Spain And The Faro Rally 2005
- Submitted by: Ren Withnell, United Kingdom
- Website: http://www.bikesandtravels.co.uk
- Submission Date: 02nd Oct 2005
My son has got a mum, AM...and AM has got a fella, G. G asked AM to marry him, and oddly enough she said yes. Of course this requires a stag do. And the venue is to be the 2005 Faro rally. I've never heard of Faro, let alone the fact there seems to be some kind of large motorcycle rally there. Still, there's many months left until It's time to go.
My preparation starts with finding out where Faro is. G informs me it's in Portugal, the Algarve coast in the south. A search on the internet soon reveals to me the location of the venue. Blimey, it's a long long long way away. I feel the tension build in myself as I contemplate a big trip. I have never ridden a bike abroad before. I have only ever been to Southern France as a child and my last trip abroad was when I was 20, to Northern France by coach. I only ever held the old 1 year passport back then, I've never had a full passport. I'm so green grass looks dull.
G and the rest of the lads on the stag do are going to fly to Faro. The rally is only walking distance from Faro airport, the tickets work out quite cheap with the modern low-cost airlines and little time will be lost at work. I do quite seriously contemplate doing the same myself, but it goes against the grain of what a bike rally means to me, and my desire to sample foreign travel all steer me to go an the bike. I know it's going to cost significantly more time and money, but I do want to ride there.
I had a friend whom I put through his bike test almost 8 years ago, called Ron. He'd always wanted to do the Paris - Dakar and travel around the world on his bike. Unfortunately he died of a heart attack in November 2003 never having fulfilled his dreams, but he'd planted a seed in me, the desire to travel. This could be my first adventure, a simple dry run and a taste of travel to foreign climbs. I read internet sites like Horizons Unlimited and dream of riding across vast expanses of desert, climbing rocky trails across the Russian Steppes and crossing borders on my world-weary motorbike. Anyone who has seen "The Long Way Round" will get the picture. Merely pipe dreams, but dreams will never be fulfilled unless you work toward them.
I was working when I started to plan the trip properly. I wanted to ride down through France then Spain into Portugal, and back the same way. Like most folks I only get 4 weeks holiday each year and 2 were already booked, leaving 2 weeks to complete a 3 to 4 thousand mile round trip. I did not want this holiday to be simply ride, ride, ride. I wanted to stop and see things along the way, sample different lifestyles and see remarkable things, to smell foreign flowers. The solution was to book a ferry to take the major sting out of the trip.
A ferry is available that runs from Plymouth to Santander, a port on the northern coast of Spain. This would leave me with a 650 mile trek across Spain and a short hop into Portugal. This seemed acceptable, with 4 days to cover the mileage in Spain and 4 days for the same return trip. The ferry was booked online with Brittany Ferries. Of course being very mean with my money I tried to book a reclining seat for both outbound and return sailings. It seems the reclining seats must have all been booked up as I could only get a cabin on the outbound trip. I was thoroughly pained to pay the price of £415 for my sailing, but it has to be done so it was.
Preparation started in earnest now. I purchased a new tunnel tent (Vango Gamma 350) as my old dome is somewhat mouldy and smelly and I've been after a bigger tent for some while now. In the shop the new tent looked reasonably sized. I tried to erect it at home and only then did I realise how big it really was! Large enough not to fit into the living room. I checked all the tent pegs, poles and other bits were in good order and tried to repack it. There was no way on god's earth this thing was going back into the tiny bag it came out of. Eventually I give up and left it loosely rolled in its straps.
Next was the passport. I've never held a full UK passport. 3 times I've been abroad, twice as a kid on my parents passport, and once with a bit of flimsy paper that used to be the old 1 year passport. I got the forms from the Post Office. They looked very daunting and scary. It took me several days to pluck up the courage and energy to look at them and start to fill them in. I need not have worried, it was not so bad, I even managed to find my birth certificate. I was also concerned about who I know who could sign my passport photos. It needed to be someone of importance, and I don't know anyone of importance. My doctor has never seen me, I have an uncle who is a policeman but he's related to me, so the list drew thin. It turned out after much asking around that one of the Friday night lads who works for my local town hall collecting taxes seems to be sufficiently important enough to sign my passport photos. This was duly done and 2 weeks later I had a full UK passport. I was most proud of my first passport.
I had to choose which bike to take. I have an SLR 650, a sort of on-off road thing, and a 600 Revere, a dispatchers favourite. The Revere is quicker at the top end, considered more reliable, has tubeless tyres which can take more punishment, more space to carry things, NO CHAIN!! (shaft drive), more tax and MOT on it and looks in better condition. But the SLR is more fun. The SLR would run out of tax at the end of the month and could not be taxed before I went. It really needed a new back tyre in the next 2 to 3 thousand miles. Up until 3 days before I set off I still had both bikes ready and considered for the trip. I finally settled on the Revere as it seemed the more "sensible" thing to do.
Then there was what to take. Reading the bike-travellers websites I soon learnt that polyester T-shirts and underwear seem to be de-rigueur due to ease of washing, fast drying properties, breathability and long lifespan. I already had 2 black long-sleeve t-shirts of this type, perfect in every way except the colour. Black is not the best colour for hot countries. I went to my local market and stores in search of white long-sleeved polyester tops. No-one seemed to have any, they were obviously not in fashion. The gf sourced a bright yellow adidas top off the internet and she purchased that for me. I also found a suitable grey thermal top made from similar materials. I had several pairs or rather unattractive long john thermal bottoms. A brief experiment on a rare hot day here in the UK revealed that these made wearing the cordura waterproof jeans I have much more comfortable in the heat than my usual shorts as undergarments. The lining of bike jackets and trousers is made from a shiny rayon type material that sticks to your body parts in a most irritating way when you sweat. With the polyester tops and thermal bottoms this irritation is removed. Thermals are good at keeping heat in, and similarly good at keeping heat out.
I wanted to be able to cook my own food along the way. I like a lot of tinned food as it's simple and relatively healthy. Things like soup, ravioli and beans make a quick meal that's cheap to buy and quick to prepare. I don't like gas bottle stoves though. If you run out of gas you need another bottle, not the best thing if you are half way through making a meal. Petrol is readily available from the bike and a petrol powered stove seemed to be the best solution. I was pleasantly surprised to find these items are indeed available on the internet so I purchased a Coleman "dual fuel" stove. This item will run on unleaded straight from my tank. I searched in my shed and found a suitable length of pipe to siphon off a half pint of fuel and attempted to boil a pan of water in my back yard. Man this thing worked a treat! A good strong healthy flame quickly brought the water to a full boil. A very satisfactory purchase.
During my ever more frantic research on the net I learnt that drivers in spain are required to carry a warning triangle in case of breakdown. There was some doubt if this applied to motorcycles, but I could not find a definitve "no". I'd also read a report that motorcyclists are required to carry a flourescent vest to wear in the event of breakdown. Not knowing if any of this was true I started to flap a little. Then Aldi dropped a flyer through my door and amongst the various gadgets and items was listed a small bag containing both a warning triangle and flourescent jacket. Perfect. I purchased the little bag for £6.99, no quibbles there especially as Halfords wanted £10 for a triangle alone.
I did have my E111 form which entitles me to medical care in Europe for which the UK's NHS service will pay the country I visit for any care I need. But this is basic. It does not cover being re-patriated to a UK hospital or getting special treatment in a private hospital. Nor does it cover events like cancellations or thefts. My father, ever the cautious and king of planning, persuaded me to take out travel insurance. I called Norwich Union. On talking to the customer advisor I made absolutely certain she fully understood I was riding my 600cc motorcycle abroad, it was the purpose of my trip. She checked this was ok with her underwiter and reported to me as long as it was my own bike I was riding then I would be covered. Many insurance companies will not cover motorcycling as it is considered a dangerous sport.
A few days later I recieved my paperwork and checked it over. I noticed motorcycling is not covered on bikes over 125cc. I called Norwich Union to make sure this was an oversite or that some record of me riding a 600cc bike had been noted. It was not, and this advisor told me there is no way I could ever be covered to ride a 600cc bike abroad. I remained calm as best I could while I took down the details of who to complain to. I then took advantage of thier 14 day full refund.
Kwik Fit insurance on the other hand has thier policy wording on their website and this states "What is not covered...Your motorcycling, as either the driver or the passenger of a motorcycle which is more than 125cc, unless the driver holds a current licence which allows them to ride a motorcycle of more than 125cc". I hold a licence that allows me to ride a motorcycle of any size, so I was sure I was covered. I called the customer line and the adviser told me I was correct in my thinking. I duly paid less for the insurance than I did with Norwich Union and received my paperwork faster. I doubled checked with several friends that what I had read meant the same to them as it did to me. I will never trust Norwich Union again.
Halfords did supply the spare bulb kit and a can of tyre-weld. The oil in the engine was changed as well as the gear oil in the bevel drive. All lights and bearings were checked and the bike was given a once over. One concern was my rear indicators. I'd read that the spanish indicate for everything, and my rear indicators were some cheap aftermarket rubbish fitted by a previous owner. The light emitting from them was more white than orange, and with 1 day to go before I travelled one of the bulbs gave up. The indicators require a special bulb with orange glass and at such short notice I could not find an orange bulb. A white one was fitted, giving a totally white light. I fixed this in true bodge style. I found an orange plastic bag and cut it up, super-glued it inside the lens and hey presto, a sort of orange light was re-achieved. Not perfect, but better than before.
One thing that had changed during my preparation was I'd given my notice at work. I wanted more time to do the things around the house that needed doing, to work on this website and to perhaps travel some more. I'd asked if I could go part time but the answer was a resounding no. I worked my notice and finished on the day before my departure. This meant that if I so wanted I could take more time on my trip, and I considered riding back up through France. I decided to see how I felt on the journey, but I felt a lot easier knowing I did not need to rush back home for work reasons.
Timing in life is everything. Over the last 6 months my gf's back had been getting progressively worse, starting with a minor niggle and on the night before my departure she was in agony, not sleeping properly and barely able to walk. The doctors had done the usual fobbing off, prescribing pain killers and rest. Rest for a single mother with 2 kids and a house to run is not an option, it was not working. I knew I would be worried about her whilst away. She assured me she'd be fine and I should concentrate on having fun, there was nothing I could do anyhow. If only I could switch off my feelings that easily. Also 3 years ago the gf's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 6 months to live. Proving the doctors wrong she was still going strong but seemed to be going through a bad patch. Again I knew I would be concerned for the gf if her mother were to worsen. But that is life, it is not a perfect world.
It's Saturday the 9th of July, in the morning. I wake to find myself alone in bed. The gf, whose house I'm at, must not have been able to sleep again and is probably downstairs on a mound of cushions in some unusual position that she has finally found comfortable. There are butterflies in my stomach and I feel slightly quesy. A visit to the toilet reveals I am indeed nervous. Sure enough the gf is wide awake and reading at a most unusual angle. She smiles to me and we kiss. Breakfast is porridge and a cup of tea, which I eat quickly, anxious to be getting on with it.
The hallway is full of gear and I get the bike out and load her up. She looks quite impressive fully laden, I imagine myself as some great world traveller setting off on another journey to some far flung and long forgotten part of the world, romantically gliding across dusty trails and meeting with people from ancient and mystical cultures. Realistically I'm worrying about have I got everything, is everything sorted here in the UK, blah blah blah.
