May 2016 – Part 2
On Friday 13th of May 2016 I boarded an Aegean Airlines plane from Manchester Airport to Larnaka International via Athens, and thus began an incredible week of activity and exploration.
Aeagen Airlines, in conjunction with the Cypriot Tourist Board, had commissioned a series of short videos to help launch two new direct services from the UK and France to Cyprus that were due to launch that summer.
They were keen to move away from the “party central” reputation of Agia Napa, and promote the more adventurous, cultural and historical side of the fabled Isle of Aphrodite. To that end, they had reached out to two professional travel bloggers, myself and a French fella called Val.
(The irony of the guy famous for visiting every country in the world without flying promoting an airline was not lost on me.)
Val had finished his stint as “Aegean Traveller” the week before for the Francophone audience, and now it was my turn. Twelve videos, Fifteen separate locations and less than a week to film it all.
My kind of challenge! Let’s dive right in, eh?
Those of you who have followed my adventures over the years will know I’m not the biggest fan of flying. That said, I do enjoy being up in the air, the God’s-Eye view looking down at the undulating terrain far below. There is a magic about it that’s hard to replicate travelling down a dirt track in a West African bush taxi or on the Megabus to London. Everything is so tidy. You can’t see all the litter, the bad graffiti, the brutalist architecture, the industrial scarring, you can’t smell the diesel, the cigarette smoke, the seething corruption. No infuriating details, just the glorious overview.
I was met at the airport by Marinos from OgilvyOne, the Greek marketing company that was overseeing the project. Marinos had been the person who had reached out to me, so it was nice to put a face to the name. First things first, I chucked my gear into the hotel room and we went out and grabbed a beer.
And food. So much yummy yummy food! This was my first chance to meet the crew. As you know, I’m usually a one-man band. Occasionally I might be fortunate enough to get a camera op to follow me around for a few days, but nothing like this:
I actually had my own make-up assistant! Utterly bonkers I know. After stuffing my face with more grilled halloumi and olives than is possibly healthy, I returned to the hotel to get my head down for the night. I had a big day tomorrow.
My first day began with a trip back to Larnaka Airport to film my “arrival” and “departure” scenes. This involved me walking around the airport with a wheelie case (a prop!), making automatic doors open with my Jedi mind tricks and looking sideways at a wall. Oscar bait, I know.
Then it was back in the minibus for a 45 minute drive to Lefkara, a mountain village famous for its lace and embroidery, a tradition that goes back centuries. After hanging with the lacy ladies of Lefkara, I was put through the horrendous ordeal of having to eat even more delightful Cypriot scran. Seriously, drip me in talatouri and throw me to the souvlakia.
The result of our afternoon’s endeavours was this rather lovely video:
Here are some behind-the-scenes pics:-
That evening we hit Lemesos town to film this segment:
This is quite possibly the best gig in the world. Seriously, I’m getting paid to party with the locals and drink beer. O.M.G.
I think I may have had a little too much fun on Saturday night, so on Sunday morning the crew took me to the Kourion archaeological site and threw me off a cliff. I was attached to a paraglider, which helped me, y’know, not die, but still…
See that look of wonder and terror on my face? That’s real. It was rather windy and we did very nearly crash into the cliffside, Wile E Coyote-style. Fortunately I managed to live another day HUZZAH!
After I had got my breath back we spent the afternoon exploring the ancient and fascinating site of Kourion.
And then it was off to the beautiful seaside town of Pafos, (which is NOT pronounced “Path-os”) where, as the sun set over the Mediterranean, I had to trundle around on a Segway and say things such as “Chryssopolitissa basilica” LIKE A BOSS.
Got to say, riding around on a Segway is a lot of fun, but there’s no way you can look cool on one, they’re like the Shop Mobility of skateboards.
With six locations in the can, it was time to head back to camp (well, the hotel). The weekend might have been over, but the week had not yet begun.
Another absolutely incredible day of my Cypriot odyssey, I got to visit the famous Blue Lagoon, the place where Aphrodite (or Venus) was said to have risen out of the water. Not only that, but I got to drive the speedboat over there. Bet you thought my Panamanian boat driver’s licence wouldn’t come in handy!
So. Much. Fun!
It gets better… after my swim, I was taken to a vineyard near Koilani Village to literally drink posh wine.
If this isn’t “the life”, I’d very much like to know what is. Just look at my happy little face!
I began my fourth day exploring the island in the Trodos Mountains of central Cyprus. The morning was spend cycling up and down hills:
I love mountain biking, but only the bits when you go downhill.
Then in the afternoon I went on a trek to a (fairly) secret waterfall. Just like everything else this week, I did the hike for real, I wasn’t just dropped from a helicopter (although that would have been pretty cool).
I much prefer walking to cycling. I get to wear marginally less silly headgear.
And yet my day was far from over! I still had to visit the nearby Family Adventure Park in Platres. It’s basically a Clip N Climb / Go Ape forest zipline adventure, only way bigger than anything I’ve done at home.
The last bit of the final course was the big plunge that you can see at the end of the video there. I’m glad they cut it off before I hit the ground as I landed, like a tit, on my arse.
After yesterday’s hi-jinks, we took things down a notch (although I did have to awake at a bitchin’ early hour) and went flower picking in Agros. Random is my middle name. Graham RANDOM Hughes.
See all them wee roses in my basket? I picked them for real. Although the older people there left me in the dust with their mad skillz. They had filled an entire basket in the time it took me to fill half.
