Crossing borders in Cyprus
Cyprus is an island divided in two, crossing the UN controlled border the disparity is obvious.
Every international traveller is well versed in border crossings; fill out any necessary paperwork and hand it over with your passport, don’t look suspicious, and definitely don’t say anything more than necessary. Some border guards take your fingerprints, some scan your eyes and others make you wait while they get a coffee and decide whether or not they can be bothered to help you at that particular moment.
Crossing leads you into a new place full of new people, different building styles, a new language, new food, new beer and perhaps a new currency.
Border crossings between south and north Cyprus are a simple process; first a passport check by the Greek Cypriots; then a drive through the UN Buffer Zone; a Turkish Cypriot passport check and the purchase of car insurance.
And hopefully you’re given a new map, because the one you bought in the south uses Greek placenames, that bear no resemblance to the Turkish names.
The Matchbox and I crossed through the Kato Pagyos/Limintis crossing in west Cyprus, the newest of the seven border crossings.
Mosques replaced churches (quite literally sometimes), the roads deteriorated, infrastructure thinned out and the signs changed to Turkish. At least it uses the Roman alphabet so I could at least read the words, even if I didn’t know the meaning.
It’s easy to see where the investment on the island has been made. The best place to see that is at the Ledra Street crossing in the middle of the divided capital Nicosia.
The north is clean, but shabby and crumbling, and the shops sell cheap Chinese made clothes and toys. Walking 50 metres into the Greek side, there are paved streets, buildings in good condition and big name shops like Debenhams, Top Shop and Fox, and Western fast food restaurants.
The other difference between the two is the driving. The Turkish Cypriots drive like their cousins, that is like maniacs with little regard for lanes, merging etiquette and speed limits. Parking is haphazard and it seems perfectly normal to leave one’s car parked on a roundabout, or taking up half a lane!
The UN Buffer Zone is interesting; in some places it’s completely empty, but in others like at the Ledra Palace crossing the Goethe Institut teaches German. In the west the buffer zone has inhabited houses.
There seems to be quite a bit of work happening towards re-unifying the island. Bi-communal efforts such as businesses and conferences are opened and held. Perhaps re-unification will happen, but I suspect outside players are putting the brakes on the process.
Kyrenia, Nicosia, the Karpaz Peninsula and a couple of hours in Famagusta were my only stops in the north. There’s not a lot to see other than the natural beauty and a few ancient sites. But there are far less sunburnt British and Russian tourists – a bonus, but I doubt that will last long. There’s already flashy new houses being built along the coastline… there goes the neighbourhood.
And so back to Larnaca to cross a couple of more borders today. Then off to Abu Dhabi and another week in the Middle East before heading back to the cold.