It's time to say goodbye to the gf. I feel really sad that I'm leaving her when she might be in her hour of need. Despite her constant reassurance I'm going to worry. I also ask myself as I kiss her goodbye, will I ever see her again. I take a long look at her face, trying to imprint her image into my mind while I start the bike up. I roll away.
When I ride a bike, thoughts come rushing in. As the M56 and the A49 come into view my thoughts are predictable, things like did I switch the gas off and lock the back door, have I got all my paperwork, will the stove rattle around in the backbox too much, all the normal worries. Soon my mind turns to thoughts of a more philosophical nature. I'm pondering about travel. Why do I want to travel? I've never been a good traveller, as a child I would be the one asking "Are we nearly there yet?" and getting all stressed and bored if there were delays or problems.
When I grew up and got into bikes I did do several long runs, to Bath and Bristol to see my brother, and to Brighton to see my dad. These would cause me to be nervous. I'd worry about the bike being ok and not letting me down, I'd worry about whether I'd left everything at home in good order, stress about being on time at my destination and wonder if I'd miss anything back home. As a result of all this stress I would ride on and on and on until I was in so much pain I really hated just being on the road. This all changed about 6 years ago. I was to ride to Cornwall to visit a friend there, but to break the journey I was to stay with my brother and his wife in Bristol on the way down. I knew they would not be home until teatime, but due to my usual worrying I was on the road by 0900. The trip to Bristol is easily done in 4 hours, I was hopelessly early. I travelled about 30 miles and stopped for a brew and a toilet visit. I wandered around and got back on the road again. I repeated these stops every 30 to 50 miles, stopping at almost every service station on the way down. I noticed how much more fresh, comfortable and relaxed I was both on the road and in myself, I started to enjoy the journey. I still arrived in Bristol 2 hours early and amused myself by riding around the rather unpleasant city.
So as I travel down the A49 towards Whitchurch and Shrewsbury I stop in a layby and take time to look at the fields of hay and the woodland. Checking over the bike I notice the front tyre is a little more worn that I had thought it was, but I tried to convince myself there was enough rubber for the trip. Back on the road again. The towns of Shrewsbury and Ludlow are bypassed while my thoughts wander around between fear, excitement and sadness.
I roll into Leominster (pronounced "Lemster" apparently?) and I spot a supermarket. I park between the supermarket and the bus station and purchase myself a tin of Heinz Spaghetti Bologniase, a bottle of water and an apple. Sitting on a wall next to the bike in the burning sun I eat my apple and drink some water. Whilst there a tall slim bloke asks me if this is my bike. We briefly discuss his old Honda CB250N and it's woes until his partner drags him away into the shop. I listen to folks talking as they pass me and I'm surprised to hear most of them talk with the deep West-Country accent. I also visit the trendy new toilets on the bus station. These are the self cleaning type and I'm a little apprehensive as the door clicks shut behind me and a shiny stainless steel bowl still dripping from its cleaning process emerges from the wall. I do my business and look for a way out. Fortunately some boffin has realised not all folks are as smart as he or she is and has provided a big obvious button to open the door.
Back on the road into Hereford. I have been this way before on the A-roads before when travelling with an ex on her 125 with "L" plates, but I cannot remember the exact route details. I start to look for signs back to the M5 and pick up the M50 back towards Cheltenham and Gloucester. The M5 arrives and I pass the now familiar Michael Wood services. My final destination of Taunton is not far away now. It's hot and I'm starting to get uncomfortable on the bike. My feet ache and my bottom is quite painful, so I find myself shuffling around on the bike as much as I can. I'm dissapointed about this as the bike is renown for it's reliability and it's suitability for long journeys.
I come off the M5 at Taunton and start to look for a campsite for the night, the time is around 1530 and it's time to get settled. I start to ride around the small lanes and back roads north of Taunton and begin to worry I may never find a site, at one point I'm beginning to panic. Then a sign presents itself and the relief is tangible in my body. I follow the signs down a single lane then into what seems to be a farmyard. Just as I'm about to turn round I notice tents and caravans on the other side of the yard, relief again. I park the bike and look for some kind of reception. A friendly camper points me to the farmhouse and a tiny sign next to a doorbell reads "Press for Attention". I duly do this and a hardy-looking farmwife pleasantly informs me it's £3 for a pitch, and if I want a shower I'll need some tokens from her. I pay my pitch fees and ride the bike into the campsite and settle on a spot under a tree.
Putting the tent up for the first time is remarkably easy. When finished I'm more than impressed with it's size and the useful porch. In goes all the gear, including my self inflating ground roll, another effective and cheap purchase from Aldi. Then a female voice from behind says "Hello". I turn round to find a lady who I suspect is a bit younger than me and attractive in a quirky hippy kind of way. It turns out she lives in Renault camper van which is currently just across from me. I tell her about my trip and she tells me about her van, friends and lifestyle.
She's called Jelly. That's not her real name, it's her adopted hippy name. She's had a "normal" lifestyle in the past but it all went wrong and now she lives in her "truck" stopping at various sites around the Taunton and West Country. She has family and friends in the area and seems very well adapted to life in her van. I'm intrigued with her way of living as I like to consider different ways of living other than the house, family and career path most of us follow. She is off to a wedding reception soon and is going for a shower. I get out my stove, billet can and my tin of spaghetti and make my tea. I'm still really pleased with the stove.
After tea I see Jelly again and she asks me if I'd like to come to the reception with her. I decline, it would seem most odd being at a wedding reception not knowing anyone except Jelly, whom I've only know for an hour or so. I take a picture of her before she goes. I get on the bike to go and have a look at Taunton. It's a pretty town, not very big which suits me. Being Saturday night it's quite busy and after riding around I find a Witherspoons pub and park the bike up. I go in and get a large glass of coke and sit in the window to watch the locals. There's a bunch of biker-types laughing and joking, four girls who keep on looking at me and then outside at my bike, 2 ladies who seem deeply engrossed in some sort of meaningful conversation and the typical assortment of trendies, couples and groups you'd see on a night out in any town.
I finish my drink and contemplate trying to strike up a conversation with the biker types, but I'm not really feeling brave today. So I get back on my bike and head back to the campsite. Only there is one minor problem, I don't know my way back to the site. I feel I'm heading in the right direction as I leave town, but soon the minor back roads all start to look the same. I'm starting to have visions of spending the first night of my trip sleeping under a tree somewhere in the cold and never seeing my kit ever again. Of course, panic is starting to set in. But then in a flash I spot a car dealership I remember from my ride in and start to follow my original route, as best as my memory can serve me. It serves me well and I spot the sign with a huge sigh of relief.
In my tent again I straighten things out a bit, and wonder what to do with the remainder of the evening. Then I notice Jelly's van has a light on in it, so I go over and knock on the door. She invites me into her van, which is a crazy place. It's full of hippy trinkets and cloths and pictures and nestling between is a TV, small stove and the normal homely knick-knacks. We sit together in the strange shadows cast by fairy lights strung around the van. I Iearn she likes to do the big festivals like Glastonbury, knows many people and does not have any real plans for the future. I tell her about my trip, the gf and her back problems, my mundane existence up north and my love of bikes. The conversation flows smoothly but by midnight I can see she's tired so I excuse myself and go to my tent.
I sleep well. The Aldi ground mat, the Vango sleeping bag and the peaceful surroundings allow me to dream. I awake early and soon have everything packed again, save the tent which still refuses to go into its bag. Jelly's van looks asleep so I don't say goodbye to her, maybe I'll catch up with her again one day, who knows.
Back on the motorway in the cool morning air the riding is easy and pleasant. My thoughts now are about the ferry, have I got the tickets, what time should I arrive, will anyone else be there and will I be seasick? I actually arrive in Plymouth before 1000, the ferry terminal is well signposted and easy to get to on a quiet Sunday morning. The ferry sails at 1600 and sure enough I am the first person to arrive. I get a basic feel of the place then head back out of town to a Sainsbury's I'd noticed on the way in. I get a large bacon sandwich that is very nice indeed, and top-up my mobile phone credit. The sun is really starting to get hot as I ride back into town. It's still only 1100 so I stop off at a motorcycle clothing store for some window shopping. There's nothing I need so I rest on the floor outside, looking at the shell of a church sat bang in the middle of a now very busy roundabout. How odd.
I'm sat on the pavement with my back against a wall between some bikes, and I'm starting to get strange looks off other bikers as they park outside the shop. It must be time to leave. I go back to the ferry terminal and I'm quite relieved to see several cars, and 2 other bikers! I ride into the same queue lane and park behind them. They seem friendly enough so I ask them if they are going to Faro. No, they are going to ride up through Northern Spain then France. I ask where they are from, they are from a city called Manchester, do I know where that is? Er like, yeah? I live there! We chat and find out we are actually from the same town and have some mutual acquaintances. Small world innit?
Whilst we are talking the queues are filling up and the line we are in has only bikes in it, lots of bikes. I'm getting quite excited, like I'm part of a gang on some mad mission to take johnny foreigner by storm with motorbikes. Directly behind me 3 bikes are sporting Scottish flags and stickers and listening in I can barely understand the strong Scottish accent. I'm feeling braver today, I'm feeling like a small part of the gang now, so I strike up a conversation with theses Scottish folks by enquiring if they are going to Faro. Indeed they are. The sun is beating down upon us and most people are stripping off or going in search of water. I feel a twinge of envy as I look into a large motorhome and see it's occupants sat in t-shirts and shorts sipping cool looking drinks from posh glasses.
I talk for a while with the lads from my town and the folks from Scotland. The terminal opens at 1300 and we start to roll through. I present my ticket and passport to the attractive girl in the booth and she gives me a piece of paper to stick onto my bike. We pass through the check in...into another queue. Again we wait and I'm talking to practically anyone who will listen now. I'm getting more and more excited and yet frustrated with being herded like cattle. Eventually we move off again through a large open building where randomly selected vehicles are stopped from the moving queue. I'm stopped and panic sets in.
I'm not a terrorist, don't like weapons, the last time I had a fight I was seven years old and I'm fearful of authority. I'm probably the most physically harmless person I know, I'm such a wimp I annoy myself. Yet being pulled in for a security check I feel like the most wanted and guilty man in Europe. Oh lordy, will they think my petrol stove is a bomb, is my leatherman tool an offensive weapon, do the kinky pictures the gf gave me before I left make me a porn smuggler? A very polite lady in a fluorescent jacket and some kind of uniform asks me why I'm going to Spain, for a holiday? I reply yes, for 2 weeks. She asks if I have any firearms, bombs or weapons with me. I gulp as much as I can with a dry mouth and reply in the negative. She smiles pleasantly and thanks me most kindly then waves me on. Phew, another close shave with the law.
Again another queue. Again lots of hot sweaty bikers in heavy trousers and boots all sweating. Again more talking. This time 2 blokes, 2 girls and a couple from the Hull area. Like myself they had stopped in Taunton. I admire 1 of the girl's bikes, a modern Triumph with the back end totally removed and dinky clocks mounted on the tank. Of course with only a small seat bolted to the frame, there's nowhere to carry tents and supplies. These were mounted on another standard Triumph belonging to the other girl. Suffice to say the loaded Triumph was barely visible under 2 peoples equipment for 2 weeks on the road. This girl must be both brave and a very very good friend. Did I mention it is very hot?
