2017 The Sahara

Plains and no planes

It wasn’t an early start but it was before 10am that I got DJ from the garage. My morning ritual involves firstly ensuring I am clean and ready to go, then coffee followed by a tech check. Any emails, messages etc, is the spot tracker on and tracking, is the nav monitor on the phone turned on. Has the route loaded to google maps. Are all the batteries charged and cables stowed away. The charger, as useless as it is, is packed and a final check of the room. Then to the garage to get the bike loaded. Clearly staff at Hotel H2 have never seen me get the bike ready because half way through the garage door shut. As luck would have it there is an emergency handle and even better it is not linked directly to an alarm. I set off looking for one last glimpse of the castle. I didn’t bother deviating to find it as I knew there were plenty more to see. It was colder today and at first I even contemplated putting another jacket on. I began to ride up into the mountain on the same road as last night’s excursion to gypsyland. The miles ticked off and the heat started to build. The roads, an endless ribbon of smooth tarmac twisting its way through the rugged baron landscape. I had loaded the destination as Ciudad Real Airport and that was three and a half hours away. The bike was happy at a steady 60mph and we effortlessly rode the glorious winding route. Soon enough it was clear that the sweeping bends, climbs and descents were coming to an end as the plains of Spain opened up before me. Mostly flat and straight they are just laborious riding. On a sports bike you’d stick your head down and give it a fist full, I tried honestly I tried. At 70mph I thought DJ may throw a con rod so we wound it back and settled in for the long haul. The sat nav said follow this road for 110km, as that came to an end it said continue on this road for 93km. Eventually, sick of Olive plantations and arrow straight roads, the countdown was on and Ciudad Real was getting closer. I began to wonder if the choice of location for an airport was not the best as I was clearly in the centre of the town. Stopping to check it appeared that I miss typed the location and had indeed requested the centre of town. Another 37km of reasonably straight road and I was starting to wonder again, but then a sign ‘Aerpeurto’.

You have to be wondering what my interest is in this place. I first saw it on an episode of Top Gear and wanted to visit it. I’m a huge plane and airport geek. So here’s the story. Constructed in the early 2000’s it was to be an international hub for Spain’s booming economy. It is located about 1 hour from Madrid and has the high speed railway passing very close to it. It opened in 2009 at a cost of €100 million and closed in 2012. There are many theories as to why, including the whole thing being an insurance scam. Currently it has no owner but there are reports of it having been sold for as little as £10,000. Also there is rumour that a Chinese consortium may buy it as a Euro hub for all their import goods. For now though it stands empty, like a ghost town. Empty car parks, terminals and conveyor belts. To stand there alone is quite a weird sensation. It really is like a scene from a movie apocalypse. You cannot get air side as it is still closed off, so a 60+ mph blast down the mile long runway was out of the question, but in fairness we had done that all day. But I did have a right laugh riding in places that, done in terminal 3 at Heathrow, would have you staring down the pointy end of an MP5 with an angry short man at the other end. What else do you do when you have a whole airport to yourself? I ate my lunch and chuckled at my abandoned rucksack leaning against terminal 1’s entrance door. Eventually I attracted the attention of security and had to put my clothes back on. It was time to get back on the road and head for Cordoba. 

The previous night I had looked at camp sites and saw the only one was the one I used last year, which was expensive. Back to those Booking.com people. I got a room in a hostel in the old part of town for €11. It was another few hours riding to get there but I was a happy chap. Riding into Cordoba I realised I know nothing of this city. Well I know there is a move in Red Bull X Fighters called the Cordoba flip and Seat once produced a car with the same name but no more.

