Return to Morocco..Part 6..

So here we were settled in our room at the huge dunes at Erg Chebbi near the town of Merzouga, the veranda leads straight out on to the red dunes, the change from 4 days in the Sahara under canvas to a cool room is quite welcome and over the next two nights we rested and shook the sand out of the trucks, especially the air filters! We watched a camel train in the early evening as it slowly padded of into the desert loaded with tourists. Yes it was a nice break before our long haul back up through Morocco and Spain the England and home, home being about another five of six days away!

The dining room was large and informal were looked after by friendly staff who where keen to help both at breakfast and dinner. On the second night they settled on the floor in front of us and played drums and symbols singing or was it chanting? It was different! The other large group were from Germany, here for their desert experience probably from Casablanca or Marrakesh, they didn’t look overly impressed, I wasnt to be honest but I smiled and clapped along.

The Germans had been “had over” by one or our party before they even arrived at the hotel, let me enlarge.. earlier whilst cleaning the truck the CB suddenly came to life with German voices, loud and brash as they always sound! Well this only encouraged “said person” on the CB… so in his best… “Allo Allo” Her Flick impression he started confusing the hell out the approaching Germans! That was just a couple of hours ago and so now they were all sat at their table and had probably sussed out the culprit was one of us! Its amusing don’t you think how we can joke about ze vor but ze Germans can’t…. even if the started it first…


Looking down at our veranda from the roof


0352 The view from the veranda (early evening) looking at Erg Chebbi. Depending on the time of day the sand was a shade of red.. orange.. tan and sometimes brown but never dull!

I was up early next morning with the camera to take advantage of the desert shadows I had seen the steps to the roof, like many of the modern desert building they had a flat roof and the air con units along with the cables and pipes and the majority of junk we normally keep in the garden shed! From the bedroom the roof appeared flimsy with 4 inch diameter rough cut logs acting as roof beams, on these sat thousands of canes /reeds and the lot was plastered in mud, the walls to were large bricks made out of mud and straw, then covered in lots of render, it was all quite tough and sturdy though! (Did you know they use bamboo as scaffold poles in Hong Kong I was gob-smacked too when I saw it but it works just as well) With the image of the bedroom ceiling in my mind I walked about on the roof a bit gingerly and with nothing on my feet. Sometime later Pete said he could hear me padding about on the roof, I guess Ze Germans did too and must have been well fed up of us by now!


                                                      06.00hrs from the hotel roof

0353                                  Looking along the low wall on the roof about 06.30. 


                                            Mid morning shot the sand was still cold

0361                                    Could be from a Pink Floyd album sleeve?

0355To the side of the hotel, I guess these will become roof beams at some point?

0360                                  One of the gentle giants having breakfast

0364   Defender 110 positioned in front of the dunes.. One for the family album

The next morning we put our bags back into the trucks before breakfast, we just had the mediocre bar bill to settle soft drinks. coffee etc before we hit the tarmac in the direction of Rissani, north bound.

The road in was through a magnificent town gate, a bit like the crumbled ruins back home as we have at nearby York, only these were much more eye catching.The town centre was extremely busy as we carefully drove through, many folk just walked along the road forcing traffic more to the middle and closer to the military trucks coming the other way, being careful not to point the camera at the trucks Julie took a few photos but folk were so close that it was just a blur mostly, the traffic eased on the outskirts so Julie tried again this time with better results

0366                                                                      The gate to Rissani

0367                                                          On their way to school

0368                        Exiting Rissani town northwards the road cleared of traffic

We made fast progress north as we stayed on the super smooth tarmac, the next town was Erfoud I think and had a huge bus terminal, naturally unfortunately we got stuck behind a couple of them until Pete pulled off the road to see his old friend and his museum.