Finally the gates open and bikes start to make their way down to the ramp leading us into the bowels of the ferry. Of course more queuing, more hot bikers on hot bikes but eventually I'm herded into a corner of a large blue-floored and brightly lit area. I put the bike onto the side stand and watch to see what everyone else does. They are grabbing pads and ratchet straps from around the deck. The pad is put onto the seat and the strap hooks over cables or straps running along the floor then over the seat. This is tightened over the seat and does quite well in holding the bike stationary. I'd had visions of ropes and complex knots, 2 or 3 straps for each bike. I copy the others until I am myself happy the bike will remain upright, surprisingly easy really.
I take my helmet, jacket and gloves and climb a long staircase. I'm lost. I have no idea at all what to do. Do I find my room, wait in a hallway somewhere until a staff member asks what the problem is or do I find a booking in office somewhere? Being part of a herd can have its advantages, so I follow the herd and do what they do. I ask some big scary looking biker type what should I do. He tells me there is a room number on my ticket, go and find my room. He manages to do this politely but somehow I feel he's thinking "what a pathetic knobhead". After studying my ticket I discover there is indeed a room number, starting with a 5. Being very clever I work out this will be deck 5, Sherlock Holmes has nothing on me. I climb more stairs until I see lots of 5's, then spend another 10 minutes wandering along corridors until I find my room.
The room is small. It contains a bed, small dressing table and a shower unit with toilet and sink. I'm very pleased with it. It is small but has everything I will need for 1 night, except a window. I know from a previous ferry trip I suffer from seasickness and like to be out on deck using the horizon as a stable datum. With no window or other stable reference point I fear sleeping here will be insufferable. I relieve myself of my kit, then use the clean facilities. I return to the bike down so many stairs I'm out of breath, to get some comfy pants and a clean t-shirt.
Back in the room I catch my breath, then decide to use the shower. I remove my jacket and note I'm a bit sweaty. I remove my bike trousers and the smell is overwhelming. It's not like smelly old socks, it's strangely sweet, like fruit but with a hint of socks. Even more frightening is I almost find it quite pleasant, how odd. I remove my leggings that have worked a treat as I have remained comfortable even in the scorching hot queues. I realise I've left the soap and shampoo on the bike, but fortunately Brittany Ferries have provided little bars of soap, I'll have to use these for my hair as well. Whilst in the shower I feel myself move into the wall and feel unstable on my feet for a moment. I figure we must be leaving harbour now. I wash off the sweet smell, my hair then my socks, leggings and t-shirt all in the shower with the soap provided. The shower is most refreshing. The whole bathroom is a unit of plastic so it seems fair to hang my wet clothes on the towel rack and hooks. I dry myself with the crisp clean towels provided and dress into my comfy clothes.
I leave the room and go out on deck, fully expecting to see nothing but ocean with Plymouth disapearing into the distance. I'm rather surprised to find we are still docked! I must have just been having a funny moment of body shock in the shower when I staggered. I wander round the ship. The top 3 floors, 7,8,9, are where the bars, open decks and posh rooms are. Floors 5 and 6 are all rooms save for the information desk, floors 2, 3 and 4 are the garages where the vehicles are kept. Floor 1 remains a mystery, presumably the engine rooms or holds or ballast. I note the time on my phone, it's only 1600. I've queued, boarded and showered in 3 hours, nice one. At the back of the ship I can see still more bikes queuing and boarding. Blimey, this is going to be motorcycle madness!
In the main bar I find the Scottish crew and the Hull crew. I sit with the Hull crew who tell me about their journey down and their rooms. They are already hitting the alcohol along with everyone else. It's only a while later I notice we are moving, the boat seems very stable. I spend the rest of the evening walking round the ship, talking to the Scots and the Hull folks and a few other bikers. The entertainment in the main bar consists of a residential band who are ok, a very cheesy magician with his beautiful assistant, a disco and bloody bingo. I'd estimate a quarter to half of the passengers are bikers nearly all going to Faro. There's a party atmosphere everywhere and everyone is sociably engaged, except for me. Everyone seems to be part of a group, club or gang of friends. I'm travelling alone and I feel quite alone. It's not that anyone is unfriendly, I'm made welcome at several tables, it's just I don't know the score. I don't know who's married to whom, who is the leader and who is the follower, who is easy going and who is easily offended. I'm alone, surrounded by people.
Out on deck I watch the awesome sunset. I note the ferry is moving about, I need to monitor my step but I do not feel seasick. There are bikers and regular holidaymakers sat alongside each other on plastic chairs, the air is pleasantly cool but not cold and the sea is dotted with small white patches where waves tumble over. I make my way to the restaurant to feed. It's a strange combination of self service and people filling your plate. I settle on roast beef with roast potatoes and gravy. It's not cheap, but tasty and simple. In the bar I drink coke and wander around talking to anyone who will listen. I also go back to the bike...but the doors to the garage decks are locked tight! So tonight there will be no toothbrush or hairbrush, and no fresh clothes for the morning.
I retire to bed around midnight, I've had enough of cheesy disco music and wandering now deserted decks. I'm still fearful I'll feel terribly sick in the room but I find as I lie down I feel fine. The ship judders every minute or so, for about 5 seconds. I try to work out what it might be, it could be the stabilisers moving about, or the engine reaching certain vibration points or bigger waves bashing the hull. My thoughts turn to the enormity of my trip and what I still have to do, then to the gf, back at home lying awake on a pile of cushions. With these kinds of thoughts in my head I drift off to sleep.
I wake in the almost pitch dark of the cabin, and look at the clock on the fitted radio next to the bed, 0635. Too early to get up really. The boat is still juddering from time to time and I'm aware of the rolling seas, but I'm not feeling seasick at all. I drop back off to sleep and the next time I view the clock it's 0745. That will do, so I get up. It's really cool being able to use my own clean toilet, wash in my own sink and dress in my own room. It's only a shame I cannot brush my teeth and put on fresh clothes, must remember this for the return journey. The thermals and socks are nearly dry though, so at least when I change to get on the bike I will be fresh.
In the restaurant there are a few folks milling around and eating. I get some cereal and toast for breakfast, I blink hard when I see the price on the cash machine. Whilst eating the room is filling with holiday makers looking all smart and fresh, and bikers, some of whom look like death. I suspect there were some late night drinking sessions on the ship and I'm starting to see the after effects. After breakfast it's back to wandering round the boat. I buy a map of Spain from the shop. There's not much to do on a boat, not when you're travelling alone and don't have a big bunch of mates to hang out with. There are plenty of people to talk to, and I do, but not for too long as I don't want to push myself onto anyone or outstay my welcome.
Eventually I overhear someone saying they can see Spain now. I go to the front of the ship to look and there it is. The first surprise is that it's hilly, possibly mountainous! I somehow had got into my head a vision of sandy beaches, quaint hotels on the seafront and rolling farmland in the rear. I found myself looking at a horizon you would expect in the Lake District or Scotland. As we approached the golden beaches of my vision were there, but I'd not foreseen the sprawling town with it's 5,6,7 storey buildings and cranes adorning the skyline.
I go to my room, collect my belongings and change into my bike gear. The clean thermals are pleasant but my bike pants still have that strange sweet smell to them. Off I go to descend the endless staircase down to the bike, arms full of clothes and helmet. Everyone else is doing the same and it's slow going, which is some relief as I have time to catch my breath. Down in the garage everyone is waiting, including the Scottish crew and several other now familiar faces. It's warm down there and I'm aware there will be a long wait if the loading time is anything to go by.
I talk with the Scottish crew, then sit and wait, then talk some more, then go back on deck for a smoke, then go back and wait. Suddenly all hell breaks loose and bike engines start to roar. At the back the order must have been given to disembark. I get up, kit up and put my belongings onto the bike, as best I can in the cramped space. I start to undo the strap but I'm really struggling to release the dam thing. Eventually some big fella gives something a hard wrench and my bike is free from its bonds. It takes another few minutes until enough bikes have left so that I can manoeuvre my bike around. I ride up the ramp past lorries and into...yes another queue. This time it's not hot like the UK, it's sweltering, draining, numbing heat. Some casually uniformed guy checks my passport briefly and waves me through.
I'm thinking "Keep to the right...keep to the right...keep to the right" but I need to collect myself and check everything is strapped to the bike properly. I stop outside the terminal offices and dismount. There is a young couple there, taking pictures of the bikes. As I take my helmet off they say "Hello" in a Spanish accent. They have come here to see the bikes coming off the ferry, they love our "Eengleesh" bikes. I compliment them on their English and admire the girl who is pretty, whilst checking the bike. So far so good, the locals seem friendly.
Out of the terminal, onto a roundabout. The map I bought this morning tells me I need to head for Torrelavega, shouldn't be too hard, there should be signs. HOLY COW!!! Everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road!!! OK, I know they do this here but to actually see it, to ride in it and be part of it is madness. I go into panic mode, big time. Slowly slowly slowly, relax Ren it's ok, just the same as home but the wrong way round. Whoa, what does that sign mean, does he have right of way, is that a crossing or spilt paint and where are the signs for Torrelavega? I carry on along a dual carriageway but this is a town and very busy. I keep to the right, riding like I'm on a pushbike not a 110mph motorbike. I just keep on going, forward forward forward. Then a turn, I go right as it seems safer, forward forward forward, turn right, it's easier, forward forward forward. I have no idea where I am going now, I just want to get out of this busy traffic and learn to ride again somewhere quiet and serene. Eventually I'm in the suburbs, out of town, and now in a dead end. Did I mention it is very hot?
I park up and get myself a shaky smoke. Looking around I'm near a lighthouse and a campsite called Cabo Mayor. I consult may map, but the scale is useless for street level. It's a dead end so I've got to turn round, and I know I want to be heading inland for the 611 signposted Torrelavega, or Salamanca, or Reinosa. I've been turning right with the sea to my right. Now I can turn right which will take me inland, phew. I ride back from whence I came and spot a sign for Torrelavega. I follow these on the quieter roads round the back of town and though still frightened I'm actually making progress now. Soon I'm on the dual carriageway with blue signs telling me I'm on the right road. I breathe a big sigh of relief.
I know the speed signs are in kmh, but the Spanish seem to read them as mph. 50kmh is about 30mph, but they will do 40 or 50mph. Out on the Autovista the limit is 120kmh, about 75mph, but lorries travel about 70mph and everyone else is doing at least 80mph. I roll up to 80mph and I still feel like I'm going slowly. There are other bikers on this road, all British. Some travelling sedately as I pass them, some fly past me like I'm stood still. I relax a little and settle down, and the thoughts start to flood in again. I'm amazed I'm here at all, I'm such a travel wimp yet here I am, over a thousand miles from home in a foreign country riding on the wrong side of the road in the scorching sun. Is everything ok, is the bike ok, is my load secure and have I got fuel? All seems well, which worries me more for I am the eternal pessimist.
