Halfway through a 450-day taxi ride around the world, Johno Ellison is stuck in No Man's Land – without a visa to escape...
“This is a forgery!”
A huge Soviet-style cap, at an impossibly jaunty angle, clung to the head of the stern Moldovan border guard who was scrutinising our documents. Of course we knew the document was a fake; the real one was floating around in an Israeli customs office somewhere, over a thousand miles away and long-lost to us.
“Forgery?” I stuttered, trying to feign shock, “W…w…what do you mean?”
After spending the last fourteen months driving our London Black Cab around the world through over forty countries we had our fair share of visa and documents issues, from incorrectly-issued permits in Tibet to shakedowns by Russian police in the far north. My teammate and friend Paul had even been deported from Iran after an ill-fated run-in with the Secret Police near a sensitive military facility on the edge of the great Great Kavir desert.
All I could do now was feign ignorance, hope that the border authorities were as lax as the previous three countries and that they let the technicality of a photocopied car registration document slip by and become someone else’s problem.
“I mean…” he sneered, “that this is not the original document. No original, no entry.”
We had discovered that the precious piece of paper was missing back in Bethlehem but somehow the Israeli, Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian entry guards either didn’t notice or didn’t care and waved us into their countries without a second glance. The only other people that had spotted the mistake were the Romanian exit authorities who had just stamped us out into No Mans Land…
“But how do you know it’s not the original? Of course it’s the original! Look, why would we have a fake?” I pleaded.
“I can tell by these lines, this is clearly a photocopy,” he snapped, losing patience, “You find the original or you’re not coming through!”
So that was it. We were stuck in No Man's Land with nothing more than a stale baguette and an emergency tin of baked beans.
Luckily as soon as we had discovered that the V5 Document was missing in Israel we had ordered a new one all the way from the UK but it hadn’t even been printed yet, let alone posted to the address in Moldova where we were due to stay. Even if we could somehow divert the courier where would we send the new one?
There seemed to be no way out: without the original document we couldn’t return to Romania or continue to Moldova but the document was a week away, at best, and we had no way of collecting it when we did arrive.
“Hi Nelly, it’s the taxi boys,” our third member, Leigh, started, “we’re stuck at the border and we’re kinda, er, in trouble...” “Oh hey guys, you had better hurry up, my mother is making dinner for you tonight.”
“I’m not sure we’ll make that… we sort of just got caught trying to import our car on fake documents.”
We explained the whole story and Nelly patiently listened and told us to hang on, “Listen guys, let me make some calls, I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m not sure there is much you can do – this is like trying to cross the border without a passport -you’d have be the president or something!”
“Okay, I’ll call you back soon,” she said as we looked at the fences, guards and barbed wire surrounding us, “don’t go anywhere!”
We sat down and waited. And waited and waited.
Every time the guards changed we made a fresh set of pleas to the new shift to no avail. We had been through long border crossings before but nothing even approaching this and after close to twelve hours the guards were starting to lose patience with our constant attempts to blag our way through.
Suddenly, an imposing figure marched towards us from one of the low tin buildings. This wasn’t another guard, this was the boss of the whole border post. “Passports, paperwork!” She demanded. “We… um don’t have… um… nyet machine pasporta
,” we stammered apologetically as we dug out our passports and the shabby photocopy of our car registration. “I know. I also speak English. Give me the fake one.” We handed them over. “I’ll be back. Don’t go anywhere.” The fences seemed higher than ever.
Fifteen minutes later our passports were returned and we were ushered back into the main queue. As Paul drove us closer to the checkpoint where our scam had initially been exposed I leafed through my passport and found a fresh Moldovan visa, the ink barely dry.
The cars in front of us were unceremoniously ordered to move out of our way and at the checkpoint the previously sour-faced guards gave us entry stamps with a smile and barely a second look.
We drove through the border utterly perplexed and as we pulled up on the other side a leggy blonde stepped out of a sparkling Mercedes and waved us over. “Hi, I’m Lena, Nelly’s cousin.”
“Hi! Great to meet you!” We gushed, still a little shell-shocked, “So it was you who managed to get us through the border?”
“Oh no… that was Nelly’s mum. She called the President.”
“Yes, he has given you a pardon. Now we must move, dinner is getting cold.” Don't fancy going to that much trouble to get a visa? Then you need the Visa Machine, an easy-to-use service that does all the legwork for you. Better still, Wanderlust readers get £5 off, simply by entering the code WLU5.
Johno, Paul and Leigh spent 450 days driving around the world in a 20-year-old London Black Cab as part of the It’s on the Meter expedition. Passing through fifty countries, they broke two Guinness World Records, covered 43,319 miles (69,716km) and raised over £20,000 for the British Red Cross.