Today, we had the earliest departure yet—7:45 AM—to account for any delays that might occur when crossing to the Turkey-occupied side of the island. We were headed for Famagusta, a coastal city in the northeast. Our tour guide, Georgia, (my favorite human being), grew up in Famagusta before Turkey invaded. In fact, her wedding was set for the day after Turkish forces dropped bombs on Northern Cyprus and began their occupation. Families fled, and most of those who returned to recover belongings or search for other refugees were never found. Georgia says many were shot by the Turkish military. Hence, a large district of Famagusta today remains a Ghost Town—the eerie persistence of a peaceful past in a fraught present.
To reach Famagusta, we first had to cross the Green Line which divides the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus from Cyprus. Andreas (our UNIC guide) collected all of our passports to be scanned and processed by the Turkish border patrol. Correction—it might have been British officers at a British military base that stopped us (as I remember seeing a Union Jack). The border is rather confusing, as the buffer zone varies in width, and British enclaves can be found near it. It is possible that Cypriot, British, and Turkish police each saw my passport at some point. For our bus to pass to the other side, we needed a Turkish escort. His name was Ergun (I talked to him later—a lovely man).
As we rolled into Famagusta, Georgia pointed out various buildings and stores from her past—schools, hotels, cafes. All of them are abandoned. I got a closer look once we were permitted to enter the guarded Ghost Town. A good number of buildings were dilapidated from the bombings, but others were perfectly preserved. It was quite chilling. I took notice when Georgia’s sweet tone rose into a stern, seething rebuke of the Turks. I forget the numbers, but a shockingly large percentage of the Cypriot population was displaced and killed in the invasion.
After walking through the Ghost Town (our time was limited by the patrol), we had free time to explore the open part of the city. A few of us ventured into the Othello Castle, which gets its name from its former owner, Christopher Moro—the man whose life Shakespeare (allegedly) used as inspiration for his famous play. The views of the beach and the crumbling buildings onshore were stunning from the top of the fortress.
Then, many of us wandered in the town and ended up getting sweets from a quite impressive pastry shop. While I passed on the pastries, I did get a bottle of water for 0.8 euros. This confirmed what Andreas told me about the Turkish side—everything is much cheaper. In Northern Cyprus, stores accept Turkish lira or euros (and even dollars at some stores). However, the lack of regulation and cheap goods comes at the price of less security in all senses—economic, social/crime-related, and political.
With a handful of friends who could not eat at the pastry shop due to allergies, I went searching for a lunch spot. We ended up sitting outside at a restaurant, and I felt compelled to order a Turkish coffee. Andreas told me that Turkish coffee, Cypriot coffee, and Greek coffee are all the same thing—unique for the coffee grinds at the bottom. Apparently some old women can read fortunes in the lines of the viscous, grainy residue at the bottom. I paired the coffee with my favorite dish from Cyprus: Sheftali.
At about 1:00, we departed from Famagusta for Koonos Bay to spend time on the beach. Our bus ride was made longer by the necessary customs stop to reenter the Cyprus republic. When we rolled up to the beach, I was floored. Koonos Bay easily surpassed Paphos and Larnaca—crystal clear waters, soft white sand, and the azure horizon of the Mediterranean. I swam out to a rock and stood next to the Greek flag on it, breathing in the beauty of my surroundings.
We ended the day with a stop at the Ayia Napa sea caves (beautiful) and then a tour through the Old City with Andreas. I had groats and beef liver for dinner—pretty good. Not bad, not great. I am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow for sure!