Deep in the Moroccan Sahara bordering Algiers

Monday, 14 January 2013

Newsletter III January 2006 Morocco.

We have finally reached sunny Morocco!  All that hard work for Alan building the truck, we have finally made it, without any problems.  Our first real stopping point is Taghazoute, a small town just 6km north of Agadir, on the Atlantic Coast of Morocco. En-route we saw some goats in the Argon trees just outside Agadir.  The goats climb, nimbly footed up in the trees to eat the foliage and nuts. 

Alas, the huge freecamp is no more, the land having been bought by an American for development, so we were forced to stay on the campsite, which is like the freecamp, but with a water tap and a perimeter fence.  The campsite is fairly busy, but apparently it gets hideously busy in January. I made a bird feeder for our little spot, from an old water container and put some bread and biscuits for the birds to feed.  I quickly attracted some Bulbuls, the Middle Eastern Nightingale with a beautiful song.  The biggest problem here on the campsite is the French, who seem to think they still own Morocco!  The Moroccans don’t have a good word to say about them, and the French with this attitude seem to make enemies very easily, caused in part by their greed over how much pitch they are entitled to claim.  They all like to claim 4 times their allotted space, marked by deep trenches, flag poles and fencing.  One Frenchman even took delivery of €50 worth of boulders, so doubly ensuring no one parks anywhere near his pitch.  Can you imagine campers getting away with digging deep trenches and defacing English campsites?  It is somewhat unnerving walking past these trenches, as we are half expecting some irate Frenchman to bob up from his trench brandishing a sub-machine gun ensuring that we keep our distance from his little temporary patch of Morocco.  They are quite mad really.  We have however made some new friends, and met up with old ones, and seen some more interesting homebuilds.  A UK plated ex-Russian made, UK army 6L TD  EVERYBODY loves “Guano” our truck.  We have to keep giving guided tours of the inside.  Should start charging people, shouldn’t I?   …..might pay for some of the trip!

Our Moroccan Family.
Finally we met with our Moroccan family, Mohammed and his wife Radia and little 4yr old daughter Selma.  We had been collecting items of use for the family all through the summer months, and it was nice to finally hand them over.  The computer, a sewing machine and a lot of clothes and toys for children.  We knew that Mohammed would give the clothes to the poorer children in Radia’s village.  This year we have been invited to go and stay in Radia’s home village for the New Year celebrations, high up in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, just north of Tata.  So a couple of days later we set off.  The road down south was stunningly beautiful, and clung around the striated mountains and down into gorges.  The scenery was all semi arid rock desert, with few trees and shrubs and no grass. Geologically it appeared to have had a violent past with the different layers pushed into patterned eruptions.  The road peeked at 2320M, then down into a plateau.  Radia’s village Imi-n ‘Tatelt was along an 8km piste road, which ran along a dry river bed.  The track was mostly good condition, but in parts was a bit tricky and rough, but Guano coped brilliantly being a rugged truck.    At the small village of 200 houses, which are homes to about 6,000 people, we were met by the reception committee, a large group of men and children, and we were ushered into Radia’s family home.  The house was large, even by European standards and was made from a combination of cement covered breeze blocks and mud and daub with wooden roofing.  The family was large, and included grandparents, uncles and their wives and children and even cousins and their immediate families.  We were given a very warm welcome and taken to the men’s room.  Women and men dined and mixed separately, but as a European female I was allowed to flit between the two.  The rooms were sparse and simple, with typical Middle Eastern type carpets on the floor, encircled with cushions.  You sat on the floor as there was no furniture and the walls were bare and unpainted.  In the evenings we would all share thick blankets over our legs, as there was no heating.  Moroccan tea was made, which involves boiling a kettle in the room on a small camping gas ring, and the sweet green tea is poured into small glasses.  Tea making is a man’s job, and fetching and the carrying is the duty of the adolescent male of the family, in this case Radia’s younger brother.  Then came an unending list of cooked meals and nibbles, Tarjine, (conical Moroccan cooking pot) home baked bread to dip in local honey, almond nut butter, Berber butter, Argon oil, and jam.  No sooner than we had finished one meal, then another was brought to our table.  After the first day we both thought we were going to explode.  In between meals, we were shown around the house, which not only housed the family, but attached to an open-to-the-stars courtyard, a cow, some sheep, chickens and a couple of goats.  In the back room lived the family transport, a lovely white mule. In the middle of the courtyard was a well, the family’s only source of water.  The oven was an iron bowl dropped into a mud and daub corner of an open room, fuelled by wood and scrub found in the mountains.  All the floors were compacted mud, and doors were ancient weathered wood.  It was like stepping back into the stone-age.  Yet a mere 6 months ago, the villager’s lives were transformed by the coming of electricity!  (I jest not) They now had electric lights and satellite TV but no telephones.  Mobile phones don’t work either as there is no mast for miles.   The family were so friendly and made us feel as if we were one of them.  As a treat, were taken for an afternoon picnic to a local palmery, about 3kms away down the river bed.  My mode of transport was the family mule.  WHAT A FABULOUS TREAT!  She was about 20 years old and had no name, and quite able to carry me and the picnic in two side bags, more food of Tarjine, bread, fruit, tea (with all the cooker and kettles) and nuts.  She was exceptionally well trained and was a dream to steer and stop.  She walked over the bouldered river bed with ease, whilst all the men walked.    

The village was split with the dry river bed running through the middle.  Every year around November, the river bed becomes a raging torrent of rain water, the result of a mere 12 to 24 hours of rain.  It then rages for about 3 or 4 days, during which moving from one side of the village to the other, and even driving the 8 kms of piste road into or out of the village, is impossible.  The piste track is washed away and has to be remade.   We were invited to the other side of the village to meet a Shepherd, Abdul.  He looked ancient and under nourished, with a slight frame covered with weathered skin, but Abdul was full of life and very animated and obviously of strong constitution. His house was simple in the same way Radia’s family’s house was, and he busied himself making tea for us as we sat around on the floor.  He tended to 200 sheep and goats and the shepherds took grazing the mountains in turn.  Some trips he would stay in the mountains for 20 days wandering more than 30kms away from the village, living under the stars and in caves.  Abdul didn't speak any English, so my Arabic proved most useful.  I asked him what dangers he faced. He told me, rabid foxes were a problem, especially when they came close to the villages and near children, who all knew to keep away or get up a tree. (Rabies is a problem in Morocco)  His biggest problem were Golden Eagles, who could pick their prey high in the sky, then swoop down and take in seconds a lamb or kid.  Abdul also used to tend to 100 bee hives, but a couple of years ago Morocco had a locust plague and the government sprayed the locusts with some strong chemicals, which not only killed the locusts, but all 100 of his bee hives.  He received no compensation from the government.  He also receives no old age pension.  There is no old age pension in Morocco, the elders are kept in their old age by their family, hence the large houses and family units.  
‘What do you do for food and water?’ I asked.  He was now fully involved in the tea making ceremony which was at a critical point of sugar quantity.  The sugar rocks of varying uneven shapes and sizes were kept in an ancient box.  The whole affair had been bought into the room by one of the boys of the family.  The old shepherd rummaged around in the sugar lumps, weighing up which combinations would produce just the right amount of sweetness.  The toothless shepherd liked his tea sweet, as two more hefty lumps were plopped into the tea pot.  Yes, this was a man’s job.  A woman could not have weighed such difficult combinations out in her head, and got it just right!
‘My wife brings me what I need.’ He told me. His wife was even smaller than him but a little better covered and like Abdul, full of life.  I had trouble envisaging her tiny frame scrambling up the harsh terrain, with all the tea making paraphernalia, Tarjine, small gas cooker, water etc.  I could imagine myself doing such a task, pack on my back, scrambling over mountains, down through ravines, warding off rabid jackals, and swooping Golden Eagles only to find I had forgotten the matches!  It was an unforgiving land, and there was no room for soft Western sentimentality.   Survival of the fittest were the winners here.   On our way from the village and down towards Tata and Tan Tan, we saw many wild camels and asses.  We also saw many Berber nomads, still living in the same manner they have for centuries, in large wool tents, in the middle of nowhere, tending their livestock for incomes.  In fact, these fiercely independent people, the Ait ‘Atta were the only people in Morocco, who refused to let the French rule them.  They refused to speak French or to follow their rules.  The French infuriated by this, tried all ways to rule them, but never won.  The Ait ‘Atta have stayed independent until today.

