Monday, 15 December 2014

And into Africa

Es salaam alaykum Dear Family & Friends. Oh yes we are in Africa!
But first to catch up; since last we blogged we have been on a 3 week trip back to the UK to visit the family before Christmas. Our plan of parking the Trundlebus bus in a secure compound at Malaga airport worked like a treat. You park up a couple of hours before the flight and they take you to the airport; and then when you arrive back, you give them a call and they come and pick you up from the airport. The flights there and back were pleasant, on time and cheap! So the whole exercise went like clockwork and we intend to use this again to come home for visits instead of driving the Trundlebus all the way back to the UK.
We flew back to Spain on the 7th December and met up with our two intrepid travelling companions John & Clare. While I was in the UK I had bought the necessary equipment to install an LPG filler system so that we can fill our gas bottles from petrol stations with LPG pumps. For us this a big plus as we always worry about running out of gas on our travels; and as we are going to be away for an extended period this time, sorting this problem out was a must.
Now I can hear you all shouting in alarm ‘Why would anyone with more than two brain cells get into a Trundlebus after Jono has been fiddling around with gas pipes?’ Well you mate; in fact my very best mate John, is an expert in this field having just converted his own van from scratch. Add the fact that John is an engineer, and has been mucking around on boats for most of his life and you will understand why Fang gave her approval for this major works project to go ahead. The job was completed at the road side on a sunny day with no hitches, mainly because John knew exactly what he was doing and I kept out the way and just made the tea. John Boy is now Fang’s new hero and can do no wrong, which I don’t mind telling you is starting to get right up my nose! I mean who ever heard of a successful project without decent tea?
John Boy drilling a hole for the fiiller

Said hole drilled

Job done!

My first fill watched over by John Boy

Going it alone now.....Fang was no where to be seen
While we had been in the UK John & Clare had done some research into the different ferries and ports we could use to get across to Morocco. We decided to go to Tarifa and catch the fast catamaran to the old port in Tangier which only takes 35 minutes. The alternative would have been to go from Algeciras to Tangier Med (a brand new port just outside Tangier) which is the main traffic route on conventional ferries and takes about 2 ½ hours.
We parked up just down the road from the port in Tarifa and went to find a ticket office, of which there are many, but again our advance party of J & C had already been and sussed out an honest looking agent. We wandered in at about 11:30 and booked ourselves onto the 1.00 ferry. Just like that......we were off to Africa!
Tarifa is only a small port, really just servicing the fast catamaran ferries to Tangier, so there is not much hustle and bustle to contend with. We lined up to catch the ferry, with us, another motorhome and about half a dozen cars, it’s not a big ferry so no HGV’s. Ferry duly arrives and backs up to the dock, it only has one loading ramp at the back so is not one of the drive on drive off ferries we are used to on the Dover to Calais trip. All the cars are waved on and then John & Clare (their van is the size of a large courier van) which left us sitting on the dock. Carlos the Spanish Loader then comes up to me and starts waving his arms about and gesticulating in Spanish that he wants me to turn around. Although I don’t understand why he wants me to turn around I do.......and then it all becomes clear.....he wants me to REVERSE onto the ferry......who ever heard of reversing onto a ruddy ferry?!”%*. Well, as you can imagine Fang has now slipped into one of her apoplectic fits and I am looking at this single ramp onto the ferry and notice that there is not even any safety railings! So off we go with Carlos the Spanish loader, hand on my bonnet as though he’s pushing me, waving left and right and straight ahead in Spanish. Looking in my reversing mirrors just wasn’t helping, so I decide to rely on Carlos the Spanish Loader to keep us out of the drink and just concentrated on his instructions. And that, it appears, was the right thing to do, because Carlos the Spanish loader got me onto the ferry in exactly the spot he wanted, all in one go and with no drama. Hand break on, engine off and I look across at Fang for the first time......remember the old Tom and Jerry cartoons when the cat get’s it’s paw stuck in an electric socket and it ends up with bulging eyes and it’s hair standing on end? Well that was Fang.
Us and J & C on the dock

