What I have done here is link all the episodes together into one long story that is in the correct order but still has some evidence of the facts that the first time round they were not posted chronologically.
Once upon a time
How did I get to this point? In just six weeks the ferry sails with me and my bike bound for Spain and then onto Morocco, what happened? Why did it happen and whatever next? Well you can read the pre-Prelog in the ‘about me’ heading, but suffice to say I broke the rule that says if you tell 3 people you are doing something you have to do it. I was brash and full of bravado when I blurted out my intention to ride my bike to the Sahara, that bravado has turned to a nervous shy acknowledgement that it’s actually happening.
So, it was about two years ago I made the wild and somewhat stupid revelation that I would ride to Morocco and since then things have moved on at quite a pace. Hopefully you have all read the previous blog. In September 2016 I went to the Overland Magazine adventure show near Oxford for a weekend a great event with talks from inspiring people, Sean and Charlotte (250 Cruiser round Morocco). Chris Scott (Morocco Overland and Adventure Bike Handbook) and loads more including favourites Austin Vince, Lois Pryce, Sjaak Lucasson, Dylan Samarawaricka, Ian Coates and many more. I test rode the bike I have loved the look of and wanted since I first saw it, however I was sadly disappointed with its performance. (I’ll not say what it is as many people love the bike and it would be an injustice for my opinion to count. Then there was the slow race and as reigning HUBBUK champ I was upset to be beaten by that young upstart Nathan Millward (author of the Long Ride Home). I had milked as many people as I could for information, the trip was really going to happen.
My calculation was for it to happen in March 2017 and I began saving in earnest. However, issues with my house and financing the trip caused me to delay it by six months.
It’s been the hardest six months, working every hour to save and now I am really ready for a break and an adventure. I do have one more pre trip outing as the Overland show I mentioned earlier is about to happen again. I will pop along as the least travelled overlander and see what I can gain from others.
Loomies to the dunes
I was up early with every intention of texting Adele Roberts on her Radio 1 early morning show. I am a regular listener and she has a section whereby people wishing to be excused regular listening can apply for a pass. I felt I stood a good chance of getting a mention, but I was already in holiday mode. I batted the alarm off and promptly fell asleep again. The next time I woke it really was time for me to get up. I had packed most of my kit and laid the rest out in readiness.
By lunchtime I was set to go. I kicked around a little and then was reminded that I needed to drop a birthday card at a friend’s house. For some reason I then went into rush mode, scribbling a card, throwing on my clothes and heading out. As I pulled the bike backwards out the gate I felt the whole back end wobble. I shook the heavily loaded rack, there was a clunk and clearly the rack was lose. The day before I had to replace the rear indicators and in my rush had not tightened the rack back down. I still had ample time but I was in hurry up mode. Luggage stripped and tool kit tested, I tightened the nuts and bolts before reloading everything. A few quick pics and I was off.
I stopped at Loomies Moto Cafe, snapping a quick picture at the bikers meeting point before again heading off. I dropped off the birthday card by which time I was stupidly early for the ferry. As I rode along the final stretch of motorway I thought to myself “If you hadn’t tightened that rack you may not have got another chance before Africa”. I chuckled, yeah that’s it I’m actually going to Africa.
Ferry and a free hotel
As some of you will know my ability to match photos and text in the blogging world is still in its infancy, so please work with me on the untimely arrival of photographs to match the text.
Going back to yesterday I arrived in ample time to get through the passport check and ride onto the ferry with other bikers. My bike looks very small compared to the much more expensive array of multi cylinder machines adorning the dockside. Very small but fully loaded. I think, from chatting to others I am the only one headed further south than Spain and seemed to get nods of approval when people heard where I was off to. Either that or they were nodding and saying “Yeah, that idiot on the tiny bike”, its hard to tell.
On the ferry the bike was lashed down and I made my way to the cabin. In fairness its difficult to be negative about the cabin, it is small and very functional. Buried deep in the ship with no outside view, it made me start humming Celine Dion’s, My heart will go on.
Dinner was a Italian, dessert Swiss and the coffee Brazillian, all very diverse. The beer was cheap and the entertainment likewise. Although it has to be said the entertainers ability was directly proportional to the amount of beer consumed. Judging by the state of some travellers they were used to far better cabaret and made up for it with cabernet. (do you see what I did there?) Its probably time I slept.
At 1am I was woken by someone trying to get into my cabin. Oh yes it was sure to be that sweet young lady from the bar, err no, it was some pissed guy with his room number confused. I’m in 5253 he was 5352. Any decent chap would have guided him in the right direction, which I did using words of one syllable.
I woke about 8am and made for the self service resteraunt and a full English, but not before finding I had left my toothbrush at home. After brekkie the hunt was on. However unless I wanted to spend a tenner on a travel toothbrush and associated body lotions it was not going to happen. The day was long and very uneventful, which is great as the water was smooth and therefore no issues with travel sickness. At about 6pm we were allowed back to the bikes. I was impressed as DJ started first kick and soon we were herded out and effortlessly through passport control. I had programmed a route to the hotel some 60km away. I had two routes but clearly the sun was setting and the little Honda has poor eyesight so I opted for the direct route. Even so the road was good with huge bridges crossing gorges and tunnels through the mountains. The scenery was lovely and the journey to my alternative hotel was swift, if a little cold after the sun dropped behind the mountains. Ah yes the alternative hotel, I booked a hotel about 8 weeks ago using Booking.com, its a very simple arrangement and suits my travel style well. However at the last moment they messaged me to say the hotel was overbooked. There was a series of emails and offers, but I needed a room and I needed one quick, so I booked the Hotel Vejo from the same company. There was a price difference so I requested that they pay the difference. I heard nothing, so I was very happy, when booking into the very nice Hotel Vejo, to find Booking.com have paid for the room for me. I paid an extra €5 for a garage space for DJ. I found a supermarket and purchased toothbrush and paste.
Tomorrow I head south.
Castles and a near miss
IVE HAD WORSE VIEWS FROM HOTEL WINDOWS.
So a great start as I honestly expected to be charged for the room on leaving but it was not to be. The bike started first kick which is unheard of for XR400’s. I had made a decision not to go by motorway, the bike will cruise happily at 55mph and push on to 65mph at a stretch, but I didn’t want to stretch anything at this stage. I have an app on my phone called ‘scenic’ and it plans journeys using back roads. I have used it in UK but it does like to sap the battery. Anyway I had entered Cuidad Airport as a location and with the optimistic app suggesting it was 10hours riding I knew it would not be the end location for today as my speed was less than the maximum allowed on some roads. I was even more sure, when I started following the directions and within 3 minutes one road was closed for a market and I was another 30minutes trying to escape the tight streets of Reinosa. Once done I was treated to mile after mile of twisting roads rising up through mountains and onto the plains. Within 20 minutes the phone battery warning came up on the screen. I stopped and checked that the USB was plugged in and the charger switched on, it was. WOW I wasn’t expecting that much drain. I connected the solar charger to the phone, after all it was sunny so why not. From that point on there were no more issues.
(I was only going from the dot top right to where the line drops off the bottom, what hope in the desert?)
Before I left the hotel I had a coffee, my Spanish is not so good and a cappuccino was translated into a sticky tar like coffee with cinnamon on top. It wasn’t quite what I wanted. Some hours later I needed another, but being off the beaten track there are no fast food outlets or locals who can speak English. It’s my own fault for doing nothing to improve my linguistic skills. So a small village cafe was the place for lunch and I started with a cappuccino. What turned up was a barely warm hot chocolate. I didn’t bother with food.
Now I will tell you this, they love a castle the Spanish. I suspect that will be something to do with the many invasions, civil wars and other disputes throughout the ages. In fact there are over 2500 still standing, thats some turbulent past they’ve had. The upside is that I was treated to some great views along the way. The day was warming and I could see this tiny castle, on a prominent hill, from miles away. As I got closer I decided to stop there for a bite and a look round.
It’s the one at the bottom left. The Enriquez family built the castle in 1420 on the grounds of another castle destroyed in a heated dispute. They then rebuilt it again in 1538 after a revolt, gotta be doubting your choice of location or defences at that point surely. That’s the history lesson over. I sat in the empty square of the empty town and ate my flatbread and warm cheese. I drank from the fountain and set off again. The hours that followed were a great, just me on biking heaven roads without the sight of anyone else for miles. At about 6 pm I was beginning to ache and as I entered the town of Avila, north west of Madrid I was ready to find a campsite. Only one showed up on the map and it was 30 minutes away. Okay its 30 minutes but the road looked good. I rode through Avila and saw their very impressive and huge castle. Then I spent those 30 minutes riding through gorgeous mountain roads to the campsite. It was down a dusty track. Then I caught site of it. It was fenced off with barbed wire and had a collection of old motorbikes and dogs, or dags as the travellers back home call them. It was little more than a gypsy camp and it was locked down. No one came to see what I wanted and I wasnt so sure I wanted to raise anyone. Aching and somewhat unhappy I set off back to Avila. I rode the same winding roads, cornering swiftly, the bike pulled well up the hills. I suspect my mind was more occupied with finding somewhere to stay and getting off the saddle because after about 5km I was heading towards a slight right hander when a car came round it straight towards me. Suddenly it dawned on me I had ridden the whole way on the wrong side of the road. A quick lane change and I still had time to see the whites of the eyes of the woman who was a little upset to find me blocking her way. I made it back to Avila in one piece. Booking.com located a cheap motel and in minutes I was in a room with the bike garages for the night. I freshener up and walked into the town. Lids supplied the food and drink for tea as well as some supplies for tomorrow. Then I set off to find that impressive castle. I kid you not, I walked for an hour and couldn’t find the monstrous castle. I was feeling pretty tired so headed back to the motel.
I’ve covered 320 miles today, refuelled once and had one near death experience. Tomorrow I am headed for Cuidad Real Airport and then on to Cordoba.
Plains and no planes
It wasn’t an early start but it was before 10am that I got DJ from the garage. My morning ritual involves firstly ensuring I am clean and ready to go, then coffee followed by a tech check. Any emails, messages etc, is the spot tracker on and tracking, is the nav monitor on the phone turned on. Has the route loaded to google maps. Are all the batteries charged and cables stowed away. The charger, as useless as it is, is packed and a final check of the room. Then to the garage to get the bike loaded. Clearly staff at Hotel H2 have never seen me get the bike ready because half way through the garage door shut. As luck would have it there is an emergency handle and even better it is not linked directly to an alarm. I set off looking for one last glimpse of the castle. I didn’t bother deviating to find it as I knew there were plenty more to see. It was colder today and at first in even contemplated putting another jacket on. I began to ride up into the mountain on the same road as last night’s excursion to gypsyland. The miles ticked off and the heat started to build. The roads, an endless ribbon of smooth tarmac twisting its way through the rugged baron landscape. I had loaded the destination as Ciudad Real Airport and that was three and a half hours away. The bike was happy at a steady 60mph and we effortlessly rode the glorious winding route. Soon enough it was clear that the sweeping bends, climbs and descents were coming to an end as the plains of Spain opened up before me. Mostly flat and straight they are just laborious riding. On a sports bike you’d stick your head down and give it a fist full, I tried honestly I tried. At 7omph I thought DJ may throw a con rod so we wound it back and settled in for the long haul. The sat nav said follow this road for 110km, as that came to an end it said continue on this road for 93km. Eventually, sick of Olive plantations and arrow straight roads, the countdown was on and Ciudad Real was getting closer. I began to wonder if the choice of location for an airport was not the best as I was clearly in the centre of the town. Stopping to check it appeared that I miss typed the location and had indeed requested the centre of town. Another 37km of reasonably straight road and I was starting to wonder again, but then a sign ‘Aerpeurto’.
