This is the diary of my trip to Morocco in my Land-Rover in Spring 2002. I went with a group of friends and the tour operators Trailmasters. I have scanned in a selection of photographs.
Saturday 30 March 2002
I couldn't sleep! I was so excited about the trip I was wide-awake and itching to get on with things at 6:30am. I got up, and manically packed everything I needed for the trip into Lucy-Jo (my Land-Rover). It was funny the way that the amount of kit I had planned to take grew so dramatically between the trial loading of the vehicle and the actual packing for departure on the big day.
Darren rang at about 10:00am to take me up on the offer I had made the previous day to pick up the wading plugs he needed from the local Land-Rover dealer. I had virtually finished the packing so I was glad for an excuse to start the engine and go for a little drive to check that everything was working as it should. Whilst down at the Hunters (the local Land-Rover dealers) I felt the urgent need to casually drop into the conversation with staff/customers and basically anyone else who would listen that I was about to set of on the trip of a lifetime!
Everything was packed and I was basically ready to go by 11am - so I gave my room a very thorough and much needed spring clean to fill the time.
I was a paranoid about problems/breakdowns/delays, so despite the fact that meeting point we had arranged to meet at was only 15 minutes drive away - I set off 45 minutes early. I stopped at the petrol station and checked my tyre pressures one more time just to fill the time.
We had planned to meet at 2pm, which would allow ample time for a leisurely drive down to Portsmouth to catch the 8pm ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao. By the time we had met up, taken group photos, chatted about last minute packing fiascos, inspected and admired one another's loaded vehicles it was about 2:15pm. We set off.
We had barely been moving 2 minutes when I had to transmit (on the CB) a distressed request to stop - my passenger door wasn't shut properly. Whilst everyone else struggled to find somewhere safe to stop I just dropped the anchor on a roundabout, leapt out, shut the door properly and was rolling again in a matter of seconds.
For the first few miles there was much silliness and excited conversation on the CB radios. Clearly, everyone was in very high spirits and very much looking forward to the adventures ahead.
We arrived at Portsmouth at about 3pm - only 5 hours early for the ferry! At 4pm we were allowed through the check-in gate onto the docks. We sat about, drank coffee, chatted to the drivers of the other Land-Rovers as they arrived and watched the world go by.
We met up with the occupants of two other Land-Rovers coming along on our Trailmasters trip. There were also Land-Rovers belonging to other people not travelling with Trailmasters whose vehicles we admired.
One of the drivers of another vehicle had been passed by the Trailmasters lorry on the motorway - and then passed the lorry broken down on the hard shoulder of the M3. This was ominous. It did not bode well. Neil then got a message on his mobile phone to say that the Queen Mother had died. Oh dear! Things were not looking so bright and cheery.
We were relieved when we caught a glimpse of the Trailmasters truck arriving at the ferry terminal.
Suddenly, there was a commotion: The first few vehicles were loading onto the ferry. We all scattered running for our vehicles like it was a Le-Mans start. Our excitement was short-lived, as we sat on the docks in our vehicles for almost two hours more before we were eventually waved forward to start loading. We kept ourselves entertained gossiping and exchanging insults on the CBs.
Finally, after a few quick questions from the customs officers, we were loaded onto the "Pride of Bilbao".
We found our cabins - small, but clean and comfortable. We met up in the POSH (Port Out, Starboard Home) Bar. We looked out of the windows of the observation lounge and saw our friends loaded onto the ferry. The captain announced that it was a very full load of vehicles and asked for one driver to return to his car to reposition it to help squeeze the last few on. We only had a drink or two before deciding that after an exhausting day we were all ready to retire for an early night.
Sunday 31 March 2002 - Easter Day.
We woke up early - at about 8:30 (noting that the clocks had gone forward an hour over night). There was a bit of joking about the vacuum toilet in our cabin. At breakfast I started to feel very seasick despite the sea being as flat as the proverbial pancake. A few minutes staring intently at the horizon and I felt fine again.
We spent most of the day lounging on the deck at the back of the boat. The sun tried to break through the clouds, but without much success. We were all wrapped up in hats, coats, gloves and scarves. For a few minutes one lady tried to sunbathe in her bikini - but soon gave up due to the chilly breeze.
We were sat looking out over the stern of the boat. Suddenly I let out and excited unintentional noise; "Dolphins!" I squawked. We were nearly trampled as everyone on the aft deck came galloping over. The fish were only there for a few moments, and as we were so high up above them it would have been difficult to take photographs. Nonetheless I was really excited to have seen dolphins in the wild.
In the evening we went to the carvery and enjoyed a roast Sunday dinner before watching the film "Ice Age" at the on board cinema. After the film we sat in the carvery and enjoyed drinks and a good natter. Godfery (Trailmasters guide) came over and said "hello" and told us the gory details about his breakdown on the M3 (he had a blockage in a diesel line). We retired to bed early again as we had two long days of driving ahead of us.
Monday 1 April 2002 - Bank Holiday.
We were woken up early by the ships steward announcing that the ship would be docking in Bilbao in an hour and a quarter - eek! Rush rush! Through the shower and then up to breakfast. Perhaps unsurprisingly it seems that every single passenger on the ship opted to have breakfast in the last few minutes before the boat docked, so we made the wise decision to buy our breakfast in the carvery. Although this was a pound or two more expensive it was worth it as it was exceedingly civilised and avoided all the unpleasant queuing.
Most of us were off the boat quite quickly. Darren was delayed because his vehicle was blocked in by other vehicles whose drivers had not returned to them when called. It seemed like an age, but probably wasn't. We got on the road south through Spain with Darren leading and me second in the convoy of four vehicles. I was the slow coach so it was best to have me follow the leader so that he could easily keep track of when I was getting left behind.
After about 70 miles on Spanish roads (at about 50-55mph) we stopped to buy fuel. Not only am I the slow coach but I also have the shortest fuel range (about every 150 miles) so I have to dictate all the fuel stops.
The hills in the north of Spain weren't too steep, and as the roads weren't too crowded the driving was reasonably stress free. However, once we got to the middle of Spain the hills got very long and steep. On some of the hills I was down to 35mph in 3rd gear - but even that was not as slow as some of the trucks.
We drove around the outskirts of Madrid at about 3pm local time. We found that if we left any gap between the vehicles in the convoy then a Spanish car covered in dents would invariably pull into it. The Spanish driving was terrible: We saw the aftermath of numerous accidents. We came to the back of a small traffic jam - whereupon the most battered and oldest Spanish cars dived onto the hard shoulder and proceeded to drive up the inside, barging back out again when the traffic opened up again. We had to have our wits about us all the time to avoid harsh braking or swerving.
About 5:00pm the conversation on the CB turned to the topic of an overnight campsite. Thankfully Steve, Vanessa, Darren and Roz had done their research and already had a good idea which campsite would be good to stay at.
We drove down some really picturesque mountain roads in the last few miles before the campsite. It was beautiful.
The campsite is nice - except that the ground is rock hard. I cooked a spaghetti bolognaise variation. We sat up for a few minutes chattering and drinking before catching another early night.
Tuesday 2 April 2002
Today we had to drive the remaining distance from the middle of Spain down to Algeciras - about 280 miles.
It had rained through most of the night and was drizzling when we woke up. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, got dressed and crept out of my tent. The weather was miserable. There was a group huddled sheltering under the specially-manufactured-for-the-trip awning hung off the side of Darren's Discovery. The awing certainly seemed to work well. A small quantity of water pooled in the edge of the awning, but with occasional emptying it worked a treat.
