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December 09, 2007

Leapfrogging the
Drabby Cyprus Winter

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So I found myself a suitable parking spot on the "other side of the wall", close enough to the border so that I could catch a mobile signal from the Turkish side before I got around to getting a sim card for the Greek half. Turns out I was rather lucky to have over 400 points in credit because it took rather long for my mobile internet to work on the south side: apparently I was the first person in that country to want internet on an HTC (fancy), or perhaps any mobile phone using a prepaid sim card. It took more than a frustrating week for the main tech dude to figure it out, and he solved the problem by setting up some special proxy server and port no. 8080 connected to his own personal mobile internet account. It was hot and muggy in the interior, I didnít like the big city, and I was looking forward to getting to the beach again.

Travel picture of Aphrodite's path in Cyprus

I went to the Canadian embassy to research the possibility of getting a new passport so that I could re-enter into the north under a different identity, hence sneaking past their computers, but it cost too much to get a new one so I had to put that idea on hold for the moment.

I even went to the local vehicle insurance agency with the hopes of getting local insurance there, seeing I was so angry with my insurance company back home (they wanted me to pay some ridiculous fine, even though I didnít use their insurance for more than half a year), but the Greek Cypriot agency instructed me that their country has some agreement with the Czechs as part of the EU and that they could not issue me any local insurance but that I had to get that in the country where I have registered my vehicle. I asked them what would happen if I got into an accident without insurance. They told me, "Well, we send a bill to the Czech government and it is their responsibility to extract those funds from you." I looked up at the thought about all those times the Czechs had ripped me off, from the waiters, to the government, right down to the person at the stand selling me a cheap loaf of bread, and somehow that thought rather appealed to me.

Coast along Aphrodite's paths and peninsula.

Once I had familiarised myself with the southern half of the capital and got all my necessary paperwork arranged, I thought I would saunter across to the north side on foot and see what would happen. I was walking to the border when a big bus passed me, and as I was approaching the border I noticed a whole stream of young school girls pouring out of the bus in their cute white and blue uniforms. Perhaps a Greek highschool on a field trip to educate them what a third world country looks like. By the time I got to the border there were only about five girls left. I waited behind them, and by the time it was my turn to get a stamp in my passport, I guess the two male border guards were so b-zazzled and googled that they slapped a healthy three month limit for the north.

Well, that was perfect and easy. So I grabbed myself a big 1 litre bottle of Turkish beer and was prepared to celebrate. Seemed that providence was shining on me once again.

Krakos monastery in the Trodos mountains.
Pictures of Trodos monastery in Cyprus.

The store owner said it was okay for me to drink my beer in the park, although I had my hesitations. I ordered a coke from the park stall, just so that I could justify sitting and drinking my beer at one of their tables, but about five minutes later someone came over worriedly and told me I must not drink beer there. I explained that the store owner said I could, he rolled his eyes and then said, "Well then, at least come over here and hide your beer behind the stall. You cannot drink beer in this park. It is on the border with the Greek side and the Nato troops might shoot you."

Travel picture of Trodos monastery in Cyprus

Turns out that this was a Greek Cypriot who escaped the south side of the island during the 1974 war and lived in the UK for a long time. He grinned when he asked me how good his English was, but I was too polite to break the truth to him. When he came back to the island the Greeks had apparently taken his property from him, so he moved to the Turkish north, as he liked the Turks more.

Travel picture near Nicosia in Cyprus, Turkish side

He told me how there was blood and killing everywhere, and later on I heard how it was an unspoken secret how the Greek Cypriots were even killing their own (I guess those with some Turkish relations). Now he was a border guard working on the north side, and he spoke fluent Turkish. While talking to him it reminded me how it must have been him I saw on the other side of the fence as I was approaching the Turkish border and who was exchanging insults with a Greek on my side of the fence. He gave me his number and told me if I need anything to just call him.

On the Turkish side of the capital city of Nicosia. Like a big fat "nana nana poo poo" slap in the face of the Greeks, showing who owns what on which side of the border.

