GR US

It’s Snow Joke: Aussie Brings Sledding to Sunshine Island

Εθνικός Κήρυξ

An Australian woman has set up the first husky sledding business in Cyprus – and it’s proving to be a howling success.

After rescuing two huskies – one from a roadside kiosk and the other from a shelter – Ali Rhind discovered their true calling on a day trip to the Troodos Mountains.

She said: “There was a lot of snow that year and Dolce and Lulu were having a great time. A friend then hired a small sled and introduced it to the dogs who just knew what to do and loved it.

“After that I decided this was more than just fun; it was a great thing for the dogs to do because it was what they were bred and they could truly be themselves. So, I had a custom-built sled made, bought the proper harnesses, set up shop – and found myself blown away by the response.

“Everyone adores the dogs, so much so we are close to booked up before the season even begins.”

Although not famed for its winter sports – Cyprus boasts 320 sunny days a year – the island has two mountain ranges and enjoys snow for at least two months of the year. But while most entrepreneurs look to the beach to make their money, Ali has always taken the more interesting road in life.

Following a successful career in banking, the 58-year-old walked away from Sydney’s corporate world to work for a charity in Sri Lanka, testing elephants for tuberculosis. From there she went to Afghanistan, working for Oxfam GB and Afghan Aid, before taking a role with the fledgling government headed by Hamid Karzai. During her eight years in Afghanistan she was kidnapped, shot at and nearly blown up.

“The Taliban held me captive for a day in a province called Ghor. I had gone to the area to talk about the National Solidarity Programme – a government initiative to rehabilitate and develop Afghan villages – but they wanted none of it.  There were a lot of men with guns and they closed the room I was in.

“I was held for about six hours. Thankfully, international soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team came to get me, and the Lithuanians came with so much force the Taliban had no choice but to let me go.

“However, when my boss said she wanted me to stay in the area another week, I was like, ‘are you insane, I’ve just been held at gunpoint?’. That’s when I took the government job. They had been headhunting me for a while because they liked the way I worked, they liked working with women and they liked working with Australian women as we were viewed to be non-biased. And for many years I had a great time.

“I loved the work, but in a country like Afghanistan you have to know when your number is up and after eight years there, I found myself stuck in a traffic jam and knew that time had come. From nowhere, dog handlers appeared and the dogs were going berserk at a vehicle two lanes away from me. The security guys then started screaming at everyone to get out of their cars and run.

“Clearly, I did as I was told. The vehicle had a huge bomb inside of it. Luckily the detonator failed to go off and they managed to get it away to detonate it safely, but it was a close call, and my signal to leave after eight years.”

Knowing she needed some downtime, Ali went to visit friends in Cyprus, wanting nothing more than to relax before deciding her next move. However, she liked the island so much, she decided to stay.

After buying a village house in Polemi in the west of the island in 2012, Ali knew she would need to find a way to sustain her quieter life on the Greek-speaking island and so she decided to go back to her first love, which was sport, and retrained as a fitness instructor.

She said: “I was actually born in Aberdeen in Scotland and moved to Brisbane in 1971 when I was nine years old.  Dad was a builder and Australia was desperate for builders at that time so we came to build ourselves a better life.

“Within five hours of arriving, Dad got a job. At first, we lived in a migrant hostel, which wasn’t ideal for a family, but we moved into our own house a year later in Graceville, a suburb of Brisbane.

“It was there that I saw a sign in a shop advertising Scottish Highland dancing. It was something I really wanted to do because I used to dance in Scotland, but my mum said no, that I should find something Australian to do. So, my brother and I played sport – like every other Australian kid – and we both went on to play junior tennis for Australia.”

As well as being sporty, Ali proved to be academically bright, and when she took up banking, the company fast-tracked her career. However, after marrying at 19 – and having to get a restraining order on her estranged husband some ten years later after he secretly set up home in her attic – Ali knew there was more to life and she wanted to explore it. It’s a can-do attitude that has served her well.

Having been diagnosed with Chron’s disease at the age of 26, Ali has successfully managed her illness through diet and exercise. For a woman who loves to cook this could have been a nightmare, but she turned it to her advantage by setting up her second business in Cyprus; Spicy Ali’s Guilt Free Curry Company, offering homemade, gluten-free curries for the health conscious.

“Cyprus is an island built on small and mid-size enterprises, and there is a very deep entrepreneurial vein running through its core,” she says. “For anyone with ideas and a willingness to work, it’s an ideal place to set up a business and the location is great.

“Because it is famous for its all-year-round sunshine, most people forget that the island enjoys four distinct seasons and they are amazed to find that in the winter you can play in the snow in the morning and be on the beach by the afternoon. Naturally, when I discovered snow in the mountains, I had to take the dogs to see it. And that’s how my third business came about.”

Now coming up for its third season, Husky Sledding Cyprus has expanded its team with old pros Dolce and Lulu welcoming new boy, Dante, to the team.

“For most of the year, the dogs are pretty much house dogs. We all get up before the sun to go for a 12km hike and then they chill for the rest of the day so they are not only fit, but raring to go by the time the snow arrives.

“As well as a custom-built sled, the dogs all wear proper dog sledding harnesses and they only work when they want to. Of course, they don’t really see it as work because they have so much fun – and they love the attention.

“All three huskies start howling on the last 15km stretch of road going up to Mount Olympus, they are that excited and, of course, everyone gets excited hearing them arrive. Though I have done little in the way of advertising, word has quickly got round and during the school holidays we are pretty much booked. For me it really has turned out to be a dream job.

“It’s great that I can turn my love of exercising and my love for the dogs into a viable business. It really is a family business in that sense. And should the day come when the dogs have had enough, that will be the end of it. But right now, we are all having fun – and sharing that fun!”

Husky Sledding Cyprus. A 90-minute session for up to six people costs €195 euros. Military personnel receive a €20 discount. For more information, email: alirhind@yahoo.co.uk