6th October - update
Yesterday seems to have gone well and most of the team are now in Pristina taking it easy and will be joined later by Rob and "Swiss Clock" from Dragash where Thomas was handed over yesterday - photographs attached + one of Rob at the Decan handover. Hospitality has been terrific thanks to our Kosovar Rotary friends. The guys worked their magic on Thomas and the wheel cylinder situation has been remedied. The team return to Stanstead via Istanbul tomorrow and then have hire cars booked to get them back to Cornwall.
Denis, Peter/Gonzales and Lawson had a good trip across Montenegro yesterday and when I spoke to them last evening they were heading for Denis's favourite overnight stop at Cavtat, Croatia just sough east of Dubrovnik. Lawson flies home today and Denis and Gonzales should be back by Tuesday evening/Wednesday.
5th October - update
Brian has been formally handed over to the community of Decan in the presence of The Mayor, other local dignitaries and very excited firemen !! I phoned Peter just after the presentation and could hardly hear him for the excited chatter in the background - a party underway I think!! Chris and Paul remain at Decan to provide training whilst the remainder of the team continued south to Gjakova to unload some computers for local use and the equipment destined for Goden School. Some of the team also had the opportunity to visit Maja where nearly 500 local men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian forces in just a few hours at the height of the 1998-99 war. A visit to these graves clustered closely together brings home the tragedy and violence of the war ...... and there are other similar graves particularly in the west of the Republic.
Peter, Gonzales Meuller, Ina, Denis and Lawson then drove to Ferizaj encountering heavy traffic in Pristina. Here the computers were unloaded with the help of 25 or so students plus teachers. Later the guys headed for a local hotel where they received terrific hospitably - well deserved. Today they will complete the distribution of the computers and Denis, Lawson and Gonzales will start their return journey to Cornwall with the van and trailer picking up the small trailer at Decan on the way through. Whats another 2000 miles to seasoned travelers like these guys!! Lawson will fly home from Dubrovnik.
Rob and "Swiss Clock" stayed in Prizren overnight and are currently driving to Dragash for the formal handover of the Thomas. They are negotiating The Shar mountains which is probably why I cannot contact them at the moment.
Tomorrow the team will meet up in Pristina for a relaxing day before their return flight on Monday.
4th October - Update
A good part of yesterday was taken up with clearing Customs although every opportunity was taken to liaise with our hosts and contacts as well as visiting Peja fire station where we are well known to the fire fighters. I would highlight the following:-
1) At Peja fire station it was learned that their very good Dennis appliance (donated by The Channel Islands a few years ago) had been out of service for a year following the failure of the main pump. "Slick" and "Swiss Clock" had a look at the offending pump and were able to put it right and now the appliance is fully functional and back in service !! Another glowing example of the value and ability of our mechanics.
2) A slight leak has been detected in one of the wheel cylinders of Thomas. The vehicle is operational but it is hoped to replace the cylinder using parts from one of the out of use Green Goddesses that we know are parked in Dragash fire station - these vehicles are built around the same chassis and running gear as Thomas (Bedfords).
3) The cargo stored in the van and trailer and the water tanks of the fire appliances has been re-distributed amongst the convoy allowing team members to have an early start today to travel to their various destinations - Decan, Dragash and Ferizaj in the first instance. The fire appliances will be formally handed over and then local fire crews will receive training in their use, equipment carried etc. The van and trailer + minibus will unload the computers at Ferizaj and sort them into groups for collection by schools on a pre-determined basis.
3rd October - latest update
The team have arrived safely in Kosova and probably had a great nights sleep after a good meal and a couple of beers. The Kosovar border authorities were very helpful in that they allowed the vehicles to enter without the usual Customs formalities and hotel accommodation had been arranged at Decan, south of the Peja entry point. This morning everyone will meet at the Customs Offices at Peja to sort out the paperwork and, hopefully, a fairly easy day will follow although knowing some of the guys as I do there will be some visits to fire stations and liaison meetings with local Rotarians and contacts i.e. relaxing coffee breaks, talks and good food!!
Tomorrow (Friday) a start will be made on the distribution of cargo, probably the formal handover of vehicles and the commencement of training in respect of the fire kit and computers. The team will be split between Decan, Dragash, Ferizaj and Pristina but will ultimately meet up at Pristina prior to return flights to London via Istanbul (the cheapest route). The van will leave for its return to Cornwall once it has been unloaded - it will be driven by Denis Killen, "Gonzalez" Mueller and Lawson Ham who has to return to the UK earlier than expected and will fly out of Dubrovnik.