You have to be wondering what my interest is in this place. I first saw it on an episode of Top Gear and wanted to visit it. I’m a huge plane and airport geek. So here’s the story. Constructed in the early 2000’s it was to be an international hub for Spain’s booming economy. It is located about 1 hour from Madrid and has the high speed railway passing very close to it. It opened in 2009 at a cost of €100 million and closed in 2012. There are many theories as to why, including the whole thing being an insurance scam. Currently it has no owner but there are reports of it having been sold for as little as £10,000. Also ther is rumour that a Chinese consortium may buy it as a Euro hub for all their import produce. For now though it stands empty, like a ghost town. Empty car parks, terminals and conveyor belts. To stand there alone is quite a weird sensation. It really is like a scene from a movie apocolypse. You cannot get air side as it is still closed off, so a 60+ mph blast down the mile long runway was out of the question, but in fairness we had done that all day. But I did have a right laugh riding in places that, done in terminal 3 at Heathrow, would have you staring down the pointy end of an MP5 with an angry short man at the other end. What else do you do when you have a whole airport to yourself? I ate my lunch and chuckled at my abandoned rucksack leaning against terminal 1’s entrance door. Eventually I attracted the attention of security and had to put my clothes back on. It was time to get back on the road and head for Cordoba.
The previous night I had looked at camp sites and saw the only one was the one I used last year, which was expensive. Back to those Booking.com people. I got a room in a hostel in the old part of town for €11. It was another few hours riding to get there but I was a happy chap. Riding into Cordoba I realised I know nothing of this city. Well I know there is a move in Red Bull X Fighters called the Cordoba flip and Seat once produced a car with the same name but no more.
I got to Cordoba reasonably early and quickly found the hostel. I booked in and was shown to my shared room on the sixth floor. There were no lifts and I had already decided the bike and I are too heavy. I was seriously worn out by the time I lugged my kit upstairs. I met an Australian back packed. Steve was on week five of a three month trip round Europe. He had done Ireland, UK and was now starting Spain. He liked Ireland but said nothing of the UK, only that it was colder and wetter than he thought. I grabbed a shower and came back to the room to meet two charming Spanish girls, both mid 20’s, who were also starting a European vacation. I went to park the bike in secure parking, but at €15 it was more than I was paying for my room so she was wrapped in her invisibility cloak and locked to a bin in a nearby street.
On returning to the dorm’ I met another Ozzy, Ken was at least 10 years older than me and had lived in Oz for 39 years having left UK for a holiday and never came back. Everyone liked the sound of my trip best and then we all went our separate ways for the night. I walked the town and saw castles, bridges, more castles and a mosque called Mosquita. Its unusual feature is that it has a Christian Cathederal inside the Mosque. There was a roman bridge across the river Guadalquivir leading to a castle. It was all very pretty (pics to follow).
Making my way back to the square nearest my hostel, it was filling up. Being Friday the place was busy with families enjoying the warm evening. I liked that families all go out together, children as young as 4 through to early teens enjoying time with their parents. The older teens still embraced the family aspect but also went off in groups huddled round their phones. I found a small Italian pizza parlour and sat down to enjoy pizza, cheesey bread and a bottle of water. As I ate I recalled that lunch was cheese based and now both courses were cheese. I resolved to eat more fruit. I then resolved to have a beer or two. Now quite why I did this I don’t know, I don’t drink much anymore and it was a hot night. I had already had headache tablets, but none the less beer seemed a good idea. I remained in the square writing this very blog. Well, not all of it as its now at least 24 hours later. Anyway I enjoyed people watching and had an ice cream before checking the bike was still in place and headed back. As I climbed the endless hostel stairs my head was pounding and my stomach churning. I went straight to the bathroom where I was promptly sick. A veritable cheese fest emmited from my stomach, lubricated by beer and ice cream. Then I collapsed on the bathroom floor before having another shower and going to bed. I think most hostels expect that!
Then there was a bang
I woke today at about 8 am. Steve and Ken had already left, there was another person asleep. I got myself ready, but was aware that the batteries would not be charged for the day. As I pondered this one of the Spanish girls came into the room from the bathroom. Well I guess from the bathroom as she had ‘the girls’ out. I suspect its nothing unusual and I certainly wasn’t going to complain. She stood chatting to me with the twins and I admired them, as you would. Anyway that came to an end when I suggested a selfie!
I quickly loaded the bike and as I was running on empty I headed for McDonald’s where I had several coffees and a cheeky grin on my face. From there it was a short few hours to my next hotel, the Hostel Rio Grande. It was recommended by a friend who stayed recently and said it was a kind of last place before getting the ferry to Africa and many travellers stay there. The bike purred along and I made sure I was constantly drinking water, feeling the day before was probably down to heat stroke. I was paying attention to the purr of the engine and the way it changes at the increasingly steep hills but still manages to pull better than most cars, when there was a bang! Momentarily the bike lost power and my heart sank. Almost instantly she kicked back in and carried on. In my mind I said, don’t worry its a Honda. After all they didn’t even put a tool kit on the XR400, so confident were they with its mechanical prowess.
It started getting cold at 2100ft up the mountains prior to Malaga. I wondered how many people had looked down on this area as they flew over on a package deal to Malaga. It was quite awesome and I have to say people have trouble understanding the vastness of the universe, I have trouble with the vastness of our planet. I can see for miles and miles, mountains and rivers and the roads that cut through them. This is a tiny corner of the world and its huge. Anyway I was happily contemplating this as I started to drop into Malaga and onto the coast road. It is package holiday heaven or he’ll depending who you are. I stopped to take a picture of me and DJ at the coast, next to a shop selling inflatable everything and offering pedallo rides. Back on the road I was pleased not to be one of the herded package holiday makers. The place was crammed with high rise buildings, casinos and tacky shops. Everything is Rio Grande, Playa del or similar. However having said all that I do quite like a lay on the beach and all that tat I talk about. Its just not this time. This time is about adventure and striving to test myself a bit more. I stopped for fuel and saw it was about 60km to Algeceras. A red bull and sandwhich later I was back on it getting away from the holiday resorts and gliding towards my next location, ironically called the Rio Grande!
I checked the batteries and saw my phone had 4% left. Hmm I’ll not concern it with putting in the final destination just yet, I’ll let it build some power. The solar charger had given up trying to charge anything and the bike charger was painfully slow. The spare rechargeable batteries are in the luggage hidden away. Its ok I can charge everything later. Roundabout after roundabout the bike whisked through quicker than most cars. As I climbed a non too steep hill I suddenly felt a drop in power, I pulled in the clutch and the engine cut out, glancing over my shoulder as I went towards the kerb I saw smoke! Stopping safely I got off the bike and looked round it, nothing obvious. I felt the engine and it was hot but the frame was not. The oil in this bike is stored in the frame where it cools, but it doesn’t cool that much. I took out the dipstick and there was no oil showing. I gently prodded the kickstart and she turned over. It was time to get busy. I unpacked the luggage so I could get to the tool kit. Then I started to look for the rechargeable batteries. I searched all the bags but they weren’t there. I was trying to think where I had put them but drew a blank only being able to picture them on my bed waiting to be packed. OK well you’ll just have to get on with it. I took off most of my riding kit and donned the sun hat, took the plug out. It looked ok and had a spark, I replaced it anyway. I listened as I turned her over gently but there was nothing much to hear, could it be dodgy fuel? I kicked her over propper, nothing, then again and this time I heard the death rattle of a bearing deep inside the engine. DJ had partially seized. There was no way she would start and trying would just wear me out. At that moment I had a thought, those batteries are in the small bag you haven’t looked in yet. Sure enough they were and soon the phone was suckling on power. Now I’ve read many travel books and heard many people talk about travels and one thing that always comes up is that when all hope is lost someone on a moped turns up and knows someone who can help. I waited ages! No bloody moped. So I put in my destination and great joy I was only 7km from my hostel. Seven kilometers I can do that in an hour, pushing a heavy bike and gear. Again no saviour, just a hot long push. Sometimes there were downhill and I managed to sit on the bike as it coasted. One time as I jumped on I knocked it into gear, the resultant grinding and crunching told me it was serious.
A day of ups and downs but eventually…….
So I reached the Rio Grande to find the entrance was up a short but very steep hill. I just didn’t have the energy. I parked DJ and walked to the reception. The guy spoke no English but we managed to sort out my booking and I was shown to my room. The Rio Grande is a lovely place with about 20 individual apartments. Mine was furthest away of course, but inside there were two single beds, a bathroom with bath and a balcony at the rear. I started to ferry items from the bike to the room and in 4 trips I was ready to bring the bike up. Every part of me was already aching but this was quite literally the last push. I got a third of the way up and stopped, braced myself and did the second third. I had completed the steep bit, now just a gentle climb and flat bit to my room. I was so hot and sweaty the only thing to do was take a shower.
Refreshed but aching I went to the bike and began to take bits off. I needed to know what the problems were before I could make any decissions. The saddle and side panels first, placed in the room. The fuel tank with 19.8litres of the 20 I put in still inside it. That had to go on the balcony. Then I started looking at the engine. The rocker adjusting caps removed the valves and rockers looked ok, but its a small access hole and making any judgement at that stage would be fool hardy. The rocker cover had to come off. It’s a bit fiddley with just a pocket multi tool and basic tools, however I had packed a quarter inch socket set, well a ratchet and some sockets. 8mm was the order of the day and I had one. Having undone just one bolt the ratched broke and was then very temperamental about working. Infact it took a lot of effort to hold the ratchet together and undo the bolts of which there were 8. The cover didn’t budge. I recalled having watched a video about stripping the engine and YouTube supplied the answer, the American guy in his pristene Snap-On workshop with immaculate tools said “and don’t ya’ll forget this gnarley little 12mm critter at the top”. I had indeed forgotten that very critter and I didn’t have a spanner to fit. Back to the reception where between us we came to the conclusion that, either he didn’t have a socket set or he was just ripping into me for laughs. Back at the bike I found that I did have the spanner and yay it worked. The cover off, it all looked good. The cam bearings looked free and no signs of overheating.
I needed food and it was getting late. A quick stroll to the shops and I had hot dogs, beans and a French stick, time to break out the camping stove and dine al fresco on the balcony with the very hot, highly flammable fuel tank for company. I wrote the blog whilst most of it was still fresh in my mind and settled down for the night. It was a tough day but had ended well enough, I love hot dogs!
