Escaping the Cyprus heat
February 8, 2007
It turned out to be a fun party evening with the Bulgarian and Polish etc. girls at the end of the last chapter.
After I finished writing the chapter, during which time they kept coming up to me thinking it rather odd I did not want to join them dancing (must have been pressured by their boss to make sure every "client" was satisfied), I joined them at the bar and started chatting with them. After exchanging some niceties and having determined I was from the Czech Republic, the head girl said, "ah", and called over a rather pretty Slovakian girl to keep me company. So I spent the rest of the evening chatting with her, more locals eventually rolled in, the girls danced up a storm on the counter, and I eventually stumbled my way back to the caravan truck parked around the corner.
I would use that place as my border crossing point once a month for the purpose of extending my visa. It was not so far from where I was stationed, in Silver beach on the outskirts of Farmagusta Cyprus. I even had fancies of asking the Slovakian girl if she’d like to go hiking with me, as I wanted to explore some of the mountainous regions inland. To which she responded, "Well, I get about one day off a month, and why would I want to spend that with you?" Wasn’t quite so abrupt but apparently my dreams of having an island girlfriend would be in vain. On later visits none of the same girls worked there anymore and I found myself a different pub to frequent.
On a stroll one weekend along an English beach.
But it turns out that my visits to the southern, European and Greek half of the island were also in vain, because the two sides were in a "vicious" war against each other and the north Turkish side would not recognise the entry stamp from "that country", and hence not automatically extend my visa like my expat friends in Prague would do during their monthly visits to Dresden, successfully extending their visa and stay in the Czech Republic for as long as they wanted.
The island of Cyprus has a rather interesting history.
So I settled into my little beach area, and eventually found free internet at the local university. Every day I would drive onto campus with my big beast and surreptitiously park as close as I could to the entrance of the girl’s dorm (where I found the wifi signal to be the strongest - only reason, honest), prop up the antenna on the driver’s seat, and work hidden in the back of the truck all day.
At one point I wanted to post some fliers around campus offering free English lessons in exchange for company and beers, so I burned my fliers onto a CD and walked around campus looking for a print shop. I had the CD in a sleeve of a binder, which I brought with me, together with a pen, see-through tape, scissors, and some coloured thumb tacks I had left over from my grand old corporate headquarters in Prague.
I walked around campus, among the other students, with my little binder in hand (although I was in my typical shorts - only one on the island it seemed - sandals without socks, and scruffy overgrown face) and it brought me back to my joyful days at university back in Canada. I thought I even smelt the fresh ink of freshly printed textbooks, and I almost felt young and fresh like on my first day on campus.
Eventually an elderly Iranian gentleman contacted me and I befriended three Iranian chaps, teaching them English in some pub. But I must admit there was some friction in the beginning, because the elderly gentleman did not seem to like my beer drinking. And I certainly was not going to dedicate my time teaching English for tea in his campus office, so I really had to put my foot down on that one.
The lessons seemed to peter out, probably because it became evident I was not a professional and was mostly interested in conversational teaching, and I certainly was not going to spend extra time preparing lesson plans for those two beers, but I did get into a routine of sporting with one of the Iranian guys. Which is when he also introduced me to the campus’s sports facilities, and now, not only had I stumbled on free internet, but I had an unlimited supply of glorious, pounding hot water.
The months rolled along in my dreamy new routine, until it became increasingly unbearable due to the rising heat. It was the beginning of May and already the daily temperature was around 28C. At one point the fan on my laptop seemed to stop working and I was getting increasingly concerned for its temperature. I surfed the internet and found some software to help regulate the fan’s speed and the laptop’s temperature.
But even so it was becoming increasingly hot and unbearable, and I was dangerously running out of cash again. I was already emailing with one relative friend of the possibility of borrowing some money. My situation was getting irritating again, not to mention the kzillion little bugs (a phenomenon every spring) which would infest the truck during the early morning hours as the sun rose over the Syrian ocean and filled my truck with a rosy glow. Although a hazy rosy glow, since I burned the citronella candles at full throttle to try and keep the little peckers from crawling all over my face and into my ears, while taking little bites out my ankles, since it was too hot to bury them under the sheets.
