Paddling to the Dragon’s Cave in Pomos, Cyprus

by Thom Brown

Our On the Edges of Europe” columnist sets off in a kayak off the coast of Cyprus in order to track down the ominously named Dragon’s Cave.

The countless cracks of the Cyprus crag gripped the soles of my shoes. Perching on the dusty orange cliff was like sitting on the edge of Mars. The turbulent waves crashed noisily below, the white foam sticking to the rocks as the water quietly retreated, before returning once more in a crescendo of pent-up energy. My eyes traced the crooked shoreline to the furthest tip of the peninsula, beyond which were unchartered waters, calling me to venture forth.

For most, Cyprus is a classic vacation destination, relaxed in the day and livening up after sunset. In cities like Paphos and Larnaca, British bars and Greek restaurants lined the streets, soccer matches, drag shows, and traditional dances doing their best to attract every kind of traveler. Squeaky clean marinas safely housed million-dollar yachts as tourists looked on, imagining a life of luxury before returning to their gray and rainy homeland.

There’s another side of Cyprus, though, and one that shouldn’t be neglected: from the ghost town of Varosha that has laid abandoned since the 1974 Turkish invasion to the Eldro III shipwreck, a tragedy turned tourist attraction. If there was time to do more than lie on the beach – and there was – I was going to explore all that this small island had to offer. That’s what took me to Pomos: one of the remotest villages in Cyprus, home to fewer than 600 people.

Exploring the quieter end of Pomos, waiting for the sea to calm down, I walked past its only minimarket, which barely stocked the essentials, the one restaurant of note, and a single flat-roofed tavern where old men would come to smoke and play cards. The nearest barbershop or proper grocery store was a good four-hour walk away. There was just one minibus that stopped in Pomos, but its schedule was “whenever it turned up,” the driver only accepted cash, and there wasn’t an ATM for miles. For me, looking for the furthest point from the tourist resorts, it was perfect.

From the narrow asphalt road that passed through the center of Pomos, a gravel track snaked downward to the sea. A few twists and turns later, I arrived at the small house where I was staying. A family of tiny black and gray free-roaming kittens ran to greet me. They’d started off scared, progressed to shy, and had finally come to accept me as a positive force in their lives, a provider of food and cuddles.

At the back of the house was a long stretch of grass that contrasted with the dusty, rocky terrain. Dressed in a white T-shirt and blue life vest, with a towel around my neck, I dodged spikey plants in the overgrown grass and strolled past palm trees to the jagged edge of the land. A nasty cluster of cacti marked the boundary between land and sea. I peered over and saw that the sea was now – like me in this kind of setting – calm and stable.

This is my chance, I thought.

A creaky wooden staircase sliced through the rock, marking a pathway from the garden to a secluded pebble beach. That’s where I kept my bright orange kayak, pumped up and ready to go. There it lay, wedged between two rocks, steady and resistant to the incoming tide. I grabbed the front handle and dragged it across the pebbles and into the glistening, navy blue water where it satisfyingly bobbed up and down in the safety of this tiny bay.

Until now, I’d only paddled close to the beach, wary of the choppy waves that lay beyond. This time, though, it was time to venture to the tip of the peninsula and finally discover what secrets were hidden in the untamed wilderness of Cyprus. In particular, I heard about an intriguing place called Dragon’s Cave. Naturally, my overactive imagination painted pictures of a fire-breathing monster guarding a hoard of treasure. I was Long John Silver on my way to claim it.

The water was wonderfully still. My paddle sliced through it like a spoon through custard, effortlessly thrusting me forward along the coastline. In the hot Cyprus sun, though, it was sweaty work. Before long, I encountered a small island of rocks where the kayak could be safely stowed while I went for a dip. The water soothed my burning skin as I slid into its cooling embrace. I plunged my head below the surface for a second of much-needed refreshment.

Then, to my complete surprise, a green turtle floated gracefully a couple of feet above the sea floor. All thoughts, time, and the urge to breathe seemed to freeze in this silent underwater world. Cyprus is one of the few places in Europe where it’s possible to spot sea turtles, but it’s far from guaranteed. I might not have found a dragon, but a turtle was a pretty sweet alternative.

Bursting through the surface, refreshed and energized, I was raring to get back in the boat. I climbed aboard, stuck the paddle into the side of the rock, and used it to push the kayak away into open waters, feeling the comforting buoyancy of the water beneath. The Dragon’s Cave was just around the corner, and despite my increasingly aching biceps, there was nothing to do but paddle. Left. Right. Left. Right.

Occasionally, I’d take a pause just to soak in the scenery. Cyprus is hardly the most remote of this planet’s islands, but as the clear blue sky morphed into the still waters, it felt like there was an eternal unexplored void to discover ahead. A city boy by default, I took a moment to feel gratitude that there were no blaring sirens, grating construction work, or screaming children. For a brief moment, I became that turtle beneath the waves: not a care in the world and nothing to do but float.

To my right, the coastline remained dusty and bare. A few white houses dotted the landscape, but it was otherwise a mixture of wrinkled red rocks and patches of vibrant cacti and palm trees. There was one more corner to go until I reached the cave, where there would be places to eat and rest before beginning the long paddle back to my beachside home.

On the final stretch, more civilization began to appear. This felt like a whole new village, but it was just the more populated end of Pomos. There were a few more houses, shops, and restaurants. Despite my longing for solitude, this was a welcome sight for my tired muscles and empty stomach. Along the coastline was a wooden staircase that seemed an ideal place to dump my kayak and scramble back onto hard, dry land. Beneath that staircase was a cave.

If I wasn’t seeking out this specific cave, I doubt I’d have given it a second glance. It was a relatively small opening, certainly not big enough for the European dragons I’m familiar with from The Lord of the Rings or Shrek. Two large rectangular rocks sat in the entrance of the cave, poking out of the water. Legend has it that this was a married dragon couple who protected Cyprus from pirates before – for reasons that remain unclear – turning to stone. I suppose myths like these provide some kind of unconscious comfort to the residents living above the cave.

For me, this was simply a hidden and sheltered spot to safely store my vessel. It also marked an ideal place to sit on the pebbles, look out at the horizon, and appreciate Earth’s remaining relatively untouched wildernesses.

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