I slept well and was up and ready by 9am. Firstly I need to drain the oil. Being eco-friendly I drained it into my saucepan, using the plastic cup from the room as a funnel. In fairness I could have drained the oil into the cup there was so little of it. Next to get the exhaust off and then the headers. Exhaust came off fine. The headers are the two pipes that go into the engine. Notoriously difficult to remove. Honda had fitted 12mm nuts onto studs in the head. They were very rusty. My 12mm spanner was having none of it, the nuts were not only rusty but worn. A 10mm wouldn’t fit and a 12mm was lose. I tried packing the spanner with tin foil but that didn’t work. I needed a socket set. I was considering walking to town to buy a set when the owner of the place turned up to investigate why my tv remote doesn’t work. Not really an issue for me as its all Spanish anyway. Now he speaks English and I asked if the shops would be open. He replied, for food yes but not bike spares. When I mentioned tools he informed me he has a socket set and I was welcome to borrow it. Moments later a cheap 3/8 socket set looked like the finest Snap On kit. There was an 11mm socket and it undid the studs. Then the head bolts, unfortunately the bolts were very tight and I appear to have broken the ratchet from the owner’s kit. I pulled the head off, what greeted me was the sight of a piston that wasn’t flat as it should be but canted at an angle. That’s not good I thought. However if its just the piston and barrel I could get the parts shipped. I needed to get the barrel off. Six bolts later the barrel slid off. Jesus!!!! It was a mess. But still its only a piston, well half a piston and the barrel. My mind mulled it over, the piston has broken up and dropped into the engine, most of it has been mashed into tiny bits but there is still half a piston ring in there somewhere. I could turn it upside down and literally hose it out until all the debris fell out, but for now I need to get the piston off. The piston has a small circlip holding it onto the small end (the engine). That clip took nearly an hour to remove, even then the piston wouldn’t come off. I looked into the engine and saw a big lump of metal stuck beside the counterbalance gears. I used pliers,screwdrivers and multi tool to try and prize it free. It was not coming out. OK just add that to the list. I then decided to remove the left hand engine cover to check the stator (electrical gubbins). At this time I had been working non stop for 5 hours and it was getting hot. The bike looked super light though. I pulled the engine cover off and checked the electrics, all seemed good. Yay good news, I looked at the front end to see if I could access that pesky bit of metal and instantly saw engine armageddon. The crank case was split. I wasn’t completely sure so I took photographs and inspected them to make sure it wasn’t a casting mark, it wasn’t. To rebuild that is a complete engine apart job, down to individual components and that’s not possible with a multi tool, an odd array of spanners and a crappy, but gratefully received, socket set.
Okay photo’s are not in order but I will explain best I can.
1. The bike as she looks right now.
2. What’s left of the piston
3. Whats left of the engine after a days work
4. A crack in the base of the cylinder
5. The view that greeted me when I lifted the head off, piston canted and crumbling
6. The crank case cracked by debris caught between gears and the casing. Engine Armageddon.
7. Don’t all hotel rooms have engine bits on the dining table?
So that’s it, no trip to Africa this time but the adventure isn’t over yet.
In the words of Michael Caine, Hang on, I’ve got a plan………
What day is it?
I’m losing track of the days. Today is Tuesday and I am writing about Monday, but now its Wednesday because I was so busy on Tuesday. My head hurts from all the logistics I have had to try and deal with. It’s probably best to look at the options and then worry about the expense.
I could get the bike repaired and carry on. Only I don’t know any garages, mechanics or even where the bike shops are. To the rescue come Horizons Unlimited. I use there web site a lot as it covers all aspects of adventure overlanding. I put up a question and within a few hours or so I was in contact with a guy via Tap Talk.
However whilst that was in the making I looked at option 2. I could ship the bike home and repair it. I could rent a van put the bike in it and get it home. I searched for van hire but there were none available in my area. The nearest would be Hertz and they want £1000 to take a van one way to UK. Ok I’ll strip the bike put it in a hire car, rebuild it at Santander, drop the hire car in Santander, push it on the ferry, push it off the other side and get it collected from Portsmouth. I called Brittany Ferries. They were very helpful with the changing of dates should I need to, but you cannot push a bike on and off. It has to be on a recovery truck. The recovery truck want £600 from Santander to UK. Ok I’ll do a one way hire to France where a friend will store the bike until I can collect it. The hire car will be £700 one way. OK I will get a hire car drive it to France and return it to Algeciras, £400 plus fuel and four days. Ok I’ll get a man and a van to do it. It’s not easy finding a man and a van travelling to UK with an empty van anytime soon. Ok I’ll go on eBay.es and see what I can buy. Whoops of joy as I find a UK registered car for £350 with 3 days to run. It’s a Ford Focus with 56000miles and two owners. I call the dealer who is confident the car is in great shape and will remove it from eBay and sell it to me for £600. I can drive it home with the bike in the boot, sell the car back home and still have a holiday. Oh yes, the car is on the other side of Spain, still its an adventure, right? I book a train ticket £60, its 11 hours by train and then I hope to find a great little car, oh wait this is a bus ticket! OK 11 hours on a bus and then a clean little car with MOT and everything, it does have an MOT doesn’t it? No, and its not had either the UK one or Spanish equivelant for 2 years. I can’t risk that. OK I’ll put the bike on a train to France and then get home from there. Only you can no longer ferry a bike by train in Spain. OK I’ll buy a Spanish car and take it home. Spanish cars, even the bad ones, are hugely expensive. I need to eat. I walk to the local shop, passing the little bar and hearing English voices. I stop and introduce myself to Nick and his three mates. One is Spanish and a motorcycle mechanic, he loves the pictures but cannot help. Nick takes my number as he has contacts who may have UK cars for sale. Great, things are looking up. One of the others suggests a man in a van as they often return to UK empty. Back at my room I am trawling the web when I find, Jimbothescot.com the man with a van and an e-mail address. Email fired off its time to go to town and see what’s about.
In the middle of all this stress and honestly quite low times my only little bit of fun is that the saddle adorning my room floor makes the cleaner jump every time she comes in. I’ve named it Shep, my fake pet. I’m so getting googly eyes and a nose for it.
By now I am in contact via Tap Talk with a guy called ‘Choutos’, he is a friend of a friend on H.U. and he lives in San Roque. Only it transpires he doesn’t, he now lives in Austria, but he knows people and can assist somewhat. He suggests contacting ‘Rotorrmotar’. They are excellent mechanics, very capable of an engine rebuild. In the mean time I have caught the bus to town. £1.20 for a 5 mile journey on a clean, air conditioned mini bus with plush seating. Why does that not happen back home?
On getting to town I find my phone is agrophobic and no longer wants to leave the safety of wifi. So now I have to WiFi hop around town. Standing in doorways to get signal and making my way towards my destination with out mapping until I stumble accross another WiFi spot. Anyway I called Motorotar. They had already seen the pics and were quite impressed, however they are very busy and cannot assist. They give me the number of another mechanic. I call him but he doesn’t speak any English. OK I have time so let’s map out and WiFi hop round the bike shops. The first two are about 2miles apart. It’s hot and although they love the pictures neither can help, in fact one isn’t even a bike shop. So I flag down a taxi and in my increasingly growing Spanish vocabulary I ask him to take me to a motorcycle mechanic. He drops me at a Yamaha dealer, they in turn indicate with a flapping arm that Honda is up the road. In fairness the flapping arm was aided by a scrap of paper with GC Racing written on it and an address. Well it looked like an address to me only no one else thought it did. Eventually a guy in a plumbing shop gave me a better idear of where I was headed and then a bicycle shop followed by a Repsol petrol station, a few random dog walkers and hey presto up a back street with a tiny Honda flag was Honda official servico. The guy was great and very positive that he could get the job done. He asked me to e-mail him the frame number and some pictures so he could price the job, at last progress. I walked to McDonald’s and had a veritable feast on hot spicy mexican burger. There was a kids party going on and if I closed my eyes, smelt the spices and ate it could almost be a Moroccan souk, only without the snakes. After that I walked back to the bus station, it was a long walk and I was knackered. The bus depot was empty, I had to get a taxi. I don’t mind the opulence of taxi travel but I do mind having to pay and give turn by turn directions. No tip for you Mrs taxi driver.
I crashed into bed mentally and physically exhausted.
The Wonder Web
Today my phone was still to scared to leave the room, although in fairness I do have to stand outside to get WiFi sometimes. That’s the luxury of being the furthest place from reception. Today I was going to have to work the tech. I started by calling Tesco mobile to discuss my phone. They sent new settings to help it overcome it’s problems. That didn’t work.
Choutos contacted me on Taptalk to say he would set up a WhatsApp group with his friends in Algeciras so we could work on getting the bike sorted. Shortly the group Rescate XR400 (Rescue XR400) started up. Choutos’s real name is Vitor. He has friends Paco and Ezequiel. All were keen to help. I soon had the phone number of a guy to repair it. Again he spoke no English but I had an email address. So write the email on message pad, cut and paste to Google translate. Cut and paste the translation to the email and send. Repeat the whole thing in reverse when the reply arrives. Meantime Paco suggests I buy his bike, a Honda VT 250. When it was sold in the UK they got a terrible reputation for engine failures. (Yeah coz i need more of that) Paco’s bike was much newer than any I had seen in UK but still had the same engine. He sent me pictures via a link to a ‘freeads’ type site. My phone even translated the ads for me. I soon learned how to change the settings and search bikes close to me. Meantime the chat group continued and the emails went back and forth. The mechanic was happy to do the work and estimated 5 to 7 days as Honda want 3 days to deliver the parts. He also said about £400 in labour costs. Not unrealistic, as no other option had come close to that. Whatever happens I have to buy the parts sometime, so that is money added to every solution. The only difference is, back home I can do it slowly as funds become available. Also at home I don’t have to buy genuine Honda parts. Anyway the wait was on for both Honda main service agent and MQ-Tech to come up with prices.
I needed food and a break from tech. I walked to the local pub and ordered chicken, egg, chips and fried chillies. Why wouldn’t you? It all tastes good washed down with ice cold beer in the sun. It was good to be away from the room and stress of the search.
Refreshed and back at the hotel, the phone felt safe enough to reconnect. I was having a ball looking at bikes and I found one. Not cheap but a fun little bike less than a year old. I called but the number did not connect. I went to reception and asked the kind lady to call. She did and after some discussion she told me the bike was 100km away. The seller was also concerned to sell to a non resident. Back on the web I found various bits of info on buying bikes in Spain. I went back to WhatsApp and the guys said there may be some issues. I may need a Solicitor to buy a bike as a non resident and that’s the same for cars. It’s gotta be English registered. Then I started getting ads for English cars from the WhatsApp gang, some like the Aston Martin DB9 were no good, I’d never get the bike in that! And the Range Rover wasn’t my colour, but the Rav4 and at a push The BMW saloon would do. The Beemer was cheaper but on speaking to the guy he couldn’t sell it until the end of October. The Rav4 was the one, I called, no answer. I sent a WhatsApp message and sat back to wait. Moments later the phone pinged. It was servico Honda saying he had requested prices from Honda. I’m no better off for that.
