Sunday, October 19, 2008

Migration south

Well, we're off again!

South to Andalusia and the Algarve in November in the caravan after Barbara and Victoria get back from Sicily, then Barbara flies back from Malaga for a whole day in England before going to Warsaw with Ewa for a week or so while I return to St Gilles with the caravan and chill out for a week (not literally I hope*).

* because we've got a new heating system!!! Hopefully more efficient and infinitely safer and less frightening than the 1950s vintage boiler which it replaced.

About a month, we hope.

I'm hoping that my ICC can be done in time to take the Honda Airdeck inflatable for a bit of river and lake exploration in Spain and Portugal, but I'm not optimistic. The insurance is OK though - SAGA £35.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Marrakesh to Essaouira

Tuesday 26th
Spent the day driving slowly from Boumane Dades to Marrakesh, stopping in an internet cafe in Ouarzazate to try to get a hotel room in Marrakesh. Sandstorm on the way, before we entered the mountains, made the mistake of opening the car window and got the side of my head sandblasted!

Wednesday 27th
Marrakesh: went into town centre in petit taxis, 50dh, about 5 euros each way. Took a trip round the town on an open topped bus, 130dh per person for a 24-hour ticket.
The whole place was packed with tourists and importunate sellers of this and that. Only Lewis's "Lah, shukran" in arabic or my "wewe wanasema kiswahili, hapana kiingereza" seemed to work. Drank a lot of coffee and orange pressee, a few orange and chocolate shakes; Barbara risked a salad in the evening.

Thursday 28th
Barbara's salad bit back, she's been ill all night and looks very ill today. Lew and Yuen left uneventfully at about 9 and we drove to Essaouira to a seafront hotel, a bit dear at 300 dh per night but we can't traipse around with Barbara so poorly.

I'll add pictures when I can get to a decent computer and some bandwidth, probably in about 3 days!

On the piste.

Friday 22nd
Left Marrakesh south to Foum Zguid and stayed in a small hotel with a secure garage that the Paris-Dakar uses, run by three pleasant and helpful young men. Met a goup of 3 Danes and a Norwegian two-up on rented Honda Transalps aiming to go on the same 143 kilometre desert piste as us. Got no local cash left, very poor planning!

Saturday 23rd
Set off on the piste from Foum Zguid to M'Hamid. Lewis had put the waypoints into the gps. What a fantastic day, rocky piste, smooth hard desert lakebed, frightening short steep sand dunes at the end of the trip, nearly a hundred miles off the road!
Felt like that any second I might have to spend a few hours digging. The scenery southeast towards the (very near!) Algerian border was very impressive. Barbara found some belemnites practically eroded from the rock.
We had to stop at one point at an old square French colonial fort, manned by a single Moroccan soldier who had been in the peacekeeping force with the British army in Bosnia, while he entered all our details in a large handwritten ledger. Arrived very late afternoon at M'Hamid, much busier than 3 years ago, and drove north to Tamegroute where we spent the night in a crumbling riad. Had to nip up the road to Zagora to the hole in the wall in the evening.

Sunday 24th
Visited the oldest Koranic library in Morocco, 11th century manuscripts on gazelle skin and many early arabic books, then toured the 4-part kasbah with a young Berber trainee imam. Different communities, arab, Berber, jew and "black african" (the descendants of slaves from Mali and Mauretania) in the kasbah are separated by gates which are closed at night. Then north to the foot of the Todhra gorge, staying in Tineghir.

Monday 25th
Went up the Todra gorge along a frighteningly oued-damaged road to Ait Hain, a village on the high plain, where we spoke to the little boy who tried to beg biscuits off us three years ago! He was vey helpful and told us that the piste around to the Dades gorge was impassable because of thick snow, so we turned northeast through some very impressive valleys to be met by increasingly deep oued (wadi) crossings, needing the 4 wheel drive and low ratio in case there were deep holes hidden by the fast-flowing muddy water. Got back on the main road(!) and
stopped for the night at Al Manader hotel in Boumaine Dades, very cold night.

Azrou to Marrakesh

Tuesday 19th
Left en route for Azrou. Stayed in small hotel at the top of the town.

Wednesday 20th
Very eventful day! Bought a carpet in the souk for only a bit over half the asking price, bought a lovely carved bowl in the craft centre, talked at length to a very pleasant young Berber woman, the daughter of the man who made the bowl, in a mixture of english and french, both mine better than hers, her arabic and berber much better than mine! Watched some women weaving a carpet just like the one we bought an hour earlier, very fast and skilful. Left Azrou about 11 and went up into the Middle Atlas and saw several Berber villages. Stopped at the top in thick cedar forest and were surrounded by a group of Macaque monkeys being very importunate and begging for food. One even tried to get in the car window but didn't have the nerve to hang on at over about 20mph. Odd landscape with alpine meadows and eroded rocky outcrops, some lying snow in the shaded bits.

