Sunday 14th September 2008 at 8am I woke up with a jolt. Yahoo! The Cyprus Trip has arrived. Gawd, would my dive bag pass the 21kg threshold of Easy Jet. I put it on the scales one more time. Right on the money, (excuse the pun), hopefully. Right!! Cyprus here we come. Been looking forward to this one for ages, such a good crowd going.
I only had a 25 minute journey to Gatwick but I had a slight detour to collect my buddies Esma and Len. I decided to leave early and give myself plenty of time, you know Sunday drivers and all that. I loaded my trusty car and sped over to Len’s observing the speed limit all the way………….. I knocked on the door, no reply, gawd, where is Len? Nipped round the back, looked through the French windows, all quiet. I’d had this grand plan to chat to Mary and tell her all about my holiday plans next year. No, Len appears at the front door, just got out of the shower. Mary has gone shopping in protest at us going away on holiday.
Off to Esma’s in Walton, only a short detour!! Arrived at the arranged hour of 11am. Knocked on the door, no reply. 11.03am suddenly heard all this revving of car engine and smelt exhaust fumes. Ah! Esma arrived home from the gym. Just parking up the car, a bit of reversing into a tight spot, lots of revving. Len and I kept out of sight, as we didn’t want to put her off. 11.08am Esma greets us outside her front door. We are introduced to her tomato plants and …..Come on Esma, lets get going. Len and I put several bags into the car and discuss the two bag allowance en route to the airport. Main bag 21kg and hopefully 2nd bag 12kg for sports equipment. We are all prepared for the protest at the check-in with Easy/Jet.
Loads of Sunday morning drivers, several near misses and change of route from Chessington round to A217 and now we are eating into the check-in time. Mobile starts ringing as various dive buddies ask where are you; we’ve checked in and are airside in the bar. Err…we are still at the Tolworth Bowl in traffic. It normally only takes me 25 minutes to get to Gatwick and now it’s 12.30am and I’m more or less at the Club. I resort to panic and frantic drive mode – Len and Esma hold on for dear life as I wend my way through Sunday drivers and we arrive at Gatwick at 1.15pm. It’s only taken me 3 and a quarter hours to do my 25 minute journey.
Right, I’m really up for Easy Jet now! We race into the North terminal, mobile still ringing, where are you, everyone else is on parade and you’re the last three. Whoa! Easy Jet has so many check-ins you can’t believe it, no queues. There is so many to choose from. We are straight up to the check-in. I am straight on the offensive, we’re allowed 21kg for this and 12 kg for that, we were GB airways but now cos of airline sales we’re Easy Jet and huff and puff. ‘No problem sir, just put your bag on the scales’. Aw! Mine’s 24Kg. ‘No problem sir’. My main bag disappears. What about hand luggage, my shoulder’s tearing at the seams with my overloaded rucksack. ‘No problem sir’. They don’t want to see it let alone weigh it. Right were off to airside. Straight through – neh bother!
We joined up with our buddies – Brian & Jackie, Pauline & John, John F & Esther, Jim & Audrey, Bret & Ros, Gill & Kevan, Cynthia, Graham, and Mark E. After a brief interlude we made our way to the gate and oh dear! No seat allocation on Easy Jet, gate opened and ‘Bundle’, every man and woman for themselves. Roughty toughty BSAC divers here, make way, make way and we were all seated two by two. Four and a half hours later and we landed in Paphos. As we approached I couldn’t help but notice red lights on top of one or two buildings that looked remarkably like hotels. It would all become clear later in the week.
We enjoyed a smooth transition to Larnaca and at midnight we were safely ensconced in the Mariandy Hotel. A very clean, bright and accommodating hotel with staff service to match. We were all tired and after a couple of drinks we adjourned to slumber. The tall willowy Russian bartender winked at me twice and smiled broadly. I thought what a nice girl………..
Most of us were in the hotel except Brian, Jackie, Gill and Kevan whose overnight accommodation was 10 minutes up the road at Brian & Jackie’s apartment. They had a Mitsubishi hire car registration P1KEYs and we always knew when they were arriving because a flock of seagulls appeared overhead minutes before – following all the trot in their car.
The following morning we paraded at the nearby dive centre Alpha Divers where Chris, the chief instructor made us welcome and introduced us to his fellow dive masters. Eric his brother, Dennis a retired police inspector from Northern Ireland and Jack a young lad from Plymouth. We assembled our kit in double quick time all selecting various cylinders of various sizes. Most of us took 12 litre or 15 litre tanks but Boyce and Easty selected 18 litre tanks. Easty must have been following Boyce’s lead – if it’s free and plentiful then why not.
Poor old Boyce was scratching his head all week wondering how Helen had a full report of each day’s diving before he got back to the hotel. She knew where he’d been, what dive he’d been on and size of his 18 litre tank almost as soon as Boyce knew.
