Monday, 7 March 2016

A Spanish Christmas and then Africa!

Dear Family and Friends… so that was our memorable departure from Morocco last year.

Just one update on departures from Morocco, after we posted our last blog we received an email from a Dutch friend we met in Morocco last year, Paul tells the story of his departure;

‘I had five of them inside after the ‘sniffer’ visit. They wanted to take my roof apart but I showed them pictures on my laptop of the build process which was at first all fine, till one found it suspicious why anyone would document this. They then wanted to send the dog up on my roof..
It ended with me and another officer on a ladder and him tapping the roof with his mate below feeling the way the ceiling reacted :)’

This is our Paul....he can charm the bird from the trees but not the Moroccan Customs from his Van Roof
Now to catch up with our adventures this trip; we left the UK in early October and made a dash for the south of France to catch some warmth and sunshine, only to be disappointed on both counts. It was dry and sunny in Narbonne alright, but tempered by a chill wind and chill winds are not in our game plan!

So we headed west, high tailed it for the Pyrenees and the Spanish border, and then dropped down through Central Spain to the South Coast. Four days later we ended up in Salobrena, just west of Motril on the Costa del Sol (got your Google maps open then?). However, the Sunshine Coast it was not! It chucked it down for two days of torrential rain but, when the rain finally stopped, we poked our heads out to meet our enchanting neighbours and new best friends.

Jack and Emily have taken time out from their careers to go travelling. Their dream is to find a piece of land where they could live a life of self-sufficiency. When we met them they were on their way up to Alicante and then Barcelona to meet up with parents for Christmas and then on through Southern France and eventually Greece. They had bought a second hand van and done their own conversion; in their own very unique style… the result was a fab van with buckets of character.
Our new best friends Jack & Emily

The effervescent Emily

Jack made the cupboards himself from pallets! Look at the handle on the draw

Yes.....that is a log burning stove in a motor home! Mad eh?
The weather has now taken a turn for the better and we are back to the Southern Spanish winter warmth and sunshine we have been looking for. We left Jack & Emily and headed west to La Cala de Mijas, about 20 miles west of Malaga, and a popular stop over for motor homers, there are normally 20 or 30 vans at any one time. We were planning a flight back to the UK from Malaga Airport and this was a good spot to get to the airport for our flight.

On our return from the UK our flight got in about 9 in the evening. By the time we had picked up the Trundle Bus from the secure car park and had driven back to La Cala de Mijas it was about 10:30pm, so we parked up in the first spot we could find in the dark. 

The next morning we woke up back in the beautiful sunshine and blue skies of Spain: and met our neighbour, soon to become our very best new Dutch friend, Hennie. Now after swapping the customary good mornings, what nice weather it is, where have you come from and where are you going, Hennie asked me if we were staying there… meaning are you staying where you parked up last night. ‘Yes’ says I a little perplexed ‘why do you ask’. ‘Because you are blocking my sun’ says Hennie. Now my normal response to this would be ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry, can I help you move?’ However, and I can only think this was due to jet lag and sun stroke, I said ‘Oh OK we will move’… what is happening to me!

So move we did, with me mumbling about the EU and the bloody Dutch in particular… how wrong can I be! I am now all for the EU and the Dutch in particular. It was a great meeting and the three of us just seemed to hit it off.  

Hennie with Martin, an old friend we met last year 
Fang with Martin's dog, both looking very at home

Lunch on the beach

Saturday lunch in town with Hennie

I borrowed Martins sun panel to try out.....not sure what I was thinking or where the stance comes from?
We then decided to go back east to a part of the coast known as the Gulf of Mazarron, which has the reputation of having the most temperate winter climate in Europe. Daytime temperatures sit in the low 20’s and at night drop to 14°-15° at worst… what’s not to like in December & January?

We had agreed to meet up with Hennie in a couple of weeks so that we could spend Christmas Day together. We’d found out there was a crazy Christmas Day happening on the beach at a town called La Zenia, which is 50 odd miles south of Alicante, (back to Google maps you lot), but more of that in a sec.

We found an absolutely idyllic spot at La Carolina, a picturesque little bay just outside Aguilas (keep that map open).
Parked up at La Carolina

Fang on her climb

Fang in the distance

The beautiful bay that is La Carolina
There we met some fabulous Brits, who like us, were avoiding the UK winter. Geoff & Janet and Scott & Jackie had been lounging around La Carolina for a few weeks when we arrived, and were heading for permanent residence status and a Spanish poll tax bill! Geoff is my new very, very best friend, not only because he is a charming good looking chap, but because he also extremely talented.

