Driving north along the coast from Pafos to Polis was delightful, and for the first time in our trip we witnessed people sunbathing, in a pretty little spot called Coral Bay. If the weather was going to be pleasant, then I had high hopes for our planned hike round the Akamas Peninsula, just west of the town of Polis. I was getting a little tired of only being able to explore Cyprus with the bent back of the man who can't use his umbrella because it's too windy; some sunshine-soaked wandering was long overdue.
Polis is a pretty little place, even if its picturesque square is surrounded by buildings whose concrete lines defy even the most optimistic architectural fan. It's obviously somewhere that closes down in the off-season, as only the fourth hotel we tried was open, and when we wandered around town to find somewhere to eat, the desperate tone of the lady who tried to persuade us to eat at her Chinese restaurant was enough to scare us off. But we weren't here for sweet and sour pork; we were here to explore one of the last remaining wildernesses on Cyprus.
The Akamas Peninsula
Of course, we woke up the next morning to rain, and as we drove west towards the peninsula, the frustrating prospect of yet another day in the driving rain irritated me almost as much as the dangerously idiotic bravado of the boy racers who make up a noticeable proportion of Cyprus's drivers. While four-wheel-drive after four-wheel-drive overtook me on blind corners, we headed west for the Baths of Aphrodite, a tourist attraction on the coach-tour circuit that nonetheless signals the start of a number of walking tracks through the unspoilt Akamas Peninsula.
Miraculously the weather cleared up as we arrived at the baths, themselves nothing more than a small pool and dripping waterfall, even if swimming there is supposed to bring you eternal life (which, I guess, is why it's forbidden, as that would only provide another excuse for the locals to drive like maniacs). From the baths two nature trails lead along well-marked routes into the heart of the peninsula, and if you're lucky enough to catch them on a clear day, they're beautiful.
We decided to spend the day walking the Aphrodite Trail, as it climbs to the top of the highest point of the peninsula, the 370m-high Moutti tis Sotiras; the other route, the Adonis Trail, heads into the south of the peninsula and is apparently also beautiful, but for me the views from the peak were hard to top. The walking is easy enough, and after spending the first half of the walk admiring the views east over Polis and Chrysochou Bay, you suddenly come to the top of the mountain, and there, laid out before you, is the view west, its relatively unscarred bays and forest providing a stunning highlight before the descent back to the baths.
I say 'relatively' unscarred, because the Akamas Peninsula isn't totally devoid of human influence, and if things take the course they appear to be taking, it might not be a wilderness for long. Currently most of the peninsula is a British Army firing range, which might sound like a disaster for such a beautiful stretch of land, but in this case it's the lesser of two evils; having destroyed Agia Napa, Lemesos and Larnaka, and with Pafos treading the thin line between tourism and taste, Cyprus's hotel developers are rubbing their hands at the thought of developing Akamas into their latest concrete disaster area. However they can't do that while there's a chance of ordnance hitting their customers, and there's also pressure on the government to declare Akamas a National Park, but it looks like the influence of fat politicians may well spoil the party, especially now that the first hotels have actually started appearing. The five-star Anassa Hotel, part-owned by an ex-Foreign Minister who was forced to resign under a cloud of scandal, managed to secure planning permission despite the government's apparent plan to keep the peninsula free of development, and it looks like this might be just the start. Yet again, it looks like the Cypriot tourist community is happy to cut off its nose despite its face; let's just hope that if they decide to go for the tourist dollar rather than the National Park route, they don't fill it with the kind of pap that litters the rest of the island.