The city is divided in two by a big wall. There is a no man’s land guarded by a U.N. contingent. Lots of signs warn that photographs and video are not permitted in the controlled area. I hand my passport to the Turkish immigration officer before I walk through the passageway that is open between the walls. He stamps it and gives it back. I walk the passageway and hand my passport to the Cyprus immigration officer on the other side. She looks it over and hands it back. “Don’t you have to stamp it?” I ask.
“No,” she says, “this is not a border.”
My last week or so in Turkey can only be described as glorious. How much fun is one human allowed to have? I visit the ruins of Aphrodisias and in my opinion they are the best of the bunch. Another big wow! The stonework is comparable to Ephesus but there aren’t the crowds so it’s much more atmospheric. I go to the Travertines of Pamukkale. If you have ever seen a tourist brochure for Turkey, you have probably seen photos. Thermal hot springs on a blazing white calcitated hillside. An all natural surreal wonderland that dazzles the senses. Mother Nature is more marvelous than us humans can possibly comprehend. I visit the ruins of Hierapolis and Laodicia and continue on to the Mediterranean coast. How much do I like the coast? It’s so beautiful that I am tempted to bail out on the rest of my planned adventure and just spend the next few months there. I stay in Fethiye and Olympos for a few days each and the landscape between them is almost too good to be true. But alas, the road calls me onward. I know I will be returning to this paradise with Ms. B. in March. The pyramids of Egypt and Petra in Jordan await. It’s time to get my ass in gear and make the crossing to the other side of the Mediterranean.
My original plan was to take some kind of ferry all the way across the Mediterranean from the coast of Turkey to the coast of Egypt. For many years such a journey was not possible because the land journey through Syria was so easy that a ferry was economically impractical. But due to the recent conflict in Syria, a new ferry service was started last April so that Turkish truck drivers could get to Egypt without driving through the war zone. Unfortunately, that ferry service has proved to be problematic. It has started, stopped, started and stopped due to bureaucratic complications. When I was in Fethiye, on the coast of Turkey, I learned that the ferry service would not be available again until February 27th. My big plan was therefore dead in the water. That’s when I decided on the Cyprus option.
Cyprus is a bit confusing politically but there is no active conflict there. Theoretically, at least according to the U.N., the entire island of Cyprus is an independent nation. But realistically, about a third of the island is under Turkish control. Fortunately for me, there is supposed to be regular ferry service from the Turkish town of Tacsusu on the coast to the Turkish part of Cyprus. Hopefully, I can cross from Turkish Cyprus to regular Cyprus and then find a boat onward. There’s no ferry from Cyprus to Egypt but I might be able to hitch a ride one way on one of the many cruise ships that make the journey regularly. There’s also a ferry from Cyprus to Israel. I don’t really want to go to Israel because its damn expensive. But maybe I can just zip through it in a hurry and continue on to the much more reasonably priced Jordan. If worse comes to worse, there are cheap flights from the city of Larnaka on regular Cyprus direct to Cairo. I don’t really want to fly but it’s not the end of the world if I have to.
It’s a cold and dreary morning when I begin my epic journey from Olympos. It’s a 15 minute minibus ride from the isolated little hippie beach town up to the crossroads with the main highway. I then wait roadside, drinking tea, until another minibus comes down the highway going towards the big city of Antayla. It’s a two hour ride on this second minibus and I get off at a major metropolitan bus station. From there, there are hundreds of buses going to hundreds of places and I have a hell of a time finding the right bus going to the small town of Tacsusu where the ferries to Cyprus theoretically leave from.
I’m very confused because the man who sells me the ticket speaks no English and he knows nothing about any ferry. “You want go Tacsusu, this bus go there,” he says. But the ticket costs 40 lira and bus tickets in Turkey usually cost five lira per hour. Based on my map perusal, Tacsusu is only four hours away. So I am either getting ripped off or I bought a ticket to the wrong destination. I sure wish someone spoke English here. Hoping I was only overcharged, I head to the bus platform.
Thankfully, I meet a young man by the bus who does speak English, but this only confuses me more. “Tacsusu is a province, not a town,” he says, “where in Tacsusu do you want to go?”
“I want to go to the ferry boat,” I say.
So my new friend talks to the driver’s assistant to try and figure things out. There’s a lot of jabbering back and forth; a very extended discussion of my plight. Several other people by the bus join in the conversation. I don’t understand a word they are saying but they all seem to be talking about where I want to go. I’m becoming rather concerned. Maybe this is the wrong bus. Finally, the guy who speaks English says to me, “don’t worry, the driver’s assistant will tell you when to get off the bus.” The bus trip that follows is a crazy one.
For the first three hours, the English speaking guy sits with me. We have a pleasant conversation. He’s a student of hotel management and he works at a four star hotel in the resort town of Alanya. When he gets off the bus there and says goodbye, he tells me I have another hour or so to Tacsusu. That seems about right according to my map estimate. But in reality, it is very, very, very wrong.
Shortly after Alanya, we stop for dinner. After dinner, the driver’s assistant starts handing out plastic bags. What in the heck are they for? But no one speaks English so I have no way to ask. Nevertheless, I soon find out. What follows is a roller coaster ride from hell. Up the hill, down the hill, round the corner, up the hilL. Up and down, up and down. Meanwhile, it’s pouring rain, pitch black, the road is narrow without guardrails, there are steep precipices all around and big trucks with bright lights keep zooming by in the opposite direction so close I think we will collide. The guy in the seat in front of me starts spewing vomit into his plastic bag. I don’t get sick but I feel like I might. And the worst part is, I keep expecting the journey to end but it doesn’t. Not one more hour or two more hours or three more hours or four but five more hours. After the first several hours, I assume the driver’s assistant forgot about me and I missed my stop. Tacsusu can’t be this far. I’m going to end up in a strange city in the middle of nowhere on the forgotten coast of Turkey. Oh fuck! It’s a goddamn nightmare; a very very unfair universe.
