HUMANITARIAN AID GETS TO ROMANIA, APRIL 1999
Several months before the trip, I contacted Donna Taylor and asked if she would like to co-drive on an aid trip to Romania along with Liverpool Land Rover Club.
Donna considered that was the start of it - something that finished with herself feeling somewhat sad, enriched, enlightened and in serious need of therapy! You don't encounter a troup of Scousers, Preston Front look-alikes, a couple of Mancunians, a Geordie, not forgetting the Southern and Welsh representatives... and escape unscathed!
Friday March 26th the trip began for members of Liverpool Land Rover Club and myself, it started early in the morning picking up trailers and paperwork at the offices of Gobowens Transport in Liverpool. I met Donna at Newport Pagnel Services around mid-day, having been 'seen off' by a group of friends the night before, the day apparently passing in a sort of haze punctuated by short sleeps, traffic jams at Dartford, difficulty at the ferry terminal with our paperwork and having to pay £274 for the privilege to travel freight (and that price was heavily discounted, apparently!).
We departed Dover finally at 23.30, several hours after having all the crews met up up at South Mimms Service station on the M1. We left the ferry a couple of hours later at Calais, and became separated from the rest of the convoy, but met up again with the help of CB radio the next morning at 9.30 in the lay-by in which we had spent the night.
This is where the journey really started. The whole convoy together at last, including seven 4x4 vehicles with trailers loaned by Barlow Trailers, of Chorley and an articulated lorry with 40' trailer from Gobowen Transport of Liverpool. The convoy consisted of a collection of Land Rover and Range Rover vehicles with the exception of the artic' and Donna and myself in the Daewoo Musso 4x4, very kindly loaned for the trip. It was some time before we could put the Musso through it's paces, because one of the Land Rovers was having a little trouble with it's trailer and speed had to be kept quite low. We did however manage to keep to the somewhat gruelling schedule, and managed to very comfortably travel through France, Belgium and into Germany where we set up camp at a service station near Frankfurt.
With our first 1,000 miles completed, we dug in for the day, Sunday, John the lorry driver had to take a day off for the benefit of his tachograph. So the day was taken up with running repairs and maintenance - vehicular and human. The Daewoo, being new did not require either.
Chores over, we did a little sight-seeing around Ofenbach and Frankfurt, managing to get lost. But, after receiving accurate directions from an English speaking German (as most are), we eventually rejoined the convoy at the service station. Sunday night soon came and everyone was feeling particularly sociable with the aid of the free-flowing German Bier!
At last, a chance to get to know each other, as Donna and I hadn't met any of the others before. This socialising did go on a little longer than was advisable considering we had to be up at 5am, and sleeping in a vehicle, even a car as comfortable as the Daewoo Musso, has its drawbacks. For example, the 'Turkish Lorry Driver Problem'. This particular driver felt compelled to park very close and spent his night staring through the window, Donna cowering under her sleeping bag, feeling like a not too exotic zoo exhibit.
Monday 29th and we just about managed to crawl out of the car at the preordained time of 5am. Unfortunately, Donna must have drawn the short straw, consequently the 'hangover' run was hers. Soothed by the comfort and excellent sound system of the Daewoo, she soon recovered enough to regain her power of speech, and implore me to to take over the wheel, which I willingly did.
So 1,000 miles on and more, we crossed through Austria to Hungary with little more than the Austrian tax (which they don't tell you about!, so they can fine you, no doubt!) and toll roads to cope with.
It was about this point that Donna earned her nickname 'Mad Dog' although the link was a bit obscure, it caused some hilarity among the rest of convoy. 'Mad' refering to her somewhat adventurous driving technique and 'Dog' apparently because Daewoo is made in Korea where people allegedly have a predeliction for cooked canine.
Considering the longevity of the journey so far we were remarkably relaxed, the seats of the Daewoo certainly stood up to a lengthy journey with no sign whatsoever of the old 'numb bum' syndrome associated with some other less comfortable 4x4 vehicles. In fact the Musso has to be one of the most civilised rides I have ever encountered.
On the Monday, the drivers went through the various queues at the Austrian/Hungarian border. Apparently, the Austrian side was no problem, as expected, but the Hungarians do not really have a clue of what's going on. Imagine a border control run by Basil Fawlty and you won't be far off. And this country wanted to get into the EU? and even more remarkably, it did!
