Go Banana – Trip To Bulgaria
The field trip and holiday started in Limoges airport on the 19th October 2015 with a flight to London Stansted.
The three day stop over with friends confirmed in their minds that I am completely batty and have lost the plot.
However, despite their concerns for my mental health I flew to Bulgaria anyway and arrived in the rain at Plovdiv airport.
I wanted to have a look for myself at the Danube and the Black Sea coast first hand, so drove to Ruse and crossed over the bridge into Romania, waiting 3 hours in the queue for customs just to get to the border. They were digging the concrete out of the structure of the bridge and the one lane open was so badly deformed there were places where my hire car nearly lost its exhaust pipe. The river view from the bridge endorsed my research. The flow is rapid and the river is a substantial waterway with some serious docking facilities.
More to the point of view of a banana boat captain (me) the banks of the river looked quite hostile and the quays inhospitable to anything less sizable than a 50m cargo barge. I also noticed ‘things’ floating in the flowing water which might not be good to encounter if being towed at speed; part of a timber pallet bobbing along happily for one.
I drove to Varna and followed the coast down to Burgas and beyond. Sandy beaches and a proliferation of little quays were dotted along the coast road, most with an abandoned look about them. They seemed very accessible if needed, should things get rough for a banana. There are sea defences constructed at various points around cliffs and resorts showing that the Black Sea could throw a tantrum if it wanted.
Some of the quays were nearly washed away and had all the signs of storm damage, very reassuring I must say. I will look into seasonal weather systems and storm reports from the area, naturally, but at this point I am sure the summer time will be okay.
In the afternoon I went to Bucharest, just a few days before the tragic fire in the disco there. The trip also included a quick nip over the border in to Greece for a very expensive meal and an episode at the Turkish boarder which ended with me being escorted off the premises and back to the Bulgarian border. I left the car and walked through the border crossing, which is about 1km wide.
The border guards deliberately messed me about sending me back and forth for various stamps etc. until I eventually I complained to the border police in their headquarters. During the debacle, I refused to pay the cost of their visa as a protest, and during the conversation I mentioned that seeing as Turkey was trying to get into Europe, charging Brit’s for visas to get into their country (they don’t charge other Europeans) wasn’t going to help their case.
I went quietly when the Bobby started fondling his side arm. I drove back to Plovdiv with what was left of the car’s exhaust, passing 5 km of stationary lorries on the motorway which were trying to get into Turkey. The gear box had started to create some strange smells when in reverse and there were some odd rattling noises coming from somewhere underneath (for Hertz employees all of this is made up for effect, honest). After a one night stop-over in London (28th October 2015) I took the flight back to Limoges full of excitement and Ideas. I couldn’t wait to get started on the project. The real work starts now, and this web site is part of that…
The must do-list
Number 1 on the list is: I must write a must do list. I expected things would be complicated; it seems that I can be right sometimes as the trip clearly is going to be more complicated than I imagined. So I need to organise. The must do-list would take a few days in itself. April may seem a long way off at the moment but the trip to Bulgaria in October feels as though it was only a few days ago. Time is passing quickly.
I had contacted various sponsors and their reactions were more positive than expected. The mad idea had actually turned out to be more than feasible and interest was growing. I have approached Water Aid to be my nominated charity and in conversations with them they asked about the health and safety strategies that will be in place.
Although I had given this some thought, the fact is there is even more to do in this area. I have sent them a risk assessment but the actual putting into operation of some of the strategies is going to lengthen the must-do list even more. In setting out what needs to be done in the safety area has also focused my mind on the equipment needed which will stretch my dwindling budget even more. Oh, and I must get around to ordering the Banana.
The trip to Bulgaria seems a long way off, time really is passing quickly with Christmas only a week or so away, all the family visits looming and so much foie gras to eat. Oh well, fitness programme out the window for a couple of weeks.
Tying up the loose ends of my commitments here in France is taking longer than expected, with their dreaded paper work bogging life down in the mire of inconsequential form filling. The back-up vehicle, a small motorhome with all the essentials, has been acquired for the film crew. Registering the log book was a fine example of how something so simple in the UK can take so much time, form filling, photocopying and naturally the other favourite paper work here: the Euros. Bureaucracy, after all, is a French word.
Progress has been made. The departure date and location has been fixed. Rotterdam Harbour Marina will host the launch of the Banana, on the 1st of April 2016.