I emailed MQ-tech again and he replied with an estimate for the bits from Honda. It was about £1200, even then I noticed the crank case wasn’t on the list. It’s almost more economic to just walk away from the bike, but I quite like it and I can see back home it will be much cheaper to rebuild.
From then on it was just a case of waiting for the Rav4 guy to call. He didn’t.
Don’t forget your passport
Don’t forget your passport I said as I left and locked the room. Walked away and prepared to head to another country. No you didn’t miss a blog, I was actually leaving, but fear not I’d be back.
I had woken up and checked the phone, no news from Rav4. There was news from my sister, who was having a worse time of it than me without leaving Hampshire. Both her and her husband are in hospital through different illnesses. Should I go home to try and help? It would make decissions here easier! I would wait until the day was over and decide then. But for now I was going to Gibralter, the small British rock tagged on the end of Spain. It’s been a hotly contested piece of land over the years and Spain still want it back. It is said to have been of strategic importance in the past as it creates a gateway to the Med. Now it is more hotly contested because of its affluence. Victor had given me bus details via whatsapp and I was off to La Linea by and then a short walk into Gibralter. The phone chimed and it was Rav man, or Alejandro to give him his real name, on WhatsApp. He speaks little English and so it was back to Google translate. Long story short the car is available to view on Friday, he will get his partner to call Thursday to arrange a viewing. I didn’t care, I was set to go, I openned the door and the word “Really!” Snapped sarcastically from my lips. It was bloody raining. Other than hot weather riding gear I have shorts, T-shirts and an all in one waterproof thermal bike suit. Stuff it Im going. In time it stopped and I was heartened that even if I couldn’t make Morocco I could see it from the top of the rock, well you could if it weren’t shrouded in cloud.
Burger King supplied breakfast and I was set to walk for the day. Through passport control to leave Spain and through passport control to enter Britain. Then bizarrely you walk down the high street, across the airport runway and back onto the high street. I loved that, propper plane geek me. WOW no kidding this place is just one big rock fortress, full of tunnels and caves all utilised to make defences and an underground hospital. From as early as the 1700’s they have been building our very own castles. There is a cable car to the top and I took that. It was misty and cloudy but the views were still good. At the top a very abrupt introduction to the macaque monkeys that inhabit the upper rock, as a huge male sat on the railings jumped clean over my head, across the drop next to me and onto railings on the far side. A woman screamed and I rolled my eyes, inside I wondered if that monkey knew just how many pairs of pants I have for this trip! Having escaped the cable car landing point there were monkeys all over the place. Actually they are quite cool and tend not to bother visitors unless you are carrying a plastic bag as they associate that with food. Lucky I didn’t make that bin liner raincoat after all. I walked up to the highest point O’Haras battery where a huge 204 ton gun emplacement stares out over the gateway to the Med. The gun has a 28 ton barrel and each shell weighs 700kg. It can fire the entire width of the Med and a further mile inland into Morocco. I couldn’t fit in the barrel!
I then walked down to the Windsor bridge, I never realised Barbera was so highly thought of. Its a suspension bridge across a gap between two mountainous hills, ah now I know why they called it the Windsor bridge. It wasn’t quite the thrill seekers experience they advertised it as but made for some great views, Oh matron!
Back to the cafe for much my needed water and to watch the shop owners play chase the monkey out. Then back up to the top and cable car down. I had seen a bike shop on the way in and had browsed the tax free bikes. Now I went in again to actually consider buying one. It would have been a steal for the sales rep as I was in just the right mood to buy a bike and ride off. However the salesman had gone out for an hour and no one else was in the mood to sell. I was given a card and told to call the next day. I walked the old city with its wonderful collonial buildings to Casemates Square, where they used to hang traitors and invaders alike, now the only criminals there are the resteraunt owners. I had a nice meal before walking back to the airport, whoohoo a plane had landed and I may see one take off. I mean the best bit was you could watch from the side of the road which was about 30m from the runway.
If you are reading this for the first time, jump to ‘And how long will that take’ then back to the next episode ‘Me,Shep and Dubless hit the road’.
And how long will that take??
Like the best Star Wars films this episode is out of synch, however it will pull the whole lot together. This should be posted between ‘Don’t forget your passport’ and ‘Me,Shep and Dubless hit the road’. Also, ‘The wonder web’ and ‘Dont forget…..’ they are actually listed the wrong way round. I will try and amend all this later.
I had another day to waste before I may or may not hear from Alejandro’s partner. I had a lay in, nothing to do, no tech to slave over. It was going to be a good day. Showered and spruced up it was getting to mid morning and the clouds were lifting, I’m going out, I’m just going to go and see what I can find to look at. Then the phone rang, yeah I kid you not, an actual phone call. “Hello?” “Hi I’m Frank, you want to see the Rav4”. “Yes I really want to see the Rav4”. “And I would love to show you it today, but the clutch has gone, I mean I can get it fixed if you want to wait”. Frank must have heard the slap as my forehead struck my palm “And how long will that take?”. However all was not lost as Frank had another UK car. A Volkswagen Polo, for around the same money. If I could get to Sabillinas today I could view it a full 24hrs earlier than expected. “I’m on my way Frank”.
I knew Sabillinas was towards Estapona, but where the hell do I get the bus? Easy I will bus into Algeciras and then bus to Estapona. All very easy. I was sat on the bus to Algeciras when Frank called again to ask how I was getting to him. He laughed when I told him, “You are going the wrong way”. He went on to say that he could have picked me up. Anyway he would pick me up from Estapona. At Algeciras I boarded a bus that travelled right back past my hotel and on to La Linea and then onto Estapona. I dived into McDonalds as I had not eaten that day and shortly after Frank turned up. Frank is Dutch by birth and had spent 20years in America buying, selling and exporting classic cars. Anyone who knows me will know my inherrant distrust of car dealers. But Frank was a nice guy and he drove better than any Spaniard. He told me how he had decided to come back from the States and set up in Spain because the weather is so much better than The Netherlands. He wanted to start refurbishing houses but it was 2007 and the property market had collapsed. He tried a few times but money was eaten up and not much was made. He had to start making money again and for the time being at least he deals in a few cars. He lives in a gated community, bloody car dealers! But in fairness it was a nice place and so far no hard sell. Alejandro turned up and was pleased to finally meet me. We all had a good long chat.
The car did look quite good, despite no badge on the front and a dent in the rear offside door. I crawled all over it and had a test drive. I couldn’t really fault it. Let’s face it the car has 60,000 miles with one owner from new and an MOT until next July, it should be ok its a VW or ‘dub’ to those in the know and they are bullet proof, just what people say about the XR400!. So there I was stood at the side of the road contemplating the various options. I could spend the £450 and get the bike recovered, buy a mechanically sound mountain bike and go to Morocco fairly cheap, or I could buy the car and go home with the bike in the back stripped down, sell the car once home and I’ve hopefully not lost too much money. At this point my phone bleeped and it was my sister saying she had a quote to pick up the bike and deliver it home this week for just £400. It’s an omen! So I bought the car.
As we climbed the hill out of Sabillinas I was trying to think of a name for the car with no badge. Then it struck me ‘Dubless Badger’ and just like its name sake, World War 2 veteran flying ace Douglas Badar, this little car with its 1.2 eco friendly, planet saving 3 cylinder engine, also had absolutely no legs! As my dad used to say “It couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding”. But if it had even a hint of the determination shown by all troops in service around the world, it would get us home safe, and why not its German!
Back at the hotel I took another look round it. Even the spare tyre was good with the original tool kit. The engine was still dry and the oil still on the dip stick. The water levels and fluids all seemed ok. I could relax, tomorrow would be a new stress free day.
Me, Shep and Dubless hit the road
I should have slept well that night as the week-long delay was over and I could now get on with a holiday, even if it needed to be ammended. I couldn’t sleep, I now had a whole new set of issues to deal with. Insure the car, tax the car and even though I had the old V5 log book there were no papers to actually say the car was mine. Frank had completed the V5 transaction online and printed out the e-mail confirmation of transfer so that was handy. I had read that Moroccan officials were very particular about the vehicle documents being in order. That’s right people ‘Morrocan officials’, me, Shep and Dubless were going to Africa. Well we were certainly going to give it a good try. On the way back the previous night I had stopped to enquire about ferry prices at one of the many booths along the way selling ‘cheap’ tickets’. It was going to cost about £250 return with Dubless. There was no point in buying at that time as Dubless had been mine for only ten miles and I didn’t want to commit. Plus a friend, Mark, had written that he had purchased his ticket at the ferry port with ease. It was now getting light so I went to check that Dubless has managed to spend the night without wetting himself, the ground was dry, all four tyres were still holding air and all his fluids looked good. The engine started as it should and ticked over quietly. I checked the spare, its always a good sign when the spare is good and the original tool kit is in pristene condition. Ok that’s it book a ferry, tell the landlord you are moving out and beg him to look after you bike for a while. It was all good and DJ was going to stay under cover out of sight. It was time to pack, I put all the things I wanted to take on one bed and all the things I could leave behind on the other. When it was all laid out I wondered how DJ had ever pulled such a huge amount of stuff with me plonked on top as well
Their is an old add age about adventure bike travel it says lay out everything you want to take and put your money with it, now halve the stuff to take and double the money. That was certainly coming true on this trip.
I searched for ferry tickets and ‘aferry.com’ came up trumps with a two way ticket for just £152. Things were looking up. I was packed and ready to go, I needed air in the tyres and some fuel, although I had repeatedly drained fuel from DJ into a small bottle and transferred the 20L into the car. Well the bike wasn’t going to need it anytime soon. I set off down the slope from Rio Grande Hostal and out onto the road, with heightened senses I listened for any knock, rumble of clunk. There were none. I stopped to fuel up, they had no air for the tyres. To the ferry port without issue, this is going well I thought. At 4.30pm I boarded the ferry but not before having to show the ticket lady that I wasn’t actually carrying a dog. On the ferry I carried Shep upside down to the boot and closed it down. I didn’t want anyone thinking I’d left a dog in the car, so they could smash windows to stop the poor thing overheating. It was a high speed ferry and as such you couldn’t go outside, which was a blessing because it got very rough. Just past the end of Gibralter you could indeed see the mountains of Africa and within an hour we docked. As I drove off I was flagged down to be one of three cars searched by customs. The two cars in front, both with roofracks were full with plastic bags containing all sorts of merchandise presumably for resale in Morocco. In due course I was called forward, female officers checked all my tech in the front and opened the boot with a yelp as she discovered Shep. I had to make him roll over to prove he was a fake pet. Honestly this isn’t the fun idear I had originally thought it would be.
But finally, a week late, in a different vehicle, with a lot less money in my pocket and a totally different adventure to the one I had expected I rolled out of port and into Africa. Only it wasn’t! The port of Cueta is on the African mainland but is in fact still Spanish. Official Africa was 3 miles away and through immigration control.
