7 – Communications

Chapter 7 – Communications

By communications I am referring to transport links, mail, telephone and internet access, all of which are not the same standard as the UK.

The only rail link has fallen into disuse about 50 years ago when it was mainly used for the transport of mineral products. The roads are mostly twisty, narrow and uneven although over the last five years more 4 lane motorways have appeared, making journey times between major cities easier and quicker. Road transport consists of hired or private cars, taxis, dolmuş taxis and a network of dolmuş mini-buses. The word dolmuş means squashed and refers to sharing a taxi or mini-bus. It is strange to walk along a road and be hooted at by minibuses trying to find out if you want a ride. Local minibuses cost around 40p to wherever you want to go, just say �here� or �bu� when you approach wherever you want to get off. Longer distances cost around �1. For the villages off the beaten track there is a sign propped up against the front windscreen saying the ultimate destinations of the minibus. A shared taxi works on a similar principle but is more expensive.

Because these minibuses are privately owned, and the driver paid per person per journey, they can be a hazard on the road as they try to increase their income. After they have picked up passengers they are desperate to get going and sometimes assume you know this by moving out into your path. Hire vehicle drivers throughout the world seem to have this same attitude.

Hiring a car is simple, just walk in and tell them what you want. There is a tendency for the quoted price to not be what you are expected to pay. Watch out for the additional KDV (VAT) and compulsory collision damage waiver pushing up a �20 per day quote to �26. Personally I would not ever pay more than �20 a day for a small air condition saloon and would expect to pay only �15 a day outside the peak periods. Bed prepared to negotiate and to say �XYZ quoted us �19 a day all inclusive.�

Diesel is currently half the price of UK fuel so it could be beneficial to hire one but even over a 3 day hire you would be hard pressed to use more than �10 worth of fuel. There are a few differences you will notice when you drive in North Cyprus but thankfully driving on the right is not one of them. The entire island is open to you, but not in a hire car, so if you want to drive over the green line you will have to do it in a private car and pay extra insurance.

Travel by boat is possible only to Turkey from Kyrenia or Famagusta and is relatively quick and inexpensive. Once in Turkey there is a lot to explore, and of course there is the rest of the Middle East. If you travel to the South then in theory you could travel to other parts of the Mediterranean but at the moments routes seem to be closed because of the problems in that area.

Flights from Ercan airport all go via Turkey so be prepared to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes will passengers are transferred and the flight changes from a domestic to an international flight. Direct flights to and from the UK are being considered but are not expected in the near future. There is the alternative of flying via Larnaca in the South but there is very little difference in the time and cost. For example flights from Stansted to Ercan cost around �250 off-peak and take 6 hours, a taxi to Kyrenia would then add �30 return to the cost and take 45 minutes, a total of 6 hours 45 minutes and a cost of �530 for a couple. A similar flight to Larnaca would cost �175, take 4� hours, and a taxi would cost �60 return and add 1� hours to the journey, a total of 6 hours and a cost of �410.

On paper it would seem that the Larnaca journey would be preferable but because of the attitude of some Greek Cypriots towards tourists to the North there is the added problem of not knowing what obstacles might be thrown into your path.

Do not waste your luggage allowance when you return from a trip to the UK and watch out for the new rule that says that a single package must not exceed 32kgs.

Posting letters and parcels are easy and comparable with the UK; 20p for a postcard, 25p for a letter and 90p for a 1kg parcel. For some reason, UK stamps are acceptable. Expect post to take 4-7 days to reach their destination and a lot longer if you do not post them at a main Post Office.

