Five Flags Over Cyprus
I’m staying close to the UN Green Line, by a ‘Berlin #2’ Kebab House. On the first day, I walked around the corner and saw a bare concrete structure with a roadway going down into the ground.
OMG, The Crossing, I think, snapping to scenes from Counterpart and The City and The City. But a quick look at the map tells me that’s a parking garage and the crossing is two blocks away.
I eat grilled halloumi and a pork kontosouvli.
The next morning, I approach the Ledra Street crossing, which opened in 2008. I consider the nearby ATM but I’m not sure if it would dispense Turkish currency.
There is a short queue with a few tourists. On the Cypriot side we are waiting for our turn at a sliding window — it reminds me of a summer ice cream shop. At the actual moment there is some confusion as I’m in front of the Cyprus window who looks at local IDs only. The middle window has a ‘foreign passports’ sign, but no one there. Eventually I understand to move on to the final window, where my passport gets a look over and scan.
Now I walk down a short street. The buildings here are shuttered but well-kept and painted. I don’t know who maintains this.
On the North Cyprus / Turkish Republic side, only one window is open. There is cover to avoid sun and rain. This reminds me more of a theme park / Disney queue. There are several signs about counterfeit goods. My passport is scanned and I move along. It’s only recently that both sides stopped checking for Covid vaccination status (though Cyprus did check my status when I arrived at the airport).
The checkpoint opens up on a street full of cafés and Chicago Bulls jerseys. Maybe this is what the counterfeit goods sign was for? I go down an alley before realizing this is not the turn which I’d planned on. I intended to go to a market / bakery but it’s the next turn. At this time of the day, or maybe because it’s hot, there might only be one group or maybe the owner waiting at each café. The market turns out to be a collection of shops with a roof but no barrier from entering from the street. I don’t see what I want and end up taking several turns to see some historic places, then head west for a bakery.
As a maps guy, I notice that Google Maps is inconsistent in what alleys it shows and/or colors green as pedestrian ways on this side of the border. Strangely, a few places are offset by a block, making it hard to tell if the place is still open or replaced? Multiple businesses are not on Google Maps, or have no hours listed.
The OpenStreetMap basemap is actually the best on actual control and borders, though the Maps.ME app is rather lacking (it’s difficult to see the border or tell which areas are blocked off).
I notice that my phone has low or no signal in many places. Northern Cyprus might not be included in Google Fi, or while it still can access Cyprus towers it sees no need to switch countries.
→ Weeks later I took a ferry between Estonia and Finland, and Google Fi switched over to a Finland plan in the middle of the sea with no cell towers in range, so I now believe that the system is geo-based.
I eat a plate of minced meat ravioli in yogurt and red sauce for $4.
I walk down a street to Yigitler Bastion, looking for a sign marked ‘Meeting Point’. You can look down across a field (Green Zone) into Cyprus. Google Maps has a soccer field marked, and there are some tiers of stone as if for seating, but it’s totally barren. A UN watchtower looms over it. Maybe this field has been used occasionally for peace events?
I find little free library posts but no sign.
There is a park (Sınır Parkı) with a gate open, but on the gate and a locked gate around the corner there are signs that it is restricted. There is new-ish playground equipment inside. It seems to me that it must be open frequently if they installed equipment and leave a gate open, but I don’t want to wander into the wrong place and cause drama. Later I looked up whether tourists are arrested or worse, but I only see stories about taking a boat instead of an official crossing.
Now I walk around the city wall to the Ledra Palace crossing. This is open to autos but less obvious for a pedestrian. I eventually drift into the correct area where an official is waiting behind a clear window. There is no slot to slide my passport to him. He smacks his palm on the window and I understand to press my passport photo page against my side of the window. He reads this, types, and approves.
This is a longer stretch of UN zone. There are maybe a dozen passenger cars and a few marked UN vehicles parked on the road. I reach the one public place, the Home For Cooperation, which has some artwork and an outdoor café. I go in and order a water, which costs 50 Euro-cents. I accidentally produce a 50-cent Turkish coin which they dismiss. I sit inside, drink the water, and move along.
From my perspective (i.e. maybe not legally the boundary) the Green Line ends a quarter-mile from the start, when I give my passport to the Cypriot authorities. It’s my understanding that for foreigners to pass here, you must have stamped into Cyprus at one of their ports; if you arrived on the island in Northern Cyprus they would not allow you through.