As a point of interest the sudden and unexpected "release" of the two Peters to enter and cross Montenegro came as a direct result of Rotary networking. A Montenegrin Rotarian hearing of our plight approached Montenegro's Director of Customs and within a very short space of time the required "authority" was at the entry point. Well done Rotary!! Also the Vice Consul of the British Embassy in Podgorica and I managed to part company on a friendly basis at the end of the day.
Lessons have been learned and further contacts made as usual which will help with the next convoy.
0930: the lads feel refreshed and intend to make a start on the distribution of cargo today once Customs procedures are complete. This will give them more time for training etc over the next couple of days. They are, in fact, 24 hours ahead of our anticipated schedule.
2nd October - Update 3
Good news at last - the van and trailer have been given clearance to enter and cross Montenegro. The crew intend to complete the journey to Kosova today although their arrival in Peja is likely to be quite late this evening. I am not sure why things were resolved so suddenly but we are all delighted that this has occurred. It may well be that things ran their natural course or contact with Embassies and more recently Montenegro Rotarians had a part to play in this but we will probably never know. However it is the result that counts.
Although the teams will be arriving in Kosova at different times they will have one thing in common - tiredness - and will need a good day of rest tomorrow (Thursday). Fortunately Peja beer will refresh parts that other beers cannot reach!! We have planned for delivery of vehicles, cargo etc from Friday onwards which works out well now under the circumstances.
The guys have the most difficult part of the journey ahead of them and I am sure that we all wish them a safe and uneventful journey !!!
I will up-date you again in the morning.
What I did not realise is that the two fire appliances and the minibus were allowed to enter Montenegro and are now approximately 1 hours drive north of Podgorica. They are starting to travel on steep and poor quality roads and anticipate arrival at the Peja entry point between 6pm and 7pm this evening. Climbing the 6000 ft + mountain ranges around Mojkovac and Berane will be a slow process for the fire engines but the beautiful scenery will be a bonus for the crews who had very little sleep last night. Equally the descent from Rozaje to Peja will take time.
2nd October - Update 2
No positive news as yet I am afraid despite various telephone calls being made as follows:-
1) British Embassy in Podgorica - unable to become involved in Montenegro affairs. As useful as a chocolate teapot!!
2) Established that the required consent/authority is provided by the Department for the Protection of the Environment in Podgorica.
3) Secretary of the Rotary Club of Podgorica called several times - no reply.
4) Contact made with the District Governor for the area that includes Montenegro. He resides in Serbia and felt unable to assist. Asked to provide contact details for the President or any other member of Podgorica RC (only telephone number available in the Rotary Directory relates to the Club Secretary). Reply still awaited.
5) Montenegrin Embassy in London contacted. Unable to assist although managed to acquire a telephone number for Montenegrin Customs - Embassy staff refused to make a call on our behalf.
6) Montenegrin Customs contacted - all that was heard was a short response (not a clue about what was said) followed by a dialing tone!!
7) Email sent to the British Embassy asking them to contact the Department for the Protection of the Environment on our behalf or at least the provision a telephone number for the department - reply awaited.
No news or activity whatever on the border. The simple fact is that the Department for the Protection of the Environment may well be prepared to issue the authority quickly in which case the convoy could resume its journey. However, the current problem is finding someone who is prepared to approach them.
2nd October Update 1
Unfortunately our concerns about the Montenegro border entry point have proved to be well founded. The team arrived on the border at 2215hrs last evening (their time) but were refused entry as the van and trailer were carrying computer equipment considered to have "environmental issues" without the required consent from the Montenegro authorities to cross their country. A local agent was brought into the situation and he is - as far as we understand - making an application on our behalf. In fact he has just told the team that the application could be approved in the next "24 hours" !!
The frustrating thing about this situation is that a similar convoy almost exactly one year ago was allowed to proceed through Montenegro although the topic of computers was raised and was the subject of numerous telephone calls and discussions. After this incident we sought advice from export companies specialising in conveying freight through The Balkans and none had heard of restrictions in respect of computers. We were convinced that we had covered all reasonable aspects that could be raised at this border. Up to a couple of years ago we had to pay "Environmental duty" to cross Montenegro but this was removed with some publicity. Obviously we will now be doing more in depth research for the next trip but the main and immediate concern is to get the convoy rolling again.
