An island divided in the Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus lies somewhere between Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon in the Mediterranean Sea. The Green Line that runs across the island separates the Turkish North from the Grecian South. This line that had once been a great source of tension between the two sides is now more relaxed than ever before. Still, it is apparent that this is very much a divided nation. We arrived in the south via Lanarca and with only four days on the island we explored the southwest and east of Cyprus.
While most visitors stay on the resorts along the island’s coastline, we based ourselves inland in the Trodoos Mountains. Many of the mountain villages have been abandoned over the years but some are being restored. One such village is Kalopanagiotis in the Marathasa Valley. The owner of Casale Panayiotis has taken a collection of eight traditional stone houses scattered throughout the village and turned it into part of his hotel and restaurants. We stayed in a room in “Loutraki”, situated on the top of the village which required quite a few steps to hike to.
The Trodoos Mountains are known for its painted Byzantine churches and monasteries. In Kalopanagiotis, the village overlooks the Agios Ioannis (St. John) Lampadistis Monastery. We drove up to 1318 meters above sea level to see the Kykkos Monastery, one of the wealthiest monasteries in Cyprus. Many of the Cypriot vineyards and wine villages like Omodos are also located in this region. We visited the Vlassides and Tsiakkas wineries and tasted the local varieties such as the Xynisteri and Mavro, which are also used to make a sweet dessert wine called Commandaria that may well be the world’s oldest wine.
There are now seven entry points for crossing over the Green Line. One of these are located in Nicosia (or Lefkosia), the capital of Cyprus and the last remaining divided capital in the world. We walked down Ledra Street in the old town to the latest crossing which opened in 2008. Crossing over is now a relatively simple process but still requires a scan of your passport. Crossing the line was like stepping back into another time. From modern shops, international chains and Greek Orthodox churches in the south to Turkish kebabs, old cafes and Muslim mosques in the north. We wandered around the old streets and bazaar and grabbed a delicious lahmacun (a sort of “Turkish pizza”) before crossing back over to the other side. While it may appear that the Green Line has relaxed over the years, the last five decades of separation are difficult to ignore and reunification remains elusive.
At 430 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. As the name implies, nothing lives here. The Dead Sea is ten times saltier than the ocean which prevents any plant or sea life from flourishing. The higher density also makes objects extremely buoyant. You can try to sink as hard as you want but the water just pushes you back up. It was a strange feeling to simply lay back and float, bobbing up and down with the waves.
On the Jordanian side, there is a stretch of resorts with direct entry to the Dead Sea. We visited the Marriott with a day pass which gave us access to their facilities. There was also Dead Sea mud available to slather on before washing off in the sea. The minerals in the mud are purported to be beneficial for the skin so we took huge slabs and covered ourselves from head to toe.
We stayed south of the resorts and across from the Wadi Mujib at Mujib Chalets, another property run by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan. The chalets are basic but have amazing views of the Dead Sea. It was also close to areas where we could walk down to the water to see the salt formations.
We finished our trip in Jordan with a relaxing stay at the Ma’in Hot Springs. Located between Madaba and the Dead Sea, the road leading to the resort takes you up the mountains and into a valley. Upon arrival, we found a series of hot mineral springs and waterfalls. They were very hot but soothing after a week of long drives and hiking.
Ma’in Hot Springs
We arrived at the entrance of Wadi Rum and left our vehicle at the car park for the next two days. We would be staying at a camp in the middle of the red desert valley that is still inhabited by some Bedouins. Our guide met us in his Jeep and we started a two-hour tour of the desert on our way to the camp.
Our first stop was at Lawrence’s Spring, where T.E. Lawrence had once stayed. We did not climb up to the spring so we took a look at the inscriptions and went on our way to the next destination. We took off our shoes and climbed up a red sand dune to a rock cliff with incredible views over the desert. Nearby is the Khazali Canyon, where we saw many ancient inscriptions and drawings on the rocks.
We finally arrived at our camp, consisting of six tents in the middle of Wadi Rum. We were greeted with Arabic coffee, a drink reserved for special occasions, and dates. Then we were shown our luxurious tent, complete with a shower and private bathroom. The best part of the camp was watching the sunset and having drinks and snacks from the couches and daybeds. The dinner on our first night was served in a traditional goat-hair tent with other guests. We had a Zarb, a traditional Bedouin barbecue consisting of trays layered with meats and vegetables that are steamed underground in the sand for hours.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast from a cliff overlooking the valley before heading back into the Jeep to explore more of the desert. We stopped at the Um Fruth rock bridge, which is 15 metres from the desert floor. It was a steep climb up to cross the bridge and see the red valley from above. Next our guide dropped us off at Abu Khashaba canyon. We hiked through the narrow gorge and met him on the other side. Lastly, we visited Lawrence’s House. Although there is little left of the building there are good views from the surrounding rocks.
Next we visited a Bedouin family where we had lunch in their tent. They had prepared Mansaf, Jordan’s national dish which consists of steamed goat on rice served with bread and soup. Our final activity was a 4x4 motorbike tour through the desert at the edge of Wadi Rum.
After another beautiful sunset, the camp had arranged a private dinner for us under the stars with fires and blankets to keep us warm. They had prepared a mixed grill of various meats and vegetables. We did some stargazing with Abedullah who pointed out many constellations.
It was an amazing two nights at the camp and we were sad to leave. Our guide came to pick us up in the morning and we left in the Jeep for our last ride through Wadi Rum.
Like most people, Petra was the reason we initially wanted to visit Jordan. The rose-coloured city that was built by the Nabateans some thousands of years ago is undoubtedly Jordan’s most iconic sight. Petra covers a large area and you could spend weeks exploring the city. Because of our setback in Dana, we had one less day in Petra than we had initially planned. It meant we had less time to explore and hike all the different trails but we were able to cover the most significant sites.
We woke up before sunrise to be one of the first to enter the city. From the Visitor’s Centre, we walked through the valley which took us to the Siq, a long and narrow canyon that leads to the entrance of Petra. As we approached the end of the Siq, Petra’s most famous site, the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) is revealed. Carved out of sandstone, this structure was a mausoleum and crypt for one of the Nabatean kings.
From the Treasury, we walked down the Colonnaded Street, passing the Theatre, Royal Tombs and the hike up to the High Place of Sacrifice. At the end of the street, we had reached the beginning of the hike up to the Monastery (Ad-Deir). It would take 850 steps to reach the monument. Like the Treasury, the facade is carved out of sandstone and only when we were there could we appreciate how large the structure was. We were able to find a quiet spot away from the crowds with an incredible view of the Monastery. At this point we realised we still had a two hour hike to the main gates, so we made our way back as the sun started to set.