Saturday, 31 March 2012

We've made it home! Well all of us who flew anyway. Nobody missed the plane, nobody was arrested, and Peter talked the whole way. Got in at about 0200, tired, filthy but on the biggest high ever. An awesome trip that was well worth every rattle, bump, near miss and police checkpoint. Photos will be posted as soon as I find my hard drive.

Friday, 30 March 2012

 Right folks, here's the last bit of the blog. A bit of overlap I'm afraid but that's due to texting to Tam in the absence of wifi. Many thanks for your help Tam and thanks everybody for following us. About to set off for the airport. See you soon!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

We made it! Have cleared Gambian customs. Yahoo! Yesterday we had our last wild camping, about 70 miles from the border. Had a fantastic ride, met lots of great people. Mike lost the tent folding championship this morning, he says now he'll just stick to teeth. Staying tonight at Eddie's place in Farafenni, very African style hotel, but had cold beer and cold showers, so awesome after camping in a cow pat last night! Very very hot, only 80 more miles to Bansang, nearly there.

We’ve made it to The Gambia!!
Crossed into The Gambia at Farafenni with the minimum of fuss – much to our collective and individual surprise. The chief Inspector of Police wanted  pens  but we didn’t have any so I gave him an IPA badge instead, and he was delighted. I hammed it up for effect – standing to attention, calling him sir. He loved it.

Arrived at Eddy’s – it was OK. 1930s style , very basic but OK, and right in the heart of town, which was  a great incentive to go out. Also meant we were besieged every time we did though. Went looking for an internet cafe Nadine could book a flight home ( she was originally going home in the truck but decided to fly in order to give her more time to prep for Mongolia and get some work done) But the chap wasn’t there (they are shut in the hot part of the day which seems to be all day and  open in the late evening when it is a bit cooler) so some kids took us round the corner to a little bar. One of them was clearly very intelligent – told me he used the internet for his homework as well as finding out about the world, asked up a great deal of information. He knew about   most countries, the European monetary fund and how it worked, cars and engines. I was really impressed with him. He wants to be a surgeon and move to Toronto.
Also met Bember, a 12 year old welder. He had mastered doors and windows and was hoping to move onto bigger things soon. He was really little but a real street wise dude. Both of them entertained us with their repertoire of bike tricks.

One of the kids was then sent to find out if the internet chap had arrived; he had, so we went round there and found Modo, a military policeman sitting outside on his police bike. He took me for a spin around the town and back to Eddy’s so that I could get him a police badge.
Nadine found` a flight but couldn’t book it because it wouldn’t take her card details. A bit frustrating for her but she got the number and booked it by phone the following morning.

We also met the Gambian Olympic selection team at Eddy’s. Nice chaps – the National football coach, Tambong from Kick Off Gambia, the team selection manager and a couple of other people. Offered me a photo job for the London Olympics but I can’t do it of course because I will be in Mongolia, but did some posed shots for them.

Just as we got to Eddy’s, we were met by a group of blokes who called us each by name. Very bizarre and it took us all by surprise, particularly Nadine who was asked about her knee. It turned out to be David Gibba and friends from Sutton United Gambia who had been waiting for us all day. How kind was that? Unfortunately, something had got lost in the various emails and they thought we were on our way back from Bansang rather than to it. They had even sorted exit customs for us. But we will see them on Friday morning in Banjul and go to their club.

The Final leg to Bansang

Nearly there. The truck had a tyre problem which Iain and Gordon sorted out. Then Dennis’ carb needed fixing – the pipes leading to the fuel  filter had spanned and the whole place stank of petrol. That delayed us a bit longer than we’d hoped but we got underway soon enough.

Then it was the last leg to Bansang. We were all excited  and although nobody said anything in particular, there was a palpable upbeat vibe  in the posse because the end result was almost within our grasp.

Roads were good and it was metalled all the way so we made good progress. Stopped off at Wassu stone circle, a World Heritage site and old burial ground. Lots of kids appeared immediately but they were great and just wanted to talk. Had another mass dancing session with them listening to various Ipods.

Then it was off again for Bansang and the ferry. A brief wait on the bank  amongst assorted goats and children, then a ride onto a rickety small boat across the Gambia River. Half  way across , the  drums and singing of the most magnificent reception party reached us from the opposite bank, complete with Anita Smith at the waterside, waving madly amongst the  riot of colour and noise. Other passengers seemed somewhat bemused but joined in.

 And what a fantastic reception it was – full on drums, the Governor, hospital staff all on motorbikes – many of the previous years’ C90s, now Gambian registered – an ambulance, various vehicles etc. Lots of hugs and handshakes all round and then a 11 mile procession to the hospital.

But then it got even better as we reached the hospital. The whole village had turned out – lining the road en route, waving and shouting ‘welcome, welcome, thank you,  thank you’. Kids, old ladies, workmen, shopkeepers. The whole lot. One of the outriders was doing tricks on his bike as we rode and as we got nearer the hospital, a kid jumped on the back of mine, Debz and Nad’s bikes, and they rode with us, waving madly and shouting loudly.

All of us were so overwhelmed. The culmination of a very long journey through difficult terrain, difficult conditions, heat, lots of nothingness in the Sahara, and also battling the tiredness, the sand in the eyes, the stiffness that comes with riding a very small bike long distances, frayed tempers. But we’d made it; here we were 4000 miles from home, having survived relatively unscathed, arriving in a small town in rural Africa, where it was clear that we were actually could make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. I think all of us had wondered during the long journey whether or not that was really the case or whether it was just an excuse for a bit of an adventure holiday. But here was the proof.

The noise was incredible – more drums, more singing, whistle blowing, shouting, waving,  people in best clothes, kids in no clothes, colour, two people dressed up as some straw characters ( later found out it was something to do with circumcision rituals which worried a couple of the blokes). I was dragged straight off my bike and pulled into the dancing circle. No choice but just to get on with it – wild African moves, very fast and totally unplanned. A bit hot in bike gear but it had to be done. Then I was given a cold beer and made to sit down as others got dragged up –everybody. Then the hat came out – if the hat got put on your head, you had to dance, and so I was up again. The wilder the better, all of us hammed it up and joined in. A phenomenal  atmosphere. But the funniest one was Mike. Captain clean himself who at the start never seemed to have a hair out of place was right there in the middle of it all, blowing a whistle and throwing some shapes. Fantastic. But he still had his jacket on and of course, it was still clean.  

One of the women tied my Sahara headscarf around my head, Gambian style, which again amused  the women, and led to me getting dragged up to dance again. It was very hot though. This all went on for an hour or so, and it was a spectacular with us at the centre, a special day which all of us will remember always, not least for the knowledge that the villagers had all contributed financially to the celebrations, even though they have so little themselves.

