On the plane I made sure to drink as much beer as possible, to continue on the binge I had begun earlier that day so that I could be well prepared and lubed for my grand entry into alcoholic party Prague. Drank right up to the point of getting off the plane, grabbed a city bus, and started dragging my very heavy stuff the ten blocks from the metro station to my mother’s pad behind the National Theatre. About half way there I passed the Battalion. It was now about 6:30 in the morning and the sun was slowly rising. As part of my usual protest against Prague winters, I shuffled through the streets with my heavy gear (cursing a bit that I had bought that 5 litre jug of hot Cypriot peppers), wearing the customary shorts and sandals and no socks. I wanted to come off my warm paradise island in style. Passing the Battalion a bloke hollered out, “Aren’t ya cold mate? Why don’t you come on in here and warm up over some beer?” I explained it wasn’t that cold, realised that my mother was waiting for me, but it was nice to be back in a city that never seemed to sleep.
And I must say that for the next month and a half there was practically no moment when the golden honey brew was not wetting the palates of my savouring lips. The moment I made it into my mom’s flat the crisp sound of a bottle cap could be heard freed from its grip and the gurgling sounds of an ice cold Pilsner pouring down my long awaited throat. Mom had her usual busy day of theatres and cultural events, so it was a great excuse to break away and rush to my best buddy George, who I had been emailing with feverishly prior to my departure and who was waiting faithfully for me at his place, fridge full of beer and canister stocked up with hemp for the next month and a half. It was amazing how all my friends had pulled in for me during my stay in Prague. Based on the meagre amount of money I had left in my bank, I calculated if I were to eat my mother’s food, I might be able to survive with a budget of 50 Kc a day, which is about 2 Euro (wont bother quoting US dollars anymore…). And amazingly this is precisely what I managed to survive on during my stay in Prague. Sure, beer is still cheap in Prague, but not THAT cheap. 50 Kc covered about two beers in the pub, or 5 beers from the grocery store. Yet I managed to be pretty well nonstop drunk my whole stay there. Everyone took turns buying me drinks and it truly brought a sincere tear to my eyes.
I managed to scrape a little work together while there, some of which included reconstruction on a friend’s house. Grunt Ukrainian work carrying out broken furniture and dust, but also some smart purchases and helping her fix all sorts of stuff, including in her restaurant. And also some translation work. But mostly my friends and my mother carried me, and I was drinking beer like a pig wallowing with glee in the mud until I started getting a seriously soar throat.
Now I figured I had gotten a little soft during my year and a half on the beach in luke warm or hot temperature. Previously when in Prague I would often be thinly clad and in shorts during its unbearable winters. While on the road I had also reduced my tolerance for alcohol. I had also not been exposed to the infestations of bacteria and viruses that the Prague air is so famous for. Under communism, when a Czech person sneezed the first thing they would do is go to the doctor and get a slip excusing them from two weeks of work. They would get a bag of antibiotics and go straight to the pub to get a real cheap drunk. They would just need to make sure the inspector would not catch them, who would occasionally go around to their home to make sure they were in and busy recovering. For this slip they might even slip the doctor a bottle of rum. Everyone worked together in solidarity against the communists to work as little as possible. They would say, “You pretend to pay us and we’ll pretend to work.” It was this burden, perhaps equivalent to Ronald Reagan’s massive Star Wars missile defence plan, combined with the endless strikes of the Polaks, which eventually crippled the Russians into pulling their troops out of the area. But old habits die hard and Prague seemed infested with the sickliest and mutated (from excessive and long term use of antibiotics) viruses I’ve known. I didn’t notice it so much while living there before, but I certainly noticed it when I got off the plane, after inhaling pristine clean sea air for so long.
What’s winter without snow and a snowman?!