Peter Robinson and Peter Mueller slept in the van overnight while the rest of the team found a hotel locally. Not surprisingly there is quite a bit of frustration within the team and the airwaves between the team and the UK are red hot!! The team must be given credit for their commitment as they intend to complete the journey to Peja today if they are allowed to enter Montenegro at a reasonable time. I have sent an email to the British Embassy in Podgorica and will be telephoning them shortly once they have had their first cup of coffee. Next on my list is the Serbian and Montenegro Embassy in London but they have a leisurely start of a morning by not answering the telephone until 1030 hrs. Hopefully some support and help will be forthcoming from these quarters.
More later - hopefully encouraging news.
1st October - latest update
The convoy is progressing well and the team are in good spirits.
Yesterday the main section of the convoy travelled south from Salzburg across Austria and then south through Slovenia via Ljubijana to what was the Croatian border prior to their joining the European Community. I suppose old habits die hard and the team were stopped on "the border" by a mobile patrol of officers who checked their passports and wanted to know what they were transporting and where they were heading. The delay was a mere 10-15 minutes so no harm done. The convoy then continued and met up with the minibus crew close to the Rijeka-Split junction and on to their popular overnight stay at Zadar - where we have now been offered preferential rates in the future !!
At 9.30am (Croatia time) this morning the team were heading along the Dalmation Coast towards Split with the aim of clearing the dreaded Montenegro border by late afternoon and having overnight accommodation at Budva on the Montenegro coast if possible.
The convoy is running very well indeed and is in advance of its anticipated progress. The newcomers to the team have settled in well and everyone appears to be enjoying the experience. Peter Mueller (Helston LIzard RC) has secured the nickname of "Gonzales" because of his desire to get the best performance from either of the fire engines he is driving. Of course I mention this in confidence and the sure knowledge that no-one will mention this at future Rotary meetings etc !!!! Ian Mitchell, our computer man, has attracted the nickname of "Capcom" for his love of sending messages through our convoy radio system. He is a real bonus to the team.
Interestingly Croatia is split into two parts between Split (no pun intended) and Dubrovnik by a 10 mile wide corridor of land belonging to Bosnia that allows this country access to the Adriatic. There are check points on "the border" but often these are not manned and if they are a brief show of passports is sufficient.
The main issue for the convoy today - and the one that may bring about a delay - is the Croatia-Montenegro border. Although we have done our very best to prepare for the Montenegro authorities we are never sure what they are going to come up with. In Europe trailers are registered and given individual registration numbers as well as individual insurance. The authorities are confused by our trailers having the same registration number as the towing vehicle. We have produced paperwork which we hope will help with this problem and have also given our trailers identification numbers which are stamped on their chassis - numbers and letters chosen at random as there is no system within the UK for identifying smaller trailers.
Last year the convoy was delayed because team members were unable to produce "Certificates for electronics" to allow the computers to be taken across Montenegro. Finally, following a change in shift the newly arrived Customs staff allowed the convoy to proceed. Later we checked with Export firms with experience of moving cargoes through The Balkans and found that they had never heard of such certificates!!! I think that later today much will depend on the Customs staff on duty when the convoy arrives at the border. Fingers are crossed.
1200 (our time) - I have just spoken with the team and they are approximately 100 miles from Dubrovnik and about 15 miles from the end of the motorway after which winding and narrow roads will be encountered. The drivers are doing brilliantly maintaining good progress whilst treating their vehicles with great care. 20* plus, clear skies and sunshine.
30th September - latest update
The convoy continues to do well with a smooth trip to Sunday night's accommodation near Salzburg and no interest from the police about the convoy moving on a Sunday. This is good news in many ways although it would have been interesting to have tested out our research and paperwork. The team are now crossing Austria and enjoying the magnificent views. Today will be a long day as once Austria is crossed they have to cross Slovenia and meet up with the minibus crew south of Karlovac, Croatia - the further they can travel safely and sensibly today the better.
Fortunately Croatia is now a member of the EU so the bad old days of long delays, Customs computer failures and simple aggravation are over. The only border crossing point of potential delay to be faced now is Croatia/Montenegro one.
