After we had finally sorted out the purchase of tickets for the short passage from Algeciras to the African continent less than 15 miles away across the Mediterranean Sea we made our way to the nearest campsite, leaving Steve and Deane to make their way to their hotel to meet again in the morning here at the dock. WE drove around the headland south and took in the view of Africa from our trucks, it was really close, I for one was really happy that we were nearly there after a journey so far of nearly 1500 miles through the length of France and Spain.
The campsite we used was very modern and upmarket having lots of facilities. the beach was just a five-minute walk and popular with kite flyers! Matt, Dave and Chris went for a swim as Rob and I settled for a round or two of drinks and some “chill out ” time.
Go fly a kite!
The rest of the evening was spent on eating and the consumption of beer and whiskey, I don’t like whiskey very much and kept saying it in spite of downing several tumblers of the damn stuff, making myself out to be a damn liar in the process! I did manage to make my way down to the beach as sunset approached with camera and tripod to take some photos. It looked fantastic and was glad I made the effort before succumbing to more tumblers of that awful whisky stuff!
Twilight on the Spanish south coast,photo taken about 22.30 hrs
06.00hrs and we wobbled into life Rob set about the Jet-boil and some hot drinks, Chris and Dave began to drop their tent. Young Mathew stomped off to the shower block right on time and I smiled again. To be fair he usually came round within the hour. I cooked a bit of breakfast this morning in an effort to come round quickly and sober up faster. Two hours later we were ready to move…sort off. Rob suggested I took the lead as his headlights hadn’t been altered to the European way yet, that’s to say his headlight would point into the oncoming traffic and not the other way. “OK no problem”I said…(Oh fukc me I thought Im no Dr but I don’t think Im quite up to driving) The road was modern twisty and fast and quite wide, it was about a twenty-minute drive to the port. It was about 06.30 hrs as I led the group out of the campsite still in darkness, we met the main road a bit quicker than I thought, scaring the hell out the only other car on the road as I adjusted myself to European driving if you get my drift, the passenger was leaning out of the car window shouting and waving his fist at me! “Right then I’ve got it now” I thought. We couldn’t have gone fast if we’d wanted to in our trucks and slowly wound our way round the mountains to the port as orange tinted daylight broke through the veil of darkness. We didn’t see or scare any more motorists as we dropped down from the mountain and saw the port ahead we took the turn towards it, stopping at the first sentry box. I hope the official wasnt going to come up to the window for a chat! Thankfully he just stuck a coloured bit of card on the screen after Id indicated through the wound up window were we were bound for, Rob nipped in front now and led us to our terminal. We stopped the trucks and climbed out and had the second breakfast of several hot coffee’s with bread with cheese and jam.
Steve and Deane finally joined us after a confused start at their hotel, Steve was sat waiting for Deane in the car park, as Deane paced the floor in the foyer on the hotel wondering “How long does it take to pack a fookin bag for gods sake”! Even the most seasoned travelling duo come unstuck sometimes.
The loading was simple when it eventually started, there was some sort of emergency up ahead as flashing blue lights of a police car and an ambulance pushed their way to the front, an hour later we finally got on board, lines were slipped and we pulled away from the concrete jetty leaving the busy harbour and began to increase revolutions the bow wave made a nice tick on the flat calm sea, once again we were blessed with calm crossing. Britains Gibraltar was off to our port bow and stood guarding the gateway to the Med, it was shrouded in early morning mist.
Gibraltar fades away in the morning haze
The scene was literally a hazy pale blue on the water followed by a hazy brown band representing the disappearing Spanish coastline then a hazy blue band representing the sky, it wasnt that good a scene to photograph to be honest. We stood on the prom deck at the stern and watched it get smaller and smaller, standing around we spent a little time chatting and waiting to reach the other side.
Buddies Steve myself and Deane
The crossing was less than 15 miles I think. There were plenty of people on the ferry even at this early hour, we had time for another coffee at the slow bar the small cup of thick strong coffee was just the ticket and washed away the remains of last nights whiskey, thanks a lot Mr Freeman!