Phoning the UK is cheaper if you have a landline. Getting a landline will take you at least 18 months and probably cost a small fortune. Most locals seem to use a mobile phone. Landline calls cost around 30p a minute to the UK, your UK mobile phone company will charge you between 60-150p and using a local mobile phone about 40p. Get your UK phone �chipped� at one of the many outlets on the island and buy pay as you go phone cards at �9 for 400 units. These cards give you about 45 minutes of UK calls and incoming calls cost you nothing. Tell your callers from the UK to use one of the discount phone companies, such as Telediscount, which will cost them 15p a minute to your mobile and 10p to a landline. Unfortunately the coverage on the island can be a little unreliable at times in the wilder areas.

Unfortunately, without a landline, internet access becomes more difficult. If you have a landline then a slow link will cost you about �15 a month, much as it would in the UK. When they talk of Broadband here they talk of theoretical speeds � that of the slowest UK links and in reality about twice the speed of a standard UK connection. Wireless internet has become available recently but none have prove reliable and all are costly, between �250-500 to install and then about �20 per month for a slow �broadband� connection. Many suppliers want the first six months rental up front. When you discover how unreliable the connections are you realise why.

There is of course one of the Internet Cafes spread throughout the island. These are very cheap, �1-2 for � hours, very slow and very insecure. I personally would never enter an important user identity and password on one of these systems for fear that a �keystroke sniffer� had been sneaked onto the computers. These hidden programs store every key you type and it would not be difficult to work out your bank login information from the files left behind by these programs.

4 – Electricity

Electricity

When we first heard that it would cost us �8,500 for electricity to be brought from the village above us we were shocked that something taken for granted in most areas of the UK should cost so much here. The first thing we did was to consider installing solar electricity. The second thing we did was to reject it because we would have to import everything form the UK or pay someone else to do the same. Some companies were experimenting with solar electricity but none appeared to be successful when we investigated further.

Solar heating comes standard and before we had time to even think about it had been installed and hot water began flowing. We were told that from about June to October we would never need to turn the immersion heater on. In November we should turn it on for an hour in the morning, December for two hours, January and February will usually need three hours and then the time needed for electrical heating would slowly reduce as the months grew warmer. Lagging is not a technology the Cypriots are familiar with.

Electricity costs work out at about 5.5p per Kilowatt-hour, with the majority of the power in our case being needed for the pool and air conditioning. In the winter electricity consumption drops because we use calor gas heaters and a wood fire to keep us warm. We spend about �30 per month, on average, for our power costs which include electricity, gas and wood.

The only problem with mains electricity is when it goes off, which is fairly frequently. I�m sitting here at the moment using a portable computer with 30 minutes of power left. The electricity went off at 5 am in the morning and at 5pm we still do not have power. The last time we had power cut as extensive as this was three weeks ago, but in between there have been two smaller cuts of a few hours. Usually this is not too difficult to sit out in the summer, with longer days but in the winter this becomes tiresome.

Cookers here have a mixture of gas and electricity. Ours has one electric plate and three gas ones, and an electric grill and oven, we also have a gas BarBQ. We have about 100 candles stored in our utility room to get through the dark hours. We have a slight problem that our water pump relies on electricity so we have a slight problem with water when the electricity goes out. It�s at times like these that we wish that we had spent �20,000 on a 4kw solar electricity system. But, there is a solution. Most far-thinking people on the island buy a petrol generator. This was not such a good idea a few years ago because they were so expensive but now a 4 Kw generator costs around �550. But all solutions bring problems; noise and the need to store petrol.

Our next door neighbours have no electricity at all and therefore are using a petrol generator. Even though we are 50 meters away from their generator the noise is mind numbing. They have a meter box so hopefully they will soon have electricity connected but not until the electrics in the house have been passed.

We were pleasantly surprised when in April 2004 we arrived to find that we had electricity connected. A little box had been installed in the road outside our villa and the meter told us that the builder had already use 8 units of it. A short time after a bill appeared in our electricity box and off we went into the big city, Girne, to try to pay it. This was more difficult than expected. Apparently there is no one called Malcolm Channing but there is a Malcolm John. That took an hour to discover. We handed over our money only to discover that because we were late paying our �2, monthly bill, we were fined; a princely sum of 12p! Because we were not on the island for very long at that time and had more than a month between visits, we credited money so that our bills were paid automatically. Some people try to set up Direct Debits, I�ve seen them crying in the streets, there accounts temporarily emptied paying Direct Debits to the Turkish Book Of the Month Club.

