On our last day in Cyprus, I was going to swim around a giant rock three times. Why? I blame Myles.
Before our trip, Myles mentioned that Cyprus is the supposed birthplace of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of beauty and inspiration for the word aphrodisiac. You’re probably familiar with the famous painting, where she rises from the sea in a scallop shell, flanked on both sides by doting nymphs. You may also be familiar with the story of her birth, where Uranus’ male parts were tossed into the sea and his swimmers, free at last, were able to turn the sea into a giant womb and produce a woman. What you may not know, as I did not, is that Aphrodite not only has incomparable good looks, love, and dubious parentage, but she also has a rock.
Located off the coast of Cyprus in Paphos, Aphrodite’s rock is so-named because it’s supposedly where she was born. Or because the sea is especially foamy there, which has led Aphroditeists (definition: scientists who factually study Aphrodite) to believe that this could be the spot where she emerged from the sea, though Boticelli seemed to have missed it.
“You swim around the rock three times and then you meet the love of your life,” Myles told me dreamily. “I met Matthias the next day.”
“I thought you knew him before then and were on a trip together?”
“Yeah, but the next day was when we actually got to know each other.”
This seemed promising. Perhaps if I circumnavigated the rock thrice, the switch would flip and somewhere in Cairo, Jamie would think, “I should go with Nicole to the Philippines.” That, or a rough and stubbly Daniel Craig-type would serve me seafood at some Cypriot restaurant and run off with me.
As we navigated the steep and winding mountain roads out of Kalopanayiotis and down to the shore, Laura scanned her Lonely Planet.
“It doesn’t say anything about swimming around the rock three times,” she announced. This was a little worrisome, but I figured if it worked for Myles, it was worth a shot.
We arrived at Petra tou Romiou and parked the car across the street. I knew it would be a tourist site, but I hoped that it wouldn’t be packed with people circling the rock, like pilgrims at Hajj. A bit of romance would be lost if I told a story of how I completed my laps while getting groped in the face by some old man’s toe.
“There weren’t many people here when I did it,” Myles told me as we climbed over a metal barricade toward the rocky beach. “It took me fifteen minutes.”
The beach itself was covered in white rocks that made walking painful, but I figured the pain was part of the ritual. I waddled down to the shoreline to see a very different Mediterranean than we had in Protaras. Here, the water was dark and choppy, crashing up around a very unremarkable lump of rock.
“This is the rock?”
To my right, three taller crags rose up a bit further out.
“Are you sure? What are those rocks then?”
“I’m sure. This is the one I swam around.”
I hesitated, then stepped in. The water was frigid and the bottom was covered in slimy rocks. I sat down and edged myself out toward the rock, which took a little while. Laura and Myles waved from the shore. Bobbing in the tumultuous sea, I contemplated which direction to swim in. Studying the current, I decided that clockwise was my best bet, and then paused with worry. What if there was a designated direction to swim in and swimming the opposite way would have the opposite result? It was too late to go back and ask, and clockwise seemed more promising than anti-clockwise, so off I went.
It was difficult. I’m not a good swimmer to begin with, but the current was rough and the rock was a lot bigger up close. I later read that swimming around the rock is discouraged if you’re a poor swimmer for these reasons, but I figured if Myles could do it, so could I. My first revolution took longer than anticipated. The back of the rock was surrounded by stringy seaweed that kept catching my ankle. By the time I reached the front, breathless, and saw Laura hold up one finger from the shore, people were climbing onto the rock and jumping off.
Not wanting to have a hairy man land on my head in my quest for true love, I swam faster the second time. I imagine it took me much longer than 15 minutes to swim around the rock. When I was done, I expected something exciting to happen, but nothing did. A woman climbed on the rock and struck a warrior one pose.
Later, when searching the internet for this legend, I found nothing. Two websites mentioned that swimming around it three times would give me eternal youth and beauty, so I guess not all is lost. I can only guess that Myles made this up for her amusement.
Thanks, Myles. We’ll see who’s laughing when we meet up 40 years from now and I still look 28 and you don’t.