Our ferry backing up to the dock
The journey across was smooth as you like and before we knew it we were in Tangier port. Now no one would expect an arrival in Morocco to be anything like the experience of arriving at Dover now would they? Well it wasn’t!
We drove off the ferry into a small port to be met by at least 6 guys in kaftans and flip flops and another three or four chaps in differing styles of uniform and guns, all of them waving manically to direct us into the lane for motorhomes.....trouble was they had not decided amongst themselves which of the five lanes was for motorhomes. I chose the inside lane with a chap in a very smart uniform at the end of it.
We were directed under cover and told to pull up at some very sturdy iron gates which were being guarded by a very official chap sporting yet another style of uniform and a gun. This was the gate to Morocco but we were not cleared to proceed yet.
I looked around and there was John & Clare behind us and a very battered Mercedes Benz in the next lane; everyone else seemed to have scarpered.
There was only one other car in captivity with us

One of the officials in a smart uniform came to the driver’s side window and asked, no told us, to give him our passports, which he promptly took away without any indication where he was going or when he might be back. This was a little disturbing as we had already had our passports stamped for entry on the ferry, by a customs official. 
After what seemed like an hour but was probably only half an hour, Smart Uniform Man appeared back at the window and handed me back our passports. He then told me to get out of the van, with my passport only, and waved over a chap in casual European dress who was sporting a big official badge. With me outside the van surrounded by officials, Fang was inside the van slipping into her second apoplectic fit of the day.
Big Badge informed me that he was going to help me fill in our vehicle importation document, which we knew we would need and had already filled it in. I showed it proudly to Big Badge who gave it a cursory glace, told me I had filled it in wrong, threw on the ground, leant on my bonnet and proceeded to fill in another form. On completion of the form Smart Uniform Man appeared back at my side as if by magic and told me that I needed to pay Big Badge for filling out the form. I dug in my pocket and took out some loose euro change but Smart Uniform Man said NO, Big Badge wanted paper money. So I dug into my wallet and gave Smart Uniform man a 5 euro note which he promptly put in his own pocket and walked off! Turning back to Big Badge to get my completed form, he held out his hand and said he would have my loose change, which I gave him. He then gave me back my passport, told me to get back in the van, and walked off with my ruddy form!
On clambering back into the van Fang whispers, ‘What on earth was that all about?’.....’Not entirely sure’, says I ‘but I think I just bribed a customs official to get the Trundlebus into Morocco’......apoplectic fit number three!
So we then sit there with nothing happening for an age until another official strides out, this one in a very smart light blue uniform with big gold epaulettes and a very large cap sporting a very large gold badge. The whole effect made him look more like the Head Concierge at the Casablanca Hilton than a customs official, however, he is waving my green vehicle importation form and shouting ‘Where is Mr Jonathan’.
So now I realise that Big Badge has got my first and last names the wrong way round and I am registered with the Morocco DVLA as Mr Cain Charles Jonathan. Deciding that any attempt to explain to Big Gold Epaulette Man the error would only cause more trouble, I stick my head out of the window a shout ‘Over here!. Big Gold Epaulette Man comes to the window and tells me to get my passport and get out of the vehicle. He then tells me to follow another chap casually dressed in a kaftan and flip flops. Kaftan Flip Flop waves at me to follow, and we go towards the big iron gates which lead out of the customs holding area. Kaftan Flip Flop then gets into what looks like a very heated argument with the guard on the gate who seems reluctant to let us through, however, Kaftan Flip Flop wins the day and we are let through into the outside world.
So now I am outside the iron gates, with absolutely no idea what I am doing, where I am going or who I am going there with. What I do realise is that Big Epaulette Man inside the iron gates thinks my name is Mr Jonathan, and I am carrying a passport that says my name is Mr Cain, and if these two bits of conflicting information ever come together I had better have a more convincing story than Big Badge filled in the form wrong!   
Kaftan Flip Flop leads me off and around the side of a building and into a back entrance, we go up the stairs and come face to face with four soldiers in full battle fatigues and carrying machine guns......this is it, thinks I, my trip to Morocco ends here and it’s the next five years in a smelly Arab prison while the British Consulate negotiates my release in between attending cocktail parties and formal dinners and polo matches.
Not so, the indomitable Kaftan Flip Flop waves me past the Moroccan army and on towards those security things like what they have at the airport; but instead of going through, Kaftan Flip Flop waves me around them, much to the consternation of the two officials standing there. I am starting to realise that Kaftan Flip Flop is a man of some authority.
I am then told to go to a window where yet another official takes my passport, bashes a few keys on his Toys R Us old and very out of date computer and hands me back my passport. I have absolutely no idea what he was doing or why he was doing it and from the look on his face I don’t think he knew either!
Kaftan Flip Flop then takes me back the way we came, through the iron gates and back into the customs holding area where Big Epaulette Man is again waving my green vehicle import form and shouting ‘Mr Jonathan’. This time he gives me my form and Kaftan Flip Flop escorts me back to the van where he sticks his hand out for payment, for what I have absolutely no idea, but pay him I did.  
This whole trip took about ¼ of an hour so by the time I got back in the van Fang is way past apoplectic and has gone into a full blown catatonic seizure. However, shortly after, the big iron gates are thrown open and we are driving into Tangier!
As luck would have it the campsite we had chosen for our first night in  Morocco was only 5 minutes drive from the port. We settled ourselves in, had a quick lunch to unwind and then it was off into the Medina and Souks of Tangier for our first experience.
Our first lunch in Morocco

