My iphone case lies on the dusty forecourt of a village minimart. It’s been run over by a bright yellow rescue truck…
It's another day in the paradise that is Cyprus. So far I've not encountered anything but clear, blue skies and temperatures from 28 to 37 or so - Celsius that is - and then there's also the humidity that plays hell with one's hair - but that's another story.
On this particular day I decide to head into the Troodos Mountains to visit Cedar Valley. Cyprus is reputed to have more cedars than Lebanon and having had a previous incarnation as an Aromatherapist I'm possessed by a Quixotic urge to escape the heat of the plains and to sally forth to commune with nature's abundance of Cedrus libani.
Knowing that the cedars are located in a somewhat obscure spot off the tourist track, for once I actually succeed in getting under way before lunch and remember to take the dossier pertaining to the use of my host’s car. A what-to-do-in-an-emergency sort of thing.
Heading through our little village, I notice a red warning light on the dashboard. Being unfamiliar with the car and being too short sighted to really see what the red light was alluding to I pull into a garage to ask for help.
In Cyprus, they actually serve you petrol and cheerfully check those unmentionables under the bonnet, so the attendant was delighted to see me pull up in a sexy black something but instead of buying fuel, I just want advice. Stupidly, I turn the engine off and predictably the offending warning light is noticeably absent when I restart it.
'Perhaps drive around and come back' the drop dead gorgeous garage owner suggests. So I do that and under the laws of probability, the light of course fails to re-appear until some 50 km further along the motorway. In a word, shite. Everyone knows what it’s like driving with a red light staring at you and it’s even worse when it's not your car!
By now I'm really in the sticks and looking for the turn off to the elusive cedar trees. I stop once more at another servo - 'oh that's ok - it's always on' says the nonchalant youth. Somewhat appeased by his answer, I start the ascent into the mountains when suddenly I can't get any grunt in the lower gears. This is when I really start to panic. What have I done to the car incriminations race through my head and by now my anxiety is matching the outside temperature of some 40 degrees. I'm also desperately hungry and abusively angry with myself for not stopping off in an earlier village for sustenance and a read of the car manual!
Finally, hunger, thirst and lack of horsepower prevail and I pull up in a very ordinary village with a very ordinary mini mart and buy a bottle of water and a particularly ordinary cheese pie - hardly the glamour of a taverna with Cypriot wine, Cypriot smiles and the odd mese under an arbor of grapes. Instead I have a grumpy shopkeeper and a stodgy pie at a table in a car park under the scantiest bit of shade. When I finally put my glasses on and flick through the pages of the manual I discover my bête rouge is an engine warning light: take the vehicle to an authorized dealer.
Double shite! This sort of thing just doesn't happen when looking for cedar trees - but of course it does.
On reading my hosts’ 'what to do in an emergency', I phone all the suggested numbers and discover the best course of action is to call the local roadside assist to tow me home – ‘it's free’ everyone keeps saying.
When the English-speaking call centre chick asks where I am, I take my mobile to the grumpy grocer and ask him to tell her where exactly in Cyprus I've broken down. After their long conversation in Greek, he tells me it’ll be an hour before help arrives. Only an hour? I’ll wait till doomsday.
Knowing I had no food back at my digs, I decide to use the time profitably by shopping. And in the ridiculous mad dogs and englishmen heat, I trudge up the deserted village high street to the veggie stall I’d noticed when descending into this place of 'do not pass go, do not collect cedar trees.' Perhaps the local tomatoes and potatoes would pacify my arboreal disappointment.
Some scruffy kids call to their Nonna and she proudly peels away the array of dusty house mats that protect her produce. For €3 I buy more stuff than I can carry and head back to the impotent charabanc where I not only find my dusty phone cover but also my bearded, sweaty, cigarette smoking, knight in shining armour – and all in about 25 minutes.
Firstly, the car is hoisted onto the tray of his bright yellow tow truck then my veggies and I are equally hoisted into the non air conditioned driver’s cab and off we go to a designated rendezvous where both the car and myself would be relayed home by yet another tow truck.
Cypriot truckie number one speaks a delightfully unique form of English and I discover that as a teenager he and his family were forcibly relocated from Northern Cyprus following the Turkish invasion. Forty years on this is still a highly charged issue and I fall mute as I begin to consider what this 50-year old man and his family had experienced.
The conversation turns to me. Where are you from etc. and on discovering that I’m a long way from home - he gestures over his shoulder at the infirm black beast on his tow truck, and in his wonderfully inventive English he says 'and this has destroyed your holiday'. I laugh and politely agree. All the while I’m thinking this inconvenience is nothing compared to the destruction of your life.
All over Cyprus, derelict houses and farms are ghoulish reminders of how easily ways of life can be destroyed just by dint of location. Greek and Turkish families moved on like lepers. Their deserted properties like crusty scars littering the landscape.
Of course, I finally get home and the car, although a little limp, is ok. As I wash my dusty going-away-present phone cover, I realise that as a solo traveller, it’s often the briefest of encounters that cause me to ponder the longest.
I become obsessed with modern Cyprus history and as I reflect on the current movement of refugees around the world, I recognize that my destroyed holiday heralded a personal milestone in human understanding. But even more than that, it also affirmed that for those of us who are still on the long and dusty road of getting there, travel, like life, is never about the destination, it really is about the journey – and writing about it.
While Don Quixote would say, ‘more adventures!' perhaps I’ll adopt the adage, more ‘destroyed holidays!'