January 11th: Tempers are starting to flare in the house due to the need to get packed, pay bills, cancel subscriptions and services and be ready to leave by the 13th.
January 12th: Forget flaring! Both mount Patrick and Mount Sarah erupted today. All the seething lava being spewed around serene island James has led to the postponement of any voyages until notified otherwise.
January 13th: We leave on the 15th now.
January 15th: The trip is on! Today we drove through the Eurotunnel to France and continued on until we reached Lille. Once there we went in search of accomodation. The 1st place we found looked really dingy, once inside (initial perception reinforced) we were told by the proprietor that the city council had told them to open their doors to the homeless(which technically we were). "unfortunately" like a balding Moses, an English Mary and an over-aged Jesus we were turned away. Eventually we arrived at a slightly less dingy Formula1 that only smells vaguely of piss. The public toilets have still made me vow not to deficate for the entirety of my stay here.
January 16th: Woke up while it was still dark (what's new). Used the facilities just to urinate (vow still intact). The rest of the day was spent driving, at around lunch we hit Paris and I must admit I instantly fell in love with the city. The architecture, the gardens, the Seine, the people, all are beautiful. However, one thing that did detract from this was my realization of how obnoxious the French are and how terrible their driving is (they seem to have a great propensity towards their hooters). We spent the rest of the day trying to find accomodation which inevitably involved Patrick complaining about Sarahs' navigation and Sarah calling patrick an old git (which I guess at 35 is true). Eventually, hungry and frustrated because the huge Nissan could not fit in anywhere amongst a city apparently full of midget people and cars, we left and found accomodation at a Formula1 on the outskirts of Paris. Relieved myself of my "vow" at the Buffalo Grill next door.
January 17th: Well today was great, fully justifying the 6'o clock rise. We went to Paris to do some sight-seeing and in 5 hours managed to do the Parisian version of the big five on foot. Our starting point was the Notre Dame Cathedral, which I will confess was my highlight of the day. The place honestly had a dwarfing impact on me. It made me feel small both spiritually and physically, and I often ended up tripping over things because my eyes were always cast to the ceilings and rooftops. One of the most appealing facets of the cathedral was how it was completely assymetrical (I guess this is due to it being built in 3 seperate stages by 3 different people...I think). From there we moved on for a brief stop at the Louvre before taking the long, straight hike past the Place de la Concorde and on to the Arc de Triomphe. At this point Sarah felt the cumulative force of: her tired legs, her fear of heights, her acorn sized bladder and the expired parking ticket, and headed back to the car. Pat and I headed on to the grand finale - The Eiffel Tower. On arrival I encountered some African Exports, Beggars!! All they ask is "Do you speak english." If you say yes they hand you a note and expect you to fork it over. I replied that I had no money and couldn't help, at which point she began swearing at me loudly in French, for all to hear (This website is where i get my revenge - I had 80 Euros in my pocket , hahahaha!) At the tower we found that the 3rd level was closed except on weekends and that the queues for the escalator were so long that we decided to take the stairs to save time! I regret that I will still be feeling the effects of that decision for the next week (the view was magnificent though). From there we hurriedly made our way to the tube to get back to the car. When we got to the tube we decided we were thirsty so we used the vending machine to get some drinks. Pat got his and in the process of retrieving mine the train arrived. The doors are only open for 10 seconds so I grabbed mine and ran after Pat. He dived on in front of me, I saw the doors closing, didn't want to get left behind, so dived through the gap. Just managed to squeeze through, but, in typical movie fashion my bag got jammed in the doors! I tried to pull and tug but got nowhere, the train began to move, no-one bothered to help and just stared and went "ag shame" (prats), and at the last possible moment Pat saw,opened the doors just enough and I tugged my bag through. The next second we entered the tunnel.
Frogs, Sods and Hooters!