The Trundlebus parked up in our camp-site
 Wow, wow and wow again......this is sort of what we had expected but more, much more. The sights the sound the vibrancy the colours and the smells are fantastic. The shops are packed full of exciting and exotic goods and the people of Tangier are just a delight......happy, smiling, polite, helpful and welcoming. I am going to stop with the adjectives now and just let the photos tell the story of our first day. Some of the photos are a bit on the poor side but that’s because we have to take them firing from the hip, as it were, so that we don’t upset anyone

Fang making friends as only she can

Do they know how lucky they are being in a Muslim country at Christmas?

All the very latest releases

Spices galore

Clare in the second hand market

This chap is sweeping the street, lifting a man hole cover and brushing the dirt down it!

Olives R Us

Our next stop was a little town called Asilah

Beggars at the city gate

Clare going in for some bartering on the spices

John buying some fresh mint for our mint tea

Donkey park....their owners are on their stalls

So there we are Dear Family & Friends, we are safely in Morocco and looking forward to many more adventures, which we will share with you as they happen with pictures in full Technicolor. Until we blog again, we wish you all a Very Happy Christmas, we love you and miss you all very much.......but not enough to come home yet!
Maeel salaama Dear Family & Friends.  

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Home is a Trundle Bus

 Buenos dias dear family & friends, from a very warm and sunny Costa del Sol in Southern Spain. We are nestled in a small seaside town called Motril, on the coast of Andalusia about 30 miles east of Malaga. Today the temperature is around 26 degrees but with a nice sea breeze to keep things comfortable. 

‘But hang on a jiffy’ I hear you cry ‘the last we heard, you two were holed up in Macclesfield’ let me explain....

We have become full time travellers...oh yes we have! We have rented out our house in Macclesfield for the next twelve months and are homeless, foot loose and fancy free; to go anywhere we please and do anything we desire.

We have been thinking and talking about making this move for a couple of years now and after much deliberation and changing of minds we finally decided that what we really love doing is travelling, and so here we are with the Trundle Bus as our permanent home. Nick, Ellen and their delicious delectable son Oliver moved into our house on the 12th September. Oliver has adopted Fang as his Grandma and we now refer to Melford Drive as ‘Oliver’s house’. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to be really free to come and go as you please.

We are doing nothing new here of course, over the past 3 years of travelling we have met a number of people who have done and are doing exactly as we are, and indeed it is these people who inspired us to make this change in our life style. And so travellers we are, and the way we feel right now, travellers we will be for the foreseeable future, or at least until I can’t drive and Fang can’t make the lunch any more.

