Restricted by wild camping ‘rules’ in built-up Europe we frequently succumbed to regimented official campgrounds. We discovered our single-night ‘touring’ system left us in the minority. Dominating these expanses of enclosed sandy lanes and numbered plots were row upon row of permanent pitches inhabited by holidaying locals. Fiesta and Siesta Shanty style.
Every inch of an 80m² plot is utilised and fortified; gazebo poles, AstroTurf, wooden trellis and coloured gravel marking strict boundaries. Caravans, sheds, tents, Portakabins and even buses form the central homestead with extensions of shade netting, garden furniture and zipped canvas kitchen cubicles maximising the allotted space.
Makeshift lanes of tarpaulin, vinyl, canvas, plywood and fibreglass form a haphazard, yet systematic miniature city. Yet there are touches of pride and homely detail adorning many of these temporary, den-like dwellings. Cerise geraniums in hand-painted pots arranged dotingly on wire fences. White ornate gates with ‘house’ name plaques. Lovingly tended hanging baskets, garden gnomes, candle lamps and even water features bring a touch of care and individuality. These personal ornamentations are, however, only a slight distraction to the rows of neglected pitches. Unloved plots of rusting caravans, torn green shade netting, ripped gazebos, corroding barbeques and broken plastic toys.
What brings these hordes of Spanish tourists to what essentially is a shanty town camp ground aesthetically resembling a seaside refugee camp? Over-crowded, recurrently unkempt and at times visibly depressing in their cramped, repetitive narrow lanes.
Perhaps an economical holiday home away from the crammed urban tower blocks of Spanish cities, this is comparably spacious and a much-needed outdoor escape. Nestled between gleaming 5 star hotels of Marbella and Malaga, this is a budget break. A seasonal pitch in ‘Camping Toremolinos’ costing roughly the equivalent of a fortnight family holiday in a nearby 3 star Beach Club Hotel. Same beach. Maybe less isolated. A united kinship and more chance of a friendly chat at the communal sinks than a silent brush past a stranger on a fancy carpeted corridor.
Possibly a temporary immersion into a buzzing resort away from a sleepy remote village, swapping cobbles and echoing church bells for beach bars and night clubs. A safe, leafy enclosure where kids can cycle and play, whilst fellow fugitive neighbours congregate seasonally.
Refugees from an everyday repetitive reality. Or a back-to-basics, fuss-free vacation where true values of family, friendship and communal living override the modern trend of fast-paced, fancy holidaying. Whatever the case, we head off to the nearest remote forest to escape both.
Regular followers of our blog will know that ‘adventuring’ has been temporarily on hold since August 2012
so we could spend some time with my parents, both of whom had been diagnosed with Cancer. Sadly on the 3rd February my mum passed away after a long battle with Peritoneal Cancer.
Despite being a natural worrier my mum was always incredibly supportive of our expedition plans. Initially anxious, she embraced our journey and followed our waypoints meticulously, marking them on a map to chart our progress. She rarely viewed photographs of Bee-bee on cliff edges without a sigh and a shake of her head but always with pride that Emma and I were following our dream. She kept all our magazine and newspaper cuttings and proudly showed them to anyone who came to visit.
She was a fabulous mother and I can’t thank her enough for her immeasurable love and selflessness. She was always there when I needed her and I will miss her forever.
The gateway Bab Boujeloud stands proudly as the entrance to the ancient city of Fes, beckoning you to enter through its asymmetrical opening into the frantic bustle beyond. From here the streets taper into narrow passageways of vibrant city dwellers.
Unlike its cosmopolitan counterpart, Marrakech, with its throng of tourist groups, Fes maintains a genial mixture of sightseers and everyday existence. Randomly selecting the left of two parallel narrow thoroughfares, I passed a make-shift Butchers with a young, blood-splattered boy determinedly cutting the tongue from the severed head of a cow. Wandering down the lane I passed plastic containers piled high with sticky black dates, strings of leather sandals hanging, sizzling doughnut vendors and narrowly avoid a lumbering donkey laden with rusted gas canisters. Carts of oranges, hand-hammered copper cauldrons, intricate brass lanterns, silver tea sets and deep-fried sardine stalls all line the pulsating veins of the souk.
