Better Latvia than Never….?

Yes yes, we know you’ve guessed the ending by now, and yes, it is shocking that this is somehow over a year late already. But nevermind, everyone knew what would happen at the end of the movie ‘Titanic’ and that was still a blockbuster… Let’s just get on with the show:

Our last morning before returning to the EU…..

... Was more picturesque than our actual exit from Russia

… Was more picturesque than our actual exit from Russia….

Day 419 – Tuesday, June 17th 2014

… Or even our entry into Latvia

On entering Latvia we were pleased to find friendly customs ladies, who were too spooked by the ladder needed to get into our living quarters to take a thorough look around. It was a good thing too, since our fridge was laden with goodies identified in the many customs posters as perilous to the European Union as a whole. We figured that by quaffing the meat and cheese products in question as quickly as possible after entering the country we should keep our biological threat to a minimum.

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Prettier road signs, in an alphabet that we recognised

Our enthusiasm for getting home had now got the better of us and we only stopped once in the country – for a contraband sandwich. Early in the afternoon we entered a construction site on a section of road, and by the time the lights had turned green so we could move on we realised we were in Lithuania!

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Architecture much closer to that of mainland Europe

There was no time to reflect on what bad tourists we’d been, we we’re just going to keep on trucking. As the evening drew closer we crossed our third international border of the day and entered Poland. That makes four countries in one day, and the last four we’d crossed between were Laos – China – Mongolia – Russia, considerably more than 24 hours’ worth of travel.

A truck stop would again be our campsite, and we managed to park up close enough to the service building that we could watch some biking using their Wifi before we hit the hay.

Day 420 – Wednesday, June 18th 2014

We started the day with a scheduled fuel filter change for Ivor, we breakfasted ourselves and got on the road. With home in sight (relatively speaking), we’d set ourselves up for a charge back to the UK, telling ourselves that we’d return to be more dutiful tourists at a later date. It’s bizarre to think of Poland as ‘nearly home’, when, until just over a year ago it would have been the furthest we’d ever been away without flying.

Sorry about all the photos of road signs,  they are pretty much all we were getting to see of these countries - one day we will return and do a better job of visiting

Sorry about all the photos of road signs, they are pretty much all we were getting to see of these countries – one day we will return and do a better job of visiting – but Wow, it’s been a while since we saw a limit as high as 140kph

The roads were good and the journey was uneventful until, as we pulled away from a toll booth, Vaughan heard an unusual sound from the engine bay. Within minutes the front end of the engine bay was being dismantled, and we’d found while taking the fan belt off that the water pump had a lot of play in the bearings.

We pulled off the main road into the town, and searched out a car spares shop – the guy was just shutting up but he spoke English, and searched out an Iveco garage for us the next big town along – which was still almost 100km away – and yet more bad news, tomorrow was a bank (public) holiday, so all the garages would be shut.

After abusing some Mc-Wifi to try and find the part in the UK, to consider getting it shipped, we limped back towards the highway in a foul mood. On route we came across a couple of commercial vehicle garages, still open even though it was nearly 10pm. We tried our luck with a DAF repair shop, the guy behind the counter was extremely friendly, and spoke excellent English. He got one of the workshop mechanics to take a look at the engine, and with one wobble of the fan confirmed our suspicions; we should not be moving until it was fixed.

The DAF parts guy was then called upon, but our freaky ex-military engine did not return any part numbers that they could get an exact match for – though we found some that looked close to the component in the parts catalogue on our laptop. We would have to order them, and just hope for the best that we could butcher one of them to make it fit when it arrived midday on Friday. In case that failed we would also get in touch with Iveco Poland when they opened after the holiday to see if they could help out.

A grumpy V & K went to bed that night outside the DAF garage unsure how we would get this one sorted – there were just too many maybe’s in each of the possible solutions.

Day 421 – Thursday, June 19th 2014

It only took about an hour to get the offending pump removed, in the hope that one could be fitted the next day. We took a room in an adjacent hotel to make use of good showers and high speed internet and spent the rest of our time investigating how we could get a pump from other sources. Prices and times for delivery varied hugely but we never achieved any improvement on paying an awful lot for a pump that may be wrong to be delivered in about a week; not the rosiest of outcomes.

Day 422 – Friday, June 20th 2014

Midday slipped to 3pm, but by the time the parts arrived one from a Renault looked like a close match to the pump we’d taken off. Getting it close to the engine it became clear we were going to have to hack some sections of metal off the pump body before we could be sure it was going to work. We committed to the purchase and a nice DAF man set to it with an angle grinder for us, and gave us a tube of instant gasket to help it fit. One pipe was difficult to fit back in place, and after we’d reassembled the engine a tiny leak could be seen once we’d tested it up to temperature – there was nothing else for it, but to remove everything and build it up again from scratch with some more O rings in place in attempt to create a better seal. The rebuild needed a few more simple parts, but by the time the light was beginning to fade we had a working truck once more.

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See if you can guess which is the new part, the one that hasn’t driven all around Asia

The guys at DAF gave us a break on the price of the pump – giving it to us for the pre-tax cost, and all of the rest of their services and parts for free, so very kind of them.

