Back to Czech - buying a travel van
April 10, 2004
So I landed back in Prague in time to see my visiting mom and hand my last year’s accounting to the accountant: two of the main reasons I did not extend my plane ticket and stay longer in Mexico, boohoo.
Got off the plane, into the horrible cold, piled all my newly purchased goods onto a large wagon and dragged that out of the airport.
My head still living in Mexico, and endowed with a fantastic tan and a body full of the sun’s heat, I protested more than normally and stuck to sandals without socks, shorts, and a light long sleeve shirt. It was cold indeed, and it truly seemed that the sun’s rays were still basking within me and keeping me warm, but in about three days this all disappeared and the cold fingers of winter penetrated into my now rapidly embittered interior. Fortunately, it was by this third day that the weather finally warmed up. It was apparently a horribly grueling and cold winter, and I was glad to have missed it.
These following pictures were taken by the side of the road on my way back to LA. I made a quick loop which took about 20 minutes.
For the next two years, whenever anyone asked me when I thought I would hit the road, I always answered in about three months. But then another large translation project came along, and when I accomplished one task with the caravan truck I discovered three more I needed to do, so I had to suffer two more winters here.
First things first, find myself a van. I noticed a lot of Iveco’s in Prague and they appealed to me. I was hoping for the Iveco Daily, the largest of their lineup. A friend of mine referred me to a website in Germany where you could find vehicles all over Europe, and on this website I spent a few months surfing for my next vehicle. The going rate for a used Daily that I wanted was around 12 to 13,000 Euro, which was more than I felt I wanted to afford (around 5,000). Found some for around that price, although they were sold too quickly, and eventually was getting tired of waiting.
Found one smaller Iveco for around 7,500 and thought this could be my ticket. Consulted with God if this was the van for me, and got a neutral/nothing response. Which should mean it is up to me.
I decided I did not want to wait any longer, so I emailed with the guy, jumped on a train and headed out to this small town north of Stuttgart. Examined the Iveco. A bit small, but large enough, I guess, and I primarily wanted to move forward with my dreams.
Took my UK offshore credit card to the bank, but in Germany, they have a general policy of not allowing you to take out cash like this over the counter. I told them I am not going to take out 7,000 Euro from a bank machine, and that I have my security set up not to allow this anyway. So I had to pay for a hotel room and hit all the banks the next day, looking for one which would allow me to take out cash like this. Finally found one and managed to take out only 3,500, but because I tried so many times, lowering the requested amount each time, the card became blocked and I was not able to withdraw more cash. Time was running out and went back to the car dealership. Instructed I could wire him the rest of the money, but he was not very keen on that.
He showed me some vehicles he could sell me for around that price, but they were out of the question.
So there I was, once again at the crossroads, thinking what a waste of time this all was and that my plans are being foiled again. In frustration I practically cussed to my left, slowly looking up after I opened my eyes to see a towering blue monster. "How about this one?", I asked him. "Usually for 5,000, but for you, my friend, I give for 4,500." So it turned out I saved money, got something much larger than the Daily, and probably better, because Mercedes has extensive representation all over the world – good for when traveling. Went back to the bank, phoned the UK, managed to get the limit/restriction lifted, and off I was in my new beast back to Prague.
Turns out that the car dealer’s native language is Amharic, the language of Jesus, and that the truck was owned by a good friend of his who brewed his own wine and spirits and used the truck for the past 15 years to deliver his goods in the area. So two good signs that this was the van for me. :o)
The odometer showed half a million km, but a friend of mine pointed out that, if someone truly was using this as a delivery vehicle since 1988 (date of vehicle manufacture), he is certain it has been clocked, meaning that it has already been driven 1.5 million km. In any case, the engine sounds great, and another friend who has been fixing exactly these vehicles for around 7 years says that, with good care, they can last as much as 2.5 million km. In any case, we once calculated that 200,000 km should be plenty to make it around the planet, and I feel confident it will last for my needs. And maybe I’ll be able to sell it for a profit one day to a museum. One day when traveling while working off the internet will be common, and these types of vehicles but ready-made will also be common. Giving greater value to this prehistoric beast, considering I am practically blazing a new trail.
Purchased a temporary liability insurance and registration in Germany, assuming that two weeks should be plenty of time to get something set up in the Czech Republic. I told them I planned to do this, so they snipped the corner of the original registration papers, meaning that they will erase it from their database.
Back in Prague, was busy with this and that and showed up to extend the temporary two week registration only a day late.
They said that is bad bad, where I have to pay a double fine on top of the regular price for the extension. Meaning 15,000Kc or 700$ for a mere two weeks. I said screw that, totally, and drove around the next half a year illegally. A bit of a risk perhaps, considering that the temporary stamp expiring on February 2005 was in blatant view on the German licence plates. So I would always pull into a gas station or a road to the right if I ever noticed an approaching cop car in the rear view mirror (yes, approaching from behind, because anything on the road goes faster than this grandpa).
I liked how nature managed to fill in every bit of space, and with sharp needles. It certainly was a challenge to negotiate these sections in my shorts!
Once though I did get caught. I got a boot for parking with two wheels on the sidewalk. Didn’t notice the sign and had to wait until the cops showed up with the key. Paid the thousand crown fine and fidgeted nervously at the back next to the license plate, hoping the young cop would not notice the temporary sticker. He seemed a nice young lad, and really wasn’t noticing anything, and was rather polite about everything. But then his older mate came around the corner, pointed his finger at the plates, looked at me and said, "What the hell is this?" Gave him my innocent dumb look and shrugged my shoulders a bit. He said, "You’re lucky we’re not traffic cops, cause they’d throw you in the slammer. I suggest you wait until we are gone and get this piece of junk outa here." So I politely heeded and reparked it in the usual spot (had to move it one day due to street cleaning). Another time was stopped by the police and they questioned my Canadian drivers licence.