A side-step through the inconspicuous doorway of the Medersa Bou Inania reveals a jaw-dropping vision of Moroccan Islamic architecture at its finest. A central marble courtyard is surrounded by domed arches and fringed along the roof by elegantly carved wooden beams. Ceramic mosaic tile-work, ‘Zellij’, adorns exterior and interior walls, flowing calligraphy fusing seamlessly with the exact precision of the flanking geometric patterns.
Dinner begins with a jostle and squeeze into tightly packed, street side tables where hot, syrupy mint tea is efficiently produced. A waiter weaves expertly down the street from an unknown kitchen carrying a plate of steaming Couscous, vegetables balanced on top and dribbled with rich, aromatic cinnamon and sultana T’fia.
Against the backdrop of a dark, vivid indigo sky, the elaborate wooden and carved stucco archway to a mosque frames the hive-like coming and going of scurrying worshippers. In the eaves of the archway a feverish mass of alpine swifts explode from their roost and jostle vigorously with a frenzied twittering for position in the crammed rafters. Serenading all the activity are the hypnotic, wavering tones of the Imam peacefully calling to prayer, the echo of the Azan “Allaaaaaaaaahuu Akbar” exuding from the buzzing epicentre.
P-Cunt! A curious name for a shop, I thought to myself whilst fumbling for the camera with a smirk, I wonder what it sells? Unfortunately (or thankfully) the owners of P-Cunt are probably unaware of how amusing the sign above their door is and can be forgiven for their faux pas.
English, I’ve been told, is a very difficult language to learn; we borrow from other languages, the rules don't show a lot of consistency and to top it all off English has a huge amount of slang and idioms that are not found in other languages.
All this I can believe, I barely have command of my native tongue let alone any foreign languages and so I’m fully aware of the irony in mocking the weak efforts, flagrant abuse and pure comedy gold made by foreigners in an attempt to master the Queen’s English. As a graphic designer I understand the importance of words and that you have to place them in the right order to communicate the intended message. My appreciation of this mastery makes it even more amusing when I come across great examples of ‘Lost in Translation’.
After much thought we concluded that classic acts of ‘Lost in Translation’ fall into three categories; signs, menus and products.
Strangely P-Cunt was not the first time we’d encountered an amusing shop sign. Who could forget Restaurant Le Tit, Café Colon, A Dong Restaurant, The Red Cock Poultry Centre or Souvenir Wang? My urge to resist the shop advertising ‘over 300 slags’ in the window was unbearable!
Whilst on the road how could we not go on a road trip to Bimbo, Pastorsexp or Hornos.
Ordering food can be a real problem in foreign countries. Imagine our relief (and excitement) when we came across menus with an English translation! I love ‘Stomach Salad’ and ‘Language & Chips’, but who could choose between ‘Old Czech Mushroom Soup’ and ‘Ear from salmon with pie with fish’.
Visiting supermarkets is equally as exciting. I’m surprised Bee-bee isn’t loaded up with Funny Cocks, Piles Tea, Gayelord Hauser Minceur, Chocolate Negro Filipinos, Breast Enlarging Soap (I tried to convince Emma to get some) and Colin, a rather fancy looking glass cleaner!
…and lastly, possibly the most inappropriate item I’ve ever seen for sale anywhere let alone in an Arabic country; a New York city skyline lamp and lampshade featuring the twin towers, a jetliner and a hot air balloon that looks strangely like an explosion. The lamp rotates when the bulb heats up creating a moving panorama of the whole scene! All completely innocent as the product was dated pre-9/11, was made in China and was in a shop selling some of the most amazing tat you’ve ever seen, but for about 30 minutes the part of my brain that deals with conspiracy theories was going mental!
