I wish we’d devoted more time to Northern Cyprus. Both QQ and I enjoyed it more, though the sights, the tastes, the feel, and the cats certainly came with some negatives – chiefly more stressful driving, lack of organization, and lower communication. The Northern third of the island is certainly wilder, less touristy, less European. It retains that untamed, un-curated charm while boasting the same ease of access as generally strong infrastructure that seems to mark most former British colonies. I suppose it appealed to me as a “shoulder” (as in season) tourism destination. Developed, but not inundated. It appealed to Qianqian for a simpler reason – the cats were more numerous, cleaner, and friendlier. After checking in to our impossibly romantic AirBnB and practicing guitar for an hour, we went for dinner at a fancy restaurant nearby. Qianqian happily encouraged the cats by naughtily feeding them scraps of our meal.
We started our only full day in the the province of Gyrenia early, knocking off my favorite part of visiting Turkic nations right away with a decadent kahvaltı (breakfast) with no fewer than twelve small plates of foods accompanied with excellent tea and, of course, friendly cats. Unlike the Greek half of the island, no one in the Turkish half seems to have retained their English from colonial times, so my had to resurrect my very dormant Turkish from my travels in Turkey twelve years prior. Surprisingly, I remember rather a lot of words. And just as I fondly remember from my time in Turkey proper, the Turkish speaking Cypriots were unfailingly gracious and friendly – it’s the sort of welcome that makes one want to learn the language. I’d mumble something and they’d pretend to understand (even I had no idea what I tried to say). Shame that it’s such an impossible language.
We completely filled our day with activities – the fullest day of our travels, and were rewarded for our efforts in spades. The Bellapais monastery symbolized the feel of Northern Cyprus in general – dilapidated, lightly trafficked, quiet, beautiful, and charming. I felt relaxed and experimented with my drawings in a way I hadn’t in a while. We then drove to the fantastic (straight from a fantasy) St. Hilarion Castle perched at the summit of the steep mountain range overlooking Kyrenia and the North coast. This was apparently the dwelling of an eclectic hermit – a different St. Hilarion that the famous one – neither of which we knew, anyways – and the castle built upon that site was said to inspire the castle from Sleeping Beauty. You can see it, though I would say the Sleeping Beauty castle is a combination with Neuschwanstein; St. Hilarion castle is rather more practical and unpainted. The site closed very early (4pm) due to its location above a military base, so we only had forty minutes. Feeling more energetic than I had in weeks, I scrambled up the many steps to the top, from which the view down the various towers and ramparts reminded me distinctly of the Great Wall of China. I spoke with some friendly tourists from Turkey on the way down in broken Turkish after they filmed my quick blind contour of the castle, cementing my impression of their welcoming friendliness. I left them my card.
We stopped on the way down just above the military base for a last marvel at the castle, then descended back to the small town of Zeytinlik to relax at our AirBnB. We swam in the large, beautiful pool, I practiced some guitar, and then headed to a cute cafe nearby, Rest, populated by cats – one of which ate a bit of another customer’s cake, to her chagrin. My coffee, sadly, was quite awful.
QQ chose a restaurant to eat at before heading to the turtle beach based on the fact that it had high ratings with only Turkish reviews. What a feast! With no proper communication we just ordered the mezze set with fish, agreeing to pay the penciled in price (likely due to the rather insane inflation of the Turkish lira of late). As one of our seventeen mezze was a sizzling plate of prawns, we figured that that was was fish portion of the meal that I’d asked for, as I’d asked to replace “et” with “balik”. And we ate all of the mezze. And then out came two entire grilled fishes, one each, accompanied with salad. At this point the cats were becoming rather obnoxious for me (QQ could not have been happier) and it was only with their help that we were able to finish our fish. QQ delightedly redirected them from bothering me by feeding them by hand, while I resorted to throwing little chunks out the window so they’d leave me alone when QQ left me to fend for myself with a bathroom visit.
Completely stuffed, we left in quite a rush after paying, as we had just enough time according to Google Maps to make to the Alagadi Turtle Conservation Centre SPOT. Unfortunately, Google maps misdirected us (I blame Wenli), and we overshot, needing to call the centre multiple times before finding it eventually. We arrived for the tail end of a laggy video about the origin and mission of the centre, then headed out to the beach itself. I’ll need to reflect on this final experience in Girne province for a long time. So much about the workings of the world can be seen in that microcosm. I’ll list my observations briefly:
Our guides came from a pool of volunteers, mostly students fresh out of secondary school spending a summer in Northern Cyprus before uni. We lucked out with Ana, a master’s student studying turtle conservation in England. At 22, she was the oldest guide aside from the “beach boss.” All of them came from the United Kingdom save for a single local guide, a volunteer still enrolled in high school. Contrast this with the visitors – one local family for which no Turkish translation was provided, one elderly Dutch couple, an elderly English couple (the woman had grown up in Northern Cyprus and Malta due to her father being stationed there with the RAF), an elderly German couple with infinite leading questions about trash and environmentalism, and us. This demographic makeup, combined with the offhand comments made by the volunteers about the “ignorant” locals painted a clear picture of contrasting value systems, patronizing environmentalism, colonialism (both new and traditional), language access, and entrenched economic power discrepancies.
Even we were treated like helpless children by the impatient guides – young people given a small amount of power wielding it immediately and unquestioningly and presuming expertise based on a week of training. All this to protect a species which Diana calls charismatic megafauna – any species for which one can fill in the “Save the ___”, large generally helpless animals that would likely go extinct without direct intervention due to their hopelessly deficient breeding/feeding/instinctual practices. The guides, there to save the turtles, constantly referred to them as colossally stupid creatures.
I don’t feel that I’ve scratched the surface of my many ruminations that night. We had a lot of time to think, and a little to chat quietly with the other guests. Despite being a “busy” night, with turtles ascending all around us (one of the guests caught the first glimpse of one to our left, while I first saw one nearby on our right – both before any of the volunteers), we didn’t get to see a nesting female until 2 a.m., after five and a half hours on the uncomfortable beach, watching the moon rise and determinedly staying while we heard the volunteers discussing the rather active turtles on the radio. Female after female performed FCUTs (False Call U-Turn), ascending high onto the beach (as high as 70 meters inland), began body-pitting, then gave up for some unfathomable reason and re-ascended a few meters further down the beach.
Nonetheless, perhaps because we all willed it to be so, that night was special. Our initially sighted female finally descended into nesting trance and we watched her for a time, digging her pit and flinging sand into the eyes and hair of the volunteers measuring and straddling her. While I saw no eggs, I was quite surprised by the meaty extent of her hind legs and the depth to which she’d managed to dig her nest. My new used Fuji naughtily decided to flash when setting up for a long exposure and I gave up on the experiment, feeling awful for exposing the animals to white light – the primary no-no which our guides had drilled into us. I suppose they were right to treat us like children after all – despite my best intentions, I erred anyways. Luckily the turtles (there was another female nesting just two meters past “our” turtle) took no notice of my mistake and we were able to observe them in the red lights of our guides. We didn’t stay very long, however, as us oldies were quite exhausted from staying up so late and decided collectively to return to the centre and head home. We arrived back at the AirBnB at nearly three am.