Friday, December 01, 2006

Northern Cyprus

Now that I am on my own, I am able to get away with doing a few things that I just couldn't do with the girls around. No, not that! I am talking about hitchhiking. With a small group or being solo the rules of the game change completely and you can do and experience different things. Now I have to go out and meet people and can be hosted by others that couldn't take on such a large group.
Anyway, seeing as it was a good deal for flights, I booked a flight to north Cyprus (aka KKTC aka Turkish controlled Cyprus). As someone pointed out to me, I flew from the only city on two continents to the only city in two countries. Not bad. What I didn't realize at the time was that the airport was a ways out of the city and there is no public transport between the two. No problem, I heard from some backpackers in Istanbul that Cyprus is one of the easiest places to hitchhike. Turns out that is true, even for a sketchy looking guy like me on the side of the highway in the middle of the night. In fact, I hitched my way around the whole island and never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride. If only it were like that everywhere......
I don't know where to begin with Cyprus. It is a divided island, 3rd biggest in the Mediterranean but actually quite small still as the distances between cities is only an hour or two. The population is really small (~250,000 in the north) and the north is really quiet. If you talk to the Turks here they will tell you it is a little too quiet and they hate it. The local Cypriots generally hate it too and see it as a dead end place, so unless you want to retire stay away. I like it actually and find it very relaxing. There are very few tourists here but it is a very nice 20C during the day and chilly at night. The whole look climatically is very Mediterranean like southern Italy or France. Dry, little mountains and the vegetation that goes with it (shrubs and orange trees).
Because of its strategic importance, Cyprus has been ruled by just about everyone in its history, but most recently by the British, which means that they drive on the left.
I was hosted by a couple university students in Lefkosa/Nicosia. Every city has 3 names, Turkish, Greek and English. They spend all their time betting on football games. Northern Cyprus is actually a huge gambling area. Turks and Greek Cypriots go specifically to gamble, while the tourists go in the summer for the beaches. I also went to Girne/Kyrenia and Famagusta. All are small towns and don't offer a whole lot to see other that well preserved city walls and usually some sort of fortress. Because Turkey is the only country recognizing North Cyprus as being independent, it spends a fortune maintaining the place. The North gets tons of money and it looks much nicer than a lot of Turkey does. The eastern Turks and Kurds are especially bitter because they get ignored more than North Cyprus does. And a lot of the money is just wasted by corrupt officials and gambled away. Of course.
Famagusta was the most interesting. During the war between the Greeks and Turks in 1974 (when the green line dividing the country was established) most of the city was abandoned. Today there is a huge dead city on one side. It is the original and is bigger than the section lived in. It is controlled by the military and you can't go in there but it is clearly visible. Huge abandoned banks, waterfront hotels, streets and homes. They won't tear it down and they won't repair it. It's really weird. The young guy that I was staying with in Famagusta is a bit of a political rebel and we decided that we'd try to cross the line. In the last couple of years it has become possible but there are some strange rules still in force. There are only 3 crossing points and because I entered Northern Cyprus first (which is recognized only by Turkey) I have entered Cyprus illegally and have an illegal stamp in my passport. Because of this stamp I am not allowed to enter South Cyprus or Greece anymore. If I want to go there I will have to wait for a new passport. At the Famagusta crossing they let us across though because it crosses directly into the British controlled area and they don't care. So I did get across, did my jiggy jiggy dance for 5 minutes, picked some mandarin oranges off the trees and walk back across. There was nothing there to do or see. I tried again in Nicosia the next day and they flat out refused to deal with me at the checkpoint there.
Relations are getting better slowly as a result of EU pressure (Cyprus is a member) to sort it out. North Cypriots have an unclear status within the EU and I never really could figure out what they could and couldn't do. Most of them have a couple passports to get around it.
There are also lots of mountains along the northern coast and in the middle of the country. Over the course of history a series of fortresses were built along the mountains and the coastal towns in such a way that there could always be contact. On a clear day you can see pretty much the entire island from the top of the northern mountains as well as Turkey and Syria. But under worse weather conditions they would communicate in a line, Lord of the Rings style. I was lucky enough to be driven up to the top of Katara castle, the most important fort in the north. Beautiful. I was only in Cyprus for 5 days then had to hitchhike back to the airport to fly to Izmir in western Turkey. Unfortunately I just don't have the time to tell all the stories on here so you'll have to ask me later. I have been really busy and moving a lot since I have been on my own. The pace has been killing me and my cold just won't go away.


At 6:32 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats cool that they did the LOTR thing :P

At 6:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Amo!!
I hope you are havign a great time!! I love being home and do miss the travel life. I cant wait to see you and hopefully we will get that cold to disapear ok. You will have to start eating again. I will have a post up soon for you.
Love ya always. Bre Butt.
P.s WOOOOAHH---MMAAAANNN. LOL Gets me every time.


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