After my big beer I made my way back to the Greek side with the intention of picking up my truck so that I could spend a full three glorious months back in my beloved and inexpensive Farmagusta. I got to the border and the two Turkish woman border guards looked at my passport and asked, "How the hell did you get a three month pass?" Perhaps it was because of my two fresh beers but blood quickly shot to my head and I responded in a raised voice, "You have problems with people spending money in your country?" They just looked at each other, decided it really didnít matter, gave my passport the usual black exit stamp and wished me a happy remainder of my day.

Got into my truck and headed for the border. At the border the female guard said, "You know, you canít really keep coming back and forth between the north and south like this. The way it works is that each time we have to shorten your stay. The last time you had thirty days, this time Iíll give you 20, but donít do it again." Well, there went that beautiful dream and decided I was going to wrap things up in the north for good. Say goodbye to all my friends, clink some more glasses on the beach, and head over to Polis, on the other side of the island.

Leaving my beloved beach near Farmagusta to make a permo-move to the "other side".

Travel picture near Farmagusta in Cyprus

I had already been along the coast between Larnaca and Farmagusta, so I decided I would like to drive to Polis through the famed Trodos mountains, where one can apparently ski during the early spring. I headed back up to the capital to try my luck at crossing the border again. This time though the border guard specifically asked me go to the booth and show my registration and insurance papers. "Okay, Iím dead," I thought. He seemed rather cross and ordered me where I should park, which was about 5 metres past the crossing. "Right there?" I thought it was rather odd, because it seemed I would be blocking the road. "Yes, right there!" he hollered with impatience and stormed somewhere else. I slowly inched the truck into the designated parking space, when another guard soon followed and hollered, "What the hell are you trying to park here for? Canít you see that your fat ass is blocking the entire road?"

Travel picture in Trodos mountains in Cyprus

"Sorry, that other officer said I should park here. Where should I park then?" "Well over there of course." Ahh, that seemed a lot better. So I drove about 25 meters down to the big dirt parking spot by the side of the beat up road, pulled over, turned off the engine, and sat there thinking how the heck I was going to get out of this bind. I looked through the rear view mirror and noticed none of the two cops had been staring at me. I saw my juice on the front dash and decided to sip on it a bit while meditating. I sat there for about five minutes, sipping and meditating until my juice had been emptied, and figured that those five or ten or whatever it was minutes was about the right amount of time that it would take for a person to bring their papers to the booth and show them what needed to be shown. I crumpled up my container of juice, gripped my fingers around the ignition key, looked in the rear view mirror, and very casually fired her up and drove away.

Driving through the mountains of Trodos.

Through the mountains it was a glorious drive indeed. The roads were good, and because it was off season, I had them to myself, almost the entire way. Swooping down through the ridges, I would look across to confirm no cars were coming the other way so that I could cut in on the inside curve and swoop back up to the lip of the opposite ridge. Where I would slow to a crawl in case someone was coming around the bend in the opposite direction, and do another swoop down and up to the next ridge.

In this way I circumnavigated the entire mountainous pass in racing car fashion, bobbing away in the big blue beast, revving at an astonishing 30 to 40 km an hour. Doesnít sound very fast, but with the constantly winding and bending roads and the constant up and down, it was a truly roller coaster rush and I really enjoyed it.

Eventually settled back down to the sea and arrived in Polis. The first thing I wanted to check out was the much famed Aphroditeís Baths. Apparently this goddess of love was born on the island further down the coast, and went over here to have her baths. I walked along the path and eventually stumbled on the famous bath, which didnít seem so thrilling at all. But every couple would take turns, the male photographing his girlfriend while both fantasised her beauty.

Travel picture of Aphrodite's bath in Cyprus Travel picture of Aphrodite's bath in Cyprus

Overall it was a nice area and I decided to settle down there for a while. Was shocked to find out that the internet cafes were charging 2 Cypriot pounds (about 2.5 British pounds) per hour, and realised it was going to be a painfully expensive half an hour a day on the internet. But grocery food and beer prices were reasonably moderate, so it was obvious most of my work would have to shift into offline mode. It was a few days of that until I stumbled on some restaurants with free wifi. I befriended one owner, and craftily offered to copy a lot of my movies to his hard drive. Soon enough I would be spending more than half a day in his restaurant, on free wifi, sipping extremely slowly on a rather expensive beer. After a few days he would just wave his hand and say, "Donít worry about it, this beer is on the house." And that became my basic routine for the next few weeks.

