So there I was, finally gone! gone down the A1 to the south coast..Gone through France….Gone through Spain too… landing eventually on the African continent, heading into Morocco. Getting just there took nearly a week, travelling nealry 1500miles in my truck just to get to the Moroccan border!
Last year my friend Rob asked if I fancied going with him to Morocco along with a few guys I knew….or knew of. A road trip to Morocco with the boys sounded right up my street so I said yes Id love to! A bit later on I realised it wasnt quite what I imagined because included in the trip would be a woman, her 14-year-old son and both sons of Rob and Chris! I could have and nearly did say no thanks but by now my appetite had been wet for the trip so said nothing of my mild disappointment. Two very likable guys called Steve and Deane would be in the mix so the balance should be re-dressed. I asked my Julie if she fancied coming along as it wasnt going to be a boys trip after all, but it was going to be very very hot, and my wife doesn’t do very hot, you see the date of the trip was August 1st and wasnt finalised until mid summer after lots of fucking about. Originally it was going to take place at the end of September eventually it was settled on August 1st by Helen’s pet dog’s needs (kennels) We would therefore be driving down through France at the start of their peak holiday period…..not good!…I should have said no.
Its may look a blot on the Folkestone landscape but it was functional
I arrived in Folkestone in the late afternoon of Friday and checked into the hotel, the room was OK as was the huge bar downstairs, parking was limited but and prepaid I was in the Landy and would park right… where I pleased! Rob and son Matt had the same idea an hour or so later as did Chris and son David who turned up around 9 after spending time lolling around the Dartford bridge hoping to get over in the “free” period but they misjudged it by 5 minutes and had to pay! We got settled in the bar after introductions, and sat there quenching thirsts between chit chat I settled into my favorite pastime of people watching, it looked like many people were overnighted here for the early morning ferries just 5 minutes away at Dover. Breakfast was very early and extremely well organised, the staff darted about with fresh bread and coffee pots as everyone tucked in. I had a cooked breakfast of bacon sausage egg beans, and several coffee’s, forcing myself awake. I was right about folks destination as they all trooped out to board 6×40 seat coaches, many had slunk out earlier to smoke a fag and were dragging their feet. Thank god I don’t do bus tours I said to myself.
Two Land Rover Defender 90’s and a 31-year-old Defender 110 coughed into life in the car park. We mounted up and took the short drive to Dover ferry terminal. The staff here were well organised and we were directed to the correct lane with no hiccups or drama’s. The Customs guys left us alone and waved us through.
Dover P+O ferry terminal
Once at the lane we switched off and dismounted taking in the sea air and watched what was going on around us. Several huge P+O boats were taking on vehicles filling up their deep black bellies with motorbikes trucks caravans cars vans motor-homes and hundreds of containers, it was another lovely clear blue sky, everything felt right and the adventure was well underway. We three Defenders would travel together meeting up somewhere in Spain with Steve and Deane as they joined the dots southbound to Gibraltar via hotels in their Land Rover Discovery and Land Rover Range Rover. Mr Moulds after setting the date had pulled a fast one it seems! He had in fact departed our shores several days ago thus missing the ensuing Bank Holiday chaos down through La Belle France and we wouldn’t see him until we reached a Roman ruin somewhere in Morocco! It all sounded a bit unusual I must say, once in Morocco just two people had the routes planned on combinations of paper and electronic mapping….co-ordinates..and waypoints and such like. The rest of us had the luxury of tagging onto one or the other. This bit I quite liked as photography was on my mind, so I figured I’d be at the back, stopping when I pleased taking the shot then chasing after the leader this sounded like fun.
At the wave of a yellow jacketed arm we moved forward into the black hole ahead of us and parked where directed by the now orange armed handling crews, after securing the truck I made my way directly to the rear deck to watch our departure from the shores and the white cliffs of Dover in particular. The sea was flat calm for the 90 minute crossing to Calais and we brought the glorious sunshine and clear blue skies with us. I had offered to lead for the first day through France with a pre-planned route that would miss out the reported traffic snarl up near Rouen. We were all in great spirits and looking forward to the adventure and I was going through France yet again. Leaving the French docks we turned south heading towards Abberville and on in the direction of Rouen, we had a warning text from Dave a day or so earlier to warn us of dreadful traffic problems there, so a roundabout route was planned through some lovely countryside coming out to the south-west and in the direction of Dreux, it was here were things unravelled a tad when we were ambushed by the heaviest rain storm I’ve been in for a long time. we couldnt see much in front of us such was the rains intensity. We pulled over and sat in our trucks until it passed before got sorted again. One of the downsides to using Sat Nav’s is that whilst keeping you exactly to the road of choice sometime you didn’t know exactly where you were…. Unless of course your partner was keeping it relevant with the map, I didn’t have a partner on this trip so lost my bearings a bit and I was trying to take us east instead of south east…I think!
