A $70 ferry ride motored me from Alanya, Turkey to northern Cyprus. So, let's start our tale of Cyprus from the north.
But, as a prologue, you - the always quiet and never rebellious reader - should know that my boat trip to Israel was going to leave after six days and leave in the form of a $230 cruise. I was given two tough questions to answer. 1. What was I gonna do on Cyprus for six days? And the second: How was I going to escape expensive Cyprus with any money left over, since the cruise was robbing me of all but $40?
If there was an extra-credit question, it was: What, exactly, did the horny-headed island's shape resemble? To me, it looked like a devillish Pac-Man. -- Ooh, I nailed that question!
And what prologue could be content without a brotherly foreward to accompany it!? This story's prologue is especially lucky, because the foreward is going to be another edition of the never-before-put-in-foreward-form, universe-saving ... MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! Seeing how this story will explain the north first and then the south, I'll name the highs first and then the lows. The Top 5 Best Things About Cyprus! are narrated by a Pac-Man wearing white and with a halo:
1. TURKISH SIDE OF NICOSIA
2. A LOT OF SOCCER IS PLAYED
3. THE NATURAL PLACES
5. THE LOCALS' GARDENS
HONORABLE MENTION includes CLEAR SEA-WATER; and GOOD HITCHHIKING IN THE TURKISH PART. Also, one Greek Cypriot said, when asked, that the best thing about his country is THE FOOD. But, I didn't try much. Why not? See item # 2 of The Top 5 Worst Things About Cyprus! The MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! leaves no questions unanswered.
"What is a Bujon?" Don't get rebellious, reader, you'll find out soon.
The horned island dons its devil suit, as it recounts The Top 5 Worst Things About Cyprus!
1. DANGEROUS TRAFFIC -
Because Cyprus had once been a British colony, cars drive on the left side of the road. This must confuse the gigantic number of non-British tourists the island gets.
3. NO CHARM -
Greek Cyprus is modern. Much of the coastline is crowded with ugly hotels.
4. MANY JOBS ARE CORPORATE HELL
5. (LIKE THE U.S.) IT'S BUILT FOR DRIVERS, NOT WALKERS
HONORABLE MENTION is THE GREEKS' INTOLERANCE OF THE TURKS.
Let's see ... is our universe still here? By golly, it is. It's good we have MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!!
The only other thing this story of mine needs is a bit of historical background, as a prelude.
There was a war.
There. That's it. So, now we can begin our story.
In Cyprus, I made my base in the northern 37% of the country, an area controlled by the Turks. It's a rather peaceful 37%. I had a small inlet to myself, and I stood my tent on a sandy ledge. Most mornings, I snorkeled nude, diving in fourteen feet of water down to obese rocks. I left during the hot days. I was always happy to return around sunset, to eat bananas and fudge cookies (the most affordable foods), and swim before sleeping. Once, I didn't swim before sleeping, and it was difficult to fall asleep because a membrane of sweat still choked my body.
In the pink-sunned late mornings, I hitchhiked to Nicosia. Young casino dealers often drove me the four kilometers back to the port of Girne. Once, a young Turk with long, ribbon-like hair drove me, and he was a professional soccer player for the local Galaxy; soccer-playing is Turkish Cyprus's second religion.
Muset Gunsev drove me the eighteen kilometers from Girne to Nicosia, one day. He was a sixty-year-old whose success as a marine, an author of two books, and a news anchor had left him with the happy energy of a newlywed.
He told me how, before he'd moved to Cyprus from Istanbul, he'd fallen in love with the port of Girne as a marine. "I don't know why," he said. "The castle is there. You walk around. You eat. And then, a little raki. Do you know the Turkish raki? The white alcohol, a little water. And the best thing is the discuss. Slowly, slowly."
In 1974, when the Greeks had tried to drive the Turks off Cyprus, Muset had been one of the Turks who fought back. There'd only been six "hot" days, he said, days when shots were fired. He was a part of an agressive, amphibian mission. Coming from the sea, they were "starting at zero". But, because the hotels were full, his group was instructed not to fire until fire upon - which may've been an unprecedented order for such a mission. Eventually, Muset and his team were told to fire on some empty buildings. The Greeks retreated. And the Turks now control more of Cyprus than they had before.
The anchorman and I reached the center of Turkish Nicosia. Here, you don't need a car. The doric-column walls, dry fountains full of pigeons, broken second-story balconies, and Ottoman inns with their markets inside, all seemed ancient, all wore sandy/earthy hues, all seemed a bit crumbly, and all seemed neighborly and cozy. The white-and-red, moon-and-star Turkish Cypriot flag hung abundantly.