The roads were much like those in Spain and the signs easy to follow. Now if you think customs at Heathrow is a palace, try Cueta. The queue was short but slow moving and there were fixers everywhere. Fixers are people who will aid you through the process for a few pounds. I had wanted to get by without one but shortly a skinny, tardy looking guy turned up at the window with papers in his hand. “I get you through, no cost”. I showed him that I had papers and I would be ok. He was rather persistent, to which an older shorter man came over and berated the youngster sending him away. This chap was calm and collected and he showed me his ID card. “I work here to help visitors” he said “Not like these others”. He said he would assist me through customs and passport control as it was my first visit. We chatted as the queue moved forward. He was Berber by birth and had moved here to work. Then he said “Do you think the ID helps?” At that point it dawned on me he was just another fixer with an ID which could have told me he was an animal welfare officer for all I knew. Lets hope he’s not Ive got an upside down dog in the boot. At passport control he handed my papers to the guy who stamped it and returned it. I then had to park the car and go to a Police office to get a visitor number, which involved filling in another form away from the office and returning. Then the car documents needed to be checked at another window. They were not ok. In anticipation of this I had contacted Frank from the ferry saying he needed to send me a note saying he had sold me the car and it was legally mine. However here at passport control there is no signal and I have no clue if the paperwork has arrived or if it would even help. I’m going to have to blag it. Between me and my helper I convinced the man in the booth the car was mine. I then had to chase after a senior officer to get his authority to enter, literally chase him round as he tried to ignore me. The fixer doing his best to get me through as well. Once that was stamped it was back to the booth where all my documents were input on a computer, even the chassis and engine number. Then Inhad to get two more stamps from two more fleeing officers and go back to the booth to be allowed in. My fixer had been great and probably worked harder for that entry than he anticipated. He then offered to take me on a week’s guided tour, seeing all the great places in Morocco. Well that’s every kind mate but I’m on an adventure on my own and you stink, get a bath and here’s £10 for getting me through. His reply “twenty would be better”. Our business concluded it was time to actually enter Africa.
- The beach at Milta, Africa
- There’s 20L in that tank I’m not leaving it
- Coffee to keep you awake forever
- These 130 pieces of paper contain all my details for the many police checkpoints, however they also say I’m on a motorbike!!!
- Shep loves the car
- Too much kit
- Last night’s campsite.
So having made it to Martil I followed the signs for the campsite. The roads to Martil were lovely and smooth with only two Police checkpoints along the way. I must get insurance I remembered. My fixer had suggested Martil as a closer stopping point than Tatouan. He said the campsite was fine and they have a beach. They certainly do have a beach, not quite golden sands but certainly very picturesque, the street is wide and lined by cafes and resteraunts. I turned right towards the campsite and instantly into an area that looked a cross between a derelict housing estate and a building site. I wasn’t sure. I was less sure as I turned into the campsite. It looked like a gravel parking lot, but there were a few tatty old tents and a British registered VW campervan. I quickly used the loos which were clean. By the time I got back to my car the owner was there. He assured me it was safe to leave the car whilst I went to the beach as he has security. It would cost about £8. That was all fine and I went to town to locate a WiFi signal and resteraunt. I didn’t bother with the local dish as I’m pretty sure the further south I go the less the choices will be. So pizza, cake and a coffee capable of waking the dead, just what I needed before bed. I walked the seafront thoroughly enjoying the Friday night atmosphere of families enjoying a walk in the mild evening air. I wanted to get a SIM card as using my phone would be too expensive. There was nowhere but it was a great walk.
Back at the campsite it was dark and still warm, I wasnt really in the mood to put the tent up in the dark on the gravel flooring. So I reclined the car seat and climbed in. I must have been tired as the next time I woke it was to the unmistakable sound of the Imam calling morning prayer. It was 6am and far to early for me to pray but I did say a thankyou for getting me this far. A morning coffee and post the last blog before I was ready to set sail again. The owner of the campsite asked if I had a tent. I do but I didn’t use it. He dropped the price to £5.
I checked the car over before setting off for Tetouan and then the road to Chefchaouen. I got slightly lost and ended up going through Tetouan. Each set of lights or give way sign there was a different beggar pleading for cash. I actually didn’t have any, but it did mean having the central locking on and windows only slightly open. Eventually clear of the town I started to head up into the mountains, the little car with less horse power than one actual horse didn’t get into fourth much, let alone fifth, but was being very good on hay consumption. I followed lorries that bellowed smoke like you wouldn’t believe and cars alike. All overloaded for the steep roads. I did wonder where Morocco stands on global warming and if they have a congestion charge? Every car without fault has some form of accident damage. I was getting very precious about Dubless. In town you needed eyes everywhere to not collide with cars and people alike, now on the hills they didnt care where they went for overtakes. Hauling past lorries, busses and anything else that was in their way and at any location. “Oh I’m heading towards a blind hairpin on a mountains edge, now would be a great time to overtake this VW and three busses”! At Zinat I stopped by fruit at a stall, I picked up two apples. When I got back to the car I was swamped by children with all manner of goods to sell, none of it, any use to me or even slightly desirable. I made it clear as I pushed my way back to the car that I wouldnt be buying today. Once in the drivers seat one little chap had wedged himself so the door wouldn’t close, hands out begging. I had to push him away. I still didn’t have spare money. As I drove off I was left wondering what right do I have to push these people away, but I can’t give to them all and there isn’t a system to choose who get hangouts and who don’t. I may have no money but look what I do have. If their bike broke down they couldn’t just summons up a new car to carry on the journey. It was a thoroughly difficult situation and I didn’t like it. I had read a book ‘There are no fat people in Morocco’ by Lawrence Bransby and he had a similar issue. I recommend his book, if you are planning a trip here, its far better than my ramblings (Plus he actually did it on a bike). On that subject it is quite true that in a car you see the picture but on a bike you live it. I dearly wanted to be on a bike far more than I thought. Two days ago I just wanted to be in Africa.
1. If your coach overheads drive with the engine cover open!
Soon enough I climbed the steepest hill yet to Chefchaouen. The campsite was at the very top of the road. I pulled in and met the owner who promptly showed me round and gave me directions to the old town. The campsite Azlam was very nice and appeared packed with overland vehicles, motorhomes and of course adventure bikes. The town of Chefchaouen was one place I had on my list of must visits. I know little about it other than nearly all the buildings in the old medina are painted blue. I decided to walk down. The steps down were a short walk away and no sooner than I left the campsite I was approached by a guy wanting to show me round for just a few Dirham. I didn’t need a guide and telling me his family worked the campsite didn’t help, nor did trying to get me to walk the wrong way. Having offloaded him I walked down the steps, it was a long way and I ached. The town is built on the side of a mountain and everywhere you go is by steps or stairs. I had a coffee and accompanying Orange juice as I wrote the days blog. Then climbed the strength sapping hill back to base camp. I spoke to the owner and told him I had not managed to get insurance yet. He informed me that I must get it before moving on, as the road check, on the spot fines were very big. It had been a pure oversight and now it was going to cost me more time because it was already late on Saturday and the commercial district did not open on Sunday. I was staying until Monday. There are worse places to be stuck for sure.
I strolled back to my car and noticed that the VW camper I had shared the site with the previous night was also here. I introduced myself to Ian. He was travelling alone to Marrakech where he was going to meet his daughter for a holiday together. I relayed my plight and we sat together drinking his coffee.He had spoken to two Harley Davidson riders whonhad told him they met me at Hostel Rio Grande. Ian has a Harley of his own and is a knowledgable chap with many contacts. I told him about the insurance thing and suddenly he was in the same predicament. He had not got cover for here either. Ian is a very nice guy, also just trying out his first prolonged trip abroad in his motorhome. He was thoroughly enjoying it. We spoke about where to go next and he suggested he would travel to Ketama I pointed out that the area was the biggest cannabis growing area in the world and it was not unknown for unaware travellers to be robbed. I believe it is very rare but knowing the luck I was having…….. So back in the 1950’s there was a revolt in the Rif mountain area and as a result of that the government withdrew all aid to the area. Cannabis was once grown across Morocco but due to international pressure the rest of Morocco has stopped, but Ketama remains very poor due to the sanctions and they produce what they can, which is a lot. Obviously the actual farmers dont make so much money and the area remains poor, so incidents of the uninitiated traveller being pulled over and having their valuables removed is known. Anyway for all you pot heads, the regeon is in the Rif mountains and that’s where the term ‘Riffa’ comes from.
I got back to my tent and climbed in fairly tired from mountaineering. As I laid down the bed collapsed. I got up reconstructed it but the plastic retainers couldn’t cope with my weight on the very slight slope. I plugged in my iPod turned the volume up and fell asleep with aluminium poles digging into my side.
It’s a road trip
I think I can condense the last two days into one brief post. Sunday I was stuck in Chefchaeoun. I walked down to the new medina and was very happy to see a huge market and festival atmosphere. The only thing to cause me concern was my own stupid concerns about personal safety. I need not have worried. Everyone was in a good mood and always willing to chat, even if I couldn’t understand a word. The market was packed with stalls selling, mostly cheap toys and for some reason peanut brittle. At least 70 percent of the stalls were selling it, it was a wasp fest. There were three or four air gun stalls where you tried to hit sticks of chalk with tiny pellets. The stalls were so small that some pellets struck the metal frame and ricochet into the crowd, it was hilarious to watch the indiscriminate shooting of relatives and shoppers, by young children. After that I went to the small gardens in town where a guy had an ostrich for some reason. I just added it to my growing list of animals seen so far, I know it’s a bird but you know what I mean.
Later in the day I returned to camp where Ian and I drank most of his coffee and made plans to move on the next day. We would travel together to Marakech
In the morning, unrefreshed from another night on the collapsed bed, we met up and went in search of insurance. It was really easy to get one month cover and even easier if the car is in your name. Both now covered for, well probably the only thing it covered was passing through Police checkpoints, we hopped in a Bedford Rascal taxi back up to the camp. We both wondered if the little van would make it up the steep hill with three on board. It straddled mostly in first gear.
We set off towards Marakech as a small VW convoy. We drove and drove. The day got hotter and hotter, in my mind we weren’t moving very fast at all. I did insist on stopping at a recognised beauty spot to get a picture of the mid atlas mountains. It was now so hot I couldn’t put my arm out the window and my water bottle was hot enough to make coffee. The scenery was great with mostly barron red soil in the open areas. A martian landscape and other areas were barron black rocks. No wonder film crews make their sci-fi movies here. It completely lends itself to Star Wars and The like.
