On the road


France, ferry and home 006… ahhh the wonderful constant warmness that is a shower that works. The amazing one touch bliss of Sky TV, and the soothing pleasure of a computer monitor and keyboard in English… it can only mean one thing.

I am home.

… and everything in between.

I’m sat in a little cafe on the harbor front at Dieppe. Wonderful little place that sums up France perfectly. It’s full of locals chewing the fat, drinking extremely strong coffee, with extremely strong cigarettes, whilst a dog sniffs around their feet being greatly ignored by all but me.

Other locals sit in a corner on their own contemplating the rain and cold that has gripped this coastal town. They nurse their larger (you simply can’t call it beer) with two hands, hoping that by clutching it so close they’ll some-how warm it, and turn a 1 euro bier turn into a 10 euro brandy. I do love the French.

I don’t know if it’s the rain, the fact I have 2 hours to kill or the idea that this is the last stretch of time I’ll have on this trip where I’m not within England’s borders, but I’ve been going over my thoughts for this trip; I’m troubled.

It seems that after 2 weeks I’m starting to get a taste for this travel lark. I actually want to head back to Morocco right now and finish what I started. Another part of me is screaming that I’m insane. Perhaps.

I’m coming to the conclusion that travel isn’t easy, it’s not something that you can just pick up and ‘do’. The problem is of course we’ve all learnt that travel is easy, it’s as easy as a few mouse clicks, a trip to the airport and a genial conversation with your tour rep in Tanger to arrange a nice air conditioned bus trip out to the ‘real’ Morocco. Once there you can buy pottery and Fez hats to your hearts delight. In the evening you can settle down to your steak and chips, enjoy the pleasant company of your fellow country men, then retire to your European hotel – complete with bidet – has anyone in the UK actually worked out how you use one of those?

But travel isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be. When I decided that it was time to come home it was a decision that meant 5 more days on the road to even get back to the UK, never mind home. Had I made that decision on a package holiday I could have been home within 24 hours.

I like the idea that this is hard, I like the idea that this is something I’m going to have to work at, something that doesn’t come naturally to me, and something which I’m going to struggle at.

I’ve worked hard these past 2 weeks, and I’ve learnt so much. The most important of which is that I need to learn French before I even attempt to go away again – and I need more than a smattering of the local language before I even attempt to travel there. Language is so important. I feel I’ve broken the back of this travel lark, that I know what to expect and what I need to do in order to make it what I’ve always dreamt it would be.

It takes work, it takes dedication, and most of all it takes more than 2 weeks before you start to lose the feeling of being ‘away from home’ and instead start to adopt the feeling of ‘on the road’ – I may change all the tags for my articles to ‘away from home’ until todays post; it would be more fitting.

I envy people like Wilfred Thieger and Ted Simon, people who can pick their things up and depart for the wild regions of this planet and enjoy them without the pull of family. Perhaps that’s too strong, Wilfred loved his mother dearly and his letters home show how much he missed her and his brothers. He had no close tie to a wife, a partner, certainly no close tie to anyone other than his aids and comrades on the road.

Wilfred Thieger made his friends on the road, employed them, and took them with him ensuring a constant companion that was there when he needed a crutch. Ted Simon on the other hand, as he says in his own books, has lost several women to his travels; something which he says he doesn’t regret, but still…. perhaps that’s something I’ll never be able to achieve. I must find a way to do this without the heartache of wanting a family who does not wish to travel this way.

I still have an hour before I leave for the ferry, I’ve already drunk 4 espressos, can I stomach another, or should I order another Croque Monsieur? These are the questions that only another 2 weeks on the road can answer. Roll on Russia.

Well this is it, the last but one post on the road. I’m playing with the idea that once I’m back in Britain it’s hardly ‘on the road’, but I’m going to get every last post out of this blog!France was a delight again, even when you take into account that in Northern territory the land is so flat that there’s nothing else to do except build very long, very straight roads; and then sell people very small, very slow cars. It’s hardly fair, and I think there’s no coincidence that once I passed Bordeaux the number of Harleys went up and up.I stopped in a truck stop for a lunch of salami, bread, cheese and jam, washed down with a wonderfully sweet bottle of water I bought in Spain – I’ve tried looking for it here but it doesn’t seem to exist.The day started to drag around 4pm when I realised there was a mere 150 miles left to go, the Tom Tom bang on again as it took me to the Dieppe Formule 1 where I’ve booked in for the evening. I’ve spied the ferry port, know exactly where I need to be when and tonight I’ve fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I entered France 2 weeks ago. I’m eating at a Buffalo Grill!Boy this is fun! It’s like the wild west, but in French. They’re everywhere out here, a bit like Little Chef or Pizza Hut, although it’s more like TFI Fridays with it’s theme interior, happy staff, and menus handily printed on your place mat.Just one question, why have I had to ask for butter with my bread EVERYWHERE!?That’s me for now, waiting for my Entrecote Cow-Boy and frites with baited breath and wishing I could find a waiter who  understood what butter is.See you all in blighty tomorrow.

