And the winner is…..

by Gareth Crew on November 20, 2009

Thank you all for your wonderful entries and votes on our happy competition! We’ve been beaming at the entrants, and cooing at the amount of votes we’ve received. You, the readers, are truly an amazing bunch of people.

Justin, this is yours now

Justin, this is yours now

And the winner? Well it was Justin, who won a rather impressive 49% of the votes cast. His entry said the following:

“In 2005 I drove from London to Mongolia in a beaten up old Citroen 2CV. I went with my brother as far as Istanbul and then drove from Istanbul through Turkey into Georgia and down through Azerbaijan.

The car kept breaking down! In Tbilisi, capital of Georgia my car died. I pulled into a slightly disorganised looking garage where the garage owner took one look at my car, laughed and then took pity on me. He sent the car into his garage to be fixed and decided I looked tired and hungry so decided he had to feed me. Gesturing me into his car we took off on a brisk tour of Tbilisi stopping in a supermarket and what I can only describe as a drive through pub.

Two gallons of beer, yes really they sold it in gallons, we went back to his garage where he promptly poured the first gallon down my throat whilst feeding me. He then gave me back my now working car, opened the other gallon of beer telling me I would need it for Azerbaijan and sent me on my way. Needless to say by the time I got to Azerbaijan I wasn’t in the best of states. Still a snooze at the border was all it took and soon I was bribing my way into the country.

I had a frantic drive through Azerbaijan which at the time had all its roads being dug up in order to meet my new co-driver in Baku to catch a ferry across the Caspian sea.

24 hours later, picture the scene, Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, a city stinking of oil. I had just arrived after a frantic 24 hour solo drive to catch the ferry across the Caspian into Turkmenistan. I had met with my co-driver and I was running out of money.

Azerbajain

Azerbaijan, it looks very nice

We went to buy our ticket. Being slightly disorganised and overtired I was getting hugely frustrated by the continuous demands for bribes to get us onto the ferry. Not speaking a word of Azerbaijani and with the officials after as many quick bucks as they could get this was going to be difficult.

The official ferry cost was about $150.00, for non locals. Locals had to pay about $10! Somehow they thought we should pay $350. We argued back and forth and eventually a local driving a very smart top of the range Mercedes Benz G-wagon decided enough was enough. He ended up knocking them down to $268 which was vastly better than we had managed to do… However he then felt so embarrassed by the way the officials of his country had cheated us that he felt honor bound to pay the ferry for us. On top of that he took us off on a mad cap drive around Azerbaijan stopping at various food stores and topped us up with sandwiches, beers, meats and various different cheeses.

I don’t know what it is about me that encourages locals in different parts of the world to give me alcohol but they seem to do so.

There are two more tales of generosity and kindness of strangers which I suppose in my bid to win a flip camera I ought to share:

We had driven most of the way through Turkmenistan when the chassis of our 2CV bucked and half the car was dragging along the floor. As a result we needed some emergency repairs. Unfortunately this necessitated us spending a day extra in Turkmenistan which was a problem for Stephen, my co-driver as it meant his visa would expire. Needless to say by the time we got to the border the chassis was in a bad way again and they wouldn’t let Stephen leave the country. In the end we decided I would go on to Uzbekistan and get the car repaired and I would return to the border to meet Stephen at the border the following day.

Citroen

Not the best car in the world

I limped to the closest town initially with a very large Uzbek lady who had foisted herself in my car at the border. Regretfully her bulk meant that her side of the car spent the first 5 miles scraping along the floor. Regretfully I had to let her out and get into the taxi that was following us.

Anyway I soon got to the town and asked some slightly fearful looking people as to where I could find a mechanic. They insisted in my following them down some rather mysterious looking lanes to a barn in the middle of nowhere.. I was a little concerned but I need not have been. For when I got there the farmer and his family proceeded to throw a party for me with copious amounts of vodka, blinis,caviar and food. After I had collapsed into an alcoholic heap they got to work on my car by heaving it up on its side resting on some tyres whilst they welded it back together again. The following morning I was good to go.

