Week 26

Euramobil had sent a replacement drain valve to us on Thursday, by special delivery, for which they paid 65 Euros, just so that we could have the part within twenty four hours. You may remember the frustrating saga with special delivery when we were trying to get a package delivered to Sprendlingen, well, this was no better. It didn’t arrive, Friday or Saturday or Sunday. The problem is deciding how long you can wait, in appalling weather.

On Sunday, we decided to go to Naples to see the Archaeological Museum, as we wanted to see the casts of the bodies found in Pompei. Naples is by far the dirtiest, roughest, nastiest city we have been to on the tour. It is dreadful. The Museum, though, is world class. There were a lot of pieces from Pompei, including a bronze bust of a man that, for some reason, I immediately liked. Unfortunately, he was not named, but he looked really nice!

We couldn’t find the Pompei bodies, so asked a member of staff, who told us that they were all kept at Pompei!

On Monday morning, before the post was due, Josh and I went back to the old city of Pompei.

There is nothing new under the sun. We found the old fast food joint. It w it as usual for people of the time to eat out, only the rich dined at home, so on many streets were eating places. Large pots were filled with dishes of the day and you could choose what to have, and have it served up immediately. The first picture is of Josh at the one of the eateries.

The amphitheatre is enormous and has extraordinary acoustics. For no particular reason, Josh shouted out when he was alone in the middle of the arena. He was amazed at the perfect echo that came back. By the way, have I mentioned that the word arena comes from the Latin word “harena” which means sand, which was copiously used on the floor to mop up the blood from the animals and the gladiators?

We also found the peaceful Garden of Rest and the casts of the bodies of thirteen people. The one that I have chosen for the website is of, what seems to be, a parent and child.

The weather continued to be dreadful, as you can see from the picture of the car going up the street. Not that this dampened the Italian’s love of homicidal driving. They continued to cut each other up, squeeze through impossible gaps, drive the wrong way up one way streets, ignore red lights and all other traffic signs. The traffic systems are usually extremely carefully thought out and easy to understand, so that the traffic should flow easily along well marked roads. But, as soon as the Italian driver enters into the equation, it all falls apart.

The Italians are also very keen on graffiti, no space is safe. Some of it is very artistic but it always makes a place look rough and intimidating. Some of the train carriages are so covered in the graffiti that you cannot even see out of the windows and travel in an imposed darkness, seeing the stations is impossible.

When we got back to the campsite, not only had the part arrived, but Gary, with Rory’s help, had got it fitted.

We were on our way. Not to Sicily and Greece as originally planned, though. The weather had been so awful that we had decided to go to southern Spain.

Before we went the boys wanted to pick an orange each from one of the trees in the campsite. As they were rather high up, it was Gary’s turn to help Rory!

So, the rest of the week was spent driving. The boys watched more DVD’s than I thought we had.

The first leg of the journey took us to a service station just outside Pisa. It wasn’t too bad, but the lorries were arriving until very late at night and started leaving in the early hours. Still at least we made an early start the next day.

We reached France and the toll roads started. At one point, we only travelled 17 kilometres between toll booths! The roads were very good, but very expensive. We spent the night at a French aire in St Mathieu a small town up in the hills above Montpellier. The aires provide motorhomes with water and electricity for a nominal sum, in the hope that money will be spent in the village. We certainly wouldn’t have gone there if the town hadn’t had an aire, so it worked.

The next day we got to northern Spain. It was an awful job trying to find a campsite. We have an Alan Roger’s guide book and the smug, self congratulatory introduction should have been a warning. The first two were closed, and we only found the third site by luck after driving for miles. The site was good though, with a restaurant.

Our frustration was put into perspective by an English lady we met in the reception area. She and her husband had just arrived in Spain when their car was broken into and, basically everything was cleared out, including passports and credit cards. The next day, her husband had a heart attack. They thought that they had private health insurance, but for some reason, they weren’t covered. This meant that he had to go to the public hospital, where the lady said that the care left a lot to be desired.