Fang, Hennie and I had been out for a day in Aguilas in the Trundle Bus and I had got myself in a tangle and was driving down some very narrow roads in the town. I managed to scrape the side of the van on something, not sure what, and absolutely mangled one of the hinges on the habitation door. The next day I asked Scott & Jackie if they knew of somewhere I might be able to buy a hinge…..’Oh have you spoken to Geoff?’ says Jackie. ‘No’ says I ‘Why, does he carry spare hinges?’ ‘Oh no’ says Jackie ‘we call him ‘Geoff can fix it’’. And bless his little heart, Geoff did fix it, and turned out to be one of the nicest guys on the planet if not the whole cosmos!
If you look very carefully you will see a slight crack on the outer part of the hinge. This was totally mangled until my very very best friend got his hands on it and  straightened things out for me  

Me and Geoff. He has his hands in the air because he has paint on them.....not because he thinks I have the mange!
We also met the generous, delightful and delectable Harriet & Ell. Harriet and Ell can turn their hand to anything; they converted their van themselves, they are environmentalists and green as frogs, they are nurses, they know how to use the herbs they forage from around the wilderness, and they earn a living making and selling beautiful jewellery. We met them when Ell was going round our little commune offering us all samosas they had made…..scrumptious!

The old boy still has it you know!
These are sharks teeth that are over 3 million years old. Geoff had collected them from a beach in Maryland in the States and gave them to the girls to make into jewellery  

Couldn't resist it could it's me a Crocodile Dundee 

Discussing jewellery with Ell.....yeh I know!

Harriet and Gypsey
La Carolina has another feature……great snorkelling!

Getting kitted for the dive

Just me and my dive buddies

Days end at La Carolina
And then it was off to La Zenia Beach for Christmas day……and what a mad Christmas day it was…..I will let the pictures tell the tale of the eccentric ex-pats abroad on Christmas day!

You can't get away from that Christmas jumper

Hennie with our Christmas lunch......sushi don't you know

Eccentric you not us

My two Christmas beach bunnies

There must have been 500 people there

Some twits even went for a paddle

If you haven't had time to get to B&Q for your BBQ, just bring the wheelbarrow from the garden!

I mean......only the English would go this far!

Boxing day was a BBQ with Hennie
Then it was back to La Carolina for New Year’s Eve. Our festive co-ordinators Janet and Jackie organised us all to bring a dish to the party. This worked out really well as there were several nationalities at our commune, so we ended up with an international buffet. It was a great New Years Eve.
New Years Eve

David Jean first came motor homing in Spain 50 years ago

Geoff and Janet

And New Year’s Day was a BBQ on the beach
New Years day was a BBQ on the beach

The sea was like a mill pond
And now it was time to head off towards Tarifa and onto the ferry for Morocco.

We arrived in Morocco on 20th January much wiser to the ways of Moroccan entry! We had all our paper work in tip top order and as soon as we pulled up in the customs shed I was out of the van and waving my paper work at Big Gold Epaulet man, who I remember from last time as being the chap in charge. Big Gold Epaulet man whisked my paper work out of my hand and marched off to an office somewhere… without any comment or recognition at all!

I got back into the van; Fang asks ‘so what’s happening then?’ ‘Not sure’ says I ‘he’s gone off somewhere with our paper work and passports, ‘Oh not again’ says Fang.

However, before Fang could even contemplate sliding into the foot well, Big Gold Epaulet man was back with our passports and paperwork duly stamped and off we went! The whole process took no more than 5 minutes… we did see Kaftan Flip Flop and his crew looking very disgruntled as we passed through the gates to freedom!

So the plan is to follow the coast south to Agadir and then turn inland to Tafraout.

Not exactly like the butchers we have in the UK.....but the meat is great

You look out your window and......

Off on a boat ride to see the did they take that photo then?

Yes.....its fang not posing again

On a Sunday the local fishermen set up BBQ's on the beach and cook off their catch for your Sunday lunch

The fishing port at Essaouira

Fang getting in the mix at the fish market

They come to your door with anything you want

Lunch out

Traditional Moroccan Tagine

And always entertainment

On our travels we always have time to pull over and hand out bon bons to the kids

This guide took us on a walk to see a cascade....for which he charged us. After walking for half an hour we arrive... 'But there's no water' says I
 'No' says our guide 'it hasn't rained for three years'. They don't let a little thing like no water spoil an expensive trip to the cascades!

This is the cascade......he had pictures and a video on his phone of it in full flow 4 years ago! I love this country
We were staying in a camp-site in a little place called Sidi Kouki, only about 10 miles south of Essaouira (pronounced Essoweara). Here we met up with Annette, an old German friend who we met in Salamanca in Spain on our very first trip four years ago! Pauline and Annette have been pen pals ever since, and here we are finally catching up with each other. Annette travels by herself and has been all over the world and is very wise in all things

Annette playing fast a loose with the chef
Now here’s a thing. I am at the communal sinks one afternoon washing my M&S Snoopy jim jams, not because there has been any embarrassing accidents during the night, but because I like to give them a good sluice each month regardless of accidents or lack of them….anyway, Fang comes over from the van holding her finger. ‘I have cut my finger and I can’t stop the bleeding’ says she. Now I am not proud of this, but my first thought was… that’s a ruddy nuisance, I haven’t finished my jim jams yet! But being the selfless being that I am, I go back to the van with her trailing sodden jim jams in my wake. A quick look at the finger and it’s obvious that we need to go somewhere to get treatment. So I help Fang wrap a bandage round her finger to stem the bleeding, and start to pack the van up so we can drive the 30 minutes to Essaouira.
My first aid
So now we have a bit of a problem; we know there is no A&E as we know it in the UK, so where to go? We decided a good place to start would be a Pharmacy, as they might speak English and would know where to send us. The comforting truth was that all we really had to do is stop any Moroccan on the street and they would readily help us.

