We left Ashkelon Israel on Tuesday 31st May, and the run to Famagusta in Turkish Cyprus took us 32 hours covering 230mn. We managed to sail most of the way which was great.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – the fact that the only country in the world that recognises this state is mainland Turkey does not faze the locals at all. They still regard themselves as Cypriots, but realise that they can’t return to the old days when it was one country, as the Greeks want to run the whole show. Back in 1983 we visited the Greek side of the Island, so this time decided we would visit the Turkish side.
On reading our cruising guide it became very complex saying – a yacht may go from Turkey to Turkish Cyprus, or from Turkey to Greek Cyprus, and from Turkish Cyprus to Turkey, but, may not cross from Turkish Cyprus to Greek Cyprus, and, it is inadvisable to go from Greek Cyprus to Turkish Cyprus. We were also told on arrival in Turkish Cyprus by an Australian that we would not be able to cross into Greek Cyprus by land either. Oh Yeah right!! Enough of this stupid political correctness’, Alec was up for this challenge.
The reason we did the run up to Cyprus from Ashkelon, was because we cannot enter Lebanon – which we also want to visit - if we have visited Israel – have an Israeli stamp in our passports, or stamps from the border crossings from Egypt or Jordan which enter into Israel. We only got bits of paper stamped for those crossings. It also applies going from Lebanon to Israel. Also a ‘no go’.
Now getting back to Cyprus - We had heard that there are better boat parts on the Greek side of Cyprus, and like always, there is something you need, so Alec wanted to cross to Larnaca and visit a Chandlery. He found a new friend as he was wandering along the ’locals’ wharf one evening in the port at Famagusta, Suphi, who was spending rather too much money looking for a Russian Bride!! We learnt his tale having coffee one evening as we sat on the back of his boat, along with his little sausage dog called ‘Captain’. He joined us another evening for a drink, and offered to take us across the border in his car as he also wanted to visit the Chandlery. A few days later off we set to the closest border crossing to Famagusta. We passed through the Turkish part without any trouble, but on entering onto the Greek side, as this crossing passes through a British Sovereign Base, we were turned back as we are not EU passport holders!! Suphi tried to tell them we were ANZAC Turks, but this did not help. Not to be fazed we headed off to the capital Nicosia to the foot crossing there. Suphi dropped us off in Nicosia as he had a phone call and decided to check out about a new lady on the other side of the Island. We told him we would catch a bus back once we had finished. Again we were stamped out by the Turkish side, walked across no man’s land, and to our surprise the Greeks just waved us through without so much as viewing our passports. Mission accomplished!!! We then took the bus down to Larnaca and spent the day wandering about. We did not find what we wanted at the Chandlery, but as usual we did not leave empty handed. There is always something ‘one must have’ in those sort of shops.
Famagusta turned out to be a great place to check in to. It is a commercial port and has no marina, but after one night at the main wharf which was rather grubby we anchored out in the harbour which was much cleaner and cooler. We took the tender ashore to the ‘locals’ wharf and was able to leave it there without even having to lock it up. The town was just a short walk away.
Famagusta has massive walls surrounding the old town which were built by the French Crusader Knights. The walls are in great repair and they give the town a real medieval feel. Within the old city are wonderful ruins of churches, baths, a palace, a dungeon and the likes. Built into the walls and along the old streets lovely cafés and shops are now located. They have been tastefully done so as not to destroy the old feel of the place. We spent may an hour wandering about the old town, drinking coffees and just enjoying the whole ambience of the place.
We made another good friend while sorting out materials to build our paasserelle – ok you will have to look that one up to see what it is !?! His name is Mehmet. He is a Turkish Cypriot who lived in Australia for 14 years before bringing his family home again. He and his brother Emir where so kind to us. Mehmet drove us all over the place. Our last Sunday there he and his delightful wife picked us up early and took us with them to visit a couple of beautiful little local villages as they are members of a photographic club and go on outings each week to different villages to take pictures. This was off the tourist route and a great experience. We saw women making cheese and bread, the local earthen ovens being lit and the meats being prepared for lunch that day, the olive oil press, and all the farm animals which they keep locked up for the night being let out for the day. There was nothing modern about the way these villages lived. Mehmet then drove us to their holiday house in the mountains with the most spectacular views looking back over towards Famagusta. We then drove over to the northern coast to visit Emir in his weekend home right on the coast with his own marina!! After a scrumptious breakfast we then went on to visit a new commercial marina just up the coast from there as we are looking for a place to winter the boat over in. Later in the afternoon Mehmet took us to lunch in another local village. Too much eating, but just wonderful to taste all the local cuisine.