Then it was off to Mr Fatti’s and the hotel. Right by the River Gambia. More beers and more importantly, hot showers, then food. Wonderful. Up went the mossie nets and off we all went to bed.

But the rooms were so hot. I endured it for several hours before decamping to the roof terrace with my therma rest and silk liner to sleep on an unfinished but very cool floor, amongst the cement and brick dust. It was much cooler, the mangoes smelt beautiful and the breeze was wonderfully cooling.


First sight proper of the hospital today, and a tour around it, into every nook and cranny. What a sobering experience that was. 1930s British Colonial one storey buildings in a small gated complex, opened in 1938. Rough dirt roads within the hospital grounds with the occasional glimpse of what had once been ‘proper;’ road in the main avenue between the Children’s ward and the main hospital block, hidden and broken under the sand and dust.

 This had clearly once  been an impressive medical facility, catering for local people and it was still doing so. However, it was immediately clear that the demand for medical treatment far outweighed what the place could offer and the once pristine facilities were not only old and tatty but were dilapidated and in many cases, derelict.

 But old and tatty is not necessarily a problem because peeling paint and outmoded styling is of no consequence if systems and machinery still work and relevant staff can use them to good effect. But at Bansang, that is a hit and miss process.

A meeting with the hospital Board first who outlined the main problems. Too many people needing help, the need for education in the community to prevent things and reduce the need for cure, the rapid turnover of staff because wages in the area are low, basic facilities for trained professionals and very poor and most people want to stay within the familiar support network of their families rather than move out alone and live in poor conditions for low wages. Combine that with an astonishing lack of systems, chaotic disorganisation, vital machinery and infrastructure that has been poorly maintained and is way past repairable, and the problem starts to emerge. Bansang Hospital is bursting at the seams and can’t cope – although it is clear that it is doing exceptionally well in the circumstances and has come a long way since the Bansang Hospital Appeal was started by Anita Smith 20 years ago, so much so that it is now also a major source of medical care for the wider Gambian community, and also treats people from Senegal and Mali. That is a huge  catchment area but an extra burden on staff and facilities that are already stretched  way beyond their capacity.

But Bansang goes  further than the immediate hospital complex and does its best to support patients in the community and create regional health centre  points for ongoing out patient cases, palliative care and prevention initiatives.


Went to a remote village today to meet a 3 year old boy with hydrocephalus.  He  is a terminal jcase but he is well loved and cared for by his parents, although he is not developing at all and there is no hope of any western medical help to either improve his condition or prolong his life. He was a lovely little chap but very small; the body of a small toddler and a head like a football. And now he has a healthy little brother just a week old, named after Anita’s son Laurence. The hospital helps and supports  his parents with counselling and how to care for him as he slowly dies, and the health worker uses a previously donated scooter to reach him. Couldn’t do it without one.

We had a fantastic ride to his village though. Belle, Debz, Gordon, Nads ands Sue on scoots, with Iain and John in the truck. A wild ride across the Gambia River and red dust and rough tracks for 40 kms. We were filthy but the villagers didn’t seem to mind. They are so remote and perhaps don’t  see that many westerners that often and assume that’s how we normally look. But we were even worse by the time we got back to the ferry several hours later and people waiting to cross definitely knew the score and  had a good old laugh at our expense.

The ferry was a chain ferry, pulled by passengers, although we seemed to be the only ones actually pulling. It was quite hard work and a bit of a chain gang like experience but we worked our passage. Literally.  And then Africans looked on , no doubt bemused by  five women and three men all covered from head to toe in red dust and sweat, hoofing them across the water.

The high spot of the day was Mark and Peter finding a rat living in a flooded toilet pan in one of the foul toilets in the main block. It was swimming quite happily alongside a large turd.


A day around the hospital today recording interviews and collecting audio for a radio programme, and taking pictures of the chaos that exists just under the surface e of the great work they are doing there.

It is difficult to comprehend the whole picture. There is the full range of illness, injury, birth and death that any community experiences – the usual living, dying and problems along the way. But unlike in our world where most of us have access to some sort of preventative education, or general help, these people don’t and its all made worse by the influence of some  tradition and superstition that frequently clash with accepted  practice.  Diet is key to health and recovery and  people in Bansang appear healthy and well fed, but speak to Asha the Malnutrition specialist at the hospital and she will tell you that many, children in particular, have multiple problems accentuated not by the lack of food but more by the wrong sort of food –  the wrong stuff in the wrong quantities.  The staple diet is high carb rice or couscous so people are not hungry but lacking in vital nutrients as food is rarely supplemented with any meat or vegetables, and their health starts to break down. She is trying to introduce a demonstration garden to teach people basic nutrition and improve their general health – but can’t hope to get started because there is no money available and no infrastructure to get it going or maintain it.

Then there is the problem of basic sanitation. Again, people appear fit and healthy and are clean and well dressed, but sanitation at the hospital is appalling with collapsed drains and overflowing sewers running through the complex, and rats, goats and vultures all using it as their local supermarket. And it stinks. Really stinks. So much that the resident vultures sit  up high, well away from the stench, swooping down only when something in particular takes their fancy.

The hospital laundry washes all soiled sheets by hand. They do at least 50 per day then hang them in the sun on washing lines  adjacent to the hospital kitchen. Nothing wrong with that - except the oven blew up a while back so cooking is now done on tradition open fires – which create smoke right next to the clean, drying sheets.

Or the total lack of maintenance. That is a bit of a misnomer as there really isn’t any although the maintenance  boss is rarely far away, sitting in the shade, chatting on his phone to friends and family. And while he does this, his workmen also sit around and jobs pile up. No surprise then that a look in the maintenance dept office reveals nothing other than a pile of dusty broken furniture and scattered tools. No job sheets, no repair schedules, no plans for anything. Yet this is a key area for keeping the place going and reducing further problems. When a recent consignment of hospital beds proved faulty and one collapsed on the ward, breaking an existing patient’s arm, nothing was done, despite the fault  being  quickly identified as faulty welds, something that could and should have been rectified easily – had the maintenance man bothered to do something about it. Instead, an already hosptialised patient then had a broken limb to contend with –something that the hospital offers no treatment for.

Then there is the cardiac and cancer problem. There is no treatment for that at Bansang so unless it can be caught early and the offending body part amputated, all cases are terminal and last for as long as it takes a patient to die.