My stay in Prague was magical like when I first came there 15 years earlier. Over the year and a half that I was gone all the poisons that had accumulated in Prague had dissipated. At the time I had left Prague I was full of venom: from the smug expats who seemed to badmouth everyone behind their backs; to the Czechs who were neverendingly bitter about everything possible; to the waiters, waitresses and every service staff in the city who would respond in the most aloof and indifferent way to any polite request you might ask them; to the stench and bitter cold of the air due to the atmospheric inversion which keeps all that gunk and poison at the bottom of the riverbed where Prague is located. Because I was so poor I couldn’t even afford a tram and mostly jogged everywhere, and boy did my lungs burn. I could barely jog a block without having to stop and gasp at my painful chest. I practically smelt the mutated viruses in the air. My body is strong and I rarely catch colds, but I guess the shock was too much for my softened state. I caught a cold but managed to kill it my usual common cold remedy manner. But this time the soar of my throat lingered for a good week afterwards. It felt like my body had healed but my throat remained soar, to the point that I was increasingly finding it difficult to talk. I was out one night with my ex-girlfriend and didn’t even drink alcohol because of the pain. I was finding it increasingly painful to talk and she suggested I go see a doctor, arguing that it might be angina or tonsillitis, and that if I do not treat it now it could spread throughout my sinuses and lungs to cause greater problems elsewhere, such as in my ears. I agreed with her, it was midnight, and I went to the emergency ward of the downtown hospital. “Yup, you got tonsillitis alright my friend.”
His nurse pierced my butt cheeks with a healthy dose of antibiotics, he prescribed me some more, and said if it does not improve by tomorrow it will be hospitalisation for me. Hospitalisation, of course, meaning they would slice out my tonsils and I would have to lie in pain for about ten days. I could practically see him wave the scalpel in his hands, grin on his face. Reminds me of the time I went to one of their butcher chiropractors: a big fat man who practically made a running leap to make a sumarai landing on my frail back, his disappointed face hovering two inches above mine when he heard so few cracks.
Gotta rent a cabin in the country and enjoy the winter with close friends.
Anyway, I was certainly not interested in surrendering myself into such eager hands, I got home afterwards and spent an hour researching the topic on the internet. Fortunately I may have had some affect on my mother over the years and she has turned into a bit of a witch doctor. She suggested Salvia, or basically sage. I did a lot of researching and apparently my body had become so overburdened with the various toxins from the alcohol, cold and air that it billowed over and resulted in a breakdown in my tonsils. Whose job is a first line of defence against these foreign invaders. I’ll write a new page on how I conquered this < , but basically it required detoxifying my body, mostly with a water flush and gargling a Salvia and sea salt mixture. And lots of other herbs.
Took a few days and I was fully recovered.
I came back to Prague fresh and once again dazzled, as when I first came 15 years ago, by the beauty of Czech girls, the delicious beer, the beautiful city, and its life in general. But over time I felt the poison creep back into me. After a month and a half I was still glad to be there, but I also felt oversaturated with alcohol and partying and was looking forward to my quite life back on the beach.
Speaking of quite life back on the beach, while in Prague a few times I boasted how I could survive for about 6 Euro a day on such a lifestyle, even on the Greek side of Cyprus, which is apparently more expensive than London. One friend’s eyebrows popped up when hearing that and he decided he’d come visit me for his spring vacation and escape from Prague.
Back on Cyprus, I got off the plane and the whole time I was crossing my chest in prayer that a) my truck would still be there, and b) I would be able to escape without the hefty parking tab. Once out of the building I was indeed relieved to see the blue box in the distance. I loaded my stuff into the truck, and having arrived around 2 in the morning, I thought I’d go get the second parking ticket, as the local had advised me. My plan was to camp out there overnight, leave at 4am or something, and if caught, make up some story that I had flown in a few days before, arranged some stuff in the city, then came back because I had to go on a short business trip, meaning that this was actually the second time I had left the parking lot over the last couple of days. Meaning that the first, expensive tab was already paid and that this second, small ticket was from a different flight.
I planned to leave at around 4am because I hoped that the night shift guards would not have noticed my truck there in the dark over the past month and a half, and perhaps were off their guard, or even asleep. I had masterminded my escape, no one was visible in the parking lot at this late hour, and I was prepared to make my bold move to get the second ticket. I swung by to scope out the area, continuing on to the airport, and then walked back, surreptitiously walking over to the automatic gate. I stood in front of the ticket dispenser, pressed the button and… nothing. I jumped up and down, pressed the button, and still nothing. I noticed that there were cut marks in the pavement and it occurred to me that perhaps they had installed some fancy gadget since the days when my advisor’s friends had used the crafty system.
Piggie poised to break out of the pen. Was hoping I wouldn’t hurt the tree.
