying to puzzle it out, and have concluded that it must be something they put in the water!  Or perhaps it’s the baked beans?

Kykkos Monastery Entrance
                  We wound our way higher and higher up the mountain roads, until we reached Kykkos Monastery.  “Monastery” is misleading – it is more like a walled town, with a very imposing entrance gateway surrounded by an archway of gilded mosaics.  On either side of the entrance are magnificent rose gardens, which were in full bloom.  Roses, we found out, bloom twice a year because of the climate.  We went through the entrance and into a large courtyard.  On two sides were rows of stone columns behind which the courtyard walls are covered in painted murals of biblical scenes, rich in colour.  Through the courtyard and down a set of stone steps we came to the entrance of the church proper.  We had never been into a Greek Orthodox Church before, and found it quite strange, but our attention was riveted by the sight of the transept frieze extending the width of the church and completely covered in gold.  The chandeliers were solid gold, the wall sconces, the roof beams, the pulpit, everything!  Not gold paint, or fragile leaf, but a solid layer of the stuff, sculpted and formed.  It took the breath away, and left us totally awed and speechless.

Kykkos Monastery Interior
                  There is a palpable presence in the church at Kykkos monastery.  It is evident no matter what one's beliefs are, quite apart from the impression of awesome wealth that pervades the monastery.  A feeling of serenity and peace diffuse throughout which leave one in no doubt that, this is a good place to be.  It is difficult to leave and you have to promise yourself that you will return.  Some people do not appreciate this, however, and we remarked on the children that were allowed to run around, screaming, in such a Holy place.  You always get one, don’t you?  The flash goes off at regular intervals despite the signs admonishing, “No Photography Is Allowed” and a loud American woman shouts, “Gwarsh, Howard, lookit all thay-hat gold!  Howard?  Now kids, you-all come lookit too, ya hear?” 

                  Back outside we assembled to continue our safari, and climbed into the vehicles, rotating our seating positions.  We climbed higher into the mountains until we pulled off at a viewpoint from which we could see forever.  Everything we could see, Riaan told us, was in Turkish territory, as we were looking due north from an elevation of six thousand feet. After listening to Yiannis’ and Yiangos’ stories about the Turkish invasion, the feeling was one of menace, like looking over the Berlin Wall.  You expect to see tanks and guns pointing at you, and devastated villages and towns.  In fact, from the distance we were at, no such detail would have been visible anyway.  The border is called “The Green Line” because it was drawn on the map with a green pen  when the U.N. and the Turks came to an agreement, halting the Turkish advance, and goes through the middle of Nicosia (or Lefkosia, as the Cyprians call it).  It not only divides Nicosia in two, making it the only divided city in the world now that the Berlin wall is no more, but it goes through the middle of Woolworths department store.  One can shop in the south side of the store, all brightly lit and modern, and look through the partitioning into the north side, untouched since the invasion and covered in dust and decaying stock.  There is a motorcar showroom in the north side of Nicosia where two Rolls Royces still stand undisturbed after 27 years, tyres flat and upholstery rotting.  Yiannis’ villa still stands as it was on the day he and his wife left, furniture covered in dust, food rotting in the cupboards and jewellery and ornaments still in place.  There appears to be some political agenda for this apparent quarantine of property of value, at odds with the commandeering of farms and villages, the total destruction of churches, museums, archaeological sites and all other aspects of Greek Cyprian culture and history, not to mention the importation of thousands of Turkish peasants.
The NATO radar on Mt Olympus

Behind us, we could see the summit of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Cyprus at over 6,500 feet where the early warning radar system is located, and out of bounds to everyone but the military.  It is said that the radar has sufficient range to see the skies over Iran, and is used for that purpose by NATO.  Back on the road, we headed for lunch, and were soon winding along narrow roads between villages where picture postcards prove to be true.  An old man leading a donkey with a pole across it’s back carrying a large clay pot of goats’ milk on each side.  A herd of goats standing on their back legs, to reach the foliage of a tree, minded by a shepherd dressed in a red woollen cloak, and who played a haunting tune on a reed flute.  In each village we passed through, a group of old men sat outside the local taverna, smoking pipes and drinking in the sunshine. (Noel says that their wives throw them all out so that the women can get on with their work.)  We passed orchards of orange, lemon and lime trees, cherry trees, almond trees, carob trees, and vineyards that were planted on terraced hillsides.  All of the houses are whitewashed with red roofs and each village is prettier than the last, some of them dating back to before Christ. 

