Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Romania : Winter 1986.

____With all the cold weather in late December and January, I had expected it to have warmed up a bit in Romania; but, if anything, it was colder still, as I made my way up the main road from Bucharest to the Soviet border. Just how cold it could get in the middle of February was shown to me one night when the Mercedes’ engine died, just north of the town of Roman. The German made anti-freeze fuel additive called “Long Drive” said on the bottle that it was good for minus 24 degrees centigrade. I could only presume that it was minus 25 when the diesel in the fuel lines froze and I came to a halt in the snowy wastes of the windswept Rumanian plains. That night, I went to bed fully clothed, inside two sleeping bags, with my sheepskin coat over my head and I still shivered.
____In the morning, I turned the engine over, but it would not fire. Careful not to run down the batteries, I left it and hoped the sun would warm things up. The sun never came through the clouds all day, so I had to resort to filling empty food tins with near solid diesel and lighting little fires under the lorry. At the end of the day, the motor still would not start, plus my camping gas bottle in the cab would not light because it, too, was frozen. Back on the bottom bunk, I shivered through another night, after chewing on a couple of rock hard Mars bars.
____Day two was much the same as day one, with only the arrival of a couple of Bulgarian trucks, on their way back to Sofia from Kiev, to relieve the monotony. The drivers obviously thought there might be some handy bits and pieces to be had from an abandoned British truck, but they left empty-handed after boiling me some water for a coffee. The Bulgarians also gave me a swig from a spirit bottle that reminded me of nali varnish remover, as it burnt its way down my throat and into my stomach. My only other visitors were an old couple in a horse drawn sled. I swapped 20 cigarettes for a loaf of bread, but declined the offer to go back to their place. The little fire in the baked bean cans burnt for about three hours at a time, but had no noticeable effect on the frozen engine. On the morning of the third day, I figured that the wind blowing underneath the lorry was taking most of the heat away from where it was supposed to go. To stop this, I got out the world’s most travelled shovel and built a wall of snow against the front and sides of the tractor unit. With the addition of a couple of extra cans, whose contents I had consumed cold, the little fires started to give off some perceptible warmth. When it was getting dark, the battery spun the starter for the umpteenth time, but with success, as the vee-eight came to life for the first time in 72 hours.
____The fourth night was just as cold as the previous three, so I kept the engine running, the fires burning and the snow walls in place. From now on, I would only run in day light when temperatures were, hopefully, higher. It took over a week to go from Istanbul to Radauti. It was the best part of another week before the barbecues were ready to load. By the time I got back to the UK, I had been away for the best part of a month. What had started out with my quickest ever run down to Istanbul, finished up as my slowest ever round trip. As Fred Archer only paid you for the trip and not the time it took, I would have been better off staying at home.

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