Oh…and P-Cunt sold shoes!
Our trip to the Adventure Travel Film Festival
was seemingly rather inspiring. Over the last year we've shot hours and hours of (shakey) footage and despite making the odd VLOG
we've never really got to grips with the 'ins and outs' of the editing software. All that is about to change. We're going to take more footage and make more films! This is a little edit of 3 months in Morocco squeezed into 2½ minutes. Andy
As far as overland expo’s and festivals go, it’s not very often we find ourselves in the right place at the right time. So imagine our delight when we discovered that the Adventure Travel Film Festival (ATFF)
was only one day away and then to discover it was located just 30minutes down the road! I nearly wet myself with excitement. Unfortunately due to the late notice (and lack of funds) we could only attend on Friday evening. Our ‘for one night only’ attendance didn’t dispel our enthusiasm for the event and excitedly we hit the road.
On arrival we were welcomed by the naturally charismatic, overalled and recently named ‘Overlander of the Year’
by Expedition Portal, Austin Vince
. Austin’s warm welcome set the tone for the evening.
Austin however is only one half of the organising duo. Lois Pryce
in her own right is a truly inspirational woman. Between them they have accomplished some great achievements. Austin was one of the first Europeans to traverse the Zilov Gap by motorcycle and reach Magadan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This amazing feat predates Ewan and Charlie’s ‘Long Way Round’
trip by nearly 10 years. Lois is an accomplished writer, banjo picker and in 2003 rode a little Yamaha XT225 from the northernmost tip of Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, solo!
Clearly both Lois and Austin have a penchant for the vintage; this is reflected in Austin’s love of 70’s overalls
and Lois’ love of historic expeditions and vintage British motorcycles. Something Emma can relate to as her late Grandfather (also a well travelled inspirational man) had three exceptionally clean Vincent’s; a Black Prince, a Comet and a little 45cc Firefly.
This was the 3rd annual ATFF
and it’s clear that Austin and Lois, along with an army of volunteers, know how to throw a party. The camping ground, full of adventure bikers, cyclists and a few overlanding 4x4’s was home to the 700+ crowd for the weekend; obviously, the audience sharing the same authentic passion for adventure as the organisers.
Lois and Austin’s love of retro is also reflected in the appearance of the vintage cinema bus
. The bus is a slice of cinema and automotive history, a truly unique vehicle.
The festival is complimented with a schedule of workshops, seminars, displays, trade-stands and cooking competitions and demos. We attended Louise Wilson’s
‘Blogging from the Road’ presentation. The seminar was aimed at blogging virgins, albeit we managed to get a few new ideas to improve our own blog and website. We had the chance to have a little chat with both Louise and her partner David, you can download the interview here
Of the 15+ films that were screened over the weekend we only managed to catch Gaurav Jani’s very Indian ‘One Crazy Ride’
. A tale of overloaded motorcycling camaraderie through the uncharted ‘roads’ of the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India. The film is a touching story of brotherhood (and sisterhood) in the face of unforgiving terrain.
On our return home we decided to purchase and download a few of the featured films. Tom Allen’s
incredibly life affirming and at times raw and introspective ‘Janapar’
is an emotive story that gives the viewer a real insight into the struggles faced by solo long distance bicyclists. Beautifully shot, edited and with a well-crafted soundtrack this tale is more than just a travel film, it is a good old-fashioned love story that never fails to move!
An unexpected late addition to the program was a talk given by an unpaid Ben Fogle
entitled ‘The Accidental Adventurer’
. Like many people attending I was unaware of the extent of his achievements. This quote from the synopsis of the book with the same name highlights some of his greatest. “He has rowed across the Atlantic, walked to the South Pole, run the Sahara and skated across Sweden. He has encountered remote tribes-people in deepest Papua New Guinea, caused a Boeing 747 to dump £100k of fuel before making an emergency landing in Sao Paolo, and been mistaken for Prince William on numerous occasions.”
