Warning: the next segment of the Goulets adventures is filled with low moments of anguish that may cause you to swell up with sympathy. Please keep in mind that our fortunes do inevitably turn around, making future joyful moments of jubilance that much more satisfying. Until then, buckle your seatbelts…
We spent the morning after our camp out in the Transfagarashan emotionally hungover, having witnessed the most miraculous fantasy world in existence. We headed for Dracula’s castle in Bran, supposedly right on the way to Bucharest and just a stones throw from Transfagarashan, at least so said Bee Man, a fact corroborated by a chatty family man who had stayed at our camp site…
5 hours later, having confusingly driven in a circle back to where we started and trucking along into the mountainous twisty Romanian countryside, we pulled into Bran. Yuck. Oyyy. This place was tourist central. Aside from the key point that Dracula never lived in this castle, it wasn’t even all that great. Nothing to see here, folks.
Feeling as though we flushed an entire day down the Romanian toilets, we made landfall in Bucharest, parking the Auto Goulet next to some real sketchy characters who tried to convince us we should pay them for parking. 200 lei? No way! Oh, now you only want 5? Hmmm. What’s that? You actually want a sandwhich? Ok, we’re just gonna leave now… Again reunited with our trusty friends Breaking Khan, we explored the old city center, which was bumping into daylight hours, even on a Sunday. Yadda yadda yadda, we were all a bit blurry eyed in the morning.
Monday was a major throw away day. Alex and Eric drove around for hours looking for someone, anyone, to speak English and help replace our squeaky break pads (some of us have to pay for our own break pads…). Meanwhile, back at the hostel, Brian slaved away for hours on footage uploading. Fed Ex promised our package containing that vital, elusive V5 car registration would arrive by Monday evening, but the hours ticked on and no package showed. Damn! Another bloody night in Bucharest! This **cough cough** sucks! **cough cough** Goulet!
So, no doubt, Tuesday was Registration Arrival Day. This should be a national holiday in Romania, we agreed. We waited around until 3pm, when the hostel rang us that our package had made it! Goulet! Prepared for the biggest celebration this side of the Iron Curtain has seen since the launch of Sputnik, Alex carefully unwrapped the letter from the British department of Motor Vehicles to discover… Holy [email protected]$%! It wasn’t the registration after all, but a brutal $200 traffic ticket. A hush of agony muted the Goulets anticipated moment of joy. At this point in time, the prospect of making it to Mongolia was very much in doubt.
Confusion was followed by anger was followed by denial was followed by acceptance. Eventually, we had to come to terms with the fact that indeed, we are the Goulets and we are still without the car paperwork essential to crossing every border from here on out. Screw it. Right then and there we agreed we would drive to Istanbul tonight! It doesn’t matter how many red bulls, how many hours, how many driving shifts. We had to just move! Wait, wait, relax. Lets not go crazy here. We calmed our nerves and took a step back. After some rational group collaboration, we set a plan to ship the actual car registration to a friend in Istanbul, which would arrive on Friday. This gave us a few more days to burn, tightening the window of time for which we could make it to the UlanBataar finish line in a month. We also regretfully came to terms with the fact that we would have to cut out several planned stops out of trip, principally the Capadoccia hot air balloon rider. Dammit.
We modestly rerouted course for Sunny Beach, Bulgaria, the supposed “Las Vegas” of Eastern Europe. Not a bad alternative, we agreed. We finally departed Bucharest, even without the papers for which we had some eagerly remained in Bucharest three whole days and instead drove into the tired night, ready for our next adventure. Not so fast! The Bulgarian border guard was especially wary of our non-existent car registration. “What the hell is this??” he sneered about our crappy faxed black and white registration replacement, as he gestured wiping his butt cheeks clean with it. “We meant to have it, but…” Alex retorted, but the man was wholly displeased. Luckily, Alex whipped out his secret weapon, those sad, desperate puppy dog eyes to which nobody could deny. “Please,” he begged. “We have nowhere else to go. We need to get into Bulgaria. Please?” Hesitantly, the guard relented, stamping our freedom from the Romanian chains that had constrained us for 5 rocky days. Goulet!
Just 80 or so kilometers from Sunny Beach, our precious Auto Goulet came down with a sickness. What’s wrong, girl? It pretty quickly dawned on us that something was screwed with the clutch. Ya know, probably from the fact that 3 guys had learned to drive stick shift with this 15 year old car in like a week’s time. She was purring real loud, screaming her way from 2nd to 3rd gear.
We bumbled our way into Varna, a beach town on the Black Sea, around midnight. We zipped passed some masculine looking hookers and began going hotel to hotel, desperate for a warm bed to rest our depleted little bodies. “Hey, our car broke down, are there any rooms available tonight?” Eric sadly asked. “No, we don’t give out free rooms,” the hotel man snapped, thinking we were beggars looking for handouts (which I guess given the way we looked at that hour, wasn’t a terribly unfair assumption). After a good hour of searching, we ran out of hotels in town. Besides, our Auto Goulet barely looked capable of carrying on another heartbeat. We inevitably came to terms with our last option: sleep in the car. So, we pulled into a steamy, crap-infested parking garage hot box, which we assumed was the safest place to hide from potential thieves and criminals, took our shirts off and, giggling at the hilarity of our bad luck, nuzzled into our overfilled, sickly vehicle, unsure what the morning would hold. We had made it to Rock Bottom: population 3.