Then one thing does go wrong. When I bought the bike I had noticed it must have been dropped, but most bikes with 29,000 miles on them have. The glass and shroud on the speedo is held on with what looks like silicon or a big glob of glue. This never worried me, it does not matter what it looks like as long as it works. Then at 80mph the glass starts to flap a little in the wind. I suspect the heat is too much for the glob of whatever. I reach forward and pull off the glass and it's metal retaining ring and tuck it into my tank bag, without even slowing down. There's no glass on the speedo now but it works fine and will not stop me continuing. I'm thankful it's not more serious, but I ponder what effect this may have on the speedo with dust getting in, or the possibility of rain.
The Autovista takes me through some excellent tunnels. The Spanish do not go round hills it seems, but over valleys on huge bridges and through hills on long cool dark tunnels. The tunnels do present a problem though. Sunglasses are necessary if you wish to see anything in the bright sunlight but entering a dark shady tunnel renders me almost blind. In one long tunnel I have to open my visor end roll my sunglasses to the end of my nose and peer over the top to see anything. The scenery is like being in the Lake District but the hills are steeper and the ground is khaki brown covered in dried out clumps of grass and bushes. Some areas are heavily wooded giving a refreshing change of colour and a slightly cooler feel in the air.
Torrelavega is bypassed as I follow the signs for Reinosa. The road is part dual carriageway and part countryside road. It becomes obvious this road is in development, those bits completed are straight smart motorway and then you turn off onto normal lanes, but the new road still being made is visible in the valleys. It only takes an hour or so to come out of the mountains into undulating farmland. The scene is now golden brown fields full of hay mixed with the odd colourful patch of sunflower or some other green crop. Some fields are bright green, and you can see why. Massive frames stretch the width of the field, presumably dragged along its length whilst water is sprayed from the frame to irrigate the dry land. It makes for quite a contrast. Did I mention it is very hot?
It's hot. Moving along the road at 80mph is quite bearable, the wind takes away the excess heat nicely but I am aware this must be the hottest climate I've ridden in. Somewhere along the way I decide it's time for a break and pull off the dual carriageway into a tiny village, no more than a small new church and a road of houses in amongst the scrubland. I stop in the shade of a house to drink and take in the strange atmosphere. I think to myself this is not what I would call beautiful, not in the sense I'm used to, not in the Cotswold sense of green lawns with blooming flowerbeds and quaint cottages. It's dry, arid and somehow incomplete. The church is bright and new but the surrounding land is full of stones and rubble and dry clumps of grass. I feel somehow let down. Everyone talked of how wonderful Spain is back home, full of magnificent views and pretty senoritas smiling at you in the warm sun. It's hot, sticky, dusty and untidy, and the only life I can see is a scruffy old farmer looking at his rusty tractor with contempt.
Back on the road again it's more of the same, dry fields, scrubland and small villages. I need fuel and the sign ahead shows me a petrol pump, a cup, a knife and fork and what looks like an engineers measuring device. I assume this means fuel, cafe, food and perhaps some sort of garage. Again I pull off, expecting services like we have in the UK, an area next to the motorway in which everything is contained. Again I am proven wrong. I'm in another village, a bit larger this time but equally as dry, dusty and incomplete. I notice a petrol station ahead and pull in. There are several other British bikers there, all filling up with fuel for the bike and water for the body. I do the same, then go to pay. I've got my little phrase book and I've been learning the basics of the lingo, I'm feeling quite confident I can get through this. The assistant says "Fe ta fe che kek che fe sadro petfe..." or something like that, what ever it was it made no sense. I point to my bike, and put 10 euros on the counter. I check my change, it's ok so he must have got the correct pump and I thank him, "Gracias". OK, I can't speak Spanish, oh pooh.
The road winds for a while, then goes straight on the new bits, then winds again. I stop every 30 to 50 miles for a drink or fuel or both. I sample a cafe where some other Brit bikers are. I order, in my best Spanish, "Una bocadillo jamon". After the puzzled looks I point to the sandwiches on the counter. "Ah, una bocadillo jamon!", is that not what I just said? The sandwich has very hard bread, like French bread but tougher and the ham is cured which is very tough and stringy. The whole experience was not pleasant, but it was food. I go to order a cup of tea, "Una tassa tay". Again funny looks, then he finally gets it and says "Ah, una tassa tay!". I think that is what I just said, but perhaps I didn't get the excited accent quite right. Urgh. The tea is served in a tiny cup with no milk, just a sachet of sugar. How damn uncivilised. This country is hot, sticky, untidy, unfinished and they can't make a proper cup of tea.
The road winds on and on. The landscape contains no more farmland now, just scrubland. I figure I must be in the desert now, it sure is hot enough. When stopped I sweat heavily into the thermals, but it's not too sticky, when I get on the bike again the air blows away the sweat making me almost cold for the first 5 minutes, quite remarkable. I'm heading for Salamanca. I'd planned this from my map viewing and everyone else on the ferry seemed to be heading there. 230 miles from Santander I'm in Salamanca. On the map Salamanca looks like a small town, it's not, it's a sprawling city. In town I wonder how on earth I'm supposed to find a campsite, but chance plays me a top card for once. Whilst stopped at some traffic lights a BMW pulls up next to me and a tall fella asks me where I'm going, in plain English. I tell him I'm looking for a campsite and he simply says "follow me". I do, noting he's another Brit biker from his registration plate. We make our way through the city onto roads full of roundabouts and industrial units. On one of these roundabouts I spot the 3 bikes of the Scottish crew, looking lost and confused. I wave them to follow me, and remarkably they do! The BMW rider leads us into an outlying suburb called Santa Marta de Tormes, then a right turn takes us into a hotel carpark with the site at the far corner. Did I mention it is very hot?
I graciously thank the BMW rider and the Scottish crew ask me how I know about this place. I'm tempted to boast of some great local insight I have but admit to following the other chap. We book in, and the first surprise is the counter clerk takes my passport from me and gives me a ticket instead, but no payment. It strikes me as odd that rather than take payment first he keeps my passport to stop me running off without paying. It's a strange place is this Spain.
The campsite is fine and spaced out, so I find a pitch near the toilet block. I get my tent off the bike and start to pitch. The ground is solid. I try banging in tent pegs with one of my tools, it's not easy. I comment to a biker nearby who offers me his hammer, I decline but ask if he has a suitable drill. The pegs are left barely in the ground and I pray there is no wind. The showers have clean cubicles and are perfectly fine but there is nowhere to keep things dry within the cubicle. Again undressing the sweet fruity smell mixed with old socks is overwhelming and the shower comes as a great relief. I note there is a room for washing with sinks that have a small ridged area at the front for scrubbing your clothes. I wash my thermals and socks with my soap bar and hang them on the bike to dry.
As the evening draws on more and more bikers arrive and the site is quite full. The party atmosphere is here and we all sit outside the cafe come bar eating and drinking. I talk with a couple from St Helens, near where the gf lives, the Scottish crew and a bunch of lads from West Bromwich. The talk is mostly of the heat, the trip and the next day. Most people seem to be heading for the city of Merida, another 200 to 250 miles south. But I don't want to go to Merida.
I know of Merida. About a year and a half ago I was working on a website for a guy I knew. He owns a house there, and he'd got plans to let out some rooms and take visitors round the area. I'd fixed his laptop for him one day and left my girlfriend at the time, Cath, to take it to him. I kissed Cath goodbye and went round to his house. That was the last time I saw Cath alive. Just hearing the word "Merida" made me think of that last time I saw Cath. It does not hurt quite like it first did, but it still makes me feel uncomfortable.
Badajoz seemed to be the more logical route. Talking to one wise old biker who'd done this trip several times before, he suggested there may be no camping in Badajoz. Nah, everyone back home tells me the roads are lined with campsites right throughout Spain. I'll be ok. The night started to cool down and some of the bikers were getting more and more drunk, so I retired to my tent. Again sleep came quite quickly.
I awoke around 8, surprisingly late as normally when camping I wake up early. I decamp and load the bike then go to retrieve my passport. The cost is acceptable, about 12 euros or 8 pounds. I wave goodbye to those bikers eating their breakfast, I'm fairly certain I wont see any of them tonight, I'll be in Badajoz and they will be in Merida. Again the land opens out to scrubland. dry grasses, small spiny shrubs and trees. Lots of trees, not nice green lush trees but short stout and mean looking trees, all twisted and angular. Though not in neat rows these must be agricultural as there are fences and other signs of order among them. I think of a friend back in the UK who would be able to tell me all about which trees they were and what soil they need and how long they live. Me, I know nothing about them except they are the only sign of human life here.
The road to Badajoz is quite boring really. But it's hot. Whilst doing 80 along a single carriageway road I'm being overtaken by the local trucks and cars. They don't mess about round here. As the vehicle passes you the heat from the engine is like a hairdryer blast. You can't follow lorries too close while waiting to overtake, the air is unbreathable. Out in the open areas you think it's hot but then a blast of superheated air blows over you, it's like opening the oven to check the Sunday roast. It only lasts a few seconds, then it's simply hot until the next one. I'm pleased with how well I am coping with all this heat. But it is causing 2 problems. My feet are sore, my boots are causing them to sweat and this is making them feel like I've been stood for hours. My arse is in agony. The sweat cannot get through the seat so a pool of sweat is forming down there and it's giving me some form of nappy rash or something.
Again with stopping every 30 to 50 miles for fuel or drinks and the odd cafe for more crap tea and sandwiches, Badajoz does not come into view fast enough. I am tired and drained and it's mid-afternoon, the hottest time. The city is another big one, scary with its strange lights and odd road markings, drivers who just don't follow rules and speed far in excess of posted limits. All I need to do is find someone to ask where the nearest campsite is and this hell will be over. I spot a local guy on a Dominator 650 and flag him down. Again in my best Spanish I ask for a campsite. "No camping aqui, Merida, Merida camping, no aqui." I sit on the bike for a moment, dumbfounded. I try to make sure of what he is saying but my Spanish is not up to it, and he rides off. Did I mention it is very hot?
No, I ain't going to Merida, that's final. There's got to be some sort of campsite around here, there simply HAS to be. I head south out of the city, picking up signs for Jerez de los Cabelleros. I stop for fuel a few miles into the desert and ask for camping. YIPEE!!, 5 km down the road is camping. My mood totally changes, I'm elated now not stressed and angry, I'm riding all nice and sweet not hard and aggressive. I find a town, this must be it. Nothing. Hotels yes but no campsite signs. I stop at a cafe and ask, no camping here. I now suspect that "camping" and "campar" must be different words, one for tents etc and one for sleeping or something like that. I'm back down now, hard. I consider a hotel, but I want to camp. Will I get ripped off in a hotel, how much will it cost, will I be able to get bottled water? No, I'll carry on a few more miles and find a site.
After Badajoz my next destination was to be Huelva on the Atlantic coast, so I followed signs for Huelva. It seems there is at least another 180 miles to go until I get to Huelva, I can't go that far. I stop at the next few towns and ask for camping, nothing. I'm sore, tired and very very annoyed with myself. I want to go home to a nice cool country with a language I understand, water I can drink from the tap, shops with names I recognise and countryside that is green, not arid and dusty. The heat is painful now. After Jerez de los Cabelleros reports no camping, I give up...I'm going straight to Huelva. It's on the coast and I'd read somewhere that there are campsites all along the coast. Only another 130 miles to go. I want to cry.