Travel picture in Polis, Cyprus Travel picture in Polis, Cyprus

Parked next to the richest of the rich.

On the beach I found a spot which seemed to work, and decided I would stay put there and save on gas, since it was within walking distance of Polis. It turns out that this section of the island is mostly populated by well-to-do and retired British folks. I rather enjoyed the contrast between my beat up truck caravan and what looked like multi-million dollar homes dotting and growing along the seaside. My beast perched up on a small hill, I would overlook the fancy granite-looking sidewalk as I gazed out at the sea and munched on my bread and can of sardines. I guess I looked rather odd, perhaps an exhibitionist, eating like that in front of the steering wheel and sipping my beer, because all the rich folks would stare oddly at me as they would toddle along slowly on their daily health stroll. I was parked not too far from the local camping ground, which was obviously way beyond my budget, but I did use their toilets and bought the occasional beer in their beach front outdoor pub, as a gesture of appreciation for using their facilities. In the evenings I would stroll to the next town, where I would buy some night munchies and eat them by their seaside marina. Generally I was settling into a pleasant existence on this exact opposite end of the island.

Travel picture in Polis, Cyprus Travel picture in Polis, Cyprus

Peaceful Polis. Doesn't the beach erosion look uncannily similar to that at the other side of the island as shown above? Looked as if the global warming was raising the sea levels...

My money kept running out and no work kept coming in, when providence shined on me again. My mother was writing emails about going to Prague for Christmas and about visiting me in Cyprus. Eventually she wrote, "Listen, when I think about it, it is a bit of a logistics headache for me to come down there and see you for only a few days. Rather than pay for a fancy hotel, why donít I instead fly you out to Prague? You could crash on our couch, let me pamper you with my fancy cooking, and drink all the beer you find in our fridge?" Hmm, I naturally thought. This could be absolutely bombastic. What a wonderful way to put another twist into my travels and an opportunity to catch up with all my friends. Things were getting on the chilly side here anyway, so it might be nice to leap over the coldest part of the year and spend it where it actually snows. "Ok", I replied. Now I would have to make my way back to Larnaca, from where my plane departed.

Travel picture on Aphrodite's peninsula, Cyprus
Driving over

Travel picture on Aphrodite's peninsula, Cyprus
Aphrodite's peninsula.

Based on my motherís arrival to Prague, the best time for me to leave would be around the 11th of December. My mother was feeling additionally generous and wanted to pay for my sisterís flight so that she could come visit me in Cyprus. We had not seen each other in about six years, have been emailing a lot and patching up things from our childhood, so my mother thought this would be a nice present for the both of us, and give us an opportunity to patch things up even further. Based on my sisterís work, we calculated that she should come at the end of January. So I booked my return flight on the 26th and was fortunate to spend a glorious month and a half in the city of my birth.

I was getting bored of Polis anyway. I felt my dentures were slipping out of their sockets from the slow pace there, and decided I was going to inch my way back to Larnaca, along the coast.

The first stop will have to be Paphos. But why take the direct route when one can check out Aphroditeís peninsula? So I wung it and bobbled my way across a tundra of horrible and beat-up roads to make it to its southern side. It was a slow but fun drive. Once on the other side I had to bobble my way further because a large part of the coast there boasted the same, horrible gravel roads. Eventually made it to my first village and shacked up for the night.

Travel picture near Aphrodite's peninsula, Cyprus
Some cool rock formations by the sea
Travel picture near Aphrodite's peninsula, Cyprus
before I hit the first coastal town.

Pictures of cool coastal rock formations near Paphos Cyprus

Spent a day in Paphos. Rather a good tourist town, but not really for me. So I inched my way further east and eventually made it to Lemasol. There I found internet for 50 Cypriot cents an hour and a good parking spot right on the beach. It seemed I blended quite well with the fishing boat vehicles and nobody seemed to have a problem that I parked my hog for a good week on the beach practically in the center of this large city. I decided I would set up a base there, accomplish some errands and hunt around for suitable Christmas presents. I ended up spending a robustly generous hundred dollars, mostly on spices and hot peppers that could not be bought easily in Prague: both red and yellow safron, coriander, Tahini paste (for humous), various Mediterranean spices and a massively large plastic jar of hot Cypriot peppers.