                  Lunch was served at a restaurant high in the mountains at a village called Platres, and the food was five star.  Maybe we were all so hungry by then that anything would have been five star, but it really was good.  Grilled half chicken, pasta, dolmades, salads, roasted vegetables, breads, red and white wine, and baklava.  I missed out on the baklava.  We tucked in with gusto, and not much remained when we finished.  Back aboard the “Jeeps,” making our way out of the village, Noel could not resist stealing cherries from the trees overhanging the road, assisted by Riaan who pulled the Land Rover up close enough for her to stand and reach out of the window.  You can’t take my wife anywhere!  We wound our way back down into the forests and eventually to a gorge that has a famous waterfall called the Caledonian Waterfalls, which one has to climb down about three hundred steps to see.  Where the name came from we never found out, but there must be a Scot in the story somewhere.  Noel and I held back and let the rest of the party exhaust them selves while we waited at the top.  The screeching and yelling echoed up to us as our fellow travellers splashed each other with water from the falls, and eventually came panting and puffing back up the steps.  You can’t take them anywhere either!
The "Caledonian" Falls

                  Coming out of the mountains and back on tar roads, we descended onto the coastal road, which became a motorway, and the “jeeps” were soon racing each other up the hills two abreast.  Those 2.5 litre turbo diesels can really go when pushed!  We pulled off at a view site overlooking Aphrodite’s Rock, and took photographs of Riaan and his team against the background of the bay.  We arrived back at our hotel after dropping other passengers off at the Coral Beach hotel in Paphos, with just enough time to catch our breath before getting ready for the engagement party. 

Chapter Six:  Getting to know them.

Saturday night   

  We showered and changed into the best clothes we had brought – I remember saying that I was not packing a blazer or tie, as we had no intention of hitting any high spots on holiday!  Yiangos drove up in his Merc at 7.00 on the dot, and we set off down the coast road towards Polis.  I was amazed that his car was an identical twin to my fathers Merc, even to the colour and year, and when I mentioned this, Yiangos told us that he had in fact bought the car new in South Africa and had had it shipped to Cyprus.  Why?
                  “Because they make much stronger cars in South Africa.  Much heavier and last a long time!  I buy all my cars in South Africa.”  This one had 389 000 kms on the clock, and as we would personally experience in days to come, was used as a 4 X 4 as well.  It had a few bruises, but went just as a Mercedes should.  Evidently, Christina was driving a BMW 318 that he had also recently bought for her in S.A.

                  We arrived at the venue of the engagement party, which was a restaurant with a vast open-air dining area and dance floor.  We joined the end of the reception line and waited to be greeted by the young couple and their parents, to whom we were introduced by Yiangos when our turn came.  They were resplendent in full evening dress, and we felt a little uncomfortable in our casual dress, but we were greeted warmly and the feeling vanished.  Once past the reception line, where I had deposited an envelope containing £20 as a “gift” to the bride and groom to be, we followed the line to the buffet area.  There were tables piled with the most wonderful food, salads, and desserts, and finally a table where we helped ourselves to whatever we wanted to drink – not by the glass, but by the bottle!  Zinovia, Cyprian brandy, Johnny Walker scotch, Vodka, beer and any mineral going.  Out back were a row of eight of the traditional round clay ovens that one sees everywhere in Cyprus, still warm from the days cooking.  Katina had been there since five in the morning, preparing the food.  For how many?  Well, I counted 2000 seats and there were not enough by 8.30.  It was not a fisherman’s tale!
The betrothed couple
                  Yiangos led us to a table where his whole family were already seated, and there were more introductions and greetings from those we had met the night before.  A hug and kiss on both cheeks from Yiangos’ wife, Christina and Katina, really made us feel welcome, and when we had finished eating, and the alcohol was flowing, the dancing began.  All this while the reception line was still in place, with guests still arriving, and the young couple and their family were beginning to look a little peaked.  It was about 26C and quite humid, despite being outdoors, and jackets and ties were coming off everywhere.  Traditional Greek dance music had been thundering from disco speakers since we arrived and the beat is quite impossible to ignore.  The dance floor was soon filled with men, all dancing together in a circle in the traditional Greek way.  The women rarely danced – I did see Christina and a few others occasionally, but then they danced inside the circle of men and passed from one to the other following informal if traditional steps.  Soon the dance floor was too crowded, so everyone began dancing on the tables.  These were trestle tables and no one gave a thought to the possibility of a table collapsing.  The atmosphere became party, big time, and if this was an engagement, I sure would like to see the wedding!  By eleven o’clock, we had flattened three pints of beer each, and had helped to take care of two bottles of brandy and half a bottle of Zinovia.  Drink-driving?  What’s that?  Yiangos dropped us off at the hotel just after midnight and neither of us remembers a thing until ten the following morning.
It was quite a party