Several long uneven lines of human mole hills went from left to right, I’ve never seen anything like it and was puzzled to start with, the parking area had a baby camel tethered to attract tourists ( us?)  and couple of coaches had disgorged people who fluttered round the poor bloody camel having photos taken with it, we hung around for them to see, photograph and be told of the story, they nipped to the loo and piled back aboard their coach…gone! Pete introduced us, he greeted us all warmly and shook our hands, Pete has known this chap for years, we were his first group to come this year hence his emotion at seeing Pete again. He told us of the mole hills. Way back in the 7th century (I think) a large underground river was discovered running from distant mountains to our left going all the way to the distant mountains to our right and eventually to the sea. Water as you can imagine is at a premium so folk were allowed to draw from it from these mole hills which were in fact DIY water well heads they had to spend a certain amount of time down the well to excavate the silt and keep the waters flowing before being allowed to take water. The river has since dried up and a drift mine has been dug that allowed us to walk down the now dry riverbed 30 feet or more below the surface

0376                                                           Lines of human mole hills



                                                        Re-constructed water well head

He had re-constructed it all himself over quite a few years of hard graft, putting together the small low-lying buildings, tow of which held artefacts and “bling” for the tourists to buy. He had worked hard to complete this and their was no admission fee! So we gave several cans of food etc as payment and I bought my own little trinket which now sits on a shelf behind me here in the study. It’s a highly polished stone of black and grey with ancient remains of sea creature. Back down the road in Erfoud we spotted several fossil factories. Morocco is an actual gold mine of fossils and minerals ( pardon the pun) and a geologist dream Im sure. Whilst researching the actual type of fossil I had, having mislaid my notes of it I found several web pages from similar factories who export the fab stones world-wide.



0378    This piece actually stand two feet tall, I bought a much smaller version



  My very own Moroccan fossil.

Having asked the question on FACEBOOK I’ve been informed by Matt Drysdale that my little polished fossil is a Orthocaras, thank you young sir! Other unhelpful offering have been posted by his dad and other goons, however the day is young and I fear it’s not run its course yet, I really should have known better to ask on FB…..



0379                                                       Underground workers!

Before we left he had us join him in his room for tea so with little cup in hand we wandered around the shelves looking at the amazing stones. I told him I too used to work under the ground in England, my Moroccan was non-existent and his English was limited but I think I got it across. He was a very nice chap and was doing well really judging by his huge watch but I guess he deserved all that was coming his way! We had to go our time was limited today, he was actually quite sad to see Pete go!

We turned away from the tarmac and went cross-country, we where heading for a distant sight which Pete found years ago for lunch but first we would visit some really odd desert sculptures built by a German artist, he went by the name of Hans Voth, he’s long gone now but the sculptures are still here, we could just about make out the triangle shape from the human mole hill. But first we were to drive across our last dry river and the last of the Fesh Fesh which we all did with no drama’s, no drama’s at all. We were getting good at this or at very least, confidant at tackling it! Slowly the triangle grew larger as we twisted and turned heading in its direction.


                         The triangle was bordered by a huge circle of small rocks

We stopped at the little rocks, they appeared to mark a boundary so left the trucks on the outside and walked on to the base of the first object,it was actually a staircase how so very odd..and proceeded to walk to the top with some of the others, simply coz we could!


                                    Julie waits at the foot of our stairs!

There was a simple little toilet chain strung across the base of the stairs, but no sign, no notices and nobody around so ducking under we walked to the top and looked around for a few minutes. I could see some kind of fortress about half a mile away with turrets and casement’s, at least that’s what it looked like to me.

We left the puzzle and drove to the big fort again a small perimeter of small boulders circled it, we drover all the way around looking for a break in the boulders but once again it was a complete circle, we stopped and got out staring at the odd-looking fort a man appeared on his motorbike with trinkets to sell like they always seem to do, they must look out for dust clouds from approaching 4×4’s. A guy came walking towards us with a shabby uniform on and some laminated papers, we said hello and Pete took the sheets and found one in..French I think. It said the buildings were out-of-bounds for the moment as renovation work was in progress,  it seems this poor bloke was here all day showing these papers to everyone who came to see. Ok so we can’t get up close so we just stood and stared I was totally perplexed thinking what who and why Pete explained but I just didn’t get it really, Im not interested in the stars now am I really interested in German sculptures


  The “fort” You just about see the poor chap making his way to us,he’s at the base of the right corner piece, how many times did a day he trudge from the “fort” to the edge of the stones I wonder?