We packed up our tents (wet) and went to collect our passports back from the campsite owner and pay for our overnight stay. The fact that none of us could string a sentence together in Spanish proved to be no difficulty as the campsite owner was quite happy with invented Spanish words, mingled with English and dubious sign language. I commented to our group upon how quickly my trousers had dried out after being dampened by the wet tents - whereupon the campsite owner produced his overcoat of the same material and insisted I try it on - much to everyone's amusement.
Whilst we were packing, Tara (8 yrs) discovered a Scorpion - about an inch long and yellowy brown. Tara wasn't the slightest bit phased by this and promptly built a shelter to try to prevent the poisonous insect from being hurt.
The drive was tough. The hills in the south of Spain are very steep. We agreed that the Costa-del-Sol would not be a pleasant place for a holiday, as it looked dreadful with large, garish overbearing buildings and smog.
Malcolm's CB radio stopped working sometime around this point. This was irritating, as it was always handy to be able to keep in touch with the whole convoy and know how peoples fuel consumption and moods were going. I would have found it lonely in my Landy without the chatter on the CBs.
If you don't know what it is like in an old Land-Rover for a long journey, then try to imagine that you are inside a large biscuit tin with holes in. When it is hot, hot air blasts through the holes at you but when you are cold, a cold draught blows through the holes. The whole time the sides of the biscuit tin are being beaten with large sticks, and from time to time oil is blasted through the holes at you. The tin is constantly vibrating but you must still try to concentrate very hard. In the past 36 hours I have covered well over 600 miles suffering torture similar to the above.
Eventually, at about 4pm local time we arrived at the hotel - it didn't prove to be too difficult to find although a few minutes were spent "exploring" first.
The rooms weren't ready for us, so we popped off to the local supermarket (2 miles away) to buy some provisions. The supermarket was huge, with everything from underwear to squid, via camping equipment and car tyres. Literally!
When I'd finished at the supermarket I climbed into Lucy-Jo saying to the others that I'd see them back at the hotel. I was confident that having travelled almost 700 miles from Guildford without any problems the 2 miles back to the hotel would be incident free. I drove out of the supermarket car park whereupon the engine stopped and the electrics went dead. I grabbed the CB mike and radioed to the others that I had a problem (my CB and radio are wired off a second battery so fortunately they were still working).
I had no power at all to any of the vehicle circuits (apart from those running off the auxiliary battery). I suspected that possibly a battery terminal had come adrift - but that wasn't the problem. The cavalry in the form of Darren, Roz, Steve and Vanessa arrived very quickly, which immediately relieved the stress of the situation for me. Between us we quickly diagnosed that the problem was that the ammeter had gone open-circuit so no power was getting from the main battery to any circuit. It took a matter of seconds to re-wire the circuits omitting the ammeter. Lucy-Jo fired up straight away - problem solved. From start to finish the incident had taken only ten minutes.
Back to the hotel - where we spent a few minutes tidying the vehicles before signing-in to the hotel. I was allocated room 13 - lucky I am not superstitious, and in any case I'd had my bad luck with the ammeter breakdown.
The hotel rooms were basic, but comfortable and very pleasant.
In the evening we met in the bar with the others accompanying us on the Trailmasters trip. We were introduced to a man who sold us tickets for the boat the following day. We then had a meal of chicken and chips (x6) or pork and chips (x3) which was hysterical because try as we might we couldn't understand a single word of the menu so we were entirely in the hands of the jovial and friendly waiter.
Following the meal some of us stayed for a few friendly drinks in the bar before retiring to bed setting our alarms for an early rise in the morning.
Tomorrow we enter Morocco!
Wednesday 3 April 2002
This day proved to be a very long and extremely tiring day - so much so that I didn't feel able to write this diary up on the day so I'm writing this a day late.
We made a very early start (bearing in mind that we had lost two hours as Spanish clocks were two hours ahead of GMT) and got on the road in the dark and rain to catch the 8am ferry from Algeciras to Cueta. I found the short drive on Spanish roads in the dark and rain to be quite nerve racking. Most of us admitted to expecting the ferry to be small, old and dilapidated - but exactly the opposite was true. It was a large 2 year old catamaran! It only took about half an hour to make the short crossing.
We docked safely and disembarked. We drove into the town to buy petrol - at about 35pence per litre. Wey-hey!
It was a ten minute drive to the border - it was already pretty evident that we were on the continent of Africa - the people were dressed in shawls and rags and struggling to carry heavy loads. They seemed to be ambling about absolutely everywhere with total disregard for the traffic. There were old Renault 4s, 12s and other equally dated old cars all around. Most were pretty beaten up.
We drove through high gates into the customs area. By this time it had stopped raining, but was still overcast, breezy and cold. We handed our passports to Godfrey along with some of the forms that we had filled in for temporarily importing our vehicles. We exchanged Sterling into Dirhams (Moroccan currency) and those of us who hadn't be able to buy car insurance for Morocco whilst in England went and did dealings with a Spanish speaking official. He was the only official at customs who seemed cheerful, friendly and helpful. Most of the bureaucrats seemed to take sadistic pleasure in making the process as obscure and confusing as possible. Local Moroccan men tried to earn tips by offering to help us through the paperwork - which we accepted from one of the men who seemed reasonably honest and genuine.
After we had filled in various forms, showed documents, obtained stamps and signatures the officials pointed at doors on our vehicles that they wanted us to open and bags that they wanted to look in. They asked us repeatedly if we had any guns or CB radios.
Finally, it seemed that everything was done, so we moved off. At the exit gate we were all stopped individually, and our passports and vehicle importation forms checked one more time. I was at the front of the queue behind the Trailmasters truck, so I was absolutely horrified when they stopped me and told me to go back. They let the cars behind me through and brusquely asked me to go back. I began to get serious butterflies in my stomach as all the other vehicles disappeared out of sight - then Darren & Roz, and Steve & Vanessa reappeared in their vehicles. It seemed that the customs officials wanted one more stamp on each of our forms. A reasonably friendly official provided the requisite stamp and we were finally on our way. We were in Morocco
Every other car seemed to be a white or blue Mercedes 200 taxi. There were overloaded lorries, donkeys, and people walking, waving and shouting at us everywhere we looked. We plodded on avoiding everything as best we could. Slowly the traffic began to thin out. As we climbed up the mountain roads behind the quite pathetically slow Trailmasters lorry, cars would overtake us. They would pass three or four of us in one maneuver and then pull into a gap that hadn't existed until a fraction of a second before - sometimes the cars coming the other way would honk and flash their lights.
We pulled up in the town of Ouazzane outside a little cafe to get some lunch. Some of us prepared meals from the provisions we had packed in our vehicles, whilst others settled for a "cheese omelette" which was the only thing the cafe seemed to be able to offer us. The "cheese omelette" turned out to be two fried eggs and two pieces of "laughing cow" triangle cheese. Nonetheless I wolfed mine down because I was ravenously hungry.
We left the town and got on the road again. The roads were quiet, but there were shepherds all along the sides. Tiny children were seen watching over goats and other animals. All the children would wave at us or try to flag us down to ask for "Bon-bons", "Biro", or "Stilo". This was to be the same for the rest of the trip - it was quite saddening and occasionally frightening because the children would take terrible risks to try to make the tourists cars stop to beg for gifts.
