Farewell Europe, Hello Africa!

I had a fun weekend hanging out with my friends Cristina and Lumi and I didn’t get too hammered cos I always had to get the last train back to the campsite. I did have a little whiskey drinking session on Sunday night though. It was a medical emergency, as I’d bought a chicken kebab and got half way through it before realising that it had big chunks of raw chicken in it. I made myself sick, and had a few Jamesons to,…well just cos I wanted them really, but I really did not fancy riding with salmonella or whatever makes my stop at every petrol station or hedge.

It was raining in Madrid when I left and it felt a little weird packing my stuff after having stayed put in one place for three days but I had to move on before I grew roots. I set off to meet up with my friend at her family’s holiday home near Alicante. The ride was wet, but this time my clothing behaved perfectly and I was dry for the whole journey. i got to Laura’s place in the early evening and gave her brother Martin a call. We had only met once or twice before and it felt mad turning up on their doorstep even though Laura had assured me that it was okay and that they knew I was coming. Everyone was totally welcoming and very hospitable. I’d had a shower and was fed and bevvied before I knew it. Laura arrived several hours later with her daughter Layla. The next day was spent margin hunting in the local chinese bazars (lots of tat but good tools – pleasantly surprised to see that adjustable spanners are known as ‘English’ spanners!) chilling on the beach, and eating her dad’s paella. The chilled pace continued for the next day, although quite a lot of drinking was done too. Managed to find a dentist for my last dental overhaul for a while.

I left Benijofar and headed down the coast towards Gibraltar. The Andalusian coast was beautiful with lots of mountains, valleys, viaducts, tunnels and coast line. Most of the riding was on dual carriage ways and I was planning on making it to Cadiz or Gibraltar where I knew there are some camp sites, However the dual carriage way turned into everyday coast road for a short part and there were a few beautiful coast towns that had loads of campsites. Although these were too far from Gibraltar, where I needed to get my vaccine, they gave me the idea that I would be able to find a decent place to camp without much effort, but I wanted to cover some more miles before I would call it a day.

Loads of coast road like this in Andalucia

Unfortunately, when I was ready to stop I had reached the Costa del Sol and being such a big package tourist area, the signs for camp sites where few and far between. I left at one exit looking for a camping shop and got lost in a maze of back streets with a bizarre one way system. God only knows how I made it back to the main road. I stopped at a couple of campsites but after what Id seen earlier they just were not what I was looking for. They were miles from the beach and didn’t have any grass to set the tent up on. According to google maps the roads I was riding on were right next to the coast but i was convinced that there was another b-road that was closer and I exited the carriageway a couple of times but the confusing Spanish sign posts all just guided me back onto the same dual carriage way. I continued to ride towards Gibraltar and I wasn’t far away when I found another camp site. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but it did have a Thai restaurant with a Thai chef so I decided to stay. I set up my tent and went into the restaurant and met the chef and ordered myself my favourite Thai dish at super Thai spicy hot. The chef didn’t disappoint and I got  a few beers in and started chatting to the the people in the restaurant. It turned out that the restaurant is also a bit of a social hub for the ex-pat community that work or live on Gibraltar. In fact most of the campsite was filled with caravans owned by gibraltarians that use it to get away from the ‘shit hole’ that they describe as the rock. I explained to one of the owners that I wanted to wild camp and he told me that i could of just camped on the beach and that the parallel road that I was looking for was actually the way to go. At this point it didn’t matter though cos everyone was being very welcoming and there ware a few musicians about that I impressed with my amazing folding guitar. It turned into a bit of a session, mostly cos of good company but also cos of good music, I partly wish that I had found the road and wild camped on the beach but it doesn’t better cos I think I gained a fantastic insight into what ex-pat life is like on Gibraltar. There was a few offers of accommodation if i stuck around another night although that may have just been the beer talking.

I got up early to go and get my vaccination in Gibraltar. The guy at the campsite was warning me to be back for 12 o’clock check out but my appointment was at 11:20 and everyone had said that Gibraltar was only ten minutes away, so i was certain it wouldn’t be a problem. Riding to Gibraltar on a twisty dual-carriage way that goes over a mountain brings the rock into view quite spectacularly, and also offers the first glimpses of Africa as the mountains of Morocco can be seen in the far distance when the weather is good.

