Crossing the Sahara on BMWs
continued from Issue 4
In stark contrast to Rosso, a short wait and formalities completed we headed into the minefield and no-mans land. No demands for payment and no hustlers. Grand stuff.
Dave, who feels that minefields are great places to live, suggested that we stopped for lunch in the middle of the muddle of broken tracks and rock which make up the path to the border with Sahara Occidental; the Western Sahara of Morocco.
"Grand spot indeed." The loony remarked as we munched on a meal of pastries, figs and biscuits which we'd picked up from Nouadhibou. The weird thing was that it was actually quite nice to sit in the sun of a cooler day than we were expecting, safe in the knowledge that no one was going to pop up from behind a rock and try and sell us something.
"Hey, you wanna sell some stuff, or buy anything?" The three of us spun around in unison. Unbelievable. There stood a small grinning Arab who had crept up from goodness knows where. Is there no end to African persistence?
It turned out that he scratched a living buying and selling car parts and exchanging money from a compound of wrecked vehicles just the other side of a small hill. We quizzed him about the minefield. "Oh, none just here" he said "But walk a minute away from the track and bang!" "No, no-one has blown up recently, but it does happen."
He wandered off. "See, minefields really are grand places to live" said Dave French predictably. He's not only Irish, he's also barking mad it seems.
Moroccan formalities were similarly straightforward, though Barbara's lack of visa for any downward journey through Morocco created some interest. A policeman said "Oh, we don't do visas here, only at Ceuta. You'll have to get one from the consul in Nouadhibou." Faces dropped all round. "Hah, I got you there!" laughed the comedian copper. "Hah, bloody hah" I retorted. The cop continued to find the whole joke so amusing that he smeared the entry stamp in my passport.
Northwards through ever changing desert terrain. It was almost as though someone had decided to give all the boring flat sand to Mauritania and the beautiful wild and rocky outcrops of desert to Morocco. It was good to be back, riding past impressive dunes and wind blown rock, some with small piles of medieval looking stones neatly stacked on top by locals long gone.
G1 did have petrol and we pressed on to the beach where Dave took a swim on the way down. He'd already decided to camp there that night, while we pushed on 200 km further to Dakhla. Remembering the lovely spot on the way down it seemed like a good choice. "Great place, this beach" I yelled to Barbara behind me as we rode.
"Strange idea of a 'great' place." Said Barbara after we'd stopped at the beach a few kilometres later. In the different light of a cooler day, what seemed a wonderful spot some weeks before was in fact a grubby rubbish strewn strand of sand and dumped rubble.
"Fine company I'm in" retorted my beloved. "This character here" she motioned to Dave "thinks that minefields are great places to live and my husband thinks that rubbish dumps make great beaches. I give up."
"Remind me never to book a package holiday with you guys - we'd end up in Beirut." She added.
"What's wrong with Beirut?" Asked Dave. "Grand beaches and there's been a ceasefire for years now." Barbara laughed helplessly.
"Well Oim staying here anyway." He added. "It's possibly the last chance for some camping and Oim gonna take it. Besides all this rubbish seems to have been washed up, not dumped."
We topped up the tank of my GS from Dave's still full jerry can and Barbara and I resumed the journey up the road.
It was starting to get towards late afternoon and the westering sun cast strange light and shadows across the desert. Sand which seemed golden on the way down now appeared grey, then orange. Long shadows from small mesas created optical illusions on the road ahead. There was almost no traffic, just the occasional locally owned Landrover or European registered vehicle passing us heading south along the snaking road.
We stopped for a while near the Golfe de Cintra and I climbed a mesa to look at the sun sinking towards the ocean a mile or so away. Barbara found dozens of semi fossilised snail shells and carefully packed them in her spare clothes. It was warm and peaceful and nice just to spend a little time with just the two of us.
But the light was fading and we still had 100 kilometres to ride before reaching Dakhla. Pressing on we started to pass the beginnings of habitation, biking past closed fuel stations and small villages. In the distance the sky grew pale and then grey. Odd, as the sun was still up. Then, like a smothering blanket, a dense cloud of fog descended around us.
Knocking our speed back to about 35mph, we crept forward through the cool dim gloom. The desert that we could still see took on a cold haunting aspect and the GS's mirrors and my visor fogged up. It was a strange world to ride in and not too unpleasant, just a very odd experience.