Now, for some further explanation. It turns out that, even though the Czech Republic was now in the EU, it was still behind in synchronising it legislature and when asked if I could register this old beast here, they only laughed at me. They told me I probably could not even register this old clunker in the Ukraine. So I consulted with a friend of mine who imports vehicles from around the world, he phoned a friend of his in Germany, and determined that, because they snipped the original registration papers and erased it from their records, it would be potentially next to impossible to re-register it there. It would require a lot of visits to Germany, possibly hiring an interpreter, paying all sorts of bills, and going through some complicated procedure to get a temporary registration so that I could drive it there in the first place. Add to that the fact that insurance and registration would be much more expensive in Germany, and because I did not want a German licence place once driving around the world, I chose for an alternate solution [BS1].
So now my technical papers showed more than 3.5 tons and I needed a class C drivers license here. The cops looked at my Canadian driver’s license, of course written in both French and English, and said, "Hey, this aint know driver’s licence! It says right here an operators license." Actually, I have a basic Canadian license, which says for personal vehicles and RVs. I was going to put the stress on the RV part, pointing to all the closets I installed there. It managed to fly this one time, but I thought I’d rather not take the chance and decided to get my Czech driver’s license after all. [BS2]
This year was the wettest in almost a decade and everything was in rare and full bloom.
So, with 15,000Kc (at this time 1USD=25Kc) for each of the B, and then C driver’s license (above 3.5 tons), 50,000Kc for getting my registration paperwork "in order", 20,000Kc for each of two solar panels, 6,000Kc each for two new front tires, 7,000Kc for two 230 mAh super batteries, maybe 30,000Kc for the wood, bitumen and insulation, the new super cool car stereo and all the other toys I need for my trip (short wave radio, gas generator for emergencies, propane heater, tire chains at 5,000Kc a pop, jack, regulator for the electricity, etc. etc. etc.), you can imagine that I have been rather busy getting things set up, and spending my hard earned money.
Now I am waiting for my C license, which should come in about two weeks, and I am left with one last (the following) project.
The truck I originally had had a metal wall behind the driver’s/passenger area, where the technical papers said that seating was equipped for two (the driver and one passenger).
Since then I tore out that wall, bought an old seat for 400Kc at a junk yard, and discovered that, if I ever get into an accident, whether or not it was my fault, if I had more than one passenger, I would probably be liable for all damages. Including any possible harm to the passengers, and my insurance would not cover any of it. So the last project is to legalise the extra seating. I downloaded EU regulations concerning this, rather extensive reading, and the plan is the following. It is out of the question to classify my vehicle as M1 or M2 (personal vehicle). Not only because it is over 3.5 tons, but those vehicles have much stricter regulations concerning smog emissions and wiring etc., which I certainly would not pass. Then there is the possibility of classifying it as a residential vehicle, like an RV, but for that they have all these other retarded regulations, like I have to have a table popping out of the wall, and some sort of kitchen. So that was a headache I preferred to avoid, and decided on N2, which is a transport vehicle with a seating capacity for more passengers. This will require installing some kind of wall/firm wire mesh behind the second seat (although this can be made easily removable whenever parked, or if choosing to drive illegally), to protect passengers from objects flying forward from the "storage" area, put in some super seat belts, and clamp down everything very securely. Once that is accomplished, I go get it tested for about 5,000Kc to make sure it meets the regulations. Then I have to get it weighed to show the weight (I can temporarily add an extra ton for that…), go to the magistrate for a stamp, get a stamp of approval from Mercedes that this is possible (which they will provide only after successful testing), and then go to the technical papers place and increase my seating capacity for passengers from 1 to 4. After all, you don’t expect me to have only one guest with me, do you? And if I get stopped and asked what kind of a strange transport service I operate, I just shrug my shoulders and say, "A very special one."
So once this last yard is completed, which I hope will be around the end of April, or within one month, I can finally split and do the rest on the road.
Side note. I consulted with God occasionally whether he generally approves with my travel plans, and got a luke warm yes every time. But yesterday I felt spiritually empty, and tired from fighting against all this paperwork, and once again questioned whether the hand of God was against me. Like the last time when I had so many problems getting my driver’s licence. And to my dismay, once again, I got a very strict and loud no. So here I am, getting near to the end of the tunnel and the departure point, only to be confronted with the question whether or not I will defy God’s command.
Once again I feel I am Isaac standing over his beloved son, asked by God to slit his throat and sacrifice him. A test which I seem not able to fulfil. When I chose to go ahead with my Mexican plans, since that point I have felt a spiritual loss, and now I feel I am entering a spiritual darkness, with God’s back fading away behind me. It is a struggle for me at such an important point in my life, after talking endlessly about my mobile dream for the past seven years, after spending 14 years in this town and really developing a longing to escape and discover some other beautiful corners of the world, only to be left with the fear that I will have to stay in this cold town further, pounding the pavement and spreading the good news to this the most atheistic nation in the world. Not to mention that I know so many people here and I do not know if I could do such a thing. I hope I’ll be able to swing some compromise solution, which I know is not the right way to think, but this dream has been percolating within me forever and I cannot take it anymore!!!!!!
Big growth season during such a wet summer!
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Published - June 2010
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