ABANDONED IN URGUP | PART 2
When a tender adolescent at the callow age of sixteen I hitchhiked to the then remote and mist dripping ville of Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. This is as pretty much as far west as Canada goes. The hippy era was winding down; the counter culture was getting a haircut and looking for a job.
I did not want to miss out on this dimming time. Sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Eat a Beaver! Save a Tree!’ I was a smirking child of mother earth. With a pair of torn and faded jeans with a yellow peace patch sewn on my ass and a rabbit’s foot dangling from my pocket — an affectation, nothing more — I stood on the cusp of the wild and woolly West Coast Trail. In 1973 this trail was a grueling five day trudge through ankle-deep mud and surging tides that embay and drown at least one adventurer a season. Some years several intrepid hikers are dragged out into the ocean … extremely reluctant seafarers.
Provisioned with a jar of peanut butter and a box of saltine crackers I beckoned the Indian with the rowboat — those were the words used then — to ferry me across the mouth of Port San Juan and into the maw of the wild.
My provisions were exhausted at the first nightfall. I was a ravenous adolescent and continuously munched on peanut butter spread on crackers as if there would be no tomorrow. Nor any days after that.
Three days later, exhausted and saltineless, I lay collapsed on the granite shelf that is exposed at low tide and beckoned the angels to come fetch me. I was done for.
Twenty feet away from my prone, wraith-like corpse-to-be a grouping of seals frolicked. Seals yelp and bark when they play. They have no need for angels to carry them away.
An urgent mass of foam erupted at the water’s edge and exploded among the seals. An orca, a sleek black and white predator, breached among the revelry of those happy seals and snatched one. Not a speck of blood remained to bear witness of this atrocity. Angels can be bastards.
Shaken, I scrambled into the sanctuary of the forest. The seals likewise dispersed in a panicked frenzy. Seals scream when murdered. That is the natural order of things. I no longer walked along the granite shelf. I am fearful of angels now.
* * * * * * *
Alone and forsaken in a littered public square in Nicosia I remember my stumbling steps through four days of hungry desolation to the conclusion of the West Coast Trail at a village called Bamfield. I think. I cannot remember.
Drunken Russians are yelling and swearing at each other. A punch is thrown. The fight ends quickly. The instigator is on the ground. They look at me and wonder what my story is. I cannot spend the night here. I am sure that I would be violated.
The last of my lira was spent on an extravagant last lunch on the Turkish side before crossing into the official Republic of Cyprus. Any remaining lira are now worthless anyway.
The border inspection is precursory. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus stamps a piece of paper in lieu of your passport. Greek Cyprus foregoes even that minimal formality when you cross the United Nation’s blue line in Nicosia. I am now off the passport grid — a nonentity liberated to float like a particle of dust.
I do not know where to go. I need a map. I cannot stay here. The Russians keep looking at me. They know something is amiss.
There is a tourist office on the promenade running from the border. They are closing for the day, but I manage to get a map. It is one of those idiotic tourist maps highlighting the attractions with bouncy cartoons. There is no cartoon nominating a homeless shelter.
Being down and out and staying on the wrong side of a border town is folly. It guarantees an unwelcome inspection. A tourist town, the tackier, the better, might prove the better option. The constant churning of pleasure seeking crowds on holiday might provide some kind of refuge. You can hide in flux.
Sooner or later the local vendors will pick up on your presence. That is a critical moment. One that can turn your fortunes to better or great ill. I will go to Paphos on the far western shore and solicit the kindness of strangers. And whomever might deign to bestow a couple of spare Euros, or a sandwich, upon a chubby, middle-aged miscreant. — A falsely accused and wrongfully punished miscreant, I might add.
Vladimir, a construction worker, answers the siren call of my thumb. He is going to Limassol and will take me that far. ‘You ever been to Russia?’ Vladimir asks me.
‘No,’ I reply.
‘It is shit.’