The port of Ceuta is fairly small and modern looking , the unloading took just a few minutes and although now on African soil we were still in Spanish territory so didn’t have any border controls to go through as yet. Ceuta, is approx 7 square miles in size and along with the Spanish exclave Melilla is one of two permanently inhabited Spanish territories in mainland Africa. Its less than 20 miles from mainland Europe by ferry. Ceuta was a free port before Spain joined the EU in 2011 and has a population of 82,376. The majority of the city’s population are ethnic Spanish who are opposed to the idea of being ruled by Morocco. It sound a bit like the Gibraltar “problem” doesn’t it? Over the centuries many people have had a bash at owning this important piece of real estate. Starting with The Carthaginians who came in the 5th century…followed by the good old boys from Rome in AD42, The Vandals and the Visigoths came just 400 yrs later, then the Arab Berbers landed in 710. It all went to pot for a while and the place reverted to Moorish-Andalusian rule. The Portuguese came next in 1415, then after the Peninsular wars between Portugal and Spain (made famous by Major Sharps shagging exploits in Bernard Cornwall’s period novels) Ceuta went into the hands of Spain in 1668 and has stayed in Spanish hands ever since. This exclave was in the spotlight in 2005, together with Mellilla because hundreds of people were trying to climb over the border fence. Ceuta, being part of Spain and therefore a safe haven for Africans, made a prime target for migrants. Today the border is heavily protected by the Guardia Civil. The European Union has invested a lot of money to make illegal immigration more difficult.
We approached the border warned by previous travellers of how it is and had taken recent advice about what paperwork is required. At the border the road splits into a dozen lanes leading up to a succession of booths manned by the blue uniformed border staff. The whole vehicle area is caged. and dotted with police. Pedestrians passed through a separate caged area this was crawling with a sea of people, I watched the uniforms as I sat in my truck I could see people crawling under linked fencing, women too were on the floor on their backs “shimmiing”like school kids under the fence, I saw one arab grabbed by two officers and thrown up against the fence and searched. Several civilians came down the lines of vehicles with white cards, similar to the card passengers have to fill in when arriving at airports. These chaps insisted in helping and showed us what we should write. The cards were in several languages. We could have managed Im sure but I suppose it would have taken us a lot longer if it wasnt for these blokes. So for the border staff they were doing a favour? The one that chose us had an official looking tag around his necks, he waved it at us and said to me he didn’t want paying. He reminded me of Tommy Cooper and no he didn’t have a fez on his head! Nor did he say spoon jar jar spoon! He was tall swarthy and I found him slightly comical in his demeanour, he spoke stilted English which was interspersed with the constant phrase”Lovely Jubbly” Which was more than my non existant shish Kebab Moroccan. I felt he was trying to hurry us up, I thought it was pointless as it wasnt down to him! One by one we passed through the several booths handing over passports and vehicle information several times. These were closely looked at and all the details entered on the computer. I always find border crossings and airports a bit uncomfortable because I know I am being checked and looked at to see if I am who I say I am. I’ve spent years doing a similar thing, checking peoples documentation, asking questions being suspicious and on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary..searching people..refusing entrance to some and arresting the odd few. Even occasionally having to use physical force. So as you can imagine being at the opposite end of the process I do tend to feel a tad uncomfortable! I want to say “Im not a drug runner or a terrorist or anything remotely similar so don’t look at me like that! I used to do similar work for Her Majesty in England. Extra forms were stamped for the vehicle and given to us, these had to be produced on our return journey and are almost as important as the passport. Sitting waiting for the next check several policemen came to me in my truck glancing inside they asked if I had a map, they gathered around as the sergeant unfolded it, they held it open and studied the bottom right section in particular this was the border region with Algeria. The officers were curtious and about as friendly as one could expect in the circumstances,I was curious as to why they were studying it so much, “Where are you staying? Where are you going?” Tommy Cooper told me earlier just to say Marrakesh..I didn’t. Now in the greater scheme of things these guys must have inspected dozens and dozens of 4×4 trucks coming in from mainland Europe every year, some as individuals and many more as part of tour groups, all have been going to the same areas right? So no I wasnt just going to say Marakesh. I told him roughly where I was going. I saw Tommy flitting around in the background but he didn’t become involved. Satisfied they waved me through to the last booth with yet another uniform. Finally I was cleared, I think altogether from start to finish it took about an hour. Tommy appeared as I started to drive through.He tried to hurry me through, making a show of being in charge “Come come you must move quickly” he was saying. Tommy was getting