Then the road chages. No more straights with gentle bends, I'm in the hills. This is not a road, it's a roller-coaster! Sweeping left followed by sweeping right, uphill then crank over to the right again into a sharp left with a drop to the side. Over a hill, down into a right then right then left and hard right. Clear road, bank it over, tip it in, feel the tyres squirm for grip then flick it over to the other side. Good view round this one, lean lean lean, hup we go, over the crest, wow, more! This goes on for 80 miles. Not just a few miles of good bends, 80 long miles of turns, corners, switchbacks and sweeping gradients. I know, really truly know I should be loving every single moment of this, but I'm not. All I want to do I get off this bloody bike, out of this bloody heat and to lie down and cry. Cry for home, cry for my friends, cry for cool air, cry for rain, cry to see my gf again, just cry.
Huelva is here. It's another city, like all the cities in Spain. Hard concrete flats, strange road signs and faded road paint. But it holds hope, hope of a reprieve from the bike and the sun. I flag down a woman in uniform, some sort of traffic warden I think, but she's pretty. Camping? No camping. I'm not having that, there's got to be camping. My heart is sinking like a stone again. From what I can work out between her bad English and my worse Spanish is that I need to get out of town. So I consult my now battered map.
I follow the road towards Faro for a few miles, almost fearing I may end up going straight there. Then I head coastward. I spot a sign!! A sign for camping!! 360 miles of god-forsaken burning road and I spot a sign!!! Then the bike goes onto reserve. I need fuel. Another sign for fuel!!! This must be my luck after the storm. I follow the signs into Puerto Umbria, but no fuel. I ride round the town, cursing the bloody foreigners and their lying signs, cursing their scruffy towns and rubble-filled wastelands, cursing their stupid sun and daft road markings. I've really lost it now. So far I'd managed to hold onto reason and my remaining last drops of humour but now they are gone. I'm shouting English curses at the top of my voice through my helmet. Anyone looking at me gets my best evil stare. I stop to politely ask "Donde esta gasolina por favor?", when the chuffing lazy Spaniard grudgingly points up the road then looks away I dump the clutch so hard I wheelie a little, no mean feat on an NTV 600 revere. Did I mention it is very hot?
I find myself eventually back at the fuel sign. This time I follow the sign slowly, there's another sign, tiny, inches high, pointing down a road I'd not been down. I almost cry with relief as I see the price board of a fuel station coming into view out of the trees. I stop and fuel up. The attendant speaks a little English so I ask if there is any hope at all of ever finding a campsite within 500 miles of this station? He does not understand my bitter sarcastic comment so I ask if there is camping aqui? Yep, sure is, only 2 km down this road. Outside I don't know whether I'm happy or not. I dare not get my hopes up only to have them dashed again, and by now I believe every Spanish person is trained to lie to anyone remotely English, even the signs change when English eyes look at them. I go down the road and to my amazement, there is a campsite.
Not just a campsite, it's the most beautiful campsite in the world at this moment. The girl in the counter speaks a little English, checking in is easy and this time I get to keep my passport, and the pitch is sandy so I can get my pegs in. I pitch about 2030 and think I'm going to collapse, but to my surprise my mood is back up and I'm feeling more alive. I walk around the site to get a feel for the place. There are clean toilets and showers, a basic food shop, cafe and a bar. I take a quick shower and change into fresh clothes which helps me on the road to normality.
Back at the tent I prepare some soup I brought with me from the UK and start to eat. A blonde girl walks past the tent and smiles whilst saying "Ola" I reply "Ola" back, but dare not go any further as I now believe my Spanish is worse than appalling. Later I see her with some friends and I say "Ola" but now I hear the group talking in German. I say "Du bist deutshe?" and a bloke replies "Ya, but you are English yes?". It transpires there are 5 of them, a husband and wife, 2 girls and one man. The man speaks almost perfect English with a distinctive German accent, the rest speak enough English to get by. I spend a while talking with them and they make me feel most welcome. I also meet 2 younger lads from Poland and Ireland who are working in Spain doing driveways. The night is getting late and my high-school German is becoming embarrassing compared to the German's easy English, so I retire to bed.
Ah, sweet bliss. Rest day. My intention had been to arrive at Huelva on Wednesday so I am one day early. This means no riding today and after the ride yesterday I am relieved. I wake having slept well and stagger out of my tent and wonder what to do with my day. The sky has a hazy look to it this morning and a covering of clouds is keeping the sun at bay. It's still warm enough to wear my shorts so I walk to the cafe and scare some old ladies with my bright white legs. The girls behind the counter speak a little English and in a strange mix of Spanglish I manage to order some toast. The toast comes but it's a large French bread bun cut in half, toasted and served with a carton of jam and a carton of butter. I spread the butter and jam in thick layers onto my toast and cautiously take a bite. It's absolutely fantastic! Best thing I've tasted on this trip and I stuff it into my mouth like I've not eaten for ages. Needless to say the tea served with this delightful toast was down to the usual poor standard in Spain. Did I mention it is very hot?
I go for my shower. I take a long shower. I stand there feeling the water washing over my back then my face. I take time to think about what I'm doing here washing myself with Spanish water on a Spanish campsite on the Atlantic coast almost 2000 miles from my little house back home. I think of the gf and wonder how is she doing. I think of my mother waiting for me to text her again to let her know I'm ok and she can stop worrying for a while. I think about yesterday, and wonder if I'm enjoying myself. I know I did not enjoy the later part of yesterday when I finally lost my sense of humour. And I am lonely. I am surrounded by people, friendly people all on holiday and all in a good mood yet somehow I still feel very much an outsider. When I realise this my heart sinks and the shower matches my mood by going cold for a few moments so I jump out.
I've got a whole day to kill, what can I do? I tidy up the tent a bit, go to the shop but they sell nothing with what I would call real food pictured on the side of the tin, wander around the campsite then return to my tent. Hmph! The problem with a day off is that there is nothing that needs to be done. I go to the beach, yeah that'll keep me busy for a while, I can look at all the girls and try to get some sun onto these milk white legs. As I wander down to the beach I notice a small black seething mass on the sand. An ant's nest. The sand around the nest is pure white where millions of tiny legs pass every day. I watch a while admiring the tiny insects doing there work but then I notice other beach-goers looking at the odd pale foreigner looking at the ground for no apparent reason. I move on.
The beach is an almost picture perfect sample of what a Spanish beach should look like. It is sandy, the sea is deep blue with small waves lapping the shoreline, the sun is now shining and there is barely a cloud in the sky. It is hot, but not like the hot from yesterday in the desert as the sea has a gentle cooling breeze coming inland. I feel somewhat silly walking down the sand in my big walking boots, but I have no choice. 3 Years ago I had a motorbike accident which left me with one leg shorter than the other and now whatever footwear I have has a super-thick sole added to the left side. I can walk without this but I limp and tire quickly. I stop near the water and remove my boots. I walk into the water a few paces but the sea is freezing! I stand there with the waves washing over my feet which feels refreshing after the boots. I decide it's far too cold for a swim and to make myself feel less of a wimp I advise myself there may be sharks out there anyhow.
I go back up the beach to where the sand is dry and sit down to admire the beautiful Spanish women every beach is covered in. Only this beach is fairly quiet, there are no hotels nearby. I still take time to look around. I am disapointed. The people look just like the same people you would see on Blackpool beach on a hot day, except the suntans are deeper. There are fat blokes on sunloungers, frumpy women moaning in Spanish to skinny children, dads and mums throwing balls over toddlers who giggle incessantly and teenagers trying to look cool in bikinis and shorts. I laugh to myself, thousands of miles but the folks still look the same. There is only one girl whom is pretty, and she's sunbathing topless. I sit and letch for a while through my sunglasses but even that gets boring. I head back to the campsite.
It's only lunchtime. I go to the shop and find some chocolate with a name I recognise and eat that. I wander around again. I get another cup of poor tea in the cafe. I check the bike over. I'm so bored I even have another shower. By mid afternoon the heat is relentless so I go to my tent, lie down in the porch and go to sleep. I wake up covered in sand sticking to my sweat and the ground sheet is sodden from my overheated body. I get my mobile phone out and turn it on to see what going on back home. I get a message of the gf. Her mother has deteriorated and is in the hospice. Another message from my mother who has spoken with the gf and tells me it's not looking good. I want to go home NOW! I want to hug the gf and tell her I am there for her, I want to get out of this hot, stifling country with it's strange food and bad drivers. I want to be with people whom I know and who know me. I want to go home to go where people care for me and I care for them. I'm so homesick. Did I mention it is very hot?
I reply to the messages. The gf replies and is trying to be a rock for me, telling me there is nothing I can do, she will be ok and she wants me to worry about enjoying myself not her mother. I know she is right but I cannot switch off my concerns and no matter what is going on at home I am finding this trip to be very hard work. I beg the gods I do not believe in to send rain and cool me, to keep the gf and her mother well, to entertain me and to let me enjoy myself.
I wander back to the cafe and hear English being spoken with a distinctive midlands accent. It's the crew I'd spoken with briefly on the ferry from West Bromwich. I ask if I can sit with them and they welcome me to the table. They tell me of their journey down through the desert and where they stopped and of how one fell got separated from the group and the worries about him. He is there now and they rip into him for not texting he was ok and for worrying them. The politics of being in a group remind me of some of the advantages of travelling alone. I speak with them about work, home and the exhausting heat here for a few hours, then it's time to eat. They tell me they will be in the bar later. Some of them have already been on the beer for too long already.
I go to the shop in search of something I can eat that I recognise. I end up with 2 of the strange French bread buns, some boiled ham slices and mayonnaise. I make myself a massive sandwich with these items. I step outside the tent to eat and spot the German crew by their tents. I go over, they are cooking up some odd concoction of meat balls, spaghetti, tomatoes and garlic. It makes an improvised bolognaise and they ask if I want some. I decline as I'm still struggling to finish my improvised sandwich. The sandwich is very tasty though and it reminds me of the sort of things I like to eat at home. I sit and talk in German as much as I can. I'm very pleased with how well I can get by in German and only need a little help with complex ideas from the English speaking fella. We talk of work, holidays, the heat and compare suntans. The suntan on my body is coming along, but my legs are just turning pink, not brown.
As the sun sets I head off to the bar. The West Bromwich crew are there and I join them with my coke and some crisps from the shop. There is a girl travelling with this crew, she is from the south coast and only joined the boys when she met them on the ferry. She tells me she is travelling alone like myself but she will meet her boyfriend at Faro as he's flying there. I laugh as she tells me he is coming in for some stick off his friends as he's taking the soft option while his girlfriend is doing it the hard way. I do think she is vary brave and spend a while pondering her motives. I listen to her talking of other things and laugh as I begin to understand.
Later 2 of the German crew arrive and join us. The conversation is getting harder now as the beer flows, German is mixed with English in various accents and the music is getting louder. Confusion reigns supreme and it's wearing me out just trying to keep up. The West Bromwich crew are laughing insanely at one of the Spanish bar staff whom they have taught to say "top banana!" while the Germans look on curiously. Then they start on a serious conversation as someone is not pleased about something and is threatening to go home. The details are unknown to me but I've heard this conversation so many times in bike clubs I already know what the score is. It's time to go to bed.