Some of the Moroccan men wear amazing gowns made from heavy materials in all patterns and colours. The gowns look just like the cloak that Obi-Wan-Kenobi wears in the Star Wars films. They even have the little pointed hood.
I was following Simon & Pug in their fully expedition prepared Land-Rover 110. It is a maroon and white coloured 5 door station wagon with a roof tent, external roll cage, blacked out rear windows, winch, sand ladders, extra lighting and a 4 litre V8 engine fitted with an LPG gas conversion. Lovely machinery!
As we were driving down one wide and open road a small mongrel dog suddenly ran out in front of Simon & Pugs 110. They braked and swerved, and missed the dog, but the dog ran alongside where the driver couldn't see and threw itself under the wheels. It bounced as it came out from under the wheel. I felt sick. There really wasn't anything they could have done to avoid the dog - it could have happened to any one of us. We drove on - what else could we do??
Shortly after this incident, we arrived near the ruined Roman City of Volubilis. Darren & Roz, Steve & Vanessa, Simon & Pug and I decided to drive down and have a look around the city whilst the others opted to go on to the campsite. Godfrey gave us pretty vague directions to the campsite but assured us "we couldn't miss it".
We spent over an hour looking around the ruined city and taking photographs. There really is a huge amount to see. It was interesting that the archaeologists who have worked at Volubilis have gone much further than simply uncovering the ruins - they have actually partially rebuilt some parts of the structures. The rebuilt parts may not be historically accurate but we mostly agreed that they gave us a better idea of what the city would have looked like which made the visit all the more interesting.
The time came to go onto the campsite. So we got back into the vehicles and set off. Simon & Pug said they would set off in a few minutes and catch us up - we could keep in contact via the CBs. Unfortunately, although we thought we had turned up the right track it turned out not to be. It came back to rejoin parallel to the main road a little further along. Darren tried to drive back onto the main road, but his Land-Rover Discovery slipped sideways on the mud, lurching dramatically and very nearly toppling over. I managed to drive up onto the main road a few feet further back from where Darren had tried, and Steve & Vanessa managed too. Darren seemed to be stuck! I backed into position in front of Darren and we attached a tow rope. I started to tug but in a flash my Land-Rover slipped back and I found myself at a funny angle too. The engine stopped. I tried to restart the engine, but instead of the engine firing up smoke began to billow out of the dashboard. "Oh ****!" I thought. I turned everything off, but the smoke kept coming. Quickly, I ripped the cover from the fuse box and pulled all the fuses out as fast as I could, and fortunately the burning stopped. It was too late though - a brief investigation showed that much of the wiring loom was burnt out and that my vehicle was going no-where under it's own power!
By this time Simon had rejoined us. He pulled my dead vehicle back up onto the main road and then after a few minutes effort Darren's was recovered too. Moroccan men appeared from nowhere it seemed and willing pushed and pulled and generally tried to help us.
There was only one thing to do - I was going to have to be towed to the campsite (wherever it was; we still didn't know). Darren and Steve drove off in different direction to see if they could find the campsite whilst Simon and I readied my vehicle for the tow. Once we had done that I tried out my French asking various Moroccan men (mostly shepherds) where the campsite was.
Simon struggled to tow me up a rough track only to find it was the wrong one. It took a little while, but eventually we were all safely at the campsite.
I proceeded to remove the steering wheel, bonnet and dashboard and trace exactly which wires were destroyed. It took about three and a half hours of testing, cutting and crimping of wire to make up a new loom to replace the damaged cables. I discovered that an inadequately restrained wire running across the back of the bulkhead in the engine bay had swung out when the vehicle lurched and touched on the hot exhaust manifold. The insulation melted making the wire stick and shorting out the circuitry. It had burned out the ignition key switch - so I re-wired the whole ignition so that a simple toggle switch rather than the key operated the circuits. I now only needed the key in the ignition when driving to prevent the steering lock from engaging!
I was mentally and physically exhausted by the time I had fixed Lucy-Jo. I had been awake for about 19 hours and the day had been a very hectic one.
The others helped as best they could and managed to arrange that I could sleep inside a room at the campsite to save me pitching a tent. I would be sharing the room with the Trailmasters guide Hassan.
I quickly cooked myself a fulfilling meal of pasta, corned beef and instant mushroom soup which I wolfed down before bedding down for the night.
Thursday 4 April 2002
We had to be on the road by 8am. Hassan likes to sleep with the radio on and he woke me up in plenty of time to go: at 6:15am. I was not best pleased, because I had really needed a good nights rest. Still, Hassan was a nice chap and he meant well.
We set off earlier than intended at 7:30 am. We hadn't been on the road very long when we came across a lorry that had tipped over on its side. There was a group of Moroccan men sat near it staring at it. They were waiting for recovery. It had clearly had a massive load on before it tipped up.
Before driving off into the mountains we stopped in a village called Azrou where we visited a market and bought provisions for the next few days. I bought half a kilogram of beautiful steak for about 3 pounds and a handful of French Beans for 6 pence!
We drove through fabulous scenery. I simply cannot do it justice in words. It was astoundingly beautiful. We stopped for lunch by a gorgeous lake which I won't even attempt to describe. It bought a lump to my throat it was so awe inspiring.
Some of the roads were very bumpy and washed out - others were immaculate tarmac.
We have set up camp at 6000ft in the Cedar forests. The other have a fire alight and are all sat around it - so I'm going to stop writing now and go and join them.
Friday 5 April 2002
It was a very cold night. Neil woke me up at 6:30am ready for an 8am departure. This gave me just about enough time to get up, dressed, fed and also to do a quick check of all the fluid levels around the vehicle before we set off.
I had been intending to check the oil levels in the diffs, gearbox, swivels and transfer box a couple of days ago - but the bad weather in the mornings, the early starts and my general exhaustion meant that this was the first time I had checked the levels since leaving England. I was a little disappointed to find that the oil level in the front differential was very low. I topped it up and made a mental note to keep an eye on it.
We drove down from our campsite high in the Cedar Forest onto the dusty plains. It was noticeably less green as we travelled south.
We stopped in a small village to buy a few provisions. I tried to buy more petrol, but the garage had run out and only had diesel available.
We drove for some distance through small villages bustling with life. There were a number of other English Registered 4x4s travelling in the opposite direction.
Lunch was a picnic on a wide open gravely expanse next to a small river at the foot of a valley. It wasn't a particularly beautiful location compared with some of the fantastic scenery we had witnessed.
In due course, having driven through a number of tiny villages we started a drive along the bed of a small stream. We frequently had to drive through the water, but mostly we bumped along the wide river bed only flooded following periods of heavy rain. This was the first time in the holiday that we had actually needed low-box four wheel drive. The off-roading was great fun and everyone said afterwards that they had thoroughly enjoyed it. All the time, children would appear as if from nowhere, run along side the vehicles begging for clothes. The poverty was really saddening, and I couldn't help but feel pity for these people in their remote villages. I handed out T-shirts and pens - but there was nowhere near enough for everyone.
I'm not sure how long we spent driving in the river bed, or even how far we travelled in this manner, but all too soon it was over. We came out of the river bed and started to climb up the mountains. The Trailmasters DAF truck conked out, so we had a prolonged photo stop whilst Godfrey tried to fix it. After half an hour or so, Godfrey sent us on our way, me in the lead with Hassan (the Moroccan Trailmasters Guide) in my passenger seat to guide us. I left some of my assortment of gaskets with Godfrey in case he could use them.