John F and Jim acted as dive marshals under the supervision of Chris the chief instructor. ‘Serious John’ was so christened by Chris within one day. But I have to say Serious John had to organise us into teams so as to safely negotiate the Zenobia – a car ferry that sank in Larnaca bay in 1980 and was in all probability scuttled as part of an insurance scam. The Zenobia is a roll on roll off transport ferry and much of it’s cargo remains on trucks chained to the car decks even today. Wreck penetration of the Zebobia is very serious proposition as it is 40 metres at the seabed and 18 metres to the top rail. It is very easy to get lost or trapped in car or accommodation decks. We were very fortunate to have a guide on every dive and a separate guide for our Ocean divers restricted to the upper levels of the wreck. Serious John organised us as necessary and we had a great time. Overall the diving was fantastic and much more exciting than any of us expected.
Jim was christened Perfect Jim after his exemplary behaviour and diving. He even produced beers for his dive buddies after a challenging shore dive to refresh the parts that other beers cannot reach. Perfect Jim demonstrated to all buddies how to be the perfect partner. You can’t ask for more than a beer!
One morning we were moored up on the Zenobia next to a rust bucket we nicknamed the Black Pearl. The eagle eyed senior divers spotted the rare species of four beautiful, young female, bikini-clad divers. We waved friendly greetings towards them and they responded with the finger and rude gestures. Perfect Jim refused to be drawn into the tactical response adopted – the builder’s smile also known as the bicycle park.
Esma completed her first night dive under the instruction of Len and later in the week finished her Sports Diver training with the dive centre leading a dive (SO5) on the Champagne – a yacht intact and upright at about 18 metres. She passed with flying colours and got a fantastic photograph of a Moray Eel on the deck to boot. Well done Esma!
I took Gill on her first night dive on the Zenobia. After five minutes on the deck she was jabbing me in the ribs and pointing out scorpion fish and other bright coloured species that I still haven’t identified yet. I thought who is leading whom on this dive. We glided around the stern, saw one of the massive propellers valued allegedly at £200K plus and gently returned to the shot. Forty-five minutes later and I couldn’t stop Gill from enthusing about her first night dive. So much for nerves! Throughout the week she progressed from straight forward diving to a 12ft giant stride entry off a cliff, wreck penetration and night dive. Well done Olive!
We all had a fantastic dive on the Alexandria wreck – a sunken Russian Trawler upright at about 30 metres. The visibility was so good you could see some of the wreck from the surface. We had a huge photo fest with all cameras flashing away – it was like being chased by the paparazzi.
After a few days and much rest I was feeling quite refreshed and had a late night with Len, Bret, Graham, Brian, Jackie, Kevan, Gill and Mark. About 1am I went to the bar and noticed at the adjacent reception an elderly man in his mid-eighties of Cypriot appearance. An RAF type with dapper dress sense, slacks, short sleeve shirt, well-groomed, pencil moustache, tanned and swept back short grey hair. He seemed very calm but the concierge was almost beside himself. His hand kept wiping his forehead and he seemed shocked. I suddenly noticed a young woman accompanied the elderly man in her early twenties. I returned to our group and minutes later Ovic the concierge burst out of the bar area with a look of disbelief. Ovic explained in his own imitable way the 85 year old had come to the hotel for ‘Jiggy jiggy boom boom’. It did dawn on us later in the week that the red light on the hotel roof and the comings and goings in the night bore all the hallmarks of ‘Jiggy jiggy’.
Our last day of diving we incorporated a BBQ. For the first time conditions were strong off shore winds and moderate swell. In addition there was a giant stride entry from rocky outcrops. I was very impressed to see all our Ocean Divers and most of our senior divers take up the challenge. Secretly I thought they were mad as hatters but they proved me wrong and successfully negotiated their dives. There were a few minor bruises but for a weeks serious diving, the special ones had acquitted themselves very well indeed.
Throughout the week we enjoyed an excellent selection of cuisine. We attended a local Cypriot restaurant on two evenings where most of us experienced a Meze – a meal of some fifteen courses of various delicious dishes. In fact there was so much left over we had doggy bags for lunch on the boat the next day. There was so much that even the seagulls had leftovers. On another night we attended a Curry House – The Ganga where we enjoyed Indian hospitality.
On the last night we saved the best for last. We went to Ayia Napa to a Japanese restaurant – Hokkaido – where our food was cooked on flaming grills in front of us and the Chefs teased us with their party tricks and cooking skills. Everyone commented that the quality and the sheer quantity of the food was outstanding. Definitely a venue to attend on a future occasion – steaks, chicken breasts, duck, pork escalope, assorted vegetables, special rice and other delicacies were all tried and we all enjoyed the entertainment immensely.
Our Alpha Diver guides were the perfect hosts, we had a fantastic group of chilled tourists and full credit to Brian & Jackie for excellent organisation, excellent selection of hotel accommodation, transfers, excellent flights and baggage allowance and generally doing a first class job. I think they will be head hunted now to do another trip. I had a great time, thank you.