Lunch somewhere in France
Eventually we got sorted and set off again in the correct direction going down some soggy narrow side roads driving through some really quaint villages that had the most wonderful old official building but time was getting on and the campsite tonight was still quite a way away so a pause to look and photograph was not possible. Chartres and the N10 road was our objective, by getting the old boot down we increased to 70mph. We werent lost we were just going a different way.
In the middle of France….before the rains and the traffic jams
We had left the rains some 100 miles behind us now as we slowed to access the sleepy village just north of Tours, the campsite was very much a quiet and typical municipal site that the other two Defender crews had used two years earlier. Municipal sites equate in English to council campsites, however these sites would earn 4-5 stars back in England and all would put most English private camp sites to shame they were that good.
Dave Freeman starts dinner overseen by Dad
Tents were quickly erected (as they would be for the next 2o nights or so) ow then let me say that from stopping the truck, climbing up on the roof taking the straps off and lowering to the floor, climbing back down unwrapping it from its bag pulling it to the erect position locking the sliding knuckles in the “up” position before zipping the tent shut….quickly un-bagging chair and building the bed and laying out the sleeping bag all could be achieved within 30 minutes, which was pretty fast. The Tents we had were the superb OZ tents and are advertised as 30 second tents. Which is a lie! a white lie but a lie all the same. Yes it can be erected in 30 seconds but only if the clock started when said tent is laid on the floor and is already unwrapped! One has only to pull it up and lockout the knuckles So whilst the “30 second tent erection” is the sales pitch, its factual bollix really! 30 minutes for all the above is much more realistic and still very quick. You can buy additional panels with poles to expand the tent and make an additional enclosed room. I’ve used them and turns the tent into a bungalow! It’s very good if the weather is crap and one is staying for a few days. However I wouldn’t be using any of them on this adventure, because I was on my own and had more than enough room, besides the tent would be up just for one night at the most for practically the whole trip.
Iona the wonderful and reliable 31 year old Land Rover Derfender 110. Dave and Dad Chris begin tinkering with the CB. Defenders were made to be tinkered with!
Darkness came quickly as we prepped our food and drank the drink. Happy to have finally made our first destination though several hours later than planned. We didn’t have a lot of time to sit and idle chat, getting the guys would come in due course Im sure. In the morning we were up and ready to go by 09.30hrs, we did a loop out of the village towards the motorway and continued our journey south. The sun was up the sky was clear it looked to be a good day, I think we all felt good today and thought maybe we’d broken its back with regards the traffic, I think we all felt good this morning. We aimed to be setting up the tents inside Spain over 350 miles away by late afternoon. However within the hour around Tours we hit heavy traffic and began to slowdown to a crawl.
A short respite from the ‘orrible French traffic
it was very frustrating it seemed every Frenchman with a car was going in the same direction as us, at Poitiers it slowed even more and began the soul-destroying stop start motion. The heavy holiday traffic and the one bridge over the huge river at Bordeaux a hundred miles away was the cause, there is still just the one large bridge there, everyone going or coming from Spain had to use this route, a detour would take many miles and probably would take just as long. We saw a new second bridge being constructed once we got to the city. It wasnt an enjoyable day at all and I spent time sticking imaginary pins into Helen and her pet dog. We crawled past Bordeaux and on towards the Pyrenees finally driving into Spain making camp just as darkness was falling. It had been another long and frustrating day. Oh well it’s behind us now.
Taken at 06.00hrs, spot Rob with the kettle on in the background
The Spanish campsite was excellent and they cooked food late into the night in the bar which was welcomed tonight. We got sorted quickly and went to the bar to order food and purchased quite a few bottles of beer which was supplemented by Fosters for everybody by me! The riotous thunderclaps and heavy rainstorms signalled time to retired to our beds, I was tired and worn out but happy in the knowledge that we had seen the last of the French holiday traffic.
