Travel: Northern Cyprus

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Trouble In Paradise

After graduating this summer, I wanted to do what all graduates do, venture away for a little while and forget about the hectic responsibilities that lie at home. Adult life was just a couple months away, renting, bills, tax, a ‘proper’ job… just money, money, money. I was living in my overdraft that still simmers to the top of my bank account, bubbling away and occasionally boiling over whilst sending me daily reminders that I need to tend to it. I felt angry, this was supposed to be the best summer of my life, after all 21 is supposed to be your prime, golden year, your best shot at being the best you can be. A chance to be wild and have fun, run away and live life to its fullest. I sat at home, scanning Instagram, it was filled with my friends who grew up with me in a small village in Cornwall. They were all now jetsetters, dreamers who took risks, who moved abroad, who ventured away for months on end in the Amazon jungle or for a ski season in Italy. Their bikini brimmed lives presented that sunny dream that I wanted so badly, but I could never afford.

Just as I was about to give up and consider working full time for the next couple months (which is the mature decision, I know) I had a phone call. Emilia, a girl I’d met whilst working in the student accommodation at my university had been having a tough time. She’d moved to Bath from Nicosia, Cyprus to study dance and she was having many problems settling in. I knew how she felt, moving away from Cornwall felt like a huge contrast, living somewhere completely new at eighteen, learning to be an adult whilst not knowing anyone or having a clue where anything is can be totally depressing. We’d become great friends over our first and second term and now Emilia was about to give me a golden ticket, a chance to visit Cyprus and travel with her for a month without spending a dime.

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I felt so free, I had a chance to explore a tropical paradise. But there is something very important about this glorious venture. Maria, Emilia’s mother decided to bring us to Northern Cyprus to show us where she grew up in Famagusta, Cyprus. However it is now named ‘The Ghost Town’, on the edges of the white sand and crystal blue waters you’ll see the abandoned no zone area where the Turkish invaded in the summer of 1974.

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Maria was just 15 when Turkish soldiers took over Northern Cyprus and claimed it for themselves. Luckily Maria was on school holidays in Greece staying with family, but two days before she was due to come home she was greeted with the news that her home was no more, and she feared that her parents had died. She met her parents in Athens a couple of months later but she said ‘Their faces had aged 20 years in those short months. They weren’t the same people.’

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They’d lost their family tobacco factory during the invasion and were forced South to start a new life. Maria’s family were some of the few lucky families who had family elsewhere, but thousands became refugees and lived in tents until the Government built new dwellings.

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Now, she walks with a gracious heart and encourages peace in Famagusta. She hid her sorrow well but I felt the strain on their hearts, and mine.

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Today, the soldiers guard the ghost town as it is undecided what will happen to the area. It has been promised back to the Cypriot people but so far, nothing. Maria says ‘I hold no hope’.

It was not until 2004 that Maria was allowed back into this area and only today we can get this close by paying to use a hotel beach. I am so grateful to Emilia’s family for bringing me here, despite this war torn ghost town, this place deserves to be enjoyed by everyone so that we can fill the vibes with peace and joy.

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Verity Jayne AnnearComment