And to add to all this irritation, it was around the time of my annual fast, which this time I combined with a parasite cleanse to make the liver cleanse so much more powerful. I was cruising along during my fast with no problems, but around day 15 of the parasite cleanse, something kicked in and I started producing extremely hot and painful, super running yellow diarrhea. I assumed it was the toxic dead parasites, but the burning diarrhea led to a torturously inflamed case of hemorrhoids. I ended up lying on the beach all day in total agony, sauntering occasionally into the ocean while a yellow river flooded uncontrollably down my legs. Fortunately there were not many people on the beach that day, and I was forced later to drive to the hospital, driving for the first time a four ton monster while standing.
So my stay on the island during this period had become increasingly irritating, and my financial concerns were growing. Which is just about the time when I received an email, out of the blue, from my cousin in England informing me that her aupair had an emergency, had to go back to her family in the Czech Republic, and if I felt like spending the summer in London, there was a bed and bedroom waiting for me.
Well, this could not have been a more perfect solution, so within a week I found myself on a plane flying to a much cooler north. Which turned out to be another page of my sheer luck and God’s good guiding fortune to the extent when I found out at the airport that I had only three days left on my passport. My cross border trips to the south were useless and I would have had to pay another hefty fine if I had left the island or the much cheaper north a few days later. Now in London my food and expenses were basically covered and I was receiving some much needed income as well. Even my aunt pitched in and I found myself spending once or twice a week vacuuming her floors and trimming her trees.
Previously during my life in Prague, it was the longest time I had spent in one place my entire life. Before that it was the four years I spent at university. But the fourteen years I spent in Prague was by far the record. The first eight were quite fun, during the transition from communism to capitalism, with many adventurous foreigners streaming through the nation’s capital and things always changing, in which case it felt like I was constantly on the move. But towards the end it started to stagnate, the conversation shifted to gossip, and I was increasingly longing to upheave my life again and make another radical change.
But during those fourteen years, especially every weekend when I would go biking and camping out of town to some small rural festival, I found myself buying little souvenir items and subsequently cluttered up my flat with them, the various souvenirs occupying every possible and available space on every table and shelf.
But when I finally moved into my truck and took pleasure in my long awaited radical upheaval, it was refreshing to rid myself of all these trademarks of stagnation and seriously scale down to the absolute necessities. If only for the reason of limited space, and the fact that souvenirs do not remain on shelves in a bobbing truck which occasionally likes to go offroad.
In my truck I was learning a new lifestyle. There wasn’t really a kitchen, and I got into a routine of wiping my cooking pot with toilet paper, most of the time not even bothering to wash it in the ocean. Occasionally I would sweep the centre carpet and throw out the window the sand which I had inadvertently dragged in from the beach. My life had become pleasantly simple, with few belongings.
But now I found myself at my aunt’s place, lifting up each of her individual kzillion souvenirs that she had accumulated over her entire lifetime, to laboriously wipe away the "dust" from under each souvenir. After quite unnecessarily vacuuming her carpets every week, she taught me how to roll up the ends of the carpet and let them go so that the threads at the end would fall nice and lined up next to one another.
When vacuuming, I was reminded that I should also make a sweep UNDER the edges of the carpets.
When cutting the grass, I was asked if I could push the lawnmower in long straight lines, walking back and forth parallel to the fence like some zombie, instead of in the haphazard directions which I preferred. I was waiting for her to pull out a comb and ask me to line up each blade of grass properly. During my three and a half months in London, I honestly think I spent more time cleaning than I had ever spent my entire life. Although the small amount of extra cash was certainly appreciated.
Back at my cousin’s place, I find I would blink and notice the kitchen sink was once again brimming over with dishes, just after I had laboriously cleaned the previous wave. My cousin would have a habit of cutting lettuce with scissors, or perhaps a carton of milk, and with each snippet the scissors would be thrown into the sink, for the "aupair" to deal with. Such that on average there would be three scissors to wash with every meal. It was like swimming up a torrential river. It was a never ending struggle to keep that kitchen sink empty, and it was certainly a very stark contrast to the simple and lean life I had grown accustomed to during my life on the road.
The children were great, but at the dinner table I would watch helplessly as the food would spittle out of the mouth of the younger one, all over himself, the table and the floor, quickly crushed into his sock and smeared into the floor tiles every time he bolted to the sink to get some more water. And I soon imagined myself like the barmaid in that famous painting, looking down in hopelessness, I guess in realisation that her prince of shining armor would never saunter through the entrance way and save her from this life of toil and depravation. I too was losing hope, and resigning to the never ending stream of perpetual cleaning, as another piece of food spittled out of his little mouth. The neverending cleaning and mountainous piles of dishes also reminded me of Marloe Brandon’s famous line in The Apocalypse: "The horror, the horror."
