4 weeks ago Tim took off for a 2 month adventure, here is his first report!
We are half way through a 2 month journey from the UK into the dunes of the Northern Sahara in Eastern Morocco. Sarah and I travelled by ferry to Spain, crossing the narrow gateway to the Mediterranean into Morocco at Tangier. From there we travel the Atlantic coast as far as Mirleft / Sidi Ifni and pointed the wheels east dancing through dunes, gorges and ancient cities and hopefully the odd Bedouin encampment.
Our ‘Magic Carpet’ for this journey is a 1994 Land Rover Defender 300 TDI bought second hand from our friends at www.hummingbird-tipis.co.uk. He is known as ‘Big Red’ for no other reason than he is big and red. Despite 200k mils on the clock Big Red is in great working order, helped largely by our friends Dave Ward, Martin Vaughan and Dan Calder from St Davids garage.
Much work has been done to prepare Big Red and equally lots of is gear needed. I will post about this, along with a what worked and what didn’t when we get back to the UK. Worth a mention is Jumbo James of Wood Park Farm, Pembrokeshire (www.woodpark-offroad.com). Jumbo is a Welsh farmer with the stature of countryside nobility and his knowledge and training were invaluable. I would recommend anyone considering such an overland trip into extreme conditions to be sure they know how to drive the vehicle. We found it was like learning to drive again!
So finally after months of preparation of vehicle, toil and torment fitting everything to the Defender, we were finally ready. However, to find that my passport wasn’t in its usual ‘safe’ place was ‘unfortunate’ as leaving-do pints had to be skipped (well mostly – don’t tell Sarah!) and still with only a few hours to take-off I was still tearing the place apart looking for the passport. We search high and low, the yurt and my office are unceremoniously ransacked but the passport was nowhere to be found. Thoughts of missed ferries and visits to the passport office flooded my mind. Our friend Chas suggested we check the Quality Cottages & Quality Unearthed car but no, it’s not in the boot, not in the doors, not in glove box, not under the drivers seat, loads of old papers under the passenger seat – best bin them……..wait…..what?…..that’s it, Thats It! Found it! An immense feeling of elation! Thrill seeking personalies would need to be incredibly brave to submit themselves to the torturous sensation of losing it in the first place however!
The drive from St Davids to Portsmouth is easy. Not unfamiliar to customs checks (is it the hair?) upon arrival we are duly directed into the security search area where by now we know the routine but once through and safely on board our cabin is comfy. The strangest thing about this part of the journey is the time warp tardis we find ourselves in. This alternate reality is populated by gala bingo players all driving white refrigerators – we are to encounter these strange fridge drivers many times in the coming weeks.
From Bilbao we get some miles behind us. Direction Salamanca. The bonsai tree like mountains become canyons with rising mist, vineyards and our first camp. A small lake, spotted by Sarah on the map, bordered by rounded boulders atop sand, is reminiscent of those at Hampi, India.
Seeking a quiet spot we follow bumpy lanes down dead ends until lack of daylight prompts us back to an easily accessible route to the lake. Dusk is upon us. The sandy road down to the lake has a water carved ditch cutting across it, not 2 foot wide by 1 foot deep. Considering we have seen cars down there this ditch cannot be insurmountable. With Jumbo James wise words in our minds I approach the ditch at an angle so as to drop one wheel in at a time. Drivers side front wheel in, I apply gentle throttle, when there is a secondary drop from the rear…….the drivers side rear wheel has collapsed the edge of the ditch behind us leaving 2 wheels in the ditch and an unhealthy tilt to the right.
“No problem” I think. Into low gear; nope. “Try applying central diff lock” – just wheel spinning. Damn it! It’s our first ‘got stuck’ and we’re not even 24 hours into mainland Europe! So it’s out with the sand ladders and shovel….. but not enough leverage / traction – damn it again!
OK so out with the winch. An anxious moment as the front winch has been temperamental, but out she pulls perfectly.
Aimed at a large rock – but the wire isn’t long enough! OK, out with a heavy duty ratchet strap and 7m strop so it reaches. All safety procedures duly followed. Back in the vehicle and Sarah safely out of the way the winch takes the strain – pull, pull, pull – winch is turning but Big red isn’t moving. We have only gone and pulled the entire rock!
Take 2. Forget the rock. This time there is pull, but what is happening is that the winch direction of pull is tipping us further onto its side. Stop. Re-think.
Take 3. Aim the winch cable in the other direction, off towards the left….winch takes the strain…again the whole rock is pulled towards us.
Take 4. Take strain. Low gear, diff on, some throttle, up. Yes. Up little more. Yes. keep going, up, up and yes! All four wheels up and past the ditch! I jump out with huge smiles and high fives with Sarah! Its dark and has taken us 2 hours but we are elated at having thought through the problem, analysed the solutions and implementing them successfully is particularly rewarding. The next morning we have coffee sitting on the rock for breakfast. Silence. No traffic no people nothing, only the occasional ting-a-ling of a cow and her bell. A short drive today. Tonights camp is again by a lake Sarah spotted on the map, not far from the main road to Sevilla. Following a track otherwise impassable without a 4×4 we head around the back of a headland to a quiet flat spot out of view and overlooking the lake on both sides of us.
We park under the shade of olive trees. Roof tent out, gather wood for the fire, Sarah cooks, we eat, drink tea and feel merry.
For me, this is the feeling that glamping sites aim to provide. Sleeping comfortably in a beautiful natural environment where we are warm, well fed and watered, with a fire for entertainment and each others company.
The stars in the sky are smiling at us. We smile back. It is these moments of emotional centeredness that we remember. Simple moments where inner peace prevails and our bodies and minds thank us for the chance to heal ourselves.Great glamping sites and alternative living homes of any variety, or for that matter any cottage or villa, should ultimately aim to provide this experience at its core.
From here we push on through to spain to Tarifa and the ferry crossing to Tangier, Morocco. Another continent and a world very different awaits…
Next Installement: Blog 2 – Bribes, donkeys, glamping boats and Argan oil.