The five star Camping Internacionales out side Alicante, was our next stop, having driven down on the superb Spanish toll motorway. The road surface and road conditions are fantastic. Because the original A road runs alongside it and it is free, the road is also very quiet with very few lorries. Driving heaven, particularly after Italy. Of course, it may be very different in summer! The site had all facilities and so we stayed two nights to recuperate.

Our final destination, before getting to Grenada, we stopped at a campsite signposted from the motorway in the tiny village of Contador. It really was off the beaten track, up in the hills. At 1146 metres above sea level it is the highest place we have stayed at. It was probably also the most picturesque place, being set in wild country near the almond trees, which are grown all over the region. It was run by an English lady and her Spanish husband. As there was also a restaurant, we were sorted. It was extremely cold and the restaurant was enormous, so they had an ingenious way of keeping a few tables warm; an electric radiator underneath the table with a fleece type blanket that nearly reached the floor over the table top, with the table cloth on top of that. You sat down and put the blanket over your knees and were really cosy really quickly!

Week 27

The boys had great fun making the Christmas decorations to liven up the motorhome and create a festive atmosphere. We had paper chains, Christmas trees, snowmen and even snowflakes (made out of the snippings of the other decorations) all made by the boys. They even persuaded Gary to let them buy some Christmas lights to put up in their bedroom and at night they would close their curtain and lie on their beds watching the lights change colour.

Despite Christmas looming, it wasn’t too cold in Grenada in the day time, although it was cold at night. The main attraction is, of course, the Alhambra Palace. In my ignorance, I thought that it was a simple palace, probably in the centre of Grenada. But no, it was essentially a small town, including a palace, on the hills just outside present day Grenada.

The views from the Alhambra are stunning. From one of the formal gardens, we stood in the shadow of the palm trees, looking at snow on the distant Sierra Nevada mountains. These gardens also provided the highlight of the Alhambra for Josh and Rory; the goldfish ponds. They spent half an hour trying to catch one by hand and nearly succeeded, but the fish were just a bit too quick for them!!

The Palace was the highlight for Gary and me, the architecture and intricate carvings decorating the interior were beyond compare. The views were breathtaking. It must have been a magnificent place to live.

After the Alhambra, we went down to Grenada and had great fun in the medieval streets that were home to the busy chaotic souk. We had a coffee in a traditional Moorish coffee house; it was dark and seductive with low sofas in rich reds and hookahs were supplied for those wanting a smoke. It was like stepping into a different world.

Christmas decorations adorned the streets of modern Grenada. Typically these were animal figures made out of wire and lit. It was surprisingly effective.

From Grenada, we drove to the Costa del Sol. Everyone said that there were plenty of campsites and the weather was hot. I think they were the same people who assure you that a particular landmark is impossible to miss, when actually it was demolished ten years ago! There were almost no campsites open and after driving for five hours, we only found three and we were too big to go to two of them!! Things were not looking good. The campsite we did find was too far out of Malaga to make it an easy trip and we didn’t really want to spend the three weeks up to Christmas languishing on a campsite. So we decided to move on to Estapona, where we were assured that there was a good campsite just outside the town.

The campsite had an indoor swimming pool – heaven for the boys, who had it largely to themselves, and a washing machine and dryer - heaven for me (how sad is that!!) our neighbours (John and Diane) were very pleasant and John was interested in cars and engines, so for once Gary had someone to chat to. It would have been perfect if it really had been near the town and it had been a bit warmer. So we decided to move on to Gibraltar.

The weather in Gibraltar was wet and wild. The wind was blowing so hard we had to walk at a list to keep upright!

The High Street is largely devoted to shops selling very cheap cigarettes and spirits. Unfortunately, wine is a similar price to the UK and more expensive than in Spain.

There was a charity classic car ride, where for a donation, you got a ride in a car. Gary and the boys went off in an old Triumph Spitfire and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

The Rock is very impressive, though, whatever the weather.