But the cooler weather was also muchly appreciated (besides the great company of my nephews and relatives). However, at the end of it all, I was amazed to have spent the "summer" in England while losing a tan. I have never experienced a more miserable and pathetic summer, in terms of a lack of sunshine and warm weather. In any case, every cold and miserable day was a lovely welcome compared to the blistering and unbearable heat I had left behind in Cyprus.
One thing I noticed from my radical shift back to civilisation is that I had lost much of my voice. Pounding away at the keyboard by my lonesome self in the truck all day, I simply was not conversing that much, and I even felt my social skills needed a jump start. But by the end of the summer the spontaneity of youth had returned and I was acting like a total clown, once again, with my lovely two nephews.
A bridge I would often jog across on my regular errands to the centre. Gallery here of London scenery.
Speaking of civilisation, London itself was quite a contrast from what I had grown accustom to during my travels.
Always time to smell the flowers! Gallery of cactuses at a fair.
Because my truck is not in perfect shape, I decided I’d rather avoid the stringent standards of western Europe and head eastwards. Where the farther you go east, the less people are concerned about stopping at stop signs. Reminded me of Mexico, where no one would stop at stop signs. And when you think about it, why bother? Why wear down your breaks, and burn more gas if you don’t have to? I remember one busy intersection in Mexico, with four stop signs, but everyone had a skill of cruising through each other. You would just slow down a bit, barely miss the back of the passing car in front of you, and sneak by just as the next car would cruise by your back. A wonderful Bohemian, lassez faire mentality. Hygiene was not a great concern, and nothing really mattered. In contrast to the US and Canada, where if you did not go to a full stop 1 meter before the stop sign and count "one thousand and one" in your head, the storm troopers would soon be busting your head on the hood of your car. London was not quite so militant in this way, but it was not so far behind either. I have noticed something about a more "developed" society which I like to refer to as the "granny syndrome".
I loved how the pubs oozed with delicious decoration.
A young boy buys a firecracker and, out of his own stupidity, blows out his eye. An enraged grandma takes the case to parliament, and soon you have a new law preventing the public sale of fireworks. Hence spoiling it for all the other boys who want to play with fireworks. And such laws get added to one other over the years until society cripples itself from such fears. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. In England there was an immense paranoia of taking pictures in public. Lest the camera might capture a youngster in the background, the digital photo enlarged and plastered up on the internet for all pedophiles to revile over. It did not matter that there were freely available department store catalogues of young attractive children posing in various clothes, but to pull out your camera in public you can expect someone to come up to you and issue a polite yet stern warning. When I once bought a sandwich in a deli, I watched how the woman painstakingly put on plastic surgical gloves, dress my bun, wrap up the bun in paper and then a plastic sleeve over top, and then painstakingly remove the gloves and throw them into the garbage. My cousin, an eye doctor, gave me some very handy disposable metal tweezers. It is apparently cheaper to make these disposable tweezers than to sterilise regular ones between patients for fear of transferring aids.
Or one day some jerk businessman slipped on a rose petal at a metro station, and now flowers are much more expensive because every flowerstand is forced to pay high insurance to protect themselves from getting sued. I found this analism of excessive bureaucracy on many levels and another stark contrast to the lassez fair nature I had endearingly grown accustomed to in the east.
Sitting in the front seat high up in a double decker bus while riding to ice-hockey practice, I would watch the people below, endless multitudes like ants busily crossing the road, buying this and that. And although global warming and green was very much on the conscience of everyone there, it still seemed like an extremely wasteful society.
The orderly nature of the place I was staying at, in contrast to the nature I was used to parking in, inspired me to think of my anarchy toast theory. Everything was so ordered, everything in geometric squares, right down to the tiles on the kitchen floor. It seems the kitchen was not a perfect square, and I imagined the dilemma the tile layer must have faced when trying to line up the tiles perfectly along the wall. In this case he made a perfect compromise, slicing small angled tiles and distributing them evenly on either side of the kitchen, instead of the whole tiles lined up perfectly along one wall and imperfectly along the opposite wall. I noticed this obsession with the square everywhere I went. City blocks, intersections, doorways, window frames, a loaf of bread which should always be sliced perfectly perpendicular to the horizontal centre, always starting from the right side and moving towards the left. This in sharp contrast to my developed preference of ripping off a healthy slab with my bear hands to shove whatever contents I wanted into its moist centre. After all, bread is a staple of life itself. The food of the poor. Grain the currency of days gone by. It seems natural to just rip off a healthy slab with one’s bear hands. Like when taking a chomp out of an apple. But not in such an overdeveloped civilisation. No, here we meticulously slice our apples and arrange the pieces nicely onto an appropriately sized plate.