It would be funny to mention that, on my flight back to Cyprus, there was no movie but a bunch of humorous little skits, a few of them by Mr. Bean. And that one of his skits was how he tried to get out of paying a parking tab, and all the creative ways he tried to get his car past the automatic gate. While I stood there staring at this ticket dispenser, all these thoughts flooded back to me and I had to think how typically ironic. I went back to the truck to ponder.
Why stare at the beautiful scenery when you can bury your head into a computer screen while playing games? We’d often set up the movies on the dashboard, hooked up to one of the stereo systems, with this beautiful view in the background. Pictures of Turkish North Cyprus.
The next day I went to the ticket booth where one is supposed to pay and hoped that my previously successful tweety bird approach would work here as well. I went to the booth and noticed a middle aged woman sitting there, which I immediately concluded would be a problem. Sure enough – she stuck to her guns with no compromise, informing me that I must speak to the supervisor the next day. Fortunately the supervisor happened to be walking by that Sunday, they explained to him the situation, he looked me up and down and said, “Out of the question. Pay the entire tab.” He looked like ex military or something. Someone else there grabbed my ticket, pumped it through the machine and it showed 275 Euro. Well, that was just fantastic. My mom had already lent me some emergency money before I left Prague and things were bleak indeed. I went back to the truck to ponder again, shortly after which the supervisor rolled up in a car to check out my status. I also asked them what would happen if I had lost my ticket, and they told me that all cars and licence plates are logged every day and they’d be aware even if a toad were to live on the parking lot. They asked me which was my vehicle. I said caravan. “Oh, the blue truck with the graffiti.” Well I was in a pickle yet again, wasn’t I? This time things seemed even more hopeless. I exercised my creativity and tried to brainstorm for a solution. I went to my “advisor” and asked if I could pay one of his friends to drive over the pavement so that I could press the button, but he and his friends were too scared to do that. I noticed that the parking lot next to where I was stationed was a free one with no exit gate. There was a warning sign that this parking area was reserved for special buses and that any unauthorised vehicle parked there would be towed away with a hefty fine. Which is why I had not parked there. But now I noticed that the only thing separating me from that parking lot was a cement island which was obviously too high for a regular passenger vehicle but not for a monster like mine, with its enormous wheels. I pulled out my measuring tape and confirmed that I had a healthy 20 cm clearance below the undercarriage. So I camped out in the parking lot for three days waiting for my sister to arrive, so that we could “escape” together.
She got off the plane, I invited her to sit down for a beer that I would pay for, so that I could break the news to her. She immediately concluded that I was without a vehicle and that her 3 week vacation was destroyed. She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the truth, and I confirmed that I was setting it up to look like that, perhaps for fun. She blew that off as nothing, the next day talked the guy down to 200 Euro and we were outa there clean as a slate, saving me from a criminal record on my beloved island.
Oh yes, and over the three days that I was parked there, I was starting to lose faith and develop anger at my situation and at God. I’ve grown tired of my perpetually near poverty state over the past year and a half and decided I’ve had just about enough. I was planning my escape, brainstorming and pondering, getting increasingly stressed and developing an anger at the situation and at God. Now I can assume that many people would not believe this, but such things frequently happen during my life. In any case, over these three days it was constantly raining, the wind was blowing, it was miserable, and the long walks to town were no fun either. But the wind seemed to culminate and be at its peak right at the time when my anger had culminated and I was arguing loudly against God. The whole truck bobbed in the escalating wind and I felt God was disappointed in my loss of faith.
Anyway, I’m glad it all turned out well and I’ve been put to shame again < , for my lack of faith. I truly could not imagine that my sister would just whip out her credit card and pay such an exorbitant sum. “It doesn’t matter, I’ll just hand the bill to mom. She sent me here to check up on you and make sure the truck is in order.” (Thanks again mom!!)
We drove to town, slept on my beach spot near the centre, and the next day woke up to find that one of my tires had exploded. My sister said she thought she heard an explosion. So I hobbled on one leg to the recommended tire repair shop, my sister pulled out her credit card again (the last two old tires were now replaced), and providence was gleaming as usual. She had agreed to pay for all my food, beers and gas in exchange for the free accommodation, she paid for some other minor repairs, and agreed to get the steering fixed once we got to the Turkish side.
