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Student Stories: Not Like the Movies

I grew up in the era of movies like “Mamma Mia,” “Letters to Juliet,” “Eat, Pray, Love,” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” I watched these film characters, plagued by problems, find their happy endings in little picturesque towns in Italy and Greece. I watched as Donna sang and danced her way across a Greek island and Sophie’s letter fueled a woman’s return to Italy to find her true love after 50 years apart. I always imagined what it would be like to be these characters. I imagined the adventures I could have if I made it to Europe.

When first planning my Mediterranean adventure, I knew it was irrational to re-watch these movies and think of them as real life. Yet, the little kid in me still got excited thinking of everything I could do when I made it to Italy and Greece. I was still placing myself into the perfect Hollywood ending. I left Italy and Greece disappointed. I hadn’t found some brilliant meaning to life and I certainly hadn’t broken out into song. I had enjoyed my time in both places, but I built a world up in my head that logically couldn’t exist in real life. My disappointment was irrational. Yet, it was still there.

The next stop on my adventure was a little island off the coast of Turkey: Cyprus. For U.S. citizens, it wasn’t a vacation hotspot and there were no movies to guide me like the first two countries. In fact, the only thing anyone could tell me about Cyprus was how it’s half Turkish and half Greek. I was going to the Greek half with its Greek traditions, Greek food, and Greek language. It even had a Mt. Olympus of its own. Great, I thought, Cyprus is just Greece all over again.

Taking that first step onto land I felt lost. I had no idea where I was going or what to do. Truth be told, I had never even heard of Cyprus before this trip. As my friend Jenna and I studied a map of the city, the man running the tourist booth excitedly popped his head out and began telling us where to go and the best places for cheap food. He whipped out a pocket map, began outlining it with a bright red pen and quickly pushed it into our hands free of charge.

Cats swarm tourists for food and attention.

The day rapidly unfolded from there. We scrambled down small back alleys with twinkle lights and ivy creeping along the brick walls and walked down long streets filled with the chattering of excited shoppers and honking cars. Cats appeared on every corner. Some looked beaten down, their fur matted and missing in patches. Some had their heads buried in the small bowls of food left out on every street corner. Some were small and skittish, quickly navigating through a sea of legs trying to find a hiding place. Others clearly knew how to work a crowd, walking right up to people and rubbing on them with their sleek, silky fur.

As we walked across the rickety boardwalk along the Limassol pier at sunset, everything seemed to go still. As the golden rays streaked across puffy, cotton candy clouds, everything the sky touched lit up in a soft, shimmering, golden haze. The waves slid softly to shore and in the distance the squawking birds and meowing cats silenced.  It was as if the entire world had decided, just for a minute, to stop and take a breath. Watching the sunset, I felt at peace.

The next morning, we were standing under a tree with long, twisting branches watching as puddles formed on the cobblestones under our feet when our taxi driver Kiriakos pulled up with a startling honk. Throughout that day, he would remain attached to us like our own personal chauffeur. In the United States, taxi drivers take off before your feet have even hit the curb. In Cyprus though, the taxi drivers are clever salesmen convincing you to go from one place to the next as the time ticks by and the euros rack up.

The Edro III shipwreck sits in the shallows.

We had only planned on being dropped off at the sea caves that day, but four hours later had ended up going all around Peyia with Kiriakos as our guiding light. He first took us to the Edro III shipwreck where, according to the Cyprus Island website, a crew of nine began a trip from Limassol to Rhodes in 2011. A severe storm caused the ship to get stuck in the rocks in Peyia.

When we arrived, we sank into the reddish paste of the cove and slogged our way to the cliff edge. There, the rusted ship jutted out sideways looking beaten and worn down from the 10 years it had spent stuck in the shallow shoreline. Like a beacon, the mast pointed to a break in the clouds where sunlight slanted through striking the sea and transforming it translucent blue. Reflecting off the sun, the drizzle around us shimmered in a rainbow of colors before seeping into our clothes.

The sea caves are carved into the cliffside.

The sea caves protruded out from the rocky cliffside, the waves crashing inside them. The air was saturated with the smell of salt and wet grass. As we walked, I was at a loss for words looking out at the horizon where the sea and sky seemed to merge into one. Everything around me seemed bright and vibrant. The grass dotting the hillside was lush green and the cliffside took up a reddish orange color that seemed so much livelier than the dull, pale grasses and rocks near the ocean in my college town.

With our stomachs beginning to roar their complaints, we looked out from the taxi windows at the endless number of shops flashing by. Each one looked more deserted than the last. We asked Kiriakos where a good place to eat traditional food was and why so many stores were closed. He informed us that most shops closed down in the winter for off-season in the tourist areas, but he knew of a small winery just outside of town where we could eat.

The winery was set on top of a hillside, with green expanses cascading down on all sides. The manager, a tall, thin woman with a sleek ponytail, welcomed us at the door with a kind, inviting smile. As we waited for our check, the waitress showed up with a small slice of cake soaked in a syrup and filled with orange peel slices. Yet again, we were astounded by the hospitality after coming from the U.S. where nothing was ever free.

As we left, a medium sized brown dog with long, rain-soaked hair approached us. The dog had a small bed right next to the reception desk and happily sat there as I stroked its fur. One of the waiters told us that the dog was a stray that the restaurant had taken in and fed.

In a way, the people of Cyprus took us in just like they did the stray dogs and cats. They saw two lost and confused tourists and guided us on our journey. They handed out advice, food and warm smiles every step of the way.

Sunset in Cyprus.

Looking out from my taxi window as Kiriakos hurtled down the windy, narrow streets, I saw the entire landscape unfold below. I saw the bright hills rolling into little neighborhoods. I looked at the crisscrossing streets that turned into dirt paths near the shore. I looked out at the sea’s hue. I noticed how it went from crystal blue waves crashing to shore to nearly black at the point where it met the sky. In that moment, it was better than any green screen backdrop in Hollywood. It was better than singing, going on grand adventures, or magically stumbling upon a happily ever after. Maybe I wasn’t the main character off to find the meaning of life. But with Cyprus as the setting in my story, I felt like that was finally okay.

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