By the time I've got out of bed, showered, washed more smelly thermals and took the tent down it's only 0900. One of the Germans is out of bed so I go and say goodbye and thank her for making me feel welcome. I get on the bike and ride to reception to pay and put the bike on a flat surface to check the oil. The oil is halfway between the upper and lower which is fine, and a dribble comes out of the bevel drive filling hole that means it's fine. I figure it's only 50 miles now to Faro, an easy ride compared to Tuesday.
On the road again my thoughts flood in. It's getting hot again but the thermals are keeping me comfortable. Will there be a border checkpoint as I go into Portugal? What will I make of the rally? I've done quite a few bike rallies in the UK and one thing I have learnt is that I prefer smaller rallies, 2 or 3 hundred bikers in a clubhouse and camping on a rugby or football pitch, a local band and DJ and a friendly atmosphere. Larger rallies seem to involve portable toilets that are unusable, fields of mud, bands at the far end of a field with poor sound quality and so many people being herded around and causing havoc. I know the rally is a big one, one of the biggest in Europe if not the world. It is with some trepidation I ride towards my final destination.
I stop 40 miles into the journey for water and a smoke. The landscape is still barren wasteland full of hard dry grass and spiky bushes. The house nearby is fresh and new but the garden is full of rubble and rusty shards of metal. I wonder how anything can go rusty here in this dry arid heat. The road takes me to the border of Portugal, not that you would really notice. I only know I'm in Portugal because the road signs are slightly different and I see more cars with a "P" at the start, not "S". Considering this is supposed to be a huge rally and the number of Brits on the ferry and this being the first day I'm curious as to where all the other bikers are. Eventually the signs direct me off the Autovista onto a single carriageway and a large town looms on the horizon.
I know I need to head for the airport, but soon I spot a "Moto Clube Faro " sign hanging outside a large house, perhaps this is the clubhouse? I stop and look into the garden. Nothing, nothing that would indicate a biker spot, just the usual dry grass and untidy driveway of any home here. I carry on and spot more of these signs hanging off lampposts, streetsigns and railings. I stop at one set of lights and a few bikers arrive behind me, at least I am starting to feel like I'm at the right place. I follow the bikers now and spot signs for the airport. The town is like any other I've seen now. White 5,6,7 storey apartments, dry wasteland, peeling paint, faded road markings and a worn out feel. I'm now surrounded by bikes and Moto Clube Faro signs. The airport control tower reveals itself along with 20 or 30 local police directing hoards of bikers between confused car drivers. I'm directed off the road into a parking area and I see a queue.
I think the one thing I've learnt so far is I hate queues. I hate being herded like cattle to wait for this or that and be told to go here or there and to do the other. Still, there I am in another queue. Soon someone relieves me of 35 and gives me a bright pink hospital tag to put on my wrist. Another line leads me into a building where someone gives me a form to fill in and amongst hundreds of other bikers milling around grabbing pens and tiny bits of spare table space I fill in details of my bike, journey, name, country and registration. I'm immediately reminded this is an international rally due to the questions being in 4 different languages. In another line I'm provided with a bag full of goodies, another line is for swapping the t-shirt in your goodie bag for one of the correct size, but I've already had enough and any t-shirt fits me anyhow. Outside I put my form into a box full of forms and return to the bike. Did I mention it is very hot?
Back on the bike I follow the herd out the parking area onto a short road. A biker wearing a bright yellow jacket directs me into a camping area and I search for a suitable pitch. I find a tree with some space under it that looks relatively flat and start to camp. The ground is covered in long spines from the trees and I've heard these can ruin groundsheets and airbeds so I try to clear a space. After 10 minutes of pushing and shoving with my boots I'm having no effect whatsoever so I put my tent up anyhow. All the gear goes in and I put the metal plate under the sidestand of the bike to stop it sinking into the sandy ground. I open the goody bag to see what I've got. I have a metal numberplate with Faro 2005 on it, T-shirt, flyers, postcard, 3 meal vouchers, small Faro patch and Faro badge and a Faro sticker for the bike. I'm well impressed and consider removing my numberplate and replacing it with the Faro one.
I go to look around the site and figure out where everything is. There are bars everywhere, in amongst the tents, in their own area, in the main area and out on the edges. The site is huge, it would take almost an hour to walk the perimeter and 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The main arena consists of a dry field with a large stage at one end and what I can only describe as an open hangar at the other that is full of benches and tables. All around are stalls for food and bikes but the majority of stalls are in one area near the entrance. There is also a smaller marquee in a far corner with a homemade pool outside. It's not very busy yet but judging by the constant stream of arrivals it soon will be.
In amongst all this wandering I bump into the Scottish crew. They welcome me like a great traveller among other great travellers. "You made it then!" and we all congratulate each other. This gives me a sense of camaraderie and survival that makes me laugh to myself. I sit with them and they tell me of not being able to find the campsite at Merida, going on to Seville and getting hopelessly lost and going round Seville airport until they gave up and one of the ladies got a taxi whilst the others followed. I tell them of my day of hell coming through Badajoz and my search for camping. I make a mental note to have a word with everyone who told me the roads are lined with campsites in Spain.
I learn from them you don't really use money on the rally as such, you buy 60 cent tickets then exchange these for food and drink. 60 cents! That's about 40 pence for a drink or something to eat, fantastic. I go and duly exchange money for tickets and skip off in search of top quality cheap food. I find a food place and the only thing I can recognise is "pollo", chicken I ask for this and I'm presented with a small bun with a few chunks of chicken between, then I am relieved of 4 tickets! 2.40 or £1.60 for a crap chicken butty with no salad or mayonnaise. I'm not impressed
I wander round a little longer and meet with the West Bromwich crew who again greet me like a fellow survivor. By mid afternoon the heat is stifling so I retire to my tent and lie in the porch to sleep a while. I wake and I'm lying in a pool of my own sweat. As I wander some more I think about how different things are to my expectations. I'd hoped to see dark senoritas smiling at me whilst flicking their hair, the women look like the women back home with a suntan. I'd hoped for green meadows full of flowers mixed with fields of vines and cattle grazing on lush green grass basked in sun, I'd seen endless miles of arid desert mixed with trees that look twisted and mean. I'd hoped for quaint towns and villages with cute cafes and elderly folks playing ball games in the square, I'd found empty towns in disrepair and cities gridlocked between concrete apartments.
I had expected to be lonely. I have found friendship with the Scottish crew and countless other bikers travelling down. I am still a little homesick but I am pleased I know folks to talk to. I am also pleased the bike has got me here with only one problem and that was not serious. I am pleased with how well my thermals keep me comfortable. I am pleased I have made it, achieved what I set out to do. Now I have achieved what I set out to do, I am mentally preparing to return and the rally has not even begun. My thoughts turn to my inescapable inability to relax and enjoy the journey rather than keep on moving with a "get it over and done with" attitude. It's not just my travelling that is like this, I am always looking for the next thing yet I cling to my past like a shipwreck survivor holding onto a piece of wood.
My thoughts begin to annoy me. I need to switch them off but I can't and that's why I am terrified of being bored and having to listen to myself. I switch on my mobile as G and the rest of the stag do crew are due to arrive about 1800. Eventually I get a message and we meet up. G asks me about the journey down and where I am camped. They find a pitch in a far corner of the site and make camp while I relay a shortened version of the trip. I also explain about the tickets but some of the group have been before and know how things work.
I meet up with them again as the sun sets and the air begins to cool to a tolerable temperature. We stand near a bar overlooking the stage and watch a local band as they pump out familiar tracks sung with a Portuguese accent. I have to laugh as the female singer sings "I'm cowboy on stee hoss I ride, I want, dead ow awive". But to give them there due they are good. I talk with the stag do crew a while and then wander to the marquee to see what's happening, more of the same, wander back, talk a while, wander round the site people watching and talk with a few faces from the ferry and the journey down. Talking to one fella I'd met in a cafe on the first day in Spain I learn the Tuesday I was in the desert, my day of hell, was supposed to be one of the hottest in 100 years and temperatures had reached 48 centigrade in the desert. No wonder I was hot and bothered.
By midnight the stag do crew are on their way to getting drunk and so is everyone else. I retire to my tent and climb into my sleeping bag. The noise is constant. Bike engines of all kinds rev and drive past, the music from the stage thumps away in the distance, shouts and screams from the bar nearby and languages of all kinds as folks wander by. Somehow I fall asleep.
I wake up, the sun is shining and I'm sweaty in my bag. I get up, dress and go to wash some more thermals and socks and shorts. The washing facilities are to say the least basic. A tap and a trough on a metal sheet are all you get. None the less I get some odd looks as I scrub and lather up a whole heap of clothes which I wrap around my neck when clean. I walk back to the tent dripping then hang my clothes on the tree and guy ropes from the tent. There's very little to do during the day so I grab some clean dry thermals, kit up and head out to see what sort of place Faro is.
Outside the site I'm directed and waved on by the local police. I wonder how much this rally is worth to the locals to be able to provide a constant police presence. In town all the billboards and bus stops advertise both caution messages and welcome signs for rally goers. The warnings advise pictorially not to wheelie or go fast and to wear your helmet. The town centre is crowded with holiday makers and bikers alike, sitting outside cafes and drinking tea or alcohol. The small harbour holds hundreds of small boats all tied to jetties and the area is filled with small tourist shops and hotels. All the building are of 5,6,7 storeys and I find myself thinking this is all starting to look the same somehow. Did I mention it is very hot?
But this is not what I came to see. I have no interest in the tourist places, I want to see how the locals live, to see the Algarve for what it is not how it is presented to the tourists. I head inland through the town full of shops, cafes and hotels and into the suburbs. It all starts to look like the Spanish cities. There are no houses but endless rows of 5,6,7 storey apartments with clothes hanging out of windows covered in flaking paint, wasteland covered in rubble and rubbish, dry open areas and building sites each sprouting several cranes. All through Spain there are cranes. Cranes in the middle of the desert, in small villages and across the skyline of every city. I stop and look for life. Cars fly up and down streets but there are only occasional pedestrians and dogs rummaging amongst the rubbish.
I sit against a wall in the shade to think for a while. All I hear back home is how everyone hates living in the UK and how they are going to move to Spain or the Algarve as soon as they have the money. Have they seen this? Have they seen the streets round the back of the town? Do they all arrive on planes and get whisked away to fancy hotels? Do the holiday home sales people carefully plan their routes to avoid these areas? Does the sun blind folks to the reality? I know the UK is cold, wet and miserable, but this part of the world is too hot. Prices are high in the UK but this part of the world does not seem cheap, only slight savings are to be made mostly on cigarettes and fuel. Fuel in Spain is three-quarters the price of UK fuel and Portugal is almost the same as home. No, it's not cheap here anymore. I shout to myself "Why would ANYONE want to live HERE?". Perhaps I'm missing home more than I thought.
I go back into town to a shopping complex I'd noticed on the way out. The supermarket offers no tins of food I recognise except baked beans. I purchase beans, bread and some chocolate. I then wander round the rest of the mall to see what is there. I duly note there is a Burger King, McDonalds and KFC, so if all else fails I shall not starve. I return to the site at tea time and cook the beans to eat with the bread. It's so hot the bread is almost toast anyhow.