What has shocked everybody is not the age of the place and facilities but the lack of  any organisation and systems to ensure that what they do have  gets used properly and effectively, and is kept in good order.  What is the point of keeping records of ongoing treatment or birth complications if those records are strewn across he grounds? Why are usable and still sterile and in date essential medical items such as syringes, cannulars and sterile  dressings  dumped on the pile of broken items in the maintenance department instead of stored in the storerooms where they can be easily accessed and used?

Yes, some donations are ill thought out. The American incubators donated to the maternity wards which sucked in red dust from the atmosphere and clogged the prem babies lungs? The hi tech machinery that works well in stable western hospitals but can’t cope with the frequent power surges and cuts of Africa. And why is the operating theatre, all prepped, stocked and properly wired by last year’s team  still unused and mothballed when it is so badly needed? It is bizarre, frustrating and beyond comprehension.

But and all around positive seemed to be the dental clinic where Mike and Carolyn were busy at work removing the teeth of Bansang.  They had a production like going, Mike firstly inspecting waiting patients, selected those needing extractions, injecting them, allowed the injections to work, then getting them in one by one to remove their teeth. Carolyn assisted and they did a great job , which was noted by both patients and Haddy the dental nurse. According to her, the regular dentist ( who is rarely there) is disliked by all and is unreliable, and makes no effort to comfort or calm patients but just leaves them to suffer., But not this week. Patients attending this week were lucky and many remarked on how good Mike was and how kind he was to them. Haddy also said that he had taught her as he went so that she now knew what instruments were for and how to use them. That means that she  is now better prepared to help the regular dentist (a German trained Gambian)  and not get  shouted at by him when he does turn up for work.

Mike also said the teeth he extracted could not be saved, havi ng rotted away thanks mainly to soft drinks imported from the west. It is a big problem and many of the children we have seen already have signs of very badly decayed teeth due to poor dental education and the African habit of cleaning teeth with a stick. Whilst the is effective e for removing food, they do not  rinse their mouths and so dissolved sweet material remains on them and rots away. So Mike and Carolyn were instant hits and made  a huge immediate difference to many local people.

Many of us are already tired with the ‘ this is Africa’ line that gets trotted out time after time. Yes of course it is Africa and of course things work differently here. That is just how it is. But they don’t seem to have the same trouble turning up on time or accepting western money or goods when it suits them, stuff  given  to them for free and with good heart. It does make you wonder whether the effort bit is  actually worthwhile. People need stuff and others are willing to give it but if the indigenous infrastructure is not going to facilitate the passage of those things, then what is the point.  I was a bit fed up today as a result.

The afternoon was better though. Gordon, Peter, Nads and B elle followed the chief’s son to the field that his father has donated to the hospital to grow food for the patients. At the moment, it is just an empty field not due to be cultivated until after the rains are done, but it was important to us because it was our friends and families who had raised the money for the oxen and bulls and farming equipment and we wanted to see on their behalf where  their money would be put to good use. Had a bit of trouble getting there though; the ‘this is Africa’ excuse came out again but Anita sorted it with a phone call.

Following the son’s chief on his own motorbike, we rode across country, down sandy tracks and through villages into the middle of nowhere, to his village where we met the Chief. Nice man , very welcoming and exceptionally tall. He told us through an interpreter that he was keen to support the feeding project because it was for all humanity, and he of course was right.

The field was far bigger than we’d all expected, something like 20 hectares, most of which had been harvested but some remaining planted. We were miles from anywhere but still a gang of small boys appeared out of thin air, all clamouring to have their picture taken and then view it on the LCD screen. It's  probably the first time they have seen their own image in such a way and it seemed intrigued and delighted each of them.

On the  way back, we stopped at a village with a regional health centre run by a young bloke called Jallow. He had the surrounding villages all mapped ,medical trends  shown as graphs and displayed on the wall, together with a complete  record of staff, their speciality and training status. So simple and san indication that things can be done in Africa if somebody can be bothered to organise and supervise it.

Peter had a race with the women drawing water from the village well and lost badly. We were also invited into the village hut for a meeting – me and Nads too. Nobody here – or in any of the countries we’ve travelled through - seems to have  a problem with women; must be an outmoded  bigoted  western man control thing surprisingly displayed by one particular man throughout this trip. Tedious and disappointing in this day and age.

So a difficult morning turned into an encouraging  afternoon.

The Police Commissioner came the hotel tonight to have a drink with Belle and Gordon. Nice bloke, and very tall. Gord had met him earlier in the day and invited him. Turns out he’d joined the job in 1984 and was very impressed we were Met officers. Gave us his personal email and a Police Mag, and we presented him with the last IPA badge which delighted him.


We all slept upstairs again last night but it rained and everybody except me went back to the rooms. Lasted until about 0430 before moving to a covered area outside where I slept with the cleaners. They didn’t mind and I slept well.

Packed up this morning, donating everything we couldn’t cram into our one bag to the kids at the hotel. Sleeping bags and mats, clothes, mossie nets, shoes, hats, puppets etc. It was obvious that it would make a huge immediate improvement to their daily lives and again, they were delighted. The oldest girl hugged me and Nads and told us how happy she was and what it meant to her. It really hits home when people say things like that. Here she was a young girl (20) with a 2 year old child, working hard but earning so little that she had no hope of ever getting her foot on to even the lowest rung of the ladder up and out of the hand to mouth existence she was living.

Also gave them our cups and plates etc, despite Dennis insisting they wouldn’t want them and that he would sell them to future trip’s.  Again they were delighted and put them to immediate use.

Nads, Gordon, Belle and Will rode up the hill for a view over Bansang. That was well worth it. Also rode up to the radio mast and found the giants footprint – a wind worn pattern in the sandstone rock does actually look like a large footprint. Some great views from up there and lots of kids waving and chasing us.

Gave Asha the malnutrition nurse various useful bits of medical kit and stuff as she is one of the people who is actually organised and getting on with stuff. She really deserves every bit of support we can give her. She was also in tears and I think was genuinely sorry to see us go.

Then it was goodbye to Haddy the dental nurse.  She had promised me  a Gambian scarf, and true to her word, arrived and tied it around my head, much to the amusement of assembled kids who called me ‘ Gambian woman’. Again, genuinely sorry to see us go and I gave her my boots for the rainy season as she has to walk across town to work which is difficult in flip flops.

The bike handing over ceremony was supposed to be  at 2pm but needless to say, we were delayed because of more faffing  about.  It was actually quite sweet and all of us were sad to give our bikes up but confident that they will be put to good use. So we said our goodbyes, we ere all on the bus ready to go and the driver disappeared. He was discovered picking over the goodies left by us and meant for the riders who will receive bikes, and so not for him. He came back quite sheepishly but quickly once he realised we were preparing  to hotwire his bus and drive it ourselves.