The swimming pool pump uses a great deal of electricity each day, 7.5 units in the peak of summer reducing to 6 units in September and so on as the hot days reduce and the need to oxygenate the pool reduces. Our total use of electricity up to September 20th was 1440 units, at a cost of around �80, not bad for 8 weeks of occupancy with fans and air con blasting during August.

6 – Land

Land

Land is a major issue in Northern Cyprus. Not only is there a problem with who owns it but there is also a problem if you buy land of knowing where its borders are. There is a great deal of argument about Greek Cypriot land left behind in the north when they were forced to move to the south after the 1974 war and about the Turkish Cypriot land left behind in the south. My own opinion about this issue is that it is best to never have an opinion about something which is as complex as ownership when one owner has possession and another owner has a contract showing ownership and what divides them is the chaos resulting from the occupation of Greek and Turkish Cypriot land by their opposite numbers. To this end it is best not to get involved with purchasing land whose ownership falls in this category. Something which was a lot easier when we were purchasing land

So having purchased pre-1974 Turkish land there is a problem of determining the borders of this land. Our land consisted of 3 separate parcels of land sold as one lot. This was very old arable land in which no borders were clearly determined. All the parcels of land ran into one another.

I should have been forewarned when, being shown around by a land expert who worked for Land Registry, he had difficulty showing us where our land actually was. We looked at the map and could see that it was bordered on two side by a road and we could see the same from standing on the land and looking down at the road below. The only problem we thought was how far from these two borders the land stretched. Obviously our �expert� stretched this further than was the reality, but it was not until a lot later that we realised actually how far.

We were excited, we hastily bought the land, we could repent at leisure as smug bastards are heard to tell all the fools who rush in pushing angels out of the way in order to become �land owners�.  After we had gained permission to purchase, we found a builder whose first step was supposed to be, according to our contract, to clear the land and arrange for a Land Registry visit to stake out various points showing the land borders. We designed the villa with pool and met with him to decide its position on the land.  This was simple on the ground, we looked over the edge of our land down a quiet valley to the sea, that where we would like the villa to face and for the pool to be placed. The only problem was the lack of Land Registry stakes showing the borders.

We pressed the builder for this to be done, especially after the builder had drawn a green house on our map and it turned out to be facing the wrong way. Finally he seemed to relent and brought along his �Land Registry� man. We were told that he used to be in charge of the Registry and it was quicker to get his friend than wait for months for a real Land Registry team to turn up. We were trusting, he was trusting, and the ex-head of the Land Registry was an idiot! But we didn�t know it at the time.

The process started well, we followed him around and he explained that the reference he should be using had been destroyed by a bulldozer when the land was being cleared so he would have to find a point further away. He found it after a long look and started measuring whilst looking at his watch regularly. One by one the stakes he was hammering seemed to coincide with the map and to make sense. The problem was that the road on the map was not the road below us it was a smaller, 1920�s version of the road. This meant that the front border of our land shrank about 10 meters because of later road expansion. This does not seem much of a change but it was enough to cause us to reduce our villa�s depth and lengthen its width. No problem apart from the fact that our rear border was getting a bit close to the villa.

By this time our �expert� was telling our builder he had to return to Nicosia to get ready for a dinner party. We needed more points to determine the awkward rear of the site so he rushed and made one mistake which we were not to discover for 18 months.

