Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – Mobility by Ken Dunn

One of the very, very few disadvantages about being in the TRNC is getting around the place. Without a car it can be, well, difficult. That is especially true if your house is halfway up the mountain at the top end of Lapta. The dolmuş, which I think means ‘shared taxi’, do ‘tootle’ around the village and on down to Girne and beyond but at the moment only they only appear about once every hour. That does tend to slow you down. It’s still possible to get from any A to any B via this mode of transportation but it takes time and a certain degree of planning.

A journey to Girne can take more than half a day, when ‘retail therapy’ is high on the list or you have the delight of trying to pay the electricity bill in less than two hours! This was further complicated in days gone by as, until only fairly recently, the dolmuş only ran up to about 5 or 6 o’clock in the late afternoon, early evening. That could mean a rather subservient reliance on friends or on taxis if you could find one to get you back home.

Many years ago the situation was a little more ‘sparse’ than it is today. The only buses then were extraordinary, ‘single decker’ vehicles complete with a substantial roof rack-cum-cage on the top. These things trundled around often loaded with folk, animals in cages, bagged vegetation and shopping, the former inside, and most, but not all, of the latter categories stacked on top in a piled up, bundled confusion.

But even in the early 80’s these motorised leviathans, galleons of the road, transporters of all things human, non-human and the inorganic, were well beyond their ‘sell-by-date’. They gradually began to disappear. The lack of spare parts, despite the ingenuity of Turkish mechanics to keep them going, and old age overcame their will and ability to roll along. I like to think they’re now all nestled cosily together in that large bus station in the sky. Ahh.

Larger and longer single decked buses began to be seen, ‘allegedly’ from Germany where they had spectacularly failed both Teutonic and Boche-ness exhaust emission tests. These things were not only a hazard to drive behind, clouds of black filthy smoke pumping from their rear ends, but were rather tired and ‘seedy’. Many of them had been holiday coaches, the graphics emblazoned on their sides tending to give that away. Germanic typography gave stolid messages of, ‘Urlaub!’ (Happy Holiday), ‘Berlin Touren’ (Berlin Tours), ‘Deutsher Freude!’ (German Delight! – if there is such a thing!) and so on. Each window of these scruffy charabancs had the limp and straggled, shredded remains of courtesy curtains flapping about all over the place. They didn’t last. Thankfully.

As these things faded from the roads the minibus versions we all recognise today began to appear. They were, and are, much more sensible than their forerunners and proliferated to become the frequent and excellent means of transport for all, particularly for the narrow village roads and despite the ‘creative’ driving habits the Cypriots specialise in. Nonetheless, it can still take time to travel anywhere if you don’t own your own ‘wheels’.

Taxis can always be used as an alternative to the dolmuş but in the 80’s they were few and far between in Lapta. Most of them tended to congregate and huddle together in Girne. They are much more available today but in those days, in the villages beyond, they were rather rare. Except for one.

We’ve always had a car in the TRNC but on one day it let us down, as they do from time to time. Oh, the joys of motoring! As five o’clock came around we gathered our belongings together to leave a very pleasant watering hole on the coast below Lapta. After having loaded everything into the car I turned the ignition key. The starter motor turned but the engine wouldn’t fire. A few more attempts and we gave up, going back to hopefully find a number for a local taxi.

Well, the patron phoned a number to summon a mechanic and then a taxi as none of us knew how long the repair would take. In less than five minutes a shiny, black Mercedes arrived to us take back to the house. This was quickly followed by a battered truck, the driver of which grinned and told us he’d sort it out – ‘Izz tamam, tamam! Probbly battree!’ – and he’d let us know when it would be ready.

We were about to climb aboard the taxi when the driver insisted on introducing himself formerly. Grinning widely he said, ‘Call me Lovejoy! I juss like heem from inglizh tele!’ And he was! For those of you who remember, there was a very popular 80’s TV series called ‘Lovejoy’, starring Ian McShane in the title role as a dodgy antiques dealer, and this character was his spitting image!

On the way up we guided him through the twisting roads and as we rose higher through the labyrinthine maze of Lapta he was keen to talk. How were we enjoying ‘Zypruzz’? First time? No! Oh! Many times! Oh!! When first come? We explained we’d been coming for years and we had taken over the house from my wife’s parents at the top of Lapta.

‘Oh, really?’ He asked. ‘I know many, many inglizh in Lapta. What name of parents?’ My wife told him. ‘They were Geoffrey and Eileen Brierley.’ He stamped on the brakes, skidding alarmingly across the narrow road, blocking it completely, the car rocking to a dusty halt. I almost went through bloody the windscreen! ‘Mr Geoffrey!!!’ he exclaimed, twisting round to us. ‘I knew Mr Geoffrey!! Ohh, lovely, lovely man!! And Mrs Eileen… ohh, that long, long ago!’

He switched the engine off, flung open his door and leapt out of the car, in one fluid movement waving his arms around. ‘Oh, Mr Geoffrey and Mrs Eileen! I worked for them when I was a boy. I paint his house, I helped with windows and doors and tilings! I did all kinds of things for them!!! He very nice man! She very nice lady! We drank Raki on balcony when all feennish!! Happy times! Very happy times!’

Slightly stunned by all of this we just sat there while he continued to reminisce enthusiastically about what he done all those years before ending with, ‘She loved cats, had lots and lots of cats. He very funny man, very good to me while we worked on house!’ Then he calmed down, pulled himself together, waving at the few cars on either side of us who had pulled up not being able pass and wondering what the hell was going on. He sheepishly climbed back into the car and drove on but with a huge grin on his face. Two minutes later we’d arrived without having to give him any further directions. He knew exactly where to go!

He refused to take any money from us and drove off with a happy honking. Then he arrived again in the morning to take us to the mechanic in lower Lapta, somehow knowing that the car had been fixed. Again, he would not take a single kuruş for the journey. So, we were mobile again but we have always used ‘Lovejoy’ when he was available and if we needed alternative transport because of one simple reason. Where else could you find someone like that?

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