A quick trip back to the hotel to collect our bags, say final goodbyes, load them on the roof and then we were off. Made it 1 km before the truck had to stop for fuel.   Then we acquired a passenger, a lady going to  Banjul. She seemed nice and very happy at the prospect of a free lift. Not sure who she was though.

The bus was super crappy. Mangled suspension, cracked windows, broken seats and a wobbly steering column, but. It held up well, particularly when driven at high speed over unmade roads and through dust clouds. Only nearly crashed a few times but got stopped by military roadblocks more often. Today is election day in Gambia and there is a notable police and army presence. Took a picture at one point but got captured but the woman soldier just wagged her finger at me. Also saw a few ordinary trucks with machine guns mounted on the roof. Weird.

Now in Banjul having had a great night last night. Good hotel and we’re all clean. Yaay!! Its cool here too; breeze coming off the sea but a pleasant temperature.

This morning we’re off to Sutton United Gambia to meet with the football blokes who came to Farafenni and give them the trophy and bits that we’ve carried all the way from the UK. The flight is 1600 this afternoon. Just hope its not a Gambian driver flying the plane.


All sorted and ready to go. Had a bit of an adventure this morning when the cabbie who picked us up strayed into a rival taxi zone and started off a mini war at a police checkpoint. It got a bit dodgy when they all started pushing and shoving but eventually they calmed down and we were allowed to continue.

Met David, Buba and Soloman from Sutton United Gambia, who took us to a street football project where they're teaching the kids football to keep them away from street crime and drugs. Had a good old kick around with them - particularly Nadine  and the kids were very impressed that a girl could even kick a ball, let alone do tricks.

They'd also brought along a Gambia Musician called Jimmy Fixer the Bongo man ( I kid you not) who was great, making up songs and accompanying them on a drum thing with four sawn off hacksaw blades which he pinged along to the music. Had a great old laugh and dance with them all, photos etc.  Then Buba the young policeman from Farafenni to whom Belle had given the IPA badge gave Belle and Gordon a Gambian Police teeshirt each. Bless him; he'd worked night duty the previous night, gone home, had an hour's sleep, bought two shirts and come to meet us because we were fellow cops. And he was well impressed when Gordon told him that the only people in the Gambia who had the special edition IPA badges were him and the Police Commissioner!

Flight back was OK. A bit cramped but only a bit of turbulence which is never good but it didn't last long. Peter talked the whole way, even when Sue ( not very politely) suggested he rest  his jaws.  We even had a reception party at Gatwick which was nice - assorted family members etc.  Then it was back to Gordon and Belle's for the night, a few hours kip, then goodbyes all round.

A great trip, some great and lasting friendships made, some unforgettable experiences, and some stunning riding. And hopefully  we did make a bit of difference to the people of Bansang in the process.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Camped on the beach last night. Windy and lots of sea mist but we had a fire, Sue and Carolyn cooked, had a beer, and all went to bed early as we were dog tired. Cold start next morning but warmed up to super hot after a few hours. Bit of a news blackout for the next couple of days as its the dodgy bit ahead  - warzone and then kidnap alley so we will try not to advertise or presence too much. We’re banking on the fact that we’re too big a group for any chancers to seriously think about causing us problems though.
Rode about 430 km today, all very hot a dusty by the time we stopped. Camped on top of a cliff which was scarily high. Sheer drop into the ocean of about 30m. Let’s hope nobody sleepwalks tonight as we don’t have long enough bungees to rescue them. No wood for a bonfire but we were all tired again so another early night.
Crossed into Mauritania today. Up early and at the border crossing by 0900 but still plenty of vehicles in front of us. Never seen so much chaos – people pushing and shoving, cars everywhere, odd organisation ( or is it disorganisation?), and it took us 6 hours to cross. Then it was the mine field that is no mans land and separates the two countries. Only about 2km wide but exceptionally rough, but OK in the minefield stakes as we didn’t get blown up and all survived unscathed.
Got across the minefield Ok and into Mauri, stopped by police who quizzed us about contraband. We were about to be turned over when I engaged them in conversation, telling him that Gord and I were police from England. That stopped them in their tracks, the search was called off, they waved us through and we were on our way. Gave him an IPA badge too, which he was delighted with.
Didn’t ride far after that – just about 30 miles to a campsite where we slept on the floor in permanent Bedouin type tents. It was run by couple who were lovely. Peter and I got invited in for tea and had a great chat to them.
Had real problems with my neck and shoulder today. Made me feel very sick both while riding and walking and a minging headache later in the day. I’m drinking plenty but I think its the salts that are in short supply.
Visited the old couple again. Told us their life story – 5 kids, a goat who slept next to them, have lived there for 8 years because they like the peace and tranquillity. Gave them some British food out of the truck which they loved, and the lady asked us for socks. Good job we’d washed them last night then!
A few people are suffering in the heat although we,re drinking plenty and generally looking out for each other. Conditions are difficult, both physically and mentally, and all of us are finding some days  easier than others. We all knew it would be testing and have agreed a strategy of regular brief feed stops when we refuel and water top ups. That is far more manageable than busting a gut until we can go on no longer or until somebody has an accident. Working together like this also makes us more efficient and keeps us on track.
We rode long and hard today. Mauritania is noticeably different to Morocco and Western Sahara – trees and grass and opposed to just sand and rocks. People are a lot darker skinned too and again, very friendly and welcoming.
The air was scalding and the air was thick with sand. Reckon it was 40 degrees. Made it quite hard to ride. Now camped about 30 miles north of Nouakchott in the sand dunes, hidden from the road. Lets hope nobody discovers us!
Up extra early and off at first light. Truck got stuck in the sand, much to Iain’s delight, and he got to dig it out and use his sand ladders. Nobody kidnapped us, which is handy but we have a theory that we’re too filthy and too smelly for anybody to even consider it.  Maybe we should patent it as a survival method.
A bit cooler today which was nice. Long ride again today with many road miles before we got to the piste. The scenery was very different as we moved south – more trees and grass and dunes, lots of camels and small villages.
Then there was Nouakchott. It is really difficult to describe that place other than it was exactly as most of us expected Africa to be. Wild, chaotic, sandy, noisy, and everything coming from every direction, cattle, goats, robed people floating down the road looking like walking teabags as their robes billowed in the wind, sand all over the road. But it was great; what an experience. The place probably hasn’t changed for years, except for the cars. It was like a medeival movie set and was almost as if it had been CGI’d. Mad place, but once again, we brought it to a standstill as people gaped at us. We really are a ragtag bunch now. Bits hanging off the bikes a dishevaled assortment of riders covered in dust and all with dirt ingrained  and covered in grime. Even Mike (Captain Clean)is showing signs of grime, albeit nowhere near as much as the rest of us. What a spectacle we must be, and as foreign and intriguing to them as they are to us.
Then we got to the piste down to Diama. Ungraded road in places, unbuilt road in others, deep soft sand, loose gravel, and so so hot. We had 50 miles on this and it was hard. My confidence had gone after my last off roading outing landed me in hospital with a broken foot and ribs. That was until Nadine shouted at me and told me to get a grip. So I did, it all came back and I was soon coasting over the corrugations and through the soft sand.
Those C90s rock. They handled everything we threw at them and still came out shining. No major mechanic issues, no offs, not even a puncture. It was also through a National Park but the only animals we saw were domestic cows – one of which tried to kick Carolyn as she rode past but missed her, and a wild boar that thought about charging Nadine as she peed in the bushes. But he changed his mind when confronted with a gang of waiting mighty C90s.
Got to the Mauritanian/Senegal border and then it all stopped. For four hours. The Mauri side was chaotic but quieter than the previous Western Sahara border. Then we got into no mans’ land. It got dark, and it wasn’t  several hours later that we finally got into Senegal.
The difference between both countries was immediately obvious. Gone were the unmade gravel roads, in were the nicely tarmaced streets with neat villages en route. A thirty mile route with an escort, then a miles on dirt roads to the Zebra Bar.
What a fantastic place – but what a difficult ride. All too tired after the day on the piste and really not in a fit state to ride but we all made it in one piece without any mishaps.
How nice to have a proper bed  and one not filled with sand. And the really great news was that once fed ( delicious) we are to stay at the Zebra Bar for three nights – so no early pack up for several days, a few days off the bike, time to clean our kit and have a look around.
Got up late (0830), shower, late breakfast, washing, then kayaking  with Debz and Nadine to an island in the river. The current was so choppy that they paddled backwards down the river. Bizzare but funny. Water was a bit more choppy than we thought, but nobody drowned so that was OK.
Windy here but Ok in the sun but now it’s gone down, it’s a bit cool, which is actually nice after the heat of the desert.
General bike maintenance by Gordon, Iain and Mark but nothing too much amiss from yesterday. They even fixed the campsite workman’s bike in exchange for a bit of welding, so that was a win win.
No wifi signal here so typing up the blog and will post it in St Louis tomorrow. Just waiting for dinner.
Taken the local boat to St Louis and now sitting in a local patisserie (Mike, Sue, Belle, Gord, Nads) Two hours upstreamfrom the Zebra Bar in a small fishing boat type thing. All got drenched on the way but have now dried out.  Free WIFI here. and pizza.
Old French colonial town with dusty streets and African disorder but again, people are very welcoming and not fazed by nosey westerners wandering around. Lots of street activity and stuff going on at the roadside - food being prepared, things being carved, goats chewing assorted rubbish etc. Still can't upload photos - not sure why b ut it might be because of the slow network so have resorted to a glass of very nice rose instead. Just bought some local jewellery from a bloke in the bar - nice chap, have taken his picture and am about to send it to him.