January 18th: Woke up early (again) in a hostel on an island in Ambiose, just outside Tours. The view of the Loire river flowing on either side of us was beautiful. We had a "continental" breakfast of bread and jam (I love French bread-baguettes) They also gave us sachets of hot "chocolate aux cereales", which I assumed was Maltabela - especially since we only had bowls to devour it in. As it turns out, my huge bowl of "cereales" was really a huge bowl of hot chocolate. We spent an hour walking around the Ambiose royal chateau. The rest of the day was spent driving through the Loire valley. Due to Patrick's brilliant travel planning and Sarah's expert navigation (as well as acorn sized bladder) we got to stop in a forest momentarily to check out the local roadside map, and then we were off again. Little did we know we were actually heading north instead of the desired south oriention. This led to further bickering amongst Captain and navigator (not aided by my easy placement of Moulins on the map, which verified how far off course we'd gone). We then backtracked to Tours and headed south from there. We found a very comfortable youth hostel in Poitires (50 Euros for the room and brekkies - keep your card).
January 19th: Another dark, early morning!!!!!! Breakfast same as day before, didn't fall for hot chocolate breakfast ruse. Got going before nine and managed to travel in the right direction all day!!! Travelled through De la rochefoucauld towards Bordeaux. Arrived around 2. We found the tourist information centre easily but it was occupied by crazy cow bell touting Frenchmen. They managed to direct us to the first open campsite we've encountered on this trip thus far. We arrived at the site, paid 19 Euros for the night, began pitching my tent and, guess what?!! There are no tent poles! Brilliant organisation that. At the moment I'm sitting waiting for Pat (whose in quite a mood now) and Sarah, who are off trying to find a new tent or poles. Personally, I'm happy it happened now and not in Africa or I'd be royally screwed! as well as in for a rather unpleasant and uncomfortable trip.
January 20th (Sunday): Froze my arse off last night. We weren't able to get a tent so I slept in the back of the Patrols tent awning. All was fine until about 3AM when things just began going pear. Who knew that our first night of camping would precede our first day of blue skies and sun (not necessarily a good thing as the clouds kept in the last semblances of warmth at night). Got up to a brilliant day however. Today was our vineyard seeing day, and despite the fact that we never got lost once and there was a surprising absence of bickering it was all for nought (literally) as not a single Frenchman rises on a Sunday! Brilliant planning! Eventually we stopped for a short while in Longoiran and took a look at the fortress. It was beautiful perched on top of a hill, and the lizzard liked it too. From there we moved to Saint - Emillion. This, to me, outdid everything so far, even outdoing the Notre Dame. The Medieval village is being renovated and is a breathtaking sight. It stands on the top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards, and when at the highest point you can look in every direction and just see cascading hills and wine country in every direction. Magnificent! The village is like a step back in time with its cobbled streets winding every which way, leading you through a selection of coffee shops (cafes'), bakeries (boulangerie), wine shops and sweet shops (chocolat patisserie) - which are Sarahs favourite.
21st January Got up early this morning, ate leftovers from supper for breakfast (roquefort cheese flavoured worse - Great!!)
Packed up and headed into Bordeaux to get me a functioning tent and sleeping bag. As usual, navigating through the cities
tiny streets proved quite the mission and most of our time was spent just trying to find parking. Eventually Sarah and Pat found a camping shop and purchased a tent. It's just big enough to give a ravenous man eating lion enough hassle so that before it devours me my screams of fear (and then pain) will warn them of the impending danger and they can raise the ladder to their rooftop tent. We then left Bordaeux and drove solidly until we reached Biarritz, which is essentially the surfing capital of France. It has the aesthetics of the rest of France as well as a friendlier climate and the added advantage of being right near the Spanish boarder. Perfect for a quick escape from the police after ripping of the rude Frenchmans hooting arm. We got lost trying to find the tourist information centre, once again I saved the day, pointing us in the right direction, we came right. They pointed us to the most kitted out youth hostel thus far. It cost 20 Euros per person including breakfast and in my opinion was worth it (if you have a group of between 3 or 4 people you get your own room, with comfortable beds and en-suite bathroom.)However, the one detracting feature was the barmans need of an attitude adjustment. After a small altercation between him and I, and then Pat and him, he managed to spite us by making the beer taste like my dodgy breakfast, despite the hawk-like intensity with which I watched him pouring them.