The Circus Comes to Tan Tan.
Our next stop was Tan Tan, a border-like town on the Atlantic Coast in the south.   Every year the Paris-Dakar Rally comes to Tan Tan and creates quite a stir.  It was our third visit to Morocco, and our first visit to the Circus.  The Circus always used the airport for a pit-stop, to rest and service and repair their vehicles.  It was a perfect place for ease of flying in parts and crew for the duration of the performance.  We arrived two days before and set up with loads of other motorhomers just outside the airport grounds, lining the road into the airport.  The airport was on a high plateau, from which you could see a wonderful view of Tan Tan town down below.  It wasn’t a busy airport with a mere one landing every fortnight, but the Circus was to make it into a hive of activity.  As the planes carrying organisers, crew, press and provisions started landing, the motorhomes started piling in and space, all 2 square kilometres of it was at a premium.  We had a good spot, but realised that as more campers piled in, our place beside our truck on which was our mat, was being used as a major road, so we turned our truck around and blocked the way.  Of course we didn’t block any way in particular, campers were quite able to drive the other way around us and if they went back onto the road, they could get to the other side of us much easier than scrambling past us.  So we settled down and hoisted the pirate flag high above Guano, just to let others know that we were not to be trifled with.  Anyway, three French campers turned up, (three couples) and immediately demanded that we move our truck so that they could get to the other side.  We told them that it was a freecamp, and we were not moving for them.  Not happy with this, they went and rallied support from other French campers, and quickly swelled their numbers to 30 people (24 of which it had nothing to do with), who all came and demanded that we move for them.  We refused.  They started shouting.  (All they had to do was reverse back three or four campers and drive around a different way, but that wouldn't have been much fun.)  Alan got a little upset and went for a walk, leaving me to deal with it.  They then went and found two army men to come and tell me to move.  I still refused to move.  They then went and found a policeman to tell me to move.  I still refused to move.  They then went and found a policeman with pips on his lapel to tell me to move.  I still refused to move, but spoke to all of the officials in Arabic, who seemed to not want to push me to do anything.  They then went and found what looked like the District Commissioner (three metal rosettes on his shoulders) to come and talk to me.  We had quite a conversation in Arabic, during which I smiled to him sweetly and he called me “Habibti” my darling!  …….you guessed it, I still refused to move.  The French by this time were beside themselves.  How dare a foreigner in “their” Morocco refuse to do as they demand?  The French were used to getting their own way in everything in Morocco, but they hadn’t bargained on meeting a very stubborn English woman desperate for a revolution.  Thirty irate French hopping about, against one feisty English woman.  It was just too much for them.  They couldn’t cope with the fact that I never once lost my cool, never swore, and for the officials, was a pleasure to talk with.  Alan then sent a text to an English friend of ours (travelling with two others) to come and give assistance.  The return text read “Troops on way have fought a few look for our dust trail coming fast” Then two hours later, two Germans, and a Dutchman stepped in.  They had seen enough and had come to my defence.  They demanded that the police and the French leave me alone, that it was a freecamp and we could park where we wanted, and if the French wanted to get to the other side of me, they should just simply drive around another way.  No sooner than that was sorted, our backup (a motley crew of home builds, one of them Bob who looks like a member Hells Angel and drives a big Dodge called Purple Haze)  arrived and blazed a trail through the camp and parked up beside us.  I was triumphant and went and sat down on our steps.  From that moment, the Chief of Police and his minions always gave me a heart felt reception and took time to ask how I was.  I don’t think the French liked me speaking Arabic.  It created too much attention from the officials in my favour.  Never mind, the next day, something else happened to me that they didn’t like either.  

The rally was beginning to gather pace, and all the organisers and crew were wearing some very nice official clothing.  As we walked around the set, I asked about 15 different people for a Paris-Dakar t-shirt, but no one wanted to give/sell me one. It seems they were like gold dust.  So our back-up crew and us went and sat in the airport café for a coffee, where I confidently told everyone that I wasn’t worried as a t-shirt would present its self today.  We all walked back to our campers to wait for the rally vehicles to arrive.  As we sat beside the road, three people in rally t-shirts were directed to us.  They wanted to know if we were the owners of the pirate flag.  They introduced themselves as private crew of a plane for the rally, and that one of them, a German, saw our pirate flag on landing and felt he had to have it, and would I be willing to swap an official issue Paris-Dakar t-shirt for it?  Alan started bargaining with them and managed to make a deal.  Flag for t-shirt and official issue cap.  They also threw in 3 cans of beer for us.  The French were not amused seeing me being hunted and given a lovely new t-shirt and cap and 3 cans of beer.  I think some of the English were not amused either, as they had also been trying hard to get a t-shirt since they had arrived a couple of days ago.  We then stood and watched the rally vehicles arrive, to the eruption of cheers from the campers, first the big support trucks,  from Europe and some from Japan and USA hooting their horns and flashing their lights, then the rally contestants, some battered and bruised and some with obvious engine trouble.  Watching the cars roll in, we couldn’t help thinking that with all the high-tec back up team and rally vehicles bristling with electronics, it had somewhat taken the edge off the rally.  Ordinary cars were not to be seen, only specially designed and adapted ones for off road use, and only special motorcycles.  I think the rally back in 1979 was originally for any vehicle, now it is only for those specialised vehicles, and the £1,000’s needed for the funding.  For this reason the rally has been nick-named “The Circus.”

We are now south of Tan Tan and working our way down to Dakhla, a further 500 miles down south.  Apparently there is a beautiful lagoon there and a huge freecamp.

Love to you all and keep in touch.

Love Cindy & Alan XXXXXXXXXXX

Next newsletter; Purple Haze Tours. One the road into the deep south near the Mauritanian border.

Newsletter II  December 2006

We finally left France, though not before visiting Sigean African Reserve, which cost a whopping €22 each.  We first had to establish if there were monkeys in the reserve, as they would have had a wonderful time dismantling and reassembling our motorhome!  Thankfully, there were none, so we decided to take the plunge.  What a surprise to find we were the only people in the park.  No screaming brats, no queues, no hassle from other motorists  …..and no monkeys!  It was worth every cent to have the whole park to ourselves.