Friday evening is much busier on the site. My tent is surrounded now by other tents and motorcycle mayhem. I look at some of the bikes. There are plenty of smaller bikes belonging to teenagers and in poor repair. Tyres are bald, bits hang off or are taped on, seats are ripped and the exhaust has been "modified" These bikes are ridden by youths wearing just shorts and any kind of helmet. Cycle helmets, horse riding helmets and hard hats all seem to be legally acceptable protection. It scares me when one youth climbs aboard his bald-tyred noisy machine, kicks it into life and revs it mercilessly until his beautiful girlfriend climbs on wearing shorts and a bikini top. Both are carrying dirty old open-face helmets, but not wearing them. I imagine how she will look covered in scars.
Before I carry on, I need to explain something. I'm not tough, I can't fight my way out of a paper bag and anger is something I only show to those I know love me and I feel I can trust to forgive me. I have been insulted, threatened and even hit and never retaliated. I will seethe and curse within myself but outwardly I only show distaste. Some people call me a wimp and for the most part I am. My strength lies in other areas.
I'm stood next to my tent in the burning sun wearing just my shorts and watching a group pitch tent behind me. I say "Ola" to one chap who looks my way and we start to talk, as best he can in his basic English. They have come from Lisbon is about all I can understand. I'll call this man "man 1" as I never got his name. Another man comes over to me and says "....casque?". It appears man 2 want to see my helmet, why I have no idea but I go and retrieve it from my tent. Next thing I know he says something along the line of "use your casque?...shops por amigo?". Again I struggle but get the impression man 2 would like to borrow my helmet for a while to take man 1 to the shops on his bike. Being the friendly sort of guy I am I agree, somewhat reluctantly. They climb onto a yellow fireblade wearing nothing but shorts and man 1 is on the back with my helmet on. I wonder if he has nits. Did I mention it is very hot?
I go and find the stag do crew in the main arena and we stand there looking at the ladies and wonder how to start up a conversation when we don't speak any of the lingo. Talking to strangers is hard enough, but when you don't know what language they are going to reply in it is too frightening. The site is really quite busy now with folks milling around and queuing everywhere for drinks and food. Passing the portable toilets the stench is getting scary, but nowhere near as revolting as the stench from the 2 stalls serving barbequed octopus tentacles. If there is one smell that will stay with me from this rally it is that of the octopus stalls. Yet people are queuing up and buying the hard, dry portions of suckers and sinew. Urgh.
I return to the tent about 1800, nearly 2 hours after I let my beloved helmet ride off into the sun. No helmet in the tent and no yellow fireblade. Cheeky bastards! I don't mind an hour or so to go and get supplies but the piss taking bastards seem to have gone out for a big trip, with my helmet. I'm livid and stomp back to the main arena and relate my story to the stag do crew. They tell me I'm a plonker but it'll be ok. I'm struggling to think straight but I relax and watch a highlight of the evening for me. On the stage are 20 to 30 ladies with drums of various sizes and types banging out rhythms lead by some energetic young chap. I sit there, awestruck and moved by the rising and pulsating beat from the drums. It's simple thing but so powerful and lively I'm captivated. I wish I was sat here with someone to share this with, someone who could feel what I'm feeling now.
I return to the tent about 2000 and check to see if my helmet is there. It is, along with the yellow fireblade, but no sign of man 1 or man 2. The sense of relief is comparable to that of finding a campsite on my day of hell. I zip up and go for a wander round. I'm thinking how cheeky are these people and why did he not bring his own helmet, do they know how I felt or are these things normal in this dry, arid and inhospitable climate. My feet are killing me now. Over the last 2 nights and days all this wandering is taking it's toll. Most folks have brought along or purchased sandals to keep feet cool but I cannot purchase sandals and wear them. They would need to go to the cobblers to have a thicker sole put on the left sandal, otherwise I'd be limping badly and only able to manage a few hundred yards. As it is with my big walking boots the blisters on my soles are making me limp and only able to walk short distances before I need to stop anyhow. I remove my boots to check the blisters and let some air get to them. It is most painful.
I return to the tent about 2130 to get a t-shirt as the air is finally cooling down now. I open the tent and let out a load angry scream. My bloody helmet is not where it should be. I look around and the fireblade is gone too. The cheeky effing stupid evil tw....onkers have taken my helmet again. No asking, no may we, no courtesy or consideration, just taken it as though it's theirs to use whenever they want. I'm not livid, livid does not even begin to describe the anger I'm feeling now. I am the king of self control, I don't drink, don't like to make a scene and I'm always looking for the quiet life. But today I'm screaming English curses to these effing Portuguese ignorant and cheeky bastards. I'm outside my tent kicking the dirt and flailing my arms. People are starting to come out their tents or stopping as they pass by to look at the sunburnt English bloke ranting like a demon who's lost his powers and cursing in as many languages as he can think of, and some he doesn't even know.
It takes a few minutes to realise what sort of an idiot I look like so I move off, not sheepishly which would be my normal way. I stomp and scowl at the onlookers, shouting at one big hairy fella "what?!?!" as he makes some comment to his partner. I'm confused, at a loss what to do. I want instant retribution and resolution but it is not forthcoming, which makes me worse. I want to rip the head wearing my helmet right off and stuff it up the arse of its owner. I consider telling the Moto Clube Faro officials of my plight, but what would they say "You lent it to them you fool", in Portuguese of course. I could go out and look for it, but I have no helmet to wear to ride the streets. The more things I think of and the more reasons I see they are pointless make me worse and worse.
I find the stag do crew and relate my story through clenched teeth. I think G is actually quite surprised to see me like this. We talk with 2 Portuguese guys who speak good English and they laugh at my plight and seem fairly confident my helmet will return. I am sure it will return, my objection is to folks taking things without asking, assuming my lending it once means they can borrow it whenever they see fit. I cannot settle, I cannot have fun whilst this is running around and around in my head. I excuse myself and wander on my sore blistered feet and curse everything. Curse these bloody dirty foreigners, curse this draining heat, curse these stupid bikers drinking themselves into numbness, curse these bloody feet, curse this country of rubble and rubbish, curse this country of crap food, curse their stupid languages, curse their ugly women and curse everything!
Sometime around 2300 I head back to the tent. I don't know why, I'm never going to sleep with this spinning round my head, with my body tense and twisted, with outstanding issues unresolved and without my effing helmet. As I walk back I spot the yellow fireblade. Man 2 is riding, man 1 is on the back but he's not got my helmet on! Oh sh..ugar, where the effing hell is it? The bike behind has a pillion and man 3 is wearing my beautiful helmet resplendent with warning triangles. The bikes pass by and I run after. This is perhaps the first time I have run properly since I re-learnt to walk after my accident. Even in my angry state I'm surprised and pleased at the fact I can run, even if it is somewhat clumsily.
"CASQUE...CASQUE you miserable effin bastards!!!!" I shout as load as I can. "CASQUE!!!...who the effing hell do you think you are..." A tirade of swearwords and curses pour forth from my mouth, I have totally lost control. 4 puzzled Portuguese men look at me frothing from my mouth. Man 1 approaches and mutters "...sorry...thank you" and man 3 returns my helmet and offers me his hand. Instinctively I go to shake it then pull back and continue my foul-mouthed curses and questions. I'm looking for blood, I'm actually looking for a fight in a foreign country with 4 men all bigger than myself and the support of a whole country behind them. Of course they do not understand a word I am saying, it's my body language and tone of voice they recognise. They simply keep on repeating "...sorry..." until I run out of breath and they walk away.
I put my helmet into the inner tent this time and cover it with my sleeping bag. I zip up and limp away slowly on my blistered feet. I return to the main arena and Nazareth are on stage. Hell, I don't even know who Nazareth are let alone any of their music so I wander round some more and eventually find myself at the stag do crew's tents. G, the stag, is in bed but 4 of the others are outside finishing off drinks and chatting. Again I relay the rest of the story. Much discussion ensues about the attitude towards property here compared to home and how you really must stick up for yourself no matter the odds. I agree but I know deep inside I will always be a wimp. My strengths lie elsewhere.
I wake and it's already hot. The noise of bikes passing by, folks talking in many tongues and engines being bounced off the rev limiter is becoming all too familiar now. I have calmed down now. I still look to my left to make sure my "casque" is next to me. I also notice a distinctly sweaty smell coming from myself and the clothes strewn around me. I don't fancy the showers, they are cold and out in the open. I cannot smell like this all day otherwise no-one will talk to me. I get up and take the clothes to the taps and trays and clean them as best I can with soap and cold water. I return for my towel and prepare to brave the showers.
I'm not really body shy. I have a very average body, not fat or thin, not short or tall, not muscle-bound or stringy and my manhood is remarkably average too. Wearing my shorts I turn on a tap attached to a steel pipe that sprouts from another larger steel pipe. The cold water strikes my feet and I let out a little yelp. Those already in the other showers laugh in an understanding and sympathetic manner. I slowly dip parts of my body into the cold stream and make chilly noises that match those around me. I wash but keep my body out of the stream as much as I can. Eventually I remove my shorts and brazen it out by carrying on as though this is the most normal thing in the world, standing in front of hundreds of men and women stark bollock naked and yelping as the cold water touches my body. It finally crosses my mind the effect cold has on the male part of my anatomy and I look down at my shrivelled wedding tackle. I rush to finish and hide my pathetic excuse of a penis and put my shorts back on. I take a little comfort that others brave enough to go naked must be suffering the same effect...I hope.
I go out and about on the bike again. I'm looking for a hardware store to purchase some glue to stick the glass back onto the speedo. Im also going to treat myself to a McDonalds, I am in need of something tasty and recognisable to my pallet. Again I ride out into the hinterland of Faro, again into the dry, dusty, unfinished and deserted parts. I ride out towards Tavira, and a thought strikes me, hard. When I get home, what am I to tell people about this place? What am I going to write for my website report? The problem is it is not very interesting. The scenery between the towns is more of the same golden brown, dry, arid land. The towns are fairly non-descript when Ive already described other towns. The roads look the same and the people look the same.
There is nothing to report. It reminds me of the cities I know back home. All the major cities Ive been to in the UK look the same, feel the same and smell the same. Centres are full of tall buildings interspersed with older buildings looking somewhat overwhelmed. Near the centre will be a mix of derelict, run down housing estates and shopping areas then around the corner will be large houses and executive cars. Further out, normally on the north side, towns and suburbs filled with cheaper basic housing, and the south side will have the yuppie areas and homes for the wealthy. If I fell out of a spaceship into a big city I would struggle to tell you which one I was in. And the same applies here it seems. I would know I was in Spain or Portugal from the style and character of the place, but to say which place it was would require some identification such as a sign. I give up looking for something original and head back to Faro.
On the way I see a large shop in amongst run down houses and dry wasteland that has wood and bricks stacked in its yard. It also sells petrol! How strange and lucky, a DIY come petrol shop. I fill up, pay, find super-glue and gaffer tape, pay again then leave. Perfect, absolutely perfect. Riding back I think about how fortunes can change from one moment to the next. Last night my helmet went walkabout, this morning I had nothing to report and now I find a place that meets my requirements exactly.
I then go to the shopping mall I had visited yesterday. I dont even bother to look for local food or some enlightening cultural experience, I head straight for McDonalds. Inside it looks slightly different from home but I order a hamburger, fries and a cola from a smartly dressed youth who speaks perfect English. I sit down to eat my meal and wonder why it looks different from the McDonalds back home, perhaps its got something to do with this shop being a Burger King? I laugh at my stupidity, they all share a common eating area, Id gone to the wrong counter that was all. I dont care and my taste buds cannot tell the difference anyhow. I trough my food and it tastes so good. If I ever travel the world, Ill have to miss out countries that dont have McDonalds, or for that matter Burger King.