So I found it took me a while to get used to the new lifestyle, and had to chuckle at my little protest of slicing the loaf of bread at a slight angle to the perpendicular. I imagined that such a minor act of delinquency could invoke a storm of protest by the inhabitants of such an orderly lifestyle. Unfortunately, it did not inspire the beginnings of the revolution I fancied it might.
But, alas, my fun time with the kiddies was coming to an end and I found myself making my way back to the south. Just as the chills of winter seemed to be creeping in up north. However, the trip back turned out to be an adventure itself.
We said our dear goodbyes and I took the long train out to Heathrow airport. I gave myself plenty of time, which I quickly used up walking from Heathrow 1, to Heathrow 4, to Heathrow 3… in a vain search for Cyprus Turkish North Airlines. I wasted some time standing in the line of Cyprus (Greek) Airways, until I remembered there were two halves to the island, and I was in the wrong line, and the wrong terminal.
I finally found the little booth but also found out that I was at the wrong blasted airport (the ticket mentioned Heathrow, where I landed in the first place, so logic would have it…). So an sms and long train later I was back in my aupair’s bed. It reminded me of a Carol Burnet comedy skit where, after saying their dear goodbyes at the airport, an announcement would holler on the PA system that the flight had been delayed two hours. So Carol would turn back to resume the niceties conversation with her hosts, who were patiently waiting for her to embark on her plane. Another announcement said it was a mistake and that the plane was ready. Again the dear goodbyes, she would turn to go, and again the announcement that the plane has in fact been delayed. This would continue several times until each side of the party was ready to strangle the other just to get rid of them and get on that blasted plane.
So my cousin had to remake the bed (my three months old sheets had been fumigated and in the laundry machine long ago), and I felt her impatience to return to her calm life growing ever so slightly. But the next day I was successful at rebooking my flight and that evening found myself on another long train to some Stanton airport. Finding the right booth was much easier, but the system much less lax than on my way to London, even though it was exactly the same airline. In Cyprus they let me onto the plane with my laptop, small duffle bag, violin and camera. They said I was only supposed to have one carry-on but they just rolled their eyes, waved their hand as they do in the lassez fair east, and let me on through. But in London there was a blaring sign in big print indicating one bag only, with no exceptions. I had to buy a bag and shove into it my small duffle bag of breakables, my laptop and camera. The violin and the large backpack went to the delicate cargo area, but my large backpack had to be entirely emptied and every item carefully inspected with gloved hands.
All these extra trains, another day in London, the extra bag and other things were costing me money, and which I had not counted on at all. For my last few days in London I allowed myself more of the expensive beer than usual, bought the kiddies presents, and in my usual Bohemian fashion managed to leave London without a pence in my pocket. But after reading with horror much of my travel blogs, my mother has grown wiser and, with her supreme woman’s intuition, made sure my aunt gave me about 300 dollars in cash and wired me another 500 dollars to my US account. I must say I would not have survived my first month back in Cyprus without this (let alone even make it out of London). THANKS MOM!!!
On the plane back I met an interesting chap, a Turkish Cypriote who moved to London but who was now visiting his family on the island. We talked on all subjects, one of which I like to return to when speaking with an intelligent person from the area, which is the subject of the US’s invasion of Iraq. He asked me what was my motivation for supporting the initial invasion of Afghanistan, and I mentioned the mistreatment of women, and the story I heard on CNN of a woman who was brutally beaten because her arm had become exposed. To which he responded, "You know, this is a civilisation thousands of years old, the people are dirt poor, and it takes time to nurture a more refined culture. It take education and patience, not the brutal force of tanks and bombs." It made so much sense to me. But this would require a whole new page on this subject, which I may write one day after speaking with more such intelligent people.