Then suddenly the fog lifted and ahead of us was the 'outer marker' police checkpoint at the head of the 40 kilometre peninsular which Dakhla occupies. A welcome, but brief respite and the fog clamped down again as we travelled the last few kilometres into town.
Another night at Hotel Doumes, followed by a leisurely breakfast and we lazily rode the 40 kilometres to the police checkpoint by the main north/south road, fully expecting Dave to be late.
"Oi've been here for over half an hour" he complained. "We've a lot of miles to roide today yer know."
"Sorry mate" I said sheepishly. "But you have to admit, that you getting somewhere on time is a bit of a first."
Dave grunted and started his GS and our two bikes headed northwards once again.
The ride was once again straightforward. The desert had flattened out and mile after lonely mile droned under our wheels. Being much more on what passed for the beaten track in these parts, the road once again had decent markings and traffic was heavier. The majority of this was fish trucks going to and from Dakhla and the huge markets in the north. Sometimes we'd pass lorries parked on the side of the road, with the driver draining melted ice and fish blood onto the verge. The stench was overpowering.
Unfortunately, this discarded blood found its way onto the highway and slick smelly patches were commonplace. Atlantic Route? We re-christened it the 'Road of Blood' as these fetid spillages and the slippery combination of blood and diesel on the road itself were commonplace all the way from Dakhla to Tan-Tan.
We stopped whenever there was something interesting to look at and we explored several dried river beds and ancient land-slips.
Not quite beating the falling sun, we made it to Laayoune just after dark. Traffic had become quite heavy as we neared Western Sahara's capital and all of us were tired. So the sight of Hotel Stink was welcome. Less welcome was that it was full of UN types, so after cruising up and down the main streets of town, we settled on the reasonably priced Hotel Jodesa.
The original itinerary had called for us to ride all the way from Laayoune to Agadir the following day, but after riding the distance between these two towns in one hit when travelling down to West Africa, we decided to break the journey home in Tan-Tan. This allowed a chance to see the small town of Tarfaya and the monument to Antoine de Saint Exupery, the aviation pioneer.
On the way we crossed the unannounced border into Morocco itself, finally leaving the deep desert lands behind us and returning to a country which lies on Europe's doorstep. A few miles further on a break was taken at the edge of a vast hole in the ground which spread into the distance, the edge a dramatic escarpment rather like the place in 'Ice Cold In Alex' where the heroes of the movie descend in their overlanding ambulance into a huge desert Depression in a bid to escape the Africa Corps.
Not feeling too much like John Mills, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Syms, we moved onto Tarfaya, which proved to be a faded town of great character. There was a magnificent promenade and clean beach. The monument was nearby and proved to be a large rusting model of a biplane. Some local lads came over to practice their English and we gained the impression of Tarfaya as a fairly relaxed town, the most southerly in Morocco.
Late in the afternoon, the Road of Blood passed very near the sea for the last time on the northward route through the Sahara. We rode down some rocky tracks to the beach and took a break. This was a place called Tan-Tan Plage, remote and beautiful. The beaches and rocky ground was scattered with small fishermen's huts, with the occasional moped parked outside.
Riding up the steep track to the road, I stopped at the top, realising that it had only taken a few moments to ride the 300 yard piste from the beach to the road; and this two-up. The nervous rider who had fallen off after riding about 10 yards off road into sand a few weeks earlier had been replaced with someone far more confident in both his bike and his own abilities. It was a good feeling and made me realise that I would miss riding the Sahara.
The short journey inland to Tan-Tan went via two vast and steep ridges in the land. We overtook several lorries, grinding along in first gear to reach the top of the second ridge, which had a spectacular view of Tan-Tan and the hilly countryside around.
Coasting into town, we pulled up at The Hotel Sable D'or and checked in. An enquiry about the possibility of beer at reception drew a blank. "But" said our female hostess "My son knows someone who may know how to buy beer. You go with him."
Leaving Barbara at the hotel, we walked towards the centre of town with a Moorish looking chap who didn't have much to say for himself, apart from the occasional, "follow me", or "Down here". Tan-Tan is a real gem of a place, with well laid out streets and an extensive market. Shops sold just about everything imaginable and a wonderful vibrancy pervaded the atmosphere.
