On the road


Riding out of Tetouan towards Chefchauouen I was struck by how poor this country actually is. Lots of people liing on the outscirts of the city, living much as they must have done in the middle ages. Donkeys, carts and what cars and vans there were, were being thrashed within an inch of their lives; in some cases beyond it.

Chefchauouen is a breath of fresh air – 580m above sea level it’s clean and doesn’t have the bad feeling Tetouan has left in my mouth. Having said that I’ve already been offered a rather large chunk of weed!  It’s obviously a tourist destination but I’m begining to wonder what exactly the tourists come here for.

The mountain ranges leading up to Chefchaouen are striking, marred only by the amount of litter everywhere. The evedence of a tip on the outer reaches of Tetouan persisted for well over 20 miles, scaring this otherwise beautiful countryside.

When I mentioned a breath of fresh air I wasn’t talking about the actual air quality. In the towns it’s thick with desil fumes and on the main roads, trucks, cars and cows all belch constantly to create a real ‘smell of Morocco’.

I’m having to leave behind an awful log of pre-conceptions about people, how we should live and beauty. It’s proving a lot more difficult to leave my decedent western lifestyle behind that I thought.

This evening I arrived in Ouazzane, actually it was just after lunch. I managed to only pay my guide 10MAD rather than the 200 I got stung for yesterday, and find a room for only 120MAD, rather than the 400 that got taken from me for the palace suite at the most expensive room in Tatouan! Feeling a lot better about the people of Morocco I set out for an exploration of the medina – wonderful place, full of energy and interesting little shops selling ripped off Nike gear.

However, walking around I was accosted several times for money, and when I got back to the hotel room feeling a little warn out by all this ‘white westerner must have money’ lark that I was rather pissed off to find the hotel owner had cleaned my bike – a service he justly expected payment for – unfortunately I’m on rather a tight budget for the moment and I could ill afford the money I grudgingly handed over with a scowl – hardly the reaction he was expecting I’m sure.

Tomorrow? Who knows. At the moment I’m not seeing the beauty of the place or the people. I think I must be doing something wrong.

So I’ve decided to head for home. It’s not that I don’t like Morocco (although to be fair I’ve only seen a very tainted part of it) it’s a combination of things. Right at the top of that list is spending 14 days in my own company. It’s what some may call, madness; or at the very least that’s where I’ll end up if I spend any more time on my own with a very basic understanding of French.

I get the feeling I’ve not really seen Morocco – what I’ve seen is the Tourist hell hole that is the con artists, the cities and the crazy driving that is northern Morocco. I’m sure had I stuck with it I would have seen the many wonders and secrets that it holds; unfortunately this time it didn’t open them to me.

I’m coming back. Of that I’m very sure, perhaps next time with friends, which I think will make the world of difference. Three seems the perfect number; one to watch the bikes, another to search for hotels and the third to fend off the money making scum that have ruined this once great nation.

Tomorrow I head for home, I will of course be heading in the opposite direction from which I came, and my luck being what it is it will be beautiful, wonderful and everything I was hoping!

I’n here, typing on a rather odd keyboard but here all the same.

I was taken for a ride when I got here by a guide’ who escorted me to an expensive hotel (he must have miss understood what I meqnt by cheap, followed by an excersion to a ‘school’ which turned out to be a ‘carpet shop’.

Never mind the hotel is wonderful, a traditional family home in the medina – the food there this evening was good and filling and the bedroom is nice and cool in this heat.

Tommorrow I don’t plan to go far, maybe just a few miles into the mountains and see if I can find a camp site to make up for an expensive room tonight.

I have loads to write but this keyboard is getting the better of me so you’ll just have to wait!

Red & WhiteHere in good old GB it’s National Day – I’d say it’s a riot of colour, but actually it’s a riot of red and white – everywhere. You can’t turn around without seeing the colours balzened over people, shops, animals and even the drinks. The Gibraltarians take this very seriously!

I’ve spent most of the day joining in the party, drinking red drinks and laughing at the very few people who didn’t get the message that today you had to wear red & white – it’s a bit like playing spot the tourist – oddly I don’t feel like a tourist – not sure why.

I’ve made a lot of friend here and I’m going to be quite sad to leave. The day before Yesterday I met a couple of polish backpackers on their way into Spain and a chap called Ed who had just come out of Morocco. It was my duty of course to purchase him a beer and get the very latest intel. Yesterday 4 new people joined me in the Youth Hostel dorm – 2 backpackers from Brighton and 2 German chaps – very nice people who are all 7 years younger than me but can’t hold their drink – inexperience.

Tomorrow I leave for Morocco. Wish me luck.

Having decided to stay around in Gibraltar to see in (and out) the National Day, I found myself at a loose end, wondering what to do and where to go. Do I hit the streets and explore the whole Island, leaving nothing for Catherine and me to see together? Or should I simply sit in a bar and drink until I don’t care what I do.

Actually the decision was made for me. Getting up bright and early to get out of the unbelievably hot stuffy smelly dorm at the Youth Hostel I headed straight into town and found a very pleasant little cafe / bar who served me a dreadful coffee but a divine orange. I sat there waiting for midday, the time of the ceremonial changing of the guard outside the governors’ house.

