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When in the Karpaz, carry cucumbers

Mobbed by donkeys

The Karpaz is the peninsular, sometimes called the panhandle, of Cyprus. It stretches east and slightly north, pointing towards Turkey, some 65km away. It is the wildest, emptiest part of the island, and while much of it is agricultural, the mountainous and rocky areas mean large parts remain uncultivated. By June the harvest is already in and the stubble in the fields proves irresistible to the donkeys. These are generally referred to as "wild donkeys" but the more accurate description would be feral. After the intercommunal struggle and the shifting of the population – Greek Cypriots going south, Turkish Cypriots going north – the Greek farmers in the Karpaz left their donkeys behind. And, very quickly, they reverted to living in herds, independent of man.

This herd, grazing on stubble, became instantly alert when I came into view. And their stallion stood alone, closer, puffing and snorting and generally making it clear that I'd come quite close enough, thank you very much.

Not all the donkeys are quite so standoffish, though. Those around the Apostolos Andreas (St Andrew) Monastery have a quite different attitude. The monastery stands almost at the tip of the panhandle and has played a role in Cyprus similar to that of Lourdes – for centuries pilgrims have come here hoping for – and often receiving – a cure. This all began with St Andrew (brother of St Peter, the rock on which the church was built) who came this way on one of his preaching missions – when his ship ran out of water. He told the one-eyed captain to pull in at the rocky promontory where, fortunately, they found fresh water. Andrew was delighted and restored the captain's sight as a thank you.

Back to the donkeys. While their cousins out in the fields and the hillsides may have their doubts about people, the monastery donkeys have realised they're a better resource than a field full of stubble. So, far from fleeing when they see you coming, they come to greet you. Along the roadside leading to the monastery, they stand around looking hopeful and approach whether you're on foot or in a car. What are they looking for? Strange as it may sound, it's cucumbers. Enterprising locals sell them by the bag at the roadside. They use the ones that are bendy or bulbous because, even in Cyprus, oddly shaped vegetables are not highly prized. But for the discerning donkey, they represent the ultimate delicacy.

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