Wow, what a rollercoaster so far. I thought I’d put up a quick update on here, as although Fed has been updating our team blog, I have limited Azure / Twitter / programming access (more on that in a minute) and I know this will go out via Feedburner automatically to anyone who is interested in our progress, so given the current set of news we have to share, this is the place to let you know. Luckily I managed to remember the password!
So, first of all it’s day 18 and we’re still not in Russia. This was not really part of the plan; we should have been in Russia a while ago in order to be “on track”. But things got hairy pretty soon after we departed England. Our convoy of six ambulances had headed south-east through Europe in order to get to Budapest, at the time a relatively small diversion in order to meet with the GoHelp charity and other teams outside of our convoy, for an annual event to share a few drinks with everyone who embarks on this mission.
Budapest is a lovely, lovely place, but unfortunately as Fed wrote at the time, it stole more than just our hearts: someone forced the back doors of our ambulance overnight and stole my suitcase, my hidden rucksack containing my laptop which I’d intended to use for blogging (and some Umbraco 5 work) and our camera chargers, Fed’s Kindle, and perhaps the most devastating thing given the context: our vehicle documentation.
Given that all these things except perhaps the suitcase had been hidden, we didn’t actually discover the theft until we were about 300 miles away from Budapest near the Ukranian border. At the time, it was a whirlwind of stress. Any theft is always earth-shattering but the full extent didn’t actually dawn on us until we had attempted a few border crossings: that vehicle documentation, a “V5C” in the UK or “auto-passport” in local parlance, was the key to us leaving the EU.
As it happened, the entire convoy spent about 2 days bouncing between the EU and Ukranian border in no-man’s land because the remainder of the convoy had “temporary V5″ documents whilst our permanent ones were being mailed to catch us up in Volgograd, and we had been given advice that this (and our hastily-obtained printout of a V5C scan we had on file) would not be a problem. But with clarity of hindsight we now know that actually the Ukraine was never going to be easy: it levies a 3000EUR fee per vehicle for crossing with temporary documents. Well, I say a “fee”: they claim we would have received a refund when getting to Russia in exchange for proving that we weren’t going to dump the vehicles in the Ukraine, but we just didn’t have that kind of cash or trust in chance to continue. Plus, it was probably a lucky break: we now know that our single ambulance would never have made it from the Ukraine into Russia without the original V5C and Fed and I would have been stuck having to turn back.
So the whole convoy chose a new route, after some deliberation between going north or south of the Ukraine to a Turkish ferry. We decided to travel north through Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania and finally into Latvia where there are several border crossings with Russia that avoid Belarus. Here the other five ambulances successfully made it through after a painful 9-hour queue, but Fed and I in ambulance #5 were turned away. It was an incredibly gut-wrenching moment, and everyone was incredibly supportive – although clearly we were all upset. Since that time, Fed and I have been traveling on our own with determination, to a few of the other Latvian crossings. At one border we even made it to the very last step (luckily after only a 30-minute queue), but still got turned away.
Since Saturday when the others made it through the Russian border and beyond we’ve tried all sorts, but finally on Monday my mum and dad managed to make a breakthrough with the DVLA in the UK who kindly agreed to get a new V5C sent to our London home first-class, where Fed’s mum and sister have been staying. Thanks to them all it’s now with DHL and we expect to receive it before 12pm tomorrow.
Through all of this we’ve had our ups and downs. Of course, the original robbery has always been at the back of our minds, but perhaps if we’d had the permanent V5C on us it might have been that which was stolen. But there have been other things, the largest of which is probably that our Russian visas expire on the 12th of August. Looking at the mileage, it’s still do-able if we enter Russia tomorrow night, but there’s no doubt that it will be a case of doing a lot of driving in a short amount of time. Which is why it’s so incredibly kind that one ambulance has stayed to wait for us in Samara. One of their team, Scott, will fly back to Moscow in order to jump in our van and help with the driving to get to Samara as quick as possible, and everything else being well (we are definitely due a lucky break!) we will then continue as a convoy of two vehicles and six people – a much more reassuring prospect. Together we probably won’t catch the other four, but the idea that it’s still at least possible to get all six vehicles there is a glimmer of hope to which we are all clinging right now.
It’s been our intense desire throughout all of this that we make sure that we get this vehicle to Ulaanbaatar, to deliver it but also to visit the places where the donations to our and the other teams’ fundraising websites will be spent. We’ve still got other backup options in case DHL lets us down, for example donating the vehicle to a needy beneficiary in the EU and then traveling to Mongolia via train or plane, but of course none of them quite lives up to the visions we’ve had for the past 18 months. It’s about the journey as well as the destination, and – whilst there are still hurdles we must cross – potentially Team 2 and our parents back in the UK scrabbling to help us out will have made this current hurdle conquerable.
And with that I’ll bring this post to a close. Since I’ve been doing all of the driving, and had my laptop stolen, I’ve not been able to blog or tweet at all. But hopefully the next time I get chance, it’ll be with good news. Fed has also been doing sterling work taking lots of great pictures for our team blog which is here, which she updates from the passenger seat whenever there is a sniff of open Wifi.
Until the next update, all the best and thanks again to everyone who has donated funds, to our amazing convoy-mates and our parents for their help, to all those kind folks we’ve met along the way, and to my incredibly supportive employer Umbraco to make this mission so worthwhile.