The climb was a true "buttock clencher". In places the road was only 9 feet wide, with vertical cliffs on the left and a drop of well in excess of 1000ft on the right. If you lost concentration for a moment it could result in the vehicle plunging off the road. There was no kerb, crash barriers or even vegetation to stop you. As I was the lead vehicle I was extremely conscious of the fact that the road was two way and that at any moment I could meet a casually driven vehicle coming the other way. My mouth was dry, Hassan was very quiet and the CB was utterly silent.
We made it safely to the top without incident, but we then had to face the descent down the other side on similar roads. If anything this was more alarming because we had to brake to stop the vehicles from accelerating away down the hill. My four drum brakes didn't inspire much confidence.
We drove out across the plains past Lake Tislit to Lake Izle (freshwater lakes at 7500ft). We set up camp next to Lake Izle, but the weather was atrocious with thunder, lightening, rain and blustery strong winds. When Godfrey finally caught us up (having fixed the vehicle using one of my gaskets cut down) we decided it would be far more pleasant to drive back to Lake Tislit and spent the night in an auberge rather than under canvas.
At the auberge we were treated to the two young owners playing tambourines and drums. We drank and gossiped late into the night.
Saturday 6 April 2002
When we woke up the owners of the Auberge cooked us all a surprisingly European breakfast with scrambled eggs and bacon. I spent a few minutes checking fluid levels on the Land-Rover and fixing a bad connection on my electric fans.
When we left the Auberge, I was asked if I would give a Moroccan man a lift into the next village as I had a spare seat in my Land-Rover. I agreed. The chap didn't seem to speak more than a very few words of English or French, so I didn't manage to elicit much more than the fact that his name was Mohammed.
We stopped in the first village we came to - I was worryingly low of fuel, as the last two garages we had visited had had no petrol. The young boys (about 13 years old) who sold us the only fuel available only had 60 litres and they wanted 13 Dirhams / litre (81 pence per litre) for it. We needed the fuel, so we hadn't really got any choice. In hindsight we realised that perhaps we should have bartered on the price.
We drove up more white-knuckle roads with tremendous views but equally tremendous drops such that the vehicle drivers dare not look away from the road and the passengers had to trust the drivers implicitly.
We stopped at 9500ft to admire the view down a valley. It was stunning and utterly breathtaking. We were able to stand on the top of cliffs, as close as we dared to a completely vertical drop of 2000ft or more. There were no railings, barriers or warnings - it was all down to common sense and the self preservation instinct. Definitely not for the faint hearted.
We descended down the rough bumpy track, in low-box for maximum engine braking effect. As the Trailmasters truck went over one particularly harsh jolt one of the two spare tyres that it carries on its roof broke free from the ratchet straps. It fell from the roof, bounced once on the edge of the road and then launched itself off into the valley below. The slope down from the road was only about 45 degrees at the point where the tyre came off, so the tyre bounced and rolled way off down into the valley below. The truck stopped, as did the convoy of vehicles behind. As we were driving down into the valley anyway, two men went off to locate the tyre whilst we safely negotiated the road to the bottom to meet up with them. The tyre was recovered, hoisted back onto the roof of the truck and securely tied down again.
Whilst we were waiting for the wheel to be tied down, Berber boys appeared with home made guitars - assembled from old oil cans, bits of wood and string. The guitars were surprisingly melodic if only capable of two or three notes. The lads were only after money and played short riffs until we bribed them with money, sweets and pens to move along.
As we drove into one remote village, we were not at all surprised to be accosted by many young children begging, trying to force us to stop and signing to us that they wanted clothes, sweets, pens and cigarettes. This was the norm wherever we drove. In this particular village the children seemed even less timid than most. As the vehicles bunched up and slowed down in the village the children grabbed hold of the roof racks and roll cages and hung onto the moving vehicles. I saw one lad with what appeared to be a dead bird tied by its legs to a length of string. He was swinging the bird around and running after the Land-Rovers. It was only on closer inspection that we realised that the bird was very much still alive...
Lunch was had in an Auberge on the outskirts of the village - kebabs, chips, Coca-Cola, and yoghurt with cinnamon. It was really tasty. Feral cats meowed at us throughout the meal trying to get scraps.
The Todra Gorge was truly spectacular. The road down the gorge was surprisingly well graded and was actually under construction in places. At the bottom of the gorge was a village overrun by tourists and not particularly pleasant. Children were everywhere along the road side trying to sell trinkets. The prices they asked started outlandishly high but quickly dropped to be more realistic once the lads realised we weren't suckers. I bought a tiny (about 1:20 scale) Land-Rover made from woven palm leaves - it was 25 Dirhams (about £1.60).
As we left the village the Trailmasters truck broke down again - it appeared to be the same problem as before. The gasket that Godfrey had manufactured from the spares I had had lasted a while, but it had finally given up again. There was air bleeding into the diesel, so the truck wouldn't run smoothly and didn't have the power to climb the hills. Hassan quickly leapt in with me and we left Godfrey to fix it again using another of my spare gaskets.
We arrived at the campsite - quite a barren orchard like area inside high walls on the outskirts of the village of Tinehir. This village happens to be the town where Hassan's family live.
Having set up camp we then drove back into the village where we went to the carpet shop owned by Hassan's family. They gave us a brief lecture about the tradition of making carpets, but told us there was no pressure to buy - but heck was there!? I managed to resist the temptation, though others in the group succumbed. The carpets really were magnificent and very intricate.
After the carpet sales, Hassan's family treated us to a meal. We sat on the floor and ate bread and roast chicken with our fingers, followed by oranges. There was mint tea, water and coffee to drink. The meal was actually exceedingly nice if a little greasy and sticky to eat with ones fingers.
Sunday 7 April 2002
Today we had a break from the driving and stayed camped at Tinehir. Tinehir is a silver mining town, with some relatively plush homes and expensive shops.
In the morning we rose late and went into town. The fact that it was a Sunday unsurprisingly made no difference - all the shops were open and the town was bustling. We shopped in the market guided by one of Hassan's brothers, as Hassan was busy helping at the local garage where mechanics were working on fixing the Trailmasters truck. Godfrey had managed to temporarily fix the truck using one of my gaskets, but a more permanent fix was sought. In additional, some vandals had broken the windscreen during the night whilst the truck was parked up away from the campsite.
We weren't quite sure of Hassan's brothers motives as he seemed to discourage us from shopping in some shops whilst being keen for us to spend money in others. We suspected he might be getting back-handers for bringing tourists to certain shops. Nonetheless, we enjoyed visiting all sorts of stores, selling everything from spices and dried mammals (seriously!) to jalabbas (Obi-Wan Kenobi cloaks).
I bought a pottery plate that I thought would make a good gift for somebody I know...
In the afternoon, the sun was beating down and the wind was quite calm. Most people sat around in the sun and drank tea, but I was bored, so I decided to go for a short walk. I climbed up a hill nearby - about half a mile from the campsite and 300 ft higher than most of the surrounding ground. The ground was very dusty, with small rocks and boulders scattered around. There was no vegetation and I didn't see any wildlife at all. Nonetheless, there was a good view from the top of the hill, and I did find a very nice selenite crystal lying on the ground, which will make a good momento. It was almost as good as some of the rocks/fossils that were being sold at the roadside.