Heading into the small square at the Convent (where the Governor lives) I waited, it dawned on me that if this were a changing of the guard it would be prompt rather than 10 minutes late. I headed back to the hostel to check the poster out – ahh – it was Saturday at midday, not Sunday.

Further irritation was caused when I discovered that Sunday trading laws are pretty much still in effect here and nowhere was open, at least nowhere that could sell me a small bundle of handkerchiefs (I forgot mine and a fat man in a hot climate needs something to mop his brow with).

I chanced to run into the hostel owner again and thought I’d try and charm her into opening the launderette especially for me – she wasn’t having any of it however – I wasn’t going to be beaten so easily! I headed (dirty washing in tow) to the marina, figuring that dirty sailors would need to clean clothes, and if all else failed I had every intention of marching up to the barracks, making much of my fathers army life and blagging the use of their facilities. Fortunately it didn’t come to that and the marina came up trumps.

A fantastic little place hidden away in the depths of brand new, stylish, marina buildings and posh cafes. The lady who runs the place is Scottish, and as ever when a Welshman and a Scot get together rugby comes to the fore – we both thought England did pretty badly against the US – even if they did win. To cut a long story shirt, I smiled sweetly, pretended I knew nothing about these complicated new fangled washing things and she very kindly offered to do it all for me, she shooed me out of the door and told me to return in an hour… perfect… exactly the right amount of time to grab lunch and a small pot of mint tea.

Enough action for a rest day you may think, but no not me. I couldn’t resist getting my leg over the bike and exploring this tiny little bit of Britain away from home. Heading up to the rock I looked in detail at the Siege Tunnels, the Apes (don’t call them monkeys) St Michaels Cave and I also got my first proper look at Africa. It wasn’t that good a look as it was surrounded by heat haze and it could quite easily been Spain for all I know – but it was in the correct general direction.

Heading back into town I found a mosque –  isolated out on Europa Point, I saw a big tanker that had kind of sunk and kind of not sunk – see the photos, and I managed to find a shop open that sold handkerchiefs!

A pretty successful day in all, tonight sees me meeting my new room mates (let’s hope they don’t snore as badly as last nights). I’m heading into town this evening as I’ve decided it’s better to join them than try to ignore them – the party is getting into full swing and if last night was anything to go by we’ll be treated to a bad Spanish singer made wonderful by a gang of scantily clad Spanish women who can’t dance very well – but look quite good trying!

… and me.

Last night I gave in and crashed at a hotel. It was a bargin at $25 but dear me I wish I hadn’t. Amazingly it was the worst nights sleep I’ve had so far, even with air-con a comfortable bed and clean sheets. I’m obviously getting far to used to my sleeping mat! (I told you it was comfortable).

But tongiht sees me hunting out a hotel again, as there’s no camping on Gibraltar. You’d think this was easy, there’ll be loads of hotels here! Think again. There are about 6, and they’re all full. The only hope I have is the Youth Hostel which opens at 4:30pm. It has 2 single rooms (£25) and then dorms that sleep 12 (£15). I’m crossing my fingers that I can get the single room, but if not then the dorm will have to do.

I’m here for 2 nights as I digest the recent politcal unrest in Morocco and wait for the latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth office after the bombings in Algeria – it’s totally unconnected, but at the same time, I’d rather sit here for and extra day and make sure that everything is fine before I grab the hourly ferry across to Cetua.

Looking at BBC News the election has gone well, with little unrest and with a low turn out… this boads well, but given the latest attempt to set off a terroist device next to a tourist coach in Meknes if I do go, I need to be very vigilant.

Tomorrow I plan to see a little of Gibraltar, but I don’t want to see too much as it’s quite possible my darling wife will be flying out to join me here around the 27th September for a couple of days, and I’d rather leave things for us to do together. I miss her dreadfully and it’s the hardest thing to deal with whilst I’m away. I find myself quite tearful most nights.

Well, who’d have guess it? As I left the small town half way up the Pyranees on the French side and headed up to a giddy height before blasting down into Spain, a euphoria grabbed me.

The countryside around me was amazing… I’m not using that world lightly. It blew me away. The mountains around me crested in stunning outcrops that appeared to be held in place by magic, ignoring all laws concerning gravity.

Then as I crossed into Spain the roads started to really want to play, twists that played perfectly to the weight and balance of my bike, petrol stations placed exactly the right distance appart, and car drivers who appreciate that a biker on these roads doens’t want to get caught behind them.

But that was pretty much when the fun riding stopped. I try to avoid main roads and certainly toll roads, I enjoy hacking through the countryside, stopping in tiny little villages and enjoying a quick cup of coffee – in fact some of the best coffee I’ve ever had has been in little villages along routes in France I now can’t even recall.