Tomorrow we're leaving to get near to the Gambian border,  cross to Gambia the following day, then follow the Gambia River to Bansang and mission accomplished!! More from Bansang hopefully or (possibly before, at Eddie's) if there is Wifi.

Made it to Senegal safely.  Had a great day on the piste yesterday, no mechanical problems, no accidents.  All have a day off today, thankfully. All clean finally! Off to St Louis tomorrow and will post blog update, all written but no wifi signal here. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

We did another 295 miles today through the Sahara Desert, 37 degrees, bl**dy hot! Poor camels.  Western Sahara is a desert full of plastic rubbish, such a pity!   Just setting up wild camp for the night.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dust, all filthy dirty and sweaty but in good spirits and still up for it.  It's hot, sandy and there are lots of camels, and we got stopped 8 times by the police today, but all OK.  Just setting up wild camp for the night and about to eat.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Had a fab time in Marrakesh last night. Ate on the square then wandered und town. Belle bought a Berber  robe which she intends wearing tomorrow. All bought desert head wraps. Not sure what they’re called. Accidentally got up at 0530 because Dennis thought we were an hour ahead of London. We’re not – we’re on the same time, so we’ve been getting up an hour early everyday since getting to Morocco. and we've been giving him stick ever since!
V hot today and faces are getting tanned. Peter also had black stains on his face from brake dust and oil, where he’s been mechanicing and it won’t come off. Looks a bit mad. Steve flew home this morning following crash on Sunday. He’s Ok but a bit sore and decided that he shouldn’t continue, best decision really as it will only get harder from now on and sleeping rough most nights won’t do him any good at all. Shame to see him go, but for the best.
Late leaving today despite our early start because we had to fix all of the bikes – routine- before riding up into the Atlas Mts. Very hot day. Belle wore her Berber robe which delighted locals who waved and chatted and approached us even more.  Went through some very remote villages and stopped at a few shops for food and some C90 parts as Dennis’ brakes failed – not a good idea on mountain roads. Locals wanted blog address so they could look us up. Managing to converse with them well as many speak French. Not sure what they think of my grammar as it is pretty appalling but they seem very happy and very willing to come up and chat and  seem delighted that we have a common second language. They love the bikes too and think its funny we’re riding them on such a long mission.
An exceptional ride today – fabulous mountain roads right up into the High Atlas and 2100m. Tizi -Test pass. No snow though, which was great. Exhilarating descent on tiny track roads with lorries coming towards us and taking up most of the space. Sheer drops, gravel, goats, washed away surfaces – all the hazards you could wish for on a bike but we all did it, albeit with some very close shaves, but no falls and no accidents. Dennis had a very close call with a truck – oncoming truck just missed him on a blind corner. Now wild camping somewhere in the mts.
Had a fire and a good meal last night, cooked al fresco as usual by Sue. Delicious although Sue didn’t like the ingredients she had to work with. We’ve got a bit of a yoga and massage programme going on ( not as weird as it sounds) because all of us now have sore shoulders and necks due to the constant rough riding on bumpy roads. So every morning, Sue wrings Belle’s neck and it works, and every evening Belle sorts the shoulders of others. That works too. We’ve also found a way to help Nadine’s knee be a bit more flexible – good old Deep Heat. Stinks but does the trick and makes things more comfortable for her.
Ironically, we have an exceptional phone signal up here in the middle of nowhere. No wifi though. Cut Peter’s hair off because he said it was itching and he no longer looked like his passport photo - which he didn’t. Thought he might not get into Western Sahara so we had to sort it. Did a team cut and he now has a Mohican. Not bad with a pair of scissors and a comb nicked from a Spanish hotel.
Now 0446 am and sitting here blogging under the most incredible starry sky. Very bright and full of stars, no light pollution.
Off to Tan Tan Plage tomorrow. Another long ride ahead.