Yesterday our minibus crew - Rtns Lawson Ham (launceston) and veteran (in experience terms only !!) convoy member, Denis Killen (Saltram) - flew from Birmingham to Trieste, northern Italy and were then driven across Slovenia to Kraljevica, Croatia where the minibus is located at the present time. They had a smooth journey and when I spoke to them last evening they were just about to have a meal at the harbour bar. Usually we use the pizza place in the main street but exceptionally heavy rain convinced them that the extra few hundred miles was simply not worthwhile. The rain in this part of the Adriatic can be horrendous.
You may be wondering why our minibus is in Croatia. Kraljevica is a small port which has an impressive castle with the harbour and village to one side and an old mansion house built 150 years ago by an Austrian Baron on the other. During the Second World War the premises was used as a German command centre and in more recent times it has deteriorated. However in the 90's it was taken over by a dynamic doctor, Dr Anna, who developed it as a hospital/home for children suffering from cerebral palsy. In 2001 Rotary took an interest in the premises and in 2003 the Overseas Project Team cleared a large space within the building and built a terrific playroom for the children that remains in daily use. A few years later Dr Anna asked for a day centre to be created which would involve knocking down internal walls, decorating etc. The team agreed to undertake this work and took a group of some 16 Air Training Corps cadets with them to help with the heavy work - there is no point in getting older unless you become wiser!! The project was a terrific success from many points of few and in August 2012 a team of Police Cadets from Liskeard with their police officer and Rotarian supervisors travelled to Kraljevica to carry out decorating and renovation work. Again this was a success and a further team of Police cadets visited the hospital last month. The minibus was also driven to Krajevica filled with aid for the hospital and then left to be collected in connection with the current project.
I have just checked with the guys: the main convoy are doing well through Austria and thoroughly enjoying the drive. Lawson and Denis have checked the minibus and it seems fine for the journey and they are now relaxing although the weather is described as being British - cold and very windy. The two teams should meet up at about 4pm today if all goes well.
29th September - latest update
Yesterday's journey from Ghent to Erlanger, near Nurnberg was smooth and uneventful with just a few traffic problems resulting in the team arriving at their overnight accommodation a little later than planned. Everyone in good humour and doing well.
Today is the first test of our research and planning. Although we have been organising convoys to The Balkans and Belarus for the past 14 years we have never had to plan for heavy goods vehicles crossing Germany on a Sunday. The general rule is that heavy goods vehicles are banned from German roads although there are exemptions including the carriage of fresh food, blue light service vehicles and the carriage of humanitarian aid, however, this only refers to immediate/emergency aid. We established that "historical" vehicles are included in the list of exempted vehicles and both of our 4 x 4 fire alliances fall into this category - hopefully!!. However, we were left with the problem of our van and trailer but established that if the right agency could be located a "special permit" could be obtained authorizing travel across Germany on any road during the prohibited hours of 0001 - 2359 hrs. This sounds reasonably straightforward but it took numerous emails and phone calls before the right authority was traced and, fortunately, granted a "special permit" at a cost. The fact that I do not speak German and most of the authorities I had to deal with in Germany did not speak English added to the fun!!
Some readers may be surprised to learn that our fire appliances are 25 years old - this needs a little more explanation. Both Brian and Thomas are low mileage vehicles in exceptional condition and being based on a military 4 x 4 configuration with large water carrying capability are ideal for their new homes where forest fires are a very real and serious problem during the very hot summer months. They are also first class back up vehicles capable of delivering probably three times the amount of water compared with a standard fire appliance.
We are very grateful to Neil Battersley of Redruth who generously donated these vehicles to us ignoring the opportunity of selling them for good money to enthusiasts. Neil used to run a charity known as "Actionwater" for many years providing water carrying vehicles to Africa to assist with the provision of safe drinking water. Brian and Thomas were the last of his vehicles. We are all indebted to Neil
We are also grateful for the support and encouragement of our readers who have responded to these daily up-dates wishing the team well and thanking them for all their efforts. Some earlier team members have taken the opportunity of expressing their frustration of not being with the guys - I know that feeling well - whilst others have recalled some of the humour of previous convoys.
