Cyprus thanks its name to the many cypress trees. Some whisper that Venus/Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born there and call Cyprus the Island of Love. But since the previous part of the British empire has been divided into a Greek and a Turkish part by the notorious green line, this love seems to be rather fragile. Let’s stick to the holiday atmosphere a little longer with this travel story from Veerle. She told us how it is to explore this island on the frontier between Europe and Asia by wheelchair.
On the internet I found a couple of nice pages about a holiday accommodation in Cyprus. The photographs looked very promising and according to the text the managers seemed to be well acquainted with the accessibility demands of wheelchair users. This made me curious. By phone and e-mail I made acquaintance with the owners, Eva and Andreas. Their elder son Chris has a neurological disability, which gives him difficulties to control his movements. His disability differs from mine, but in daily life we generally have the same accessibility needs. Of course, you must start from the idea that during the trip not everything will be as simple as at home. While on holidays, you have to be willing to improvise from time to time. Staying at home will often be more comfortable, but then you miss quite a lot too. I was confident because of the detailed information about the accommodation and the surroundings. The managers also asked me questions themselves, about my accessibility demands. Their genuine interest and friendly letters and phone calls helped me to make the decision: we were going to Cyprus.
Handiscoop: What can people do in Cyprus?
We like walking and the island is certainly suitable for that. The paths were not always easy to follow by wheelchair, but we did some nice tours. The road to the village’s centre was quite alright and the beach was not far from our lodge. Along the way we saw typical houses and splendid Greek-orthodox churches and convents. Those were often historical buildings, which were not always very accessible for wheelchair users. Once we’ve entered a church to attend a service. There were beautiful icons everywhere, shining in the candlelight. The music made it all even more impressive.
During one of our walks the weather suddenly changed. We were surprised by a heavy shower. We barely saw a thing. I drove as quick as I could in the direction of our car, but that was still a long distance. And then I saw a man waving at me. He was at the porch of his house and let me in to hide for the rain. He only spoke Greek, but I gladly accepted the giant towel he held before me. Shortly after that my soaked wet parents arrived. The lady of the house spoke a bit English. She offered us a cup of tea. One moment I thought of the way how an invitation for tea in some countries has become a trick to seduce tourists into some sale, but these people had no commercial intentions whatsoever. This was pure hospitality. While the rain kept pouring down on the roof, we sat warm and dry with this family of total strangers, drinking tea and chatting.
Later our host Eva told us that this kind of weather is highly uncommon on Cyprus. Generally the climate is very dry, she said. I don’t know how dry that may be. Anyway, when I described the Belgian weather, Chris seriously asked me if I indeed stayed home from work when it rained. If I did that, I wouldn’t leave my house often! That seemed hard to understand for him.
Handiscoop: Have you seen more of these ‘uncommon’ weather phenomenas?
One morning the sky was red-brown. It looked like a filter blocked the sunlight, which gave a special effect. By the evening everything was covered by a thin red-brown dust layer. A sandstorm, coming from the Libyan desert, had left its traces on the island. The storm and the strange colours it made were a topic in the national TV-news.
Also strange to me, but a daily reality for the inhabitants, was the division between the Greek and the Turkish part, the so-called green line. In the capitol Nicosia you could walk in a shopping street and halfway stand right before some very young soldiers, armed to the teeth, who were guarding the inner frontier. The hostile atmosphere between both populations became very palpable then. I just couldn’t bear the thought what would happen if one of those boys would become overwhelmed by his emotions… That was quite a contrast to the cosy way of life in the village where we were staying. People just left their front door open. They never locked their car, because theft seemed unthinkable.
Handiscoop: Can you tell something more about the accommodation where you stayed?
There were 8 studio’s and an apartment. Meanwhile two studio’s have been made wheelchair accessible. There’s also a swimming pool with a small elevator, but when we were there in spring, the water appeared a little too cold. Chris did an effort, but he hurried back to the side. In autumn the water temperature is much nicer, because the water can keep the summer heat a little longer.
We stayed in Polis, at the north-west of the island. This area is not very touristic yet, and I like that. I prefer the experience of the local life, without much influence from the tourism industry.
While we were there, the adapting of the second studio still needed a lot of work. The undertaker and his co-workers had to be ready by the beginning of the summer season. Still, the owners found it necessary to let me test some things first. My electric wheelchair needs quite some space to manoeuvre, so Chris and his parents thought that a studio that suits my needs would be sufficient for many other wheelchair users as well. I’ve done my job as good as I could.
Handiscoop: And then it was time to say goodbye…
We had to leave for the airport pretty early that morning. While we were busy packing Eva received two phone calls and her face grew more and more troubled. We didn’t understand a word of the debate that she had with her husband (in Greek), but apparently there was some bad news. Finally we heard that the taxi-company, that would bring me with my wheelchair to the airport, had a problem. Their wheelchair-taxi was broken and the repair would take a whole day at least. We only had 15 minutes left before we really had to go, so this was serious. Then our hostess, in Greek again, started talking to the undertaker about whom I’ve spoken before. Soon they all started unloading sand from their pick-up truck. Then they lifted my electric and my manual wheelchair, together with Chris’s, in the back of the truck. We got a place in the managers’ car. In convoy we drove to the airport. Just in time for the check-in!
This is what struck me most during our visit: the friendship and the will to arrange things. I have the feeling that we’ve found some new friends.
Handiscoop sept. 2001
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(Activities are only in May-Sept, weather permitting!)