The drive from Chisinau up to Siret was a nightmare, but as with any disaster film there was a hero. The journey started out well, leaving at around 8:30am in light traffic. The route out of the city, so often the worst part of any driving day, was easy to find and follow. I decided I would wait until we had cleared the city boundaries before topping up with fuel.
The first couple of service stations I tried didn’t know whether their fuel’s content had 5% or 10% (E5 or E10) ethanol and to be perfectly honest I don’t think they even knew what Ethanol is. Eventually I found a garage around 15 miles out of town that had E5 fuel, so we filled up. Most of the East European countries still have pump attendants and there is usually a scramble for who is going to do the honours. I’ve even had the situation where one attendant would fill the fuel tank, one would wash the windscreen and a third would go round the car visually checking the tyres and anything else they could think of. Meanwhile, some poor motorists were waiting at other pumps just to get their cars re-fuelled.
We had progressed no more than nine miles when Bridget stuttered a few times, then lost power and finally died. We pulled over to the side of the road and I hauled myself out of the car and placed the two safety triangles at around 15 and 45 yards away. I then returned to Bridget, sprung the bonnet catch and started the, nowadays, well-rehearsed routine. Is fuel getting pumped through the feed pipe, is it entering both carburettors, is it getting through the carbs to the engine? All checked out, so then, is there a spark at each of the plugs. There is! If the fuel is going in and the spark is generated, then bang goes the cylinder and off up the road we go! So why not?
Just at this moment a Mercedes can pulls up a few yards past me and a Moldovan gentleman gets out. Having established that he speaks Moldovan, Russian, Romanian and German, and I speak English we managed to sign-language our way to an understanding of the problem. He then offered to tow me to the next service area around 15km up the road. The guy’s name is Vitali.
When we arrived, several mechanics came over to see what the fuss was about, with one clearly the more experienced, taking charge. He and I went through all the checks I had done earlier and, we agreed, it should work. He then went into his workshop and came out with a spray can of some mysterious liquid which he sprayed into each carburettor and he asked me to try turning the engine over. It fired and ran for a very short time. After doing it a second time I demanded to know what it was he was spraying. He handed me the aerosol and I read the label “Men’s Deodorant”.
Anyway, with this test finalised and Bridget smelling wonderful, we agreed that my problem was the fuel, either contaminated or diesel! It was at this stage that they were unable to help us further due to other demands and Vitali offered to once again tow us, this time some fifty miles further on my route to a large garage where we could complete the job. He insisted he was going in that direction himself and we would only be ten minutes from the Romanian border, so I accepted his kind offer.
Steering a car being towed by a large Mercedes van, around which you cannot see, requires focus. You need to watch the towing vehicle’s indicators, brake lights and attempt to keep the towline taut. The line parted just once on the first forty mile section of this trip. We then turned off the main road, stopped and Vitali tried to explain he had to go this way, but I was unsure why. Then the road turned into a farm track. The whole of Europe has been suffering the heat wave and the ground is terribly dry. The dust that the Mercedes was throwing up was so great that at times I couldn’t see the van, and I was still trying to keep the towline taut. We actually drove 8 miles like this, stopping just the once when Vitali disclosed this was his farm and the fields either side were all his. A huge farm and he showed me all the maize that was ruined from lack of water. This year’s harvest will be only 10% of normal at best. There were a few fields of sun flowers that looked healthy enough, but were smaller than usual.
Eventually, we arrived at a range of farm buildings. We alighted from the vehicles and I was beginning to wonder what the plan was. He then made a phone call and handed the phone to me. The guy on the other end was his son who lives in London and speaks good English. He explained to me that his father had arranged for a mechanic who was on his way to the farm as we spoke.
When the mechanic arrived I again went through my song and dance routine explaining what we had already done and our suspicions about the fuel. He produced a bottle of petrol, disconnected the fuel pipe from the carburettors and connected the bottle to them instead. I turned the ignition and Bridget sprung into life. So they fetched some large empty plastic containers and he syphoned all the fuel from the tank. Then he put the fuel line into an empty bottle and I turned on the ignition so that the electric pump cleared all the fuel from the line. We then went to the local garage and bought 30 litres of petrol, returned and filled Bridget up. I turned the ignition on to allow the pump to push fuel through the line to the carbs and then started her up. The engine sounded as if nothing had ever been wrong.
This episode cost me a total of seven hours, so that I was hot, hungry and still had 120 miles to drive. Vitali wanted me to stay and have something to eat and drink, but I tried to explain that I still had to drive to Siret. Eventually he escorted me to the border and we said our good-byes. I left him with my phone number and the website address so that his son can contact me when I am back in England. His son also told me that Vitali is always doing things like this, and I can very well believe it.
Finally I arrived in Siret, at the Frontier Hotel and Katie Daly’s genuine Irish pub and restaurant. Thankfully it is very restful after a tiring day and I had a draught ale and some water followed by a really long shower.
After breakfast this morning I have taken a walk along to the border. I have spoken to some officials that have said there should be no problem with my crossing tomorrow as long as I pay for a visa in the normal way and also get a “green card” for the car.
Border crossings around the world tend to be fairly chaotic places. There are always various individuals trying to cross unofficially, often many traders and money exchange dealers. Depending on how efficient the officials at the crossing are will be reflected in the numbers of vehicles queuing.
At this crossing though you have hundreds of humanitarian works. There are rows of tents each with their own function; one supplying children’s clothes, another, adult clothing, everything baby needs, bedding, drinks, meals, medical facilities, on-going support, etc. The volume of heavy goods vehicles trying to enter Ukraine, carrying every conceivable item required for a population’s every-day life, is staggering. This morning the queue backs up some 5 km. I made a comment about this to one of the officials and was told that last week the queue was 24 km. Bear in mind that this is the Romanian side of the border. On the Ukraine side will be a similar volume of trucks returning from delivering their wares. On top of this there are the thousands of refugees. I was told by one of the Greek Red Cross workers, that two days ago ten thousand refugees crossed the border in one day. And this is only one crossing in Romania. There are several more in the country and in addition, there are all the crossings in Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
This morning in the news I read an article saying that the FBI has no credible evidence that Mr Putin is suffering from any illness. Well I can vouch that he is one sick man.
So tomorrow Bridget and I, suitably attired, cross into Ukraine and two fingers to Putin!
PS. I am sorry this has become a litttle political, but I guess it was always going too.