However, motorhomes are not allowed to stay overnight, so we stayed within the comfortable enclave of motorhomes at the Lidl car park in Algeciras! We decided to go to Morocco, where the weather was bound to be better. John and Diane who we had met in Estapona were also there and hoping to make the trip, so we made plans to travel together. Then, they found that their motorhome registration document had been left at home. They rang their son and he sent it off straight away, by Special Delivery. As we know, this is the kiss death to any parcel. So we decided to head up the coast for a few days and then come back to Algeciras and go on to Morocco. We needed to buy some autogas for the heating and cooking systems and it is very hard to get in Spain, so we needed to go to Jerez.

Week 28

The campsite in Cadiz turned out to be just another rumour, but it was quite nice just driving around! What wasn’t so nice was trying to find somewhere to stay along a lonely Spanish road, in the dark. The man in the garage had said that there were lots of campsites just a bit further up the coast, what he didn’t say was that it was Spanish “bit” and most of them were shut.

Gary wanted to just stay on the side of the road, and let’s just say that I wasn’t keen on the idea, particularly as we were hopelessly lost and even the sat nav had given up all hope of finding out where we were – half built roads generally have that effect on it.

We had got to the point in our discussions where unless I found somewhere to stay in about three minutes flat, Gary was staying put. (You can fill in the details yourselves!) So, I got out the computer went on line and found we were close to Conil de la Frontera with its state of the art campsite – and it was open. I was very relieved to get there.

Conil turned out to be a delightful place and we could cycle into the small town in under ten minutes. So we decided to go in for some lunch, but had underestimated the local adherence to siesta, so everywhere was shut, except one small restaurant serving local food. The weather is very hot most of the year, so they hadn’t invested in any heating and indeed, kept the door wide open, presumably to attract any passing trade. We ate the delicious food in our coats… and decided that Morocco was the place for us!!

Back in Algeciras, John and Diane’s registration documents still hadn’t arrived – Special Delivery on top form as usual. We decided to spend a day in Gibraltar and to go and see the monkeys. When we were there the previous week, the cable car couldn’t operate because of the high winds.

Gibraltar is not the most motorhome friendly of places, and we couldn’t park in the cable car car park because of a weight restriction, so Gary dropped the boys and me off and sat with the vehicle at the local Morrisons.

There were only eight of us in the cable car and at least seven showed definite signs of changing their minds about the trip once we were got in! Suddenly, the Rock looked very high and the cable car very small and indeed very flimsy! Anyway, we made it and to greet us at the top were some inquisitive apes all set to intimidate the newly arriving tourists!

Having heard terrible tales about the apes, I was expecting them to be all over us, but they seemed content to show us who was boss and just whose territory we were on…theirs.

We went into the rather dingy café where the drinks were so expensive the boys shared a coke and my tea was served in a polystyrene cup with a vegetable fat whitener instead of milk. But what did I care as long as we could see the apes, but they couldn’t jump on our heads.

After a while, we got a bit braver and actually went outside. The views were truly amazing and we could see all the way to North Africa and along the Costa del Sol.

We had even remembered to take the binoculars with us, so we really could take advantage of the site. Josh and Rory loved seeing the apes and weren’t bothered by the cold, so I went inside, but was watching them to make sure all was well. That said, I missed the ape taking the binocular case out of Rory’s pocket! The ape sat on the fence quite blasé, looking inside and then carefully unpicking the stitching! Delightful! The problem was to get it back…then Josh had the brain wave of dropping a shiny coin on the ground, on the basis that the ape would go to look at it and drop the case….it worked!!

As I said last week, Gibraltar High Street is largely devoted to the sales of cigarettes and spirits and is not very inspiring. I have included a picture of it, though, as most people are familiar with the Rock, but may not have seen the High Street.

Back in Algeciras, John and Diane’s documents still hadn’t arrived and the thought they might stay in Spain, so we decided to go Morocco on our own.