 Set off as planned from our wild camp. All slept well and nobody was eaten by bears during the night. Early morning riding is great because the temperature is cool and the light is fantastic. More towns , scenery changing by the kilometre into dusty scrub and flat,rocky terrain. Then Will got a flat tyre but it took air so after a quick pit stop, we were on our way again.

Landscape changing by the kilometre into flat open dusty scrub stretching for miles and miles. Then up into the Atlas Mts again.Not as  high this time, but equally spectacular – bright orange rocks, almond trees, high peaks and mist that made it all look like a Japanese water colour painting med both amused and bemused at our sudden arrival and buying of all their bread. Lunch at the top in a shack cafe, chatted to the locals ( all men) who seemed both amused and bemused at our sudden arrival and buying of all their bread and cake stocks. We must boost local small economies hundreds of percent every time we stop but we really have turning into a travelling circus and major entertainment spectacular. The Jalaba (the Berber coat) is doing a great job acting as a conversation starter. Everybody comes up when I get off the bike and wants to shake my hand for wearing it. They probably think I’m some sort of motorised transvestite as it is a man’s robe, but it was far more spectacular than the horrible lacy things they did for women.

Had a good old chat with some of the older men who told us that only they live uop their during the winter while their children and their families live in the town where they or their children can into the mountains for gthe summer because its cooler. Most of them speak French and I am still mullering the grammar but it is a means to communicate and everybody so far seems very eager and willing to have a chat. They’re also quite happy to have their photos chatting probably opens doors.
Rode on the other side of the mountain, planning to stop at Tan Tan but then things started to go wrong. Four punctures in one after noon, and a broken spoke, then a problem with the air filter on the truck. This all held us up so much that we are now well behind.  Stopped at Tafroute to refuel, met a local chap who again was fascinated with what we were up to, where we had come from, and where we were going. Had a good old chat to him in French and he pointed out the .lion rock, which is apparently a local tourist attraction. Its just the shades and strata on the rock which appear as a ,lions face. And it does look like one. Lots of administrative buildings in the town, and he told me that it was the main centre for admin work in Morocco – Tangier, Marrakech. Casablanca etc, and that’s why the houses look different – a sort of Moroccan New Town, and not old village dwellings passed down through generations.
Then Nadine got a puncture. Stopped to sort that out, and Sues helmet rolled off down the mountainside. Fortunately her head wasn’t in it at the time and Mike retrieved it with minimal grumbling. Scratched her visor though. We were still at  4000 feet by this time (1614hrs) and with nowhere to stay and no wild camping places showing up. So we decided to ride for the nearest town (Bouizakarne ) and find a hotel. Committed the cardinal sin of riding the last 20 miles in the dark, but we had to, and anyway, it meant we couldn’t see the potholes and sheer drops into adjacent ravines.
 But hotel spotting was harder than expected. Eventually found one, much to Mike’s delight but that was short lived when it transpired that there was just one room for 3 people which was already taken – but they did have a concrete football pitch in a secure compound that we could use for our tents. So that’s what we did. Ate in the town. Tajine all round, except for me and John who both had bean soup which was nice. Then an aches and pains session - Sue, Pete, Nadine, Mark and Gordon all had painful shoulders due to the long rides on very bumpy roads. So we sorted that out before hitting the sack (not together), dog tired.
Up early again, trying to make up time. Left the football pitch campsite on time despite Mark cutting his finger badly and having to be patched up, but he did the he man thing and pretended it didn’t hurt. But it did; we know Mark and you men should carry safety warnings. No more playing with sharp toys boys please. But he was OK.
Got stopped by the police ant another road block but this time, rather than wave us through, they stopped the truck for questioning. Detained for about 10 mins then allowed to carry on.
Headed towards Tan Tan. Rode about 60 miles of the 150 before Nadine’s bike ran out of fuel. Bit of a problem as our stocks were low and we still had a way to go, so we put a bit in all the tanks. Set off and 10 metres later, and she gets a flat, so we stopped again to sort that. Finally get going 30 minutes later and it was much hotter, so layers came off. We’re now in the desert proper and its is just as I expected – flat, sandy with rocks, weird and colourful rock formations and a few scrabby bushes.
Five km from Tan Tan, guess what? Yep, Nadine runs out of fuel again. Must be some problem with her carb which we’ll have to fix tonight. Got stopped again as we reached Tan Tan, this time having to produce passports and explain ourselves. They were very nice though, particularly when I produced my International Police association badge ( thought it might come in handy sometime). Then fuelled up, found a garage to fix the truck and a cafe for lunch.
Then we were mobbed by youths and small boys which was Ok for a while but then very wearing in the mad midday sun. They just wouldn’t leave us alone, asking for presents, money, food etc. These are not poor people but  hassling travellers is what they do, and although expected, one youth  in particular really pushed it. After putting up with him for about 90 minutes, and asking him to leave us alone, he still kept on and on, trying to pull things off gthe bikes and asking for stuff. So I’m afraid I burnt his ears with probably the rudest bit of French I knew, which amused nearby locals and got the message across. I don’t like doing that but he really was too much.
Eventually got a sandwich at the cafe – took ages and several prompts from me, possibly because I’m female and so not sufficiently important  to be listened to. But another bit of voice raising  did the trick, as did some arguing when the inflated bill arrived. Don’t like doing that, even when the prices are far less than at home but I don’t like being taken advantage of either and if you give it, it just makes it worse for other travellers.
So we moved around the corner and are still here, sitting in the shade and catching up with blogs and diaries, waiting for the truck to be fixed.
Looks like we’re be sleeping on the beach tonight at Tan Tan as we’re not going toget as far as we hoped, and we’re going to have to adjust the onward route as well if we’re to reach The Gambia before its time to come home.
Can't do pics at the moment as the internet connection is very weak and slow so not even trying. Apologies for the long essay on this post but nothing better to do and I've just copied it straight from my diary.

More alter if we can get a wifi signal. If not, will text to Tam, Mike and Sue's daughter who will post but it will only be a few linesd. Thanks Tam

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


In the desert wild camping!

Unfortunately Steve had to be flown home after a crash today, but is now ok and safe.

Cut Peters hair off last night so he looks like his passport photo to get into the W Sahara he now has a mochican!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Mark fell over on his bike yesterday, nearly went headfirst into a rock. Steve fell over trying to rescue him. Not many injuries thankfully. Though Mark had to do a few repairs to his bike.