Another day Alec and I took the bus to the northern coast to Girne (Kyrenia). This is another delightful old town with the most picturesque ancient harbour. Again another huge Crusader castle and wonderful little streets to explore with great cafés to sit and just watch the world go by for an hour or so.
So after 12 days in Cyprus it was time to up anchor and head for Jounieh in Lebanon. During this run we spent some time putting anything we had brought in Israel well out of sight including a few bottles of very nice King David red wine. We did not want to make it obvious we had been there as I explained earlier!!
The marina at Jounieh is part of the Automobile Touring Club of Lebanon (ATCL) and is situated 20ks north of Beirut. Even though we were backing tracking we only had 110nm to sail from Cyprus, so we left after lunch with a good wind blowing 19-21ks from the right direction for once. In no time we were sailing along between 7-8kts with a bit of a sea running with breaking waves, but Shamal skimmed over the tops. In fact by about three in the morning we had to slow down as we were going to arrive too early. The Navy don’t like you to enter their waters without calling them up first, and then they have to call the Marina, which does not open till around 08.00am to get a clearance number which allows you to then come in. I was very lucky to have a friend living here from our Oman days. Leila and Anis Khalaf, so once all the formalities were completed Leila picked us up and drove us back to her home in the mountains above Beirut. It is the most beautiful situation and at this time of the year so much cooler than the coast where the humidity sets in very early in the day. Leila’s home sits up at around 2000ft up. After a scrumptious Lebanese barbeque lunch she then drove us around the valleys and hills of Beirut for a familiarization trip.
Jounieh Marina is located in a more up –market part of town and is in the Christian area. On each side of the marina are military clubs. We were parked at the Arrivals Quay for our duration there as the marina was full. This was fine but right beside it was one of these clubs, and were soon discovered that the wedding season was in full swing. While we were there we had two weddings, or should I say ‘shows’, for really that is what they were like. After a religious ceremony somewhere else the guests start arriving between 7.00-8.00pm. They are entertained for about three hours with music, local folk dancers with all the bells and whistles. Then enters the groom. He was led in by the dancers, dancing along with them. This all lasted about half an hour, then next enters the bride. The first wedding the bride arrived by boat looking like a swan. They then have more traditional dancing followed by music by the Beatles ( Yesterday ) and other pop groups. Of course we had photo time where everyone acts like models posing at a fashion shoot. The wedding cake, well that was as tall as the bride. Then to top it all off at some stage during this show was a fireworks display. I was telling our friend Leila about this and she was saying all the girls here are prim donnas spending huge amounts to impress their guests. Your wedding gift to the couple is money, so you help pay for the wedding.
Another night at the marina we were just getting ready to have dinner and Alec had been reading a newspaper that on the Sunday there was going to be a demonstration in Beirut wanting less corruption within the Government, and to get rid of sectarianism. Next minute there was a huge explosion which seemed to vibrate through the whole boat. We both jumped up, Alec thinking someone had banged into us, and me thinking a bomb had gone off. The sky lit up and more explosions followed. It turned out to be a huge fireworks display in the bay for the opening of the summer festive season. Being in a bay with high mountains around made for quite an impressive show which lasted around 20 minutes.
Our 12 days in Lebanon were amazing. As Alec says we have now visited the three smallest countries in the region, but they all share in common the fact they have major political problems. Israel, Cyprus and Lebanon. They are all blessed with beautiful mountains, remains of wonderful ancient civilisations, friendly hospitable people, but, are scarred both emotionally and physically by decades of civil war, invasion and or terrorist attacks. Luckily the Cyprus civil war was brief, and has escaped that latter of those. Lebanon does not attract the tourists it once use to due to the recent troubles, but we found it an easy place to get around. We were advised against visiting some towns, but the places we did visit were wonderful. Of course down town Beirut is a must to see. We did not stay in town till 11pm when the place is said to ‘buzz’ well into the early hours of the morning, but we did see some of the bullet scared buildings – reminder of their civil war – but also a great deal of new building going on in the central area. New apartment blocks and glitzy glamorous boutiques, but the really strange noticeable thing was the lack of people. We were later told than many of the shops relocated north to Jounieh, the area we are in. The locals say the heart of Beirut has died apart from the night life.