Eventually, we reached the Hungarian border with Romania on Tuesday, up till then we had managed to remain roughly on schedule, despite the leading Land Rover becoming overheated, as we came through the German Burgs.
Donna stated a more tortuous nightmare of afficiousness and red tape - not to mention sheer stupidity - it would be difficult to imagine, unless of course you were given to particularly negative flights of fancy, and suffering from a severe bout of depression, you might approximate this particular scenario that followed.
We spent an entire day at the Hungarian border. Liverpool Land Rover Club, doing this trip every year, anticipated some hold up with the paperwork, and crossing through at last, we were warned not to cheer prematurely as the worst was yet to come. They were not wrong!
Donna and I thought a wasted day was bad enough, and I had experienced border difficulties before on previous aid runs. Donna very naively thought that as we were taking aid into the country whose border we were about to cross, we should experience little difficulty in acheiving our goal? Yes? - NO!!
My initial idea was sending Donna in front wrapped in sexiest lowest cut top and warmest smile. Although it seemed a good idea on paper, this fell completely flat when we encountered the stony faced Romanian office women, who were not enamoured of our technique and were probably very skilled at weightlifting.... We just had to wait it out with the other irrate, mainly Turkish lorry drivers who were experiencing similar difficulties and are not blessed with our British love of queues.
At the end of the first days wait, we were told we could drive off, but must return the next day to continue the tedious 'no stampa' ...'go to next office' routine. Apparently the goal posts are moved on a regular basis, so, what was appropriate paperwork on last years trip may not be adequate on this one, as proved to be the case.
The Romainian border guards eventually let us in to the country - on the condition we returned the following day for clearance - and we drove to an "hotel" near to Bevis.
As I parked the Daewoo, Donna dashed ahead and managed to grab the best room - the only one that had electric, a TV, heating, a working bog and shower (after I had repaired it).
This back and to to the customs carried on for another three days before we finally got the lorry and trailers to the Casa di Copi (House of Children) Orphanage in Bevis, north west Romania. DonnaI stated that all the travelling and subsequent hassle, were all more than worthwhile when the orphans cheered as the trailers were driven in, but, there again, she hadn’t had to drive back and to to the customs and spend days loking at the wonderful Romanian scenery. I would like to point out that this is me sarcastic, as the scenery at the border, was something you might expect at a former USSR border. Scrubland and fences.
The work was not yet over however, now came the mammoth task of unloading several tonnes of mixed aid whilst trying to ensure that the provisions were received by the children they were intended for. This was partly ensured by the help enlisted by Eddie and Billy, a couple of 'scousers' from Liverpool L.R.C. who had an eerie understanding of the juvenile criminal mind,
(allegedly) and utilized the 'special skills' of some of the older children to offset the attention that the goods were receiving from the local 'bad boys', turning a potential problem to advantage, and making lots of new friends into the bargain.
Some of the supplies were for other places and had to be reloaded for distribution to the abandoned babies unit at the local hospital in Beius, as well as a place called Arrad and a later trip to Hadesh, down on the Hungarian border, to another ophanage.
Although we had a really hectic schedule, delivering the supplies as well as spending time with the Casa di Copi children, we found that the Daewoo Musso was more than equal to the task, which was not an easy one considering that the Romanian roads, or lack of them, in some places puts you very much in mind of a moonscape, more so than any earthly plane.
However, the Musso took it all in it's stride and simply gobbled up easily the many miles of rough terrain put in its path. So all in all, I felt we fared a lot better than our Land Rover counterparts who were not, perhaps as relaxed as we were upon reaching our destinations. Although the price of fuel was no issue in Romania - its extremely cheap - we found the Daewoo to be quite economical on fuel.
The return journey was a bit better at the borders, with the exception of the Hungarian/Austrian border, as the Hungarians wanted all the lorries weighed as they entered the control area - and there were a lot of lorries.
When we got into Austria, one of the Land Rovers experienced a failed turbo and it was decided to go our different ways as I wanted to show Donna the northern Alps - whilst other crews wanted to visit Amsterdam), so we said our farewells and headed into the unknown, well the Rhine valley, actually...
We got caught in a few roadworks and the early morning Belgium rush hour, but we eventually made Calais around lunchtime. Without any queuing, we were quickly
cleared by the very helpful french customs and we went straight on the ferry. An hour later, we were back on UK soil and able to join the queues on the M25, M6, etc. All good fun!