22nd January: Took one last look around Biarritz today and then it was back onto the long roads. The plan was to head over
the Pyrenees, this sparked a debate about what we would see. Sarah said hilly and mountanious terrain, I said cloudy and
unseeable. After getting lost, heading off - track, and more heated discussion, we eventually found the mountains ( a bit hard
to miss if you ask me). The next leg was beginning, we were crossing the border from France into Spain. I was right about the view though, the mountains were practically invisible, blanketed by a shroud of clouds and mist. We never registered the point where we actually crossed the boarder because it was so badly sign-posted, but once through the mountains the differences were blatantly obvious. The land was greener, hillier, and the clouds that had been following us for most of the trip parted in front of us, bathing the surrounding landscape in an aura of light that was just breathtaking.
23rd January: Woke up in the middle of the night because I could swear there was someone outside my tent. I quickly
grabbed the panga (my sleeping companion - she's a bit sharper than most, haha - not too sure who I just insulted there) and unsheathed it. Sat there in the dark, panga in hand, staring into the shadows...Nothing. In some regards Spain feels more like home, and I don't feel quite as secure here as I have elsewhere. Today was a flat out drive from Pamplona to Barcelona. The trip was done without GPS assistance as we were beginning to rely on it too much. Using only maps we managed to alter the trip somewhat and b-lined it directly to a place just outside Vinarros. We saved a bit of time and managed to avoid big cities and getting lost. We have now found a 20 Euros a night campsite with internet access on the coast, run and patronized by english speakers. After three beers it feels like heaven. I spent this evening at their bar trying to communicate with a Belgian, a Frenchman, a German and a (whats the collective for Spaniards?) Aaah yes, a pinkie nest of Spaniards - Sounds like a bad bar joke in the making, but it really happened.
24th January: Taking a break from travel. Fiddled with the cars engine, gave her a facelift, took all our gear out and then
re-packed. I installed a DVD monitor behind Sarahs' chair, in front of my perch. I can now watch DVDs' about driving 4 by 4s - riveting stuff, almost like the real thing but not quite.
25th January: Spent most of today relaxing. Although we were invited for drinks by our neighbours in the evening, there is a
slight sense of foreboding spreading through the group. Every day we have seen people go into the caravan, they begin to
laugh raucously, and then leave hours later absolutely sozzled. The invitation was made by Suzanne who is a lovely, friendly
Belgian lady, she came to us often offering us food and drink (she could obviously see the ravenous look in my eyes and
dwindling frame.) From what I could gather the evening would be spent with herself, her husband Dennis, and Dave. Dennis is an 83 year old war veteran who was involved in the liberation of France and on the 6th June 1944 he parachuted onto
Mervilles Battery (If I'm incorrect regarding the specifics please correct me in the guestbook.) Dave on the other hand, in his own words is, "The resident campsite 'hippy', every campsite should have one, I'm 'it'!!" Funnily despite his self confessed
status he was possibly the most eloquent one out of us all.