Despite his Royal doppelgänger I think he missed the irony in denying he was posh as during his talk he “poo-pooed an idea” and “had blisters on his bottom”. Despite my internal sniggers, Ben Fogle has an endearing character and is a great public speaker. After hearing him talk I had a newfound respect for him. We also missed a great photo opportunity with him as I was in the queue for the burger stand!
On its own admission and to its credit the ATFF
is by no means a big Hollywood affair, I’ve certainly never heard of long-drop compost toilets in Cannes! And that is what makes this event so great. The 5-point manifesto states one of the aims of the ATFF
is to bring together the adventure travel community. This criteria is certainly met.
The festival has undoubtedly inspired us to think more about increasing and improving the quality of our own films
. Our time back in the UK will give me a chance to catalogue and edit the hundreds of hours of footage we’ve shot so far. Maybe we’ll see our names in LED camp lights at next year’s event!
Incidentally if you missed this festival you don’t have to wait a year before the next one just hop on a plane, jump on your bike, paddle your canoe or fire up your 4x4 and head to the Australian or U.S. leg, the latter being part of Overland Expo
. If not, see you next year in Dorset!
When travelling it’s often the spontaneous events, the unplanned, the chance meetings and getting lost which result in the most memorable experiences.
When venturing disorientated through the heights of the High Atlas we found ourselves having to make a hasty stop to let Bee-bee’s overworked brakes cool down. We unavoidably blocked the street in a tiny Berber village; “Mafi Mushkele” (“no problem!”) came the jovial response from a group of men carrying out maintenance work on a clay and stone house.
The reek of burning brakes emanating from the car must have signalled that we weren’t moving anywhere for a while. As the workmen downed tools, accompanied by a chatter of Arabic and some gestures, we understood them to be inviting us into their home and to join them for breakfast.
Berber mountain houses are unassuming, clay and stone dwellings with several small rooms surrounding a central courtyard. We stooped through a low doorway into a sparse room with only a low table, a TV and a hazardous gas burner balancing a kettle. The seven of us made ourselves comfortable on plastic woven matting while a shy woman ushered into the room timidly carrying a tray of food. Warm, soft, homemade bread was torn, shared and dipped into clear, rich, nutty Argan oil harvested from the surrounding hills. A small plate of salty goats butter with a distinct pungent blue-cheese taste was also generously applied to chunks of bread amidst chatter, gesticulations and excited pointing and animated discussion over our photo album from home. Breakfast was washed down with copious glasses of mint tea from a seemingly bottomless pot; the hot gunpowder tea and green-flecked infusion so sweet it made your gums twinge.
As we left, youngsters scampered down the road with makeshift toys consisting of plastic bottles on wheels attached to a long stick. They weave and steer down the bumpy track with the skill and pride comparative to a child with the latest super-powered luxury radio controlled toy car hundreds of miles away.
The people expected nothing in return, a sharp contrast to the streets of Marrakech and Fes where just asking for directions comes with a price. Children here were not the cocky, street-savvy, dirham-hankering kids of the cities but shy and wary, peeping over walls in their ‘fun-size’ traditional dress. We departed leaving small gifts of notebooks and pencils for the children which the family reluctantly but appreciatively accepted; a small token incomparable to the memorable hospitality and welcome we had received. It put smiles back on our previously stressed faces as we fired-up Bee-bee and lurched ahead on our uncharted way.
Patricio Martinez is the larger-than-life character who owns El Valle Hermosa ‘the beautiful valley’; an eating and drinking establishment at the centre of a criss-cross sprawl of apartment blocks in the Eastern Madrid suburb of Barrio de la Concepcion. We met him by chance and were instantly taken by his personality and kindness, so much so that we recently wrote an article about him for Gallery magazine (click here to read it
). Below is an extract of an interview we did with him…
What is the most important aspect about running your business and what do you enjoy the most?
I like people to enjoy being here and to take notice to my attention to detail. I like to be generous and spend time with the customers and hopefully they appreciate that.
