Stepping out of the van at the Akamas peninsula felt like stepping onto a planet from one of the galaxies in Star Wars. The land was hot and arid, composed of low shrubs on a rolling, rocky landscape. I squinted through the Cypriot sun as I grappled with the view.
When people have an experience abroad, many mention the power of experiencing different ‘cultural landscapes’—but to me, the most significant thing about going to Cyprus this fall was the literal landscape. I was there on a trip through a Geology freshman seminar over fall break. On the trip, the students were divided up into teams to work on separate projects; one of the projects I was working on was studying remnants of ancient dunes that had been immortalized in cemented limestone sand. Our search for the remnants of these dunes, the trademark ‘cross bedding’ that is formed as sand accumulates on dunes in layers, brought us one day to a part of the island known as the Akamas peninsula.

When I first got out of the car at Akamas, I forgot momentarily about our project. I drank in the landscape. Beneath my feet, weathering from acidic rain had turned the limestone rock into a caustic network of tiny holes and tunnels, easy to trip on if you aren’t careful. To my left the land disappeared abruptly, plummeting into a huge cliff that ended in the clear waters of the Mediterranean which almost seemed too blue, too perfect to be real. Across the bay loomed another great white cliff, studded with greenery and footed by giant boulders and chunks of fallen limestone. To me, coming from the wooded plains of Minnesota, this scenery might have well have been taken right out of a science fiction novel.

Even though Akamas was certainly the most visually striking place we visited on our trip, it wasn’t only site that was memorable. Each place we visited had something new to offer; each new landscape, rock formation, or stratigraphy that we learned about revealed some aspect of the island’s ancient geological history. Cyprus is unique in that it’s a piece of the sea crust, formed at a mid-ocean ridge, which was bent and forced up above sea level due to tectonic motion. Therefore every layer of the crust, right down to the mantle itself, is exposed on the island for the human eye. From bulbous pillow basalts (bubbles of cooled basaltic lava) to great protruding sheeted dikes (channels through which lava used to flow, now solidified), walking through the geological landscape of Cyprus is like picking the bones of the earth itself.

When I first got to Cyprus, this meaning was totally lost on me. I drove through the country and looked at it like I would any other; rocks, rocks, more rocks. By the end of the trip, however, it was like I had found a way to access a different layer of reality; suddenly the view out the window of the car wasn’t just ‘hills’ or ‘trees’, but it was a window into something much bigger, much older than myself. In Cyprus, the landscape became more than something to admire or take pictures of; it became a living record, one that could be picked apart and understood. Other trips I’ve taken have made the world seem smaller, more accessible; oceans and continents reduced to 8 hour plane rides and jetlag. But, standing on the cliffs of Akamas, I felt suddenly very small and insignificant. At that moment, the world became a vast and ancient place.

~Alexandria Herr '17