Imperial Fishing is at this very moment working on the plans for a special ‘double pontoon’ banana inflatable. They have been extremely helpful and are directly involved with the special requirements of the construction of the towable. They are going to provide a 60hp boat to tow the Banana on its first leg up the estuary towards the Rhine and the start of the 4000km trip. There is a link to their video showing the strength of their boats. This gives me a lot of confidence in the construction of the Banana, especially when I think that I will be up against ships of 1,200 tons, or, more importantly, the wake created from their bows they as they pass.
The final destination of the voyage has also been set. Optimistically the Banana should arrive at the shores of Bulgaria at Sunny Beach during the second week of September 2016. The Majestic Hotel will be hosting a reception and have very kindly offered accommodation for me to recover from the journey. It is a superb hotel with an imposing skyline and acres of swimming pools between the extensive grounds and the beach. Although the Banana has not yet even been constructed I can imaging putting 4000km behind me and seeing the hotel appearing in the distance as I round the headland of Sunny Beach Bay, seeing its palms and parasols ready to welcome me ashore.
Oh well, back to the reality of the moment. The start and the finish have been arranged, now it’s just a small matter of the middle bit that has to be sorted. Various ports of call along the route have already been contacted and stops are already planned for Arnhem, Dusseldorf and Linz, although no dates can be ever fixed as journey times are unknown, due to the nature of hitch hiking.
I have had a lot of fun contacting all sorts of people, who hopefully will be involved. The call to a Texas company that manufactures wet floor warning signs in the shape of a banana had the receptionist laughing for a full minute. In contrast, the Councillor for tourism in Banana Shire, Australia, a charming sounding lady with a clear Australian accent, saw no fun in the journey at all and was as dry as the outback. She said that she would give the project some thought but would not get back to me. I was quite disappointed as I thought we might have the same spirit of adventure, after all they named their Town and Shire after a bullock called Banana.
But no, nothing is going to happen. I thought we would have a lot in common but apparently not, therefore I won’t be mentioning their water theme park called the ‘Big Banana’. They are not the only ones who are not getting on board.
The Fulton Banana festival committee has made no reply, thinking their greasy pig wrestleing contest is going to pull the crowds more than the epic voyage of the Banana. The American Banana Museum and the International Banana Club, with its 38,000 card holding members in 27 countries, have not taken up my offer of becoming mutually bunched. They might give me the finger though (a single banana is a finger, not sure what a married one is).
A discussion on the Cruiser Log World website has produced some possible names for the Banana, although I have not settled on any of them yet and will wait until I make an acquaintance with the floating fruit. Real bananas actually do float, which I think is a good omen. Among the front runners are: ‘General Custard’, ‘Let’s Split’ and ‘Taking the Pith’. They are a real fun bunch.
During the Christmas holiday I will be away in Spain (when not with family). This is to give the motorhome a real run around to see how it performs out in the wilds. In truth, this is the best excuse I can think of for getting nearer to the sun and do some skiving off. This means that internet connections will only be possible from bars etc., so the trip will also be a preparation for the expedition with the Banana. Communications may be a bit off as I acclimatise, and I must to get around to compiling the must-do list.
10.30am, 29/12/2015 Tarragona, Spain…19°C…
The motorhome seems to be working out quite well. I have been over some mountain roads well off the beaten track on the way down here. Central Northen Spain seems an odd choice, but the weather is similar to what I expect in early April, and there are comparable roads here to those which will have to be travelled on the Banana route. It was also good to try working from the motorhome and testing the kit.
I have managed to break the fuse cover next to the clutch which will have to be fixed and the tangle of wires for charging equipment will have to be re-thought. Other than those few minor details, all went going well. My commitments in France will take a few more weeks to sort out. The launch date is getting closer very quickly and I must keep up with planning as well as communications. The steep learning curve for some of the equipment looks very steep indeed. I am not panicking about it but I am a little short tempered when Bluetooth information transfers just do,’t work.
How come teenagers can snap a pic and all their friends have it on their phones seconds later? I just get ‘sending failed’ or no message at all…
30/12/2015. From Tarragona to Pamplona
Sometimes things don’t quite work the way I hope they will. I thought a few days on the coast near Tarragona would be warm with lovely views of the sea from the motorhome. Not so. Although the town centre is full of interesting artefacts from the Roman era, as with all large towns parking is a nightmare and frankly I don’t like busy towns.
