Monday, 21 May 2012

Back home, but only just!!!

We started back, leaving Ojdula in Romania at about 8am, but Expedition Romania still held some surprises on the 500 mile trip to Belgrade in Serbia!

All was well until we stopped at a tiny village, still on the Romanian side. I turned off the engine, we bought our crisps, pop and chocolate and all piled back into the vehicle. Flicked the ignition switch and pressed the button, nothing! Tried again and again, just dead. All sorts ran through our minds as we still had about 250 miles to go. We were trying to puzzle it out, when a well built lady walked past, could tell we were in trouble and signalled to us that she would get help. This was followed by a series of people who then attended, first a thin woman who went to get her son, he went and got his brother who then went and got his disable friend he could speak a little English. He suggested getting this other guy who came along and looked, then went and got another guy in overalls. He examined the engine and then drove off, coming back with a long piece of wire which he attached so that we could start the engine by just sparking the other end off the + side of the battery, and this is what we did every time we started up from then on. I gave the guy £20, even though he really didn't want to take it, but I forced it on him. I had just given him 4 days wages but he had saved us considerably more. We were all so grateful to be on our way once again.

It was a long day, 2 hour shifts on the driving between 2 of us, but we ploughed on, all looking forward to being back home. So all we had to do now was successfully cross the Romanian/Serbian border, something which we were warned might not be easy. First we pulled into the Romanian side and a young guy, greeted us asking for our passports. He was intrigued that I had an 'Irish' passport but the others had 'Great Britain & Northern Ireland' on theirs. I tried to explain that the English had stolen the top half from the Irish some time ago, but the fight would never end to get it back! I was trying to appeal to his nationalism, but he couldn't quite work out what I meant. All was well until he looked at the vehicle documents and saw that we were not the registered owners.  He then changed from the nice guy into a border guard and shouted for us all to get out of the vehicle and switch the engine off. He'd watched all that type of film. I explained that I was the owner, and in England we have to send away the other half of the document which then gets sent back to you with your name on it. He talked to an older guy in Romanian and they both kept looking at us for a reaction, I think. He then asked me if I was going to sell the vehicle in Serbia, to which I said "no" (because I was going to give it away!) He made me promise to him that I would not come back and tell him that I'd sold it, which I found really strange, because if I had sold it, I wasn't going to go all the way back to tell him I had! He finally agreed to let us go, but warned us that the Serbians might not let us in! As we then had to hot wire the 4x4 to start it, he didn't look convinced that he had made to right decision, and we weren't convinced that we wouldn't be returning to him in an hour, begging to get back into his country. As we drove the 500 yards to the Serbian border, I asked the others to keep calm and try and relax, just letting me talk to the Serbians. A nameless voice in the vehicle said "let's just tell them the truth, it's always the best way", which made me laugh to myself. After all, the truth was this... 

We were driving an uninsured vehicle into Serbia, that I had already declared on my insurance as not having been modified, which it had, and lied about the details of the other named driver.  The vehicle documents were in the name of Mr Simms, who I'd never met but was given these documents by a guy who loaned us the vehicle, who I'd met once when I bought the vehicle off him for nothing. I had taxed the vehicle to drive it to Dover, knowing that it would be left in Serbia. I had a letter of permission to drive the vehicle written by Mr Simms, witnessed by an anonymous person and given to me by a third party, and I was taking the vehicle across the Romanian/Serbian border to hand over to a guy called 'Dragon', who I also had never met or even spoken to. It would probably then have a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back and be fighting in Syria by next week, with the University of Cumbria logo on the side.
Having crossed a few international borders in my time for various reasons, I knew that these patrol guys just wanted to be told, what they wanted to hear, and certainly not 'the truth'. Had I even told the partial truth, we would all still be in a Serbian prison right now!

As it was, after telling the lovely, well armed woman on the Serbian border that we were just going to Belgrade to watch the football, trying to keep the subject on 'football' so that she wouldn't ask how we were leaving Serbia, which she didn't, she went away to debate us with a male colleague. They both came back, asked us to open the back of the vehicle, and I think that 3 weeks of dirty washing did the trick, with them not wanting to touch anything. I then started to admire the huge Romanian truck that was beside us, asking them questions about it which they couldn't understand, then went on to ask all sorts of questions about Serbian insurance; at which point they said we could go. I had bored them enough and tried not to lie by being very economical with the truth. 

We headed off to the airport very relieved and I couldn't wait to dump that 4x4 on Dragon that night, a weight off my shoulders, I can tell you. Where is it now? I haven't got a clue, I'm no longer the owner and it's not on my Insurance, tax disc in the post for a refund, job done.

After a sleep on the floor of Belgrade airport, Wizz Air flew us back to the UK. They took off on time, and landed 10 minutes early. Only £90 each, no food but you got a free twix bar if you ordered an alcoholic drink; no chance. Talked to Rob throughout the flight as we're both scared of flying, but it was a smooth flight and landed in murky Luton at 7.30am.

What a queue for getting into the UK, it took an hour to reach passport control. There were signs everywhere telling us this was because of 'increased security', what a load of crap! When everyone finally got to the front, one of the 4 people on duty, checked the passport photo was vaguely like you, and you then walked through. In the customs area, NOBODY was stopped or baggage checked, there wasn't even as person on duty. There were people employed to keep the crowd calm and signs everywhere warning that it wouldn't be tolerated if we assaulted the staff. I was home, in BARKING MAD Britain, I love it!

Beverley was there to meet me and after a lot of hugs and kisses, breakfast at the airport was bliss before the drive home and 10 hours lovely sleep, after a glass or three of wine.

Nearly 2,872 hits on the blog while I was in Romania took the total hits now to over 30,000. Thank you all for your lovely e mails and well wishes which helped along the way. 

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