Another day we took a trip to the north to the ancient city of Byblos ( the biblical city of Gebal). It is said to be one of the three or four oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth. Modern scholars say it goes back 7,000 years. More ruins for Alec to wander around and enjoy!!! We also visited Jeita Grotto. Now Alec did enjoy this more than me as it involves a trip underground – not my favourite pastime, but I will have to admit we have never seen anything as amazing as this place. There are two main caves, one sitting above the other. The upper one is huge. You enter through a 120 meter-long concrete tunnel which does little to prepare one for the surprise beyond. For the next 650 meters you wind your way through the most spectacular formation of stalactites and stalagmites one could ever see. They are stunning. There are sink holes some dropping over one hundred meters. The lighting is sensational . Unfortunately you cannot take photos but if you Google Jeita Grotto Lebanon you should find pictures there. In the lower grotto you hop into a boat and are taken for a 6oo meter boat trip. In that short distance again you see wonderful formations. We were told the boat trip use to go for 6ks, but during the 1970,s civil war the caves were used to store ammunition and that section has not been cleared yet!!
Another local attraction we did in Jounieh was to take the cable car to the top of the mountains where there are four quite impressive churches, and the view was spectacular even though it was rather hazy. The view from the cable car on the way up and down is also interesting as you pass within meters of peoples apartments and can see them watching TV or sitting on their baloneys having drinks while watching you go up and down.
The last main trip we did was inland. We took a day trip over the Lebanon Mountains and dropped down into the Bekaa Valley. We never realised how fertile this region was. They have plenty of water from the melting snows from a range of mountains on either side of the valley. You name it they grow it. All the fruits and vegetables you can image. We then drove on up to the town of Baalbek – known as the Hezbollah (Party of god –yeah right!!) homeland. Their yellow flags are seen fluttering all around Baalbek. But also what Baalbek is known for is its ruins. Their temples and columns are said to be the best preserved in the Middle East and built on an extravagant scale that outshone anything in Rome. I have to admit we have seen some in Rome, and Baalbek’s are as impressive as they say. From there we drove back up into the mountains to visit a famous Cedar Forest where they claim one of the trees could be up to 4,000years old. It was from here that the trees were taken to Egypt and Jerusalem for the building of their temples. Then we dropped into Holy Valley of Qadisha to visit the Monastery of St Anthony. The most beautiful valley with churches built in caves and still used by the Monks today. The valley is a Unesco World Heritage site.
One of the facts we learnt about Lebanon from our tour guide was that there are 80 political parties of which 20 form the current coalition government with the Hezbollah Party in the leading roll. No wonder this country has its problems.
So that was the Lebanon we saw. As I said there were places we would have liked to have visited, but due to the current political situation we were told to miss. That was the same for Syria. We would like to have stopped there for a few days on our way to Turkey, but they are having a few problems of their own at the moment!! So we sailed passed Syria and arrived in Alanya on the south eastern coast of Turkey. We had really good winds with us until we passed the north eastern coast of Cyprus where first the winds died, and when they did return again were on the nose and too weak to tack our way to mainland Turkey. So we had to use precious diesel and motored. Diesel is much more expensive here in the Med compared to what we have been paying to date.
We have been sitting here in the marina in Alanya for nearly 24 hours and are still not checked in. It is National Maritime Day so we are told and the officials are all off at something. Next excuse their computer has broken down. It would be nice to get into town and sort out a few things so we can start to cruise on along the coastline. Also marina prices here are horrendous, high season summer rates. Anywhere between US$63 – US$120 per night. So we are looking forward to spending our time anchored out in all those lovely bays along the coastline. To have a boat our size lifted out and the bottom cleaned can cost as much as US$1,000, and this marina we are in at the moment would be one of the cheapest in Turkey. This compares with Israel at US$150 per week, Lebanon US$77 per week and Turkish Cyprus at anchor – no charge. No fees for port clearance, visa, or anything in Turkish Cyprus. It appears in Turkey that short term rates and haul-outs are a lot more expensive than Australia and New Zealand, however their long term rates i.e. one year – we can have a berth say at this marina, for only US$13 per day. Now that’s a good deal.
Love to you all
The Admiral and The Commander