Monday, 4 October 2010

September 11th - Algeciras, and swallowing your own tongue...

The campsite we've found, seems to be a bit of a "Lovers lane". Throughout the course of the early part of last night, various cars had crunched onto the gravel, seen us, and departed, sadly, plans of any frivolities thwarted by five burly, and by now scruffy, looking bikers.

The time is 3:30 and I wake, firstly, by the ongoing cacophony of barking from across the valley, the stillness of the night air giving the impression we were being besieged by more than one of the Baskerville hounds, but more importantly, I was aware of a car pulling up just on the other side of the stone wall we lay behind, still snugly in our bags.

I rolled a cigarette, furtively lit it, and in the dark, with glowing embers shielded, peered over the wall. It was no more than an amorous couple in a small hatchback, who had no idea that they had us as neighbours. by this time, several of the others were stirring, I put that down to the dogs, but let them know we had company anyway.
With that, several of our head torches lit up the pavilion as we made no bones about having commandeered it for ourselves, and with much flailing of limbs and crashing about, the couple in the small hatchback beat a hasty retreat. We had once again beaten back the Spanish Armada.

Right-ho, back-tracking a bit to when we all dozed off last night..
As I struggled to fall asleep, I lay chuckling to myself as Darren's snoring echoed up from the end of the line, tickled that the unsuspecting Alan had chosen to bunk next to him. However, just as I started nodding off, I heard what appeared to be a splutter of sorts, from Jason, who was bedded down on the other side of the Grand Wazoo, I thought no more of it, and drifted off.

4am, and by this time, everyone is awake, and the heinous sounds, akin to that of a rocket taking off are coming from the direction of Alan's MSR Jet boil thermo-nuclear type stove... What a racket.
We cook breakfast, a motley assortment of hot dogs, noodles and rations, followed by Rooibos tea, and while this is going on, Jason recounts to me that while he was drifting off last night, his tongue slipped down the back of his throat, causing him to swallow it, waking him with a choking fit. That explains the noise then, hah hah hah.

Alans bike is still not right, and while returning slightly better mpg, he decides to leave the group early, and head into Algeciras, looking for a plug spanner that will fit, and some spare plugs. After going over the map with him, he picks a route, and promises to meet us at the port.

The rest of us get our gear together, and tidy the site, bagging up our rubbish, and finishing proceedings with washing and teeth brushing. 7:30, and we're heading out of camp, although not before Jason dumps some Levis, a plastic plate and bowl, and a few other odds and sods. I, leave the second tin of unopened beans and bacon for the next unwitting traveller to stumble upon.

We continue out on the A373 for a short distance, until it hits the A369, and A405, which were to provide us with 30 or so miles of beautiful twisting roads, running alongside the Alcornocales natural park. The roads were narrow in places, with sheer drops. I narrowly missed being pushed off a bridge on a blind bend, after a pick-up rounded the bend on my side, Shad told me afterwards that he was sure the panniers had made contact. The twisting mountain roads were lined with groves of cork trees, goats were everywhere, and traffic was minimal. The sun was just rising, and the views are amongst some that will stay with me for a long time.

After about an hour, we hit the A7 just outside Algeciras, where our splendid scenery changed to a sprawling grubby city, vastly different, and quite a disappointment after two days of gorgeous roads.
I will say though, that as we came down from the mountains, and entered more urban areas, I was struck by the storks, and their giant nests atop the pylons. They were everywhere, just peering down on us as we rode by, a sight I haven't seen since South Africa.

We find the ferry terminal easily enough, and being an hour and a half ahead of schedule, we decamp in front of the kiosk and relax.
45 minutes later, and still no sign of Alan, however, behind us is a Dutch guy on a bicycle. He introduces himself as Martin, and tells us that he's travelling to Mali, by bicycle!! That humbled me, and put our little jaunt into perspective, here we were with our massive laden bikes, and this little lad in shorts, a t-shirt, and some small soft panniers was doing this all under his own steam.

The customs booth opens, and we breeze through, as this is happening Alan appears on the wrong side of the fence, riding on the docks, we wave him round, and he joins us with minutes to spare. I think it's safe to say that we were all pleased he'd made it.

We get the bikes strapped down in the hold without fuss. No luxury foam pads across the seats like our French counterparts at Brittany, rather just some screwed up newspaper instead. We go topside to kill the next 90 minutes and recharge our batteries after the early getaway.

