My overall plan was to leave the UK mid May, ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, ride through Spain, take the ferry from Almeria to Melilla (Spanish enclave), then into Morocco proper. After that, meander around Morocco for a few weeks until Alfie, my son-in-law, flies in and rents a bike, then we head off together for a week. Then I eventually head north, leave my bike in southern Spain with MotoAdventours and then fly home.
I duly arrived at Portsmouth ferry terminal to find I was in the queue directly behind Paul, features editor for Adventure Bike Rider magazine riding a R1200GSA who was on a tarmac-only dash to Morocco with a couple of mates. As usual, there many other bikers as well and having been crammed into the hold off we went.
I'd paid a bit more for a outside cabin and later that evening looked out of my cabin porthole and saw rocks! Thoughts of the Costa Concordia went through my mind. We were actually sailing through the Passage du Fromveur between the Ile d'Ouessant and the collection of rocks to the west of Ile Molene. Stick N48 26.601 W5 01.838 into Google Earth for a satellite image.
Probably 400m away
I'd forgotten how high the prices are on the Brittany Ferries (especially soft drinks and water) and it's definitely a good idea to visit Marks and Spencer or similar to stock up before the journey.
The ferry landed at Santander midday and I proceeded south east towards Zaragoza. I mixed it up with national roads, some side roads and a bit of autovia (free motorways). I was heading for Navara, specifically the campsite near Bardenas Reales national park to do some offroading. But as night fell so did rain, then hail, so I ended up ignominiously spending the night in the campsite's domitory.
Why is it whenever I visit a so-called desert area there's either rain, hail or snow?
My entertainment that evening was watching the Spanish version of the TV show 'Wheel of Fortune' and whilst my Spanish has faded over the years I was pleased when I managed to get one of the phrases before the numpty contestants. The next morning I did a big circle of Bardenas on tracks almost all the way, including the obligatory photo of Cabezo Castildetierra but dark clouds were forming and it started to rain. WTF, I've had enough bad weather in England recently to last a lifetime. I caught a weather forecast in a coffee shop and decided to head south, foregoing the chance to ride the local 'Dinosaur Trail'.
I was amazed by the amount of infrastructure development going on in Spain, especially railways and motorways and dual carriageways. It seems in Britain that we've stood still on road building for the last 20 years with so-called improvements being limited to safety and slow-down measures. It's nice of the EU to fund all this Spanish development. Do I sound grumpy?
And then on to the subject of Spanish drivers! The dangerous part of biking in Morocco is getting through Spain in one piece. They move out late to overtake, overtake with two wheels in your lane, cut in close right in front of you, and if you are in the middle of an overtake they tailgate you. In England any one of these manoeuvres would be enough to earn them a careless or dangerous driving ticket but in Spain it's par for the course.
Rant over... back to the story. It was halfway through the day already, so I just kept going south through the vineyards of Rioja and beyond until 10pm and then found a truckers' hostel by the side of the road. Being Spain, the restaurant and bar were in full swing and life soon felt much better.
Cabezo Castildetierra (something like head of the castle of earth)
The next day I continued south and arrived in the Cabo de Gata area, another national park. This has nice isolated beaches, and was where the camel charge from Lawrence of Arabia (the attack on Aqaba) was filmed.
Start of the Cabo de Gato area
It was very windy the next day but I found a secluded beach protected by cliffs and spent the morning sunbathing. Then dark clouds rolled in, the sun disappeared and the wind increased to storm strength. I packed up and headed south through the national park but the wind was so strong that when I parked up at a particularly exposed point to take a photo a massive gust topped the bike over onto the new Metal Mule panniers. They hadn't remained pristine for long!
After a couple of beers and several tapas in Almeria watching the bull fighting on TV, I headed off to the ferry terminal in time to catch the 11:30pm sailing to Melilla. Just as I was filtering through the queue of car drivers for the ferry, three British bikes pulled out, one KTM 990 (Gary) and two XT660Z Teneres (Callum and Shaun).
More of which later.