We got out on time today. A few of us were ready early and went for a jaunt into town. School kids everywhere waving and laughing.

Carolyn fell off her bike on a downhill gravel slope. Iain led today, with few mishaps. Did some more small roads with incredible scenery in the Rif mountains. It is a lot greener than we expected. Some of the roads were really rough and we had trouble getting over 20miles/hr. Great fun, but not great for the bikes. Shook them apart a bit. Though we got away without any major breakdowns. The only slight hiccup was Debz’ bike started to lose power again, but it was good enough to keep going to the campsite.
Will also take back everything derogatory I’ve ever said about C90 brakes. They actually work very well when if you stand on the brake pedal and scream very loudly at whatever you’re about to crash into. Saved me every time today. Hurrah
The scenery changed  from mountains to lush valleys  before we hit the campsite. We did long hours today, but not too many miles due to the road conditions. The campsite we have bunked down in tonight is in Moulay Idriss. The campsite manager is confusing everyone because he is mixing his languages. He has next to no English, so he switches between German and French. Gets the message across eventually.
What a day today. Went wrong from the start when Debz bike wouldn’t start again, but that was Ok because we went to the Roman ruins at Volublis while Iain fixed it. We’d missed them day before because we were running late. Despite loathing Roman history with a passion (and the Saxons and all that other school  history lesson stuff) even I found the place impressive. Massive site, complete with a Roman fuse box in the middle.
Then we got going for real – for about an hour before Steve’s bike broke down. That was just the clutch though and we were back on track soon after. Then the truck broke down. Radiator hose got a hole in it. A Mitsubishi dealer was near by but shut so they had to trawl local backstreets and lockups for help – which they got, particularly after they gave the owners son a football. Poor old Iain got to practice his mechanicing skills again, while the rest of us got to hang  out in a square in Meknes, becoming the biggest side show they’d seen in a while. Kids, bus drivers, motorcyclists, three brothers with a box of chicks they’d just aerosoled different colours, tramps, women with children all stopped to chat to us. Took  wander into a nearby market, where again we became an impromptu sideshow. Tried to sell Nadine for a few camels to a nearby bus driver whose bus had broken down; he was interested initially, but backed off when he realised she was unlikely to make an obedient  wife.
Then it was all go again. Traffic in Meknes was incredible – not so much the volume but the accidents. Sitting in one spot for two hours we saw five, right next to us. But people were really friendly.
Off again, some incredible roads and stunning scenery. The light was going by this time , so we looked for a wild `camp and turned around to find the road we thought we’d missed but then spotted a hotel in the middle of nowhere. Camped in their garden for £2.50 each, including full use of all the facilities. The owner was very keen to point out that the hotel had a ‘piscine’ – which indeed it did. But it had no piscine water in it. Bummer, as we could have done with a swim. But they had a bar too with superbly artexed walls and ceiling of artex stalactites, a Christmas tree and accompanying decorations a plenty. And they even let women in! Yippee.
Up and out almost to plan, but just a bit slower than we’d hoped. Bright sunshine but a bit cold to start with, more empty roads with great scenery. Climbed up from the foothills onto dry plateau with camels grazing at the side of the road. Those of us riding at the back of the possee were swooped by a huge eagle with a rabbit in its mouth.
Went through more busy little towns with people, dogs, buses, cars, bikes all over the place, none of them obeying any road signs or even staying on the correct side of the road. But the good thing is that our arrival causes such a stir that they all stop and stare, which usually gives us a relatively safe passage.
Saw a procession of men walking down the centre of the street with a box. Wandered up to take pictures, but only then realised it was a funeral procession and the box had a dead body in it. Whoops. But nobody seemed to mind.
Now very hot and all of us had to take layers off. Stopped at a garage in the middle of nowhere, and met a couple from Wandsworth on a week’s holiday with their baby. They’d flown in and seemed a bit surprised to meet a gang of dusty bikers on small bikes, bound for the Gambia.
Improvised a bit on the sun protection with a bit of cake wrapper and some gaffer tape. Worked well and smelt nice.

Some very intensive riding today, and covered a long way. Now in Marrakesh at a posh campsite, complete with a pool ( and water). Lots of posh French people here in plush motor homes. They looked a bit alarmed when we rolled up, all covered in the dust of a day’s riding, stripped off and jumped in the pool. Don’t think we left too much of an oil slick on the surface though.
Decided to  treat ourselves tonight and have all hired  permanent tents with proper beds and a shower. Just off to the town now in search of flood.

Unfortunately the internet is very slow here, and will not upload any more photos. Hope to do so at a later date.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Rubbish Tuesday
Stayed at a truckers stop last night, about 175 miles south of Santander . Surprisingly clean and welcoming and dinner was only 10 Euros, including wine and beer. Breakfast was 2.euros 30. We’re missing something in the Uk.
Will helped me type tonight’s blog as he said he could touch type, which indeed he can. Unfortunately, his touch spelling was not as good, so he’s been transferred to mechanic duties.

Ice on the bikes when we started out though. Cold, cold ride until it started to warm up around 0900. Had all our gear on but still frozen feet and hands.