Whilst getting a baguette from the bar, I get engaged in conversation by the barman, a Spanish bloke in his 30's who very clearly is wearing a wig, and an ill-fitting one at that. Music, in this case being common ground, he proceeds to repeat, and rather excitedly, "Pink Froyd", "Dark shy of moon", and "Wish you here".
I humour him, but can clearly see that he's a Roger Waters fanatic, where as I prefer Gilmour myself. I hail "Division Bell" as my favourite, and beat a hasty retreat to the sofas, and the safety of my travelling companions. Jason is asleep on the couch, Darren seems cheerful, Shad, Me, and Allan just seem knackered.

Ceuta, it's bigger than I imagined, and after unloading the bikes, and nipping out onto more Spanish soil, we head for the border at Fnideq, and get promptly lost. After about 7 miles, and still with the ocean on our right, we decide it's best to turn about, find some fuel, and stop playing silly buggers.
At the gas station, I see a lizard clinging to Darren's motocross shirt, clearly it's hitched a ride from somewhere... but from where? It does look suspiciously like one I saw at camp last night... surely not?

We find the border at Fnideq, and gear ourselves up for a lengthy hassle with border police and touts.
To the contrary, things couldn't have gone smoother, we had our vehicle import form pre filled in before we left. As we disembarked, a guy wearing a name badge gave us all a personal immigration form to fill in and told us to take it to that window, where it was stamped, and we were then sent to a second cabin with our vehicle forms, which were checked and stamped, and we were off. A final passport check as we left the frontier, but in all, 30 minutes tops I'd say, contrary to belief, an easy experience.

We assembled in the car park outside, now on Moroccan soil, had a smoke, did the tourist thing and took a picture of us all lined up, like some visiting troupe of Americans.
We now needed cash, so we made a beeline for Tetouan, and once there, went in search of an ATM.
We found one in a narrow, yet busy back street, my Remus setting off car alarms left right and center. Getting the Moolah, we hit the road again, taking the N2 to Chefchaouen.

The first things to strike me about Morocco so far, are the smooth shiny roads in and around Cueta and Tetouan (must be a bugger in the wet), and the stench of rotting garbage everywhere. The country looks impoverished, plastic bottles and bags litter the sides of the road. It was nothing like what I had expected, however, the people were clean, and neatly dressed, what a contrast.

The temperature is now in the upper 30's, and we pull over near Souk-el-Arba to have a conflab about where to blend a campsite for the night.
We decide that in, or around Chefchaouen is probably the best, given the time, so we move out again, this time, riding jackets are ditched, in favour of vests, and Shads Helly Hansen... It's just far too hot for armoured jackets.

We hit Chefchaouen after taking a detour to recce a lake at Ichtal. (that proved to be too windswept and barren).
Halfway up the mountain into Chef, we meet the Moroccan "Stig". We're over on the hard shoulder, looking at a piece of wasteland, when this guy on a Honda 400 Chopper comes bowling towards us. Wearing a black bandanna over his face, and a black Roof Boxer helmet, he doesn't speak, he merely greets us all excitedly, shaking our hands in turn. He whips a camera out of his pocket, and gives it to Jason to take a picture of him with us. So there we were, with the "Stig", hanging off me and Darren like we were long lost brothers, and as quick as a flash, he's back on his bike, roaring off down the mountain.

We press on into town, vowing to come back to this little piece of wasteland when it's cooler, if we fail to find digs elsewhere.
We find ourselves in town center, and next to a sign saying CAMPING. We decide to stop right there, and grab a few cokes. We sit outside a small cafe, and order 5 cokes, only to be brought 5 mint teas.... Ok we'll have coke and mint tea then. Bloody marvellous though, it was the first time I'd had the drink, and I loved it.
After an hour in town, we followed the sign up a steep rock-strewn road to a great campsite. On the way up the rocky road, both Jason and myself had been clobbered by over-enthusiastic kids with water pistols. However, now at the campsite, we could relax.
We negotiated for 5 pitches and 5 hot showers, and set up camp.
Once more Alans' bike gets the campsite strip-down treatment. He's failed to find any tools in Algeciras, and the bike is still running rough. Luck is on our side though, in the form of French Yamaha mechanic Tivo. He's just pitched his tent next to Jason, after riding from Barcelona on his 2 stroke Yamaha DT125. He promises to look at Alan's bike first thing in the morning, now, he's going to sleep. Fair enough, looks like fortune smiles on us again, we cook dinner, drink tea, shower, and wash clothes.

It's our first day in the country, and we've made good progress, spirits are high, bellies are full.
Jason's managed to burn three fingers picking up a hot stove, and we've met some interesting people, including an Italian couple at the campsite, en-route to Cape Town, who have just rolled their Land cruiser, and another German couple, also en-route to Mali.

Darren pitches his tent next to mine, and we have a final cuppa before calling time out, I have diary duty, and a final smoke before bed.

Welcome to Morocco.

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