At the Spanish camp. You wouldnt think we’d had a rubbish day on the road would you? From left to right Chris Freeman..Matt Drysdale..Rob Drysdale..David (The boy Jesus) Freeman
We were all up and ready to go before the receptionist opened up. Mostly we were happy with just a cuppa and a slice of something first thing, taking a second breakfast after a couple of hours on the road. Packing the OZ tent and stowing on the truck roof was a quick affair, it was to be a daily ritual for the next 3 weeks and was just like going to the gym before the start of the day with the heating turned up high!
Having paid up around 09.30 we came down from the green mountains and its creamy white rocks heading west then south around the city made famous by El Cid (Burgos) We stayed on the auto-route and made good progress all day. The sun was with us again as were the clear blue skies, it was a bit cool to start with but from now on it would gradually get warmer and warmer. We were heading to a camp two-thirds down the length of Spain near a small town called Carolina.
David at the helm of Iona in Southern Spain. Chris plots the route
But first we had to negotiate Madrid the busy capital of Spain.I was looking forward to this bit, Id come this was quite a few times on my motorbike adventures. Hitting Madrid really wakes you up as you learn close quarter driving skills. It’s just like big boys Scalextric! Looking at the map there are several part ring roads rather like a spider’s web from the 12 O’ clock position round to the 6 O’clock. Obviously its good if you choose the very outer one but mistakes can be made because we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads! Once when coming North with Julie on the motorbike ended up in the wrong lane and went through the very centre of the city we just kept going north and came out the other side picking up the auto-route again. I lived in London about 15 years and loved riding in its busy traffic, so I thought Madrid was fun to do on the motorbike.
In Spain Rob and Matt at the back, we took it in turns to lead whenever possible on the long sometime boring (at 65mph it could be) motorway legs
The Sat Nav was in charge for now and we let it take us round. It didn’t actually pick the very outside route but took one closer to the city centre, we switched left and right as the Sat Nav advised, half the lane changing wasn’t necessary as our road went down and under a series of short underpasses. Indicate and make your move, the gap will be there or will be by the time you start your move! Its close work, very close but city drivers don’t regarded as getting “cut up” In fact it’s expected and the only way to drive in a city, there just isn’t the room to be curtious and polite! Don’t wait for a suitable gap it just wont appear and you’ll end up going a different way. Dont worry too much about motorbikes and scooters they will skip from lane to lane and they will squeeze past you with inches to spare. I thought it was great fun! Once out at the southern end we looked for a garage for a mop of the brow, took on more fuel and caught our breath. I got a reminder of the height of the truck as I parked up, in Spain most parking areas at hypermarkets, eating areas etc have cover against the hot sun, usually in the form of thin wriggley tin and is car height…not a Land Rover tricked out for overlanding! I turned sharply parallel and just scraped it a bit with my two empty jerry-cans, peeling back the edge of the roof for a couple of feet to make an amazing rain gutter! OOh Fukc!
Rob myself and Matt in the shade having lunch, it was getting hot now.
It was late afternoon and we got closer to Carolina, we called at the local supermarket in town for some supplies, (water wine beer bread and bit more cheese) I tapped Mr Moulds co-ordinates into the Garmin and set off for the proposed camp just 10 miles away. Im told now that “Wild Camping” is actually frowned upon in Spain! He said we would be fine at this spot, just as long as we kept out of site of the big white house on the opposite hill. So eventually after following the GPS we reached X marks the spot it was out of site of the house in question but we had made a long dusty approach with the three trucks, we had no sooner stopped when the land owner turned up, we asked if we could camp he said no but told us in a fashion where we would find a campsite, Rob had the latest version of Garmin and had a new facility which pinpointed campsites! We set off back north for a short while and came to the campsite, in fact it was affiliated to the Camping and Caravan Club. In my opinion we should have chosen this to begin with it would have been perfect and we would have been here several hours earlier, instead we were setting up camp as the veil of darkness sat on our shoulders yet again. Unperturbed we or should I say I, broke out the beers as Rob and Chris set to with the dinner as Matt and David got the camp furniture built then gave a hand. We had it all boxed away before long and sat looking at the stars with some fine drink and talked until after midnight.
