11-Mar-2001 -- So who's @#&$£¥* idea was this Degree Confluence Project any way? Phew!
I'd flown from Prague, Czech Republic to Limassol in Cyprus for a series of meetings that would take me from Wednesday through the following Tuesday...with a Sunday free. Hmmm...I took a look at the Confluence Project website and noticed that one of the two confluences on the island had already been tracked down (in a construction site no less). My Sunday off seemed like a golden opportunity for me to find the last one on Cyprus.
I rented a Yamaha XT350 (a lightweight 4-stroke street scrambler) for the day, and left the safe confines of the Le Meridien Hotel at about 09h30. I filled up the tank and left the coast, heading north for the mountains. Aaah - with the warm wind in my face it felt really good to be away from the frozen north of Europe and to see the sun again! The bike was much smaller and lighter than that to which I am accustomed, but I soon got used to its nimbleness, and was throwing it into the challenging mountain road with gay abandon!
My route from the coast took me north through Parekklisia and Kellaki to Eptagoneia. There I turned west to Arakapas and at this point really gave up trying to read my map as the village names where getting just too confusing. Instead I looped the strap of my GPS around my left wrist and soon mastered the technique of changing gears on the XT without using the clutch. Although the changes were like a hot knife through butter, I will not mention the name of the bike rental company for fear of recriminations! ;-)
The terrain was barren but colourful. The rock had a bluish hue and this all made sense the following day when I read that copper had been mined in this part of the world during the Bronze Age. As I rode further the road became narrower, the surface rougher, and the ride became more challenging. The rock changed from green to red to bone white. It was arid, desolate and beautiful. I continued trusting in the arrow on my GPS screen and noted that (in the vicinity of Sykopetra) I had already risen to 600 metres above sea level. The mountains were great, and the road continued to rise.
The stretch between Sykopetra and Palaichori was a dirt road crossed here and there by the occasional dribble of mountain water. At Palaichori I headed north-west through Askas, Fterikoudi, Alona, Polystypos and Lagoudera. The villages were the stuff of picture postcards - a narrow, winding alley through the centre of town, a Greek Orthodox church, rustic farm houses scarred by centuries of history, and proud old people (many of the older women in their black widow's dress) out enjoying the soothing early spring sun. I shot pictures, but was mindful of preserving SmartMedia for the confluence.
By the time I reached Saranti, I’d climbed to over 1,000 metres above sea level. Here my route turned westwards, and the road became a REAL dirt track! Yeee-haaa!! Rooster tails! The section between Saranti and the main road at Spilia was the highlight of the day's ride and (although relatively short) took me right up to 1,612 metres above sea level. It was cold and rough going, but I was in my element - this is what I had been hoping for! This is the one section I would like to go back to and re-ride!
My turn to the north at the Spilia junction put me on the final leg to the N35 E33 confluence. The road was broad, chambered and had a good surface. There were fewer rock falls than I had encountered earlier, and this made it easier to concentrate on the GPS in my left hand. I passed through the settlements of Agia Eirini and Kannavia in the heart of the Adelfoi Forest, and my Garmin told me that the confluence was 300 metres dead ahead. Holy whack - that was in the middle of the forest on top of a treacherously steep looking hill!
I found a trail starting from a gap in the Armco railing and leading from the main road to the valley below. I parked the bike and chained my helmet to the front wheel and started scouting around. The top cover was so dense that the GPS was not getting a signal but, according to the bearing I had taken from the road, I had to cross a river and then climb three to four hundred metres up an impossibly steep slope! Ha! So much for a quick confluence on a Sunday morning!
I eventually found a spot where it looked like I would be able to cross the river - a relatively narrow and fast flowing section with some useful stepping-stones and an overhanging branch at my side for support...and I needed it! Yeah, that centre rock looked dry and free of slime but, good grief was it slippery! Splash...my left leg was ankle deep in the cold water.
Once I had made it to the other side, the next challenge presented itself. Walking to my left down the valley and alongside the river, the direct route to the confluence was a no go zone, especially carrying a 35mm camera, a digital camera and accessories, wearing a leather jacket and totally inappropriate shoes. My first impressions had been correct - the direct route was impossibly steep and was really just a landslide of loose rock and stones. Hmmm!!?
Plan B took me away from the confluence - to the right and heading upstream. My first challenge was just to get out of the valley and away from the river. Phew, the rock and soil on the steep banks was loose and treacherous, and the thick undergrowth didn't help matters either. Nevertheless, I encountered signs that people had been there before me - spent 12 gauge shotgun shells at regular intervals. Far from making me feel at ease, the shotgun shells raised another spectre...I had vision of a gunq-ho "Redneck" hunter discharging 400 grains off Triple-A buckshot into my back, mistaking me for a very clumsy wild boar foraging in the undergrowth! As I said in my opening sentence, WHOSE IDEA WAS THIS ANY WAY??! ;-)
I followed a lumber track around the foot of the hill above the stream. It had obviously not been used in years as scrub was running rampant and even the shotgun cartridges looked as if they dated from the late 70s or early 80s. Nevertheless, this was far easier than the climb that had faced me at the river, and the track was taking me in more-or-less the right direction.
When the track eventually started leading me off course, I decided that it was once again time to tackle the brutal slope to my left. Another complicating factor raised its ugly head! I was now in a forest - a pine forest - and pine trees deposit thick layers of needles that, on a slope like the one I was climbing, become precariously slippery! Damn! The loose soil and rock beneath the needles were not making it any easier. It became a case of advance two metres and slide back one, and I still had hundreds of metres to go.