My first glimpse of the African continent

I rode through Linea de la Conception, the Spanish town before Gibraltar and the traffic starts to become bad which makes sense when you realise how small the place is. I filtered through the huge queues of cars trying to get in, and started to follow the directions given to me by the receptionist at the clinic, when I saw an accident happen. In front of me a van pulled out and a hadn’t seen a scooter coming towards him. The scooter got smashed up but the guy seemed to be okay. He was on his feet shouting in Spanish at the van driver.  I decided to ride with extra caution after seeing that and the narrow roads of Gibraltar are a mess of one way streets and crazy inclines. I got my rabies jab and had a good chat with the nurse who told me more about life on the rock. Even though the place is an English territory (sort of)  the English Spanish mix could be seen everywhere. I was listening to a mother in the waiting room reading a comic to her kids in Spanish and English. The journey to Gibraltar had taken a little bit longer than I had expected. I guess the locals are used to more balls-out Spanish riding than the pace that I’ve got used to riding at these days. Time was running short but I decided that I should at least go to the top of the rock to see the views. The ride up through the winding roads was fun and the little houses in the more affluent areas are quite a contrast to the blocks of flats (some nice, some not so much) that are everywhere. I would have liked more time to take some photos but finding places to park was a pain.  In the end I couldn’t be bothered to pay for the ticket as I didn’t have time to see the caves and all so I went to Europa point to check out the view there. I was going to make a video showing you all the view of the Moroccan mountains but for some reason all of my phone batteries were dead. I must have forgotten to charge them. Time was really getting on now, so I headed back to the campsite, realising that I had ridden over the airport runway on the way out cos it doubles up as the causeway between the rock and the mainland. I got back, packed by things and headed to the port at Tarifa. After a fantastic ride through more twisty mountain roads I got to the port and I was half expecting to see loads of bikers there. There were some guys with some dirt bikes on a trailer and an English Guy who had just been riding around Europe but wasn’t going to Morocco. As the ferry pulled out, I noticed what a nice place Tarifa is itself and made a mental note to come back someday and enjoy its beaches. The crossing was pretty rough, even though the sea looked calm, the boat was a high speed catamaran and at full pelt it made it difficult to walk without bumping into things. Quite a few people were clutching sick-bags, which were being handed out by super hot arabic chicks, giving me mixed feelings! I felt a bit dodgy myself but I got chatting to a group of adventurous Polish backpackers and managed to stare at the horizon until we came to port. In the car deck, I got chatting to one of the Spanish guys with the dirt bikes and he said that one of his group really wanted to do the similar trip to mine. We got loads of opportunity to discuss this as we waited through to ridiculous process that is Moroccan customs clearance. I’ve never seen anything like it, although Im pretty sure that Its going to be like this everywhere I go. One of the dirt bikers explained the system to me. There are guys floating around that ask you for your passport and your vehicle ownership docs. They don’t work there but they are ‘helpers’ and they sort it out for you for a tip. I’d already had my passport stamped once on the boat and checked once I got off the ramp, but anyway my ‘helper’ comes back and tells me to go and see the police for some reason. I go with, and the police look at my passport, type some stuff and then I’m off again. Matey then wants a tip and he’s waited till we are on the stairwell out of site. I started to get out my euro shrapnel and he said he could only take notes, so I got out my smallest denotation note, a 5 and suddenly he can take coins too! This is the easy part, cos matey has given me a green importation doc and it is most important to get it signed by one of the actual customs guys, who are dressed in blue, almost captain scarlet type uniforms and generally don’t do anything. We are a all waiting there for well over an hour. Forms are taken, returned, taken again, more ‘helpers’ turn up and try to get tips (I ignored them) and cars and trucks are being drove in, reversed out and drove in again. It is that ridiculous. On a plus note though, nobody seemed to mind that I’d given them a colour photocopy of my logbook and not the real one. Eventually, the blue waste of space signs my form and I can go, that is after another 2 people check my passport again and make sure that the green doc has been signed. I met up with the dirt bike guys and did my first black market money change with some touts before wishing them well and heading off. I knew I wanted to head in the direction of Tetouan, then I was going to head south for Chefchaouen, a place that had been recommended to me by my friend Makrad and I’d found a decent camp site on the net. However getting out of Tangiers wasn’t easy. It was the inverse of what happened when I road into Barcelona, without satnav or a detailed city map, getting in or out of a city would be tricky. I managed it though, even though I did have to approach one roundabout from all angles to get a idea of where those vague arrows actually meant for me to go. Driving in tangiers wasn’t that bad. It looked chaotic, but most people drove slow and let each other in and soon I was on the open road heading towards Tetouan. The scenery was becoming amazing. mountains with cities of little white buildings on them and sign posts improved, although there were still some that were in Arabic only. Chefcharouen is about 50 km from Tetouan and I turned off the main road onto the twisty mountain road that was lit up on one side by the setting sun. It was unbelievable beautiful, and I tried to take some pictures but none of them have really done the view any justice. I stopped trying, cos it was particularly dodgy being stopped at the side of the road with trucks and cars speeding by, even though I was proper in the sticks by now. There were people standing at the sides of the road selling all sorts of stuff, from kids with buckets of strawberries to men shouting at me and acting out smoking a joint and the road frequently had cows, donkeys, goats etc on it. It was getting dark though and I was starting to panic a little cos although the road wasn’t badly surfaced, I really didn’t want to try to find the campsite in the dark, but Chefcharouen is well lit and I found it no problem. Just when I was feeling all smug with myself for everything going as planned, I dropped the bike while trying to decide where to set up my tent. Mental note to self – don’t stop on hills in the dark unless you are sure of your footing!. Dropping the bike was only the beginning of it, trying to pick it up was shambolic. It kept rolling down the hill as soon as the weight was on the wheels. At on point it fell over again, trapping my leg against the handlebars, which sounded the horn every time I moved. One of the other guys in the camp site must have heard this as a call for help as he came and helped me pick it up. I felt bad after cos I noticed his arm was in plaster! Anyway, regardless of that little set back. Im here now I’M IN AFRICA! I set up my tent and went to the restaurant and ordered a Tagine.

P.s I have more pics, but I cant find the cable for my camera. Its weird how I keep losing things these days! I’ll update when I find it.


One thought on “Farewell Europe, Hello Africa!

  1. Hi – my name is Robert Wicks and I understand that you met a good friend of mine, Barry Mitchell, receently in Togo while he was there on business. He may have mentioned that I am the author of a series of books on adventure motorcycling, published by Haynes. I’d like to keep in touch and my email address is adventuremotorcycling@gmail.com. Look forward to hearing from you and best of luck on the road.

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