My aunt simply would not allow me to parade the glorious streets of London with my faithful sandals, which have served me well since my trip to Mexico, some four years ago..
We landed on the island and I offered to drive him where he wanted to. My heart was pumping and praying that my truck would still be in the centre of the airport’s free parking lot, where I had left it in the blistering heat more than a quarter of a year ago. When I was carrying my heavy backpack across the parking lot on my way towards London, a thought glimmered through my head that I forgot one bag of dirty laundry, probably a bit moist from the ocean, probably heavily soiled, yet sealed semi tightly. I imagine the flies that must have festered away in that burning furnace over the summer, which I was told reached highs of 44. I imagined the mould and stench, and destroyed clothes. I imagined I would open the door on my return and an immense cloud of bugs and stink would spew out into the open. But I was surprised that it smelt nice instead. Perhaps the heat of the summer killed any possible life inside, and brought out the aroma of the fine pine carpentry. But one of my tires had melted into the pavement, with no gas station open at that late hour. One of my car batteries was also totally dead. Before I left it occurred to me that I should have disconnected the batteries, but I could not think of anything which would drain it. I failed to remember the dashboard clock.
The Turkish chap left me to my worries and I proceeded to grapple with the task of jumpstarting the engine using my undrained caravan batteries. Managed to make it to Farmagusta with three back tires, but the next day when I woke up I noticed the second back tire was totally flat as well. Hobbled my way slowly to the service station and was forced to buy two new back tires at a total of 330$ (again, thanks mom!). I havent had enough cash for a new battery, so I’ve been forced to jumpstart the beast for the past month.
But speaking about the back tires, this reminds me of yet another story. During my life in my lovely truck, I feel I have developed a symbiosis with it. My cousin says that men have this ability to extend their bodies like this where women apparently cannot. I remember driving a few times and sensing that my right side view mirror might brush some leaves from a tree extending into the roadway as I barrelled my way forward. And sure enough, not only did the mirror brush just about as many leaves as I sensed, but in all honest truth, I felt it too! And I am not kidding. People have long marveled when watching me parallel park this monster. There have been times, when approaching road construction, I quickly calculated the lack of room, yet drove by almost without slowing down simply by driving half on the sidewalk. The tires on this thing are so large that it makes climbing up on the highest curb a breeze.
I truly felt I was developing a symbiosis with my dear wooden cottage on wheels, and not too long before my departure to England, I was developing a growing concern for the back tires. After all, before I had left Prague some 10,000 km ago, the back tires were already showing signs of wear and age, and this was repeatedly pointed out to me by others. But finances did not afford new tires, and I "felt" the truck would make the journey no problem. But now I "felt" that they were getting thin indeed, and every time before starting the motor, I would check all the tires and under them in case some broken glass had found its way there. Turks have a nasty habit of breaking glass bottles on the beach. But there was one ten day period when my anxiety over the back tires was exceptionally heightened. I was aware of ever small rock I would drive over on that dirt road to and from the beach, and I was extra careful about looking for broken glass.
But my anxiety became so heightened to the point that I thought it peculiar, so one day I decided to make a much more thorough search of the back tires.
Which is when I noticed what you will find in these accompanying pictures. I guess the wire mesh strip was not so visible the last ten days I was checking the back tires because it was out of view, depending on how the tires had stopped rotating when I came to my usual stop on the beach. But the day of my unbearable anxiety, when I chose to make my extra thorough search, was when the strip of exposed shrapnel was visible in all its glory, and you can imagine how my jaw must have dropped to the sand below as my head was peering under the back extension.
If that is not symbiosis, then what is? But at that time I still did not have enough cash so I went to a service shop and got them to switch it with the spare tire.
When I came back from London and woke up to two flat tires the next day, I bought two new ones and asked if they could use one of the flat tires as a spare instead. They shook their heads and said that those two tires, which I had driven while absolutely flat that slow kilometre to their service station, were totally shot. So for now I must say I have a very shaky spare tire indeed, and am looking forward to some cash soon so that I can replace the remaining two and use one of them as a more appropriate spare.
Settling back into my pleasant life on the beach (it was such a pleasure to wipe the pot with toilet paper again, lick the wooden spoon and throw that on the dashboard, having done with all the cleaning), I noticed that the border guard at the airport had stamped only one month on my visa. I drove to the northern half’s capital to ask for an extension. The guard asked me how do I expect to feed myself. I told him that I have a job through the internet and have customers in the US and Japan etc. He asked me how do they pay me, to which I replied that I have bank accounts all over the world. At that point all heads in the office turned my way, and scanned me up and down, from my unshaven face, past my not so clean shorts, to my barefeet in sandals. A sneer later and my visa extension was rejected.