‘So what’s the plan’ I hear you ask. Well, the plan is to spend some time in Southern Spain basking in the sunshine (we hope) and then around the middle of December we will catch a ferry across to Morocco and spend the next 2 or 3 months there, out of the winter cold. After that we will come back across to Southern Spain and hideaway here for the rest of the winter......and after that we don’t know, maybe Greece maybe Turkey maybe somewhere else altogether, we will see.

Phase one of our master plan kicked off on the 2nd of October when we travelled across the Channel to France. We decided to try the Chunnel this time as Fang is not very good at sea and has to take tablets to avoid chucking up all over the Captain and his crew, which then puts her to sleep for the rest of the day.....personally I can’t see a downside, but she decided she wanted to stay awake. As for myself...... well I come from a long line of distinguished seadogs and there is nothing I like more than being on the ocean waves and sharing a rollicking good sea shanty with me crew mates below decks.

Anyway the Chunnel it was; and what a very efficient hassle free journey it come I can travel through a tunnel out of the country on a train without getting out of my Trundle Bus and with no fuss or delays, and yet I can’t travel by train from Macclesfield to London and ever hope to arrive either on time or relaxed. How did we manage to get the Chunnel so right?......perhaps we should do more things with the French?

After arriving at Calais, we turned south and had our first nights stop at a little town called Ault on the Normandy coast. Nothing of note about this town other than apparently Victor Hugo saw fit to write at some length in his diaries about the place; between you and me I haven’t the foggiest notion who Victor Hugo is, but the Tourist Board saw fit to plaster his name all over the place so he must be of some note, if only to the French. Fang, who is far more literate in these things than I, tells me Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserable and The Hunch Back of Notre Dome.

The next day we moved further south to a place called Argentan. A nice enough provincial town and a very pleasant overnight stop.

The next place worthy of a mention was Samur. Sitting on the banks of the River Loire and slap bang in the middle of the famous wine making district which is the Loire Valley; this is a very affluent looking town with a most impressive chateau overlooking and indeed dominating the town. You can just imagine in days gone by the peasants of the town looking up at the walls with a feeling of dread, which I guess was the idea. 

Unfortunately the chateau was closed for repairs and so we didn’t have the chance to look inside.  Even more unfortunate is that no one from the French tourist office had the nouse (or in French nousè), to put any signs up until the hapless visitor had clambered up the steepest ruddy hill with their bicycles, at which time said visitor was told the chateau was being renovated.......with a grant from the EU of course.....and would we silver plates come back in 2015 for another look mercy buckets.....yeh, fat chance of that Claude!
The imposing chateau viewed from the town

You can look at the outside but can't go in....

The Trundle Bus parked up for a peaceful night

And then onto a little town called Matha, which is just south east and inland of La Rochelle. Nothing to say about the town, but we know from past trips that the overnight parking has free water and a free electric hook up, which some of these places (Aires) do in France. So it was an ideal place to spend a couple of nights catching our breath.

On the first afternoon there was a knock on the door which Fang answered.

Outside was an old woman with an enormous bag of beans (I mean French green beans not baked beans), which she had obviously just picked from her allotment, or perhaps someone else’s allotment, I can’t be entirely sure.

Anyway Fang being Fang thinks that Madam Green Bean is there offering to give her the bag for nought; and says in her best French ‘oh thank you madam’. On discovering that Madam Green bean is in fact there to flog her beans, Fang ducks back inside the van and gets a small bowl and again in her best French asks madam to ‘just fill the bowl’.

 Madam Green Bean is so incensed, in a very Gallic way with a lot of tutting, shuffling of feet and shrugging of shoulders, that someone would even consider not taking the whole bag let alone have the audacity to ask for 3 beans to put in a bowl, that Fang immediately backs down and ducks back in the van to get her purse.

Two minutes and 3.50 euro later we were the proud owners of 2 ½ lb of fresh French beans from someone’s garden. Now I don’t know how many of you know what 2 ½ lb of green beans looks like, but unless you have catered for a party of 50 or more it’s unlikely!

We had beans twice a day and I even had them on my muesli in the morning, just to get rid of the ruddy things. Fang says she was conned and robbed in French, but felt much better when at the supermarket she noticed the green beans were 4 euro for a kilo, (roughly 2 lb).