                  Another healthy breakfast set us on course to explore the village, the harbour, and the beaches.  We were in and out of the local tourist shops, examining everything, and even strolled around the local supermarket looking at the groceries and fresh vegetables and fruit and comparing prices.  It was then that we realised how foolish we had been to spend money buying booze and cigarettes at Gatwick duty free.  A bottle of Black Label was C£3.50 and cigarettes C£0.80 a packet!  That’s £4.20 and £1.10 respectively in our money.  Next time we will know better.  The quality of the fruit and veg was amazing, and also very cheap.  We strolled through the village, through the harbour, past the Sea Nest, and out along the beach on the other side.  Noel kicked her sandals off and immediately got her feet burnt by the hot sand.  The sand extended as far as the high water line, if you can call it that, as the tide only rises and falls about two feet, and then gave way to pebbles where the wavelets tried hard to be an ocean.  The water temperature was about 20C and the air about 30C so it was a relief to walk along in the water. 

                  Needing something to drink, we made our way back to the hotel.  We went and found two sun beds next to the hotel pool and lay sipping brandy sours until lunchtime.  Now this is another Cyprian delight that grows on you.  The brandy sour is served everywhere, and some construct it better than others do.  The best we had were made by Ianiou on his boat, but wherever they are made, the secret is in the Cyprian brandy.  French brandy just does not crack it.  The dose of Angostura bitters must also be a healthy one, not just a dash.  Noel became a connoisseur of the brandy sour by the time we left, and can tell the origin of the ingredients at a sniff.  We were not in the mood for lunch after what we had eaten the night before, but we had bought some fruit and that, with the cheese and bread so thoughtfully provided by the hotel served for our lunch.  We spent the rest of the day back at the pool, and had a nap before sundowners on our balcony, watching the sun sink into that great lake of the Mediterranean Sea.  We strolled down to the Sea Nest promising ourselves that we would insist on buying our own dinner, and were allowed to do just that, as Yiangos and Christina had taken the day at home.  Andreas, a charming waiter, showed us to a table in the pavilion across the road, overlooking the beach, and we ordered a bottle of the famous white wine and a light fish meal and salads.  The night air was cool and still and a rising moon sparkled off the water of the bay as we ate and savoured our good fortune.

Chapter Seven:  Enlightenment.


                  The next day was a Monday and we were to be taken to Andrei’s’ farm by Ianiou.  We duly presented ourselves at the Sea Nest at 10 am and after drinking the obligatory coffee, we piled into the Merc and set off.  First, we were going to Polis, to visit a shop run by friends who had family in the village of Lefkara, famous for the Cyprian lace made there.  Noel wanted to buy some articles of lace, and we were told that the shop in Polis usually had a good stock.  The town of Polis is one of contrasts.  On the outskirts, one sees all of the new buildings being constructed, and as one gets deeper into the centre, the buildings get progressively older.  The buildings in the street where the lace shop was must have dated from the 16th century; in narrow twisted streets they were all of ancient stone and wood, and we could have spent days exploring the curious little shops and tavernas.  The little shop that Yiangos took us into was stocked floor to ceiling with Cyprian handicraft, from intricately decorated pewter tableware, to ceramics, embroidered clothing, crochet tablecloths, reproductions of archaeological artifacts and of course, when we asked, Cyprian lace.  As we should have known, a large tablecloth made entirely of lace, which would have taken some three months to make, cost around £500!  Noel settled for an Irish linen tablecloth inset with panels of lacework which is stunning, and which was offered for only £30, due to what we are sure was Ianiou’s influence.  We also bought a smaller crochet cloth for each of our girls, and Noel was given a pure Cyprian lace tray-cloth as a gift.  Wonderful people.

NJ shopping for Cypriot lace

                  We stopped for fuel on the way back, and Yiangos was approached by a  very pretty, young,  dark-haired girl who, after a short conversation, jumped into the back of the car.  Yiangos explained that she was the maid employed to clean Christina’s villa daily, which was let out to a family of eight holidaymakers for three weeks, and was then booked up until October.  We would give her a lift there.  She was a Croatian refugee, and worked under the State employment scheme.  As we drove along the coast back towards Latchi, she hesitantly asked Noel something in her own language, and not understanding, Noel just smiled and nodded.  The girl immediately reached out and felt Noel’s hair between her fingers, and then touched Noel’s arm, examining the hair there as well.  Yiangos explained that she had never seen a naturally blond woman before, and she was fascinated!  We left the tar road and drove into the countryside on a good gravel road, passing between olive groves, vineyards and orchards.  Leaving the good road, the Merc became a 4 X 4 as we wound up a rough track towards a magnificent villa surrounded by citrus trees.  We went up the driveway and stopped outside to let our “hitch-hiker” out of the car.  Christina’s villa is a two storey white Mediterranean house of five bedrooms with a roof of red Roman tiles, set in acres of garden and orchards, with a pool and three garages.  It would easily cost one million pounds in the U.K.  Yiangos explained that it was leased to a British holiday travel company who paid £2000 per week for nine months of the year, and Christina and her family lived with him and his wife during that time.  There was a shortage of villa accommodation for holidaymakers, and anyone who owned a villa, and who could make alternative accommodation arrangements, let their villa out to holiday companies, as the income was too great to refuse.
Yiangos' villa