Do you think that this is important to the success of your business, especially in this economic climate where other bars seem to be closing?
I believe in three things: Good quality food at the right price, sacrifice and quantity. This has been the key to success for the restaurant, now and when my uncle opened it in 1968. I’m not really good looking so people must come here for other reasons!!
What changes have you seen in the area, the community and the bar since you’ve been here?
When my uncle started the bar it was a typical Spanish bar, workers from the community with low incomes would come to eat greasy meat dishes: testicles, heart, tongue. 7 years ago the restaurant was decorated and I changed the menu, since then the restaurant attracts more families.
Are the majority of the customers from the area and do you know all your customers?
I have regular customers from the area who come everyday for a drink and I have local families who come for food at the weekends. I am always looking for new customers, when I see new customers I try and make them feel welcome and hopefully they’ll come back. I use my charm and sex appeal.
Do you feel the bar is important to the community and how do you see your role in the community?
I feel the bar is important to the community, it’s a useful meeting place; it’s social. I feel I always try and give the best and hopefully the people appreciate this. I know everyone but I try and remain out of everyone’s business, I’ll try not to interfere in other people’s lives and will be careful and respectful of the community.You can follow Patricio at El Valle Hermoso on Facebook here.
Regular followers of our blog will know that late last year whilst in Mongolia our original ‘round the world’ trip had a huge change of plan when we received news that both my parents had been diagnosed with cancer
. In February we ventured out again with a no commitments route through France, Spain, Portugal and down to Morocco; 5 months later and given the situation it’s hard for us to continue much further and rather than spend our hard earned cash pottering around an expensive Europe we have decided to head back to the UK and spend some quality time with my parents. The opportunity will also give us a chance to earn some more adventure funds and really plan the next phase of our trip. Despite adventuring being temporarily on hold again we will continue to update our website and blog.
Separated by only 62 kilometres in distance but several thousand years in time, we visited two contrasting sites of ‘rock art’ in the Anti Atlas region of Morocco.
Inhospitable landscapes globally have revealed carvings and paintings left by primal societies; Morocco has over 300 prehistoric rock art sites, some dating back over 5000 years. Unlike the cave art of France and Spain, Moroccan sites are mainly in the open air and clearly visible. Nestled amongst the boulders and fractured strata of the Anti-Atlas are carvings of species such as Gazelle, Ostrich and Giraffe.
The rock art near the partly deserted village of Eghir are so rarely visited that locating them can be challenging; even some of the locals are unaware they exist. We were lucky enough to bump into a (slightly intoxicated) local worker who knew roughly where they were and pointed out the outlines of the closest prehistoric picture. Requiring a climb and then a shuffle along a narrow ledge we were lead to a smooth rock face revealing some magnificent examples of ancient illustration. The carvings here fall into the ‘pecked cattle group’; a logical description for the chipped oxen figures. Running your fingers across the ancient chiseled drawings there’s a flash of connection to an individual who stood on the exact same spot yet infinitely worlds apart.
The images are open to interpretation, but rock art is widely considered to be a form of communication; possibly to share the whereabouts of food, water and predators or even mark territorial rights. Some markings may even commemorate events; depictions of life-sized human carrying weapons can be found in the High Atlas, possibly honoring battles.
In the rugged Mountains just 4km southwest of Tafraoute, in Aoumerkt, is a slightly more contemporary type of rock art; the infamous (and now slightly faded) blue rocks. In 1984, Belgian artist Jean Verame, assisted by a team of Moroccan firemen armed with 18 tonnes of paint, hosed an array of blue, violet and red paint over boulders and small hills of the Anti-Atlas. Fortunately, King Hassan II liked the resulting surreal addition to the landscape and so they sit oddly in the valley while the elements slowly weather them back to nature. Although they have lost their sharpness of colour, they have kept their mesmerising visual magnetism and remain a curious addition to the already stunning panorama. Two fusions of art and nature separated by the vastness of time yet each as relevant, aesthetically alluring and thought provoking as the other.