So Pete explained what it was all about, it’s not a fort…I’ve also copied a paragraph  from the web for you to read. Ive also included a close up photo from the website too. I was very impressed by the size of it but beyond the reasons  for its build I just couldn’t see.



The web page says……From 1997 to 2003 the German artist Hannsjörg Voth lived in the southern desert of Morocco where he designed, self-funded and built several land-art works. The most prominent is the “City of Orion”, a monumental piece which synthesize the artist’s interest in incorporating the symbolic and the mythical dimension in his production. Specifically, this work establishes a link with the history of human will to build monuments to connect the Sky with the Earth.

Orion is a constellation located in the celestial equator and visible across the world. It is one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky and is made by seven stars. Hannsjörg Voth’s “City of Orion” is composed by seven observation towers of stamped clay representing each one of the Orion stars. Their arrangement in plan follows the celestial location and their height amounts to approximately 15-16 meters while their dimensions in width and depth are derived by the brightness and the extent of the corresponding stars. The towers-observatories are provided with exterior stairs which lead on an alcove inside each one and are connected one with the other by a wall. The precise location of this work (at the coordinates 31 degrees north and 5 degrees west) is chosen on the basis of an astronomical calculation for the orientation of the observation towers. On the 17th of January you can take a tour which lasts one and a half hour, beginning at 9 pm on the tower Saiph which is aligned with the star Procyon and then, moving from one tower to the other in a specific order and timing, you can observe the movements of celestial bodies.


The type of light motorbikes used to track us across the track, note the bag of trinkets, they use Dockers 125cc, made by Dacia.


Right then time to move on it was getting near to lunch time I looked back at the sculpture..not the the mirror, “bloody big sculpture” I thought. We saw the palms of the waddi shortly after and we pulled of the track onto the really rough stuff and began to follow Pete and we picked a route through and round large boulders and dry ruts and even wider gaps then stopped, a herd of goats and a few folk were milling around the waddi, deciding against stopping here after all. Pete swung round to find a flat space far enough away to bother them and hopefully for them not to bother us. Its slow work and involves some cardio-vascular exercise and made the grins wider as we bounced around looking for a picnic spot clear enough of boulders, we eventually made our way right back to the track and pulled over at the side of it and began to brew up.

0370                                                    Julie keeping out of the sun

Sure enough a boy appeared stood looking as we prepared food, he’d come from the oasis and a minute later a little girl joined him, they both looked really really scruffy as if they’d been dragged along the floor for the past hundred miles. I gave him three or four small oranges, he stuffed them inside his shirt then wondered off to another truck where he something else, repeating this a few time him and his little friend soon got food for the day and wondered back towards the oasis. These folk are not without or on their last legs..or on deaths doorstep etc..on their asses maybe but deffo not about to die! WE are on our way north now so can afford to start giving stuff away, a few tins of food for the man at the human mole hill site and fruit for these two kids. You could quite easily run out of stuff within the day. Packed up and rolling again after lunch we saw the same kids just a mile down the track begging for food!! Taking their coats off hadn’t real disguised them from us.

0372                          About to drive through another village

WE passed through a small mountain range now and saw evidence of to use the land with the aid of those small pump stations and miles of blue plastic pipes the green patches of young shoots would soon grow to give food for them and their animals. The village was typical of many though this one didn’t have an army of kids about to give chase, in fact it looked distinctly deserted. now and again a head would pop out as we passed and a decent vehicle would be parked against a wall.


