A STRANDED passenger travelling with a Mansfield truck tour company has spoken of her horror after the dream trip she was promised across Europe turned into a holiday from hell.
Travellers were in their third week of a three-month road trip between the UK and Nepal, organised by Truck Monkey Overland Tours, based at Oakham Business Park, when driver and company owner Sean White abandoned the tour.
Group members were left shocked after they woke at a hostel in Turkey one morning to find the tour operator had vanished and they have not been able to contact him since.
The group’s doomed adventure began in early August as Mr White picked up UK passengers in London before crossing through Europe.
But he disappeared following a disastrous series of vehicle breakdowns, insurance problems, accidents, and disputes with customs officials at border crossings.
Sixty-one-year-old Nicole Hazell, from Surrey, paid £950 to travel with the company to Jordan rather than shell out around £2,500 for the full tour to Kathmandu like several other passengers.
Speaking this week from Bulgaria, Nicole says she had concerns over the trip operator from the beginning but remains dumbfounded and disgusted over his ‘despicable’ actions.
“The truck was green and not black and orange as advertised but Sean made out this was the newest to his fleet,” she said.
“But the truck was very basic, the seats were second-hand from a coach but they were old. The overhead steel roller bars were all rust and had not been painted.
“The listed flat screen TV and jukebox were nowhere to be seen and the food provisions were all Tesco Value range. Things did not seem right.”
After a relatively straightforward passage from France through Germany to Bulgaria, Mr White then began borrowing money from the group to pay for camp sites and refused to speak to the group.
He also falsely claimed there were 23 passengers booked for the trip when there were only eight, with two members ditching the trip after just one night.
The farce continued when the group was refused entry to Turkey from Bulgaria because of vehicle document problems and the bemused travellers were left to wait for four hours in the searing heat before taking a five-hour journey back into the country which they were trying to leave.
“He said they had changed regulations that same week and he needed different papers. But it turned out that he had registered his truck as a mobile home and had not even got the proper vehicle insurance which would have been £220,” added Nicole.
“He put a mattress at the front and a cooker at the back and reclassified as a mobile which cost him £90.
“But the border staff weren’t accepting this as to them it was a truck so we had to reverse and go back into Bulgaria which took another five hours.
“We had to obtain papers from the police commissioner for re-entry, we then drove to Greece and got through another border that was not so strict.
“Wherever we have been, people have stared at the show, the big green truck passing by with a black monkey painted on the side.
“Even the customs officer at the Turkish border came in to see where we were keeping the monkeys.”
Later problems included an oil spillage in Selcuk, Turkey, where Nicole says Mr White abandoned the truck and packed the remaining group into a hire car.
An injury to Mr White’s assistant, a man known as John, revealed he had also obtained no medical insurance and that the same man had not been paid for his work since the trip began.
Nicole claims that Mr White only had an old ammunition box to store the group’s valuable documents which included credit cards, money belts and passports.
It is believed that he has fled back to England, while group members who have managed to return home are seeking legal help.
“To be stranded in another country is ghastly but luckily for me I had a debit card on me and some savings at home so I am able to continue my travels,” added Nicole
“The fact that we were left in Selcuk with no news caused a lot of anxiety, we were lumbered with a bill which we paid and I have lost half of what I paid Sean.”
Several other passengers and friends of those on the doomed tour have also contacted Chad this week, although Mansfield police say they do not have a record of Sean White on file.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman has confirmed that the London force has received a complaint about Sean White but the incident is currently being dealt with police in Turkey.
Passengers were first attracted by Mr White’s website www.truckmonkeyoverland.com which describes his vehicles as ‘second to none’ and the overland tours to be ‘fantastic value, with budget prices for five star service’.
“Our years of experience running successful overland tours ensures you will learn and see more on your tour while our knowledgeable crew ensure the excitement and adventure never stops,” the website states.
Chad tried to contact Sean White several times before going to press but his phone has been disconnected.