I'm beginning to understand the love of water that nautical types have.
Perhaps not quite the reaction you'd expect whilst largin' it in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. Most reports talk of this small town as the "New Ibiza" -Dance capital of Europe for Garage worshippers.
So here I am, paddling my ocean kayak round the sea caves, somewhere off Grecian Bay. Out of view of the garishly-clad tourists, flipping themselves every half-hour within a soupcon of well-done, the sea is calm, clear and tranquil. The occasional snorkeller or tourist boat does little to spoil the overall scene; while the jet-skis churn up their white plumes half a mile off shore. Their faint buzzing to and fro like bees, forever leaving and returning to the hive. It's close on 35 degrees - it feels it - and I can't help but wonder if everyone that conquers the sea feels the same sense of satisfaction. I circle and wave to the swarthy skipper of a nearby anchored yacht - he grins back in the dozy afternoon shade. For a split moment, I am a pirate, and his "ship" is my unsuspecting prey...
By day, Ayia Napa is like any other tourist resort for sun-seekers. Golden sand, rows of tightly packed holidaymakers tanning to impress. The hotels are ugly - but I'm not here to look at the hotels - and their air-conditioned rooms are an essential haven.
Situated toward the east of Cyprus, and not far from the Turkish area, Ayia Napa isn't best situated for exploring the island. You'd be best placed further along the coast - Limassol - for such pursuits. But there are some local villages that offer cheaper shopping, and splendid views to be had from Capo Greco - just a few miles up the road. Walking is not an option however - not in this heat - and car hire, with insurance, is affordable- though you pay extra for air-conditioning. Scrimp on this at your peril.
By night, Ayia Napa is not ordinary. And it is not for the faint-hearted. The regime is straightforward: eat at nine, find a bar at eleven, hit the clubs. The bars stop their music, and then their drinks somewhere between one and two, so that's when those who are warming up, are swarming up to the clubs. Bed?... what's that?
On the stroll into town my companion points out an "English" bar that did good steak last year. We poke our noses in, and the owner, a stout well-worn local, remembers last year's patronage and welcomes us as if we are his prodigal children. One chicken and one pork kebab later we are sorely disappointed. I ask him about his food and his business. He is a local farmer and the lack of rain for the last three years has made farming a struggle. He tells me he has "downgraded" his menu, so that it appeals to the younger up-fer-it types who now frequent this place. He is glad the way the town has changed, because without it, he couldn't pay his bills. And he proudly gestures towards his nine year old daughter as if to make a point. We begin to leave, but courteously accept a lemon liqueur on the house. It's sweet and sticky - at least things can only get better.
We continue our townward stroll, dodging the dishevelled and incomplete pavements. They bemuse me; and they will probably claim me on the way back, if I return tipsy.
Finally, "The Square" - odd, because it isn't square, and even moreso, because it's co-located with a ruined monastery. It's quite a sight and sound to behold. It creates a sense of dizziness and disorientation the moment you stand still - far better to keep moving, pushing past hot bodies. It is a melee, a crowd, a huge crowd, crushed, standing, drinking, chatting - indeed shouting - over the pounding sub-bass of the surrounding bars. Each establishment is competing to see whose PAwill distort first - don't even try to pick out a tune. Too noisy to think, but if you stop and allow yourself to feel for a moment, then you will sense you're at the centre of an ants' nest. Utter chaos on the surface, and yet everyone with a purpose - lines of ants pushing their way through the mass, forging onwards - and not a drop of beer spilt! My colleague turns to me and shouts: "Every time I come here, I lose my faith in mankind and the future of the planet". In a subconscious way I understand exactly, but I quickly turn and say "Don't you get it!? That's the point. While the rest of us are saving the planet, we keep all these people busy here!...". Perhaps we're getting old.
Bar after bar runs some kind of alcoholic promotion - buy one, get one free. Buy one, get two free. The most impressive was buy two, get ten free! Ten what? I'm not sure, but it was sweet and sticky, and very dilute - unlike the local beer, KEO, which was surprisingly pleasant, and pleasantly cheap. The number one premise here seems DRINK. And presumably inebriation is what seduces us into the night clubs - after all there's nothing overtly memorable about the music that's the mainstay of this place: UK Garage playing master to House. All the clubs promote "big-name" DJ's making appearances, but personally I don't get too worked up - I just keep reminiscing of my hospital radio days.
In the bars there's a wider aural selection, with some M.O.R Pop, and a smattering of R&B, Hip Hop. I even saw an Irish Folk Pub: but there were more people in the band than in the pub. What you won't find isJungle, that's for sure. We were laughed at when we asked. For a trek through the 80's and 90's, take a trip to the pinkly-neoned Jasmin Bar; where the cockney gaffer sings along, takes his top off and encourages his punters to dance on the bar and tables. And remember, someone just ate their food on that table! "Oy Oyyyyyyy!"
Before the rush (at 4am) - we head over to River Reggae club to wind down. This outdoor bar sports palm trees, mellow music, and a u-shaped swimming pool. Additional entertainment is in the form of a large 'telephone pole' strapped across one end of the pool. It begs drunken males to attempt to cross, and impress the onlookers by remaining dry. On my first attempt, my weary dancing legs are so pathetic, I can barely balance a few seconds. Amazingly, soaking wet underwear, four in the morning, and it still feels warm. This is sufficient to encourage a second and no-less foolish attempt! Within a metre of completing my challenge and suddenly I feel unsteady, and so I leap for home, onto the slippery tiles of the pool edge. It's a lesson well-learnt in impressing onlookers. I slip backwards, and crack my head down on the poolside. I'm sure eighty-thousand people go "oooohhhh". Next thing, I hear twinkling and some bloke is pulling me up saying "YOU DIDN'T WANT TO DO THAT!". How astute. I wibble gratefully.
River Reggae is a compelling way to spend the last few hours of darkness, despite the inherent perils of beams, concrete pool edges, water, alcohol and exuberance. It transports you to some kind of state of mind, where nothing matters, and time is irrelevant. My kind of holiday.
...After a pause, this pirate grins back. Capture will be another day - it's addictive out here on the water - I will be back! For now I must seek some shade, water and factor 60. I weave among the lilos, with their roasted occupants meandering on the tide, and head beachwards. I must build my strength for tonight's trip into town...
© august 2000