The driving through towns was scary with mopeds, taxis, busses and pretty much every road user out to get you. I was sure Dubless was going to get battle scars. Its like playing Grang Theft Auto but never go above 50mph in the smallest car you can get and set to the hardest level, then play for 9 hours. Do all that sat in your mums fan oven and that was our day. When night came it just got worse. I was petrified as I led the way through mountain roads and villages, all unlit. The varying surface conditions and massive drops allied to dodging mopeds, with and without lights, bicycles, no lights, pedestrians in dark clothing on unlit roads and obviously all manner of livestock and donkeys. We were heading for a campsite which we never found. Convinced that carrying on would result in an accident we stopped in Kasbah Tadla. Ian saved the day by asking a local where we might find a hotel. The guy went off and came back in his car telling us to follow him. It was easy to tell the area we ended up in wasn’t the plush end of town but £15 each got us a room. The Hotel Atlas was actually really nice, despite a mattress formed from concrete. After a street vendor chicken wrap I was ready for bed.
We rocked up to Marrakech mid afternoon and booked into a campsite. It was a lovely site with hot showers and a pool. The guy who runs the place taught us some Arabic for thanks and no thanks, before booking us a taxi to go to the ancient medina market. The journey had taken longer than we thought because we detoured to see the Cascades Ouzed or waterfalls. The road to get there was incredible, which is good because we never did find Morocco’s most famous waterfalls.
Our taxi dropped us at the marketplace and because we couldn’t get my phone to connect to his for the return trip he gave us his spare phone with the number ready to dial as soon as we were ready. In essence that sums up the hospitality we had seen throughout Morocco so far. I’ll deal with beggars and touts later.
The market was an explosion of colours, smells and sights. All set within the ancient city walls. I wasn’t keen on snake charmers and would have been happier if the pesky little killers had been in baskets like you see in the movies, but oh no, let’s just leave 8 or 10 venomous snakes on the pavement and occasionally glance at them to check they are still there. We decided to look closer a bit later as neither of us were keen on the slithering dealers of death. We walked endless corridors of sales stalls, the wood carvings, clothing, spices and all manner of traders made for a great evening. We found a resteraunt and ordered a beer free meal. We were on the third floor overlooking the stalls. It was getting dark so we headed to find the snake charmers, hoping the little buggers would have had their tea. However it appears snakes like an early night and we couldn’t find any, either that or they had done a slither off whilst unattended. A quick call on the borrowed phone and our lift arrived.
Did I mention the campsite was rock hard and I couldnt get the tent pegs in? I slept in the car again. In the morning there was a new arrival, a guy with a busted Land Rover. I didnt get to know him other than to hear his story and assertain that I couldn’t help with his blown intercooler hose. I told him my story, “Honda XR400, they’re bullet proof” he said. That’s it I’m off. I thanked Ian for his company over the past 5 days and set off.
A big chink in one hit
I’m getting behind with the blogs as the mileage has been very high and the roads not always straight! So this episode should be called, Put more stuff on your pickup, Game of Thrones, dont visit the worlds biggest movie studio, write me a letter and finally……
So leaving Marrakech I travelled the Tizi n Ticha pass, a tarmac festival of sublime corners and vista’s that I struggled to take in. Such is the size and height of the High Atlas Mountains, climbing to 2000m or 7200ft the road was torturous for the Bug but hey I wanted to be on a bike anyway. If Dubless was struggling spare a thought for the many trucks and pickups loaded well beyond their maximum capacity for sure.At the very top was a rest area and as usual I was hounded by touts of tat. “No really I don’t want a life size crystal encrusted model camel”. Travelling on I was heading for Ouarzazate another place on my trip list. On arrival you pass a huge movie studio. Checking up, the internet tells me its the biggest studios in the world and has been the set for Gladiator, James Bond and many more films. It did also warn that the sets were starting to decay in the desert. It was at this point I checked the map to find Ait Benhaddau a world heritage site and film set for Game of Thrones. I had wanted to visit it, I’ve never seen G.O.T but I wanted to say I had been there. Anyway I haven’t because I’d already passed it. So I booked to see the studio. The internet didn’t lie. It is the biggest studio in the world due to the fact its in the biggest desert in the world and nothing more. The tour was on foot and the sets quite run down. It was interesting and worth the £5 entry, but if you have the choice go to Ait Benhaddou.
From left to right. Aladins home, James Bond?????, Gladiator, some building that took 3 months to build for 3 seconds in the film, Egyption tomb. Game of Thrones series 3 but you can’t go closer!!!
I stayed in Ouarzazate that night in a colourfully decorated hotel. I was finding hotels are cheap and offer better rest than a campsite. Next morning I was off again. Stopping to get water in a non descript town I was approached by a smartly dressed local who spoke great English. I was waiting for the ‘sell’, but he engaged in conversation about my trip, my plans and offered some good advice. Then he asked if I could help him write a very short letter in English. I was happy to help and he duly showed me to his home. The place was the typical run down type of building synonymous with the poorer parts. He got a pen and paper and dictated the letter to his friend Paul from France, shouldn’t that be Pierre? Paul works for ‘Medicines Sans Frontieres’ and had been in Morocco helping nomads get medical assistance. Anyway the letter complete we spoke more about his work as jewellery maker. He made me coffee and I was enjoying some propper Berber hospitality. He asked if I was married, for some reason I said yes, because it is expected and to say no is weird apparently. So he wheels out the bracelets and chains he has made for various tv companies who film in the area, and before I know it I am looking at jewellery for my fake wife! Then the selling began and I ended up giving him £5 for the coffee and chat before having to be quite rude to escape. My genuine Berber experience may have been as fake as my wife, but it was momentarily nice.
That night I made Zagora, which in a different version of this story was the start point of some serious off road biking. Many bikers have photos taken with their bikes at a sign indicating ’52 days to Timbuctu’. I chose my hotel and decided the night’s entertainment would be to find the iconic sign, only to find the sign was attached to my hotel less than 20 foot away. The sign dates back to the camel train traders who travelled from Zagora to Timbuctu in order to trade spices for other goods and return to sell them on. I couldn’t get Dubless up the kerb to have a picture taken at the sign.
There was a great thunderstorm that night.
The next day, taking advice from my Berber friend the previous day, I headed for Mhamid the start of the desert as we would consider it, but not before having to send yet another tout off. I really didn’t want a fake, genuine Berber night in the desert. The road again was amazing and I saw my first camel, followed by many more. The desert with its rolling dunes doesn’t just start like a trip to the beach when you turn the corner and there’s the sea, the desert sand encroached inland, slowly tingeing the rock with the fine yellow colour and as the miles click by the sand takes over until you reach Mhamid. Through the dirty tiny village and then the road ends. This was it, over the crest and my journey would begin, well it would on the bike but in Dubless it may well end. I was feeling a bit elated that despite all that had happened I had made it to the actual desert. Seconds away and a 4×4 came round the corner, stopped almost blocking my way. Out jumped two guys dressed in, what I would consider Toureg clothing, brightly coloured djellaba, with head scarves that covered most of their faces. They came to either side of the car. In hurried speach they each explained it was to dangerous to venture further, my car wouldn’t cope, I would get lost, we are close to the Algerian border, this is a training ground for terrorists. In short I needed a guide and a 4×4. Guess what? They had both at a reasonable cost. I looked at them and their impressive knives, not wanting to upset them and I said very quietly “oh fuck off”! and then a little louder and in my best English ” Thank you so much but I’m English and we like a challenge”. I drove round the big black Mercedes and headed for the crest of the hill, watching in the mirror for them to come after me but they didn’t. Just more touts, or maybe they were being genuine. Finally I was in the sand, quite firm under the wheels it was a little like a car park at the beach. Then as I drove on it became more rutted and the sand scraped the bottom of Dubless, occasionally causing him to lose traction. Like a novice child in a swimming pool we were getting out of our depth. The last thing I wanted to do was walk back to Mhamid and seek out those guys to come tow me back. I turned Dubless round and on firmer ground stopped to take a picture. Within seconds there were three snarling dogs making for me. I jumped back in the car and with my little following of snappy dogs, made my way back. So after 17 days, some 10 days late and endless trials. The bike, the engine, the Rav4, the touts, the beggars, the officials, the fixers, had all frustrated my efforts but I had done it. I had driven less than 2 miles in the sands of a real desert. The photograph looks like it could have been taken on any beach in the UK!
The T shirt says “The only impossible journey is the one you never start”.
I was still a long way north of my intended destination but I was running out of time, so I decided to drive across the desert highway.
I think I got away with it
So from my short lived desert drive I had no choice but to head back to Zagora. A short while into the journey I saw a hitch hiker. He looked European, I stopped and picked him up. He was a German lad about 20years old, having taken a year out of college he was off to see the world and after just 6 weeks had done France, Spain, Portugal and now Morocco. He was impressed to be in a right hand drive car in a left hand drive country. He was really interested in my story and I in his. He asked “People give cars names in England, does your car have a name?” “Oh yes Dubless Ba……” I stopped, thinking it best not to mention the war! “Oh Douglas, isn’t it usual to be a girls name?” Great now he thinks I’m gay. “It’s a German car” I said trying to save the conversation. Anyway my companion for the journey was headed to South America next, hoping to get a working passage on a ship to Brazil and then hike to Chilli and Peru. I dropped him in Zagora and we wished each other a safe onwards journey.
For my part I was headed across the desert highway. A ferociously straight road cutting a path between mountains and desert. It was getting hot, like 37 degrees hot. Dubless was coping well, but it was reported to be reaching 41 before the day was out. I had nothing to do but drive for endless miles trying to contemplate the enormity of this country and its geographic marvels. The monochrome mountains with defined lines from the earths pressure forcing them skyward and then the natural erosion that shapes them over millions of years. Man it was hot, with no shade to rest the car in I kept going until hunger got the better of me. I stopped in a tiny town with a cafe, parking, as directed in the shade of the only tree, in the middle of a roundabout. The waiter, chef, owner, builder, washer up’er asked what I would like. There was no menu and he recommended the only dish of cous cous. Ok that’s the one for me. In due course a huge plate of cous cous topped with many soggy non descript vegetables arrived. It was now a race between me and the flies to eat. Like a game of reverse ‘Whakamole’, I had to jab the fork anywhere there wasn’t a fly and hope there hadn’t been one there before. Cous cous, as a meal is very filling and washing it down with water makes you quite bloated, quite quickly. I thanked my man and paid him the £3 he wanted. That’s with a tip! He was also the car park attendant and showed me back onto the trafficless road. I had more time to think as I drove and I wondered what the youth of poorer Morocco wanted from life? They all have mobiles and some internet access. Do they long for a better life in the western world or are they happy to tend livestock, walking the herd miles every day so they can feed on scraps of shrubs at the roadside? Morocco is beautiful but it’s a harsh baron beauty that I was at home with, for now, but how long would it hold my attention if I had to work endlessly just to put a meal on the table and a second hand shirt on my back, I didn’t know.