On the second day we were joined by Rob and Brenda, (we blame them for where we are now as they encouraged us to believe we could get to the end of our drive in a motorhome!)

They were just on their way north to catch a ferry home and we had arranged to meet up. They arrived at lunch time and we hosted lunch which of course included a good portion of green beans. They very kindly offered to cook dinner that evening, but my suggestion that the menu might be enhanced with another generous portion of fresh French beans was not greeted with the enthusiasm I had expected....indeed I was told to go and do something very un-French with my French beans.

The next stop of note was in the little hill top fortress village of Sant Clar. This is an enchanting sleepy little medieval village in the middle of rolling fields.

On the second day, while we were wandering through the village, we came across what I can only describe as a huge mobile B&Q. I guess in these remote villages this kind of service is worthwhile to the traders, and certainly to the villagers who were flocking round as soon as the truck pulled up!

This was in the village square?

Medieval shopping 

Mobile B & Q

Fang enjoying a stolen fig
And then we were off to Routier, one of our favourite spots in the whole of France. Those of you paying attention on our last trip will remember me waxing lyrical about Routier being wrapped in the local vineyards, and what a lovely relaxed time we had.

It was on this first visit we met Ian who has a large house (it’s for sale) in the village, part of which he rents out as holiday lets, and his very handsome side kick Riley. We have kept in contact with Ian ever since our last trip and it was brilliant to meet up again.

On that first evening we saw Ian come through the Aire on his evening walk with Riley and joined him for a saunter through the vineyards ending up at his house for a drink. Ian was due to pick some friends up from the airport the next day and invited us to dinner at his house to meet them.

That evening we met the enchanting effervescent Susi and her ridiculously handsome husband Roger. Susie and Roger bought a derelict house in the village just down the lane from Ian and have spent the past 5 years renovating it, with Roger doing most of the work himself with some help from the locals, mainly Ian. They now have a dream house in France which they manage to escape to from their home in Belgium about once a month for a weekly respite.

Ian and Susi looking at the iPad with Roger in the foreground on the balcony of their beautiful home
We had a brilliant evening with lots of laughter and good food, (Ian is a very good cook) and they all suggested we join them the next evening at a local restaurant where they would be dining with some other friends.
Annette, Susi and Clare.....the local glitterati

Dinner at a local restaurant with more glitterati...clockwise round the table; Ian, Irene, Madam Fang, Annette, Susi, Roger, Me, Jackie

Me for some reason being very rude to Roger......sorry Roger!

Annette with a new friend

He also charmed Ian
 For about 2 weeks before arriving in Routier we noticed that our fridge was not working properly when we had it running on gas. This is a big problem for us as it means we were limited to overnight stops where there was an electric hook up, so we couldn’t do any wild camping, which is what we really like to Fang’s vino blanco callapso was not chilled to her satisfaction, which is even more disturbing.

We had a word with Ian who looked on the internet and found a couple of places that looked like they might be able to help. Roger was good enough to get on the phone the day after we arrived (he speaks fluent French), but the place he phoned couldn’t help. However, we had discovered from some of the English Chapter of the Brotherhood of Motorhomers staying in the Aires at Routier, that there was a big Motorhome accessory place in a town called Narbonne, which was only about 45 minutes away.

The next day we drove off to Narbonne and found the place. I managed to find someone who spoke a bit of English and explained what the problem was.....he understood both the problem, and more importantly, knew what needed to be done to fix it! The next day a 4:00pm we took the van back and within an hour all was fixed and the fridge is running on gas again.....back in business we are!

Now here’s a thing......while we were in Narbonne we decided to have a look around the town. It was lunch time so there were lots of people around including a group of students. Fang absolutely loves going over to chat with students....I always stand back and just observe from a distance, because it’s like watching a visit by one of the royal family. She will start off talking to just a couple, and within a few  seconds they are all crowding around her. She stands there with her hands clasped in front of her (just like the Queen does) and asks them questions about their studies their family and what they had for breakfast. They all seem to love it and answer her questions as though they were expecting her to visit! She will then arrange them in a group so that she can take a photo of the occasion.... This time she also asked them to get back on their skate boards to do a demonstration for her, which they did, without’s just magic to watch!