In the evening the wind really got up and there was a dust storm. We sat sheltering in our vehicles for a while but eventually a group of us went up to the auberge to drink in the bar (soft and hot drinks only - no alcohol available although we were permitted to bring and drink our own). Five of us sat around and played "balance the topping on the pizza" which was an entertaining game that Simon had bought with him from the UK for us to play. There are small plastic pieces representing pepperoni, cheese, mushrooms and tomatoes which you take turns to place on a "pizza" balanced at it's middle on a model chef. The person who places the piece that causes the pizza to topple over loses. It was great fun.
Later in the evening the staff of the auberge pulled out tambourines and drums and started to play music for us. Some of them danced, and some French tourists who were staying at the auberge joined in.
When we came back to our tents we weren't very surprised to find a thin coating of dusty sand over everything - regardless of if it had been in the tent, Land-Rover, or outside. I slept a gritty night dreaming of sandpaper and beaches.
Monday 8 April 2002
We set off at 8am from the campsite at Tinehir, stopping briefly for petrol. We drove on fast tarmac roads (a rare treat it seemed) for a few miles before pulling off for more incredibly dusty and bumpy miles.
We stopped to buy some last minute provisions and to drink tea and Coca-Cola in a small village, before heading off again on tarmac roads.
We stopped again at a petrol station so Hassan could enquire if the route across the desert to the auberge was passable. As we left the petrol station I was second in the convoy directly behind the Trailmasters truck. A wind vortex like a small cyclone blew across the desert from our left. It crossed the road only a few feet in front of the Trailmasters truck. I reckon the vortex was about 10ft wide at its base, but it was only just discernible, as it was not strong enough to pick up anything more than light dust. I radioed the others to point out the vortex - everyone made suitable appreciative noises. A short while later I noticed that one of the tyres on the Trailmasters truck was deflating. I tried to call Godfrey on the CB and flashed my lights but to no avail. In no time at all the tyre was completely flat and the truck stopped.
The enforced stopped gave time for a photographs and lunch. I enjoyed myself by watching and helping where I could with changing the wheel. A lack of sufficient travel on the jack meant some impromptu rock axle stands had to be improvised. This was not very safe, but precautions were taken and eventually a new tyre was successfully fitted on the rim.
We set off across the dessert, but found repeatedly that the road was too sandy and had to divert around the soft sand. In places there were large rocks, which we had to pick our way around to avoid damaging the tyres or low hanging parts of the drive train. Elsewhere we could travel fast on hard smooth sand. The occasional dip or patch of really soft sand could catch you out if you weren't concentrating hard though.
The temperature gauge on Lucy-Jo started to climb - the combination of hot sun, dust and bogging sand was working the cooling system hard. I flicked on my auxiliary electric fans (I have the mechanical fan fitted still too) and was pleased to see the gauge start to drop down to normal.
Simon then radioed on the CB to say that his V8 was on the verge of boiling, so we all stopped whilst he lifted the bonnet and let the engine cool down for a few minutes. The Trailmasters truck was a good distance ahead at this point, and by the time they had realised that we had stopped they were some way off near the top of the next dune. We saw Godfrey and Hassan climb out of the truck and climb to the top of the dune. They were looking around in all directions. Worryingly it actually looked to us as if they might actually be lost. We knew they had GPS, so we weren't overly concerned, just a little puzzled as to what was going on.
After a few minutes Simons engine had cooled down sufficiently for us to all start up again. John and Andy in the ex-military 2.5 NA Diesel turned the key, but nothing happened. No click and no dashboard lights. For just a moment this was quite frightening, as we were miles from anywhere out in the Sahara Desert and we had a broken down vehicle. The panic soon passed when we took stock of the situation and realised that we had plenty of vehicles between us perfectly capable of getting everybody and all the vehicles safely out of the desert.
All the indications were that the battery had very suddenly died. Batteries don't like hot weather, but I had never witnessed one dying so comprehensively so quickly without warning. We tried jump starting the vehicle and then tow starting but nothing seemed to work. When we connected two sets of jump leads in parallel enough power was passed across and the diesel engine churned into life.
We followed Godfrey in the Trailmasters truck, who seemed to us to be driving in a huge loop. Time was dragging on and the going was getting tougher with boulders of diff-breaking proportions and soft sand. The sun was getting low in the sky and we were all getting concerned that we didn't seem to progressing. Eventually, when the Trailmasters truck did a U-turn it was the last straw; we all got out of our vehicles and had a quick discussion. It seemed to us that Godfrey was lost, the light was fading and we did not want to be spending the night out in the open in the Sahara Desert so we asked Godfrey what was going on. It appeared that soft sand was blocking the obvious routes to the oasis where we due to spend the night and making progress very difficult. The truck had been trying to pick a tortuous route the desert to bypass the soft sand, but they had now finally decided it wasn't going to be possible to get through so we should go back and set up camp for the night somewhere safe.
We weren't entirely reassured, and were all quite nervous about the situation we found ourselves in with the light rapidly fading and not knowing where we would spend the night. Nonetheless we followed the truck back retracing the route we had come out along. There was one place were the sand had already shifted in the hour since we had driven the route and the Trailmasters truck briefly got stuck. They managed to back out of the bogging sand, take a run up and drove through.
A little while later, Godfrey stopped the truck and said that we should set up camp for the night where we were as it would be dark very soon. The site didn't look very good at all to us, with fist sized boulders everywhere and no shelter at all from the wind. Virtually the whole group insisted that we should carry on for another few miles to see if we could find somewhere better. In a very few miles we did - in the lea of a small crescent shaped sand dune about 8 feet high. We pitched our tents as best we could out of the blustery wind and cooked meals in the rapidly fading light. We discussed our discontent with the way that Trailmasters had organised the day - we were all pretty stressed and shaken by the events of the afternoon. We made a decision to talk over our concerns with the Trailmasters team in the morning. Our concerns were mainly to do with the fact that the Trailmasters team was not feeding us enough information throughout the day. We only knew what the plan for each day was from reading the blurb we were provided with before the trip. Of course, these plans were always changing because things such as the weather and breakdowns are entirely unpredictable. We didn't mind the plans changing, but we weren't being informed about the changes as and when the decisions were made.
Steve and Darren had brought some fireworks from England so that we could light them in the dark in the desert. We lit the fireworks, which were excellent and really helped us perk up out the slightly dark mood that we were all in.
After the fireworks Steve produced his night vision camera and those of us who were interested climbed up the small dune behind our camp and looked at the stars. We tried to spot Saturn, which we thought was supposed to be visible at that time - but there was too much dust in the air which had been blown up by the desert winds.
We all went to bed reasonably happy and content.
Tuesday 9 April 2002
We woke up to find that the wind had dropped and it was almost completely calm. Godfrey and his wife Sue came and we all talked about our concerns regarding yesterday's incident and the lack of communication from the Trailmasters team.
We drove on very rough corrugated roads across miles of desert and through some remote Moroccan villages. The children's begging was becoming monotonous and irritating.
Throughout the day it was evident that the Trailmasters team were making an effort to communicate with us. Their efforts were not wasted and at the end of the day I only wished that we had moaned at them before so that the communications had improved earlier in the trip.