Travel picture in Lemasol, Cyprus
With the fishermen in Lemasol.

I bought everything I needed but around this time I realised that my propane tank for cooking had run out of gas. It was one last errand I tried to resolve before the last leg back to Larnaca. It turns out that there are two systems in Europe: the French system and the smaller Italian system. They were not able to fill up my tank and I spent the last two weeks of my stay on the island surviving off cold sandwiches.

Drove to Larnaca and the plan was to get there about nine days early so that I would have time to find a suitable parking spot. I was told that the airport parking charged an inexorably expensive 6 pounds a day for parking, so I wanted to make sure I found a good, safe, and hopefully free place to park for the month and a half that I would be gone. Too bad it was not free parking like on the Turkish side.

Internet was also 2 pounds an hour in Larnaca, I was severely running out of money, so my last nine days on the island were totally without fast internet, the longest such stretch since I had left Prague more than a year and a half ago. During my exploration of Larnaca, I stumbled on a gas tank filling sign. I asked the guy and he explained to me about the French/Italian thing but that he did not have an adapter with him for my tank. He said he might be able to find something in his truck and I said weíll try once I get back to the island after my stay in Prague.

Travel picture in Larnaca, Cyprus

Oh yes, on the way to Larnaca, not too far before it, in the previous town, I was approaching some road construction pylons, just as a cop car was driving onto the highway from an adjoining road. It reminded me of the road block I was nailed at by the police in Mexico. My heart pattered wildly as I was approaching the scene, but fortunately the cop car pulled onto the highway in front of me and then zipped on ahead. I sighed a breath of relief. But that did not last long, because about a kilometre ahead I saw perhaps the same cop car once again pulling onto the highway, but this time it waited until I had passed. I had passed it and soon saw how that little piggie had its nose right up the butt of my little piggie, and was tailing me slowly. "Okay," I thought, "now Iím dead. Iíve got no car insurance and I am soooooo dead." As usual my car stereo was blasting away. I imagined for a second that I had heard a short siren. I kept looking in my rear view mirrors, noticing how close the cop car was behind mine. I did not see any lights flashing, but occasionally heard what sounded like a short siren blast. Eventually the cop car pulled into the other lane to overtake me and I thought I might be in the clear, but they pulled over next to me and were waiving their arms for me to pull over, with looks on their faces expressing: "What are you, deaf? Pull over dummy!" Yup, Iím dead. Itís all over. But I already felt that my travels had been worthwhile up to now, so we shall just play it out and see where this new twist takes us.

Travel picture in Paphos, Cyprus

They escorted me to the local police station, where I was asked to pull out all my papers onto the counter. One by one and very meticulously they went through all of them. I was practically whistling to myself and looking up at the corner of the wall hoping they would not ask for my car insurance. One by one they went through all the papers, until the dreaded question popped. "Well, er, yes, here is my Turkish car insurance." My European insurance covered all of Europe except Kosovo and Northern Cyprus, where I was forced to purchase separate insurance. "And for here?"

Here and below, some old church in Paphos, which has a lot of touristy things to see.

I feebly pulled out my green slip of paperÖ "Here you goÖ but itís expired," I said meekly. By this time there were about five cops standing around me discussing my interesting existence. The main dude picked up the phone and started making some phone calls. He pointed to one guy and said something, who then politely asked me to show him the inside of my truck while this situation was being sorted, as the Brits like to say.

I opened up everything in the truck, fumbling through this and that. "Ah, you play the violin I see." That is usually a saviour. Always wins over the hearts of people. He wanted to look into the safe under my bed, so I opened up one closet and was poking around looking for the stick I use to prop up the bed and to keep the safe open. While poking around and digging through my big pile of clothes, he asked me if I had anything illegal there. I just shook my head and calmly said no. This seemed to satisfy him. He was about as glad as I was to get that search over with and we soon found ourselves back in the cop station. Now there were about 8 cops discussing my existence, and I heard hollering on the other end of the phone the main dude was talking to. I explained that I was on my way back to the Czech Republic to get this all sorted out and extend my insurance (a desperate lie). "Are you not able to extend this over the internet?"

