A place defines itself through people who love their land, care to keep traditions alive, and are worth knowing: reminding us of what truly matters in life.
TEXT: ANDREAS KATSHIS / PHOTOS: SILVIO AUGUSTO RUSMIGO
Silvio has set up his tripod and is ready to take the first shots. Mrs Dimitra looks shy but eager to begin. One can readily see decades of hard work and life experience etched on her face. She and her son Andreas have worked in the carob warehouses of Zygi for the past 15 years. “I can’t sit around. I don’t feel alive when I do nothing,” she says. Dimitra poses awkwardly, smiling at the camera. There are piles of carobs behind her. Gathered by local producers who unload their harvests at the warehouse, it is time to pick the carobs from among dried branches and leaves. As was done more than half a century ago, the work still requires both feet and hands. Little has changed since then. Upon inspection, even the machinery used by the workers is outdated. According to Mr Costas, a tractor driver operating for the warehouses, “Current producers want to preserve the old ways, so they acquire old machinery and put them back into operation. The lack of new technology may sound strange to some, but the old ways have their appeal.”
Georgia Michael, Community Leader of Zygi, explains that, after a long period of decline, carob has made a comeback; “Currently, it is one of the most popular superfoods, and people are consuming it in all its forms. The biggest demand comes from abroad, so we mainly work in exports.” As we speak, new shipments of carobs are arriving. Anna Kosma, our guide and the president of the Women’s Association of Rural Larnaka, informs us that “Recently, many young people have entered the profession, replanting carob trees where the previous generation uprooted and replaced them. The carob tree is easy to cultivate.”
Dimitra, Andreas and Costas prepare for their first break of the day. Outside on a table, they lay a Cypriot Boukoma (breakfast) of halloumi, warm bread, olives, tomatoes and coffee. The smell of crushed carob reminds me of when I would help my grandmother make Tertzelouthkia (spiral-shaped cookies) with carob honey.
After leaving, we made a short stop at Zygi Marina. Mr Panikkos and Mr Toulis have just returned from their morning outing, having caught a few lionfish. The two brothers have been fishing for over six decades. “As long as our legs support us, we will continue to do so,” says Panikkos with a grin. Behind the marina, the famous fish taverns of Zygi are preparing for lunch. The weather is favourable, meaning people from the city will escape for fresh fish by the sea. On our way to the next stop, Georgia reveals new plans for redeveloping the area.
Stone-Paved Alleys With Bougainvillaea and Jasmine
Antonis and his mother, Mary, are waiting for us at Teacher’s House in Maroni. You can tell from her demeanour and movements that Mrs Mary is a dynamic woman. After studying hotel management, her son returned to their village and took over two established agro-tourist family businesses. Today, over 700 residents live permanently in Maroni, many of whom are foreigners who fell in love with it and decided to stay. Georgia Yiasemidou, secretary of the Community Council and a postwoman, informs that “An investor purchased an old mansion in the village with plans to renovate it into several small apartments. It’s a major development. Lately, demand for accommodations is growing, and availability is limited.”
Mary treats us to homemade tangerine lemonade. Meanwhile, Antonis serves us a traditional breakfast of fried eggs, Lountza (pork tenderloin cured in red wine), warm bread, red tomatoes, and homemade jams. Everything is pure and fresh.
On our way, we encounter Kyriakos, owner of The Old Coffee Shop, who invites us in. A former artisan baker in Larnaka, he decided to drop everything to open a new place in Maroni. “At the moment, I’m only open on weekends, but gradually I’ll include more days. I focus on coffee, wine and assorted platters, but I also serve breakfast early on Sundays.” Kyriakos keeps a library in the yard. He notices me examining his books and says, “I’ve boxes full of more that will find a home here.”
A few metres away, in Piazza Maroni, owner Maria has already set out a variety of freshly-baked wood-oven pizzas on a table. Though she serves classic Cypriot dishes and grilled fare, her pizza is what shines for its quality and flavour.
Establishing and progressing the Women’s Association of Rural Larnaka are among the notable achievements of the ever-busy, Anna. From early morning at the Experiential Workshops Centre in Agios Theodoros, Georgia, Mrs Andri, Mrs Panagiota, and Mrs Paraskevi work making traditional goods. Mrs Andri has laid out her embroideries on a table for the photographer. Nearby, Mrs Paraskevi and Mrs Panagiota have started making Sklinitzi and other traditional pasta. “Our association is vibrant, and anyone can participate freely. We hold workshops teaching cooking, jam-making, vegan cuisine, and embroidery. People have embraced them all. There are over 40 workshops, and we regularly organise open-air markets offering our products,” Anna tells us. “Women from 18 local communities give their all to preserve our traditions.” We sample Anastasia’s soy-vegan Afelias fillets, and they are unexpectedly delicious! Panagiota bids us farewell, singing Tsiattisto – a ditty about spaghetti. We depart for Anafotida, our final destination.
A Village Bathed in Light
“Anafotia – that’s what we call it here,” says Mr Stavros Karagiorgis, the leader in the community of Anafotida, upon arriving at his home. “The village takes its name for the light that bathes it throughout the day,” he explains. Various treats await us at his table: fresh-hot Palouzes (pudding made from grape juice) and Soutzoukos (a grape-flavoured chewy sweet). Accompanying these are glasses of iced Zivania, a pomace brandy. All are homemade. Together with his wife, Chrystalla, they make the most of their vineyards by applying knowledge handed down through generations of family. “For now, our home is our workshop, but we’ll soon have a certified business to enter the professional market. Meanwhile, we treat our friends and acquaintances.”
Walking in the brightness of the village centre, I find unique vantage points at every corner. Café Aman, a traditional taverna and local hub, has been recognised on TripAdvisor on numerous occasions as one of the best Mediterranean eateries in the region. “Their meatballs and beer-batter fried, cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms are incredible,” says Anna, then mentions that it’s necessary to book a table at least two weeks in advance.
We stop at the church of Agia Fotini, and Silvio arranges for a group photo with the village spread out behind us. Before leaving, Mr Stavros loads us with bags full of grapes and sweets. Driving away, I turn down the car radio to hear the sea lapping against the shore, astonished by the beauty inherent in such simple places and humble people.