on my nerves now. Most of the group had gone through the last barrier and had pulled over, I think two were still to come. I wanted to pull over here and get my vehicle insurance and breakdown sorted and of course exchange my Euros for some local currency. Tommy was badgering me to “hurry hurry you must go now” telling him to wait and ignoring him as best I could because I wanted to do business with the insurance guys but no,Tommy was still on my shoulder. I snapped at him ” OI! Will you just fukc off while I sort this out”! The package available was a month insurance package including a basic recovery for around £70 which is what Id been briefed by Peter back home. I walked to the beu de change next door to change the Euro’s, Tommy appeared again and said to me in a low voice, “You give me 20 Euro’s” What followed was a short sharp disagreement. I wanted to give him 5 Euros as advised but unfortunately the smallest I had was a 10 Euro note. What I really wanted to give this shyster was a swift kick up his ass. Two guards watched as I paid him off and told him to get lost properly and loudly. I went back to the woman in the office and did my transaction swapping several hundreds of Euro’s for Morocco money, it can only be obtained here and not in one’s own country, nor could you take any home either because you can’t get it changed back. Tommy and his pals or should I say “fixers” I think on reflection are a necessary evil as they make sure everyone fills in the right bits on the white card to get through the border checks as quickly as possible. However, being taken for a ride or being harassed are not favorite pastimes of mine!
We were now in Morocco, the sun was shining it was a beautiful day, we just had one more vehicle to link up with at some point tonight then finally we would be a complete group. I switched off the Garmin Sat- Nav, I had European mapping only but I could purchase the Morocco map at over a £100 I was told. I switched it off and got the paper map out and reminded myself which trucks had the mapping from now on until we got back to Europe in 2 weeks time. We drove the short distance along the very smart seafront town that was Tetouan and stopped again this time allowing the rest of the guys to get their holiday money via a bank card from the bank. I stayed with the vehicles I was stood by the truck talking to Matt when a young guy stopped to talk, I thought he was asking the time and showed him my watch but he wasnt interested in that and just kept talking, I stopped him with animated gestures and shrugs that meant sorry pal I don’t know what you’re talking about, he stood in front of me and carried on talking, it sounded like he was asking me something. My patience was wearing thin, laughingly I told him to fukc off and bother somebody else and carried on speaking to Matt but keeping one eye on what he was doing by the trucks. Eventually the annoying youth wandered off.
Steve and Deane record the moment
My truck wouldnt look this clean again for a month
A few minutes later the others came along from their bank trip with the annoying youth tagging along behind them, he turned and crossed the road I saw a pair of patrolling officers wandering along the street, perhaps this had made him go away however he was giving the letter O to us with his thumb and index finger which I presume meant something offensive, naturally I returned the gesture then climbed aboard and started up. He appeared at the window again! Now I just completely blanked him and drove off with the others.
We drove along the front Rob took us through the city which turned out to be extremely busy with traffic, this didn’t put off the road cleaners though, they busied themselves on the roads and the rain gutters at one point on the dual carriageway I saw a guy with his brush on and off the centre reservation he had his wheel barrow with him, this was plonked in the fast lane! Madness in the name of cleanliness, I think now was a case of eyes front every second in the city. We were five vehicles heading south towards Chefchaouen and just the lead truck had the directions though here in the centre it was eyes open for signs and not looking at the iPad. The rest of us did our utmost to keep him in sight. I admit as Tail end Charlie (Just Rob and I had working CB’s for the moment) I took a few liberties with the traffic it was great fun though probably a little upsetting for the guys with the big flash expensive cars, today was their turn to give way! Rob got miss directed by a local and we found ourselves heading north again. Rob drove around some back streets trying to point our noses south again Matt all the while tried to help on the CB with directions which is difficult in such manic conditions, I was behind Steve at one point and we went round a roundabout twice until he caught site of the black lead Landi we turned to follow I had a big shiny black Merc cut a lazy turn across me and had to cut him up on the roundabout I stuck my arm out and smiled, he didn’t! A big filthy service bus full of people was the next combatant! Another large busy roundabout loomed as the bus was coming up on my inside. we drove towards the roundabout neck and neck, I was looking up for a change then he stopped to pick more folk up. I head Matt on the CB saying next right, then the car in front stopped and that bloody caught up and ove….sorry undertook me. Thrust.. parry.. cut up brake.. switch lanes gun it There was no time for niceties as I did my best to keep up with the pack. Im sure the bus driver took it all in his stride, we were back to city driving again.