                  Yiangos explained that many people from all over the world, especially Britain, built villas in Cyprus as holiday homes, and leased them out in this way when they were not in residence.  By doing so, they could recoup the cost of the villa within a short time.  They then retired to Cyprus rent-free.  And what did it cost to build a villa, I asked?  The land cost about C£35 000 per acre, but there was only so much land available for private sale on the island; the rest was State land and the State didn’t sell any of it, ever.  A four bedroom villa would cost about C£65 000 to C£80 000 so all in it came to around C£120 000.  He also said that if Cyprus’ application to join the E.U. was successful, the demand for land would outstrip supply.

                  We drove from there along a very rough track around the hillside to where Yiangos had planted a piece of ground with tomatoes and corn, as he needed to switch off the irrigation pump, which had been running all morning.  Doing some more 4 X 4 stuff, the old Merc took us around the hillside and on to a concrete road that climbed up the hill to a magnificent villa, which overlooked the entire bay.  This was Yiangos’ home, and we were greeted by his teenage grandson, who rushed out to the car and begged a lift back to town.  We dropped him off en route to Yiannis’ farm, which was to be our next stop.  When we arrived, Yiannis was supervising the weighing and packing of a crop of tomatoes, the smallest of which was the size of a melon!  Packing 14.5 kilos to a crate, he and three Kosovan workers were stacking the crates six high for collection by his son, who would take them to the market. 
L-R: Yiangos, Yannis and NJ
We sat around a table under the roof of the packing shed, and Yiannis produced cold Keo beer and Zinovia for Yiangos.  Yiangos old boyhood friend was also there, giving Yiannis a hand, and the workers carried on with the packing.  We were given a tour of the tunnels, in which Yiannis had tomatoes, cucumbers, and black beans growing.  These tunnels were extensive, with electric ventilation fans at each end and drip irrigation throughout.  On the land around the tunnels, he had orchards of peaches, nectarines, plums, oranges, limes, apples and pears and even olives.  Quite an achievement for a man who started with nothing.  The tour over, we settled down to some serious drinking and ribald joking around the table, Yiangos peeling fruit with his pocket knife and feeding us a piece at a time.  Yiannis’ son turned up and he and the workers loaded a one-ton GVW Hi-Ace with two and a half tons of tomatoes.  Away he went, dragging the back bumper, not at all concerned.
Yannis' tomato tunnels

                  On the way back to Latchi, Yiangos told us that there was a two-acre plot of land for sale, overlooking the bay, not far from his villa.  It belonged to a Canadian who needed cash, and would accept what he had paid for it some years ago, which was C£25 000.  Yiangos slowed to a crawl and turned to look at me, and said, “If you could buy this land, I could arrange it so that you could build not one villa, but two villas on it.  The law says that only one villa may be built on one piece of land, but if the design is clever, with a passage or play room connecting two villas, as far as the law is concerned, it would be one house.  This could be done for something like C£100 000 with the right builder.  Then, you lease both out for C£1000 a week each to a holiday company.  Soon the cost will be repaid in full, and then you move here to live in the one, and continue to lease the other one out, which provides you with an income for life.  I think this is a good plan for you and your family, and I will help you to do it, if you like.  Think about it.”  We had told Yiangos nothing of our personal circumstances, yet here he was, offering us a solution to our future security in old age, and a home of our own.  Realisation dawned on both of us at that moment as to why He had sent us to Cyprus.  There would be much to consider, and much to investigate, but if it all checked out with no serious obstacles, we were being handed our future security on a plate.

L-R: Yiangos, Stavros and Yainnis
                  We arrived back at the hotel in the late afternoon and had time to change before walking back down to the Sea Nest, for this was the night that I was treating the family to dinner.  We were greeted by the waiter Andreas, who showed us that a long table had been prepared in the pavilion, and we went into the restaurant proper to see who was there.  We were greeted by Yiangos’ wife, Madam Styuanoy, and Katina, and soon the rest of the family, including Christina and Katina’s husbands and their children, and Yiannis and Miceal were all there, and we were greeted as part of the family as each arrived.   There were thirteen of us and we all took our places at the table in the pavilion.  As we sat down, each of the three families presented us with the most wonderful gifts.  Katina outdid herself as a master chef that night, as the most wonderful traditional dishes we have ever eaten were served.  She must have been busy all day preparing them.  There was fish of every kind, in every manner, and lamb, pork, crab, shrimps, calamari, dolmades, souvlakia, moussaka and taramasalata all accompanied by roasted vegetables, rice, home baked breads and that wonderful Greek salad.  Olive oil, lemon juice and garlic came with each dish.  Baklava and coffee finished off a meal we shall never forget. 