I spent the next few days moping up and down on longer walks along my beloved beach, feeling somewhat rejected by my Turkish brothers. My new Iranian friend wrote in an email that he can get me an extension and that I should wait until he gets back from his summer stay in Iran. But he gets back on the 18th of September, and my visa expires on the 17th. Someone else mentioned that anything is possible in Cyprus if you know the right people, so I thought I would ask the little family I had befriended on the beach.
Digging up potatoes at the allotment, an interesting tradition which exploded in Britain due to the food shortage during the second world war.
The section of beach I had chosen as my home is suitably on the edge of civilisation, and next to an establishment which was undergoing reconstruction before I had left for England. But when I came back I found the structure in total disarray. Torn down, big slabs of concrete piled up haphazardly, with one lone semi demolished structure still standing. Seemed to fit perfectly with my beat up looking truck parked not too far away. I found out from the guy there that the investor had to pull out because of the world embargo imposed against the northern half. He was running electricity for his broken down store from a loud diesel generator, and once I offered him my extra solar electricity. One weekend I parked next to his broken down shack, wiped down and propped up the solar panels, but they simply were not powerful enough to power even one of his industrial refrigerators. He said that some caravan electricity is also lost due to the length of the 60 metre industrial extension chord I was using. That must have some element of truth to it, because when I went to open up the driver side door, I felt a noticeable amount of electricity on my thumb when I touched the lock. I guess electricity was leaking through the cable insulation, into the ground, and then funneling through my body when I touched the beast.
Nevertheless, he did appreciate my efforts and gesture, and in this (somewhat planned) manner I had befriended all his friends. They would invite me to sit with them under the trees at one of the picnic tables, eating food from their table, and bring freshly grilled fish to my truck. The conversation was a bit shy, because most of them did not speak any English. My Turkish was certainly limited, and forming a conversation through a small dictionary can be repressively hindering. But we would wave our arms in gesture, laugh, and drink some more alcohol. There must be a brotherhood of understanding among fellow alcoholics which needs no other language then the chink of a glass. At some point one of them who knew enough English kept translating the repeated statement of another of them: that he loves me.
I would tilt my head in respect and place my palm on my heart. If knowing the right people can accomplish anything on this island, I was going to try with my new family. I surreptitiously posed my question. Well, maybe not so surreptitiously, because I had to interrupt a Turkish conversation I was obviously no part of and did not understand. After translating my question, the one English speaker said, "My friend, at this table all your problems can be solved. THIS, for example, is the local police inspector."
I faithfully handed him my Czech passport, which was still in my pocket from my recent failed trip to the capital, and waited three days while he had it posted there.
But even this great family contact was not sufficient. Apparently something was wrong with the passport. Something about me already trying to get an extension on it. He told me that, on the last day of the visa, I should leave the country for a few hours and come back. In the capital they told me they would not let me back in. When I had already crossed the border once, the guard said I had eleven days left and did not extend it. So I decided I will cross the border near the last day, wait until it has expired, and in my typical surreptitious manner, try to cross back. If that fails, my criminal mind has already devised a possible scheme whereby I would report to the Canadian embassy on the south side that my passport has been stolen. On receiving a blank new Canadian passport (my Czech one would not work because it is already in the Turkish police computers), which does not show how I miraculously got to the island, I would try to make a casual crossing and see what happens. This is only a possible scheme of course.
With friends on one of our weekend walks in the English countryside. Here some swampland which apparently had ecological and heritage value.
But now I’m on the south side of this island, and this capital city - apparently the last divided capital in the world. My Europe-wide liability insurance had run out when I was in London, and my year’s prepaid North Cyprus one certainly does not come with a roaming plan (Kosovo and North Cyprus are the only two countries not covered under my Europe-wide insurance). So I chose the capital as my crossing point, because if they don’t let me back in, it will be a good place to get all my new paperwork in order for the south side.
