‘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 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.
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.