                                                        Quiet village life

We still slowed as we passed through, the track was very wide and not obstructed by a market or people of goats camels or donkeys. There were courtyard/ compounds so probably were all behind the stout walls, some of the residents where out working their green plots.  Once through the small range we returned to the tarmac again and picked up the pace.


                             The roads were re-enforced as they passed over rivers.

Plenty of times we saw little towers of concrete and re-enforced earthworks as the riverbed passed beneath us, we saw in many places groups half a dozen storm pipes inserted beneath the roads the height of which a child could walk through. Looking carefully these places had mountains not to far away and the ground was in fact a wide shallow dry riverbed, sometimes they were over a hundred yards across. I bet its a different picture when the mountains get the rain and it all comes gushing down here. A friend told me in 2008 a group of Europeans with 4×4’s camped near a dry riverbed and during the night the trickling river turned to a torrent from  storms high up in the far off mountains, the folk were killed and their trucks were washed away, Mother Nature at its worse! We had been on our last track of the trip and were now moving quickly on the tarmac, our next stop was Er- Rachidia.

An up and coming modern town with its own airport wide roads and lovely smooth tarmac, they even had truck franchises by the road with huge glass fronted premises. We paused in an empty supermarket car park for more supplies and a break. School-kids walked by as they seemed to do all days so I decided to say hell as ask a question Id had all the while. Unsurprisingly quite a few understood English. One such girl and group spokesperson was Moo Na, I wanted to know about the white jackets many of the schoolgirls girls wore, It wasnt regional its was the length of Morroco.

13061956_10154841170812907_7320681332329066311_n                My new friends from Morocco, note the white school jackets

I think I may have caused a stir because they began to get their i-phones out and wanted to take “selfies” they were very friendly and were getting excited, some of their school friends wandered over but the girls waved the lads away! I didn’t get an in-depth answer to the question, they were laughing and giggling so much oh such a happy bunch! Thats Mou Na on the right with the grey top she spoke quite good English and spoke to me the most. I think the rest understood quite a bit but where a bit shy. They were asking Mou Na what I was saying then laughing. She did ask if I was married, when I told them how many wives I had they all laughed and gasped in surprise at the same time. I think too all our group were a little taken aback by my interaction with this happy bunch but really it was just like back home with the young guys at the horse events, only today there was no horses! Our group have only known each other for two weeks, so aside from knowing what jobs we all do we don’t really know each other and so me spending time lots of time at horse and pony events and running a private FB social group of 860 riders isn’t high up on the list.

It was time to go now and folk were waiting! I said goodbye and we filed out of the car park and went on our way. That was an hilariously funny half hour for them…and me!

This road, the N13 we were on now was an important north south trunk road and was reflected on account of the amount of traffic. We were heading for the evening camp in the Cedar forest and kinda got our heads down and pressed on to get there in daylight stopping once or twice for a brew and a fuel stop.

Pete was slowing down for the turn off the track into a gap in the tree’s, we’d arrived in the region half an hour ago and made our way on a smaller road to the track into the forest, it was I suppose a holiday track, locals spent leisure time up here in the cooler temperatures for picnics and the like especially at the weekends, we drove deeper into the forest so we wouldn’t be disturbed or indeed disturb others. Cap was set and dinner on the go as the last light left us.


                                                A blurry night shot of Julie in the kitchen

We set a fire fairly quickly as the night came cold we were back in the High Atlas but not in the snows, we didn’t stay up too long as it had been a long drive, we had to be away a bit earlier as we had another long day ahead of us driving up to Tangier-Med catching the ferry back across to mainland Europe then driving a while to the next camp around the coastline, back to the kite flying beach camping facility in fact.