Our man flagged down a mate of his in a car with cracked windows. We all jumped in and roared off for a bewildering tour of town at high speed. Dave kept his GPS on and figured out that when the car stopped 10 minutes later, we were about 100 yards from where we had been picked up. There was no charge for this strange ride. Then followed a circuitous route on foot which took us eventually up a narrow dimly-lit alley where our guide asked us to wait.
As he walked further up, a figure extracted himself from a door way and a hushed conversation took place. Our man returned and said "Give me 300 Dirham. I can get 11 beers."
Taking our grubby notes, he disappeared with what must have been the look-out into the doorway and reappeared after about five minutes with a black carrier bag. "I have beer, we must go now."
No mad car ride this time, just a long walk through the interestingly diverting market and back to the hotel. A can of beer to our man for his troubles later and Dave and I burst into our hotel room laughing at the experience of 'scoring' beer and relating the amusing experience to a bemused Barbara.
The following morning was our last in the Sahara. Passing regretfully under the Kissing Camels of Tan-Tan we headed for the distant hills of the Anti Atlas and through dramatic ever-rising scenery of the Edge of the Sahara. We stopped briefly just before Guelmim, on the actual edge of the desert to take a few photo and acknowledge our goodbyes to the most amazing of riding experiences.
Climbing aboard the bikes, we waved to a couple who came roaring by, heading south on a heavily overloaded 1970s Meriden Triumph Bonneville. Hats off to life's truly intrepid motorcycle explorers!
After Bouizakarne, the Anti Atlas rise quickly to about 3,000 feet and through a wonderful rocky landscape mottled with smallholdings, with numerous dry-stone walls, winding their way among the hills and valleys. Occasional small towns doubled as truck stops, with parked trucks almost hidden by the haze of brochette barbeque smoke from the numerous small eating places.
We slowly wound our way through hairpins, locked behind lorries which tried to use the entire road on blind corners, stopping occasionally where the dramatic views allowed a photo opportunity.
Soon we were travelling downhill and out into a plain near the city of Tiznit. We stopped for a break and some fuel.
"Oi reckon that this road here could be grand." Said Dave pointing to the map. He was suggesting taking one of the Michelin 'green routes' from Tiznit to Agadir, via the mountain town of Tafraoute.
Barbara and I also peered at the map. "Yup, looks like a good trip OK." I said "But I reckon that it would have to be a bit of a thrash if we're to make Agadir tonight."
"Indeed, Indeed." Said Dave "Think Oi'll give it a go anyway. Wanna come along?"
Barbara shrugged her shoulders in a non-committal fashion "Nah, perhaps not this time, I think we'll head to Agadir, make an early stop, get us all a room and chill out for a bit." I said.
"No probs." Frenchie replied "Get me a beer in and I'll see yer later!" He started his engine and roared up the road in a cloud of dust.
100 fairly bland kilometres later, broken by coffee at a pavement bar which doubled as a truck stop for several identical heavy duty Renault pick-ups, we found ourselves fighting Agadir's rush hour traffic. And after quickly finding somewhere to stay and texting the details to Dave, we retired to the comfortable sofas of the bar to watch the world go by.
"They have a dreadful karaoke act and pub singer here." I said to Barbara. "So dreadful, it's almost laughable."
As if on cue a lean and very dark Moroccan appeared at reception, hauling PA equipment and a synthesiser keyboard. A few minutes later and he was set up for the evening, running through his selection of canned music, a few bars at a time, at a volume which was enough to send even cockroaches scuttling to the corners.
I winced. "Time to find somewhere to eat I think. Dave will just have to text us when he arrives."
We wandered out of the hotel and along the sea front and settled down to a nice meal of fish, washed down with some the excellent local wine. It got dark and as time ticked by, we wondered how Dave was getting on.
The problem is that things like this prey on the mind and by 9.30pm, I was becoming quite alarmed about his whereabouts. Then my phone beeped. 'Checked in' said the message.
We met Dave back at the hotel. He was grinning and working bottles of Flag into himself as fast as he could. "What a bloody ride!" he exclaimed. "It was grand for the first half of the route, but then it got dark. Trucks all over the road, cars swervin' about, feckin' dangerous so it was. Then it got bloody cold and there I was inching along at about 2mph on this really bad road.
"Mind you, here now." He finished and raised his glass.
"Was it worth it?" said Barbara.
"Indeed, indeed, grand views of the mountains. Took loads of pictures."