The perfect dive into the ocean.
Before we were to launch our island tour another crucial matter which required “fixing” was the propane tank, so that we could cook. When in Prague I had a long list of things I planned to accomplish there. But with all the partying and my predictable procrastination I had left such important matters to the very end. The last few days I spent trying to find an adapter for the French sized hole so that I could attach a hose or something to fill it up. Everyone I talked to, even on Cyprus, suggested I just buy a new tank. Not only did this prospect extremely annoy me because of the waste of throwing out a tank and having to repeat such nonsense every time I found myself in another country, but the French system was hooked up to my stove/grill/oven, so how was I supposed to hook up a different sized tank to that? No, I simply refused to give up on this. Considering that Prague is so much larger than any city in Cyprus, I was surprised to find it so difficult. I circumnavigated various expert shops with no success, until at last someone suggested I look for a ‘soustruznik’, which is the guy or some service who can make these connections manually. Measure the threads, and manually cut an adapter between the two systems. I was finally referred to one small welder’s shop, explained to him my predicament, and even though I was rather in a rush trying to resolve this problem, I found myself amused while listening to his half hour response.
“You know my friend, if you had come here only a few years ago I could have easily made this for you. I had a whole shop full of people here doing such things. But look at me now. The place is empty and gone to hell. That capitalism is for the birds. The entire soustruznik industry has been wiped out. The middle man’s wages have been corroded to nothing, and it’s only big corporation after big corporation. And what’s with this Italian system? We are part of Europe now and everything is supposed to be according to the same standard, which is DIN 5473 and an exact circumference of 19.2 mm. Those Italians are just a bunch of useless and lazy gypsies.” Well the rant went on for a good half hour and I had to chuckle the whole way through. Eventually, when back on the island, I went back to the little shop in Larnaca, the guy was digging around in his little anarchic mess and said, “There ya go.” Apparently he had remembered me from my visit to him before I had left and transferred one of these adapters from his truck to his shop. So it was good to finally get that resolved and now I can fill up the tank anywhere in the world.
But we never ended up using it while my sister was there. Mostly because she demanded we make a fire every night on the beach. She was exhilarated to see so many stars, we’d cook in the fire, and things were generally going nice between us. At one point she decided she’d rather sleep in the tent, but at another we could not find each other, there was some miscommunication and she decided she’d rather stay in a hotel. This rather upset me, in particular because she did not give me an opportunity to explain myself but rather came to her own conclusions and just left. In any case, this was one day before my friend from Prague was due to arrive, so I drove back to Larnaca and he was surprised to find me waiting for him at the airport on his arrival at, you guessed it, 2 in the morning.
Campfire cooking every day with the sis. That was great. Here I found some use of the beach wind catcher that I purchased while traveling to the UK.
He too had agreed to pay for my food, beers and gas, so we made a full circumference of the island and it was nice to finally see it in its entirety. We have had many fun adventures so far and the company has been fun, venturing into every karaoke night we could find, getting lost in a no-entry military zone while he was caught taking pictures, making great friends along the coast, and countless other little stories.
Over this time I got lucky and it seems I scored a rather large translation project which may potentially win me about 10,000$ over two months, which would totally save my arse. In the meantime, I decided that I will drop my CV throughout every major city on the Greek side, as a backup. I’ve been getting bored of the translations and for a long time have wanted to get into some other line of work. In any case it could at least introduce me to some people, as I feel the year and a half on the road has been too lonely and I need to be around people more.
Driving through the Trodos mountains during the winter. Video clip on previous travel Cyprus page.
Right now I am in Farmagusta. This morning my friend took a bus to Nicosia (the capital) to explore the last divided city on his own, and within a week I should start heading back to Polis, dropping my CVs along the way. In about a week my Turkish car insurance is also due to expire, but the price has increased substantially from last year, so I do not know if I can afford to extend it.
It is nice that things keep changing and I am particularly curious what if anything will come out of the crazy CVs I will drop throughout the coastline. I also plan to distribute my tour guide fliers to every travel agency. I feel I need to expand elsewhere, and meet more people. If costs are higher on the Greek side than in London, I imagine wages could be fairly high as well, and considering I do not pay for any rent or electricity, perhaps my strategy will cash in. We shall see!