I was up at dawn and slipped a fleece on straight away, bloody chilly this morning it was, I took the shovel and went for a wander into the trees…I returned later and got the Jet-boil on, using a brand new gas bottle two mugs of coffee can be done within two minutes, the jet-boil is such a “must have” piece if camping equipment, almost as important as Wet-wipes! The encampment came alive earlier this morning I think we all had the journey covered in our minds and were deffo on the ball this morning even Ian who was nearly always last bless him. Driving slowly back out of the woods around 08.30 we drove down the track to the main road slowing right down to look at a group of monkeys at the junction, these fellows are inhabitants of the forest, they are Barbary Apes but in reality they are actually monkeys, they are used to humans and shimmy down the trees when folk approach knowing they will be fed.  We spotted some the last time, and stopped to look, sure enough around a dozen more came down from the trees to sit and stare back at us! Not today though we had a journey ahead of us and got our heads down to the task in hand.

We passed many roadside vendors trying to make a living from the passing vehicles, the road side was popular with many people especially down south in the countryside, folk would just gather and watch vehicles go by as if having nothing better to do. In one region the road was spotted by dogs, people often threw food out for them as they passed, folk-lore said the dogs where angels who looked over folk so throwing  food for them was a good thing to do, if you don’t then something bad will befall you! The dogs sat and stared at every vehicle that passed.

We passed many farm folk selling fruit and veg, hard to believe a days drive south and folk didn’t seem to have two pennies to rub together! One region sold bags of charcoal from the roadside, this spot is known forever as “Penguin Alley”


                                                             Penguin Alley!


                           Roadside vendors (farmers)…Water Melons for sale

We made very good progress up the coastal motorway, we had one last stop before the port and Jims Disco had yet another puncture! we parked in a different spot from the group and only learned of this as we were about to set off again, whats that 3 out of four tyres punctured? A lesson there to be learnt by you guys out there thinking about a road trip to Morocco…Spend decent money on good tyres. We arrived at the port in good time and managed to get all the document checked quickly the blokes trying to “assist” are unofficial and try to offer their help in doing the obvious, they don’t actually do anything this one chap was pestering us and got royally fukced off by us but with a smile of course. We were scanned by a huge mobile scanner that swept over half a dozen vehicle in one go, looking for..well you make your own mind up about that! guided by the police and customs guys to the right place is always helpful in dock areas, and we were shown where to go, with a smile and a salute of course! The old ferry was loading containers and we had a wait of about forty-five minutes before being waved forwards, I took one quick shot of the scene, not advised to walk about with camera in the port area but I just wanted the one. Security was still in evidence with sniffer dogs, BIG sniffer dogs and uniforms with guns, maybe a bit tatty looking but able to do the job Im sure. we left the trucks in gear in a line down one side of the ferry innards and went topside to have a last look. It was an hour or more back to Europe.


                                            A shot of the trucks waiting in line, 



Pete reflecting on a job well done…or… how the fook did I get away with that?

Joking aside Pete had done a fab job of escorting us around, so good in fact that I didn’t feel Id been escorted, he was supported by wifey Jo and hampered by Carrick his back door man! Joking again he’s actually very very knowledgeable about off-roading and Land Rovers,Carrick is a useful old fart a bit like an old hammer..always useful to have in your box even if never used. OK enough of plugging Atlas Overland Tours, look for yourselves!     

I spent most of the crossing on the rails looking at the sea and the many ships passing from left to right the entrance to the med was right here and quite narrow the ships were coming or going to Gibraltar.. Spain.. Italy.. Greece.. France.. Turkey.. Albania.. Libya..Algeria.. Tunisia.. Egypt.. Israel.. Syria.. Bulgaria.. Hungary.. who all had ports on the shores of the med. So a busy crossing indeed! It was a fine sunny day again as it had been for just about every day in Morocco. the wind was minimal just a breeze blowing across the deck the sea was flat calm, inside sat some of the guys having visited the tiny duty-free shop, it had very little however I spotted a large bottle of Jeagermeister for £9, what is it back home£24? Julie sat guarding the bottle as I looked out to sea,  a lot of the passengers were flat-out on the benches and curled in floor corners asleep, hardly any were up and about unlike the Northern European ferries that are always buzzing with excited people.