Thursday 21st
Arrived in Marrakesh in the afternoon and found Dar Zarraba guesthouse, disappointing because it was not as advertised, it was like a film set, looked nice but everything was not working "at the moment"! Picked Lewis and Yuen up from the airport. Lewis's room had a giant cockroach living in the bathroom, didn't
appreciate being disturbed. At 55 euros Dar Zarraba is a ripoff.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Palomares to Tarifa via Malaga, not a very pleasant trip. Stopped in Camping Tarifa about

5km from Tarifa towards Cadiz, 20 euros per night and 60 euros to store the caravan for 14

Poured with rain, 100km/hour winds, all ferries off, everything in Tarifa closed!
Uneventful but fairly rough ferry trip to Ceuta, border transit much smoother and quicker

than previously through Tangier, only about an hour, scams not so evident and easier to

bypass. The policemen, mostly young, were very helpful and the immigration officials were

quite pleasant.
Arrived at Rif For Anyone B&B ( Chefchouen with Scottish owners

Suzanne and Terry and their son Liam, very welcoming and informative, lovely renovated old

house with views over the town and the valley: 35 euros
Late start then a drive through the Cabrera hills on very narrow winding and at times very steep mountain roads to 825 metres, superb views over the arid delta of Garrucha, lots of holiday homes, mostly British owned.
Palomares to Tarifa via Malaga, not a very pleasant trip. Stopped in Camping Tarifa about 5km from Tarifa towards Cadiz, 20 euros per night and 60 euros to store the caravan for 14 days. video

Left St Gilles at about 10 and drove in bright sunny warm weather down the Atlantic coast of France through the Vendee and Bordeaux to Les Landes, a leisurely drive. Stopped for the night at about dusk in an "aire" about 30 km short of San Sebastian
Made an early start and drove through the beautiful Basque country along the coast to Bilbao, then turned inland via Vitoria and Burgos towards Madrid. Got much colder and much less pleasant with heavy traffic culminating in the nightmare round the northern and eastern ouskirts of Madrid in rush hour. Took the toll road to Albacete, soon entered the land of vineyards, olive groves and very pretty almond groves in full blossom, white, pink and magenta. No traffic at all and then the main road towards Murcia, stopping in an Agip truckstop about 70 km from Murcia. Ate in the truckers' restaurant, salad, steak and chips, bottle of vino tinto, a coke and two coffees for 20 euros!
Very noisy in the truckstop, left early and texted Clive and Karol that we'd arrive in Palomares at about midday, which we did. Very pleasant day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Frosty in St Gilles

Arrived in St. Gilles at about 2am french time, very cold and white over with frost. House was clean and dry: the new dehumidifier has worked very well.

Truck was very comfortable on the 535 mile trip and did close to 30mpg - what a relief!

Modified the caravan stabiliser and jockey wheel this morning to make it easier on rough or wet ground, and winter-proofed the water supply this afternoon.

Fitted an internal water tank to the caravan and got everything ready to go for an early start tomorrow. Just want to get going now!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

On the road again - Morocco

Here's the plan:
Buy a good 4x4, go to the house in St Gilles and pick up the caravan, drift fairly rapidly south through France and Spain to Algeciras, leave the caravan in Spain, catch the ferry to Ceuta, drive south via Meknes to Marrakesh, pick up Lew and Yuen from the airport, see the sights, then come home.
This is the progress so far.
We've bought the truck, a 1994 Toyota Hilux Surf 3 litre turbodiesel automatic, translated the lubrication instructions from Japanese courtesy of Yuen's friend, serviced it thoroughly and fettled it a bit, put 12 cds in the cd changer(!), assembled a tools/emergency kit, got breakdown insurance (Insure & Go), booked the ferries and 2 hotel stops in Morocco.
The truck's a bit thirsty, 27mpg driven gently on tarmac, but diesel is cheaper everywhere than in Britain.  On the other hand it is very comfortable and quiet compared to lots of other things that were in the frame - you can't have everything.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Retrospectively, with 20/20 hindsight

If I did it again I would:
  • enter the USA by a land border if practicable, ie via Canada
  • spend more time; 3 weeks wasn't half enough
  • go on a several day kayak trip (minus the Duelling Banjos!)
  • go further north and spend more time in Canada
  • go back to the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain
  • use Alamo car hire, excellent service, good value
  • have almost any car other than the Saturn SUV
  • seriously consider hiring an RV
  • take less stuff (clothes)
  • take a more comprehensive "picnic kit" including kfs, plate, mug, vacuum flask and corkscrew so that we don't finish up buying things that we've already got!
  • eat less: I gained 6 pounds (conservative estimate)
  • take a lot of little printed copies of a map of the world, with the Isle of Wight marked in red, to give to people!
I'd also take more consideration of the flight times and tranfer times; the journeys to and particularly from the airport were very wearing.

Out of interest, the motels averaged $68 and the car hire was $1000, fuel was cheap, about $4 a US gallon in Canada and about $3 or less in the US on average and we used about 100 gallons.  We did 3200 miles, about 1000 more than the estimate (as usual).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back to the UK


Spent the day shopping, wandering the suburbs of Boston, eating and packing, a very boring day. Went into Boston in the evening to suss out the route to return the car and get to the airport. Quite easy really.


Up late in preparation for marathon trip home, final attempt at packing (!), went to the airport at about 1pm after a big meaty lunch. Got lost downtown and went on an unplanned 45 minute tour of Boston roadworks, all because I missed a turn in the tunnel.

Two and a half hour checkin, only one BA employee on duty, all the rest of the airport staff were in a security meeting, a spectacularly inept piece of organisation, what about half now half later?

Subjected to full body search (external only, I'm happy to say) and a little light sexual harrassment by young security man all because of unknown metal in my abdominal area. Maybe tools or debris or staples from surgery? Who knows?

Logan Airport has full wifi access: what a good idea! It costs $10: how stupidly mean and shortsighted!

Plane was full to bursting, sloaney female pilot called K***, bumpy ride, headphones didn't work, food awful, coffee worse, but arrived on time, 5.15am, waited 4 hours, 9.50am coach to Portsmouth with trainee racing driver, very exciting, don't modern buses hold the road well?

Got home at about 4, stayed up as long as possible, till 10ish to counteract jetlag.