We arrived at the auberge at Erg Chebbi at the foot of 500ft sand dunes in the evening in howling winds beating the sand against the Land-Rovers. Some of us booked to eat food in the restaurant whilst others cooked meals for themselves. I had a meal in the restaurant which consisted of a Moroccan salad (much like an English salad except that there were a lot of olives which I don't like) followed by a traditional Moroccan dish called a Tejine which is like a stew and served in a round pot with a pointed lid. The Tejine was very nice, although I had to pick out a few olives. Everyone was served slices of orange sprinkled with cinnamon to finish the meal, which was very pleasant.
The auberge is comfortable if basic. I am booked into an en-suite room whilst others have opted for the cheaper more basic rooms.
Wednesday 10 April 2002
Tonight we are spending another night at the auberge at the foot of the dunes at Erg Chebbi. Unfortunately it appears that some of the rooms at the auberge have been double booked, so I have moved from my comfortable room with en-suite bathroom and shower to one that is more basic.
John and Andy hopped into Lucy-Jo with me for the day as their Land-Rover is still in need of a new battery, which makes starting her a real hassle. In the morning we travelled out across the desert on the most corrugated and potholed tracks we have travelled on so far during our visit to Morocco. The vibrations are horrific, and I was constantly both amazed and terrified at the punishment Lucy-Jo soaked up without complaint.
Those of us who were interested and not too tired out from the past days bumpy and sandy driving drove out to visit a site out in the desert which is very rich in fossils. The locals cycle out on the bicycles and spend the day digging for fossils, which they then take to the local village of Erfoud where they are prepared and polished up so that they can be readily sold to the tourists at a very good price. We searched on the surface and in the spoil heaps to the sides of the excavations and easily picked up fossils of various sized "worm-like" creatures. A fierce wind was blowing, which blew sand into my eyes, ears and nose - quite unpleasant.
Everyone picked over their fossil finds to choose the best ones, as there were far too many for us to transport them all. We then drove into the town of Erfoud to buy petrol, exchange some money and visit the market. The hassle from the local children begging and offering nick-nacks was insufferable. It was difficult not to be rude and unpleasant to the children to try to make them go away. Whilst in the town we took the opportunity to visit the "museum" where the fossils were being polished up and prepared for sale to the tourists. The building would be heaven for a geologist as there were amazing rocks that had been washed, cleaned and polished and generally made beautiful. The locals are actually exceedingly skilled to make such delicate and beautiful objects from the rocks. The things they were making included daggers, knifes, forks, bowls, ash trays, paperweights, marbles, tables and stools. There were also huge fossilised Amerites and Trilobites, which had been chipped out from the surrounding rock and cleaned to look magnificent. We did ponder how on earth you would arrange to transport some of the objects (such as table tops) if you decided to buy them, as they must weigh rather a lot.
Having obtained money from the cashpoint, bought petrol and evaded the begging children we headed out of the town to a nearby hotel. Hassan knew the owners of the hotel and had arranged that we could drink beer at the licensed bar, eat some lunch and swim in the hotel swimming pool. The hotel was exceedingly pleasant and we all enjoyed the hospitality. Only I and Godfrey and Sue's (Trailmasters guides) two young children swam in the pool, but I really enjoyed it and was glad to rinse some of the sand and grit from the desert out of my hair.
Reluctantly we left the comfort of the hotel and headed back towards our auberge in the desert. Just before we left Erfoud we had one last look in the market. I got involved in haggling over a Jalabba (a.k.a. Obi-Wan-Kenobi cloak) that I thought was somewhat nicer than the others I had seen. The material was thicker and the shape was such that it fitted me well.
As we drove off into the desert the tracks seemed even rougher than before. My hair was full of dust and sand again in no time. Poor old Lucy-Jo's springs took a serious pounding, but we made it back to the auberge at Erg Chebbi in one piece, where John fitted the battery that he had successfully bought in town.
In the evening there was again a meal served in the auberge for those who wanted it. I took the meal again - this time I had the Khaline which was again a sort of stew like dish but this time it had a fried egg on top. I really enjoyed this meal.
Thursday 11 April 2002
Those of us who wanted to rise early (4:30am local time) and ride camels up to the top of the dunes to watch the sun rise over the desert had set our alarms. Some had forgotten that their watches were still set on British Summer Time, so woke up at 3:30am local time. Sadly the wind that had been blowing quite hard the night before hadn't dropped, so the camel rides were cancelled. It would not have been much fun at all riding a camel in the pitch black whilst being sand blasted.
We only had a short drive from Erg Chebbi to the village of Meski, which is where Hassan lives and runs a small restaurant. We had to drive on the appallingly rough tracks across the desert and then on very potholed roads to return to the town of Erfoud. We all shopped in the market (some more Jalabbas were purchased).
We were hassled by the children to change Euros and other coins into Dirhams. Presumably other tourists had paid them or given them the foreign currency. Some of the lads were quite cheeky, some rude but mostly it was harmless fun for us although the exchange rates on offer were not very keen so I don't think anyone actually struck any deals with the boys.
The road from Erfoud to Meski was smooth tarmac, which made a delightful change - especially for me on my bouncy leaf suspension.
Hassan's has a half share in a restaurant at Meski. We stopped briefly at the restaurant and then drove down about another half mile to the campsite. At most of the campsites and auberges we had stayed at there was no difficulty with people begging from us and pestering us as they were discouraged from entering the premises, however this campsite was an exception. We were pestered and bothered almost constantly as we pitched our tents and set up camp. Some people on our trip found this very annoying.
Whilst I was putting up my tent a man called Ali who owned a shop on the campsite came over and starting to talk to me. He was very persistent and insisted that when I had finished setting up camp I must go with him to his house for mint tea. Although I was really tired I accepted his offer as I got the impression that refusing would turn out to be just as mentally exhausting as simply going along with it. In any case, I hardly had any money to spend so I couldn't get pushed into buying much.
Ali spoke a little English - probably about as good as my French. With his English and my French we could communicate reasonably well. Once my tent was up we sat on the floor in the room behind Ali's shop and drank mint tea. Ali told me a little about his life. He had been to Berlin where he had some English friends. His most recent visit there was 4 years ago. He introduced me to his two sons; I think there names were Adnam and Tofee.
I wasn't surprised when the hard sell arrived. Ali wanted to swap some of my unwanted belongings for something from his shop - but it wouldn't be a straight swap, as he also wanted some money. He came back to my Land-Rover with me where I dug out an old rucksack that I had bought along on the trip and then never used. I put some tins of food inside including some tuna fish, corned beef and tomato soup which he seemed particularly keen on. He was also very keen to have my deck chair and kettle. He even eyed up the spare wheel on the Landy!
In the end, after an awful lot of haggling and friendly arguing we agreed that he could have my rucksack, the tins of food, a can of beer and my elderly pressure cooker in exchange for a small carpet. I didn't desperately want the carpet, but neither did I really need the items I was swapping for it and I would be glad not to have to transport them back to England.
After the dealing, which seemed to go on for ever, Ali offered to take me back to his house and show me around. I eagerly agreed to this, as I hadn't had the opportunity to see how any Moroccans live. We chatted away as Ali showed me around his house. I was pleasantly surprised as to how immaculately clean the house was. In the course of the conversation I found out that Ali had had an arranged marriage. In addition to his two sons that I had met at his shop, he also had two daughters (15yrs and 18yrs). When I met the rest of Ali's family, one daughter was sweeping the back yard, whilst most of the rest of the family was watching their colour television.