I had decided that this trip was going to be a solitary one. I’ve not been approached by anyone who wasn’t after something, and the people I’ve approached have either recoiled in horror at this massive Welsh man or thought I was after something.

So last night came as a pleasant surprise. As Ted Simon says traveling on your own means that you are easily approachable, and as you travel around the world you find yourself in situations that would never occur if you were in a group. Up to this point I’ve only seen the negative side of that, but the last but one night before I get home I meet Raymond.

Raymond adopted me as I finished my meal at a wonderful little bar in La Couronne, he talked to me in broken English about his life, his love of wine and his time in the French Foreign Legion. I ate it up. What a wonderful man, full of color and history. Finally he invited me back to his house to drink some ‘real’ wine, not the wonderful wonderful glass already sitting on the table I’d enjoyed with my meal.

We got back to his place which contained, amongst other things, a full suite of armor, a full size bar, and a store of wine that would make many Lord of the Manor’s hang their head in shame at their multi million pound collections. As he opened a bottle I found my heart beat quicken as I realised I was going to drink a glass of 150 wine…. Raymond knows the chap who owns the vineyard and keeps a stock in, as you do.

Wow, if anyone ever tells you that cheap wine tastes the same as expensive wine slap them around the head and tell them not to be so stupid. Come to Bordeaux and drink the cheap wine here,  then try the good stuff and by God you’ll nearly cry with delight.

Last night was wonderful, I was taught about wine by a Frenchman from the Bordeaux region who has spent his life in the Foreign Legion and growing the vines that make this nectar.

I couldn’t persuade him to sell  me a bottle but he has given me the address of the vineyard and the owners name, I may make a detour home. He did however give me a World War 2 (early) French Army helmet to go with my British one, I tried very hard not to take it but pushed it as far as I could before it become a problem that I wasn’t taking it.

Raymond, thank you, what a wonderful evening.

This being the first time I’ve managed to log on since Morocco I just wanted to say thank you to the people who have left comments for me on the time to come home post.

Firstly, Louise, I’ll be collecting that hug so be prepared.

Stace and Patrick, thanks for the support guys I couldn’t have done it without you.

Other guy. Yes I know exactly what you mean. I love time on my own, I love to head into the middle of no-where on the bike and just ‘be’. My journey into Buddhism has taught me many things, I’ve not quite got to the point where I can leave behind my feelings of loss when my family are not near, and I’m not sure that’s the idea behind what I’m learning in any case.

Morocco would have been stunning for two weeks if I’d had friends with me to experience it, and to help each other through the tough times. Two weeks on the road, 4000 miles, and a journey most people could only dream of achieving have left a permanent mark on me that will never leave.

I’m proud of what I’ve done, even if it wasn’t quite what I set out to do.

850 miles to Dieppe. Easy enough, 400 today then the balance tomorrow. The budget has got a bit tighter as I realise I’ve left my credit card at home and I plan how to get to Dieppe in the most fuel efficient, toll efficient way. Fortunately it’s easy. Via the toll roads it’s 890 miles, avoiding the toll roads it’s 770. So the short, but long way it is.

I’ve never wanted to thank my Tom Tom more,  today it showed me parts of Spain I had no idea existed, as we drew closer to the foothills of the Pyrenees, I rode through village after village that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a post card for the alps. I started riding at 7am this morning and by 1pm I’d just about crossed the border – a mere 180 miles in 6 hours riding.

I don’t care, I’ve stopped, I’ve appreciated, I’ve taken photographs; and no one has asked me for money (not counting the petrol station attendants).

By lunch time I’m nearing the border and decide to dash into a little shop before I do and grab some bread, cheese and salami for lunch, on my way out I notice that the jam is on special offer – how can I resist!

50 miles later and I’m sat on the beach of Saint Jean de Luz, pen knife in one hand, jar of jam in front of me and a baguette, smothered in the contents of said jar in the other hand. I try to ignore the fact that the jam has dribbled down my chin and threatens to drop onto my last clean shirt, because wiping it off would mean disturbing the perfect balance of salami on one knee and cheese on the other.

Utter bliss.

I hit 450 miles and decide enough is enough, I start looking for cheap hotels, remember this is France and hit the Tom Tom of the nearest Formule 1. Done, 50 miles to go and then sweet, cheap sleep. It’s not to be however, the hotel has shut down and my only option is the 39 euro a night jobbie I spotted 10 miles earlier – ahh well there goes the budget.

Dropping bags, coats, tent etc in the room I pause only to note the free wi-fi, grab the laptop and head into town to write up the last couple of days and to enjoy good French food and wine – a success on both counts. I’ll be here again.

I love France. Or did I say that already?

Off the ferry and onto the open roads of Spain! Or so I thought. Nope, this being the Morocco ferry much messing around in customs as every single car and van is searched from top to bottom. Several drug dogs on duty and I resist the urge to give them a cuddle and play tuggy with them!

My turn eventually arrives and expecting the third degree I remove my helmet, get off the bike and take off my jacket. The stern looking guard eyes my up and down, apparently ready to give me a good frisking, when he boss appears behind him, takes on look at my passport and waves me through… five minutes and a very upset customs guard later and I’m away, into Spain!

