Sunday 4th January 2009 Departure day
After much frantic activity and last minute throwing into bags things which will probably never see the light of day we finally departed at around 6pm. A quick visit to Stephanie’s parents was followed by a fleeting visit to my Mum’s house. Even if you are quite reserved (British) about your emotions it is hard not to get a little teary about going away for so long. It is a big leap and, I think , one not to be taken lightly. Lots of mixed emotions and a pensive start to the journey for me.
We made good time on the motorway and called in to see Gary and Claire (sorry if no I in there). We then cracked on to the Travelodge in Ashford to set ourselves up for the ferry in the morning.
Monday 5th January 09 Dover to Calais
Waking up early to a snow covered Landrover we set off for the port and arrived in good time. Sitting in the queue waiting to board I set the sat-nav that I use at home for Algeciras only to find that it doesn’t include Spain in it’s database. Schoolboy error but I don’t know my way through France and so a quick call was made to one of our backup team. As soon as Gary could be heard over the laughter coming from Claire he gave me a couple of outline options and once the shops opened I bought what proved to be the worst little map book in the world to date.
The crossing was smooth and once off the vessel we set off on an interesting attempt to avoid all tolls. We made reasonable ground for the first few hours and enjoyed the sights but then it all changed and we were in snow. It was at this point that our decision to stick to national roads proved faulty. We found the roads gradually becoming covered with snow and by 7pm we were only as far as Le Mans. It was gridlocked and after 1 hour of not a lot we decided to get a motel. We went for part of the B&B chain and it was comfortable if basic. Infinitely preferable to spending a cold night stuck in snow on the roads of Le Mans - memories of news stories in the UK and the view from the car window started to stir an anxiety that this could become reality for us so something of a relief when we reached and found available accommodation, especially as others too were aborting their journey and booking into places overnight.
Tuesday 6th January 09 Le Mans to Pamplona.
We had a good breakfast and set off quite early in order to make up lost time. Again we tried the national roads but they were very dodgy after the snow and on covering only about 100 miles in 3 hours we hit the highways which proved totally boring (horrid but necessary) but served the purpose with a good average. Even though we had been held up by the snow it made the trip quite beautiful with the landscapes pristine and white (the French villages looked so pretty decked in snow amidst Christmas lights and decorations – Santa Claus was still to be seen climbing up the facades of the houses) however I wanted to get to Spain if possible and so we kept going past Bordeaux and on to Bayonne. It was still okay for time and we again made an unusual route choice (resulting in a little foray over a dark and lightly snow covered mountain pass in the Pyrenees) which brought us to Pamplona late at night.It was here that we first discovered that accommodation especially that of recognisable chains, is a whole load more elusive in Spain than in France where there is a well advertised abundance of choice. I felt enormous gratitude to the very pleasant young lady on reception of a Holiday Inn Express as we finally found somewhere to freshen up and lay our heads for the night – pure luxury after a long day and evening on the road.
Wednesday 7th January 09 Pamplona to who knows where.
Today we set off a bit later after a good nights sleep and once again avoided the pay roads. It certainly provided for a beautiful journey as the landscapes were quite spectacular. Unfortunately this generally has a cost and it was once again a slow average. We chose a meandering route gradually working our way South. Some of the mountain roads were really smooth and flowing whereas others were a bit like working your way through Snowdonia. I didn’t really know much about the geography or topography of Spain but am quite aware now of how much of the country appears to be over 2000 ft above sea level. We peaked today at around 4,300 ft above sea level and I must say some of the places looked absolutely gorgeous. With our lack of organisation and the nice scenery I just kept on driving. We covered a lot of ground and found ourselves in Cordoba but struggled to find a combination of accommodation and parking so I ploughed on again finally stopping 60 km short of Malaga. At this point we were only a few hours short of spending the whole night on the road so no room to debate the suitability of the hotel that we finally found ourselves outside having followed a services sign displaying a bed. The man on reception treated us kindly and the accommodation not being a chain hotel was pleasantly Spanish in character. Total journey today was around 730 miles.
Thursday 8th January 09 Malaga to Tarifa.
With only a few miles to go (100 or so) we decided to have a quick stopover in Gibraltar as Stephanie had never been there. After the snow covered villages of France and the beautiful serene mountains of Spain, how bizarre to be shopping and eating a meal in Morrisons using sterling and being amongst people from the UK. But somehow very comforting before venturing into the next, for me, totally unknown territories and challenges. We met a few people who were going to Morocco for a month or so but they were hanging around and we needed to set off. We finally settled for the night in a campsite outside Tarifa which was rather pricey to say the least. I think both of us disliked the south of Spain after the beauty of the mountains. Have previously enjoyed a holiday to Almeria on the south coast but Malaga and west of this seemed very unpleasant.
I know the first part of this journal has been mainly : Get up, drive, sleep…… repeated several times but that is pretty much the reality. With Stephanie only having a few days on this leg wanted to get on if possible.
Next follows the real start of the adventure .. off to Africa.