NJ opening gifts

                  I tapped a spoon on my glass after the last course and rose, to say how honoured we felt at the hospitality we had received, and at being made to feel part of the family, which we would always treasure.  I told them how He had manipulated our holiday plans so as to ensure we came to Cyprus, which we knew nothing about.  I told them that I had asked Him ’what the hell’  was in Cyprus, and He had said “The people keep goats, eat cheese, drink like the fish they catch and are happy, so go and be enlightened!”  And so we had been, in a way that would affect our lives forever.  There is never a simple way to say thank you.  The evening only became merrier as it progressed, but all too soon, it was over.  We were hugged and exchanged tearful kisses on both cheeks with everyone.  We strolled hand in hand down the street, along the marina and down the road to our hotel, both of us aware of the other’s thoughts, as we usually are, and made our way to bed after midnight.

Chapter Eight: Farewell


                  The next morning was our last in Cyprus.  We were to be Christina’s guests on the glass-bottomed boat, and had to be at the quay by 10.00 am.  First, we had to pack, as there would not be time when we returned, as our transport would collect us at 3 pm to take us to Paphos airport for the return flight home.  Why do the same things that you unpacked from a suitcase when you arrived, never seem to fit back into the same case when you leave?  Yes, there were some extra items, such as the wood and glass tea-tray with a genuine example of Lefkara lace framed in the centre, the statuette of Aphrodite and the condiment set that the family Styuanoy had given us as parting gifts, the tablecloths we had bought and the practically untouched bottles of spirits we had foolishly brought with us.  Already opened, no way were they being left behind!  All of these we had to carry separately as cabin luggage as we feared for their safety in the hold.  No matter how often you check a hotel room, there is always that nagging feeling that you have left something behind.  Under the beds?  The beds are flat to the floor.  In the back of the wardrobe behind the extra blankets, even though you know you have never even climbed up there?  You check in the bathroom cabinet and behind the bathroom door six times, convinced that whatever you have forgotten, has become invisible.  There is nothing to be found, and finally you are sure that you have packed it all.  Almost sure.
Katina's yacht

                  A porter in a little van comes to collect the luggage and drives it to the reception where I am told to leave it piled in the lobby until we return.  Just leave it?  Not locked away?  Yes – just leave it.  The receptionist looks disappointed when she sees that there are no extra charges on our account, to be paid for.  Her eyes question how we could have had a good time if we did not charge drinks and meals to our room.  Why do I feel embarrassed?  Is it because she must think we sneaked our lunch and dinner off the breakfast buffet, squashed into Noel’s beach-bag?  I look her in the eyes and smile.  If only she knew, even the booze that we brought with us was being lugged back home, never mind the hotel’s offerings.  Again, we had bucked the system.  Brits do not leave their holiday resort and party elsewhere, they fly thousands of miles to the most exotic places on earth, and as long as their hotel has a kiddies club, swimming pool, snooker table, bars, games, rides, pinball, mini-golf, music, dancing and activity hostesses they never venture out of the hotel gates!  Ask, “How was your holiday?” and the reply is always “Fine!”  However, ask, “What’s Cyprus/Greece/Italy/Spain like?” and they go a bit vague for a moment before telling you about the hotel’s décor and the terrible flight they had.

                  We duly presented ourselves for boarding at the appointed hour, and we were shown on board by Katina.  The captain was her husband and the mate their nephew.  The glass bottom boat is just as big as Yiangos’ pleasure yacht, but has rows of upholstered bench seats on the upper deck under a roof to provide shade, and in the large saloon below deck, there are glass windows in the bottom and sides of the hull through which one can see the seabed and the marine life.  We elected to sit on the lid of a locker next to the rail at the rear of the upper deck, and left the seats to the tourists.  We were, after all, family!  Soon we were rounding the harbour breakwater and heading out along the coast, on much the same course that we had taken in Yiangos’ boat.  Again, the weather was glorious and the breeze as we sailed along was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat of the harbour.  At each bay we slowed down to a crawl so that we could go below and watch the sea life, although not many of the tourists seemed to be too interested, as we always had the saloon to ourselves whenever we went down there.
Anchored in Amorosa Bay