The Poos.
A couple of days inside Spain we met Norman and Pauline, “The Poos” due to their vehicle registration POO 100.  They were very nice people, but Mrs Poo could talk and talk and talk a constant stream of inconsequential drivel.  Under duress, we agreed to go out for a Chinese with them and the evening fortuitously started with some strange happenings.  As we were seated and waiting for our meals, an English man came in the restaurant and was unable to take his eyes off Alan.  Apparently, he knew someone who looked just like Alan who owed him a lot of money in the UK.  Satisfied that Alan was not on his wanted list, he settled down and stopped giving us the evil eye.  The meal was lovely, but was tainted by the company.  Mrs Poo just chattered and drivelled on, about what, escapes my memory.  She could even eat and drivel at the same time.  I don’t know how she did it?  I was grateful indeed for the showing of a video about Richard Clayderman’s visit to China, offering stunning views of the Great Wall, and a duet with a really impressive little pianist, a Chinese girl of about 6 years old.  I never realised that Richard Clayderman could be so pleasing to the senses.  I was glad when the evening came to an end and we could retreat back into our truck!

Ayres Rock in Spain!
Just south of Mazeron we chanced upon a very good freecamp.  Apparently it was once a campsite, but got badly damaged during a very bad flash flood, and then abandoned.  We parked up next to some Germans who had been there for 5 days.  
‘No problem.’  They told us.  ‘Police come and go.  No problem.’  Great we thought, as it was a lovely spot right on the beach with concrete standing.  We settled down and sat outside drinking a brew.  We watched as two Guardia Civil motorcyclists came and went.  
‘See, no problem.’ Our German neighbours waived to us.  Breathing a sign of relief we continued our brew.  We then noticed another two Guardia Civil in a car.  They put their hats on before getting out of their car, which meant only one thing, business.  They then proceeded to knock on every camper door and ordered everyone to move.  We had to move and luckily just down the road was a stunning place we dubbed Ayres rock.  There was a very large parking area where we could park and see the sea and the strange sand stone rock formations, one of which looked like a huge Chanterelle mushroom.  They were quite something.

A Nice Spot For Lunch!
Driving further south down the coast we chanced upon a truly idyllic free camp just south of Aguilas, the sort of free camp all us hippies dream of.  We had heard about this camp, but had never been able to find it, probably due to not looking in the right direction at the right time.  It was very well concealed from the road, and as we drove on the dirt track towards the well protected cove, it was obvious that this was no ordinary free camp.  The first vehicle that caught our eyes was a very old tractor and railway trailer.  We also saw a few home build motorhomes.  Also, unheard of on any free camp in Spain, was a breadman!  The Spanish don’t seem to like freecampers, and would never be seen delivering bread to such camps.  The breadman just happened to be there as we arrived, and as we needed some bread for lunch, we thought we would stop just for lunch, as it was only 11 O’Clock.  

Being very nosey, I went and investigated the tractor and trailer.  They belonged to a German couple Uli  and Gitta, who had become sick of everything in Germany and went an bought a 1958 Deutz 2 cylinder air-cooled tractor for €1,500.  Attached to this was an old railway trailer and with a few alterations, was made very homely with a balcony on the front.  They both spoke very good English and Gitta explained to me;
‘We drove all the way from Germany and Uli drives, but “Bulldog” (the tractor) is very slow.  He only goes at 18kph, so I sit on the balcony and shout, “Uli, can’t you make it go faster?  Uli make it go faster.” but poor Uli, he can’t make it go more than 18kph so I squirt him with my water pistol.’   Now you have to imagine Gitta sitting on the balcony with her long shoulder length golden curly hair, shouting and squirting a water pistol at a tall, skinny, long haired, very handsome Led Zeppelin look-alike in a very old and very slow tractor, to go faster, followed by a very long queue of frustrated motorists who are unable to pass.  Uli just shrugged his shoulders, with a well there’s nothing I can do about it look!  We had to give it to them, almost 2,000 kms at 18kph in a 48 yr old 20bhp engine, and all on red diesel.  (Up the revolution!) We really liked Uli and Gitta.  They had dared to do something really different.  Uli confessed to us, that they too had only stopped for lunch.  That was 7 weeks ago.  
As we talked, another German arrived on Uli ad Gitta’s patch.
‘Ah, this is Oliver, the Caveman.’ Announced Gitta.  Caveman? What was she talking about?  Apparently, Oliver had cycled from Germany on a soul-searching mission on his push bike!  But luck was on his side when he arrived here, as Mica (another lone cyclist from Germany) had vacated some prime real estate property.  A two roomed cave overlooking the cove.  

Oliver, the Troglodyte invited us back to his cave.  It was quite a climb up a steep and slippery slope and I had visions of myself on life-support before reaching the top.  Just before the entrance to the cave was a very narrow precipice, but the view from his window seat was well worth the huffing and puffing to get to it.  Oliver explained.
‘Mica had the cave before me, and she didn’t do anything to it.  Sand was coming in half way up the walls, and into the bedroom.  There was nothing in here but sand.  I first had to take all the sand out and I built everything from materials I have found around the cave.’  Oliver’s home improvements were a sight to behold.  He had made a sunken bamboo window bench affording a view of the whole cove and all the campers, Mediterranean sunsets included.   A matching legged bench, and a re-claimed wooden table, with matching wooden work station incorporating bamboo bowl holders, and to finish off, a strong bamboo broom and bamboo rattan type shower screen which was fixed out on the precipice.  He even boasted running water over the kitchen sink by means of a hanging water bag, with pipe and tap.  Covering the floor was a blue tarpaulin decorated with a Lidl bag as a central feature.  Along the sides of the front room were shelves built from bamboo and oddments of wood.  In the bedroom he had raised the floor with old pallets on which stood his inner anti-mosquito tent, minus the weather cover.    Oliver was understandably proud of his creations, and liked nothing more than to sit and contemplate his beautiful view and his life.  He said;
‘Friends call me and ask, “What are you doing?” I tell them that I am thinking.  “Thinking.  What are you thinking about?”  I tell them, I am thinking about life.  When is enough, enough?  How much is too much?  How much do I really need to make me happy? But they don’t understand.  They tell me that I cannot possibly be thinking all day and that too much thinking is not good.  Of course I disagree with them.  All my thinking is making me very happy and is helping me to understand life.  Back in Germany I had no time for thinking, only working and sleeping.’ 
Oliver was a Dog Trainer in Germany, and had a little import/export business.  He was glad he left everything and came on this trip.  
Oliver had been industrious to the extreme, so much so it all looked like something out of Journal Maison & Jardin Troglodyte!  As much as Oliver hated the system and wanted to be free of it, there he was furiously re-building it all around himself!  We sat wondering if he noticed what he was doing.  He too had also been there about 7 weeks.  He too only came for lunch!  He asked us if we had met the Czech family.  The Czech family we were told were a family that came here every year through the winter months.  They were a mother and father, Petr and Simona and their 8 children!  Their van was only a standard 6 berth motorhome with a little 2.5D engine.  It took me a while to fathom how on earth 10 people managed to sleep in a 6 berth motorhome.