0403                                      Med ferry similar to ours and about to pass us

Our boat was like a ghost ship in comparison to our  usual P&O, Stenna or Brittany ferries, someone googled it out of curiosity and found it to be an ex Sea-Link boat from the 1970’s I think!



                                                             Ian chillin by the rails

I often find the return ferry journeys a sad place to be because they mark the end of a great adventure, I lean on the rails and reflect on the great time we have just had, you’d think Id have gotten used to it now, after all I’ve been making such journeys for the past 30+ years!



             Gibraltar…a great bastion of British history and stubbornness!


                                              A Maersk Terminal at ALGECIRAS

We steer to the left of Gibraltar to dock in the Spanish port of Algeciras, the crossing took about and hour and half. Driving off the dock at the end of the day we pulled into a couple of lines to go through the security and customs checks, once again sniffer dogs padded up and down the rows of vehicles and guys in dark blue combats looked on un-smiling, that was until the guy in the little car was asked to open the back a box of glass and liquids fell smashing into the ground and emptied out onto the tarmac, I saw faint grins from the chaps in blue as the scruffy little man tried to catch his possessions and shove them back in as they started to slide out. The little white twingo had a hundred people stuffed in the front and a shipping container of bedding bulging plastic bags by the dozen and hundreds of loose items stuffed into the back, it was so grossly overloaded the rear wheels were practically on the arches the front tyres where driving on air. So many vehicles came off the ferry like this. We were sat here for ages as the chaps scrutinized the Moroccan vehicles quite closely. Finally we were next, the chaps looked at us and nodded us forward waving us through I nodded thanks and pulled forward, we gathered a hundred yards further along  to spill out as one into the home time traffic. We were heading around the headland to the camp site with the kites but first we had to elbow our way over roundabouts, the locals didn’t have an ounce or courtesy in their bones tonight so, making a gap in the mad traffic was the only way to go and I have to admit…a lot of fun, lots of honking tooting and arm waving went off behind me and a fair bit of fist waving too. I couldn’t help but laugh and wave back. I like duelling in heavy traffic with the truck, Id done it for years nipping through a gap here and there and riding defensively on motorbikes I learnt this way riding in London for 15 yrs, it really was exciting and now it was MY turn! Move over you fukkers Im coming through!

We were soon at the camp-site as it was only just around the headland, tent erected we followed everyone to the restaurant over the road, apparently they did you great steaks so off we all toddled. it was true, they did do great food and would recommend it, busy fun and loud,with motorbike racing on the TV’s, no candles or anything soft like that.


                                                           Waiting for the food


Waiting for him to get off t’internet!

In the morning we packed the tent and equipment and had a light breakfast before setting off on our own travelling up North for two days through Spain again and meeting up with the team again at the next ferry. Waving goodbye for now we left first and turned off the main route to Cadiz just a few miles down the road and drove up into the mountains taking a small road for a while.


                                                         Spanish fields in early April

Some folk think the long two /three day drive through Spain to be boring and yes it can be if your just mile crunching on the motorways. Personally I love going through Spain, it’s just so expansive colourful and empty especially the further inland you go with mile after mile of wonderful scenery. I’ve done it many years on the motorbikes and now hopefully I’ll be doing it for quite a few more years in a Defender. We drove all day mostly on simple little country roads and for the last couple of hours we dropped back onto the motorway for the last leg to Salamanca and the same camp-site and once again it was bloody cold when the sun dropped, early night then! Up early the next morning and it was still bloody cold so we got washed and packed everything away strapping the tent on the roof for the last time, we had agreed to treat ourselves to a hotel near the northern coast for our last night. The previous evening we had been in touch with some of the others via text as to the progress north and everyone seemed happy and on course.



                                       Mid morning stop, fuel and a magnum!