We decided to sail from Algeciras to Ceuta, the Spanish territory on the nib of Morocco. It only took 35 minutes and was very smooth. I had had my doubts about the hydrofoil, but it was very modern and best of all, a life jacket was reassuringly placed under every seat – much better than having to be given out by staff in the event of an emergency, don’t you think? Gary thinks I am neurotic!

The border crossing from Ceuta to Morocco was uneventful and we drove without incident to Larache for our first nights stay.

As it was Gary’s birthday, we had a cake and candles. The cake had most unusual vivid green bits in it and we never did find out what they were, but ate them anyway!

Week 29

Frankly, we had been expecting the worst when it came to Moroccan roads, but they were absolutely fine. In fact, the motorway was possibly the best road we have driven on in the last six months. As you can see from the photo, it was a marvellous surface and almost empty. “Almost” being the operative word…. I couldn’t make out what vehicle was in front as it was in the dip of a hill, I could hardly believe my eyes when it came into view and we saw that it was a man ambling along the inside lane. He looked as if he had taken this particular route all his life and saw no particular reason to change his habit just because a motorway had been built. The powers that be had obviously taken this into consideration to some extent as there was a hard shoulder that doubled as a pavement along the length of the road.

En route from Ceuta to Larache, we saw women in lay-bys selling baskets and cheese. So we decided to stop and have a look. Well, it was pandemonium. As soon as we arrived, all six of them rushed over and began a frantic hard sell, pushing baskets, cheeses and more baskets into my hand and then demanding 20 Dirham. I wasn’t sure how much that was, so gave them all back, but kept the five cheeses – all very fresh and wrapped in palm leaves – which I had somehow acquired.

They all then went chasing after the next buyer.

I then realised that 20 Dh was only £1.30 and that the baskets were a bargain. By some sort of sixth sense they knew that there was another chase to sell, so charged over again. I offered my apologies for having misunderstood the money, this was brushed aside as they went for the kill.

I chose my basket which was thrust eagerly into my hand, then one of the ladies was desperately pleading for me to take her basket. How could I not have it? I couldn’t see anyway of refusing the basket without feeling guilty for the rest of my life and it was only £1.30. So we were up to 40Dh; I only had a 50 Dh note and was about to learn of that the Moroccan culture does not really admit the possibility of change. It immediately became clear that there was no question of me getting 10Dh back, but instead I was awarded another basket. I must have given in too easily, because all of a sudden more baskets were being thrust towards me. With sudden inspiration, I said that I was very sorry, but my husband (who had been sitting beside me suspiciously quietly throughout the entertainment) would not allow me to buy anymore. Instantly, they understood and said goodbye!

We spent one night in Larache and headed down to Marrakech, but only to stop overnight. After my dealings with the ladies in the lay-by, I doubted that we were acclimatised enough to take on the Marrakech souk!

The campsite was extraordinary. Firstly, it was lovely to wake up in glorious sunshine. Then, there were about twenty peacocks who lived at the site. There were tame enough for the boys to feed them, but were very quick of the mark if you got too close or they got fed up. I had no idea that they could fly. One of the images of the trip that will stay with me for a long time, is the sight of a peacock swooping down to the ground from a roof top tower. It was amazing to see the grace of such a huge bird.

The boys were also able to pick lemons straight off the tree. Something else I didn’t know was that lemon trees have very sharp thorns! Josh was the first to find them, the hard way!

After Marrakech, we headed on to Agadir. The road was brilliant to drive on and the other vehicles certainly gave us something to look at on our journey. Some were piled so high it seemed impossible that they could move at all, but they all seemed to manage. We stayed behind the lorry in the picture for miles, fearing to overtake him lest the load choose that moment to come tumbling down. Then Gary had had enough and put his foot down and zoomed past. A few miles further on, we stopped for lunch. It was a real Moroccan café and the tagine was wonderful. “Our” lorry went past and the driver gave us a cheerful toot.