"Have you eaten?" I asked.
"Yup, a pizza at that English place next door." He replied while waving to get the attention of the bar staff.
The following day we only planned to ride as far as Essaouira and then take a day off. Before leaving, it seemed only fair that Barbara had a chance to see the fantastic view from the old Kasbah and after filling the fuel tanks we headed up the winding road to the top of the splendid overlook of the surrounding area.
We were joined by a fellow overlander on his BMW R1200 GS that we had met in the fuel station. He blatted in and out of the traffic as we followed in a more measured fashion. This guy seemed to know some of the locals and it turned out that he spent a great deal of his time in Morocco, only heading back to Europe when he had to every few months. "Life's better here." He said.
Two months before I would have thought such a sentiment to be completely bonkers, but having had a chance to spend an extended time in North and West Africa I was much more sympathetic to such a view. Life is undeniably tough in Africa, it can be dirty, on rare occasions dangerous and health is always an issue. The 'African time' that officials operate on can be mind-numbingly tedious. But in the Muslim cultures we visited - so often viewed as oppressive by our media and politicians - the sense of community, the true freedom of the roads, the true friendliness of people, the lack of commercialism, absence of any form of political correctness and puritanical nimbysim was making me really wonder about the kind of lives that we are creating for ourselves in Northern Europe.
We bade goodbye to our friend on the 1200GS and set off up the coast road northwards, passing through small towns which catered for the European surfing trade. We stopped a few times along the coast to admire the huge surf and the skill displayed by refugees from Cornish winter weather and from elsewhere in Europe, where the surf is good, but the water frigid.
Leaving the coast behind us, the road wound its way through rolling stony hills full of Argan trees. Local people hopefully waved large jars of Argan oil from makeshift stalls by the side of the road. We only stopped once though and that was to stroke some camels and chat to the herder, who was also looking after a party of goats. One camel was genuinely friendly, the other one seemed more interested in chewing on Dave's Rallye suit.
Arriving in Essaouira later that day, we checked into a nice place on the seafront, with excellent views of the long, clean beach, with the bay beyond and the rocky outcrops of a small island.
Dave had been rather quiet all day, not saying much when we stopped and seeming to struggle with an internal problem. I did wonder if Barbara and I had managed to piss him off, but he replied to concerned comment with "No, no, everything's grand."
That evening he owned up to feeling like death warmed up. "That bloody pizza I reckon." He said. "Already been to the bog about three times." He felt up to some dinner though and we strolled the half mile into the old town.
Dave had enthused about the Chez Sam restaurant on several occasions, having had a memorable fish dinner there in 2000. The place is right inside the small port and we arrived just as it was getting dark. The port itself was showing no signs of winding down though and many of the traditionally built trawlers were getting ready to put to sea, while others, packed with hard working crew, were chugging into the harbour to moor among crowds of people waiting to open the holds to offload the catch while the boat itself was turned around to put to sea once again.
Chez Sam was right by the entrance to the harbour and our table afforded a view of all that was going on in the port. The restaurant itself had a theme which was a cross between an old ship and a traditional old pub, rather like many found in the English countryside.
The following morning Mr French didn't appear. I banged on his door "You OK in there?" A groan and I opened the door. Poor old Dave looked like death warmed up. "Oi think the pizza finally got me" he groaned. "Not just shits either, Oi feel roit rough and Oi don't think Oi'm goin' anywhere until this thing works its way out of me system."
There wasn't much we could do really. It was a classic case of food poisoning which only time and some rest would sort out.
Barbara and I hung around the hotel that day, which wasn't too bad as the place had good facilities and an excellent coffee bar next door. From time to time we checked on 'yer man' who looked awful, but was being stoic about the whole thing. He didn't show any signs of getting worse which was a relief.
The following morning Dave felt much better. We all had a light breakfast in his room and discussed what to do. Dave was still weak and wasn't sure he could travel too far from a toilet, so pressing on to Rabat, our next scheduled stop, was out. This raised an immediate problem with ferry and flight bookings. An extra day meant missing the ferry from Bilbao and subsequently, Dave's flight to Poland.
Barbara hit the phone and found that changing the ferry booking was easy enough, though missing the new booking, meant a long ride through a frozen France. Dave's flight was also re-booked
Yer Man felt well enough to get up later in the morning, so we took a gentle stroll to explore the town. We loitered around the port, taking pictures of the boats and the hubbub of activity. After this we wandered the old town and Kasbah, enjoying the Portuguese fortifications and market wares.