Me as tail end charlie biding our time behind the heavies on the up-hill drags
The traffic eased now as we broke clear and I could see everybody in the long group of vehicles behind an overloaded truck that was belching out more smoke that a pre war dreadnought battleship! The CB range wasnt very good in these built up areas, we had a hundred or so yards range, it would have been easier to shout as if I wasnt shouting enough. Cor blimey what a start! It was hot and the sweat began to pour, looking at the watch is was nearly noon, I guess we would be pulling over soon meanwhile we were all together but doing at most 30 mph behind these old trucks who slowed down to a crawl on the steep bits and some cars began to take risks with some blind overtaking.
A lot of the “on the road” photos were taken directly through the windscreen with my litle Canon camera. Sitting behind Steve’s Land Rover Discovery
These cars were little white vans with lacy back windows? A bit posh I thought, actually they where local taxi’s and in fact these taxi’s were doing what most taxis did the world over! Rob pulled off the road on an uphill section it was large enough for all 5 of us to pull over safely. I think we all pulled in some fresh air and had some comments to make. Kettles were filled bladders were emptied and we giggled at what had just happened back there! The sun was really hot now, boots came off and sandals came on.
Here in the north of Morroco the road were generally good, better and wider than many English roads. The red flags are the Morroco national flag, they have recently celebrated 25 yrs of the present king I think. We saw the flags in practically every town throughout our visit.
It was time to move on we had quite a way to go yet and these roads were by no means fast that was becoming apparent. Further south we drove towards Fez, before it though we turned west, we were heading to an RV with Dave Moulds finally, we would see him for the first time on this trip. We were making our way to place called Volubillis, its origins was from the Roman times, the ruins confirmed that. It was late afternoon when we came to it spotting the white Land Rover 110, an old chap came towards us and pointed us to parking spots, don’t really know why he was bothering there seemed to be plenty of room, he pointed that I should park just off the road on the grass verge, there was plenty of room so I did. We met Dave Helen and her lad at the cafe and sat with them drinking bottles of coke, not my drink of choice but it was either a fizzy drink or water, it being a Moslem country means no beer on sale. Morocco is really moderate compared to other Moslem countries but alcohol was never seen to be on sale, Coke it was to be then. After a short break we decided to move to the campsite for the evening, we walked to our trucks when the old guy came to greet us wanting money for parking, everyone gave him a wide berth, he followed me with his hand out but I pointed out I wasnt parked in the car park I was on the road side I waved him away, he turned to pursue the others who were in the car park but they jumped in their trucks and drove off, the old guy wasnt very happy with being fobbed off. He tried me again but I told him no I had met three locals today all who got the wrong side of me by asking for money for nothing and all three wouldn’t accept a simple answer, I was pretty pissed off and hoped this was just bad luck on my part and that it was not going to be the norm!
Yes very good roads, but practically no pavements so everything and everybody used the road, Perhaps this is why they were quite wide?
The campsite was a short drive away, it had a mud wall all the way around it, the centre of it one found the very run down main building, the chap in charge was fine and told us the price but said leave it for the morning. We were stocked up with supplies so were OK to be left to our own devises, we just wanted somewhere to camp for the night, this suited us. I set up with Deane and Steve by the wall and broke out the beer leaving the families to do what families do. tomorrow we would visit Fez.