I got to Cordoba reasonably early and quickly found the hostel. I booked in and was shown to my shared room on the sixth floor. There were no lifts and I had already decided the bike and I are too heavy. I was seriously worn out by the time I lugged my kit upstairs. I met an Australian back packer. Steve was on week five of a three month trip round Europe. He had done Ireland, UK and was now starting Spain. He liked Ireland but said nothing of the UK, only that it was colder and wetter than he thought. I grabbed a shower and came back to the room to meet two charming Spanish girls, both mid 20’s, who were also starting a European vacation. I went to park the bike in secure parking, but at €15 it was more than I was paying for my room so she was wrapped in her invisibility cloak and locked to a bin in a nearby street.

On returning to the dorm’ I met another Ozzy, Ken was at least 10 years older than me and had lived in Oz for 39 years having left UK for a holiday and never came back. Everyone liked the sound of my trip best and then we all went our separate ways for the night. I walked the town and saw castles, bridges, more castles and a mosque called Mosquita. Its unusual feature is that it has a Christian Cathederal inside the Mosque. There was a roman bridge across the river Guadalquivir leading to a castle. It was all very pretty (pics to follow).

Making my way back to the square nearest my hostel, it was filling up. Being Friday the place was busy with families enjoying the warm evening. I liked that families all go out together, children as young as 4 through to early teens enjoying time with their parents. The older teens still embraced the family aspect but also went off in groups huddled round their phones. I found a small Italian pizza parlour and sat down to enjoy pizza, cheesey bread and a bottle of water. As I ate I recalled that lunch was cheese based and now both courses were cheese. I resolved to eat more fruit. I then resolved to have a beer or two. Now quite why I did this I don’t know, I don’t drink much anymore and it was a hot night. I had already taken headache tablets, but none the less beer seemed a good idea. I remained in the square writing this very blog. Well, not all of it as its now at least 24 hours later. Anyway I enjoyed people watching and had an ice cream before checking the bike was still in place and headed back. As I climbed the endless hostel stairs my head was pounding and my stomach churning. I went straight to the bathroom where I was promptly sick. A veritable cheese fest emitted from my stomach, lubricated by beer and ice cream. Then I collapsed on the bathroom floor before having another shower and going to bed. I think most hostels expect that!

Castles and a near miss

I’ve had worse views from a hotel window.

So a great start as I honestly expected to be charged for the room on leaving but it was not to be. The bike started first kick, which is unheard of for an XR400. I made the decision not to go the direct motorway route as the bike cruises at 55mph and pushes on to 65mph, but I don’t want to be pushing on. I have an app on the phone called Scenic and it literally takes you the scenic route, so that was todays plan. I entered Cuidad Airport as my destination and saw that it was going to be 10hrs by ‘scenic’. I suspected it would be a long day especially as the app is a massive drain on phone battery. I had a charger on the bike and a solar back up. I set off and within 3 minutes the route was blocked by a market in the town. 30 minutes later I was still trying to escape the tight streets of Reinosa. However, once done I was treated to mile after mile of twisting roads through magnificent scenic hills and onto the flatter plains. Very quickly I was warned that the battery was low and I connected the solar charger to try and boost it somewhat.


(I was only going from the dot top right to where the line drops off the bottom, what hope in the desert?)

Before I left the hotel I had a coffee, my Spanish is not so good and a cappuccino was translated into a sticky tar like coffee with cinnamon on top. It wasn’t quite what I wanted. Some hours later I needed another, but being off the beaten track there are no fast food outlets or locals who can speak English. It’s my own fault for doing nothing to improve my linguistic skills. So a small village cafe was the place for lunch and I started with a cappuccino. What turned up was a barely warm hot chocolate. I didn’t bother with food.

Now I will tell you this, they love a castle the Spanish. I suspect that will be something to do with the many invasions, civil wars and other disputes throughout the ages. In fact there are over 2500 still standing, thats some turbulent past they’ve had. The upside is that I was treated to some great views along the way. The day was warming and I could see this tiny castle, on a prominent hill, from miles away. As I got closer I decided to stop there for a bite and a look round.