"Well, er, yes.." I meekly offered, as meekly as the most humble tweety bird can, "but I ran out of money. But mostly I was parked on the beach and wasnít driving anywhere." "And that argument is supposed to excuse you? You should have insurance anyway." "Sorry," the tweety bird offered meekly, the corner of its mouth kind of quivering in supreme modesty. Eyes rolled, hands waved in the air, and in a resigned voice, the main dude said: "Well then, make sure you take care of this in the Czech Republic and hope I donít catch you again." One cop even went out and helped direct me back out of the cop parking spot. I drove away chuckling to myself and decided I truly love island people.

Travel picture in Paphos, Cyprus

I found a typical spot right on the beach and close to the centre, and spent the next nine days strolling around looking for an ideal parking spot for while I was gone. Filling up the propane tank failed and that will have to wait until I get back. Or I can get an adapter while in Czech. After scouting out the town extensively and even asking the local tourist bureau and police station, I found one place which seemed feasible. I even asked two different people working at a neighbouring restaurant and at two separate occasions, they both responding that it would be no problem to park there. The second person I had asked was even the owner. Things seemed to be falling nicely into place and, in anticipation of going back to the land of cheap and delicious beer, I decided I would spend the last day packing and spending my last dime on beer.

Travel picture in Trodos mountains, Cyprus
Through the Trodos mountains on the way to Polis.

I got a bit drunk, almost finished packing, and decided to take a little nap before heading over to the airport, as my departure was something like 2 in the morning. Naturally I overslept, a full hour, and woke up gasping. I practically forgot I was supposed to catch a plane and was busy wiping my eyes trying to wake up. I frantically dismantled the solar panels, as I intended to do so in the dark so that no one would see what I would be leaving behind in the truck. I finished packing, threw everything outside, and realised I would not have time to walk to the airport, as I had intended. In any case, the amount that I was bringing with me would kill me if I had to drag it all that way there, so I decided I would take a cab. It was now around 11pm, I dragged my stuff to the restaurant, which was soon closing, and intended to ask them to call a cab for me. It was the owner again and he casually asked me how long I intended to be gone for. I didnít want to say the full truth, so I shortened it a bit and said over Christmas. His eyes bulged out, "Over Christmas?! My goodness, I thought you were only going to be gone for about five days. Thatís something totally different! I wouldnít suggest you leave your truck there at all. That apartment building next to it is full of conservative old farts and they will surely call the police. About 2 km away is a direct line where many planes fly over the sea to the airport, and the police will worry there might be a bomb inside your truck. They will tow it away and certainly dismantle it entirely. Only two weeks ago one car was towed away."

slicing off skin after walking barefoot too much

"What? You canít be serious? What if I just left a note on the dashboard with my email address?" "Greek police? Email?" He chuckled. "I canít believe this is happening to me - as usual in the final hour and last minute. So what am I supposed to do? Maybe leave it on the road by the airport? I think I saw a bunch of cars doing that." I was rather uneasy about that prospect. "Nay, just do what the locals do: park your car at the airport. Take your ticket so that the gate opens, and when you get back from Czech, take another ticket and pay for that second one." "Wont they notice my truck sitting there for that long? How will I sneak past the gates?" "They wont notice it at all. My friends do it all the time. And the guarded exit is quite far from where you leave through the automatic gate."

I like to walk barefoot a lot, but sometimes the souls under the heals build up so much that it starts to itch
and I have to cut slabs of skin off with garden scissors.

Okay, obviously I had no choice. I rehooked up the battery, fired her up and drove out to the airport, parking in as hidden and surreptitious place as I could find, next to a small tree on the other side of the parking lot from the guarded exit. There was nothing better to do than to hope that everything would turn out. But at least I felt comfort that my truck would be in secure hands while I am gone.

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In the Trodos mountains.
Below, jogging near Lemasol.


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