                  Anchored in Amorosa bay the bar opened, and we ordered brandy sours and watched the tourists swimming over the stern rail.  One little girl screamed hysterically as her parents dived off the transom and swam out into the bay, and continued to scream the entire half hour or so that they were in the water.  The parents paid not one jot of notice.  Another fellow had been sitting on one of the bench seats near us reading a novel since we left Latchi harbour.  He continued reading all during the trip, never once even looking around.  I wondered at his capacity to realise that he could have done the same on the beach or in his hotel for far less cost.  Tourists!  We ordered brandy sours from the bar, and sat and watched the rental ski-boats anchored here and there around the bay, occasionally drifting down to the saloon to see if there were any fish to be seen through the glass windows.  When it came to weighing anchor, it was discovered that one of the ski-boats had fouled our anchor chain with their anchor rope.  I pictured our anchor being winched in regardless and the ski-boat being dragged back to Latchi under our bows, with a would-be macho man and his topless girlfriend hanging from the rail.  To my disappointment, it never happened, and the offending party were hailed and made aware of their transgression.

                  We set course for Latchi harbour, along what had now become a familiar coastline.  Realising that it was the last time that we would see it for a while, a feeling of nostalgia overcame us, bringing our high spirits down to the reality of leaving this beautiful place and its wonderful people.  Parting from our friends would be hardest of all, but we could not dismiss the feeling that Cyprus would somehow be entwined in our future destiny.  We would see this coast again, of that we had no doubt.

                  Christina’s husband swung the boat around the breakwater and into the harbour, and turned it around 180 degrees with the alacrity of a ski-boat, to dock stern to the quay and the gangway was secured.  We waited while all of the other tourists filed off, and Christina came aboard.  She scolded me for gathering up the full bin-liners from the waste bins around the deck, saying, “You didn’t come to work – I will clean the boat!”  She hugged us and kissed our cheeks as we thanked her and said our goodbyes.  We walked over to the Sea Nest to say farewell to Yiangos and Madame Styuanoy, Katina, Miceal and Andreas.  It was an emotional parting, and tears were shed.  I had such a lump in my throat I could hardly talk!  Walking back to the hotel we were in low spirits, comforting each other with unspoken words.

Our taxi to the airport
Our “transport” turned out not to be the mini-bus of our arrival, but one of the stretch Mercedes taxis that are prolific in Latchi.  This one was black; a 230 with manual shift and had an extra row of seats so it could take seven passengers.  One other couple joined us for the trip, and the driver, a young woman who spoke no English and must therefore have been a Croatian refugee, loaded their suitcases onto the roof rack before loading ours into the boot.  I climbed into the front passenger seat next to her and Noel got into a seat in the back.  Driving along the coast road towards Polis, my thoughts were on the events of the past six days but I soon came out of my reverie when we turned off onto the main road which led through the pass to Paphos.  We were doing sixty mph in third gear with the engine screaming at maximum revs.  As the car had a four-speed gearbox, I anxiously waited for our silent driver to change up to fourth, but when she did not, even when we entered a downhill stretch, my teeth started to itch.  So fourth gear is broken, I surmised, and we only have three.  She never let up for the bends, either, and went barrelling into the twists and turns with front tyres squealing in heavy under steer and the rear doing a little wag as we straightened out.  There was a Hi-Ace in front, and she glued herself to its bumper as though she was going to push it up the hills.  Overtaking was out of the question, as the road is single lane and twists and turns through the pass between the mountains, so her motive was a mystery.  We were all hanging on for dear life, white knuckled and wide eyed, engine still screaming in third gear, swaying around the bends, when we reached the top of the pass and entered the downhill run to the coast and Paphos.  This was even scarier, as the heavy car ploughed into the corners and screamed down the road at eighty miles an hour with the rev counter firmly pegged in the red, still in third gear.  We reached the suburbs of Paphos and barrelled through suburban streets scattering dogs and chickens in our path, and burst out on to the highway to the airport with relief at not having met with disaster.  And then, – our maniacal driver changed up to forth gear! 

Fortunately there was little traffic as she
kept driving on the right
Stupefied, no one made any comment as we approached the airport in a calm and sedate manner, as though our driver and the car were transformed into the epitome of serenity.  When she pulled up outside the terminal building, we all sat there for a moment, speechless, before clambering out as though we were abandoning a sinking boat.  Needless to say, there were no tips given to that cabbie, and we pushed our luggage trolley up the entrance ramp giving thanks that we were still alive, and wondering who had taught her to drive.