Did they sleep in shifts?  Or was their motorhome like a Tardis? In fact I still haven’t fathomed it out.   Petr was a real rebel and hated the Czech system.  He lived in the summer months on his own land near the German border in a national park.  His home was an arrangement of 3 railway trailers (like Uli’s) around which he had built an arrangement of shelters and add-ons, all totally illegal of course, but Petr is determined to keep his house.  The authorities have tried unsuccessfully to make him take it down, but he has always managed to stay one step ahead of them.  He confided to me;
‘I am from Prague and studied computer programming at university back in the 80’s.  I met Simona at university and we both didn’t like the way the system was developing, telling us how to live our lives and how to bring our children up.  (they only had two children then)  So I tried to change the system and ended up a political prisoner.  Enough was enough, so we bought some land and I built my house, took my children out of school to home educate them and gave up my job.  We live off my 2 acre plot of land, with goats and chickens and vegetables.  We have a good life, but not good enough for the authorities, who have been trying to make me send my children to school and pull down my home.  My way of life has caused a lot of controversy in Czech Republic.  People say that I have a good degree and I should be working, but the only money I have is my Child Benefit.  Together with our self sufficiency, it is enough to manage on.  We need very little.’  He smiled as I looked at photos of his construction back in Czech Republic which looked a little like the film set for the Lord of the Rings, ‘For example, it is OK to build anything if it is for a film.  So when the authorities came round last time to try and make me take my home down, I just told them that the construction was for a film.  They told me that the film was taking a long time to be made.  I just told them that the film company was experiencing financial difficulties and that they would resume filming as soon as possible.  They left me alone because they don’t know how to deal with me.’  He stood chuckling to himself.   He then gave me a tip.  ‘The more laws that are made, the more loopholes can be found, because the people that pass the laws simply don’t know what they are doing.’  I’m not sure that I needed any such encouragement but it was so nice to talk to someone who had a different from the “norm” point of view.  All of Petr’s 8 children were very well behaved and they all had some skill or other.  The eldest boy of 16 yrs was a brilliant fisherman.  He would get up early of his own accord and with his homemade rod of bamboo and twine, he would head down to the sea and catch, moray eels, and other fish that the family could eat.  
Petr told me proudly, ‘You know my son often sits next to other campers who have very expensive equipment, but they never catch anything.  My son always brings back a good catch.’
The eldest daughter of 18 yrs, was very good with the other children, the youngest of which was 2 yrs.  She was also a good bread maker and a music teacher and taught the other children to play violin and accordion.  She could often be seen on the beach giving the other children music lessons.  They played typical gypsy type music, which I really like.  I had such respect for Petr and his family, for they expected nothing, and were a very close family and were coping well under such negative views of others.  They didn’t judge others, but just wanted to be left alone to live their lives.  Petr, I salute you. 

That’s all for this month’s news. Love to you all, Cindy & Alan XXXXX
We are of course now in Morocco and shall be heading down to the Paris – Dakar Rally in January.  It will be our first time at the rally and is something we are both looking forward to seeing. Weather is fabulous!

Some other news; The Truck With No Name, now has a name. “GUANO” due to the condition in which it was found, covered in pigeon shit.  Incidentally, Guano is going swimmingly.  No problems at all and he is coping well with everything we ask it to do.  We had cause for celebration the other day, as we managed to squeeze a whopping 18mpg out of it!    Diesel in Morocco is about 47p per L.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Newsletter December 2001

Who would have believed that 40 years ago Benidorm was just a small, sleepy fishing village, the occupants of which had never seen the likes of a plastic willy, or an inflatable plastic dolphin.  Nor had they the pleasure of meeting Sticky Vicky on her rounds of the night clubs. I wonder what the old fishermen would have made of her?  Benidorm has since changed beyond all recognition, with concrete mixers vomiting copious amounts of concrete to build ever-taller hotels and apartments.  The old part still stands, but bares little indication as to its tranquil and little known past.  The fishermen have long since gone and Benidorm is now overrun with wrinkly pale skinned beach whales, who lay spread-eagle on the sand, paying homage to that big, warm, yellow thing in the sky. Many of them are in competition to compete the cellulite challenge, (sorry ladies) which consists of pretending to ‘run’ the length of the Playa De La Levante one way, (all 2kms) then a sort of deflated hop, skip and a jump back again. They all look very focused, probably in a desperate bid to overt the onset of a major heart attack.  The Dutch seem to have the right idea. They effortlessly ride their petrol or battery driven cycles along the promenade. The Spanish do things their way, by driving everywhere and parking as close to their destination as space will allow.  
One thing I find really irritating about Spain, is the amount of dog shit on the pavements, especially in towns around apartment blocks.  Walking the pavements is a real hazard and can be likened to doing a sort of dyslexic tango with your partner, in an effort to avoid the indiscriminately dumped piles.  I can imagine the sale of paving slabs to include questions such as; ‘And what coverage of dog shit would you like on your pavement Senor?  50% seems quite popular.’ In spite of its faults, Benidorm has a habit of growing on you.  
Because of contracting the Benidorm Bark, (a bad cold) we have only spent a couple of days sight seeing this month. We spent a day in the hills and visited Les Fonts De L’Algar, a beautiful natural waterfall. It was the famous back-drop of the Timotei shampoo advert. You know the one, where a scantily clad bint washes her hair with Timotei under the waterfall, causing untold pollution to the environment! Clean hair, dead fish! But what do I know?  
Launderette capers!
United Peacekeeping Forces are soon to be told of their next mission. They are to forget Afghanistan and are to focus on peacekeeping in and around the launderette sites of El Raco Camping!  It seems that hostilities have flared up between the Dutch and the English factions, with the Dutch fighting for outright control of the washing machines. Skirmishes have been reported in and around the toilet blocks caused by the Dutch jumping the laundry queues. Reports of casualties cannot be confirmed. Though it has been noticed that tensions seem to be less on cold and damp days. The Germans don’t seem to get involved. They have their laundry washed and dried and their selves showered and fed long before any Dutch or English have even thought of dragging themselves out of bed!  As for the Spanish, I’ve yet to see them do any washing!
Campsite in general.
The campsite of El Raco is one of the cleanest and best kept campsites I’ve ever stayed on. All credit to Pedro, and his staff of cleaners and site workers, who work very hard and are always willing to help.  The modern toilet blocks are always spotless and there is 24/7 piping hot water.  The receptionist is multi-lingual and there is a fabulous mini-supermarket on site, which not only has  extremely well stocked shelves, but sells all the favourite things of the main European nationalities.  Marmite for the Brits, chocolate sprinkles for the Dutch, and sausages for the Germans. Some people have been known to complain about Pedro’s insistence that everyone keeps to the campsite rules.  It is the rules and quality of the site, which makes it by far the most popular campsite in Benidorm. Each time we have stayed it has been full to bursting.  All those campers can’t be wrong.  
A small number of campers (long stays) have decorated their ‘gardens’ with gnomes and other statues of dubious parentage.  One camper in particular, seems to have a problem with their garden occupants who appear to be proliferating at an alarming rate!  So much so that they are spilling into the garden of next door!  One evening, whilst on our way back from our weekly meal at China Gardens, I picked up all the garden occupants and re-positioned them in a line, as if they were all leaving home in a convoy.  Alas, they were all herded back to their places the following morning.
Strange Visitors to our pitch.
Having put our caravan up for sale, we have been receiving some rather strange visitors.  Strange English visitors at that!  One retired couple that came, the husband having noticed some Sharon fruit in my fruit bowl, appeared intrigued. So I asked if he would like to try some. I obviously said the wrong thing, because he wasted no time launching into an extensive list of foods that he didn’t like. I thought he had exhausted a rather interminable list of quite ordinary English foods as Alan and I listened dumbfounded.  He continued; ‘Cheddar, I don’t like Cheddar, and brussels, I only like the small ones. Sausages, I can’t stand cold ones. I had a bad sausage once and it made me ill.  I haven’t touched one since. In fact I don’t like any cold meat at all and you can’t fool me by reheating it.  Spices, Oh no, I don’t like spices. Chinese, Japanese, Indian, ughhh. Italian, Oh no, not for me. Milk, I don’t like milk and I don’t like fruit.  I like cauliflowers, but only the green leaves, not the florets.’  He stopped to recollect his thoughts.  ‘I used to like porridge, but I’ve even gone off that!’ He then turned to his partner and give her a rather accusing look. ‘I’ve only gone off porridge in the last few years since I’ve been with you.’  He told her. ‘It’s the way you cook it.’  He added.  (I was beginning to wonder what we had done to deserve this!) Alan and I cast a rather worried look to each other. We sort of got the general drift of what was going to happen next.  We just managed to overt some verbals and messy separation, by reminding them that they had come to view our caravan!  He could have saved us all the verbal diarrhoea, not to mention time, by just telling us the foods he did like!
Christmas Day.
This is our first Christmas in Spain and to our surprise our row on the campsite is being transformed as I write. Our particular row seems to have been on a tinsel and Christmas light shopping frenzy, with each pitch trying to out do their neighbours. Each pitch has that many decorations and flashing lights, baubles and dangly bits, it would put Oxford Street in the shade. Campers from all over the campsite stroll down our row every evening, just to see the lights.  We didn’t have any lights, but we did decorate our little tree on the edge of our pitch with tinsel and baubles.  Pedro and his entourage of cleaners and ground staff woke us all up Christmas Eve, amid the banging of drums and clashing of cymbals, to give us all our Crimbo present.  A bottle of champagne and a platter of fancy biscuits. We spent a quite Christmas indoors, I with a bottle of Sangria, ‘Cheers!’ and lots of goodies, watching the BBC on our satellite system.   
Happy New Year to you all.
What ever it all means.  It’s all man made, isn’t it?  According to Michael Palin, Ethiopia is still in the 19th Century and as most of us know, Saudi Arabia in accordance with the Lunar cycle is still in the 15th Century, so where does that leave us? There is only one time, but who’s time is the real time? Is time those sections being ebbed away on a false face of a clock, or is it the passage of life? In reality, ‘now’ is all there is and ever will be.  The past has gone, never to return, the future just a figment of our imagination.  ‘Now’ is all there is, yet society fools us into all sorts of insecurities under the falseness of time.  Happy New Year to you 