But again, I am wrong. About 11:00 pm, the bus stops on the side of the road and the driver’s assistant tells me it’s time to get off. I’m the only passenger exiting here and it’s not a station. Just a dark road in a small town. To make matters worse, it’s raining and cold. The assistant pulls my pack from the luggage compartment and hands it to me. He points down the road towards some lights and says, “hotels there”. Then he gets back on the bus and the bus pulls away.
So, here I am, all alone on a dark, wet, dreary road, in a strange small town in the middle of the night. What do I do? The only thing I can do. I start walking towards the light!
Sure enough, I only walk about ten minutes before I find a local Pension that has rooms for 30 lira. Believe it or not, the rooms have wifi. I ask about ferry times for tomorrow but they don’t know. They do tell me though that the ferry boat office is just down the road. I will worry about that in the morning. I pay for the room and plan on a good long sleep. Once settled into my comfortable bed, I decide to Skype my father. I like to check in with him once a week so he doesn’t worry. After our brief chat, I decide to go on line and look again for the elusive ferry schedule. Believe it or not, I finally find a clear and understandable schedule for Tacsusu ferries. Holy shit! It leaves at midnight tonight. And the next one doesn’t leave for two more days.
How crazy am I? Really crazy. I get up out of bed, leave the pension and jog down the road to the ferry office to check if the online schedule is correct. It is. I can buy a ticket right now and take a taxi to the ferry and just barely catch it, or I can wait two days doing nothing in this little town. But my stuff is still in the pension. Is it even possible?
So, here I am, crazy gringo, running through the streets of Tacsusu like a mad man. The ticket agent calls me a taxi while I sprint back to my room to get my stuff. Believe it or not, the super nice people at the pension give me my money back even though I didn’t ask them to. “You no stay, no have to pay.” It is a beautiful universe.
The taxi takes me to the port, I sleep walk my way through some odd immigration procedures. But wait. I’m not leaving Turkey yet? Part of Cyprus is Turkey right? Oh never mind, just tell me what to do. A few minutes later, I cross the gangplank onto a massive ship that is loaded up with cars and trucks. I weave my way through the vehicles until I find the stairs that lead up to the passenger deck. There’s no cabins or beds to sleep in for the ten hour journey. But there are big comfortable chairs in the lounge area. Shortly after I find a seat, the horn blasts and the big boat starts making its way across the water.
It’s a fairly pleasant journey. I spend half the time sleeping in my chair in the lounge and half the time on deck watching the water in the darkness. I’m the only westerner on board but everyone is exceptionally nice to me. I have three or four sort of conversations with my Turkish phrase book. And lots of people shake my hand and say “welcome.”. The morning time is the best. As the light slowly brightens the sky, more and more of the Mediterranean becomes visible. Then, when the sun rises above Cyprus in the distance, I get that warm fuzzy feeling at the center of my soul. That’s right; it’s a magic moment. Half crazed from my epic journey, I am truly living the dream.
The sunshine doesn’t last long though. By the time we reach the island, the clouds have covered it up and the cold drizzle has begun. I exit the boat in the rain and run to the immigration building. The procedures there are odd. All the Turkish citizens on the boat deal with Turkish authorities. Myself and two other foreigners, however, go through the line for Cyprus Immigration. I get stamped in so it sort of seems like I’m in Cyprus. But everything about the surrounding environment is Turkish. Turkish signs, Turkish police, Turkish culture. It’s a little bit confusing.
Outside of the immigration building, I take a taxi to a minibus stop. I take the minibus to the divided Capitol of Leftosia/Nicosia. It’s a very bizarre place. Like Berlin in the past or Jerusalem now. I’m not sure because I’ve never been to those places. But it all seems crazy to me. Two groups of people, two cultures living in the same city. But divided by a heavily armed wall. Why are humans so insane? Why can’t everyone just get along?
I find a room on the Turkish side of the wall because it’s cheaper. I’ll go to Cyprus proper tomorrow. I don’t do much this day. Exhausted from my long journey, I mostly nap in my room. I do wander the length of the wall for a while checking out the barrier and the threatening signs. But really, it’s a matter of little interest. The great human stupidity continues and I prefer not to devote too much attention to it.
That night in my room, I do some more Internet research. Bad news. The ferry from Limmasol in Cyprus proper to Haifa in Israel does not run in the winter. My only boat option is hitching a ride on a cruise ship. Do I really want to do that? The plane looks more promising. A cheap flight on Egypt Air will get me to Cairo for 126 bucks. It’s actually cheaper than the ferry would be. Hmm…..maybe. I’ll sleep on it and decide in the morning.
I awake to another day of cold cold rain. I walk through the gauntlet that separates Turkish Cyprus from the other Cyprus. Bingo. It’s liking passing through a stargate. From Muslim modesty, mosques with minarets, independent little shops and the background sound of the call to prayer to the island of sin with chain stores, nightclubs and rock n roll. Almost immediately on the other side, I see a Starbucks and a McDonalds. A light goes off in my head and the decision becomes very clear. I’m not taking no cruiseship. That’s not the way I roll. I sit down in a chair at Starbucks and use their wifi to I order my ticket. Five hours later, I’m on a plane to Cairo…