26th January: Well last night was, for lack of better words, a spiritual and emotional circumcision with a rusty blade. At the
beginning everybody was jovial, the 3 Euro 50 for five litres of red wine was flowing like mothers milk to a newborn cub. Pat
made a strategic withdrawal at midnight while the rest of us continued the "festivities". During said "festivities" I tried to make entries into my diary. I have since learnt that this was destined for failure as the scribbles on my page were completely illegible and I somehow managed to spill wine on the diary ruining 5 pages of it. The most legible piece of writing I composed was: "Suzanne talks about how I am lion bait/the rest, Dave and Dennis, say I need to be cut from the trip. They are thankful, however, that it isn't them. They are content as long as they get some pictures of me being eaten or stampeded by wildebeest. Dennis says I would be lucky if the lion has a thorn in its foot and is only chewing on my head." Personally I believe they were just trying to contribute to my "tethered goat syndrome" as we dubbed it. At 4AM - and barely conscious - we left the gathering. I did a beautiful swan dive into a reverse pivot backflip onto and over my tent. Sarah detracts from the majesty of the maneuver by calling it a "trip", once she helped me into my tent I was instantly lights out, only to have them instantly turned on again by Pat banging on my tent and telling me to get up and get ready to leave. It was 8AM! All of today was spent hidden behind my sunglasses, nursing the headache that threatened to kill me before the African wildlife.
27th January: Last night was spent at a campsite right on the beachfront called "Los Pinos". It is situated between Denia and
Xabia. It was the cheapest campsite to date, and also one of the most beautiful ones. It only cost 14 Euros a night and an additional Euro for a full days internet access. I didn't even mind sleeping on the stones that much. After leaving there we cut a line down the coast (as much of a line as you can cut with the treachorously winding mountain roads and lack of signage.) Eventually arriving at a campsite just outside Almeria. It was more expensive, and I was sleeping on pebbles again, but it did have a decent mountainous view as well as extra amenities like a swimming pool (piscine in Spanish - how funny) and a gym.
28th January: Today we did our final dash. We got up early, packed in record time and were off before nine (don't judge me, you sleep on rocks and see how fresh you are the next day.) All day was spent driving but by 4PM Algeciras was in sight. We passed through and continued on to Tarifa for the kite surfing. This is where I got my first glimpse of home. Africa!! Mere minutes away. It seems so close yet brings to the fore the immensity of the task at hand. Despite the intense amalgamation of feelings bubbling to the surface. The fear of the future, the regrets of the past month and the things I've left behind, I can still see with my minds eye, through the haze shrouded horizon to the mountains of my homeland. And I know, thats where I need to be.
29th January: Woke up at a decent hour this morning Pat and Sarah went to Tarifa to shop and I asked to be left behind. The reasons for this are as follows: The view of Africa was amazing. It was clear and crisp and I just wanted to sit and absorb the atmosphere being blown over by my continent; I also wanted to absorb some of the orange African sun as I have developed somewhat of a pasty complexion over this past month in Europe. Finally I had a lot on my mind. Being here just made me feel so much closer to home, and yet so far away. In so many ways I was just feeling lost and out of control and just needed time to get to grips with things.
30th January: Today was spent at the rock of Gibraltar. Apparently the Brits and Spanish fought over it for around four years at which point the Spaniards (with their apparent illustrious career in failure) gave up and relinquished it to the Brits. Any other civilisation would have given up long before then, but you have to hand it to the spanish, they really are like the Jack russels of Europe. Once they latch on they never let go. The day was altogether pleasant with us walking to the pinnacle too quickly, leaving Sarah behind, losing her, and then both parties storming to the car in a huff. we strode leisurely through the siege tunnels, the cave and auditorium. on our way back down the rock I had my first serious natural encounter. the local inhabitants (apes) have adopted the habit of trying to hijack tourists. I thought we had reached the safe zone so wound down my window to get some air. I saw the hairy bugger making his way up the road, looking completely oblivious, but obviously well versed in the trade if you take his size into account. I thought nothing of it, we passed by, then suddenly there was a thump on the window. I look over and there he is only inches from me. I saw his beady eyes make an assessment of me, I couldn't have been very intimidating because he continued to peer around the car. I was stunned, it was as if a South African hijacker had regressed, chased me across the continent and was now here trying to steal my food as well. when I realised the threat of losing my apple I leapt at the bugger, grabbed him and "gently" pushed him out the window. score one homo sapien - nil primate simius jacker.
Rattex couldn't fix this