Newsletter March 2002

Homeward bound.
Left Benidorm March 2002.  We drove on the motorway to just north of Valencia and was shocked that the motorway tolls amounted to €17. (about £11.33)  We quickly came off the motorway and took the road inland, climbing with overloaded Transit van and very heavy caravan en-tow, to the dizzy height of 1080M above sea level!  I had hoped to see the Pyrenees as we drove through the Western pass into France, but they eluded us!  We did meet a mad cyclist on the Spanish French border, who was on a mission to collect as many different €1 coins from each country in the Euro.  (Each country has its own individual design on one side of the Euro coins)  As we pulled into a garage, he frantically cycled up to us, to ask if we had any coins that he could collect.  Was his life that empty that he was reduced to collecting Euros in order to make it more interesting!  I guess it was a rather novel way of begging.  (No.  We didn’t give him anything.)
The Ticket Saga.
Reached Caen and the ferry port Monday 18th March.  All we had to do was book our return place at a cost of £5.  We bought our RETURN ticket in Essex 6 months ago.  It was an open 12 month return for van, two people and a caravan for £210.  We paid cash.  We were told when we bought the ticket that if we returned outside of the winter season, we would have to pay the difference in season tariffs.  We knew that the winter season changed at Easter, which was why we decided to return before the Easter break.  At the Ferry booking office we tried book our return ferry.  The woman who took our ticket pressed a few buttons on her computer screen and gave a big sigh, then called the manageress over to deal with it.  The scene was displaying all the hallmarks of one of those protracted and frustrating processes, and we braced ourselves to hear what the manageress had to say about it.  We told her when we wanted to sail, to which she informed us that we would have to pay £59.  ‘What?’  We chorused.  ‘You must pay £59 before you book your return journey, because the price has increased.’  She told us.  We managed to understand from her that it had increased because of a change in season. The season had according to her changed in February.  Alan picked up a 2002 brochure on the counter and checked out the dates for the new season, which was 20th March.  We were 5 days inside the old season, so no increase was payable.  She then tried to tell us that the fares had, well, just simply increased since we last sailed.  Alan was getting tired of her pathetic excuses, so asked to speak with customer service.  ‘You can use the pay ‘phone over there.’ She coolly told us.  ‘No.’ Said Alan,  ‘Brittany Ferries are changing the rules, so Brittany Ferries can pay for the call.  I’m a customer!’ He told her indignantly.  She very reluctantly let us use her ‘phone, though not before she spoke with them first to ‘explain’ the situation.  Customer Service told us that our ticket had simply risen in price since we last used it, 5 months ago!  Alan told them that a 50% increase was totally unfair and that if we were to buy a return airline ticket, we would not be expected to pay a 50% increase on the return part of a prepaid ticket.   Alan then looked at the prices of some of the new fares from the 2002 brochure, whilst the woman on the other end of the ‘phone continued to chelp on.  A single fare was available for the van, two people and a caravan for that very week, for £106.  Alan pointed this out, but between them the staff put on a show of ‘No comprendo.’  He then asked if he could speak with customer services in England in the hope that he might at least get a little more sense out of them.  The woman behind the counter once again after much huffing and puffing, reluctantly put us through and we went through the same questions.  ‘Oh, no, it’s not a 50% increase, it’s actually a 25% increase on the whole price of the ticket.’  She tried to tell us.  This was nonsense and it didn’t wear with us. The fact that one half of the ticket was used and finished with, was of no interest to her.  We actually thought that we were getting somewhere when she told us that we could cancel our return ticket and book the single ticket we had found for £106 and get £105 refund from our old ticket!  ‘Great.’  We thought. ’So.’ she added, ‘You must pay £106.’  ‘What?’  We cried.  ‘You just told us that you will refund £105 from our old ticket, £105 of ours that you have had for over 6 months.’   ‘Yes, but I cannot refund monies spent in England here in France.  For that you must apply from the travel agent in UK.’ ’What ever was the purpose of Europe?’  We thought.   It was all so totally ludicrous.  We had to pay £106.   Yes, we were definitely getting closer to England.  It would probably be another fight at the other end for the refund, with the travel agent wanting to subtract their commission.
The Bank Fiasco.
The following day, rather depleted of funds, we decided to change some Sterling.  £40 in all, in cash.  No problem changing cash you would think, wouldn’t you?  Wrong!
The first bank we queued for 20 minutes, only to be told that they didn’t change foreign currency.  The second bank said it did.  The woman took our 2 X £20 notes and started to search in a rather thick book, which contained all foreign notes of the world.  Having found our notes, she then went and found the equally appropriate large and over complicated form to complete.  She then asked for my passport!  ‘I’m changing cash, so why on earth do you want my passport?’  I asked her.  She didn’t speak any English, but I understood her reply.  ‘No passport, no Euros.’  She put all the details of my passport into the computer.  This seemed to take forever, as she didn’t seem to know what she was doing.  She then started to search throughout my passport for something.  ‘Address.’  She demanded.  ‘What do you want my address for?’  I asked.  ‘I’m changing cash.  My address is not necessary.’  I once again understood the reply.  ‘No address, no Euros.’  Still not satisfied, she then went and took my passport over to the photocopier.  ‘No, no.’ We told her.  ‘No photocopy of passport.  You have taken the details, now that’s enough.  Give me back my passport.’  We left without changing any money.
We were sick of Caen.  It was cold wet and miserable.  Hasn’t stopped raining since we arrived.  The campsite is all muddy and hitching the caravan onto the van will be a struggle.  England is no better.   Still, it’s Wednesday and our ferry leaves 16.30 tomorrow. 
The Ticket Saga continues.
The following day at the ferry terminal; we pulled up to the booth amidst a long queue to have our ticket checked.  The woman looked at our new ticket, issued only the day previously by her colleague, then looked at our van and said,  ‘Your ticket does not cover your van!  This ticket is for a car!’  It was like a bad dream.  I got annoyed and told her that it was not our problem, that her colleagues had made the problem, and they can sort it all out.  She called the Duty Manager who was very nice about it all, considering we were fuming.  (frothing at the mouth type of fuming) He explained the situation.  ‘Ah, this is not a problem.  You see, you should have told them when they changed your ticket that your van is a leisure vehicle.’    Talk about red tape.  
Home at last!
As we drove off the docks at Portsmouth, with our van groaning from the excess weight of champagne and wine bottles, (for my 40th birthday hooley.  Cheers!) two big containers of diesel, (it’s cheaper in France than UK) and a hundred and one other things, there was not a customs officer to be seen.  We could have made a fortune bringing half a dozen illegal immigrants, a few stray dogs, 1,000’s of cigarettes and many other items of contraband in with us.  (not that we could have fitted them in anywhere) With border controls as lax as Portsmouth’s, no wonder the UK has such a problem.  I drove straight off the docks and onto the wrong side of the road, almost causing an accident.  