I felt sick at the thought of having to try and get by him again.

When we did catch up with him, Gary overtook him again, and the man couldn’t have been more pleased, waving enthusiastically as we went past!

The campsite was in fact about twenty five miles north of Agadir, just past Taghazoute. It had 4 stars and was one of the best, cleanest and most friendly sites we have stayed at.

The next day we went into Agadir. It is billed as an international resort and I guess it is, as many of the large hotel chains have a presence, but concrete jungle would be another description. The beach is fabulous and Western dress codes seemed to be accepted but it is nothing like the rest of Morocco.

We were looking for somewhere to have lunch and a young man (who we thought was from the internet café) asked if he could help. He not only suggested a restaurant but seeing that we were having difficulty following the instructions, took us there.

It was excellent food and there were also a number of Moroccans eating there. Our one tip when it comes to eating abroad, is always to try and eat local food at a restaurant where local people are eating. The tagines were delicious and as usual came to the table bubbling way. The smell when the lids are lifted off is divine.

Afterwards, we went to the internet café to thank the young man, only to find that it was the leather shop next door that was his. Gary wanted some shoes, so we went in. The young man brought in his more experienced brother to do the selling and we had a hilarious time. This man was simply the best salesman in the whole world. He had us in stitches as he relentlessly persuaded us to buy not just one pair of shoes but four. It was worth it for the entertainment. Gary was pleading poverty, citing his jeans that were torn at the knee. The man was having none of it. “You don’t need new jeans it’s warm in Morocco, you need the hole to give air”. He also thought that he would like to adopt Rory and was spinning him a tale about his new family and the five lambs he would have. Rory wasn’t too keen, though we wondered if he was changing his allegiance when he kept saying that Gary had loads of money in the bank!!

Josh wanted to know how much small change purses were, they were then thrown in with the shoes, thus creating a far more valuable bundle ( in the seller’s eyes) but keeping the shoes in play all the time. Needless to say, we came out with four pairs of shoes, two purses and a belt

Back at the campsite, we had a surprise waiting for us. John and Diane had got all their paperwork sorted out and had arrived at the campsite.

The last pictures are of the boys on Christmas Eve, playing with the water fountain and making a camp. It was so hot they were going to sleep outside (that would have given Father Christmas a few problems!), but in the end came back inside.

Week 30

In the sunshine, there didn’t seem much point in spending Boxing Day in the motorhome, so we went into Agadir with John and Diane. We went to the rather oddly named Daffy café again, as the food had been excellent and john and Diane were keen(ish!!) to try out authentic Moroccan food. It was delicious. It is hard to describe the fabulous aroma that is given off, the moment the tagine pot lid is triumphantly removed in front of you; you feel like you are about to eat the best meal of your life. Powerful stuff.

To celebrate, Diane took a rare picture of us all, outside the restaurant.

The campsite at Taghazout, tries hard to offer lots of different services to the people staying. You could get curtains and blinds made to measure for the motorhome, your haircut (I dipped out of that one; and the boys wouldn’t even entertain the idea!), satellite dishes fitted, solar panels fitted and your motorhome painted. We decided to have a modest painting done on the mirrors, although Josh and Rory would have liked a more flamboyant picture across the front and or sides. We were really pleased with the results which we think personalises the motorhome without being too over the top. So, we have included a photograph of the artist.

Having relaxed at Taghazout for a few days, we got itchy feet and decided to head down to Tan Tan, via Tiznit

Tiznit is about fifty miles south of Agadir. I had read an article in a magazine about the town and since then had wanted to go and see it for myself. If anything, it is even nicer than the article made out. If you are ever in Agadir and get a bit fed of the concrete, I would thoroughly recommend Tiznit, even if just as a day trip. It is a truly Moroccan town and is not given over to tourists, so it is relatively hassle free.