It was a bit overcast as we drove through quiet Salamanca,  it was only about 08.30 they day had hardly began, very soon the cloud disintegrated and it began to get warm again, We were using the map again, the Sat-Nav is a useful tool as it tells you exactly where you are and will take you to wherever you tell it to but it doesn’t show the bigger picture like a map does, I love maps they are so much more interesting and Julie can get much more involved instead of looking at a little 3×4 inch screen with a little blue triangle in the middle progressing in a highlighted blue line and listening to that electric woman!

So then here we were heading into the Picos Mountains leaving Palencia behind us, we fancied staying in the mountains it is after all our favourite landscape. We used the Sat-Nav to highlight hotels up ahead and then we hit the snow!


                                                Hailstones on the windscreen



                     Just around the next corner…on the road and NOT in a field

Julie took a photo of the snow and hailstones gathering by the rubbish Defender wipers, we were on familiar little roads now, we had come this was two or three years ago on the bike en-route to a fab hotel in the heart of the Picos de Europe. E had decided to push on to the beautiful town Potes sat in a valley between the highest mountains in the region. The snow turned to hail then sleet and lasted for about an hour, progress is slow on these small mountain roads we probably managed an average of about 30 mph for the next hour or so, in fact all the way to Potes.

The hotel was very accommodating, the owner let us park right outside the front door just in front of his Disco 4. Whilst chatting at reception I saw some old black and white photos of old series Land Rovers in competition, commenting on it he told me he used to compete and was Spanish champion for to years, there was a photo of him meeting the King on the wall behind him, I was looking forward to a chat with him later on but for now we wanted to take a shower and relax a while before dinner. It was raining outside and a bit on the cold side so we waited a couple of hours before venturing out for dinner. The town is old rugged and so full of character just wandering up and down the stony streets and peering at the far off mountain tops between the buildings soon passed the time to dinner.


                        I turned this atmospheric shot of the peaks into B&W



                                                    Note the snow peaks up the valley, 

0422                                   Using the clever”translator app” on my I-Phone

Id seen some of the guys using their I-Phone to translate stuff and found it was an app so this evening I uploaded it to my phone and had a go on a board with the menu on, you just point the camera bit at the words and it translates, “hey what a brilliant gizmo” I said Julie says “Erm actually its all in English on the other side of the board”



Sneaky preview of the mountain tops

We had a nice meal and a steady wander back up town to the hotel popping in most of the tat shops on the way,  in the summer the town is full of tourist hence the tat shops, the town is on a major route through the mountains to the coast so captures a lot of passing trade. Many coaches take folk from the coast to the base of the above mountains you can see above. We stayed at a hotel at the very end of this road and right next to the huge cable car that took folk right to the top of the mountain, its such a fantastic place but as with mountains it’s at the mercy of the quickly changing weather conditions. Fab place and a place we shall return to one day.

The next morning at breakfast we found the owner had to take his wife to the airport so I never had that chat about what he used to do so it will have to wait til next time I’m afraid. Ok so now we had most of the day to explore the small roads from here to the dock at Santander just over 60 miles away. I knew which exciting little road to use. it followed the little river twisting and turning as river roads do.


       Early morning on the mountain pass before the rush of tourist coaches


                     The views at the top of this range looking south


                                     The narrowest bridge of the trip so far.

At some point I decided to turn off the pass and picked a tiny road that rose higher and higher until it topped off to a picture perfect scene ahead of us. I wanted to go further and further but Julie said we ought to push on in the direction of Santander and the port, she was right of course, so we shall just have to come back here another day.

Julie navigated our route back north which took us over the narrowest of bridges, we had just gone over when the farmer came the other way leading a pregnant mare. It is just so beautiful around here and deffo a place to re-visit. We crossed the main highway and drove to the coast line, We drove all the way to the port on the coast road and probably just a few miles abreast of the busy motorway.