The whole village used to be about half a mile from its current location, and on the other side of the river. Everyone moved to the new location, which has had mains electricity for about 6 years. There was a 20m deep well in the yard behind Ali's house, which they obtained all their water from. They used an electric pump to bring the water up.
I walked back to the campsite. A little later on some of us went back up to eat food at Hassan's restaurant. I enjoyed a delicious Khaline, which was different to the one I had had at Erg Chebbi. All the others ate Cous-cous, which they seemed to enjoy though they all agreed that there was too much and they had to give up long before the plates were empty.
Friday 12 April 2002
Today was a long hard days drive. We left Meski to drive to Meknes. We met up at Hassan's restaurant at 8am to say goodbye to him, as he wasn't accompanying us any further north. We took group photographs and then set off.
The roads were good tarmac, but the further north we went the more the weather deteriorated. There was a fierce wind - which reduced my top speed to about 35mph in some of the inclines. As the roads started to climb higher we saw snow in the ditches to the sides.
My fuel tank ran dry, so I had to transfer some fuel from the jerry cans on the roof. At this point it came to light that the passenger side electric window had got stuck in the down position on Darren's Discovery and Roz had been freezing. A piece of tarpaulin was taped over the window and we got moving again.
We stopped in a small village to have some drinks and a break from the driving. Part of the group drove through the town to park on the outskirts where there would be less pestering from the locals and set to work to get Roz's electric window up. They succeeded to get the window up, but for the rest of the trip it had to stay up. This must have made the toll booths a little more difficult.
We were about 70 miles south of Meknes when we came to a mountain pass that was closed due to snow and bad weather, so we had to divert around a different route.
We stopped at a petrol station where I filled up with fuel and also managed to ask for some "huile pour la boite vitesse" (gearbox oil). The chap produced EP140, whereas I wanted EP90 so I murmured "quatre-vingt-dix?" and after a little of friendly banter and negotiation we agreed that they could decant 5 litres from a 25 litre drum and sell it to me for 100 Dirhams (£8).
As we joined the motorway that runs into Meknes I realised that I probably wouldn't make it to the hotel on the fuel left in the tank. The rain was beating down so I wasn't keen to climb out and decant fuel from the jerry cans on the roof into the tank, but when the engine coughed and died I had no choice. I had run out of fuel for the second time in one day, which didn't make me desperately popular with the rest of the convoy.
By the time we were finally arriving in Meknes the light was fading, tempers were short (well, mine was!) and we were utterly exhausted, so we booked into the posh Ibis hotel in Meknes. Rooms are about £20 per night, but worth every penny for a hot shower and not to have to pitch the tents.
Saturday 13 April 2002
I had been suspecting that there was something wrong with the engine on Lucy-Jo as she had been really struggling with head winds and steep roads and she seemed to be imbibe even more petrol per mile than usual. I was pleased that the weather was dry in the morning as it made it more pleasant for me to scramble underneath the Landy to check the diff oil levels. Both diffs took a bit of oil. I then stripped out the middle of the distributor, lubricated the mechanical ignition advance mechanism and reassembled it. This made a huge difference to the performance. The desert sand gets into everything.
The engine still sounds a bit tappety and the engine oil has gone completely black. I don't want to interfere with it though whilst it's still running acceptably well, so I'm trying hard not to worry about if the rattles, bangs, pops and squeaks are worsening or not.
Today we had the long drive from Meknes to the Moroccan/Spanish border at Ceuta and then catch the ferry back to Algeciras.
We stopped at a couple of small villages to break up the drive, but unfortunately we got a little behind schedule. We eventually arrived at the border at about 3:45pm local time. We waited for what seemed like an age whilst Godfrey took our passports off and completed the border formalities on our behalf. To complete the border formalities the vehicle drivers had to visit one window in person with the green forms we had been given on the way in.
We eventually left the border and got on the catamaran ferry to sail back to Algeciras. We arrived in Algeciras at about 9pm Spanish time (2 hours ahead of Morocco which uses GMT all year around) where we checked into the Casa de Barnados Hotel which we stayed in on the first night of the Trailmasters expedition. We ate huge delicious T-bone steaks in the hotel restaurant before retiring to bed.
Sunday 14 April 2002
We woke up at about 10am local time and said our good-byes to the Trailmasters family; Godfrey, Sue, Kate (6 yrs) and Rupert (9 yrs).
Some of the party wanted to visit Gibraltar, whilst others wanted a more leisurely drive up through Spain, so we swapped phone numbers and route plans and all set off.
I travelled in convoy with Darren & Roz (Discovery 300Tdi), Steve & Vanessa (and Sean and Tara) (Range Rover V8), Simon & Pug (110 V8).
We stopped at a bustling Spanish flea market, where we bought strawberries, bread and various other little goodies.
The plan was to drive up to a campsite high in the Sierra Nevada mountains and spend a night or two. In the end, Simon and Pug left us and went on to a different campsite which took their fancy, whilst we found a less remote campsite at a town called Orgiva. Later in the afternoon Neil and Malcolm arrived having visited Gibraltar. The roads up into the mountains were spectacular. The drops from the edge of the road were almost as great as those from the mountain roads in Morocco, but in Spain there were crash barriers and the roads were tarmaced which made a huge difference.
We arrived at the campsite at about 4:30pm, which was before reception opened. We asked at the bar in the restaurant on site and were told that there would be no problem if we set up our tents and settled in as we could visit reception and pay for our stay after 5pm. The campsite was very pleasant with an immaculately clean toilet block. We decided to stay for two nights.
At about 5:30pm we wandered down to reception and booked in. The chap on reception spoke English (actually he understood it but barely spoke any) which was handy as none of can construct even a single sentence in Spanish. Whilst we were booking in we met up with an English ex-pat builder called Geoff who had lived in Orgiva for the past 3 years. He admired our vehicles and made friendly conversation. He mentioned a track nearby that led up high in to the mountains. I asked him for specific directions, which he readily gave. I thought it might be fun to drive up this track tomorrow time and weather permitting.
We were all quite tired, so after cooking meals and a brief chat around Darren & Roz's kelly kettle we turned in for the night.
Monday 15 April 2002-04-16
I had a much needed lie-in as we had no specific plans for today. When we had all woken up we decided the plan for the day was to have a lazy time at the campsite. Darren and Steve opted to work on fixing the electric windows on Darren's Discovery whilst 5 of the rest of us piled into Steve & Vanessa's Range-Rover and drove into the centre of town a mile or so away. In the town we visited a couple of small supermarkets and a few other shops for nick-nacks and momentos. Vanessa bought ice creams for everyone. Yum yum!
When we got back to the campsite we found Steve and Darren had fixed the electric windows. It turned out that the dust in the desert had got into the switch contacts. The switches are in the transmission tunnel and the backs of them are open to the elements - bad design by Land-Rover.
For a couple of hours in the afternoon we cleaned and fixed bits on our vehicles and had a general re-organisation. I stripped down the stereo in the Land-Rover to open up the minuscule switches for the volume controls. The switches had recently stopped working which could make listening the stereo rather frustrating and at times DEAFENING. I cleaned up the switch contacts and glued the switches back together. I was pleased to find it all worked again.
At about 4pm I decided I wanted to go and investigate the track up the mountains that Geoff had told me about yesterday. The others opted to relax back at the campsite so I told them I'd be an hour to and hour and a half, switched on my CB and phone and set off.