Access to the beach was limited, no parking on the front and naturally anywhere you could actually park was charged per hour. I had a look at the magnificent amphitheater on the shore, which was the main reason for my visit, bought some bread and headed off to find the real Spain of small towns and open spaces. I passed through the industrial areas leaving behind the docks and marina, headed West through the mountains, to Alcaniz with its lovely churches and town centre of small shops and abundant bars full of families out for a convivial evening.
I had planned to visit the lakes around Caspe just 18km away and although the next morning was bright and clear, the view of valley of Caspe as it got nearer was not of the valleys and surrounding mountains but a vista of fog and mist for as far as I could see. A fuel stop in the town center and off towards Pamplona to see the famous streets where the bulls run each year.
I was well rewarded by my choice of route, driving long hours of driving through the high, dry, semi desert plateau with arid stream beds and struggling vegetation. Farmers have sculpted the rock strata into wide level steps to grow goodness knows what. No sign of animal life and very few birds reflected the struggle for life in an almost waterless region. The gullies are like mini versions of the Grand Canyon. In the distance the Pyrenees blended into mists, the white of the snow high up merging with wispy white clouds set in a perfect blue sky.
After a decent to the vast plain the twisting and winding route gave way to an arrow straight road, just one and a half cars wide, scary stuff with oncoming drivers who seemed to have no concept of the damage a head on impact can do to the paintwork. The tarmac gash led directly to a pile of mud and soft rock, heaped up on the plain as thought a giant truck simply tipped it there. This heap, rising to a couple of hundred meters, has attracted the construction of an untidy rather shabby small town tucked against the slopes of the heap in such a way as to make sure all the dust that blows off the crumbling sides of the slope will make life there heaven for a dust cloth salesmen. The road avoided contact with the place, simply circumnavigating the pile and carried on to the foot hills of the now much clearer but ever distant Pyrenees.
Almost without warning the road joined the main road to Pamplona. With fading light, the spectacular shoulders of the mountains with their varying complex geology changing with almost every bend in the road loomed higher as the motorhome struggled to attain more than 50km/hr. Low gears to climb up and low gears to slow descents to avoid burning the brake pads made pleasant but slow progress.
The light faded quickly and I made a stop in a tourist village situated at a crossroads on a bridge over a river descending from the high frontier between Spain and France. Hotel, petrol station, baker and two bars encouraged motorhome owners to stop on the spacious hard shoulder of the main road. The bar maid served me a half glass of local red wine (she casually poured unmeasured double measures to the locals and didn’t seem to care if I saw or not).
Up, breakfasted etc. and on my way. I avoided the new motorway to follow the old main road to Pamplona. As the daylight struggled through the mountain mist I dropped down to the manmade lake behind a dam that looked unfinished. Strikingly the lake level was down 10m reflecting the dry summer we have had all over Europe.
I stopped to take some photos for my future project on water resources, eventually joined the motorway to arrive outside Pamplona at a center commercial that could have been in any European city with all the international shop names known everywhere. I grabbed a couple of hours sleep in a deserted carpark and woke to find every space filled. As mentioned earlier I am no fan of large towns and cities.
However, they do have some redeeming facilities. Apart from opera houses and cinemas they usually know how to have a party. Apparently most large Spanish towns do the family thing on New Year’s Eve then put on their best clobber and hit the streets. The cafes; bars and clubs cater for this so re open around midnight. Pamplona being a university town does the same but most young people put on fancy dress instead of posh clothes and party till sunrise. So I found a place very near the city center and paid for parking. The local police told me (two of them came up with a traffic warden) that four euros would allow me to stay and after midnight its free as there is no charge for parking on national holidays.
I was next to the barricades with a super view of the marathon which takes place behind the barriers to keep the crowds off the improvised track. The runners, nicely labeled with their official numbers were mostly in fancy dress. A family dressed as bananas caught my attention but the prize (if I had one to present) would have gone to the bloke dressed as a ballerina with a carrot on his head.