Lunch was at a pavement fish bar and we enjoyed meals that we picked out ourselves from a stall at the front, a great display of variety and colour from the various species of fat fish which were offered. Barbara's live Cray Fish made a valiant escape bid from the tray after they had been selected, but before long they were cooked and served up along with our other meals of Bass and Bream washed down with clean water. Dave cautiously stuck to a very light meal. However, it seemed that the sickness part of his Berbers Belly had finally worked its way out of his system and lunch brought colour back to his features.
That evening we ate in the Hotel Villa Maroc. Barbara had found this place in the Lonely Planet and we had booked during the late afternoon. The meal had to be paid in advance and the menu chosen to allow enough time for the hotel to purchase the food. It was all rather exclusive. The Villa Maroc itself is a converted medieval town-mansion with small courtyards open to the sky and numerous passages, communal areas and small rooms making up a labyrinthine hotel. The place dripped with traditional style and antiques. We ate in a private suite with beautiful décor and a roaring fire. It was one of those places which engendered total relaxation assisted by pleasant conversation and good food. Highly recommended and less than £10 each for a five star experience.
Dave got us out of bed earlier than usual the following morning. "I've packed extra bog roll and I wanna travel." He declared. We loaded the bikes and with some regret set off once again.
We chose to ride the coast road via Safi and El-Jadida and joined a chilly road out of town.
Very quickly, sand and rock gave way to green grass and scrub. The road wound its way along a dramatic coastline with tumbling cliffs and long beaches. The rolling hills covered in welcome green pasture after weeks of desert sand and glare. Dry stone walls divided the hillsides and long, low stone buildings became the norm. Several photo opportunities afforded themselves and it was nice to have the excuse to stop and warm up.
We stopped in Safi for coffee, after passing through an unpleasant industrial complex on the edge of town. This place was a huge chemical works, disgorging millions of gallons of effluent straight into the sea. An unpleasant scar on a beautiful landscape. The greater prosperity of the town was obvious, both in the condition of the buildings and the large number of new cars on the streets.
Between Safi and El-Jadida, the land gave way to intensive agricultural small holdings. We passed pick-up after pick-up loaded with carefully packed vegetables of every kind imaginable.
El-Jadida is a resort which caters for Moroccans and wide boulevards passed through tall white buildings. We took lunch in a roadside café. The brochettes and Coke were welcome enough, but not the extortionate bill.
The road north is immediately of excellent quality. The wide smooth tarmac was a contrast to weeks of rougher road and occasional track. The only problem was that any sense of road sense among the local drivers seemed to vanish and we found ourselves competing with Parisian style driving aggression and high speed overtaking.
A few miles of this tiring riding and we entered a bustling town which was full of trucks and long queues of traffic. After being diverted down a side road and after a further two kilometres the road suddenly improved once again and took us out onto a motorway slip road.
After a month of the most varied riding conditions we had ever encountered, we had found ourselves back on the Moroccan motorway network, gaining speed on the smooth six-lane blacktop which slashed through the countryside ahead.
An hour later and we were pushing through rush-hour Rabat. So European and such a contrast from weeks past. There was no particular joy in returning to what in the UK we are conditioned to consider normality. I thought wistfully of the quieter roads and picturesque locations further south.
Finding a hotel that was reasonably priced and comfortable didn't take long, but as Dave waited for me to check in, his front tyre promptly went flat.
"Not having the best few days are we." I said. Dave groaned and said nothing. The hotel allowed us to use their underground garage, so in the warmth and light, we leisurely replaced the inner tube in Dave's front wheel. The Ultraseal 'Smurfs Blood' had done a partial job in that Dave had avoided disaster on Rabat's busy roads. There was a small rip in the inner tube, but air only came out slowly, blocked by the Ultraseal compound. Less pleasant was cleaning the mess of dripping Ultraseal out of the wheel and tyre, but on balance, I do feel that the green gunge had saved Dave from a more serious problem.
Rescheduling the ferry meant that we had actually gained an extra day. The original plan had been to ride straight to Ceuta and then onto Gibraltar the following day. But Dave now suggested visiting the Roman ruins at Volubilis near Meknes. We had both been there in 2000 and the road north from there made for a great ride.
