Monday, 26 March 2012

En route at last

18th March - Swanage

1st team meeting with myself, Nick Eastcott (the brain behind this project), Bob Chaundy (an old school pal of Nick and a freelance journalist) and Ben Allenby (a family friend of Nick and our token bodyguard weighing in with muscle-bound 120Kg).

Reality slowly hit me as we met to discuss details of our forthcoming trip. Our enthusiasm was dampened by the news that the 2nd vehicle was stuck in Grantham minus a functional radiator. Returning home my anxiety began to grow - a restless sleep overnight led into a busy start to my working week.

I didn't fully realise how distracted I was becoming until I noticed my speed at sorting out complex issues in the OR (operating room) had slowed significantly.

20th: I woke to a brainwave of suggesting to the others that perhaps we should plan to consider delaying our departure by 3 days. Not only would this ensure more likekihood of having a functional 2nd vehicle but, selfishly I would have more time to actual prepare for the trip. My disappointment/sense of panic, therefore, would not come as a surprise when I report that I received an email today confirming that the vehicle had been fixed.

22nd: Work was typically busy on this, my last day. I arrived home at 5:30pm to an enticing smell of cooking. Olivia, my 22 year old daughter was frenetically cooking cup cakes for us to take away with us!

1 hour after getting home we were all en route to the ferry.

The relief of actually making it this far was reflected in the delight of downing our first of several glassses of wine. We didn't actually head for sleep until 2am.

23rd: Following a late start, I wandered round the ship in a slight daze. Doubtless the late night contributed to this but there was also a sense of unreality since we were now living the results of 18 months of planning.

We had a planning meeting in the afternoon whilst still on the boat (this was a 36 hour crossing from Portsmouth to Santander), and then I treated myself to a make-up session which included a wonderful face massage. Bob and I later indulged ourselves to a meal (and bottle of wine naturally) in the restaurant; the other 2 grabbbed a sandwich. This was the first example of where we learned how to mesh our individual needs with those of the group. Bed was hit early this night since we were disembarking 6:30 the next morning.

24th: Saturday (I am already beginning to loose my sense of day) Bob and I adoped the "Red Truck" or "Truck No. 2". Literally at the first major roundabout our adventure almost came to an abrupt end as Nick, driving the other truck, decided to go the wrong way round!

I should explain at this point a little about our trucks. They were Nissan Patrols, 20 years old with 110,000 on the clock. Mechanical overhaul and a fresh respray in white, they looked magnificent cruising behind each other on the motorways.

For the next 10 hours Bob and I swapped driving and anecdotes. Sometimes my sides were splitting with laughter since he has such a sharp (and sometimes self-depricating) sense of humour. The crunch came around 6pm when we decided we needed to find a place for the night. Having just driven 800Km there was absolutely NO WHERE to camp (the team wanted to camp). In the end Ben and Nick took us down a farm track, passing a rubbish dump, and delivered us into a charming olive grove. The bonus of this location was that it was relatively well hidden from the track and road, an important feature that fell to our advantage later on. In the fading light we learnt pretty quickly how to pitch our individual tents. Nick's 20 year old propane gas and cooking ring worked instantly so within minutes we were enjoying a simple meal of pasta and tuna with the obligatory glass of red wine. It wasn't until the following day when I learnt that Nick and Ben did not hold out much hope of Bob and myself surviving 1 night camping in the wild. Little do they know of my talents and they have yet to discover my weaknesses).

25th: Sunday. Having offered to wake everyone up at 6am I rolled out of my tent to a cool damp air. The dark sky didn't look much like sunrise - I then realised from the car clock that I had set the wrong alarm. I tried to get back to sleep but was starkly woken by a truck driving down our dirt track. Fortunately we were not very visible but I was too nervous to get back to sleep. I decided to brew up some fresh coffee which I felt was the only way to wake the boys up. 2 hours later we were on our way to Tarifa where we planned to cross the Straights of Gibralter. However this wasn't early enough to avoid farm workers driving up to us and (thankfully) past us with morning greetings.

Today I did most of the 5 hour drive to Tarifa since Ben decided to join me and he wasn't insured to drive "my" truck. We arrived at the delightful Moorish town of Tarifa only to find every ferry was cancelled due to the strong winds (apparently Tarifa is the windiest town in Europe). We only had a short detour to Algeceras, the alternative ferry port but the uncertainty of where to find an open ticket office for the ferry was only surpassed by the chaos in the line of vehicles "queuing" for the next ferry. 3 hours of aggresive queue -barging later we boarded the ferry only to find ourselves queuing in sex -segregated lines to get our entry card into Morocco. I don't think I will be in a hurry to revisit this port town. Tarifa, however looked very enticing.

Whilst waiting I was entertained by the Arbian women castigating their counterparts for queue -barging. I have been struck already by the charming but sly way of an Arab. Argue with one to see reason and they will simply shrug their shoulders with an apologetic smile and continue to push in. Somehow it seems more OK than from the aggresive upper-lip stance of the northern European. Even as I write this diary note my eyes meet those of my fellow women I met in the queue, each of us exchanging conspiratorial smiles.







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