Airport departure halls are all alike, no-matter the country.  Chaos!   Finding the check-in desk took a while, but the smile was charming and a window seat offered.  We passed through the security checkpoint without any problem, and as there was over two hours to wait before our departure time, somewhere to sit with a cold beer seemed a good idea.  But where?  There were six Airbuses lined up outside – EuroCyprus, Britannia, B.A., Olympic – and all of their departure times were within 15 minutes of each other.  There was nowhere to stand, let alone sit.  Spotting a door leading to an outdoor terrace we pushed our way through the crowd and out into the hot sun, where there was an area of patio tables and chairs and a bar counter.  The tables were all occupied, but we found two chairs to one side and we sat and sipped our beers while watching the human zoo around us.  From the apparel most were wearing, they could have been waiting for a bus to the beach.  Indeed, most of them had come straight from the beach to the airport, not bothering to change into anything more appropriate for travel.  Bikinis and beach wraps, bathing trunks and slipslops, running shorts and string vests, and one Amazon of a girl stalked past us with a gait like an ape, muscles bulging out of her skin-tight aerobics shorts and bra less top.  A bleary-eyed Brit sat on a stool at the bar with a face the colour of a lobster, sucking on a can of lager.  Opposite us, a macho man complete with Aussie bush hat, sleeveless vest, tight khaki shorts, boots, and wrap around opaque sunglasses put his feet up on the table and ordered his girlfriend, who was in bikini and sarong, to fetch him a “cold one” and be quick.  She asked for some cash, and he told her to use her own.  The power of love?

                  At departure time I said that we had better find the boarding gate, and Noel told me to relax, they would call the flight over the tannoy soon enough.  I went through to the main hall anyway and found a TV monitor.  Sure enough there it was, flashing in red – UI 836 GATWICK BOARDING GATE 4.  There had been nothing from the tannoy.  Rushing back through the crowd, I grabbed the bag of booze and the shoulder bag containing Noel’s cosmetics and told her “Hurry, they are boarding already!”  I had visions of us being too late, and of spending the night on a plastic chair in the departure hall with no cash and no toothbrush.  Gate 4 was at the end of a small lounge lined with more plastic chairs, which were all occupied except for two at the far side.  No one was going anywhere, and we claimed the two unoccupied seats.  Ten minutes later the area was crowded with all 300 passengers of flight UI836.  Eventually a hostess came to the exit door and said, “Will all the passengers with seats in rows 10 to 50 please get into the first bus, on the left, and those in rows 51 to 100 get into the second bus, on the right.”  A rush for the door, and she checked boarding cards as people filed past, until the crowd started to build up outside, because the bus on the left was full, but the bus on the right still half empty.  Everybody stop!  Now what?  The rest of the 10 to 50’s are still inside the lounge.  “O.K. - take any bus!”  We move forward again, exchange smiles as she glances at our boarding cards, offer our passports, which she doesn’t want, and go out the door where the heat hits us in the face like a hot fist.  The departure building is air conditioned to 21 degrees, and it is 36 outside.  The transition is dramatic, and more so when we are squeezed onto the overfull bus and have to stand hanging onto a pole and breathing everyone else’s stink.  Worse than the London underground but thankfully the ride is a short one and we spill out of the bus and climb the stairs to the aircraft behind an old woman with a stick who can only manage one step at a time.

                  Finding one’s seat in an airliner is like playing hide and seek.  As you struggle to push your way sideways up the isle, peering at the seat numbers, which are always too small to read from more than one row away, you look down at the people already seated as you pass, and the message in their smug faces is always “Shame, still finding your seat?  I’ve got mine!”  Seat 09F.  Is that row 9 seat F or row F seat 9?  There are nine seats in each row, so it must be seat 9 row F.  But in the departure lounge, they said everyone in rows 10 to 50 on the first bus!  Are we on the right ‘plane?  Don’t panic, the hostess looked at the boarding cards.  She would have said something.  It’s row 9 seat F and I dump the bags on seat G while I take Noel’s hand luggage and open the overhead locker.  It’s full.  The next one?  Also full.  To hell with them, push it all up and make your own space.  In go the booze, the tray, and the cosmetics.  I realise that I do not have anything to read during the six-hour flight and hope for a new issue of the in-flight magazine.  No such luck, it is still the same one I read on the way here and is more a duty-free catalogue than a magazine.  I resign myself to getting to know the prices of EuroCyprus’ duty-free offerings off by heart and to knowing better than anyone else, where all of the emergency exits are.  Eventually the doors are shut and armed, the cabin crew walk the aisles checking seat belts, and a steward is going through the pantomime of the life vest as we taxi towards the runway.  Noel is next to the window, I am in the middle, and I check out the guy in the seat next to me.  He is already asleep.  The usual rush for the toilets as soon as the seat belt sign goes off precedes the drinks trolley that traps some of those with weak bladders at the wrong end of the isle.  We order scotch and water and it comes in those miniature bottles that you have the urge to keep but don’t really know what to do with if you do.  We sip Black Label and watch the tops of the clouds across Europe, any landmarks hidden below a white blanket.  Dinner is served at sunset, and we have a choice of chicken, ham, or vegetarian quiche.  We settle for the chicken. 