Barbara had the deciding vote and opted to see Volubilis. "When am I next going to get the chance to see the place?" she asked. "Seems silly not to go."
We left Rabat along the modern motorway to Meknes. A good, if bland road, livened up by the occasional pedestrian, or goat crossing the highway and the numerous hand held speed cameras of the Gendarmerie Royale.
Passing swiftly through Meknes, wincing at the incongruous sight of a drive-thru McDonalds right at the gates of the famous old Kasbah, we headed north on a single track road towards Moulay-Idriss. Once out of Meknes, the road traversed more rolling and green countryside, though vast fields of olives. The harvest was in full swing and we saw huge piles of olives outside several smallholdings, being sorted and made ready for market.
Moulay-Idriss is one the great Muslim spiritual cities. Lying half way up a steep escarpment of hills, the white buildings and steep passages curve around the folds of the hills and have as their focal point the huge mosque and market.
The white pillared square and market entrance proved to be a good place to stop for coffee. It was market day and the bustle of people and stallholders bellowing through hand held Bull-horns added to a very pleasant melee.
Volubilis was only five minutes ride from the town and we spent a few hours wandering the dramatic ruins. The site was originally settled in the third century BC and was one of the Roman Empire's most remote outposts. The Romans left in the third century AD, but the city continued to be inhabited by various groups, including Berbers, Jews and Greeks until the 18th century, when it was plundered to build palaces in Moulay-Idriss.
Leaving the ancient site, we rode along more minor roads which allowed some great views and the chance to experience the quieter backwaters of northern Morocco.
Ahead of us rose the mighty Rif Mountains, famous for Berbers and drugs. As the road started to climb through some of the most spectacular scenery of the entire trip, the temperature plummeted.
The encroaching darkness meant that we settled on Chefchaouen for our last night in Africa. To get there we left the spectacular views of the mountain highway and headed further up into the mountains on a more minor, but very busy road. This took us across a high crest and as the land beyond opened out, we saw the breathtaking view of the small white city spread out before us; a haunting view in the last light of the day.
We checked shivering into the Hotel Rif. The owner spoke good English and directed us to a popular local restaurant. Our walk there took us through the old Medina and narrow alleys crowded with small stalls and shops selling pretty much anything that you could think of. Barbara finally bought a small bottle of Argan oil and Dave stocked up with spices.
The narrow passages opened into the main square, which surrounds the old Kasbah and mosque. The square was lined with several restaurants and the low light against a backdrop of medieval buildings and tall trees projected an almost Christmas-like air in a light mist of a cool winter's evening.
The recommended restaurant proved to be a tall building with traditional Berber-modelled blue painted rooms at several levels and a roof-top area with spectacularly atmospheric views over the town. Braving the cold, this was where we ate, enjoying tagines, brochettes and fruit juice.
Our final day in Morocco started with a terrific ride through challenging Rif Mountain twisties on the road towards Tetouan. We only stopped briefly for photographs and coffee and were soon bypassing Tetouan, a town which sprawls grubby suburbs in all directions from the city centre itself.
Soon we were on the multi-roundabouted dual carriageway of the road to Ceuta and diving in and out of moderate traffic, we found ourselves part of a group of mixed large touring bikes with Spanish number plates.
All too soon, the ocean was running alongside the road and the promontory of Ceuta was standing out in the distance. We continued to follow the Spaniards as they entered the customs compound at Sebta/Ceuta and past the long line of traffic waiting to get through.
The usual mêlée of hustlers were ready for us, but we resolutely followed the Spanish riders who ignored the gesticulating crew of robed Moroccans and eased themselves up to the border gates. The guard waved the first bike through and the others followed without stopping, as did we, unconcerned for now that we'd not stopped for our Morocco exit stamps in our passports. Ah well, I'll be happy to argue that one out when we return.
Spanish border controls took no interest in us and it seemed like seconds later we were spat out into the noise and confusion of the little enclave of Ceuta itself and back in EU territory.
Anticipation marked the ferry journey from Algeciras to Ceuta weeks before, sadness and reflection the return trip. So many things experienced, seen and felt. Much to think about as well. We sat on the stern of the fast ferry looking at the Rif disappear into the distance lost in our own thoughts.
