Rompin in the Cabbage Patch

This car is the reason we went to Poland. One year ago, we found it in the depths of the Polish equivalent to Craigslist. The seller, Kristoff, actually responded to our inquiry, which was a miracle in and of itself, but the bigger miracle was that he had a good friend in Chicago that he told us to call to ask questions about it since he did not speak English. We talked to her and the car sounded perfect: safari-ready, 4x4, manual, and none available in the States. We usually operate out of Holland on our buying trips, but we decided spending a month of winter in Poland sounded like a really good idea.  

We landed in Poland a few weeks later, the day after Thanksgiving. It was dark by 3 pm. The sky turned purple. A four pack of beer cost $2. The next morning we drove three hours through the countryside until we arrived in the Soviet Union circa 1950. Kristoff’s house was next to a giant cabbage patch, where we saw the VW parked outside.He had a friend there to help translate, who spoke exactly six words of English. We began our inspection. Nick searched for hidden rust while I performed an experiment on how long my hands could survive outside my mittens before I couldn’t move them. (Seven minutes). Everything checked out, and so we all piled into the car and drove into the cabbage patch where we tested its 4x4 capabilities.

We knew we wanted it, and began to haggle. Usually numbers transcend language barriers, but we learned an important lesson that day. Polish people don’t haggle. We lowballed, he said no, and we waited for him to come back with a number. He didn’t. So we slowly inched our way up and until we agreed on a price. We asked for the title, and they just looked at each other. The thing about the title is…. 

He sent us to his friend’s house an hour away, whom he promised could explain in English what was going on with the title and also had more VWs we might be interested in. So we drove over and met our first Polish friend. He gave us coffee and explained.

The title is in Austria. But we’re in Poland, we said. Yes, but the title is in Austria, he said with a Polish sigh. Then he explained that he doesn’t trust Kristoff, and we started feeling really good about our decision to buy cars in Poland.

Kristoff disappeared for two weeks, but eventually we got a call saying he had the title. We drove back to his house and sat down at the kitchen table with his entire family of fourteen. His eight-year-old niece translated, as she was the only one among them who spoke English. We asked for the registration papers, which we knew by then came in a little red booklet. He Polish sighed. The thing about the registration is…

There wasn’t any. He presented us with all these Austrian papers and the eight year old explained that we were fine to drive in Poland, but as soon as we got to the German border there would be a checkpoint where we had to pay $100 for the correct papers to drive to the port in northern Germany. We looked at each other. If there was one thing we were sure of, it’s that if you are on the autobahn in Germany looking for a piece of useful information on the side of the road, you are not going to find it. It’s procedure to know exactly what you’re doing, where you’re going, and how far it is at all times. We had learned the hard way many times over.

Everyone stood around the table staring at us while we negotiated with the eight year old. We finally agreed on a deal, settled the paperwork, and then all fourteen of them piled into their car and lead us to a hotel, which was really a cinderblock building with four hotel rooms and 20 law offices. They “haggled” over the price for us. We got ripped off and drank a beer to celebrate our newest overlander.