‘Cyprus has better weather,’ I contribute to the conversation.
‘Cyprus is shit,’ Vladimir retorts. ‘Limassol is shit. Paphos is shit, too. You have a job there?’
‘No. I am just a tourist.’
Vladimir looks at me funny: ‘No shit. You drink vodka?’
‘I do when things turn to shit.’
‘You would make a good Russian.’ Vladimir hands me a bottle of vodka. I pull a hearty slug. Russian vodka has a heat to it. I pass the bottle back to Vladimir. He pulls many hearty slugs. ‘Vodka is shit.’
‘I like shit.’
‘Nothing.’ I focus on the ghosts flitting through the headlight beams. ‘I like vodka,’ I recalibrate the conversation.
‘Vodka!’ Vladimir roars. The bottle is passed between us. Like the idiots we are we indulge. Many times. I have lost count. I dare angels to come and get me now. Well, maybe not. The vodka’s heat color my thoughts: thoughts of how we spend our lives extricating the risks of living and in the process negating the joy of life. Vodka renders the banal profound.
‘End of the road, ‘ Vladimir announces, and I am deposited onto the highway shoulder. I clamber up an embankment looking for a suitable place to sleep. Instead of sleep I gaze into the universe and sing gospel tunes substituting the Hallelujahs with profane lyrics. I challenge the forces of evil to do with me what they will. Evil ignores me. Evil will not respond to the taunts of a drunkard bellowing at the stars.
Paphos, a beachside strip of diners and souvenir shops lacks a beach. It has a concrete promenade abutting the Mediterranean. The look of Paphos demoralizes me. Every sought refuge is like that, I suppose: you seek a safe haven, redemption even, and instead a stiff boot is put to your ass. We don’t want your kind here. It will be difficult to survive — another terrible mistake and I have no way out. Paphos may be my last stand. An anonymous battle to be fought against an ignorant adversary. A furtive campaign will be the better strategy. This ghost will skulk and cling to shadows.
I assess the battle field. Business looks bad. Everyone is selling, few buy. Couples and families dragging their sullen progeny patrol the promenade. Touts intercept them with flyers and promises of splendid excursions. A girlie show is proffered. Come see Aphrodite. A broad hipped pile of rocks has been deemed Aphrodite. There are no flowing tresses. No perky tits. I prefer Botticelli’s version. Myth and profit are conjoined; they jump together. I need a myth to sell: ‘Howdy. Where ya from? Wanna see where Prometheus was chained to a rock? No. How about tomorrow? Sir, do not talk to me like that.’
About two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul tried running a similar scheme here. ‘Did ya hear the one about the fella from Nazareth? No? Well, listen up.’ Paul was dragged and bound to a whipping post and soundly flogged. Cyprus has always taken a dim view toward touts.
Dumpster diving in a hot country is not for the queasy stomached. I approach my first dumpster gingerly seeking discarded, yet still tasty, victuals. I look around me. No witnesses. That is good. I pry open the lid and browse what may be on offer. The remnants of a pasta dish attract my eager eye. It looks like it could by pasta primavera. Ah! Sprigs of Spring. Hmmm, what is this. I prod a loosely wrapped package open … oh … the horror! the horror! A disposed nappie spills its contents. I cannot do this.
Shit and poverty jump together, too. The rich sail above shit. It seldom touches them. The poor are smeared with it. It is our mark. Our insignia.
Word, at least the words I have heard, is that a Catholic Church will feed an itinerant wanderer. Knock on the door, throw yourself upon good ole Christian charity and a tuna-salad sandwich will manifest. If I can find a church, or a mission — I am not fussy — with regular feeding times I will be set. Alas, my meek knocking at the gates of salvation go unheeded. Nobody is home. Damn. Nor can I find a posted schedule announcing dinner time.