But we still had Europe to cross. Arriving at Algeciras in the late afternoon light, we headed straight for Gibraltar, aiming to find a hotel before it got too dark.
An evening of English beer and food, marvelling at the oddities of Sterling in cashpoint machines and lager louts in bars, we set our minds to the relentless miles which awaited us on Spanish winter motorways.
Day one of the Spanish section saw us press on with a grim determination to get as far as we could in one hit. We left Gibraltar at first light, hammering down the Autoroute to Malaga, where Barbara was due to leave us to fly home.
Seeing Barbara going though was a wrench and not just for me. The three of us had made a great team in Africa and Dave also knew that he'd miss her bright company and sense of humour on the cold grinding miles ahead in Spain.
Reduced daylight hours and growing cold didn't stop us from in putting hours at a time on the saddle, trying to maintain a steady 110 kph, while Jack Frost tried to find a way into our riding gear. We climbed the hills towards Granada as the temperature descended with the altitude and headed north to Juan, the motorway negotiating snow covered mountain peaks. Ever northward we rode, measuring stops by the number of times we needed fuel.
But by 5pm we'd had enough and checked into a very nice roadhouse just south of Madrid for some welcome hot food and shut-eye.
Frost blanketed everything as we departed the following morning. Madrid was frantic with traffic and like a plonker, I took a wrong turn, dumping us both in the city centre. Half an hour later we were free, but behind on time as we headed up the motorway to Burgos, climbing ever higher through the frost, clouds and into the Sierra De Guadarrama.
The 3,000 ft high pass at Puerto De Somosierra was bitterly cold, but it also marked a weather front and we broke through to brilliant sunshine the other side. The weather stayed bright until beyond Burgos, we once again found ourselves in freezing fog. By this time we were traversing the Pyrenees and soon started the long descent to Bilbao.
Our final night in mainland Europe saw us safely ensconced in a nice little hotel about 15km from the ferry port. This was an evening of celebration and reflection as we drank rather too much local wine and beer and devoured local dishes of pig trotters and ox tails.
After one major delay to the trip, the final indignity was a ferry with a broken engine, running six hours late. The crossing was uneventful, if a little choppy in the Bay of Biscay. Both of us were very tired and not looking forward to journey's end. After all we had seen and done, it seemed more than a little odd to have to readjust to Christmas in northern Europe. Hordes of drunken, booze-cruising Brits didn't do much for our general mood either.
In a similar way that he had seen us off, Steve Manning was waiting behind the lens of his video camera on the ferry ramp, making us feel welcome and marking the official end of the journey. A hour's trip in the dark to Beckenham and a welcoming committee of Barbara and Ian Mutch were there to greet us help us unload the bikes and break open a bottle of champagne for a 2am toast to our collective achievement.
So we did it. All the planning worked, the support from our sponsors, in particular BMW and Metal Mule, had made it happen.
There are so many thoughts and impressions which arise from the journey. But we are both pleased that we had achieved the aims of the trip and extremely grateful to everyone who had helped to make it happen.
We have learned much from our time with Riders for Health which strengthens our links with them and I hope has helped to highlight their work. It also makes us realise the importance of the work that Simon Milward started on Indonesia - work which follows in the footsteps of Riders for Health successful and effective healthcare logistics programme.
Dave and I can't avoid the imagery that arises from what some have already read as the completion of Simon's Millennium ride. This is not a comfortable association for me as some may view this as impertinence and I am sure that Simon would have had many more adventures and made much more impact on the people that he met. But we did learn that he had been due to visit Riders for Health in the Gambia, so it seems highly likely that we took pretty much the African route north that he would have taken.
Our trip was inspired by Milward's Millennium Ride and a personal commitment to continue his work through Motorcycle Outreach from Dave and myself among others. Our Bikes carried the Millennium Ride logo in addition to Motorcycle Outreach and Riders for Health. I hope that our own achievement, as small as it is, helps to keep the spirit of Simon's ride alive and in the process highlights the extremely important work of Riders for Health in Africa and the equally important and similar work that is being done in Indonesia by Motorcycle Outreach.
Dave had to leave early on December 23rd for his flight back to Poland and later that morning I found a note that he'd written wishing us all a merry Christmas, adding 'we finished the Millennium ride'. I hope that Simon is pleased.
Motorcycles kindly supplied and prepared by Vines BMW of Guildford.