At the start of the Cyprus side there’s a bike lane, an area you can look up into the Northern Cyprus park, then after a roundabout there are some dead ends before getting back to the through-streets of Nicosia.
A few days later, I step out of an inter-city bus from Paphos onto a busy street in Larnaca. I get a quick lunch and dash back to catch the 711 bus. This public bus charges only €1.50, but they make me stow my bag below and put my backpack in the overhead area. Along the Larnaca coast, more and more people board the bus. I think most everyone is going to Ayia Napa and the eastern coast, but I don’t really know. No one else has luggage.
When we cross into UK territory (Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area) I don’t notice any signs or barriers, nothing is checked, but suddenly instead of beach shops and hotels and eateries we are in a barren field with one tractor.
Up ahead there are shiny white buildings on the hill. This turns out to be the British base. On the route map which I found, there are two stops in this area, but we go on past.
We pass south of Xylotymbou, another Cypriot enclave which looks busy from this vantage point, and finally enter Ormideia/Ormidhia, a Cypriot enclave surrounded by a UK exclave (look it up). As the bus takes the road through the center of town, I don’t look outside because I’m considering the right time to bing the stop button. There are two other people (seemingly unconnected) also disembarking here.
In the house the only sign of something unusual is that Google Maps on my laptop opens up over the UK.
The next day around 11am, I set out with water and sunscreen in my backpack. Google Maps suggests a meandering route for walking to the Lambos Fish & Chips, but OSM comes through. I travel up through town and then southwest over the border. There’s no sign or painted line. There’s a similar unmarked border just meters from my Airbnb, followed by an auto repair and a stadium which are considered to be Cypriot? But there is a definitive lack of houses.
I read that during the war, these towns were safe zones because both sides’ militaries avoided the UK borders. I also read about how the British imprisoned tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in camps here before permitting them to continue on to Israel.
I exit the town and am immediately in a more challenging stretch, ~2 km of highway under direct sun. I had seen a post by someone who biked across Dhekelia, but I wouldn’t recommend biking or walking in this space in the heat of summer or in low-vis conditions — you are on the sometimes-overgrown shoulder with no one and nothing else around. At this time of day most traffic was going northeast, and I found it easier to walk on the southwest lane (all of Cyprus drives on the left side of the road).
Once I was on an overpass, I felt I could relax. No one had stopped me, the bit of road which Google had marked as impassible was done, and I started to feel some ocean breeze.
After a small bend, I was hearing a roar from the Dhekelia power station. There is a dirt road which connects to a smaller, triangle-shaped Cypriot enclave. I take this shortcut. Despite signs, it seems like a few residents have dumped mattresses and other junk here. I walk past that and onto a suburban street. The power station is still very loud. I mark a mini market and bus stop for OSM. I cross back onto the main UK highway and am immediately at a roundabout.
There is a sign forbidding photos. I put my phone in my pocket. Right past the roundabout there’s fences and an actual checkpoint / gate. At first I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to walk around here, but I see a sign saying that the pedestrian gate is open from sunrise to sunset. There’s a sign warning no texting or chatting during screening, but the gate is open and I walk on through without anyone around.
I notice a few tents here, but I can’t tell if they’re local scout groups or something else.
Finally I go down the road to the beach and famous fish & chips place. I am nervous about it being closed for the Queen’s Jubilee event (it is the UK after all). Google Maps says that the restaurant hasn’t opened yet [I tried to report this in Search, basically Google believes Dhekelia = UK = London timezone].
Luckily the indoor and outdoor areas are bustling with British residents and/or visitors. I get one big piece of fish and some tasty fries. This is the only UK territory which formally accepts the Euro. The bottled water comes from Cyprus. At the next table, some older men and women have a British flag centerpiece.
Google Fi does not work, again. Luckily the restaurant has WiFi. There’s another café here, which I add to OSM. CabCY is available but would be a ~20 minute wait to arrive [there is no Uber or Lyft].
I retrace my steps back, feeling relieved now that I’ve seen the British secure area and that my highway path is comparatively chill and legally OK (even if it’s a bit dangerous to walk on the shoulder).