We looked out our staked out land and were a little disappointed. What had started out as a massive site had shrunk to half its size with a large chunk difficult to reach as it was over the side of our front border. We comforted ourselves with the thought that what remained was enough for a villa, pool, a couple of gardens and a drive and large hardstand next to the house. The bonus was that the �expert� explained that even though his survey had showed that our access drive was not owned by us as it was owned by the government and as they had cut away our access for road widening, they would not mind us using it. He also explained that lots of other land adjoining us was government owned and we believed him.

Eighteen months later a group of people walked onto our land with a policeman explaining that they were from the Land Registry and were staking out our neighbours land so he could determine its borders. We chatted with the owners, looked at their deeds and showed them ours and realised that the land had been owned all along. It was at that point that a Registry man found the reference point that our �expert� could not find and which we thought was now under our pool. As measuring proceeded it became clear that the triangle of land we thought pointed away from us did the opposite. Our neighbour owned a piece of our hardstand, some of our perimeter wall and more importantly our ability to drive a car onto the hardstand.

Negotiations with our neighbour with the help of our builder seemed to resolve the problem, he was prepared to swap the triangle of land for a rectangular piece we owned. As the neighbour was about to leave he dropped a bombshell, his brother-in-law owned our drive and only access to our land!

The a few days later his brother-in-law turned up with a Land Registry man to find out that 90% of his land had been rendered useless because of road expansion and the 10% that might have been useful was a 8 meter wide by 25 meter strip a 3 meter strip of which we were using as a drive. He was so upset we never saw him for months. By this point we thought everything was resolved and forgot all about it, meaning to sort out the swap when the building was completely finished and our deeds were updated with the inclusion of the villa and pool. But there was this uneasy feeling that our builder was concealing something from us.

I retired and we went to the villa for a 10 week stay. Our builder was desperately trying to finish the contracted work so he would be paid his �5,000 retainer. We had never seen the work progress so fast, soon only a few things remained: cement the slippery slope leading to our hardstand, finishing work inside the villa and the final documentation needed to complete the project.

The builder�s men had laid reinforcement on the slope and were ready to concrete it. Suddenly our neighbour appeared, angry at something. It turned out that he had never agreed to the land swap and he wanted the concreting to stop immediately as it was leading to his triangle of land on the hardstand. The workers were sent away and another meeting was arranged with our builder.

From this meeting it became clear that he did not want a land swap he wanted money. After a quick calculation using the going rate of land I offered him �1000 for his 45 square meters of land. He said he wanted �7000 so I stopped negotiating and told our builder to arrange a proper Land Registry visit to determine where he was going knock down walls and rebuild them at his expense. We would have an odd looking hardstand which could not be used as such but at least we would not end up with a protracted border dispute.

We were so glad we still had the �5000 retainer. It was at this point that the builder asked for his money. I was stunned but tried not to show it and politely explained that the money was not to be released until the contract was fulfilled. Not having the walls I had paid for and having no access drive constituted, I patiently explained, constituted non completion of the contract. He left with talk of him arranging the Land Registry visit later on in the week, and that he would think about alternative access at the front of the site. He admitted that this could cost anything between �3-5000.

The next day the brother-in-law who owned the drive arrived. We had expected this but had not expected him to arrive with his architect. We were intrigued. We quickly discovered what he wanted. The land had been to build a house for his son and he had been depressed when he realised that this would now be possible. He put his idea to us. Would we be willing to swap access for a land swap which would enable him to build his house? After looking at his ideas we said that as long as our view was not blocked and that the house was on the edge of our land we were in principle in agreement. He seemed happy, we were happy, we had been here before.

While we waited for the Land Registry visit we heard a story about a man who had had such a visit, had built a wall where they said his border was only to discover when his neighbour had his Registry visit that his wall was one meter onto his neighbour�s property, or not depending on which visitation you believed. Coincidently as we were listening to this story another neighbours Registry visit was taking place and two of their men jumped from our wall into our garden, happily confirming our border and at the same time giving us some extra land on the road below us apparently making it possible for us to build a wall across another neighbours front entrance. We had no idea what to expect of our own impending visit.