By the time I had hauled myself (literally grabbing hold of small bushes and pulling myself up the hill) to the next lumber track 250 metres further up the hill, I was saturated with perspiration. I vocally cursed the fact that I had not seen the inside of a gym for five years and vowed to get into shape. Yeah right!
This track was cleaner than the one lower down, and was cut into the hillside quite severely. Not only would it be impossible for me to climb up the sheer rock face presented to me, but the slope above the road was just too sheer to contemplate. It would have been suicidal to have risked it. So, once again I selected the easy option and followed the road to the right, hoping to find a less severe incline around the back of the hill. This was really frustrating as the confluence was under 50 metres away...but out of reach.
By the time I took a breather at the foot of a rockslide with a scary, but more manageable gradient, I was over 130 metres from the sweet spot. The initial climb up from the road was harrowing and I thought that if I fell here, killed myself, broke a leg or twisted an ankle badly, no one would ever find me! A little melodramatic yes, but the going was THAT tough.
The vegetation was sparser here, but once again I hauled myself up the slope using bushes and trees for support. I found what could have been either a deer track or a path created by lumberjacks many years previously. This gave me the opportunity to turn back, parallel to the road I had just walked below. I hoped that this would bring me in above the impossibly steep slope I had been trying to avoid. The path disappeared here and there, and climbing around trees in my way was no fun, BUT my hunch paid off and I emerged in a clearing about 20 metres above the confluence. I found a spot where it was relatively safe to sit, cooled down (damn, I wished that I had some water) and contemplated my final assault on N35 E33.
Now, when a GPS is not moving, it usually provides useless information about the direction to the waypoint you're looking for. When you're in an open field it's easy to bumble around aimlessly until your latitude and longitude readings show that you're on the confluence. That was unfortunately not possible here where a move of one metre in any direction was difficult, if not dangerous! Phew, this was not going to be easy, but at least I was in a clearing and the GPS was logged on to the array of geostationary satellites above.
I made my move, scrambling down the slope, my Garmin thrust out in front of me and my other hand ready to support me if I fell. After about 20 minutes of backbreaking effort I had all but given up the quest and started taking photos of what I thought was going to be the closest I was going to get - about one second off on both latitude and longitude. I was packing my digit-cam back into my waist bag when I glanced back down at the GPS. What!!! It had somehow found N35E33 all on its own! I scrambled for my camera...and the SmartMedia card was full!! I frantically changed memory cards and by the time I was finally ready, I had lost the confluence!
$¥~#&%@ I mumbled to myself. Luckily I was standing on another narrow animal path and so was able to put the GPS on the ground. I waited patiently and - lo and behold - the instrument found the confluence for the second time! I could not believe my luck and shot of a brace of pictures in rapid succession. My fourth confluence was in the bag.
With that important formality behind me, I considered using my mini-tripod to shoot a series of pictures to stitch together in a panorama. Unfortunately this convenient device does not have a fixed head and can therefore not maintain a fixed pan on the horizontal axis. Furthermore, the lay of the land would have made it very difficult for me to lie on the ground to see the camera's screen. So I gave up on that idea and shot a series of seven pictures in series. When I stitched the images together back in my hotel room, the splice was not perfect, but the 180 degree panorama nevertheless gives a good feel for the surroundings. I did a couple of hand-held self-portraits and also used the tripod to shoot a full-length shot of myself standing on the narrow track. I then called Débra back in Prague to share my succes with her. She was lucky not to have been there as I doubt whether she would have made that...but I'd better not say that too loudly! ;-)
I packed away the GPS and camera gear and started making my way back. I elected to retrace my footsteps as far as possible to avoid any tricky situations and to ensure that I did not get lost. It was tough going, but certainly not as difficult as the climb up. However, I did slide down a particularly rocky section of slope and got some thorns in my hand. I eventually got back to the river and this time made a dry crossing! The cold water was cool and refreshing.
Back on the XT I tracked back through Kannavia and Agia Eirini and took the intersection to Spilia. The road was great for a motorcycle and just kept on climbing! At about 1,600 metres above sea level I crossed the snow line and it got damn cold up there. I stopped to shoot some pictures of the bike in the snow and then pressed on the town of Troodos where I peaked out at almost 1,900 metres above my morning departure point. Theoretically it was all downhill from there, and I headed towards Limassol.
I passed through Pano and Moniatis and, as I my altitude dropped, the temperature thankfully went up! I was eventually in the white "schist" soil that vinus vinifera grapes are so fond of, and vineyards started appearing with their bare, gnarled bush vines. Being a bit of a wino, I had to stop to feel the soil and to take a sample for my collection of wine soils of the world! The tool bag on the rear mudguard of the XT came in handy!
I got in to the industrial western section of Limassol and made my way down to the esplanade. I cruised up and down a couple of times until I’d decided at which pub I was going to quench my thirst. The cold pint went down like a dream! As it got darker I started noticing young ladies and male tourists...uuuuh "closing business deals" on the sidewalk. Yes, this was the sleazy side of town! I left to find a restaurant and discovered a VERY unassuming place further west and in the rough part of town. Plastic tablecloths, décor from the 60s and not a tourist in sight! It was a small family restaurant and three generations of them were there this evening. The green salad and three courses of fresh seafood from mama’s kitchen were outstanding, as was the magnificent Brandy Sours that her son produced. And all of this for only US$14 -I would have paid that for one Brandy Sour alone on the esplanade!
Having eaten far too much I rode back to the hotel, parked and locked the bike and went up to my room on the third floor. So ended another perfect day on the quest for confluences. Whose idea was this any way??!!