It’s only when I’m about an hour in that I realise I have no euros, am fast running out of fuel and actually, it’s going to take about four days to get home. Bummer. Running into a little village on route I manage to find a telebanco withdraw my budget for getting home and fill up Toby. Then four hours later I decide enough is enough and seek out a nice comfy hotel.

Hotel La Paz is wonderful, a traditional place full to the brim with hams hanging from the ceiling, when I order a ham salad for dinner the owner takes one down and moves to the kitchen – it can’t get much better than this. That is until I actually try the bed… this is why it’s so cheap then.

Tomorrow brings me a day closer to home and with any luck into France.

The rest of the journey back to Tanger was pretty un-eventful, if you don’t count the traffic trying to kill you. Bought my ticket home easily enough, then filled out the customs forms and managed to side step the ‘helpers’ at the ferry gates, wanting to smooth my way through the various formalities.

It’s actually very easy, stamp passport, get bike customs forms stamped, get / cancel bike insurance, change money and then into the ferry waiting area. Success! Did it all myself and I’m starting to feel my feet in this country just as I’m about to leave it. Or so I thought.

Sitting next to the bike waiting for the ferry (it’s over an hour late – the crossing is only 35 mins so I’m trying to work out how this can be) several of us are approached by an elderly gentleman selling mint tea, I see him take money, scurry over to a portacabin and come back with delicious hot sweet tea – wonderful! But actually I fancy a treat – I wonder if he has any Diet Coke? (my first in nearly 2 weeks). I dutifully wait my turn and ask the simple question… ‘yes!’ he exclaims, ‘5 euro’, a bit steep I think but what the hell I have 10 left and I can’t change it out of the country – I hand him my 100 MAD note and off he pops… never to be seen or heard of again.

The drive back to the coast last night was stunning. The countryside really opened up, I got out of the way of the cities and just enjoyed the wonderful views and vistas across and out to sea or up into the Rif mountains.

I was on the brink of changing my mind again when I pulled over in the middle of no-where for a quick brew. No one seen for 50 miles or so and just fields in front of me, a moment of silence and a cup of tea to sooth the worries of the night before.

No sooner had I sat down than I was joined by a Sheppard boy, complete with goats! Wonderful, I’m starting to experience the real Morocco, perhaps I’m past  the worst of it and it’ll carry on like this. However, on getting out my camera to take a photo the small lads starts shouting at me holding his hand out, not wanting to cause offence (the budget is tight) I put the camera away and instead offered the lad some of me tea – he takes it, sniffs it and hands it back with that look only 9 year olds can muster. I chuckle and my spirits soar – this is it!

Then he had to ruin it, no sooner had the tea touched my lips his little hands thrust into his pocket and pull out some cannabis resign – okay be calm – he offers it to me with the words ’50 euro, 50 euro’. There we are then, everything confirmed there really is no ‘real’ Morocco, just empty spaces filled by drug pushing Sheppard boys.

So I’ve been at this for a little over a week. I’m feeling run down (even with the rest in Gibraltar) and if one more person tries to rip me off I’m going to hit the roof. I think that’s my point actually… I’m not sure I can do this on my own.

Today I hit a small money problem that has left only 90 euros in my pocket for the next couple of days – I could take a risk and carry on into Morocco and be confident it’ll work itself out – making sure I spend as little as possible. The problem is working to a budget here is almost impossible. You can say you’re only going to spend 30 euros but by the time you’ve paid your unwanted guide, your unwanted bike cleaner and whoever else manages to make themselves payable around you your money flitters away, 5 MAD at a time.

But it’s not the money that worries me, my family at home will make sure that I’m okay with that kind of thing, what worries me is my reaction to the problem.

I’m not the kind of person who hides from trouble, I relish a challange and I never shy away, but all I wanted to do today was go home, as quickly as possible. I miss Catherine so much that I’m still tearfull after I get off the phone with her – I really thought this would pass.

I think it all boils down to my coming out here on my own. Talking to other backpackers is great, perhaps even a biker (although I’ve not met one yet).. but there’s something about talking to ones friends that keeps one going, even when it gets tough – that outlet just isn’t here.

I sat in my room this afternoon and cried, alot. I was shaking and really really afraid of the fact that I don’t even have enough money to get back across the border. In the back of my mind I know this will be fixed tomorrow, but that didn’t stop it all rather getting too much.

I’ve been reading a biography about a great explorer and traveller called Wilfred Thesiger, a great man who travelled the world and worked in Africa and Arabia for most of his life. He wrote his own book a few years ago called the life of my choice in which he explained that by having no wife, no family to look after or to care for he was able to go on trek for months on end without the slightest hint of remorse. I think that’s what I’m missing. I have a family, and I love them dearly.

Whilst I’ve been away from home many times before, often for longer periods than this, I think somehow, over the last couple of years I’ve become too much of a ‘home’ person, someone who likes to be around thier family.

So, after this trip is over, I don’t think there’ll be any excursions on my own – I still want to travel the world – much of it on a motorbike – but from now on – only with my friends and family.

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