A reconnaissance of an alley reveals an open door. Inside is a restaurant kitchen. The owner, a puffy faced Brit boasting a chicken white belly that spills over his belt, is lording over the harried kitchen staff. I enquire if, perhaps, he could spare a meal. He looks at me. He does not like me. ‘Piss off.’ I piss off.
Sea gulls are clever. I admire their aggression. They will snatch a chicken nugget from a baby. Hooray for them! I wonder if perhaps I could snatch chicken nuggets from children. These children are fat. Overfed. Some of them even toss their nuggets into the yelping maws of sea gulls. I am too shy. A coward. I run funny. With a lop sided gait. Snatching chicken nuggets from babies would surely entail a beating. Even a sound flogging. I doubt that I could outrun an enraged parent. I am fat and too slow. These sea gulls are well fed. I am hungry.
The nights are the worst. They are eternal. The forsaken traveller is imprisoned — quarantined from the rest of humanity. Even the dogs don’t want to know you. You have nothing to offer. Mosquitoes are friendly. They are the only female company I shall enjoy. They ravish me. I surrender to their blood lust. I think of sex. I cannot get hard. Every molecule of my being human has deteriorated into nothingness. Sleeping in the bushes is desolation.
Isolation is a cancer. It eats away at you. Devouring. Soon even uttering a simple hello, returning a casual greeting, becomes an impossible task. It happens fast. You are shut out from the human race. A piece of shit to be washed away. If anyone can be bothered. I cannot do this. I will be mad in a month. People will ask whatever happened to him? … no. They won’t. Every trace of my having been will be erased. I really need to check my email.
* * * * * * *
After almost two months my arrears with the almighty state are deemed paid in full. I have learned to survive: Dumpster diving, washing dishes for meals, knowing where to sleep, wash-up, and the myriad skills of scavenging. Another month was required to pay my bills and another six weeks to cobble sufficient funds to escape from Cyprus.
More on Vagabond Journey: How To Travel For Free
Four and a half months. My unstamped entry was legal for only forty eight hours. Maybe it was for only twenty four hours. It doesn’t matter. I have grievously overstayed my welcome. But how would they know? Never underestimate a bureaucracy. They have their ways. It isn’t worth putting it to the test. Heavy fines and even imprisonment might await.
Exiting the official Republic of Cyprus is impossible for me. I can only leave from the Turkish Republic. My escape routes are limited. Having overstayed my visa in Turkey negates any visa on arrival privileges. Syria would be an unwise move and Lebanon is a trap. Easy to get in, dearly expensive to get out of.
Blighty. Jolly olde England proves my only recourse. But I have to get across the border first.
There is a thick white line painted on the pedestrian mall that demarcates the border. Whatever happens I must throw myself across that line and pray that I am not thrown back into the clutches of the Greek Cypriots. Their clutches will not be gentle.
From a hundred meters distant I survey the border. The Greek border guards are young and muscular. They are all wearing aviator sunglasses and leering at young women. I must keep my distance from young women. I must go to where the guards do not leer.
A German tour group passes next to my surveillance post. I insert myself into the middle of the group and try my utmost to look German. It is not working despite my love for bratwurst and beer. I am gaunt now; no longer fat; my hair is long; I have a beard; my clothes are threadbare. I look like a post-crucifixion Jesus in need of a blessing or two.
My fellow German tourists are well fed. They wear bright colored, happy clothes. A guard is watching me. I see him. It is thirty meters to the thick white line. A fat woman is blocking my way. There may have to be an incident. She looks like she can take care of herself. A white line painted across the pavement would not check her revenge. Jesus would still get his ass kicked.
The guard walks toward me. Fuck. I quicken my pace. He, likewise, accelerates. I walk faster. He adjusts his angle of approach. Calibrating an interception. I speed walk. Jerky, strange movements. I look like I am having an epileptic fit. Be cool. Do not run. The guard is not cool. He runs. His path is blocked by tourists. He cannot get to me in time. I am going to make it. I do not look back. I hear the guard curse.