We dined in the hotel restaurant and went to bed feeling a good deal happier than we had the previous two nights.

Day 423 – Saturday, June 21st 2014

Really Ivor, all of that attention, and this is how you repay us?! On the motorway again and the suspicious noise had returned. It was just a coincidence that the water pump had gone – and we were lucky to have spotted it where help was available.

Knowing where the Iveco garage was in Poznan we dropped in, and the mechanic spotted the real source of the noise. We’d not spotted that two of the four studs that should have been holding the turbo to the exhaust manifold had snapped – the Mongolian corrugated roads were still haunting us. They didn’t have time to help us fix it since it was early closing on a Saturday, and we needed proper metal working tools to get it sorted so it was above and beyone what we could manage ourselves. They did give us the details of someone that should be able to help tomorrow at the Poland / Germany border town though.

Having an evening at our disposal in Slubice / Frankfurt-auf-Oder (depending on which country you were in), we wandered around the tax-break cigarette shops and found little to inspire us. We went for dinner in a Pizza restaurant. We asked the waitress if there was anywhere else to go out afterwards, who shuffled off and returned with a hand written note from her friend, apologetically saying that there was very little to do in the town; bed time then.

Day 424 – Sunday, June 22nd 2014

Our search for the garage involved a slightly unconventional U turn in the deserted early morning street, which the Polish police decided was cause enough to flag us down. They gave Vaughan a breathalyser test, and seemed in slight distress about our recent manoeuvre. We had, almost by chance, turned round at the one place along that road without a no turning sign. Without anything to actually complain to us about, and with the language barrier firmly in place between us, they returned to their car and disappeared, having given up on any attempt to relieve us of any money.

The guys at the garage said they couldn’t help, but again, they knew a man that could. We followed their directions to a backstreet garage with a mobile phone number and ’24 hours’ written on the sign. Differing from the wild west’s version of a cowboy, in Poland they wield electric drills and require an entirely unreasonable sum of euros for half an hour’s work – to be paid in cash. But there you are, beggars can’t be choosers, and looking for a mechanic on a Sunday morning in the town of Slubice, we were definitely the beggars in this situation.

So a few days later than planned, we crossed the unceremonious border into Deutschland, the only notable difference from a highway driver’s perspective being that we no longer needed to keep our headlights on all day,  and eventually we would reach the speed limit-less autobahns – where we could reach the giddy heights of 80kph, maybe 85 if we pushed it. We were returning to an area of the world where we were once again one of the slowest things on the road.

Our destination for the day was Winterburg, a tiny town nestled in amongst the Sauerland hills, where we should be able to get some riding in the following day. We made it with enough of the day remaining to take a look around, and find a nice hillside restaurant to swig a cold beer, and reflect on the truck-related hassle of the last few days.

Day 425 – Monday, June 23rd 2014

Our reward for getting this far across Europe with a day spare before our boat back to the Uk; a day on the pedals. Not only does Winterburg feature a wide array of specially made biking trails, it’s also got a chairlift to return you to the top without any of that sweaty pedalling business that had been such a nuisance back in the Himalayas.

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Vaughan kept lapping the bike park until the lift shut, and Kim stopped only just shortly before – we were both feeling good at having had some much needed exercise, and the buzz of some good trails helped too.

We took to the local supermarket to stock up for the remainder of the drive to the UK, we were amazed at how easy it was – we recognised almost all of the products, there were prices on everything, and get this; all of the words used an alphabet we could read. We could get used to this.

The food in the restaurant that we’d taken a beer in the night before had looked good, and we didn’t take much persuasion to veer away from the truck-based pasta diet, so off we went.

Day 426 – Tuesday, June 24th 2014

We had hoped to get a morning of riding in the bike park, but a combo of a broken gear cable for Kim, a chairlift that was slow at getting started, and finally Vaughan smashing a rear derailleur into his back wheel AND getting a puncture in the same moment when he failed to clear a jump signified end of play. Having gotten a few runs in, having some seriously aching muscles from the day before, and watching some sinister looking rain clouds rolling in we were happy to call it a day.

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We thought that interesting local outfits were a long way behind us.

The twisting roads out of the hills were slow going, but we did eventually emerge onto the autoroutes and Germany changed into Belgium, and before pulling into our rest-area for the night we were back in France – our ferry the next day to the UK looking infinitely more achievable than it had a five days previously when the water pump troubles had first started in Poland.

But hang on a second – it’s surely not the end of this blog already….? You scroll down in disbelief but it’s TRUE!!! There is no more text!

What kind of amateurish attempt at a cliff hanger is this? They’ve gone and done it again, they’ve finished another positing and they STILL haven’t made it to the UK.

Will our humble adventurers manage to cross another country and catch their ferry in time? Should Ivor manage to board the vessel what could they possibly think of finally landing back on UK soil and essentially concluding this momentous undertaking? And even more pressing, they wouldn’t dare to drag the last few days into more than one more posting would they?

For answers to these questions and more, dear patient readers, stay tuned.

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One thought on “Better Latvia than Never….?

  1. Damn it, I thought I was finally getting closure. Are you trying to stretch this out like the Hobbit films?? Shame on you!

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