Newsletter April 2002

From Portsmouth we headed north and eventually arrived at a small campsite attached to a Covert War/Aviation Museum, in Northamptonshire, said to be the founding home of the CIA!  Living out in the middle of beyond, next to Covert War Museum we are seeing yet another side to life.  The campsite owners, Vera and Bernard, hold a number of rallies throughout the summer which has brought some very strange characters into close proximity.  
Strange Neighbours.
There are a few permanent caravans around us, in one of which lives an Irish guy who drives ‘The Tortoise.’  ‘The Tortoise’ is a Ford Escort incognito, with extension plates welded all over the exterior to give the effect of a ‘shell’ which have then been painted for extra effect.  Alan told him that our intended motorhome will be called ‘The Crow’ to which he asked us, ‘What pills are you taking?’  I looked at him, then looked at his car, then said, ‘Obviously not the same ones you are taking!’  He spends his weekends spraying and touching up ‘The Tortoise.’  ‘The Tortoise’ puts a smile on people’s faces.  Apparently one policeman has told ‘The Tortoise’ that his extension plates are illegal and seems to be on a crusade to force ‘The Tortoise’ off the road.   ‘The Tortoise’ has been taken to the MoT testing station, and has been passed as kosher for British roads.  Other policemen don’t seem to have a problem with ‘The Tortoise,’ it’s just this one.    There’s always one, isn’t there?  The owner of ‘The Tortoise’ is now indulging in another project.  A Ford Escort van!  But he’s not telling us what the van is going to be.   I suppose that we shall have to try and guess, as each week it becomes transformed!  
Funny Goings-on.
One weekend, the Camping and Caravanning Club had a meet in the next field, at the same time as ‘The Pioneers’ had their Easter meet in an adjoining field.  ‘The Pioneers’ are a small group of people who in their spare time live as the first European North American settlers lived, with their canvas tents, billycans, axes, and campfires.  To look at them you would think ‘Little House On The Prairie.’ One character ‘Gypo Jim’ came with his menagerie, 3 ferrets, a dwarf Amazonian parrot and a dog.  His ‘tent’ is really a horsebox disguised as a log cabin, on which he hangs an array of basic metal outdoor 18thC cooking implements.  Pride of place at the front of his tent stands his totem pole, decorated with bones, feathers and furs, all presented to him by one friend or other.  ‘Each one tells a story.’   He told us.   It all looked quite a sight with, The Camping and Caravanning Club with their shiny new caravans, wearing their fancy outdoor clothing from Millets, sitting on their plastic camping chairs and tables, with their noses in the air, not talking to each other. And a few feet away ‘The Pioneers’ with their rustic wooden furniture, bones, feathers, Billy cans and animal skins laughing and making welcome anyone who dared to go and say ‘Hello!’  They were great!  (Basil Fawlty, from Fawlty Towers, would have said, ‘We have both ends of the evolutionary scale this week.’)   Jim’s son came to visit bringing with him two beautiful birds of prey.  A Shaker and an Eagle Owl.  One other member of the Pioneers, Tug, showed us how to shoot a crossbow and a bow and arrow.   Jim showed us how to perfect the art of axe throwing. The Pioneers were such good fun to be with.  
It was nice to meet Jim and Co, but a couple of weeks after Jim and Co had left, we noticed what we thought were The Pioneers setting up camp again in the neighbouring field, with their canvas tents, billycans, totems and an array of cooking utensils, along with a few ferrets and a couple of lurchers.  So naturally we went over to say ‘Hello.’  Jim wasn’t to be seen, so asked,  ‘Are you the Pioneers?’   The reply was most indignant,  ‘Oh no we are not The Pioneers, we are The Colonials!’    It was all we could do to keep straight faces!  (We’re not The Judean People’s Front, we’re The People’s Front Of Judea!  “The Life of Brian”) Apparently, the split happened due to those who are now The Colonials not agreeing in part to Jim’s converted horsebox, because they explained ‘The original settlers didn’t live in converted horse boxes.’   At that moment, one of the women in The Colonial group, started speeding around the field exercising the lurchers, in a fully automatic electric wheelchair!  Q.  Did original settlers to America have electric wheelchairs?   I don’t think so!
Jim has another side to the story.  He tells us that the whole point of the group was to try and live, as the original European North American settlers lived.  But when they gave demonstrations at fetes and rallies to welcome the public to see how they lived, The Colonials didn’t like the idea of showing the public inside their tents, and used to close them up anyone came to see.  This we could believe, because The Colonials were not at all friendly and didn’t make us feel welcome.  Unlike The Pioneers who gave us a wonderful weekend.   Jim said that such behaviour was pointless.  As an after thought.  Is it any wonder that America went through a vicious civil war, when a small group of similar folk, of no more than 20 are unable to resolve their differences and end up splitting with bad feelings in the sleepy countryside of Northamptonshire?  But of course, where do you draw the line as to what the original settlers had and used?  To say that a converted horsebox is not in keeping with the times makes a mockery of everything else that they use.  (not to mention that futuristic electric wheelchair)   Jim told us that he has a horsebox because he lives on his own and has heart problems.  A horsebox is an easy option for him to handle.  Inside the horsebox is very basic, with a wooden shelf for the bed and one shelf for a few things.  The utensils that both The Pioneers and The Colonials use might look authentic, but they were forged with modern methods, using metals mined in modern ways.  They all drive to the camps in modern vehicles. And they all eat food bought from the supermarkets!
That Horrible Word, Work.
We are both in employment now working hard towards our next winter migration.  I work for a large travel company VDU-ing in the accountancy department.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  The waste is disgusting.  This company alone must play a key role in supporting the hamster bedding industry!  Ream upon ream of top quality paper is shredded every day.  Alan said that the waste at his work is disgusting also.  Something has to be done about all the waste in this world.
Our New Project.
Some other great news!   We have at last bought our base vehicle for our A-Class motorhome.  We have an ex-council L reg Omni minibus, 22 seater, air suspension, air assisted brakes, 2.9 Perkins diesel which takes a whopping 18 litres per oil change. Gross maximum weight is 5 ton, which is perfect for our 120 litre water tank, a full sized cooker, extra gas bottles, Alan’s extensive tool box and all of our belongings. Being a commercial vehicle, weights and long hard journeys will not be a problem. We have made some preliminary floor plans and hope to make a start on the conversion some time in the next couple of weeks.  It’s all very exciting. We shall be calling our self-converted motorhome, ‘Bitsa’ because she will be made from bits of this and bits of that! We cannot and will not pay the inflated prices for the furnishings of Bitsa, so will be frequenting car-boots and skips.  We shall have it completed for when we are ready to head South again for the winter.  (October)
We saw our old Sherpa this weekend, the one we drove to Kathmandu.  It did look a sorry state, all neglected and ready for the scrapyard in the sky.  The new owner still has the country names painted down the side of the van and all the stickers from the trip, although they are becoming rather faded now.  He told us that so many people stop and ask him about the journey marked on the van, that he has resorted to carrying a copy of my article from MMM magazine to show them!  