Spain however changed everything. Northern France is borning, but it’s nothing compared with the first half of Spain. After the promise of the Pyrenees you expect a little more than an industrial waste land and sea side resorts that make Blackpool look upmarket. To top it off I failed to find a campsite that wasn’t a commercial mess, and a site that didn’t look down it’s nose at a biker turning up, sweaty and tired and just wanting a place to sleep.

In the end I had to camp at a place called Camping Joan. That’s about all it had to recommed it, they tried to charge me $16.99, the full price for a family with a car, when I politlly pointed out that the charge for a motorbike, as shown on their price list, was $7.99 the recpetionist became quite rude, and had it not been 8pm already I would have left.

The next day was bright and hot at 7:30am, I got away as quickly as I could. I’ve found that magic couple of hours in the morning before the sun finds its strength the best time to ride, I get more miles done in that first two hours than the next 6 combined.

The landscape started to improve, but not much and by midday I’d decided to ditch my riding through villages and hit the higway and toll roads. 500 miles later I pitched up at a roadside hotel ($25 bargin!) and had the worst night sleep so far this trip!

Well would you believe it – Orange are a bunch of money grabbing buggers. No really, they are.

They were nice enough to text me and WARN me that using Data abroad was much more expensive than at home, and then to text me again to tell me I´d used at least 5mb of data – that´s 40GBP worth…. mmmm.

So, whilst I´m still writing my daily updates they may not go live that day. I´ve stopped using the phone for data and will now be jumping on public terminals where ever I can.

If anyone has any ideas on how to get cheaper data abroad I´d be very grateful to hear from you.

Also, those of you watching the news will have heard about the current problems in Morocco as they approach the election. Suffice to say I am paying close attention to BBC World Service and will get the very latest local advice from the local embassy when I arrive in Gibralter before I depart.

I’m sat now in the wonderful country of Spain – hurahh! It was hard to notice that I’d even crossed the border and cheered at least three times thinking I’d crossed into my second country before realizing that it was just a police post.

Last night wasn’t too bad but it doesn’t rate very high in my ‘places to see and do’ list. Again the riding was cold going, I had to ditch the summer jacket and grab the winter jobbie, complete with winter gloves. By the time I got to Toulouse it was 6pm and my options for camping were limited, so limited in fact, that in the end I went for a site that looked like it was run by the military. Huge steel gates guarded this welcome stop from the rest of the industrial estate on which it lived. It was actually not too bad, apart from the huge amount of acorns on the floor and how dry the ground was, in fact I think concrete may have been softer. Tip… don’t kneel on an acorn, it hurts.

This morning dawned cold and clear, not a cloud in the sky, but again really rather cold, this time I took a bet that it would get warmer – and indeed it has. I’m sat now in a little cafe in a little village half way up the Pyrenees. Very nice indeed. I’m not making great time as the roads are so twisty, but far better for me to make slow going rather than bore myself to death on the motorways and toll roads.

Mileage to date

Day 0.5 – 125
Day 1 – 235
Day 2 – 320
Day 3 – 260 (planned)

I’m now scouring the map to see if there’s a slightly greener place to stop on the coast rather than a resort. I’ll update you tomorrow on my success. Gibraltar still seems so far away.

Ahhh yes before I forget – photographs – don’t worry I’ve been taking loads – but I found out yesterday that Orange charge me 8 per meg whilst abroad… if that’s not screwing me I don’t know what it – so I’m holding off on uploading them until I find an Internet cafe – probably in Gibraltar.

It did start well, the ferry was on time, in fact I think we docked 15 minutes early – meaning I hit the french highways at about 11:45am (local time).

‘Yes yes yes!’ I was shouting into my helmet as I devoured French village after French village and by 2pm my tummy was shouting ‘where’s this famous French food?’.

As I hacked off the main roads and started to explore tiny villages my heart sank as I realized that virtually everything closed at 1pm and refused to open until at least 3pm… grrr. I finally found a patisserie open and purchased the last baguette before digging into the emergency rations (already) and slicing up some salami.

I love the French. As I sat there in the middle of the village devouring my lunch, several people sauntered by (doing what I couldn’t say everything was still shut) and everyone wished me ‘bon appetite!’

The evening didn’t progress so well. As I descended on Bourges it became apparent that not only did everything shut for two hours in the afternoon, at 4pm everyone goes home. Nothing was open anywhere, I’d failed the first test of the expedition – provide for myself! Once again I dug into the emergency rations, put up the tent and made myself rice, with sliced salami and leek and potatoes cup ‘a’ soup. Very nice it was too.

Fully fed and camp made I thought it would be wonderful to experience a little French bar, take in the local conversation and enjoy a little of the local tipple. I grabbed computer, book and phone and headed into town. Guess what; yes everything was shut.

Heading back to the tent I was overcome by an intense feeling of loneliness, that’s quite rare for me, and had the petrol stations around me not been shut I think I may well have packed the bike and headed for home. I can’t explain it, I’m back  on the road today and everything is great, the roads are beautiful and I finally feel I’m beginning to see the real France.

I’m sat now with quiche, coffee and sun being deafened by a test of the local air raid siren. Let’s hope tonight’s visit to Toulouse is better than my fleeting visit to Bourges.

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