0433                                   The Picos Mountains from the coast road

Every time we paused to take in the fantastic rugged northern coastline my eyes were drawn to the now distant Picos Mountains. Its not often I’ve taken a photo with a sunny blue sky sea sand green grass and snow topped mountains all in the same shot.  Wow was uttered a few time!

We drove into the port after a few failed attempts due to some new building work and a brand new underpass that had the sat- Nav totally flummoxed, we could see the ferry and the terminal but the one way system was in the way! We turned the Sat- Nav off and followed our nose and the infrequent signs, we spotted the beloved red 110 and spoke briefly on the phone before loosing them again. Driving slowly in search mode is the best way to go, it makes drivers behind wary and allows for easier turns and lane changes with upsetting the guys behind too much which is just as well because the gateway into the port isn’t easy to spot and is probably the reason for the building of that underpass which hopefully will lead where Sat Nav kept trying to take us! Checking in was simple and quick we were about 2 hrs ahead of the sailing so had plenty of time, fairly quickly all the others turned up the red 110 pulled up having stopped i town for a last fuel fill and a cash-point, Jim was already here with his Disco but in a different lane. he had dropped his wife off at Gibraltar as she was flying back to England. The troopi came next, Ian had also dropped his wife off at the airport, he found refuge last night under a bridge out of sight and bedded down in the truck for the night, he was OK he wasn’t really wild camping which is not allowed here in Spain.

The custom guys were waiting to greet us with sniffer dogs, he asked me if Id been to Morocco and asked me to open the back of the truck, rather than poke about he just looked, the dog was interested in my foot well. But came away empty pawed. Having worked with drug dogs in the past its very black and white what the do however there can be anomalies that fukc things up sometimes and have to be interpreted by the experienced handlers, he was happy for Julie to sit still in the truck as fido sniffed around. Everyone of us had a visit from the sniffer dog and the guys.  The sun was getting hotter and hotter as we sat and waited on the concrete for ages and ages.

It was late when they finally called us forward to get aboard the ferry. The pilot turned the ferry around in the narrow estuary and before we even cleared the beach he was putting his boot down we were at the bar (naturally) and the girl said the captain wasn’t their usual captain and he doesn’t usually drive like this! We were going really fast,  we were surging on and as you know its can get quite choppy in the Bay of Biscay we hit swells rising and falling quite a height, not frightening but quite noticeable as there wasn’t any white horse indicating a rough sea, I think it was just our fast speed. Perhaps he was later than we thought and time is money to transport companies eh?

The nights sleep was OK in spite of the up and down motion, by the time we got up for breakfast the speed was slower and seemingly a lot calmer, perhaps during the night he had made up for the lost time in port. We had a last meal with everyone and began to think about home and driving on the other side of the road. Docking in Portsmouth was in the late afternoon, so we joined the “going home from work” traffic leaving the city onto the motorways we followed the other Defender a few miles up the road and a few miles short of the M1 we pulled over for fuel and a leg stretch and caught a glimpse of Pete and Jo as they tooted us.

We landed home before dark which was the plan for everyday on this great adventure, I unloaded the gear from the roof in order to back the truck into the garage for the nigh. Turing the engine off she shuddered into silence the red sand settling in every corner of the truck the fridge hummed quietly and the tic tic of the cooling engine began. Not a beat did the truck miss, no oil leaks or spills, all four tyres did what was expected, again we took too much stuff, mostly “just in case stuff” that if not taken along would have been needed as sod law dictates. I had no complaints at all and neither did the truck! That bloody ECU chose to go U/S less than a week before the trip and swallowed a cool £700.00p just like that Oh well better to fail here and not the piggin desert. Many many thanks to RD Landrover again! We used an extra air filter, had a couple of bushes replaced and had to tighten the roof rack bolts a few times (as the weeks went by I found we had lost half a couple of bolts) I locked the garage and went indoors happy for a cuppa with Julie and said hello to the cat! Thoughts of Iceland in July are in the back of my mind…might need more woollies on that trip….