Newsletter Oct/Nov 2002

‘Bitsa’ built and loaded up for our winter migration, we headed south in search of that big warm yellow thing in the sky!
The Ferry Crossing.
We left England on the Norfolk Line ferry, it seems just in the nick of time as a vicious storm approached the South of England.  I was looking forward to a big breakfast on the ferry, but as we were in the queue waiting to be served, the captain gave the following warning.  ‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Gale force winds are now picking up speed through the English Channel, so expect a little pitching and rolling, but I shall try to keep it to a minimum.  In the event of an emergency, you will hear the alarm.  Please proceed calmly to the exits where you will be given a life jacket….’  I thought back to the news headlines of the day before.  A ferry had crashed into the harbour walls!  We had missed that too!  I stood in the breakfast queue in a daze, as our ferry rocked and swayed into the English Channel.  I suddenly didn’t want a full breakfast, knowing it would probably be thrown overboard, so ordered toast.  Alan had a huge breakfast and sat in front of me enjoying every morsel. I couldn’t even manage my slice of toast and feeling very green around the gills, I rushed out on to the deck.  The wind was that strong I could barely breath, and with a liberal dose of horizontal rain I got rather wet!  If I was to vomit my toast, it would have been thrown right back in my face, so swallowed hard.  I came back inside and sat on the floor beside the deck door, incase I needed to make a hasty exit. One young boy of about 10 years old, looked how I felt, but then he had eaten a full breakfast before we had left the harbour.  It was something he now greatly regretted as he walked, with purpose along the corridor looking for the Gents.  Sadly for him the Gents didn’t materialize, but his undigested breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs and beans did, right into his swiftly cupped hands.  With his regurgitated breakfast dribbling through his fingers, he continued to search for the Gents.  ‘It does get better, you know.’  Came a voice standing beside me. I looked up to see a very classically dressed, middle-aged English woman.  ‘I used to be like you, but it does get better.’  She assured me.  ‘Really.’  I answered unconvincingly.  I spent the remaining hour and a half of the crossing sitting on the floor next to the outside deck door.  All credit to the captain, for getting the ferry an its occupants to France safely.
The Storm.
The following morning the storm through the English Channel was in full swing, battering the coast of France. We were camped on an Aires right beside the ferry port in Calais and ventured out for a little walk along the quayside.  We met an old woman walking a tiny Pomeranian dog.  I watched as its spindly matchstick legs whizzed back and forth beneath a pompom of fluff, out of which poked a cute foxy face.  I bent down to fuss it and the woman told me in French that he weighed only 1kg and was always looking for other dogs.  Alan told her to be careful with the strong winds….that the dog might blow away!  We all laughed, I guess sharing the same vision.  Of a gust of wind sweeping the pompom off its feet, and holding it vertically waiving about at the end of the lead.  The French are very friendly people.  We haven’t met a horrible one yet.  We don’t know why the English believe that the French hate us!  It’s just not true. (they probably feel sorry for us that we can’t stand up to our pathetic government)
Into Southern france.
Along the coastal road South of Bordeux is a vast tract of pine forest called Les Landes, which is over 14,000 sq klms.  Low timber framed houses are characteristic of the area and the forests are farmed for timber and resin.  We then made it to one of our favourite spots, Capbreton, where we decided to chill out for a couple of days.  Capbreton is on the South West cost of France and offers one of the best surfing beaches in Europe.  The area is quiet and unspoilt with a long stretch of deserted beach.  The temperature was 25ºC, we changed into shorts and t-shirts and started to top up our suntans.  
More Money Than Sense.
Parked next to us were 3 British registered vehicles.  The first, a top of the range all singing all dancing Mercedes camper that Rob & Jan had bought new from Italy, being a third of the price cheaper than UK.   It seemed that they had spent as much again on every conceivable extra; 200W of solar power, 4 large leisure batteries, a built in petrol generator, a diesel powered central heater, microwave, satellite and all manner of alarms, and a private number plate. Yet to look at them they were barely 30 something! The real stunner came when they realized who we were and told us that my article in MMM (Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly) about our overland independent trip to Kathmandu was the real inspiration for their trip! ‘That article did it for me.’ Rob told us. I was gobsmacked to learn that we had inspired anybody to go out and spend what must have amounted to £60,000 + to do a similarly arduous overland trip. (We had only spent £1,000 on our vehicle and spare parts for our overland trip UK to Kathmandu and back.)  They had more money than sense. They went on to tell us that their route over 5 years Europe, Morocco, the Artic Circle, Russia and some of Eastern Europe, Turkey, then ship the motorhome to Canada, onto America, Mexico, then ship to South America, then ship to New Zealand and Australia!   We wished them luck.  
Are we jealous? No, we are not.  We really wouldn’t want the worry of such an expensive vehicle, not only being attractive to thieves, but breaking down. Although Alan is an excellent mechanic, such modern vehicles need very expensive computers to find faults and put them right.  At least with our ‘Bista’ fault-finding is simple and there are no black boxes to complicate matters.  Thieves would also look at us and think that we hadn’t got anything worth stealing.  That suits us.
On a Shoestring.
Another couple, Roxanne from Canada & John an Australian, were traveling in our spirit.  They had a small old Nissan van with ‘Corgi Registered Gas fitter’ emblazoned all over it.  The back, in which you couldn’t stand up, they had built a platform which took up most of the floor, for the bed, under which were a few drawers.  They had no toilet, no cooker, and no washing facilities yet they seemed the happiest of the three couples.   A couple of years previously they had driven from Canada to Mexico in another old van and loved every minute.  They told us that they came to England and didn’t even last 3 days.  They didn’t like the atmosphere.  All the rushing around and over crowding made them depressed, so they bought the gas fitters van and headed for the ferry port and France.  They were heading for Morocco.  
It’s a national holiday in France!  Walking into Capbreton we saw hordes of children dressed up as pumpkins, Draculas, witches, ghosts, complete with faces painted.  They looked a picture.  They then moved down the street visiting every shop playing “Trick or Treat” to which the shop owners responded by giving them sweets.  Each child ended up with a carrier bag full of sweets.  The shops then shut early and for the following day.  It made me wonder what has happened to the British national holidays, that they are slowly being eroded in the race for more profits, bigger and better.
Into Spain
We drove into Spain via the top left hand corner, down to Pampalona, Zaragoza, Valencia and on to Benidorm.  We made it in two days, wild camping included.  If you listen to the leading UK motorhome magazines, you will be led to believe that Spain is a dangerous place for free camping. That you will get broken into unless you stay on a campsite.  This on the whole, is nonsense.  You are no more likely to get broken into in Spain, than in parts of UK.  When free camping and travelling around any country, all that is needed is a little common sense to keep your self out of trouble and a little respect for the locals and their wishes.