I decided to head for Akka a reasonable sized town which should have a hotel. The town before was small and well kept so my hopes were high as I travelled through the next deshevilled village, however as I left I saw that had been Akka. I returned and asked for a hotel but they didn’t have one and clearly the Berber hospitality hadn’t reached this far yet, so I continued onwards. It was at least two hours to Guelmim but that’s where I was headed. The sun set and again I was driving unlit roads with Dubless and his impaired lights shinning the wrong way. Two cars passed in the other direction one had lights which was a bonus. Then the roadworks started. It’s fine because running at the side of this highway is a dirt track and so they direct you onto this, but this time that track went on for ten miles. Dust blew everywhere the heat still radiating from the earth made the whole thing pretty rotten. The only accompanying noise being Dublesses knocking joint. I was tired long before Guelmim and saw lights of a town to the left. Turbo g off I saw another hitch hiker, only this time local. He needed a lift and I needed a hotel, a win win surely. Error no, he speaks no English or French. Dropping him off I saw another guy and in my best French asked if he knew of a hotel, “do you speak French?” A little he says, so I try again to which he asks if I speak English! And for some reason I say “Yes a little” with a French accent, I’ve been in the sun too long. I needed an oasis and this guy directed me to one.
Within 3 miles I turned onto a gravel track leading to Borj Biramane a hotel like no other. It was fantastic, laid out with different shape and size rooms in a large expanse of land all linked by footpaths to a central reception, it was a delight to walk the grounds and see little covered rest areas and dinning tables under tent type covers. Very chic bebowin I would say. But I needed sleep and for £35 I had a double room with air conditioning.
A day off
I was up for breakfast and then spent sometime dealing with the blog. I find blogging helps me retain stuff I would normally forget.
I said fairwell to Paul the owner and headed for the coast, today’s target Agadir. The poverty continued and then as I hit the coast suddenly the road was wider with proper road signs, a dual carriageway in fact. Then on the outskirts of Agadir a very modern view, like Marbella with high rise hotels and car dealerships. I was surprised and it continued to the beach. So package holiday in fact, I had lunch in an English pub, which bore no resemblance to any English pub except perhaps The Queen Vic on tv. Cheap dark red leather, dark wooden tables, warm beer and cold food.
Anyway it turns out this once poor fishing-trading port and heavily fortified hill was much like the rest of Morocco until 1960 When a 15 second earthquake reduced the place to rubble. No small earthquake that one, taking with it the lives of 15000 people. Anyway that explains why most of the city looks like a holiday resort and less developed parts resemble a 1960’s council estate. My campsite was right in the middle of the 1960’s. Shabby chic we will call it, or just shite. The place must have been a mini Butlins at one time, but those days had passed. The pool has been empty a long time, with tiles falling into it’s dusty depths. It’s ok there’s no barrier round it. The buildings, toilets and shower blocks all decayed and the paint peeling from the walls. 50 year old bunting hangs like prayer flags in the Himalayas, all torn with the ravages of time, but at £4 a night I’m staying. The owner, as lifeless as his once thriving resort is just waiting for the developers to get this far along the beach, and they are coming, but I feel it’s a case of them getting here before his own deteriating condition brings his hopes to an end. Anyway, on the bright side I just made him £8 richer, now jog on and buy some toothpaste.
I walked the length of the beach, passing the many resteraunts and fast food outlets. Obviously I couldn’t pass them all, there was a copy Starbucks, Mcdonalds and ice cream sellers, what’s a man to do? Oh and Pizza Hut which is where I sit now some 24hours later, with my work discount card firmly in my grip! The beach is lovely, with golden sand, I could have taken my photos here and had a real holiday. The sunset very nice. I walked back along the block paved, intracately patterned walkway. Itself disappearing under a sea of chewing gum. One thing I like being obliterated by another I despise. I mean if you’re going to chew gum, be a little responsible, it comes in a wrapper people. Sorry but it annoys me.
Sunday and it’s time to explore the Souk. Housed in the inner city enclave, itself one of the few ancient parts to have survived the quake, it is one huge market place. The usual thriving hustle and bustle amongst 900 stalls. It’s a blast of colour and smells, not all good. It was busy with locals but no holiday makers I could see. I’m sure they go there because the traders are great at spotting them. I loved the vibrant atmosphere and good natured banter between sellers and this non buyer.
I did however pass the royal palace where the guy who looks like David Walliams, on their money, lives. Apparently he’s the king.
And apparently he is very popular, doing great stuff to move Morocco onwards, so why does the palace have an outer fence like normal with armed guards on the inside and outside every 30m? Added to that there is an inner wall that you cannot see past.
Lets talk hair
First let’s talk your hair. Just before leaving I saw adverts for shampoo with ancient argon oil of Morocco. So what’s in it? Well the oil is extracted from the kernel of the nut from the argan tree. It’s a laborious task. The nut, having been plucked from the tree by hand, has a fleshy skin that is stripped off and made into animal feed. The nut cracked open and the kernel extracted. It is then milled and massaged by hand to get the precious oil out. It’s a long winded process. The oil does have great properties apparently, but consider this. For years this site has been common in the region known for producing argan oil
It’s goats in the trees eating the fruit. They digest the fruit and poop out the nut with its precious kernel. That cuts out two thirds of the Labour costs. hmmmm just what are you putting in your hair? In fairness, if it brings some little wealth to the poor then let’s all get some.
Then thete is my hair. I had a £1 haircut today. I was looking a little like so many of the goats I had seen so whilst in Tighassaline I popped into one of the many barbers. Big red leather chairs and gowns from the 50’s, clippers attached to the mains and plugs held in with hairgrips. The cut was great, the conversation limited. A quick trim with the cut throat that he dipped in alcohol and set fire too before using, all done for a quid. When was the last time you tipped double the cost of your haircut and were still chuffed at how cheap it was?
I know nothing of Game of Thrones, other than it’s in its 7th series and a global phenomena. I do know some parts were filmed in Morocco and I was off to visit one location. Azgard is home to the Queen of meereen, mother of dragons, khaleesi of the great grass sea, queen of the andals, the rhoynar and the first men, lady regnant of the seven kingdoms, breaker of chains etc, etc, it’s also known as Essaouira, probably the best place I’ve been to on a whim. Again it’s a coastal fishing port but more than that it is simply a wondrous town in classic castle fortifications. With a myriad of tunnels, walkways and ramparts. It is undergoing major reconstruction to it’s original state, no doubt a knock on effect of its popularity since G.O.T filming ended and being a UNESCO world heritage site. In fairness they have not gone all out touristy and filled the many tiny stores with tat, but instead they embrace local arts and crafts, or posh tat! I walked the fishing port as they finished trading for the day. I hate the smell of fish but the cackle of traders and tradesmen alike is intoxicating. Fishing boats being repaired amongst the fish they regularly catch. I loved it. I stayed a few hours soaking it all up and wishing I was here in a year or so when the construction machinery had all gone and the place was once again the genuine Essaouira .
I’d seen no campsites so I opted for a little hotel on the outskirts. I wish I’d stayed in Essaouira as I had been offered a room in the labyrinths of tunnels and passageways.I knew the next day would be a long haul. I was off to Casablanca against all advice not too.
Don’t go there…
Dont go there. That was the advice regarding Casablanca, Moroccos biggest city. But I had time and they have Ricks Bar, often mis named Sam’s bar. It’s the bar from the 1942 film Casablanca with Humphry Bogard and Ingrid Bergman. Anyway I knew a bit about it and I had a spare day, how difficult could it be to negotiate the city? Three and a half hours difficult! I eventually got to the seafront but no clue as to where Ricks bar may be. I stopped at McDonald’s to use there WiFi but it was broken so I was no better off. It was getting late and I had driven a long way. I drove up and down the seafront, no campsites and no hotels. Back into the city and the two hotels I tried wanted £150+ per night. I decided to drive to nearby Mohammedia to look for a place. I kid you not its like 3 miles and that to, another hour and forty. By now I was tired and right grumpy. I saw an Ibis hotel and just handed over the credit card. I was shattered, I would consider what to do in the morning.
Up bright and early to take full advantage of my included breakfast. I could leave the car and get a train there and back or I could just grin and bare it. The grinning didnt last long. The Morocans love the car horn, I think its because donkeys dont have them and that makes them a status symbol. You sit at red lights, maybe fourth in the queue and as soon as the lights change people start sounding their horns. Where am I supposed to move too, I can see the green light but it takes time for everyone to get moving or we would all travel on each others bumpers. In no time at all, well quite a bit of time actually I was at Ricks Bar, ironically, spitting distance from the McDonald’s with no WiFi. The place looked good, although closed for another two hours and in the middle of quite a run down part of the city. I couldn’t get it in one photograph but there is a massive divide within the city where the modern buildings and commercial centre rubs shoulders with the old run down parts. To cover it up they have built an authentic looking ancient wall, so the workers don’t have to look at the slums.
I took a walk towards the very impressive minuete of the mosque. The King somebody the second mosque was built in the kings memory, such was his overwhelming support that it was decreed to build the second biggest mosque in the world, however popularity doesn’t bring in the Dirham and the mosque had to be built from donations. What they ended up with is none the less very spectacular. The tallest minuete in the world and the thirteenth biggest mosque. 150000 people can be accommodated within its grounds and in keeping with current global instability, there are armed guards on overy corner. I can only assume that Morocco could be a target because of their relaxed attitude to worship. They are very devout muslims but regular prayer has given way to the necessities of modern life, which I would imagine could upset the hard liners of the faith.
Times up so I trot back to Ricks. Now there’s a queue but I’m in front of a coach load of Americans. I’m not quite sure how I would describe my next actions, I’ll let you decide. The woman behind me was clearly very excited and was full of face paced American chat as she told her friends how she couldn’t believe they, were actually at Ricks Bar, where the film was made, actually there where Bergman and Bogard filmed the classic scenes, so excited………… I couldn’t help myself, honest, as I turned and said “it wasn’t actually filmed here, the whole movie was filmed in L.A. this is just a theme bar that replicates the original, it opened in 2004 long after the star’s had died, but I do believe its very nice!” I think it dampened her spirits a little, but she still went in. I was right it was very nice, I didn’t stay long, I’d ruined enough people’s day. (In the film no one said “play it again Sam” either).
Back in the car and it was time to head out of town. It was a slog but I wanted to head for Mekness, I was now on a deadline for the ferry in two days time. I ended up in a small town called Tighassaline. The reason to stop was that I had proved my own theory wrong. I needed to get some money out of a cash point. They are few and far between in the sticks and often don’t have money in them. My theory was, any town where there are donkeys being ridden will not have a cash point. I was wrong as I found both in close quarters. So having stopped I decided to take a look round this bustling little town. There were stalls outside most of the shops and as I walked past the dentist a man called out “Bonjour France”. I explained I was English and was invited to sit and have coffee with the man who had just two teeth in his whole head. I did enquire if he was the dentist but apparently not. He was though, a well travelled Berber, having lived in Germany, Canada and various other short term residences. Now in his 60’s he was happy to practice his English, which occassionally slipped into German. He spoke of how his family had needed his help when his parents died and he had returned to help out. Quite how he did that by selling cigarettes on the street I dont know. I left him with some money for the coffee and a generous tip. Walking further down the street I found the barber who did my £1 haircut and then my £4 a night hotel. The room was bare apart from a metal chair and a bed. The matress, rock hard and the bedding a single fury blanket. The toilet down the hall had no door, despite being directly at the top of the stairs and was very Moroccan, two foot plates and a hole. Need I be more explicit? It was a stifling hot night and I certainly wasn’t going to get under that blanket, in fact I slept fully clothed and avoided the toilet altogether
If you think Casa’ was bad…
I read somewhere its hip to refer to Casablanca as Casa’. Anyway if you think driving there was bad try leaving the country. I was in no rush as my ferry didnt leave until 3pm so I took a leisurely drive towards Cueta, arriving at the queue for customs and exit papers around 12.30. It’s now 4pm and I am still trying to get to the passport control. I’ve missed the ferry which will cost me for sure and my fixer took the money and disappeared, In fairness I only had £2 so I’m not surprised. According to him the Police want £10 to stamp the paperwork anyway. I’ve seen two fights in the queue and a third is brewing as I type. An armed Police officer was given a bit of a kicking by a motorist who well and truly won the argument despite being very in the wrong. It’s mayhem. The third fight has been disbanded before punches were thrown, not by the Police but by the locals. Meantime I have progressed to passport control,where my papers have been stamped to let me out. However that just lets you join the queue to get into Spain. So I sit here not 3 meters from the booth waiting to move into no man’s land and onto Spanish territory about 200 meters away.
