Iole Damaskinos samples the Aphrodite family eco-camping site bordering the Akamas
As a sustainability advocate, nature lover and avid fan of responsible backcountry camping, I was excited to hear about the new Aphrodite Family Eco Camping site.
The website description read: “Our aim is to highlight the place by respecting every principle of ecology, of preservation and protection of the natural wealth of our area highlighting the way in which man and nature together can simply coexist in complete harmony by creating mutual benefits from this coexistence in the same space.” Finally, I thought, our island boasts an innovative and genuinely eco-friendly campsite.
In my fertile imagination, the campsite featured large composting bins, an off-grid solar electric installation, perhaps a small permaculture food forest supplying the restaurant, sustainable grey water management, reusable cups, locally produced biodegradable toiletries and composting toilets. I couldn’t wait to visit and marvel at all this from closeup.
I set off with two nine-year-olds, one of whom had never been camping before, and spirits were high. I had reserved an adorable-looking A frame with double bed for anyone who might get too scared to sleep outdoors and a teepee in which two small tents could be erected.
We were greeted at the reception by a friendly manager, who took great pains to explain all the details of the campgrounds and ensure we selected the perfect spots. I also signed a form promising not to overdo alcohol or take any drugs.
On the shelves, I spotted a goat milk and olive oil, geranium, lavender and patchouli soap for sale, €6.50, minimally packaged, produced in Gouri, Nicosia. It smelled divine and smiling with satisfaction I bought a bar. On the way out, I noticed with additional satisfaction that there were bicycle racks and bicycles for rent.
The first sight of our lodgings brought squeaks and exclamations of delight from us all. The teepee was impressive and slightly exotic, and even had a door that swung shut providing blissful shade, the gaps between the bamboo still allowing for ventilation. The A frame was every bit as quaint as it looked in the pictures. My blind fell off the wall as soon as I tried to open it for a cross-breeze, but being used to improvising, I quickly rigged up a shawl I had brought along with some clothes pegs, creating a perfectly acceptable combination of privacy, shade and breeziness.
After we set up the tent under my supervision, we headed to the beach. We had been told there were two beaches, a smaller and a bigger one. Clambering down under a shady canopy of shrubs we found the stunningly beautiful small cove. While the kids busied themselves with tiny shrimps and hermit crabs in the pools I took the chance to relax in the shade cast by the rockface.
So far so good, I thought. At nightfall we made our way to the showers. I was a bit surprised to see bins placed for plastic, paper and general waste, each one with the waste contents utterly mixed up. It seems simple colour-coding isn’t enough to encourage visitors to separate their wastes. Sadly, there wasn’t any food waste or composting bin in sight.
The shower block held another surprise. There were no composting toilets, but one of the two toilets was an old-fashioned “hole in the ground” style I haven’t encountered anywhere in a long time. I puzzled at the meaning of this, perhaps water conservation was the aim, but who would prefer this type of toilet over the flushing one? Composting loos have come a long way since this crude hole in the ground version.
Night fell and we made ourselves pitta pockets with supplies we had brought. Small camping stoves and charcoal cooking trays are allowed but only in one designated area, and I didn’t feel like carrying all our things to the other side of the grounds to cook. The little bar livened up for a while, but never became obnoxiously noisy, and its fairy lights twinkled festively through the trees.
Soon everyone tucked in for the night and by 11pm utter silence fell-quite a change from other local campsites I have camped in over the years! The little fan on the bedside table remained unused. I had been worried about the A frame getting too hot and stuffy at night but by keeping the front door open, protected by the curtain across it, the cabin stayed surprisingly pleasant as well as mosquito-free.
The next day we explored the other beach, early in the morning. The beach was also stunning, access was a bit trickier here as there are large, rounded stones leading into the water, but the slight inconvenience was well worth it. The snorkeling was good and as we rounded the corner we came upon a small unexpected fresh waterfall running into the sea. Kayaks are also available for use on this beach, at additional cost.
We decided to give the restaurant a try for lunch. The fare, like the service, was minimal and standard, with the added quirk that the usual starters like tarama, tzatziki, tahini and hummus apparently don’t come served with pitta or bread. Slightly disgruntled, I trudged in the heat over to the A frame to fetch pittas from our cool box. The salad promised with the nuggets did not arrive until I pointed to the menu description and asked for it, and was also a minimal portion of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. I didn’t bother inquiring whether or not they were organically grown.
Fetching our books and card games we made our way to the cheerful bar area, tastefully decorated in primary colour summer café style and pleasantly shaded by a carob trees and a large natural materials structure.
I ordered a frappé in a glass and the kids got ice creams. Both were perfect. Upon leaving I spotted someone carrying a tray of take-out cups from the bar to a tent area. Single-use cups being permitted and offered at a so-called “eco campsite” struck me as incongruous, as did the provision of non-bio degradable soap in the ablution block dispensers.
Perhaps I will have the opportunity to ask the owner and manager about some of these puzzling aspects during another visit, as well as about the mystery of the wandering goats which occasionally appeared chewing on the carobs, and also on piled up cut weeds. Are these goats part of some eco-management sustainable weeding and natural fertilising project?
I certainly plan to return. The location is breathtaking and in the cooler months will also offer many opportunities for hiking the Akamas, one of my favourite adventures on the island.
Perhaps more improvements are in store for this campground and perhaps they can be driven to some extent by NGOs and sustainability advocates visiting and requesting these, or even volunteering to set them up.
Meanwhile, if you go, take your own recycling bags, biodegradable soaps, detergents, and reusable cups, avoid the restaurant, and enjoy the friendly people, the peacefulness, the gorgeous views…and the goats.