Even though I was crossing into Europe again, which I had already done numerous times at the Farmagusta crossing point, somehow this crossing point seemed scary to me. It seemed somehow final, and that I was entering another world. When I had crossed before they would just waive me through without a question. But this time, for some reason, the woman’s eyes bulged out and asked me if I had road insurance. I told her that it had expired and that I planned to get some now. She hollered out to some guy in another booth, he hollered some explanation, she wrote my license plate number on a piece of paper, and waived me through.
But a quick story first. I was once told a story of a Greek person who had been driving back to his country from Germany with a Mercedes. Apparently the paperwork was not totally in order on his vehicle and the Greek police subsequently confiscated his vehicle and put it on the auction block. Apparently the Greek police are short of cash and use these means to help them with their budget. Since my papers are not totally in order, my truck not in perfect shape (okay, I’ll admit, rather far from perfect), I had no liability insurance and I was once again moving into the bureaucratic monster of the European Union, I was again experiencing one of my mild anxiety attacks, this time at the border. The woman having waived me through was a bit of a relief. But at each border crossing they generally like you to turn off the engine before handing them your passport. She waived me through, there were already two cars waiting patiently behind me, and once again, I found myself surreptitiously starting the truck’s engine, which with one dead battery entails the following: I lift up the driver’s seat so that it is leaning against the steering wheel, wedging the handy water bottle into position to keep the seat propped up. I grab the thick red jumper cable which is clamped to the safety belt of the rear seat, the other end of the cable already clamped onto the positive end of one of the 240 AmpHour massive caravan batteries connected in parallel (the minus end of which is already hooked up to the truck, hence completing the circuit).
Perhaps only in Cyprus could a tulip burst so boldly out of the sand. Time to catch up on some suntanning!
I clamp the free end of the jumper cable onto the positive end of the dead battery. With the gear shift in neutral, I manoeuvre my leg around the gear shift, along the edge of the seat, and place my foot on the gas throttle. I then reach with my hand into the dark under the tilted seat for the key and start the ignition. Then I remove the red clamp back to the safety belt, put back the water bottle, pop down the seat, all this while standing in my rather awkward position, because I must keep my foot gently pressing on the gas, as sometimes the engine stops when idling. With my foot still on the gas, I swing my left leg over the seat and into place, and then drive off. Fortunately, during this entire surreptitious procedure, the woman guard had casually turned her back and sauntered her way to her booth, contrary to my fears that she would just keep staring at me and wait for the other two cars to move forward. If she had continued to stare at me, and with the beat up shape of my truck, and no insurance, I feared she might start to ask more questions, and… Well, let’s just leave that for one’s own imagination. So here I am now, parked on the other side. I will spend the day familiarising myself with the town - in case I’d have to make an official move and arrange all the paperwork (such as new insurance, and a new Canadian passport, maybe). I’d also have to get yet another mobile sim card, so that I can check my mail on my pocket pc on the south side. I think I must have about 6 sim cards now, and I’m definitely in the market for a sim card wallet, if one exists.
I purposefully parked the truck next to this massive wall barricade dividing this city and, fortunately, I am still well within mobile signal of the Turkish half, for which I foreseeably bought extra credit in case they will not let me back in and I will need a few days to get set up in the south.
Last night I was wandering around familiarising myself with this half of the city. Already I found a 2 litre bottle of beer for three Cypriote pounds (about 7.5 dollars), so I found that moderately tolerable in price and sipped away at it while strolling and making mental notes of public washrooms and internet cafes. But my impression truly amazed me. These Greeks are totally European. The stores are wealthy looking, and rich and varied in culture. Selling Indian goods, Jamaican shops, and the old town centre teamed with life - youngsters playing, older ones riding bicycles. It was a very vivid difference from the northern Turkish part, where people are Muslim, drink much less alcohol, stay together in their family groups, and the city is basically dead and dirty at night. With the invasion of Turkey to protect their Muslim brothers from getting slaughtered by the Greeks and Europeans, carving a line purposely half way across this strategic island, I truly feel I am on the frontier between Europe and the Islamic world.
On the rocks fishing in the background, most of the family frolicking in the water, and grandma holding to her conservative Turkish ways and keeping herself well clad on the beach.
If they don’t let me back to the north, I will have to forge out a new existence in this much more expensive south. As expensive as London I am told. But they speak much more English here, and perhaps I will find myself a new family, and be able to converse more than by the waiving of arms and clinking of glasses.
Oops, forgot a pic. A happy dragon fly dangling in the heritage marshes mentioned above.
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Published - August 2010
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