                  Airline food is presented on a tray, with the main course, the desert, the bread and cheese, the cutlery and serviette, and the coffee cup each in a sealed container and packed like a Chinese puzzle.  Once you figure out how to get the lid off the main course without spilling gravy on your lap, there is nowhere to put it.  You try putting it under the tub it came from, but it will not fit in the depression in the tray, and puts the chicken at risk of sliding off into the lap of the guy next to you.  You fold it in half, and try to jam it between the dessert and the coffee cup, but that only dislodges the cup.  You finally manage to get it to sit long- ways, between the chicken and the bread & cheese, only to find that you have put it on top of the packet of cutlery, which now has a coating of chicken gravy.  I look around to see how everyone else has done it, and there is not a lid in sight.  Maybe they tuck it into the seat pocket with the magazine and emergency exit chart.  Take it out again, lift out the packet of plastic cutlery, put it back, and try to open the cutlery packet with your teeth.  Dig inside for the knife and fork and then try to find somewhere to put the things you do not need yet, still in the packet.  By the time you get to the bread and cheese there are three lids, three plastic tubs, two packets, a used knife, fork and spoon, a messy serviette and a coffee cup that you are trying to keep in a fit state to be used for the purpose of holding the coffee when it comes.  This all usually sits on the tray that folds out of the seat in front of you for ages after you have finished with it all, and that’s when the passenger in the inside seat wants to get up and go walk-about.  Trying to relieve the clutter, I pack all my tubs and Noel’s tubs together, scrape all the leftovers and serviettes into the top one, nest the two trays into each other and pile everything on top.  This tested the airhostess’ people skills to the full, as it did not fit back into the slot in her trolley that way, and she had to disassemble everything, getting her hands all gooey in the process.  Her smile wished me an enjoyable trip to hell.

Our decent into Gatwick rouses us from boredom and we touch down like a feather and taxi to the waiting ramp.  Everyone tries to stand in the isle at the same time, to haul hand luggage out of the overhead lockers.  We sit and wait patiently until the doors open and the crowd start to move forward.  I retrieve the booze, packets, and shoulder bags, and Noel and I take our place in the queue for the door.  The crew smile at us as we pass, and I wonder what they know that we don’t.  We walk through the tunnel and into the terminal and follow the signs to IMMIGRATION & BAGGAGE RETRIEVAL.  We walk forever, along miles of passageways, down stairs, up stairs, and eventually emerge into the Immigration hall.  Noel digs our passports out of the wallet and we separate into our respective queues, me to E.U.CITIZENS and she to OTHERS.  Holding my passport aloft, I am waved through and wait for Noel on the other side of the barrier.  She always has to convince the officials that she is a resident of the U.K. but this time has no trouble and we follow the signs again to BAGGAGE RETRIEVAL.  In the baggage hall, the carousels are displaying luggage as yet unclaimed.  Ours is not among them, and again I get the dreaded feeling of never seeing it again.  Eventually our cases and hand luggage are all packed on a trolley, and we head for the green, wary of the call to “step this way please.”  We have nothing to declare anyway and the booze is half used, but customs barriers always instill apprehension.  You know that the cameras are watching.

                  Out the way that we had come in, and we look for the shuttle bus to the parking area.  A long line of busses is parked in front of the exit doors, and way up there on the left is a sign that says COURTESY BUSSES >>>.  I struggle to push the trolley against a falling camber without ending up in the road, and when we reach the bus by the sign, Noel asks the driver if this is the bus to the parking.  Pointing back the way we had come, he says, “There it is, at the end of the line!”  I struggle back on opposite lock, expecting any second to see our transport pull out and leave us standing there.  We make it in time and off-load the trolley onto the baggage racks in the bus, and elect to stand for the short journey to the car park, as the only free seats are upstairs, and we are not going to let our luggage travel unattended.  Will our South African caution never let up?  Up and down the rows of cars we go, until eventually we reach stop seven, and haul the luggage out onto the pavement next to the bus shelter.  Belying my fears, our car is still there, and we lug the luggage over to it and load it into the boot, taking extra care of the breakables that we have successfully protected so far.  How amazing - the battery is not dead, it starts first time, and we head for the M25 at 11.30 pm on a Tuesday night.  Driving a car after not having done so for a week is a little strange, but the roads are quiet and I peg the speedometer at 80 and we pass the sign that says “Hertfordshire” with a feeling of relief and nostalgia.

At our front door, the Odyssey is over and we have much to contemplate.  We have been to another land, and made new friends.  We have been enlightened, we have much to ponder, and we are humble. 




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