Driving in North Cyprus is a complete, hair-raising adventure because Turkish Cypriots, who normally are quite laid-back, let it all hang out on the roads. Demonic speeding is common despite a profusion of speed cameras – my own view is that they probably don’t need taxes here because they’d make enough from speeding fines!
Road rules are non-existent. Cars will cut you up, emerging from side streets as if from nowhere, but done with panache and a wave of thanks as if you really did want to give way and weren’t carved up by a manic driver. People turn right or left with little warning. It is common for cars to overtake in the most dangerous places such as blind bends with complete disregard for the hazards involved. Another trick is for a car coming towards you and wanting to turn in front of you to simply drift over to your side of the road so you suddenly face an oncoming car which lurches out of the way and somehow avoids hitting you.
BUT cars will give way to you if you want to turn into a side street, or cars will stop and give way to pedestrians if you’re trying to cross the street. It’s all done with grace and charm and great consideration which contrasts so much with the overall chaos of driving on the roads.
The roads themselves are fine if you’re on a major road. The roads from Famagusta to the Karpaz Peninsula, from the Peninsula to Kyrenia, from Kyrenia to Nicosia (Lefkosia in Turkish – pronounced Lefkosha) and from Nicosia to Famagusta are all good and recently built. But the side roads are something else. They seem to be in a perpetual state of being dug up and repaired, or simply left as pot-holed, unsealed tracks which have led us to be very glad we have bought a four-wheel-drive vehicle which can handle the challenges of off-main-road-driving.
The other hazard is the number of small buses which ply their trade around the traps. They stop to pick up passengers wherever they are waiting, so you may be following a bus and find it suddenly braking and pulling off to the side with little or no notice. But as you go to overtake, you also find that it will pull out with no notice either causing you to swerve sideways to avoid getting side-swiped and then dodging back in the proper land to avoid hitting the car coming towards you.
As for parking, well, anywhere is your choice. You can park on the side of the road, on the pavement, on vacant building lots, across two or three spaces in a parking lot (why bother sticking to the lines), really, wherever you fancy parking your car. We have joined in this with great gusto as there are no parking meters or parking wardens.
However, be warned that the traffic police are crash hot. You get fined for speeding, for driving while using mobile phones, and there are random checks for drink driving.
And if you’re travelling west from Kyrenia towards Lapta, where we are renting a holiday apartment, there’s an additional hazard. There is a traffic light over the road (there are no traffic lights in Kyrenia, only roundabouts) which may be red or green. If it’s red, stop and check left or right carefully as there is a Turkish army base on either side of the road and if you’re not careful you could find a dirty great tank gun sticking out of your left or right ear. If it’s green, still proceed with caution as all bets are off around army bases. You may also proceed with great car if the light is still red, but if this is the case, you drive really, really slowly and keep your eyes peeled for any vehicles appearing from nowhere on either side.
Yes, the Turkish army is very visible, as are Turkish and North Cypriot flags which fly all over the place. It is a leftover from past conflicts between Turkish and Greek Cypriots on this beautiful island and no, I don’t intend to comment either way, as it’s a matter for the island people to sort out between themselves. If they ever will.
The quite amazing thing is that there is no road rage at all. The chaotic driving is done with great panache, lots of good humour, great manners, and somehow it all falls into place because everyone knows that everyone else on the road is just as much a nutter as they are. Welcome to driving in North Cyprus, you take your life in your hands!!!!!