Peter’s float bowl held up well, having fallen off yesterday, then mended by him and Iain earlier that morning, with a few screws  nicked out of a plate in the shower. And all went well with my bike until lunchtime. Noticed a slight rattle in the engine, but nothing was obvious, so after a break for a coffee, we refuelled and jumped back on. Managed just five miles before something a horrible metallic screech rent the air and I made a rapid stop on the hard shoulder. From the oil on the leg shields, it  was clear something bad had happened. Ended up with Dennis towing me off the motorway to a service station for a closer inspection. Cam chain cover had shaken  loose and bolts holding the cam chain plate had bent and gouged out some metal – which had then fallen into the engine.
Good news was that as the engine hadn’t been started, it hadn’t gone in far but wasn’t something easily fixed in situ. So  my bike got put on the trailer. Really fed up although  I rode Steve’s Chinese 110 copy ( Steve has missed the start of the ride due to illness but is due to join us in Southern Spain) Unfortunately, his bike wasn;t really run in and had only done  274 k in total from new, which made things difficult as everybody else’s bike was up top speed and running well. It was a bit like driving  a car with the handbrake partially on. Still, better than walking or riding in the truck.
So we continued like that for several hours until Will disappeared; his float bowl had also dropped off, jut fortunately was repairable as the screws were lodged in the engine fins and so were retrievable. With that fixed, we rode on to a hotel just south or Merida. Ate at another truck stop – more good, cheap food.
Debz bike was better today. It had been using a bit of old yesterday, but now seems better, although it does struggle a bit on the hills – of which here are many. Everybody else seems ok with their bikes though.
Better Wednesday
Warmer start this morning, fewer layers, no thermal layers for me. Carried on south, me still on Steve’s bike, which was running well and loosening up noticeably from yesterday. Missed the C90 though, although me riding the 110 will help us both as Steve won’t have to run it in and it should be fully operational by the time he joins us, and I won’t have to walk. Rubbish mirrors though and I can’t see behind me at all, however, I adjust them. Can just about manage to see my arms, which is not very helpful when there are truck s thundering by that need watching. Rear brake light also packed in. Suspect it’s a connection or earth problem rather than a bulb though.
Nadine’s bike developed an exhaust problem and the nut holding the collar onto the manifold dropped out. She managed to carry on Ok though. Debz’ fared a bit better, although still slow on the hills, but everybody else got on OK.
Passed through lots of agricultural land – olive groves, fruit trees, dotted with processing plants and medieval forts. An impressive landscape that seemed to go on forever before changing to pasture land as` we climbed up into the hills. But the sun was well up by then so the temperature was comfortable. The light is stunning – golden and very bright, blue skies and very saturated colours.
Thermostat on the truck then broke, requiring another repair at a service station for about an hour. Iain sorted that, and we finally got underway .
About 100 k north of Algeciras, we hit some very long uphill drags, which Steve’s bike really didn’t. like. Lost quite a bit of power and could only be coaxed along at a maximum 30mph. We all also struggled against the wind, particularly near Seville, which was very tiring and required additional concentration because the bikes are all slight and skip about unless corrected all the time. These are little town bikes, and although they do have a great name for durability and reliability, they are not built for sustained travel at constant speed on good quality roads. They are much happier being put through their paces on rough roads over shorter distances.  Perhaps its the constant resonance and engine pitch that causes things to come loose and fall off. Initial opinion of Steve’s bike when we arrived was that the engine retaining bolts were loose, this causing the engine to vibrate slightly and the exhaust to leak and loose some compression.
Arrived at Sue and Mike’s place near Algeciras safely though. It overlooks the Med, the Rock of Gibraltar,  and the Atlas mountains are visible in the distance. Steve was also here when we arrived, all recovered from his flu and ready to go. I just hope his bike feels the same way. Site security didn’t seem impressed though that a gang of bikers had arrived in what is essentially an exclusive residential area. They arrived to check us out within minutes, but left when Mike explained that as unlikely as it appeared, we were all actually guests of his and Sue’s, and were not about the barbeque the neighbours’ dogs.
Mad the most of the fading light by doing whatever jobs we could on the bikes. Mark and Nadine rode into town and found a place to fix her exhaust tomorrow, while Iain, Steve and Gordon replaced the engine in my C90 with a 110 scooter engine, and it worked first time. Good job boys; thanks. Important note to self; run it in and don’t blow it up. We still have a very ,long was to go.
A pleasant evening and a lovely meal prepared by Sue, a bit of a down day tomorrow as we  having made it through Spain in two days and several  mishaps, we prepare to cross into Africa for the next phase of the ride.


Busy engine fixing day. Iain, Steve and Gordon spent all day at Sue and Mikes fixing various bikes while the rest of us split into teams and went off to source various parts. Mark and Mike went to Gibraltar to get various ‘bits’, and to buys some more consumables. Regrouped later at the house, then Nadine, Belle, Carolyn, Peter, Will and Sue went to  La Linea to get an exhaust  welded,  plus two foots rests. Had a stroke of luck when we happened upon a tyre place when Peter spotted bike handlebars. The man couldn’t speak English but called his wife who turned out to be Lucy from Enfield who acted as translator and explained what we needed. They obliged happily, although that’s not normally what they did, then refused to take payment. Top people – thanks Diego, Lucy and Diego senior.

Sue, Nadine and Belle were then despatched to Gibraltar to source a C90 engine. Despite the efforts of the men in the Honda dealer, Squeaky and Jayne in a back street garage ( Jayne being a South African from Jo’berg, near where Sue comes from) and then a good search of the island, nothing suitable turned up. Took us ages to get out of Gib and back into Spain – a mad traffic jam of about 300 bikes all lining up to ride along a footpath under the gaze of Spanish customs officers. Sat in the jam typing the blog.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sunday 4th March
Woke up this morning to heavy rain and wall to wall grey skies. It was chucking it down. So wet weather gear on and off we went – and on time too – with an escort of bikers who’d heard about our trip and come to see us off. Thanks guys – really nice of you to make the effort . Rode twenty or so miles to Portsmouth on nearly empty roads, except for some classic high performance cars obviously on way to their own thing. Got onto the ferry without mishap, although the ramps and decks were very slippery, needing concentration to keep rubber side down. Good practice for the roads to come. A few other bikes on board but the faces of the tie down crew on board was priceless when they saw the swarm of soaked riders astride small bikes approaching. We were so wet that some of the boarding cum key cards we’d been given just minutes before at check in had disintegrated and couldn’t be used to open cabin doors. So the poor old purser was pressed into service  earlier that she’ expected, issued new cards, and one by one, we did the bikers shuffle, wriggling out of wet gear and hanging it up to dry in not very spacious cabins, ready for a (hopefully) drier start in 24hours time.
Crossing was a bit rough and a few people had a bad time on the boat. Not much you can do about that though. I was fine but I had a bad headache all day - woke with it and couldn’t shake it off, so I slept most of Sunday afternoon in the cabin. Felt fine after that.

Monday 5th
Glad to say those in the group who suffered all day yesterday from sea sickness had recovered and got rid of their green grey tinges. Beautiful day today so lots of Spanish coastline clearly available as we approached Santander. Managed to get off the boat and ride all of 400m before being stopped and turned over by customs. In the end, they just wanted to check our passports, which was a bit of a shock for Sue who couldn’t find hers. Then Will got knocked off his bike by a passing KTM who just rode off and left him to it. But he was OK as was his bike. And all this before we’d even left the port complex. Warm and sunny in Santander, removed a few layers and took the scenic route out of town, courtesy of an over-helpful Satnav. But eventually got onto the route that we wanted south – and up – which meant it got colder as we rode, so most of the layers were soon back on. 
Empty roads, all paid for by citizens of Europe, stunning scenery, eagles and storks. Still cold but bright as we rode, now near Valolladolid. Manage to find a hotel, fixed the bikes in the carpark. All showered and ready to get some well deserved food. 

Layering up
Bike fixing
Will having a 'tab'
Peter of Arabia