Surprise surprise we came to with a certain fuzziness at just after 6, Rob had settled into a routine of first up every morning and got the “Jet-boil” going to make the first cuppa. This is an excellent piece of kit, it’s so compact and hold enough water for two cups and its boiled within the minute. In fact just the other night I saw one being used by the Royal Marines on TV. If its good enough for the boys its more than good enough for us! The morning was fairly warm and we stood about in shorts and flip-flops, Chris began to stir as we talked and appeared in the daylight scratching his….why do we blokes do that? Fortified with the first warm drink of the day we started to wrap up, young Matt on the other hand stomped off again to the toilet block head down and mildly miffed as he did every morning, he was a terrible “morning” person, I found it very amusing, Previously I though perhaps Dad had thrown some fukcs into him and took not a lot of notice as one doesn’t with family squabbles but this was Matt being his usual truculent self! I have to admit I looked forward to his morning stomp every time. In fact the mornings weren’t complete without it! Above us a group of Cranes sailed effortlessly down to the hazy valley followed by a bunch of fork tailed kite, what a fantastic site enjoyed quietly by myself, I saw young David had noticed too and smiled with me.
We were on our way before 09.30 leaving the sleepy campsite making our way to the auto-route to bash on further south, in fact today should see us on the south coast near the ferry port ready for the hop across the Med. It was another glorious day the morning haze had now burnt away I could see the land to our front tumble downwards and away offering a brown yellow bronze landscape shimmering in the far distance it looked so vast and peaceful, crop after crop of Olive groves began to show themselves reminding me again of why I love coming to Spain. The trip was worth it already just for this moment.
Once the sun burned away the early morning golden haze, Green Olive shrubs could be seen and seemingly went on forever
Between now and the last campsite in Spain we finally met with Steve and Deane, Rob had been in touch with them on the phone and they had been stuck in the very same traffic jams in France but was several hours behind us, but al least we had contact with each other and we all knew where. We had been in touch with Mr Moulds too but he was days in front of us, he wasnt even in the same bloody country. At some point in Spain as I waited in line at a pay-booth on a motorway in Spain I heard from several lanes away loud shouting..”Oi! You F**k**g W**k*er!” (This in England is a wonderful term of endearment between blokes) “Oi you Tw*t.. Foo* off yourself you F** Bast***!!” Oooer! Such language! It was such joy at finally seeing each other. We pulled over for a chat and to arrange the next meet, hopefully on the south coast, after much leg pulling between them and us Steve and Deane set off again, heading to their next hotel (bleeding lightweights)
That late afternoon we met Steve and Deane again at a huge supermarket near Marbella and stocked op on supplies,I made sure I bought enough beer to last two weeks as we wouldn’t be able to get any in Morocco, it was quite a liberal country but still a Moslem one so best to get the beer here. With that done we entered the port town of Algeciras, this lies just to the south-west of the good old English enclave of Gibraltar as a main ferry terminal to the African continent and Morocco, We went into the terminal and parked up by the terminal to purchase tickets, the road in was an amazing maze that went round and round the terminals, finally we arrived at a barrier but nothing was happening, it seems it was broken! Rob suggested I got out and forced the thing open it looked a pretty flimsy thing so should be no problem. I set to work bending it upwards when an official came running up to us shouting and pointing at another barrier, he and another guy moved the build up of vehicles back to let our convoy of rather large English Land Rovers switch lanes and go through the only working barrier available.
We found spaces in spite of wildly waving your African guys trying to help us. Just fook off chaps we have it sorted I thought…and no you can’t have a lift! We stood around looking at the terminal, we agreed outside we wanted to purchase tickets for 5 vehicles and 8 people on the ferry early next morning. With that agreed we strode inside the building to utter chaos. About ten booths were trying to catch our eye with “best price best price” It took me aback, it wasnt at all like P+O at Dover!! Arabs French and Spanish people women in flowing silk garments elbowed with others at various desks, men in sandals and white linen topped with jumpers jackets and hats jostled too at the glass booths as the white shirted salesmen offered all kinds of deals. Standing back to watch it was pretty barmy, there were maybe ten booths and three or four different ferry companies offering all kinds of deals for the same trip! Aswell as here there were booths by the side offering the same thing situated by the side of the road and at fuel stations unto fifty miles away, these too seemed to have plenty of customers. We were doing our best at getting nowhere until Deane stepped forward, a price was obtained then we went to a different booth to get a better deal, however matey boy in the first booth had in fact offered the best deal. Deane drew our batting order in cartoon style to help the guy understand that we wanted 2 trucks with 2 people each and 5 trucks with 1 person. Dean is used to this kind of thing in his job and soon had it in the bag bless him. With that sorted we parted company again as Dean and Steve went to find their hotel and left us to find our campsite just around the headland. we would meet up in the morning right here and Part 2…Into Morocco…would begin. See you shortly folks