My evening started with champagne, prawn cocktail and entrecote streak washed down with more champagne. I stepped out of the motorhome just before midnight to see three musketeers and Darth Vader lighting their cigarettes as they headed off towards the old town. Midnight struck, or rather exploded as anyone with a lighter set of their fireworks. The explosions echoed around the apartment buildings and I walked through the street being treated to a fabulous display if random, all around me. Random included fireworks being thrown from the apartments to sometimes explode on the way down; those thrown from second floor balconies tended to explode at my feet. I headed for a bar to take cover. Somehow, with the help of several beverages, I missed a few turnings on my way back and ended up in a Bolivian disco. Disco salsa, huge measures of whisky and something fizzy and welcoming fun loving people added to my destined hangover. Somewhere around 5am I headed off and found a cafe, had a croissant and coffee whilst watching 1980’s Spanish disco hit on the TV in the bar. Included in this was a clip of ‘Born to be Alive’ I Left at this point.(1) I had fortunately headed in the right direction and was actually not too far from the motorhome which I came across randomly.
(1) Patric Herandez won a European Song Contest with this song. I hear it all over Europe in all sorts of places from lifts to TV telethon shows where he turns up to mine badly for his fans. He has taken out an extended copyright on the track and continues to make his living on the back of this his ‘one hit wonder’. I detest the song; but wish Patrick all the best for the New Year all the same.
On the right is a photo of a print-out of an attachment put into word and copied into images to be put onto this site. The usual tried and tested cut and paste, with all my new technology simply doesn’t work, but the new graphics look great.
The Banana is under construction to this plan 5.5m long x 2.8m wide with a super reinforced floor so I can walk about on it. I calculate it would need more than seven tons to push it entirely under water, so maybe I don’t need to go on my fitness regime after all.
This is a hooray day. Last night I completed all my commitments here in France for at least the next nine months. Although I am sure there will be some bureaucrats who will try to put their oar in the Banana project and make me do their bidding in filling their forms out, however, its full steam ahead for the Banana (although no steam engines on board).
The best news this week has been the official ‘job done’ for the banana construction in Germany. So with the confirmation that the Banana exists in reality, and that I am free to continue with all the preparations needed without having to do something else first, is truly liberating, if being tied to my desk for the two months is liberty. The bad news is (why does there always have to be the bad news?), my internet site cannot be found in Holland or in Spain on the usual web search engines…and at the moment I have no idea why or what to do about it. I think I have mentioned the feeling I have that technology physically hates me.
In the mean time I have found a definition of go banana –
Go Banana When you find yourself in the midst of an argument on a subject that you have no knowledge of and an obvious polarization between the preferences, you can always pick the side of the venerable banana. It will get you nowhere, but at least you can say you participated.
Taken from the Simpsons episode in which Bart and Nelson race an orange and a grapefruit to the end of the schoolbus. Ralph Wiggum decides to join the race and puts a banana in the aisle and yells “Go banana!”
Pity I missed the episode; but I have seen the Simpsons, so at least I have participated*. Go, go banana!!!
As part of the intricate preparations for the launch of the Banana many people have been contacted from all walks of life, even those who walk the corridors of power and commerce; here are some examples. Sadly this was the reply from the 10 Downing Street (with official crest on top)
I really feel quite bad about the invitation as it seems to have upset the PM quite a bit. I can just imagine him winding down the window of his limousine, with an expression of deep regret on his face, as it drover away from number 10, and shouting out to Julia ‘don’t forget to write to that lovely chap with the European Banana trip, you know, the one who emailed the invitation to me; we talked about it earlier and couldn’t change my diary.’
Now the only happiness I can derive from the invitation is that, as Mr Cameron himself said to Julia, as she explains to me in the letter; (he) ‘really appreciated this thoughtful invitation and was grateful for the offer’.
I must say that Julia will never be out of work as there are always positions vacant for greeting card verse writers.
The other disappointing news was that the Banana boat insurance still has not sent me my insurance quote…(see the introduction page, chapter 1, for more on this).
I have opened up a Facebook page, as there needs to be a more direct contact with friends of the banana on social media. I tried very hard to take it seriously, but to be honest, I failed. It was the question about which high school I went to, and I couldn’t resist putting the highest high school in the world, Everest High school in the Himalayas.
I don’t want to have to pay for a commercial page (Facebook is good at this stuff) so I registered the page under the name of Goban Ana. Strangely, there is someone called Ana Goban; I have invited her to be a friend but she has not replied.
I also invited Ana Gobanova in Serbia, who also has not replied. This has been a disappointing week for communication and I would really like to be in touch with someone with a name like hers.
Nova in Spanish means something like won’t go, combined (almost) with an anagram of go banana it appealed to my sense of whacky humour. Pretty much all the personal information on my Goban Ana page is spoof, but I promise, the photos of the journey, and messages will all be correct, and the messages genuine.