Today was an emotional day for me… I’ve never experienced anything quite like this and will remember the experience for the rest of my life.
Even though we beat the bus this morning, we still left on time for our trip across the Turkish border to Famagusta. Since troops occupy the northern area of the country, we all needed our passports to cross and were accompanied by a Turkish Cypriot on the bus. We learned that when Turkey invaded Famagusta after a ceasefire was declared, they forced everyone out, took all the valuable items from shops and homes, and moved them to mainland Turkey to be sold (even front doors and windows). Eventually, the city was reopened illegally against UN resolutions.
Crossing the border was intimidating, in my opinion, with all the security, weapons, and barbed wire… and Chris made it even better by telling us that one of his college classmates was singled out and questioned while crossing a border during their trip to Europe. After making it through, we took a walk around Varosi, which was guarded by troops and had been blocked off from the public until very recently. The area is now known as Ghost Town because only the original inhabitants are allowed to resettle in the area (according to a UN resolution), but it currently is abandoned and illegally held by the Turkish government; it seemed as if the the buildings were frozen in time, and all normal life immediately stopped when the invasion happened.
Our guide actually lived in that restricted area, so it was very personal to her, and we heard about her life in the area prior to invasion, even seeing her family home. I asked about her life after fleeing Famagusta, and she told me the story of how she got married. She was engaged during the Turkish invasion, but after being forced out, she and many others faced unemployment. Luckily, her partner was eventually able to find work in Athens. In order for her to join him, they needed to marry, so they searched for a priest, got the paperwork, and married later that night. Thinking about her life in comparison to mine made me emotional…she’s faced such hardships that I couldn’t have imagined going through and still maintains such a positive outlook. Working as a guide taking students through the streets of her childhood couldn’t be easy, but she did an amazing job. It was a surreal moment thinking about how her family was forced to sleep in the fields with no clothes, bathrooms, etc. due to the invasion, which didn’t even occur that long ago (1974).
I was also interested to learn that Andreas, our guide from the University of Nicosia, had family in Famagusta during the invasion as well, although he wasn’t born yet and his father was only 13. Despite most people choosing to leave, his grandfather ultimately decided to stay on the family farm with his goats against family wishes. They were never able to find his remains, and he is still considered missing to this day.
Leaving Varosi, we went to the Old City of Famagusta next, which was actually open to visitors, and then took a quick tour. We went inside the walls of the city and were able to get some lunch. After about two hours, we left for some time at Konnos Beach.
This was the nicest beach we’ve been to the entire trip, such clear water with beautiful weather. Of course, I didn’t bring my suit because I was already sunburned pretty bad and didn’t want to worsen my back. Instead, I grabbed some food and relaxed in in the nearby restaurant. Around 4:00, we left for the sea caves. We were able to take some pictures of the beautiful blue water and the bridge cave formation before heading back to Nicosia for the night.