It is now 12noon (1pm local time in Germany). The team are in the Munich area looking for a decent lunchstop before continuing towards their overnight accommodation on the German side of the Austrian border at Salzburg. Everything is running well and today is a relatively modest day mileage-wise as the Austrian embargo on heavy goods vehicles is not lifted until 7am on Monday morning. We could have tried for an exemption but it was planned from the outset to make today an easy day to make up for the past busy two days and the long day that will come tomorrow when the team will cross Austria, a part of Slovenia and make as much ground as it can along the Dalmation coast of Croatia once they meet up with the minibus crew.
28th September - Latest update
The team had hoped to catch the 2pm Dover to Dunkerque ferry yesterday but our Customs Authorities had different ideas !! The fire appliances passed through without difficulty but the van and trailer had to undergo a routine stop check on paperwork. We were advised that the check would take 45 min to an hour but, in fact, it took 1.5 hours resulting in the team being delayed and having to catch the 4pm ferry. We had wanted Customs to seal our vehicles to make life easier on the Croatia/Montenegro border but they declined - something to be looked at in future. However, being a resourceful team the guys have produced their own seals!!!
On arrival in Dunkerque around 6pm the convoy took its usual route to begin the 75 miles run to Ghent but found that a slip road between them and their destination had been coned off forcing them in a direction that wasn't needed or wanted. They finally re-routed but did not get to their overnight accommodation until 9pm. The guys then had a well deserved rest and were on the road again at 8am this morning heading for the German border but also looking for an outlet for Belgium chocolate!!
As anticipated the fire appliances have required an little "tweaking" here and there but are running very well indeed with an average fuel consumption of about 18 mpg (6.2 kms per litre for our Kosovar friends) at an average speed of 45-50 miles per hour (75 kms per hour). A little adjustment of throttle linkages, tightening of fan belts etc have been undertaken quickly by Chris "Slick" Ellis and Simon "Swiss Clock" Jose, our fire service trained mechanics.
A previously trustworthy source has advised me that "Slick" made a couple of minor map reading errors in the UK which were the subject of team comment and Paul Graham was "obliged" to fail to comply with the indication given by a French traffic sign an incident that just happened to be photographed. Perhaps I should comply with BBC rules and point out that other signs are available. The fact that Paul is a fire service driving instructor should not be disclosed!!!!
The guys are all in good form and looking forward to the remainder of the journey.
With a ban on vehicles weighing over 7.5 tons (and all ours are taking into account the train weight of the van and trailer combined) using German roads on a Sunday between 0001 and 2359 hrs it will be interesting to see if our hard earned Exemption Certificate works.
27th September - update on latest convoy to Kosova
After last minute packing of personal items and checking of vehicles the convoy left our store at 11.45pm last evening. Team members were clearly looking forward to the journey and it was good to have our Rotary District Governor, Stephen Lay, and his wife, Carol, present to wish the guys well. The wife of a team member, Sophie Mitchell, had kindly made pasties - immense items that looked delicious - to ensure that the team would not go short of food on the first part of the trip to Dover. The temptation was clearly far too much for the convoy leader, Peter Robinson, who attacked his with vigour before the vehicles' engines were even started !!
For our Kosovar friends receiving these up-dates a pasty is a speciality of Cornwall. It is meat, onions, potatoes and turnip cooked in a pastry crust until golden brown. Delicious !!! They are so good that I am thinking about lunch already!!
At 10.15a.m. this morning the team was in Dover having another English favourite - the big boys breakfast!! The only problem between Cornwall and Dover was a fuel difficulty with Brian, one of the 4 x 4 fire appliances. However, this proved to be a good thing as a fuel filter problem was identified and once a new filter was fitted the vehicle was rejuvenated. Later in the day Thomas, the second 4 x 4, is going to have similar treatment. Once again the value of our two mechanics - Chris and Simon - is clear to all. Both fire appliances are proving to be more fuel efficient than expected.
Brian is destined for Decan and Thomas will have a new home at Dragash, Kosova
The team will take the 2pm ferry across the English Channel to Dunkerque for their first overnight stop at Ghent, Belgium. After 14-15 hours of driving they will appreciate a shower and a good meal.
Two other team members, Lawson Ham and Denis KIllen, will fly to Trieste, Italy on Sunday and then travel to Kraljevica, Croatia to pick up the LDV minibus destined for Mitrovica. They will join the convoy south of Karlavac, Croatia on Monday hopefully.
The guys are in good spirit and looking forward to their long journey to Kosova. At this early stage everyone is well behaved but I am sure that some interesting stories will emerge in the days to come.