Finally, after all this culture and wholesome family fun, it was time to scoot over to Agia Napa, the nightlife, babe, dude and party central of Cyprus… to, erm, *checks notes*… go to a museum YAY!
The Thalassa Museum to be precise. The human history of Cyprus goes back thousands of years. When the Romans, Greeks, Trojans, Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Carthaginians etc were running about the Med doing their thing, Cyprus was at the centre of all that. And since “Mediterranean” basically translates to “middle of the Earth”, Cyprus was in the middle of the middle. THE place to be.
Excitable little chap, ain’t I? I love me some 2.3 thousand-year-old boat.
My last full day in Cyprus was also the most eventful. We kicked off the morning with a bit of scuba diving down to the wreck of the Zenobia, a big-assed cargo ship that sank off the coast of Larnaka in 1980 and has now been transformed by the sea into a living reef.
Full disclosure: if you watch the video carefully you’ll see I didn’t get to actually touch the wreck, the reason being that although it’s just 16m below the surface, I’d be flying home the next day and out of an abundance of caution, the team didn’t want me going that deep. It’s fair enough, DVT (deep vein thrombosis) is no laughing matter.
But still, them fish ain’t computer generated!!
Next up was my final activity of the week, and one that I had been looking forward to since I got here: flyboarding.
I’m willing to admit that before I was given my itinerary I had never even heard of flyboarding (come on, I’m not *that* cool). But once I had done some Googling I was SOLD.
As with most things, it’s much harder than it looks. Your feet are attached to a board and a large tube runs from there to the water outlet of a stationary jetski. The water shoots out the bottom of the board and you have to angle your feet *perfectly* if you’re to make any distance between you and the sea. If you’re a pro, you hold a remote control in your hand to control the waterflow. If you’re a newbie like I was, there guy sitting on the jetski does it for you.
My biggest concern was hitting the water any way other than a forward dive — if you slap the surface on your side or your back, damn it hurts! Still, I managed a few halfway-decent stands, no tricks though… I was very much finding my (rocket) feet.
Petra Wijnker, who runs the company, took over to show us all how it’s done.
I know, right?!
Afterwards, there was a little bit left to film on the beach at Agia Napa as the sun set, before we all headed back to the hotel to get changed for our last big dinner together – the wrap party YAY!
We went to a fabulous Mexican restaurant nearby. After the main course, the crew were kind enough to get me a cake to say thank you. When the waiter brought it to the table, everyone clapped and I stood up to make a quick speech, to explain that really I should be thanking them for how much of a blast this week was.
But because my chair was right back against the wall, there wasn’t enough space for my legs to fit between the chair and table. No problem, I thought, I’ll just stand on my chair.
Unfortunately for me, the back two legs of my chair were sitting on a lip, I didn’t notice, and as soon as I stood on the damn thing, it tipped forward! I fell on the table, knocked over a few drinks, and was SUPER embarrassed. But it wasn’t until I tried to stand up as we were leaving that I realised I had done me a serious mischief to my right foot. I couldn’t put any weight on it whatsoever.
I still had a bit of voice-over work to do that evening, so I wasn’t keen on going to hospital and kept insisting it was just a sprain. The crew were having none of it though, and I was bundled into the minibus and taken to a local medical centre.
“The good news is that it’s broken” announced the cheerful bone specialist in the clinic, examining my x-rays.
“How is that good news?” I earnestly enquired.
“Because otherwise you would have got me out of bed for no good reason” she chuckled to herself.
Ha! Okay, can of worms well and truly opened… how would I manage on Jinja Island with a broken foot? It’s tough enough getting around with two normal feet. But that would be an issue for another day, I still had work to do.
I returned to the hotel around 1am. I did my final voice-overs laying on my back in my room with the sound engineer holding the boom mic just above my face and me reading my lines off Theo’s iPhone. It took ages, as there was a lot to get through, I was (understandably) knackered and some of those Cypriot place names are proper tongue twisters!
At around 3am the guys left, happy they had all the audio they needed in the can.
I had just closed my eyes when there was a knock on the door… time to head to the airport! Up, up and awayyyy! Thank heavens we had filmed my “departure” scenes on Day One eh?
But don’t let the scuba diving, flyboarding, cake of death, broken foot, no sleep and being on a plane home fool you… I still had work to do, dagnamit!
The direct flights to the UK and France hadn’t started yet, so I would be flying home via Athens, which meant the Greek crew could fly home with me and we could film some in-the-air action! This involved me eating dinner for breakfast and drinking a wee drop of Commandaria: one of the wines I sampled at the vineyard earlier in the week; the oldest named wine in the world.
Commandaria has been grown in Cyprus for over 5,000 years. In 1191, King Richard the Lionheart apparently called it ‘the wine of kings and the king of wines’. It’s super sweet, more a dessert wine than a breakfast one. Still, it all felt very decadent at 7am.
I can’t stress how utterly awesome this week was. I don’t think I’ll ever not chuckle about me spending six days paragliding, segwaying, mountain-biking, zip-lining, scuba diving and flyboarding… only to break my foot falling off a chair.
Huge thanks to Marinos Klouras, Leonidas Panonides, Matina Konstantinidou, Stavros Avramidis, Savvas Gregoriou, Christodoulou Dimitris, Theo Simantirakis, Angie Prokopiou, Niki Polichronaki, Elena Helena Georgiou, Fotis Zygouris, Valery Escande, Nefeli Vitzilaiou and Michalis Athanasiadis for everything.
Now, what’s next…?