Why the wild side of Cyprus is worth the effort
The idea was to escape the madding crowds and get out and about in some of the more remote places in Cyprus. But, as we all know, best-laid plans can go awry.
In fact, things started to fall apart as we walked into a "furnace" at Paphos airport and soon learned that a long-lasting heatwave was set to continue.
Hiking in the wilds? No chance. I had to get used to the idea of embracing the daily dash to bag best-placed umbrellas and sunbeds scattered around the extensive, seafront grounds at the newly renovated Cyprotel Laura Beach hotel, near Paphos.
It is a shiny, bright place that can boast of doing its homework. Think indoor and outdoor pools, bars, restaurants, a cinema, gymnasium, entertainment rooms, internet links, and a shop open until midnight. And there is so much more.
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Yet, despite all of the hotel's four-star pampering, I felt I had to tear myself away. Thankfully, a solution arose in the shape of a jeep laid on by George's Jeep Safari Tours.
It meant I could get to wear my walking boots and see some of the island's hidden delights without being totally exposed to the sun. Bingo! Why did it take me so long?
Next day, with Manchester-born Paul Smith at the wheel, and a couple of French passengers, we headed for the Akamas peninsula, the last and least-developed frontier in southern Cyprus.
In total, the peninsular covers 230 square kilometres. Among its many delights, it boasts spectacular, rugged scenery, sandy coves, sea caves, gorges, seemingly deserted villages, pine and juniper forests, and hundreds of plant species, many of which are endemic to the island.
Last but not least, it's home to 168 different species of birds, reptiles, and butterflies, and provides a safe haven for turtles in the soft, golden sands of beautiful Lara Bay.
Paul, 55, a former security adviser, has worked for the tour company for ten years, and knows the peninsula like the back of his hand. At times during the drive, we lurched, bumped, and crunched along particularly awesome and difficult terrain.
"Don't worry, I've never lost anyone," he laughed, as he spotted me shrinking back from my front passenger side window as we traversed the edge of a scary drop.
Apart from his driving skills, Paul has taken the time to educate himself on the finer points of flora and fauna, and other aspects of the peninsula. His knowledge is so good that he makes regular stops along his route to provide the lowdown on everything from walnuts and carobs, to pistachio and peppercorn. You name it, he knew all there was to know about it.
It was hardly a surprise to learn that previous jeep travellers asked for him to be their driver when they made return journeys to the island. One customer has made ten trips with him. "I enjoy the job, and it's great to know that people like what I do," said Paul.
Chrysohou Bay stood out among all of the places we visited. It was simply stunning. According to legend, it was here that Aphrodite, the mythological goddess of love and beauty, took a dip in the bay's crystal clear waters before liaising with her lover, Adonis. He should be so lucky.
By now, my tail was up. And, within days, I got to wear my boots for a second time. Thanks to a local contact, I was able to get in touch with John Blanchard, a retired RAF electrician, who – like Paul – lives on the island.
Rotherham-born John, an angler and keen wildlife photographer, was happy to help, and he was so accommodating that he drove my wife and I to the Troodos mountains, where temperatures are usually lower than on the coast.
In the picturesque village of Platres, my wife opted to sit in the shade and read her book, while John joined me on a relatively challenging hike to the Kaledonia Waterfall, in the shadow of 6,404ft high Mount Olympus.
Our steep, two-hour expedition took us through the welcoming shade of a pine forest where we needed to make frequent stream crossings before finally reaching the falls. It was an invigorating experience, and I can't begin to tell you how cool and lovely it was to feel the spray from the cascading water.
Back at the hotel, people were more brown than me. But I was happy. My boots had got to see some walking. And I had emerged without being sunburnt.