I am still here waiting having not moved for thirty minutes, there are no facilities or any form of shelter from the sun. Apparently the Spanish are in despute and will only open one entry gate to Spain. Back home there would be all manner of complaints to HM border control but here just an acceptance that we will wait until the solitary border guard can process us. As I typed that last sentence twenty of us were let in. Just enough to get through Spanish passport control but not enough to clear customs or get to the ferry terminal.
In due course I was let through and made my way to the ferry port. The FRS gate is closed and unoccupied. I could well be spending the night here… I’ve not eaten since my porridge this morning and despite officially being in Spain I can’t get internet access to find out if there is a ferry crossing today. There is the obligatory old lady begging and I really don’t have any money but she was kind enough to help me with where to park the car. I was hungry so I drove into town following the well signposted McD’s. It had a drive through only because there is nowhere to park there. The girl at the counter was most confussed when the car pulled up and she could see no driver. I picked up a meal for me and a (girls) happy meal for the poor beggar lady. On getting back to the car park my beggar lady had a friend. Sorry thats just tough. I called her over and handed her the box. Very gratefully she accepted it asking “Is it halal?” Yes, it must be, anyway just how hungry are you? She shuffled off and I ate mine whilst being pestered by the other. In the end they shared and I gave them half my coke. They were quite contented sitting there on the lane deviders. I wonder who got the toy? At that very moment the lady from the ferry ticket booth turned up. She was brilliant and got me on the next ferry at 9pm. She didn’t charge me because it wasn’t my fault and I had brought the beggars some food which she thought was very kind. Also I suspect she knew there were only 3 vehicles on the late ferry.
Back on the mainland I made to the Rio Grande to be reunited with DJ the next morning, however Ian (VW motorhome guy) had contacted me to say he was in Marbella. We had coffee at his new site before I returned to strip the bike and load it in the car. I was pretty concerned that it wouldn’t fit.
I was shattered, so I went out for a very bland meal and made the decision to head to Marbella. I was going to book into the campsite Ian was on and have two days on the beach before heading back to Santander. Dubless isn’t the happiest car lugging an extra 200+ kilos but we are in no rush.
2 days off
So having moved camp to Marbella, what followed was two days of sunning on the beach and drinking in the bar. It was great. Ian decided to stay to help me drink. Then we hatched a plan to drive across the Sierra Navada and make camp somewhere before going our seperate ways again, me heading for the ferry. Ian with three weeks to kill before heading to Valencia for the last Moto GP of the season.Our little convoy set off and I was happy to follow in my own little world of not paying much attention. I had noticed that Dubless needed air in a tyre and as the spare was burried under the bike I didn’t want a puncture. I had also noticed a rather annoying wheel wobble so when we filled with fuel and air I took a good long look at the tyres. The front left tyre was ok but the wheel rim was badly dented. They are steel rims so no chance it had cracked. I recall hitting a huge rock in the road in Morocco and I had stopped to check but seen nothing. My thinking now was that it had lasted this long it should make the rest of the day until I can borrow a hammer and beat it back into shape.
The road through the Sierra Navada was absolutely incredible. A myriad of twists and turns each revealing another spectacular view. My camera was burried somewhere in the car so I didn’t get many pictures. The road was perfect for a bike and I don’t just mean the XR400, it was road bike heaven. We saw several and I seethed with envy. It was a good few hours of driving before we had negotiated what was effectively to circumnavigate the base of a mountain.
Then the road became less tortured and we approached El Ejida. Nope, I hadn’t heard of it either. Well I didn’t think I had but as we got closer I started to see more and more white fabric roofed green houses. It started to come back to me I had seen a program about this area. It’s where most of the fruit and veg grown in Spain comes from, especially tomatoes, accounting for 90% of the tom’s sold in UK supermarkets. As we got closer the expanse of the operation became clear. More and more white topped greenhouses. Its not easy to photograph them because its like a sea of white for endless miles. Its so big you can see it from space. The white roofs reflect the intense heat allowing just enough through to grow things, the effect of reflecting all that heat is a bonus for glider pilots and paragliders who revel in the free updrafts to gain height.
1. This corner of Spain as seen from space.
2. The blue dot is me in aisle 3 of the biggest Tesco ever
3. Library photo of El Ejido
We stayed the night at a little campsite in San Jose. The plan was to travel to Murcia the next day and visit the cathedral there. We set off and a few hours later the trip that was supposed to take an hour came to an end, the rain had been biblical and there was no way I was trudging round a big church in that much rain. As a suitable alternative we found somewhere to eat, after which we said our farewells, Ian heading for Benidorm with three weeks to kill before the Moto GP in Valencia and me heading to Madrid.
The journey to Madrid was slow in the rain and I stopped about two hours shy of the capital, booking into a motel. I looked at the map and realised I still had a day to kill or I would be in Santander for a full day and a bit. I made the decision to book into a hostel and explore Madrid for a few days.
The Thursday morning I packed, had a late breakfast and set off for Madrid. It was a couple of hours and the hostel was in the centre of the city. I located a 24hr car park and made my way to ‘SafeStay’. It looked great, very clean with friendly staff and all the rooms airy with lockers and bedding supplied. I had taken the clean bedding to my room and was battling with the duvet cover when a text message arrived. I continued the battle and then went to the message. “Due to the impending weather due to hit the UK on Sunday your ferry crossing has been cancelled”. I checked it wasn’t anyone I know having a laugh but it looked genuine. I needed food having not eaten since breakfast. I walked to a nearby American Diner and ordered my meal whilst on hold to the ferry company.
The upshot of the call was this set of choices. There is another ferry in a week, so I have to stay a week longer. My cash was running out, I had depleted my reserves for this trip. Or there would be a ferry leaving St Malo at 10am the next morning. They had spaces available, but St Malo is 1250km (776miles) away. There was an offer of £375 to cover the disruption.
I had my hands tied financially, so I finished my meal and went back to the hostel to book out. It was 5.30pm when I pulled out of the car park. As I did so I noticed that the wheel wobble was far worse at slow speed, suggesting a far worse issue with the tyres than I had thought. I didn’t have time to stop and check it, anyway what good would it do the spare is under the bike in the back. I knew I had to book onto the ferry before 8am the next morning. The satnav said I would arrive at 5.30am, giving me a window of opportunity to grab an hours sleep somewhere, or change a tyre if necessary.
It was relatively slow progress getting out of Madrid in rush hour. Once on the open road my mind was occupied with the maths of hours and distance. You see the satnav looks at the speed limits and works out your average, allowing for the time of day and any road works etc etc. It doesn’t allow for fuel stops, re routes and the endless stopping at tolls. In the first hour of clear traffic the satnav added 12 minutes to the journey time, Dubless isn’t the fastest car and is happy at 100kph, but most of the speed limits are 110 or 120kph, the roads were clear and the satnav saw no reason why we couldn’t do the maximum speed. In ten hours the satnav would add two hours to the journey time making the arrival time 07.30am. With no stops along the way, I was in for a long night. Luckily my friend was working on his motorbike that evening and regularly text with progress updates or questions. Hands free texting meant he got some weird messages back but it kept me awake and concentrating. Soon enough the toll roads started. I was driving in my socks for comfort and each toll meant stopping, putting on shoes, walking round to the pay booth, back to the car, shoes off and carry on. That’s all well and good if its twice in a journey, but honestly every 20 minutes and it starts to get on your nerves. Each toll costing from £3 up to £12 didn’t make it any more fun. Most of them are unoccupied, so there was much cursing as I went through the routine. Each one receiving more of a lesson in English swearing and maybe even the odd kick at the silly plastic bucket you throw the money in.
It was about the twentieth toll station that broke the camels back and I lost it, it was late, I didn’t even know where I was, just another toll booth in an endless stream of money making highway robbery machines. A tirade of abuse escaped my lips as I threw the pockets full of change, I had accumulated through paying tolls with notes, into the plastic bucket. The machine spat out some and they were thrown back in, but it doesn’t take small change and I still owed 2 euro. I had a fifty euro note and got all the change in coins. There was more disgruntlement and I turned to walk back to the driver side of the car. It was at this point I noticed the 4 armed Police officers blocking my exit. This was the French border. It was too late to smile and laugh it off but I tried. In fairness they were understanding and after a few minutes of being told to calm down and drive carefully I was on my way.
I had watched the sun set and drove through the night until the sun rose again. It was a long boring journey with a few detours for road works and the like. Eventually I rocked up at St Malo ferry terminal at 8am. I had stopped three times, twice for fuel and once to get a coffee to stave off the tiredness. I joined the queue to board the ferry, switched off the engine, stuck it in first gear, let the hand brake off and laid across into the passenger seat. The next thing I knew was being woken by another gendarme who was telling me everyone else had boarded.
I had a cabin on the ferry and slept for most of the crossing which was pretty rough, waking occasionally as the ferry plummeted down the face of one wave and ploughed into another, the whole ferry shuddering at the force of impact.
Anyway I got home on the Friday evening. Its not often you buy a car and arrive back home to find the ownership document arrived before you did! In all I did 600miles on the bike, 4000 miles in the car and 7 miles on foot. The trip had not been the one I planned or even wanted but it had been the test I wanted. I had been put through the mill and come out the other side intact. I had made it to the Sahara, along the way I had met many interesting people and sampled a different culture. I will go back sometime on a bike and hopefully complete the journey I had anticipated, but for now I was home with a list of things to do before any of that could happen.
In the following weeks Dubless was graced with a new VW badge and a new front tyre as the old one had been slowly disintegrating throughout the journey, I was lucky it held out. DJ has been put into storage and I am working out the best option for her. I want to rebuild the engine, however it is an expensive option and there are other bikes out there.
The last leg of my journey had been a rush and that means there are no photos. However here are some of Dubless and DJ. I hope this journey has been an interesting read and to new adventurers, an indication that you can overcome some pretty major set backs to complete your journey.
Remember ‘The only impossible journey is the one you never start’