It’s the one at the bottom left. The Enriquez family built the castle in 1420 on the grounds of another castle destroyed in a heated dispute. They then rebuilt it again in 1538 after a revolt, gotta be doubting your choice of location or defences at that point surely. That’s the history lesson over. I sat in the empty square of the empty town and ate my flatbread and warm cheese. I drank from the fountain and set off again. The hours that followed were a great, just me on biking heaven roads without the sight of anyone else for miles. At about 6 pm I was beginning to ache and as I entered the town of Avila, north west of Madrid I was ready to find a campsite. Only one showed up on the map and it was 30 minutes away. Okay its 30 minutes but the road looked good. I rode through Avila and saw their very impressive and huge castle. Then I spent those 30 minutes riding through gorgeous mountain roads to the campsite. It was down a dusty track. Then I caught site of it. It was fenced off with barbed wire and had a collection of old motorbikes and dogs, or dags as the travellers back home call them. It was little more than a gypsy camp and it was locked down. No one came to see what I wanted and I wasnt so sure I wanted to raise anyone. Aching and somewhat unhappy I set off back to Avila. I rode the same winding roads, cornering swiftly, the bike pulled well up the hills. I suspect my mind was more occupied with finding somewhere to stay and getting off the saddle because after about 5km I was heading towards a slight right hander when a car came round it straight towards me. Suddenly it dawned on me I had ridden the whole way on the wrong side of the road. A quick lane change and I still had time to see the whites of the eyes of the woman who was a little upset to find me blocking her way. I made it back to Avila in one piece. Booking.com located a cheap motel and in minutes I was in a room with the bike garages for the night. I freshener up and walked into the town. Lids supplied the food and drink for tea as well as some supplies for tomorrow. Then I set off to find that impressive castle. I kid you not, I walked for an hour and couldn’t find the monstrous castle. I was feeling pretty tired so headed back to the motel.

I’ve covered 320 miles today, refuelled once and had one near death experience. Tomorrow I am headed for Cuidad Real Airport and then on to Cordoba.

Ferry n free hotel

As some of you will know, my ability to match photos and text in the blogging world is still in its infancy, so please work with me on the terrible placement and lack of pictures until I get better

Going back to yesterday I arrived in ample time to get through the passport check and ride onto the ferry with other bikers. My bike looks very small compared to the much more expensive array of multi cylinder machines adorning the dockside. Very small but fully loaded. I think, from chatting to others I am the only one headed further south than Spain and seemed to get nods of approval when people heard where I was off to. Either that or they were nodding and saying “Yeah, that idiot on the tiny bike”, its hard to tell. 

On the ferry the bike was lashed down and I made my way to the cabin. In fairness its difficult to be negative about the cabin, it is small and very functional. Buried deep in the ship with no outside view, it made me start humming Celine Dion’s, My heart will go on.

Dinner was a Italian, dessert Swiss and the coffee Brazillian, all very diverse. The beer was cheap and the entertainment likewise. Although it has to be said the entertainers ability was directly proportional to the amount of beer consumed. Judging by the state of some travellers they were used to far better cabaret and made up for it with cabernet. (do you see what I did there?) Its probably time I slept.

At 1am I was woken by someone trying to get into my cabin. Oh yes it was sure to be that sweet young lady from the bar, err no, it was some pissed guy with his room number confused. I’m in 5253 he was 5352. Any decent chap would have guided him in the right direction, which I did using words of one syllable.