Every day, I went to the Greek side of Nicosia.
But, once, I stopped in a giant mosque near the border. I had to take off my shoes before entering. I walked through a roomy interior of maroon carpeting. It was scantily decorated and virtually seat-less. The place killed sound, preserving silence. Bits of strange, silver furniture - one no doubt showing the direction to Mecca - were dressed in bright-orange and yellow and green. I'd always suspected there should be some similarities between Islamism and its geographic neighbors, Hinduism and Buddhism. The open room and bright colors were reminiscent of religions further east.
I meditated in the mosque. But, an even more spiritual experience was seeing Bujon's smile. I always spurned the greedy Greek Cypriot banks to exchange money in the small exchange bureau where Bujon worked. This buttermilk-skinned Turkish girl had caramelized hair, rosy blush, bright eyes, and a smile that felt like she was leaping off the ground and into your arms to play.
Bujon worked just north of divided Nicosia's dividing line.
The U.N. patrols the line. The two sides live in peace. Even so, once you reach the Greek side, you can see a sign that reads: "Our Demand - For the Turkish Army and Settlers to Leave Cyprus!"
On a pedestrian shopping street in Greek Nicosia, I laid out some of my stories and advertised them at a Euro apiece. Meanwhile, I sat quietly in the shade and wrote. I only sold a few each day, profiting a couple of Euro's total. While I wrote a letter to my parents, my poverty saddened me; consumption-minded tourists spoke excitedly near me because they were going to buy new, pink phones.
I walked through Nicosia, determined, as dusk was settling on my last Cypriot evening, to hitchhike to the southern coast. And a pony-tailed guy from Athens invited me to hang out at his house and eat watermelon. He lived in a neighborhood where the Acropolis-like, rounded polygonal houses sat behind fences and had porches. Because he had a well, he could irrigate a garden that contained tomatoes, sunflowers, red and purple flowers, and cacti.
He told of Cyprus's nicest places. On remote peninsulas, baby snakes slither in orchards; sea-turtles come to land to lay eggs; flamingoes bathe in salty lakes; and mountain sheep live on Mt. Troodos.
My host's roommate came home. He works in a call center for an online gaming website. He gets yelled at all day by customers and his boss, and as a result his creativity is low. I, myself, had sworn while in Cyprus - at an employee in the hectic office where I bought my cruise ticket. "What the f**k is a 'fuel surcharge'? Doesn't the price of the cruise cover the fuel!?"
After a great night of conversation, I hitchhiked the next morning to catch my cruise. Greek Cypriot Andreas picked me up.
He had a well-trimmed black beard, classy black pants and a dress shirt, and a luxury car. And he liked to talk about government conspiracies.
He said the war of 1974 had only been disguised as a Greek-Turkish War. Really, it was Cyprus against NATO. At the time, Cyprus had been trying to organize an independent trade organization involving Egypt, Yugoslavia, and Ethiopia.
He said governments deal drugs. And, sometimes, governments destroy goods or give them away in order to create shortages and thus raise prices. He thinks governments, in disguise, get individuals to start dealing drugs. Then, they tip off the police, who arrest the new dealer and confiscate his drugs.
Andreas also thinks that, one day, there will be enough robots to do all the work, and the governments will start eliminating people.
I told him about some of my revolutionary plans and ideas.
We respected each other's intelligence and felt so comfortable and excited by our conversation that we yelled things as we discussed. "Well, that's because you're a selfish brute!" Forty-year-old Andreas gave me his e-mail address, as he dropped me off in Lemessos.
I went to the port.
Thirty-five years ago, Turks - including a guy who'd picked me up - had lived on the southern coast.
Now, they're not allowed to.
Greeks refuse to exchange Turkish lira. Nor do they recognize Cypriot-entry passport stamps from the Turkish-occupied north. Thus, when I and my remaining $37 boarded the cruise that afternoon, Greek Cyprus refused to give me an exit stamp. Oh, well.
I just hoped Israeli immigration was going to let me in!
- Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Tunce; Ahmed; Kerem Toras; Kostas & Paraskevi; Valentino; Sophocles; Odysseus; Sveto; Abul; Kemal; Korchat; Levent; Hussein; Islamir; Alisfuad; Evo; Tomen & Tonsil; Sebastien; Abdullah + 4; Cherry Bee; Muset Gunsev; and Andreas for rides!
Much thanks to Vasili & Miguel for the place to sleep!