Onwards with Stephen to Kazakhstan where needless to say our poor car collapsed again. Twice here we were invited into different peoples homes. The first time we had just broken down by the side of the road when a young Kazakh guy of Russian extraction took us back to his house, fed us let us use his incredible sauna and got the car fixed. Later on the way out of Almaty we broke down again.

An old man appeared out of nowhere saying EEnglish, my son Eenglish and promptly took me off to find him. Sure enough his son was fluent in English, although I learnt I was the first English person he had met. He had learnt the language by watching movies and reading books!

Anyway again they insisted in putting us up for the night, kicking the youngest son out of his room so we would have somewhere to sleep. Another great meal, this time without excessive quantities of alcohol and the following morning we were given a tour of some of the sites westerners would not normally see.

Sorry this seems to have gone on a bit.. I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to see quite how kind people can be you need to set off from London in a beaten up old car and just break down a lot!”

Second place was Dan Thornton with this entry:

“10 years ago I spent a year studying in America, and met some great people, and had some great times – but the one that has to stand out happened at Seattle airport.
The night before flying back to the UK for Christmas I’d gone for a few beers with some friends, had a few more, and then stumbled home with a chili pepper-covered pizza at about 3am, only to oversleep and awake at 10am with a couple of hours before my flight.

Airport

Quick Dan, your plane is leaving!

A good friend drove me to the airport, and I just made it to the check-in desk – at which point a friend from the UK said hello and introduced me to a girl he’d been chatting to.
We met again when everyone lined up to board the plane, but I assumed that was it.
It turns out British Airways had allocated me a seat next to her, at the back of the plane, so it was just the two of us – we ended up chatting for pretty much the entire 8 hours, and exchanging addresses when we landed.

When I went back to the U.S we met up for drinks, and started dating, then she moved to the UK when I returned. We’ve now been together 10 years this year, and have a wonderful young son.

And all thanks to a massive hangover…”

And third went to Mike CJ:

“I worked for Volkswagen group many years ago, and part of my role was to host corporate hospitality trips for our biggest fleet customers. These consisted of flying them over to Wolfsburg for a tour of the spectacular factory there with a night in Braunschwieg followed by a couple of days and nights in Berlin, taking in some German culture.

DSC00384

Mike used to work with these guys

I had a call from a colleague, Charles, prior to one trip – he was responsible for looking after a region of customers in the UK. He told me that one of his favourite clients (and one of the biggest buyers of our cars) was coming on the trip and he told me that she was young, single and attractive. Now with the greatest respect to the genre, car fleet buyers are seldom ladies, and rarely attractive – I hope none will be offended by me stereotyping them as middle aged fellas who enjoy a pint or two! Charles finished his phone call to me with the words “Look after her please Mike.”

I was standing at the meeting point in the terminal at Heathrow, holding my VW folder aloft when I first spotted her. I saw her eyes scan the logo and then lock onto mine. She introduced herself and I was immediately smitten. She had sapphire blue eyes, curly dark hair that tumbled around her face, and legs that belonged on a cat walk.

I tried my best to do a good hosting job on that trip, but the truth is I spent most of it either looking for her, or talking with her. As host, I was able to manipulate every event so that I “happened” to be sitting either near or next to her, and as each day passed I came to admire her wit and grace more and more.

Sapphire

Nice eyes

As we prepared to leave Berlin, a hasty telephone call to British Airways arranged for me to sit next to her on the return flight, and I remember the feeling of dread that the trip was coming to an end. Having collected our luggage, we jumped on to the long term car park bus, and I wondered if she felt any of the things I was feeling. I walked her to her car and we exchanged business cards – at least I had her telephone number!
I kept my promise to Charles. In fact I keep that promise every day. We’ve been married nine years now, and she still has sapphire blue eyes, dark hair tumbling around her face and legs that belong on the cat walk.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike CJ November 25, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Congratulations Justin! Nice piece and a deserved win.

Justin November 26, 2009 at 8:47 am

Ah Thanks Mike, very noble of you… I think yours was much more romantic and worthy!

Anyway thanks so much Gareth and the team… I am very chuffed and a tad embarrassed!

Greetings to you all from sunny Peru!

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