The campsite is just outside the city walls, so it is very easy to stroll into town, which made it an ideal location for us. Tiznit’s claim to fame is the Blue Source, where God was so touched by the repentance of a woman of ill repute, that he turned her tears into a spring and thus provided water for the town. I have to say that for me, the attraction of the town was the town itself and the people, who were very genuine and friendly. The Blue Source didn’t walked seem have much atmosphere to it and we would have straight passed it, if the guidebook hadn’t extolled its importance. You can judge for yourself from the photo.

Tiznit is made up of hundred’s of very narrow streets and it is surprisingly easy to get lost in what is really a very small town. But we did, and are very glad we did, because that was how we met Ali. He was going in the other direction on his bike, saw that we were lost so swung round and took us to the café we were looking for. He had a tiny shop that sold just about everything.

He made us some mint tea that I was starting to get addicted try to and just by way of conversation started to show us some of the treasures in his shop. We didn’t buy much, but took a couple of photos, one was of Gary and Ali, which I have included here.

There was a striped blanket/rug that Gary particularly liked and it just happened to be the very thing that Ali was keenest to sell to us, at a very good price, because he knew that people with children had no money, as he had three himself. I bought a little box, but he and Gary couldn’t agree a price for the blanket. They parted on the best of terms though, and Gary said that he would drop a copy of the photos round. When we went round with the photos, Ali took us up to meet his wife and delightful children. We also took some photos of them, they are so photogenic it was a very easy task. The blanket had only been mentioned in passing.

We got back to the motorhome and I could tell that Gary was very keen to go back to Ali’s shop and buy the blanket. He kept describing all its fine attributes (it was handmade from camel hair, you could use it as a blanket, a rug or a shawl for me – that was stretching it a bit, bearing in mind I had seen the photo of me wearing it and flattering, it wasn’t!) and trying to decide what would be a fair price. Then, he printed out the photos in readiness for the visit. He worrited away a bit more about the price and then announced that he wouldn’t pay more than 300 Dh (about £20.00). Remembering that change isn’t really a Moroccan concept, he decided to take only 250 Dh in large notes and 50 in small notes with him, just to make sure he didn’t get carried away!. So, off he set with the money, the photos and Josh.

When he got to the shop, Ali was serving another customer, so Gary and Josh just waited, politely. Then, there was a bit of a problem. The lady was making only a small purchase, but only had large notes and Ali didn’t have any change. Obviously, the no change rule didn’t apply to this lady who seemed to be a neighbour. Still, help was at hand, Ali asked Gary if he had any change, Gary was so pleased to help, because he genuinely liked Ali, so handed over his 50Dh in small change for a 50Dh note. Ali was happy, the lady was happy and at this point, Gary was happy too…….

Ali was thrilled with the photos, and the negotiating began in earnest. Eventually, they agreed on a price of 270 Dh. BUT Gary, by now, only had 300Dh and no change. Ali, as we know, didn’t have any change. A similar situation to the previous customer, except for one small point… the no change rule now applied, so there was no possibility of seeing if anyone else had any.. Firstly, Ali thought that they might as well round it up to 300Dh which after all was only a fraction of what the blanket was worth. Gary thought not. So what was to be done? The obvious solution was for Gary to be given other items to the value of the change that could not be given. So, Gary and Josh came back with the blanket, three knitted Moroccan hats, some sage that could be added to scalded milk to cure a cough and a piece of jewellery for me.

It’s hard to put over in writing, the charm with which all the negotiations are conducted and what good fun it is buying things this way.

The remaining photos are of one of the town gate’s and a close up of the wall, which is very clearly made of sun baked clay and straw.

On New Year’s Eve, we set off for Tan Tan. It was 200 miles away in the desert. We eventually found the “campsite” which was in fact a car park at Tan Tan Plage about 15 kms away. There were a number of motorhome there, but the international bonhomie that I had been expecting just didn’t happen. At six o’clock, it got dark, everyone went into their motorhomes and that was that! Better luck next year!!

One good thing was that the boys got to play pool in the café and the bar staff gave a few tips, as you can see from the photo.