Anyway, our search for a pharmacy proved fruitless because it was 2:30 in the afternoon and they were all closed! The next brainwave I had was to go and find a 5 star hotel, their receptionists were bound to speak English and they should be able to advise us… stroke of genius even if I say so myself.

I found us a hotel, pulled up, left Fang in the van nursing her injury and went to reception to find that not only did the lovely young lady speak perfect English, she said she would phone a doctor to come to the hotel and I should go a get my wife and we could wait in the lobby ‘You are very welcome’ says she. I love this country!
Fang in 5* luxury but making a big show of things
15 minutes later and doctor arrives and luckily speaks perfect English. He takes a look, agrees that Fang has indeed cut her finger, says it needs stiches but says he can’t do them here! OK so where should we go? No problem he will take us to a surgery and they will fix her up there. So we follow doctor in the Trundle Bus and shortly arrive at said surgery. He has a word with the receptionist, explains what we need and then tells us that we should be seen within the hour. I then follow him outside and discreetly ask him what we owe… 600 dh, which is about 42 quid….not bad really for a private doc, even if all he really did was find us another doctor!

True to their word, about an hour later we are called through and shown into a treatment room. So here we are really up against the language barrier as no one here can speak English and we only have very limited French. However, a cut finger is pretty self-explanatory so it was clear what we were there for. Had we been there for a case of the trots the situation would have been slightly trickier and would have required miming a little more inventive than Fang just sticking her finger in the air and going ooch!

So in comes the Doctor with just a very little English but a big bag full of charm. He works out quick smart what is needed, gives out some instructions to the lovely nurse and breezes out. The nurse then proceeds to hook Fang up to a Glucose drip…..we are not exactly sure why they need to pump sugar into Fang, but hey, action we have! Nurse then comes back and gives Fang two injections of anti-biotics through the intravenous drip; she has shown me the bottle so that I know what she is doing. I should explain; most of the discussion and communication is through me, we assume this is normal if the husband is present, in this traditional country.
The patient.....look at the's a cushion from the waiting room!

Ohhh nasty

She cheers up with a bit of glucose flowing into her......

This is the very tidy treatment room

Back comes Doctor Charm to carry out the operation. He dons his surgical mask, snaps on his rubber operating gloves and jabs a load of aesthetic into Fangs hand. He then tells me to come round and have a look at how bad the cut is, telling Fang not to look; and it is pretty bad, although I don’t actually know because I have my eyes closed, I am only assuming it was bad because Doctor Charm was doing that sucking blowing thing that plumbers do when you ask them how much it will be to fix the boiler….not that I am for one minute comparing our Fang to an old broken down boiler!

Doctor Charm then proceeds to put four stitches into Fangs finger and pronounces her fit to leave. He then gets up, beckons me to follow him down the corridor to his office. He gives me a prescription for ant-biotics and a list of gear I will need to get from the pharmacy to change her dressing each day. He then tells me I need to  bring her back tomorrow so that he can have a look at his handy work and change the dressing himself. All of this is in his broken English and my broken French with a good dose of assumption on my part as to what the hell he is saying!

So out we go and get the bill…..2,300 dh ….. that’s about 165 quid, now added to the 42 quid we have already forked out and this cut is starting to look expensive.

The next day we go to a pharmacy with the prescription. How much? Fang asks and then turns to me, says it’s another 2,300 dh, 165 quid! Well, we had given most of our cash to Doctor Charm the night before and tell the pharmacist we need to go to the ATM to get some cash.

Now while we are walking to the ATM I am thinking; if Fang was a 65 year old Cocker Spaniel the vet would be asking me if I really wanted to keep throwing cash at the bitch, or would it be better all-round just to go straight for the needle?

We get back from the ATM and I go up to the counter and start counting out wads of cash, I look up half way through to see the pharmacist looking at me as if I had gone completely bonkers… it’s not 2,300 she wants, it’s 230! Something got lost in the translation! So that’s OK, Fang takes a step back from the final needle.
Back in the Trundle Bus with our dressings. If she doesn't cheer up soon I am going to take her back for that needle! 

Just getting ready to open my surgery
That evening we go back to the surgery, wait the allotted hour or so to see Doctor Charm, who pronounces himself pleased with his handy work and tells me to bring her back in 10 days. It’s really strange being in charge of Fang. I love this country!

So here we are 10 days later, Doctor Charm has taken the stitches out, is very pleased with the results and tells me everything is good now. Fang is also pleased; I can tell by the way she is wagging her tail again.