Another little thing Fang manages to do on a regular basis is; she will stop someone in the street and ask them if they know where the post office, town hall, market is. When the person replies in perfect English Fang will say in her perfect English ‘oh your English is very good where did you learn it?’ ‘At school in England’ comes the reply ‘I’m just here on holiday’
Fang's student group

The demo skateboarding

During our troubles Ian had very generously offered a parking space behind his house so that we could hook up to his electric.
The Trundle Bus in Ian's french barn
Behind each of the row of houses that Ian and Roger & Susi live there are large wine fermenting vats for each house, some with 3 or 4. Today all the grapes are taken down the road to the co-operative to be processed, but in days gone by each household will have dealt with their own harvest.

These vats are concrete and hold over 1,000 liters each, with a manhole cover at the top to tip the grapes into, and then a tap down the bottom to pour off the wine with another opening to scrape out the grape residue. Most of them are still there which makes a nice bit of social history.
On the bottom left you can see the tap for drawing off the plonk with the door to the right of it to scrape out the grape sludge

There are three or four of these in each house

Roger has drilled out the wall in one and you can see the manhole cover where they put the grapes in
On the Saturday night Ian was holding a BBQ. Quick as a flash I offered my services as his sous chef and got an invite! It was a great night and we met even more of the local glitterati. We were touched by the warmth shown by all these people towards two strangers and will remember this visit to Routier with fondness for many years to come. 
Bruno, Susi, Luc, Chantelle

Ian at his BBQ

With my second chef Riley
Chantelle, Stuart and Clare
Fang with Kingpin Ian
Sadly the next morning we had to leave our new found friends and it was off and over the Pyrenees. The most direct route was to go through Andorra with the advantage that we could pick up some duty free booze on the way.
The spectacular Pyrenees

The drive was, as you might expect, absolutely spectacular. We arrived in Andorra and after a chat to the local tourist information discovered that there were a couple of places where we could wild camp. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to spend a night actually on the top of the Pyrenees we took off in search of a park up for the night.
What an experience, parked in the middle of the Pyrenees at 8000 feet! Spectacular views from our bedroom window, just us and the mountains.....
Our park up for the night at 8,000 feet
That evening Fang discovered a new cure for altitude sickness.......sucking duty free Tia Maria straight from the bottle through a straw...... After the second slurp, herself decides she is a bit peckish and pulls a big bag of crisps from the cupboard. ‘Look at this Jono’ she cries. She is holding this big bag that, because of the altitude, has blown out to the size of a jumbo party second she has poked a hole in the bag and crisps are flying all over the van like an exploding crisp bomb!
Sunrise at our camp

The mountains don't look very high because we are at the top of the mountains!
The next morning the drive down the other side of the mountains into Spain was just as spectacular.

Breakfast looking back at the Pyrenees
We ended up for the first night in Spain in a lovely town called Llieda.

In the next 3 days we just set Tom Tom for Malaga and spent all day driving, stopping overnight at wild camps that we found on the way.

We headed for a place called Cala del Moral just outside Malaga, where we knew there was a wild camp by the beach.
View from our bedroom window

The reason for heading to Malaga was so that we could arrange our trip back to the UK for 3 weeks. We had done our research and knew we could park the van in a secure car park close to the airport and then catch a flight to Bristol direct from Malaga.
With car park and plane tickets booked we were free for another 3 weeks to go exploring.

As we didn’t want to go too far from Malaga we headed east along the coast to a place called Salobrena, about a 45 minute drive from Malaga, and found ourselves a magic wild camp on the beach. Fang, in her usual style, has renamed the place Fisherman’s Cove because of all the night fishing.

Still warm enough to swim in November!

The bay we were parked on


Fang......... looking good!
Well dear family and friends there we are, now you know as much as we do about autumn in Southern Spain. We are due to fly back to the UK in a couple of days for 3 weeks. After that we will be off to Morocco and more new experiences, which we shall of course let you know about.