Bribery and corruption.
Hints and tips on World Travel.
It was Groucho Marx who famously quipped ‘I wouldn’t be a member of any club that would have me as a member!’ Whilst less emphatic on the subject, I have not actively participated in any club for a while now, with the exception of a loose arrangement with fellow travellers in and around my home town of Leicester. We are linked by a Yahoo group e-mail, but meet in various pubs once a month. The topics of conversation range around World travel and an exchange of hints and tips that may come in useful whilst away in the far flung reaches of the Empire. Subjects range from hostels in Timbuktu, to warnings about Insurance companies that have clauses that ensure the loss of all your belongings was your own fault!
Whilst most off the group are back packers, a few of us are enthusiastic Land Rover owners. Rich Clafton is one and his 101 Ambulance, ‘Tiggur’, has taken him both deep into the Sahara Desert and north to the wilds of Iceland. I have Rich to thank for passing on a really good tip years ago, that cost nothing, yet has saved my bacon a few times. Scan important documents, such as the main page of your passport, visas, medical certificates etc. and e-mail them to your own web based e-mail account, such as G-mail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. That way, should you loose any of them, evidence of their existence can easily be downloaded from any internet facility in the World. I have added to this an e-mail with contact phone numbers of British Consulates in countries to be visited and various banks, should I lose my credit cards.
Another passionate area of discussion is border crossings as all of us have a tale to tell about delays, unhelpful treatment by officials and the size of bribes required to ease one through a large queue, or replace an out of date visa. My own bribery story was on a drive back from Turkey in a new Range Rover P38 Diesel. I arrived at the Bulgarian border, knowing my visa was two days out of date. It was close to midnight, the place was deserted and I hoped that the border guard would be so tired he woudn’t notice. I stepped out of the Range Rover, greeted him with a big smile and spread all the car documents over his desk with my passport open on the information page. As if sensing my attempt to delude him, he went straight for it and found the out of date visa. Feeling like a naughty schoolboy I pleaded with him for a suggestion as to how to resolve this situation in the middle of the night. He looked up at me over thick glasses, perched on the end of his nose and said just one word - ‘money’. I offered him a $10 dollar note and he shook his head, $20 then? In the end I went to $30. Probably a weeks wages for him back then, but it got me into Bulgaria.
My fellow travellers use other ploys to smooth the transition from one country to the next. A selection of good quality ball point pens is a good trick. They cost very little over here, take up minimal space, but are a true object of desire to an impoverished border guard in a developing nation. The trick is take the pen out of an inside pocket and fill in the endless forms with the various pointless details, such as your mother’s maiden name and perhaps get the official to help you with any bit you can’t fully understand. Offer him the pen to fill a bit in for you and let him be seduced by the feel of it, compared with his own battered old biro. Once he has taken the bait you can offer it to him to keep. His stern expression will break into a big smile of gratitude. You’ve lost a 50p pen, but you are through the barrier and away.
If you are travelling by Land Rover you have the scope to carry bulkier items to thank people for their help. Passing round a packet of chocolate biscuits goes down well and I even carry a large box of Belgian chocolates for really difficult situations, like when an Egyptian travel agent saw me struggling under the weight of paperwork needed to secure a temporary import license on my Carawagon for a three week stay in Egypt. I needed no less than ten documents, all in Arabic and even a ‘brass rubbing’ of my chassis number! I was completely lost in bureaucracy and he stepped in and had the whole thing sorted within half an hour, yet asked for nothing in return. Chocolate biscuits all round!
Toby 1.jpeg. Entering Bulgaria from the South had cost a $30 bribe, but the tracks were wild and the locals friendly.
Toby 2.jpeg. North African border crossings. Always frustrating and a far cry from our European ones.
Tiggur.jpeg. Rich Clafton’s 101 Ambulance converted to a very capable camper, in the wilds of Iceland.