Sunday, May 27, 2007

Septic tanks in Cyprus

Life in Cyprus is not all sunshine and sailing.

One of the things that often seems to bother visitors to the island is that most buildings are not yet connected to mains drainage, instead relying on septic tanks (otherwise known as cess pits, but that sounds much worse). Thus we can't put toilet paper in the toilet. Instead, we have little bins designed for it. And although it did seem strange at first, we got used to it pretty quickly, so much so that when going back to the UK it feels odd to flush the loo paper again...

But I digress. The one real problem with septic tanks is that sometimes the bacteria stop working, and then the tank starts to overflow, out of the little manhole covers in the back (or side) yard. Which can be rather unpleasant. It happened once at our old house, although it turned out to be a different problem, but as the house was rented we just phoned the landlady who got someone in to drain it. Since then we've seen several such trucks, with long flexible hoses, and rather a bad smell emanating from whatever house they are currently dealing with.

About a week ago, I noticed water seeping out of one of the drain covers here. Uh-oh. Maybe it was due to the excessive rain we've been having, and the large number of extra guests in the flat downstairs. Perhaps, I thought optimistically, it would stop.

It didn't.

However as Richard doesn't always take the car to work, and the drain covers are in the carport behind the car, I didn't think much about it for a couple of days.

By Thursday, there was water seeping not just into the carport but down the street.

I looked in the Yellow Pages for Larnaka, but there was no entry for septic tanks. Or for tanks. There were a few numbers under 'drains', but none of them seemed to be correct. We don't want someone to come and install a drain, we wanted the tank emptied. We know there are companies who do it, we just didn't know how to contact them.

Our neighbours over the street speak good English, but we didn't see them about. Cypriot people keep themselves to themselves much of the time, and we didn't see any of the other neighbours too.

On Friday I had a good idea - a friend of ours who lives just five minutes' walk away has been in Larnaka for over twenty years. Perhaps she would know of a suitable company. So Richard phoned her, and she said yes, they have their tanks cleaned regularly.

Unfortunately, the man they use doesn't speak any English at all.

Fortunately, our friend's husband is Cypriot, so he phoned the man for us. He apparently said he would come on Friday, or possibly Saturday.

I waited in all Friday afternoon (not that I was going anywhere anyway) but he didn't arrive. We were going out with our house group on Friday evening, but we have someone staying in the guest flat, so we asked him to deal with it, if by chance the man arrived in the evening.

He didn't.

On Saturday Richard and Tim went sailing, and I went along to video the new boat. But our guest was still in downstairs.

The man didn't come.

Nor did he come in the afternoon, when I stayed at home. We did wonder if we should call our friends and ask them to phone him again, but we thought perhaps he wouldn't work Saturday evening (Saturday is usually early closing), and he certainly wouldn't work on a Sunday. What's worse, Monday is a public holiday (for Kataklysmos). And there was still water pouring down the street.

At lunch-time, Tim and I went to one of the local churches for a joint service and potluck lunch. Richard had a meeting in Limassol, but didn't leave until about an hour after we did.

During that time, amazingly, the drain-cleaning man came. He did in fact speak about six words of English. He drained the tanks, and discovered that part of the problem was a blockage, so he unblocked it with some large and noisy machine. I'm not sure what would have blocked it; we always tell our guests about the toilet paper problem, and if they forgot once or twice I don't imagine that would cause an entire drain to block.

Anyway, it's now sorted out. It cost us £40 which is quite a high amount for a service of that kind in Cyprus, but I suppose companies can charge what they like for this kind of thing - we have to use them.

Eventually, under European Union regulations, we should have mains drainage installed throughout the island, but I don't know of anywhere in Larnaka where it's actually happened. We've seen the pipes being put in some roads, but connecting all the houses up is going to be a lengthy and expensive process, so it will probably take years.


Anonymous said...

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Bye for now.


Steve Hayes said...

I rememver when they installed mains sewerage in Durban about 30 years ago. But there, fortunately, when a septic tank overflowed, you could called the corporation and they would send out the "honeysucker", as it was called.

But even in the days of septic tanks, the signs said "Nothing BUT toilet paper" -- ie no cigarette butts, used tampons or the like.