I woke about 8am and made for the self service resteraunt and a full English, but not before finding I had left my toothbrush at home. After brekkie the hunt was on. However unless I wanted to spend a tenner on a travel toothbrush and associated body lotions it was not going to happen. The day was long and very uneventful, which is great as the water was smooth and therefore no issues with travel sickness. At about 6pm we were allowed back to the bikes. I was impressed as DJ started first kick and soon we were herded out and effortlessly through passport control. I had programmed a route to the hotel some 60km away. I had two routes but clearly the sun was setting and the little Honda has poor eyesight so I opted for the direct route. Even so the road was good with huge bridges crossing gorges and tunnels through the mountains. The scenery was lovely and the journey to my alternative hotel was swift, if a little cold after the sun dropped behind the mountains. Ah yes the alternative hotel, I booked a hotel about 8 weeks ago using Booking.com, its a very simple arrangement and suits my travel style well. However at the last moment they messaged me to say the hotel was overbooked. There was a series of emails and offers, but I needed a room and I needed one quick, so I booked the Hotel Vejo from the same company. There was a price difference so I requested that they pay the difference. I heard nothing, so I was very happy, when booking into the very nice Hotel Vejo, to find Booking.com have paid for the room for me. I paid an extra €5 for a garage space for DJ. I found a supermarket and purchased toothbrush and paste. 

Tomorrow I head south.

Loomies to the dunes

I was up early with every intention of texting Adele Roberts on her Radio 1 early morning show. I am a regular listener and she has a section whereby people wishing to be excused regular listening can apply for a pass. I felt I stood a good chance of getting a mention, but I was already in holiday mode. I batted the alarm off and promptly fell asleep again. The next time I woke it really was time for me to get up. I had packed most of my kit and laid the rest out in readiness.
By lunchtime I was set to go. I kicked around a little and then was reminded that I needed to drop a birthday card at a friend’s house. For some reason I then went into rush mode, scribbling a card, throwing on my clothes and heading out. As I pulled the bike backwards out the gate I felt the whole back end wobble. I shook the heavily loaded rack, there was a clunk and clearly the rack was lose. The day before I had to replace the rear indicators and in my rush had not tightened the rack back down. I still had ample time but I was in hurry up mode. Luggage stripped and tool kit tested, I tightened the nuts and bolts before reloading everything. A few quick pics and I was off. wp-image-1280031219

I stopped at Loomies Moto Cafe, snapping a quick picture at the bikers meeting point before again heading South. I dropped the card off and made for the ferry at Portsmouth. As I rode the final stretch I thought to myself ‘It’s lucky you tightened that rack earlier as you may not get another chance before Africa’ I chuckled yeah that’s right I’m actually going to Africa. 

Once upon a time

How did I get to this point? In just six weeks the ferry sails with me and my bike bound for Spain and then onto Morocco, what happened? Why did it happen and whatever next? Well you can read the pre-Prelog in the ‘about me’ heading, but suffice to say I broke the rule that says if you tell 3 people you are doing something you have to do it. I was brash and full of bravado when I blurted out my intention to ride my bike to the Sahara, that bravado has turned to a nervous shy acknowledgement that it’s actually happening.

So, it was about two years ago I made the wild and somewhat stupid revelation that I would ride to Morocco and since then things have moved on at quite a pace. Hopefully you have all read the previous blog. In September 2016 I went to the Overland Magazine adventure show near Oxford for a weekend a great event with talks from inspiring people, Sean and Charlotte (250 Cruiser round Morocco). Chris Scott (Morocco Overland and Adventure Bike Handbook) and loads more including favourites Austin Vince, Lois Pryce, Sjaak Lucasson, Dylan Samarawaricka, Ian Coates and many more. I test rode the bike I have loved the look of and wanted since I first saw it, however I was sadly disappointed with its performance. (I’ll not say what it is as many people love the bike and it would be an injustice for my opinion to count. Then there was the slow race and as reigning HUBBUK champ I was upset to be beaten by that young upstart Nathan Millward (author of the Long Ride Home). I had milked as many people as I could for information, the trip was really going to happen.

My calculation was for it to happen in March 2017 and I began saving in earnest. However, issues with my house and financing the trip caused me to delay it by six months.

It’s been the hardest six months, working every hour to save and now I am really ready for a break and an adventure. I do have one more pre trip outing as the Overland show I mentioned earlier is about to happen again. I will pop along as the least travelled overlander and see what I can gain from others.

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