Paphos, Cyprus – How a turtle helped me remember why I travel to new places!
One of my travel mantras has been that the world is so huge with so many places to visit that I wouldn’t go to the same place twice. This trip broke that rule, I’d been to Paphos in Cyprus many years before and loved it’s history, culture and gorgeous castle on the harbour.
So when looking for a family holiday destination accessible from both Greece, where we were concluding a tour of the Peloponnese, and England from where my family would be flying in to join us, Cyprus was an obvious choice.
We were enjoying an evening on the promenade, and had just finished eating a fairly ordinary meal which hadn’t left me reeling in delight when I spotted a few people rushing to the harbourside.
A crowd was building along the waterfront. The dark sea alongside the busy pedestrianised promenade obviously held something exciting for the tourists but I had no idea what. I’d been waiting for the bill to arrive but couldn’t resist the pull of the crowd. OK, so I’m nosey, I admit it.
I had an inkling what it could be, the area’s known for turtles and I hadn’t seen one yet, I secretly hoped this evening could end on a high note.
After making sure the bill was in hand I couldn’t wait any longer to join the hyperactive crowd peering into the dark. Now here was where mobile phones came into their own, someone lit the area with their mobile torch and to everyone’s giddy joy there she was. Swimming just below the surface was the most gorgeous, apparently happy and healthy turtle.
I’ve been lucky to get quite up close and personal with turtles in Australia, but only in a rescue centre
I’d also seen one swimming off the coast there but to see one so close up in the wild was a real joy. I love the sea and all it holds and feel passionately that we should do much more to protect it. I was thrilled so many tourists could encounter this beautiful peaceful creature first hand.
Maybe, just maybe, it’ll make them think twice about throwing that plastic bottle in the ocean.
As people slowly moved away, their murky phone photos shooting up into social media as they went, a local guy approached and asked if I knew the story. A little bit wary of this enthusiastic local holding my arm I admitted I didn’t so he told me all about the turtle’s tale. Now all this could be a myth or a load of rubbish but here we go.
The restaurant on the front now full of tourists tucking into various snacks and drinks had been, 100 years earlier, just one spot on a large sandy beach. This didn’t sound too hard to believe as the resort had changed massively in 20 years so to think back further to a lovely sandy vista wasn’t too hard to imagine, although a little sad that it was no longer so unspoilt.
The turtle was apparently 100 years old and near it’s end of life so had come home, 100 years later, to die where she was born. She was stuck swimming over the rocks, confused that a bar of concrete had replaced her idyllic birthplace and natural final resting place.
So, that put me on a bit of a downer. I diverted my attention by using the opportunity to discuss turtles, the circle of life and the sea itself with the young members of the family. I wasn’t sure what pleased me most, that I’d seen it or that I had a chance to show my family this beautiful creature in it’s own natural enviroment. Truly a privilege.
It was only later in the evening that I thought back to this lovely peaceful creature. If the local’s tale was true how sad that we’ve destroyed the turtle’s birthplace, but then I guess at least some beaches were still in existence neaby. Ironically if the beaches weren’t there neither would the tourists, who wanted to visit but then demanded facilities that needed the concrete etc, a different circle of life but a circle all the same.
The turtle wasn’t the only one disappointed by the Paphos she found. I’d hoped for the beautiful historic town, its castle pride of place on the harbour, but sadly no more.
The seafront’s been packed with cheap souvenir shops and cash only money exchanges. The castle hidden away behind a harbour full of overpriced restaurants and cafes, some serve great food but many don’t.
It’s so sad that the majority of those who visit Paphos will never meet a local, the shop and restaurant workers are mainly from other parts of Europe. The ‘genuine local food’ advertised in many of the eateries were mostly accompanied by oven chips and frozen vegetables.
The shops sell cheap souvenirs bought in from overseas, I failed in my mission to find a classier souvenir shop to pick up some local art or produce, until I travelled to the old town on a bus trip the next day. I’d like to think others did the short excursion too, but talking to artisan shop owners that’s often not the case.
This all came as such a culture shock after a few weeks in Greece.
All of the Cypriot tourist spots we visited are now signed, and tours voiced, in English and Russian. The taxi driver told us Russian money is helping them rebuild their economy, the evidence obvious with all the building ongoing all over the place.
It’s such a dilemma when you see somewhere that’s changed beyond recognition. They’re obviously catering to demand and it’s great that cash is flowing but if it’s not flowing to local pockets is it really a good development?
When Brexit kicks in, we’re warned, travel to Europe may be a privilege for those with more cash to burn so it’s good that other money will be spent in Europe in those resorts previously known as heavily biased to British crowds. I just really hope they’ll try to restore their local identity and not lose out in return for the investment.
I’d like to extend my thanks to that turtle.
She restored my faith in finding beauty and nature in the most unexpected places. I’m definitely going to investigate those overseas breaks where you help the turtles reach the sea without them being eaten by gulls and the like. I owe my shelled friend that at least.
I’m sad if it was really at the end of her life but I take solace in the fact that she’d lived a long life in a sea which is becoming less turtle friendly way too quickly.
My original instinct to avoid going to the same place twice was the right one. From now one I think I’ll stick with holiday spots off the beaten track. OK so I’ll still indulge the grandbabies with nice pools, safe clean beaches and ice cream parlours, those that are affordable in school holidays usually sit near the ‘tourist’ hotspots.
On other trips I’ll happily continue through my list of ‘never beens’ and look forward to discovering beauty and nature in unexpected places.
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