The roads were winding and slow, but Geoff's directions were reasonably accurate so I found myself climbing the mountains on a very narrow, winding and heavily potholed track. The drops off the edge of the road were breathtaking - and there was no crash barrier. I drove about 8 miles up the mountain, climbing from an altitude of around 900ft at the campsite to over 6100ft at the top of the mountain. I was above the snow line and up in the clouds, The view was astonishing where you could see through the clouds. I took some photos, but was really short of time so I had to turn around and creep slowly down the mountain on the steep and winding track. I had to hurry a little to avoid over-running the hour and a half I had told the others I would be gone for. By the time I reached the bottom my brakes were beginning to fade and there was a feint smell of burning. I tried the CB radio every few minutes to check if the others could hear me. When I eventually got through I told them I would be a little late and slowed the pace down a little. I arrived back at the campsite bubbling with excitement about my little adventure.
In the evening we all opted to eat in the restaurant at the campsite. We went into the restaurant at 6:30pm,only to be told that they didn't start serving until 7:15pm. Still, this gave us plenty of time to drink a few drinks and try to suss out what was what from the menu.
It seems that in Spain they don't worry too much about measures for spirits. The Baileys and the Gin and Tonic that were ordered were virtually half pints!
We actually did quite well at translating the menu. The prices were very low. I had meat and chips in a salsa sauce for my starter, followed by steak in a Roquefort cheese sauce for my main course. The servings were enormous and delicious.
When we left the restaurant we sat around the kelly kettle again and watched the bats. The sky was clear so we looked at the stars and the moon through binoculars. Only a crescent of the moon was brightly illuminated but we could make out the whole orb. When we looked through binoculars you could actually make out craters on the moon surface.
We turned in at about 11pm as we had an early start and a long drive ahead.
Tuesday 16 April 2002
Today we planned to drive 250 miles up to a campsite just south of Madrid.
As I'm driving the slowest vehicle I was dispatched off ahead of the rest of the convoy about 8:45am. Everyone was due to set off about half an hour later and should have caught me up in an hour or two. As it turned out, I found the hills and the traffic weren't too severe so I got a good head start. The others had to stop for fuel and then again because some of the load on the roof of the Range-Rover worked loose. We made contact by phone a couple of times, but the gap between me and the rest of the convoy didn't seem to be reducing much.
At 12:30pm I stopped for a nice long lunch break and to allow the others to catch up. They were only 20mins behind, but I was grateful to be travelling in the convoy again as I could chat to the others on the CB and I didn't need to worry too much about the route whilst I was travelling with the others.
We made excellent time and were due to arrive at the campsite south of Madrid at about 3pm, so we opted to press on through Madrid and find a campsite further north. This would reduce the distance we would have to drive over the next two days.
Ever since driving the corrugated roads in the desert there had been a nasty vibration in my transmission at certain speeds. I suspected that I had lost a balancing weight from one of my wheels. As we were just getting towards the centre of Madrid the vibration suddenly got much worse. It was accompanied by a squeaking noise so I radioed the others to let them know that I thought I might have a problem. The vibration rapidly became unbearable for me, so I asked everyone to stop. I thought that a UJ on my front propshaft might have disintegrated or seized. Once we were at a standstill I quickly swung myself under the vehicle to see if I could spot what was wrong. I couldn't see any obvious fault, but I decided I would remove the front propshaft anyway and see if that improved matters.
Lucy-Jo is an 88" Series 3 Land-Rover, and as such has part-time four wheel drive. This means that she is normally rear wheel drive, but by pressing a yellow knob down in the cab or moving the red topped gear lever back I can select four wheel drive (and lower gear ratios if appropriate). It is bad practice to drive a part-time four wheel drive vehicle with four wheel drive engaged on metalled road surfaces as it "winds up" the transmission. When four wheel drive is selected in this type of set-up there is no scope for the front wheels to rotate at a different speed to the back wheels as happens when cornering. It is normal to use two wheel drive when driving on tarmac. I don't have free-wheeling hubs (which I'm not going to get embroiled in explaining), so when in two-wheel drive all the drive train from the front wheels to the gearbox turns because the front wheels are going around because they are rolling along the road (pushed along by the back wheels). I could safely remove the front propshaft entirely and it would make little difference to driving the vehicle - in fact there would be less friction, as there is one less component to rotate.
When we set off again, Lucy-Jo without her front propshaft fitted, it was immediately evident that there was less vibration. I decided to leave the front propshaft off until I was back home in England, as I couldn't foresee any need for four wheel drive between now and then.
We arrived at a campsite north of Madrid without further incident. I cooked a quick meal of beans on toast and then relaxed with a beer.
Tomorrow we will either drive to a campsite half way between here and the ferry terminal at Bilbao or all the way to Bilbao so we can have a relaxing last day before catching the ferry back to Portsmouth.
Wednesday 17 April 2002
We made good progress today, driving as a group in convoy again. We wanted to do a last shop in a Carrefour supermarket to pick up some last minute bargains cheap in Spain. The plan was to pull off the main road when we saw a Carrefour, but by early afternoon we had made it all the way to Bilbao and not seen a Carrefour. Someone remembered having seen signs for a Carrefour as we left Bilbao, but it took a lot of hunting around and retracing our steps to eventually firstly spot a Carrefour in the distance and then find our way to it.
We spent a couple of hours in the Carrefour - I didn't buy a great deal, just some chocolate, food for the evening and a few snacks to eat whilst driving along.
Once the Carrefour shopping spree had been completed, we set off again to find a campsite. We were lucky (using Vanessa's invaluable Spanish Campsite maps picked up from the Spanish tourist office) to find a very pleasant campsite right on the coast and only a half hours drive from the ferry terminal. We set up camp, played on the small beach and then sat around drinking beer and socialising. It started to rain, so the hardcore moved into the bar on the site and stayed up drinking beer until the bar shut. I was suffering a little with an upset stomach, so I went to bed a little earlier than some of the others.
Thursday 18 April 2002
Today we rose at about 8am. It was drizzling with rain, so we packed up the tents (wet) and set off to catch the ferry.
We were very early for the ferry, but we met up with some old friends at the port, so we gossiped about our holidays and the time flew by.
Our Land-Rovers were loaded onto the very front of the "Pride of Bilbao" which was nice because it meant that we would be able to make a swift departure at the other end when we arrived in Portsmouth.
The ferry left on time at 12:30pm. There was a bit of a swell in the Bay of Biscay, so most of us felt a little seasick from time to time. Darren and Roz weren't seen (apart from very briefly when Roz came to tell us that they would not be joining us for dinner) for the whole journey back on the boat as they were both very seasick.
I didn't feel confident about keeping any food down due to the motion of the boat, so I didn't eat much. A group of us watched "Ocean's Eleven" in the on-board cinema in the evening.
Neil and I sat up for an hour or so either side of midnight in the front observation lounge watching the stars, trying to spot comets and the planets and generally gossiping about the trip.
Saturday 19 April 2002-04-19
When we woke up the sea was smooth, and there was very little pitching of the boat. We sat around and drank soft drinks and chatted. Neil, Malcolm and I ate a delicious meal of peppered steak and chips in the Brasserie restaurant.
The boat moored on time at 4:30pm where we were unloaded promptly and after saying good-byes to one another we set of our separate ways for home. I only had a 35 mile drive back to Guildford, which only took an hour.
The holiday was over, Lucy-Jo had been more reliable than I had expected. I have seen some of the most amazing scenery and had the best time of my life.