Newsletter December 2002

Around the Coast of Spain.
Having spent a couple of weeks at El Raco Camping, Benidorm and it was time to move on.  We headed down the East coast of Spain to Albir, where we met a German with a rather large, bull nosed Mercedes 911 4X4 ex-military truck. It all seemed rather cumbersome for the tarmac roads of Spain, but he had taken the truck to some unusual places.  Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Jordan, Syria and Morocco.  When I discovered that he was a retired commercial airline pilot, I nick named him ‘Jumbo.’  Jumbo spoke very good English and told us that he was on his way to Morocco, for the 7th time!  As we sat talking about our similar travels, Alan fished in the Mediterranean Sea. His bait an old chicken carcass, was placed on the rock behind him.  As I sat talking to Jumbo, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, Alan’s bait starting to edge its way over the rocks! I looked closer and saw a possy of the tiniest mice I’ve seen, trying with all their might to drag the bits of chicken away. Jumbo thought it hilarious.
In Campello, we parked up on the beach alongside the fishing port, beside many other motorhomes, Dutch, German and French.  It was a lovely spot with and interesting fish market every evening, selling squid, moray eels, crabs and nice looking fish.
Our next stop over heading South along the mountainous coast line of Andalusia was Mojacar, named from the ancient hill village which lies a couple of kilometres back from the sea.  Mojacar must be one of the least spoilt pieces of coast line in Spain which in the 1960’s was virtually a ghost town. However, Mojacar’s fortunes were turned around when a very nice mayor offered free land to anyone willing to build within a year! The bid attracted a lot of artists, but now Mojacar is a popular package destination with a difference.  It has kept its quaint original Spanish looks, without a high rise hotel or tat shop in sight.   We headed for one of the beaches and bumped into Mr Know-it-all, who lived in a large American camper.  What Mr Know-it-all didn’t know, wasn’t worth knowing and launched straight into his ‘know-it-all routine. ‘Garages won’t allow you to use their water for your tanks and if you are caught working here, the Spanish police will fine you £2,000, confiscate your vehicle and send you home.  In Morocco they keep you waiting 2 hours at the customs and if you don’t have motor insurance they refuse to let you in. You have to bribe them!’  And so he prattled on, launching into some elaborate scheme about how to bribe the customs official, waffling on about leaving a conspicuous packet of cigarettes on the table with, (and this is most important) one sticking out of the packet!  We had no intention of bribing anyone and we tried to tell him that we could handle ourselves, that we had driven through Asia and back without the need for any skullduggery. But our knowledge was falling on deaf ears.  As he waffled on I noticed in the distance behind him a Dutchman taking his cat for a walk on the beach.  On reaching a chosen spot the cat urgently dug a hole, pooped and scooped the sand from all directions in order to meticulously cover his dirty deed.  Cats are very funny when they do this and I started giggling, only to be met with a very icy stare from Mr Know-it-all. ‘ The Gendarmes often do vehicle stop checks in this area looking for Al Khaida terrorists!’  He’d lost the plot and it was time to find another beach. 
Just outside Mojacar we found a very large beach with 30 motorhomes parked up.  Bitsa made it 31!  We saw yet another beautiful sunset and even saw Venus shining bright in the morning sky.  Living away from the rat-race you certainly get more attuned with nature.  If only we realized just how much we depend on nature in order to exist, we just might change the world for the better.
The Breakdown.
From Mojacar we drove towards Almeria, up some steep hills through a natural park.  Half way up a rather steep hill in second gear doing only 25mph, there was a loud expensive sounding metal pop from the rear left of Bitsa and she ground to a halt!  I thought it was a puncture, but on closer inspection Alan noticed that the rear stub axle had sheered in two with the wheel only being held in place by the brake shoes inside the drum.  Bitsa could NOT be towed, but would have to be lifted onto a recovery truck.  We didn’t have any breakdown cover and we were in the middle of nowhere. Even though both warning triangles were in the road, many Spanish cars passed us including 9 other foreign motorhomes, but not one of them stopped to see if we needed any help.  Finally an Englishman in a Spanish plated Audi stopped.  He took Alan back some 6 miles to the nearest town and telephoned for a crane to rescue us.  
Eventually a 7½ ton extending flatbed recovery truck arrived.  With no common language between us and the driver, we were reduced to frantic hand signals and pointing.  I don’t know about having the same currency throughout Europe, the same language would be of far more use!  Bista could not be towed, so she was winched onto the flatbed that was barely wide enough. One back wheel ended up being half on and half off the flatbed and caused a few raised heartbeats.  If the wheel was to become dislodged we were in deep trouble. Alan put his jack handle through the center of the wheel and stub axle, hoping that if it did move, the jack handle would at least hold the wheel upright and the chassis off the ground. The recovery truck had sunk to one side under the unevenly distributed weight of 5 ton fully loaded Bitsa. No ties were used only the winch was left attached to the back trailing arm suspension. Alan said that it was only the truck’s air suspension that enabled it to carry Bitsa.
We gingerly crawled down the hill with Bitsa precariously perched on the back and were taken to the first filling station.  The driver, obviously not happy doing this job wanted us off ASAP, before we fell off!  On putting us down the rear wheel gave way, but was saved buy Alan’s jack handle trick. Bitsa could not be moved another inch, so the truck had to be moved forward to get Bitsa’s front wheels off the flatbed.  We were all most relieved to see Bista back on terra firma. The recovery cost a whopping €250 The part + VAT + carriage cost us £300 Our emergency money gone.  Sadly, we will not be going to Morocco.  We are very disappointed, but it is not meant to be.  Maybe next year.  We were extremely lucky that the axle didn’t snap into two whilst driving at 55 mph on a bend on a motorway. 
The part is due to arrive any time now.  We have arranged for it to be delivered to a hotel very close by. The receptionist Maria was extremely helpful.  (Thank you Maria.) She let us fax the UK for parts without charge!  We were told that the part would be with us within 3 to 4 days.  All we can do now is wait, in the middle of nowhere on a garage forecourt.  Thank goodness that my food cupboards are fully stocked, with tinned and dried foods for just such an emergency.  We do have water from the garage, though they couldn’t seem to care less about us.
Eight days later!
Still no part!  We faxed the sender, asking what has happened, but he doesn’t seem very interested.  He tells us that it has been sent and that’s all he knows.  We wait.  It’s all becoming very frustrating as no one seems to know where our part is and no one wants to be bothered to find out!  Whilst we were waiting, a man in a Turkish plated car came up to us and begged poverty.  Apparently he was taking his family from Turkey to England and had run out of money, and got lost it had seemed, as he had driven at least 2,000 miles south out of his way, but that didn’t seem to matter!  All he wanted was £20 to reach England.  We told him that all we wanted was a stub axle to reach England but he wasn’t interested.