Back at the rally site I am directed by the ever-present police back into the site and by the ever-present Moto Clube Faro officials back to my pitch. I get out my tools, clean the area to be glued with the trusty file on my trusty leatherman and glue the glass into place. Its not beautiful and the metal rim is discarded as unnecessary but it does exactly what I want it to do. I add a few strips of gaffer tape just in case the glue does not hold.
Full of the smugness of a bodge well done, I go for another wander. This time I look at the bike show. Im looking for something original. There are the usual customs, choppers, Harleys and streetfighters, but nothing of note. Ive seen enough magazines and TV shows to know the hard work, dedication and time required to build these machines. Yet I still do not find what I want, something that makes me go WOW! or eh???. I want to see something totally original, not an interpretation of old ideas.
Nothing of great note happens for the rest of the evening. I cant find the stag do crew or the Scottish crew, some famous guy is on stage but I dont know any of his music, octopus legs still smell, a lot, my helmet remains in my tent, thankfully and lots of people turn up who are not really bikers, just day trippers. The highlight of the evening is in the marquee near the pool. A local band is playing and they are absolutely excellent. Plenty of recognisable tunes belted out with energy and passion, a floor full of people bouncing around and then a moment of sheer exhilaration.
I had been happy singing along to the band for a while but I started to tire of this and wander off when I heard Ba Dum Dum Dum from the bass. I freeze, surely not, I cant be done live, not here. Ba Dum Dum Dum Dee Dee Dee , blimey Charlie, it is! I struggle to make my way back through the throng of bodies to get to the dance floor. Ba Dum Dum Dum Dee Dee Dee and Im bouncing and dancing like Ive never done in my life. This song is a long time favourite of mine and the gf's too, Rage Against The Machines Bullet In Your Head. Its the first piece of real music, the first taste of home and normality, the first thing that has made me want to come here in 8 days. I dance so hard and sing so loud it hurts.
I leave, feeling pleased but oddly disorientated by the last 5 minutes. Im in awe at how well this group of middle-aged rockers managed to play the tune. Its late and I know this is not going to happen again now, the rally is all but over. I go back to my tent and settle in for the night. Outside music is still thudding away, bikes still pass the tent, voices speak in strange tongues and the ever-present noise of bikes near and far being revved mercilessly on the limit grinds into my ears. I reach the conclusion before I fall asleep that if you like big rallies and events then this must be amongst the best, but there is very little here for myself.
I awake and curse the sun for being so hot. I fumble around and find my mobile phone to see what time it is. 0700 and still voices pass by, bikes roar and bang and music can be heard in the distance. The noise is so relentless Ive actually managed to tune it out for the most part. As consciousness fully regains its grip on my mind I notice my stomach is burbling and grumbling away. On no, Im not going to need the toilet for a full on sit down visit am I? Please lord no! Please dont make me go to the plastic toilet things, Ive managed to avoid them all weekend, why now!?
Ive managed to use toilets at the mall for sit down visits, but my stomach is telling me a visit to the plastic holes of hell is inevitable and becoming urgent. I throw my shorts on and do the instantly recognisable strange walk of the clenched butt cheeks. At the toilets my eyes are crossed and Im sweating. Open door, look, wretch and cough, close door, move on. Repeat this action several times until the heaving and retching is not as bad as the pain from my butt. Oh joy, this one is not so bad. I wipe the seat as best I can with the shard of toilet paper Id grabbed on the way in and sit down. Oh sweet relief, oh joy, oh bliss. I duly note my smell is possibly worse then the smell was when I came in.
I was my hands in the trough then retrieve my towel for a very quick shower. All the time Im thinking how good it is to be a man. I can pee anywhere really. After my visit to the plastic hole of hell I decide never ever to go near anyone who has visited one of these instruments of torture until he or she has had a full industrial shower. Even after my cold icy shower I still feel unclean.
I decamp and reload the bike. I ride to where the stag do crew are camped but there is no sign of life and I dont want to wake anyone. I decide Ill leave with no fuss or ceremony, thats the way I like it. The plan for today is quite open. I could ride up to Merida and find camping there, about 200 to 250 miles, or I could carry on through Merida and go right up to Salamanca, about 450 miles in total. The Scottish crew are planning to go straight up to Salamanca, get the hard part of the journey done and make the rest of the trip a lot easier. Im going to see how I feel along the way.
I leave Faro. On the road again my thoughts reflect on the rally. I didnt spend much time with the stag do crew, I didnt spend much time with anyone really. I did find plenty of people to talk to but always felt somehow on the outside. Musically the offering was for the most part not to my liking. I like modern rock not the traditional biker music. And I dont like being a small part of a very big crowd, being herded here and there. I reach the conclusion that for myself rallies need to be done with a group of friends and in a smaller environment. The faro is a good rally, no doubt about that, it just did not suit me.
With all this thinking I think Ive missed my turning. I pull off the Autovista and consult my map. Indeed I have and I now have to ride 10 miles back to a turning. I find Im back on the right road, and its the twisty road I travelled on my day of hell. This time Im fresh, this time Im up for this. Oh yes, it is simply awesome. The sun is shining, I have at least 50 miles of twisty road ahead, the bikes feels solid and alive, Im wide awake, alive and on my way home. I feel so good as I roll the bike over crests and dips, round bends and through hairpins. I think about the Friday night lads back home. Im on a 600cc bike built for reliability not speed, if the lads were here theyd be miles off ahead screaming along at immense speed then stopping to wait for me while talking about this bend and that straight. I keep on rolling at 80mph.
Eventually the road returns to a normal feel as I get closer to Merida. Im hungry now and my backside is getting very sore already. Im still stopping every 30 to 50 miles for either a smoke, drink or toilet visit, sometimes all 3. This bike was a dispatchers favourite, the king of all day riding. It must have been a favourite for its reliability not its comfort. My knees are too bent, Im leaning too far forward and the seat feels like it is made of granite not foam. Merida does not arrive soon enough and when I find a café I almost collapse as I get off the bike.
In the café I look at the menu. This is more of a restaurant with proper meals rather than snacks. As such I recognise nothing on the menu. A waitress comes over and babbles something but I dont understand. A few minutes of uncomfortable struggle ensue until I spot a skewer kebab meal served with chips being collected. I point and say Que esta? The waitress points to something on the menu and now we are rolling. I laugh almost insanely as she makes farmyard animal noises to indicate what type of meat I can have on the skewer. To save her from further embarrassment when she goes cluck cluck I reply si, Si! This woman deserves a medal for customer service. The food is gorgeous. I tried to find the waitress to thank her again for looking after me, but she is busy elsewhere.
I now face a choice. I can ride for a few miles and try to find the campsite here in Merida, or I can push on up to Salamanca. An hour ago all I wanted to do was get off the torture instrument I call my bike, but now after something to eat and drink I am feeling much refreshed. In my head my thoughts turn back to Cath and the tenuous connection with Merida, how I enjoyed my day of rest after my day of hell and how I could expect some company in Salamanca with the Scottish crew. I decide to ride on.
The roads are now like A-roads back home. The countryside is desert but flatter and more open. The traffic moves at the fast pace I am now used to in Spain. I notice how comfortable I have become doing 80mph without fear of interference from the police. I notice how lorries dont block the lanes on the Autovista here, how drivers only use the outside lanes for overtaking then pull back in straight away to leave the road clear for faster vehicles. I notice how fast the traffic moves, even when there is nowhere to overtake speeds rarely drop below 60mph. I also notice how on the odd occasions speed fall to 45 or 50mph how frustrated I become, yet back home this is the norm.
With all this speed the distance signs to Salamanca soon start to get smaller and eventually the town looms into view from the desert. Initially I am totally lost in town but I spot a building that looks familiar and know where to turn. Much to my surprise my memory serves me very well and soon Im heading for Santa Marta des Tormes. As I roll into the campsite my bones are aching, my feet are sore in my boots, sweat is dripping from my nose and my backside feels like it has been rubbed for 9 hours with sandpaper. But I do not feel the despair, hate and exhaustion I did on my day of hell.
After booking in and handing over my passport I find the Scottish crew have completed the same trip and are already pitched. I pitch alongside and we catch up on todays events. They too have had a long trip but with no real problems. They are busy hanging out washing and checking over the bikes and I do the same. The bike is still carrying the correct amount of vital fluids and all is present and correct. Washing is scrubbed and hung out on guy ropes and all is well with the world.
It is now I am with the Scottish crew and there is no-one else around that I start to get to know them better. George is married to Liz, Mel to Sandra, and Bill to Susan. Sandra and Bill are brother and sister, I would never have guessed. I find out what they do for a living, about the town in which they live and about how they know each other. I also finally hear the full story behind Georges favourite phrase, straight through! It is a phrase used by a Scottish radio DJ who does crank calls playing a character called Hector Brocklebank.
It is decided to eat at the hotel adjacent to the campsite. We walk across the car park into a large dining area set out in a minimalist fashion, very modern and very clean. We are waited on courteously and the meal is perfectly fine. It seems quite odd now to be sat in a smart room, being waited upon and eating off real china after the rally. I take a visit to the toilets that are huge, clean, shiny and lavished in marble. I am alone and it is so quiet I take a moment to relish the pleasant surroundings and tranquillity.
We talk about how the rally was, the strange differences here compared to home and I am further informed of Hector Brocklebanks exploits and adventures. We sit outside the café in the cool evening air to relax and talk. We all agree the trip has been an experience but very hard work and no-one seems to be in a rush to come back next year, at least not on a bike. I take a great deal of relief in hearing this, I had wondered if I was being a wimp but if these hardy Scottish folk were weary then I should be too. As the beer flows and the Scottish accents become harder to understand I retire to bed a little before the rest.
I awake, and somehow I notice something is wrong, something missing. It takes me a moment to realise it is the noise of bikes, voices and music that is missing. As my mind wakes up I am thankful for the peace and quiet and that I have nowhere to go today. I am about 250 miles from Santander, on a Monday morning and I do not sail until Thursday afternoon. I could remain camped here for the next 3 nights and still make the ferry.
But I want to go home. Last night Liz from the Scottish crew made a call back to Scotland because her father had a minor stroke. It seems he is ok but she is worried sick about him and wants to be there for him. It took a while for her sister back home to persuade her hes ok and to enjoy herself. I know what shes feeling. Ive been constantly thinking of the gf and her mother. I want to be there for the gf if anything should happen to her mother. I know what it is like to loose someone close and would not like her to go through that alone.
Im missing things I take for granted back home. I miss going into shops and understanding what is written on packets and tins. I miss cafes and petrol stations where I can pay for things in a currency I understand with coins I am familiar with. I miss green fields. I miss the cool British weather. I surprise myself by not missing the Internet or TV and I dont miss British traffic. I dont miss sleeping in my bed, I have been remarkably comfortable in my tent on my roll and in my sleeping bag. For all the good things about this trip I have had enough now. I am ready for home and there are another 3 nights of camping and 1 night on the ferry before I am home.
I get up and do the morning things that are becoming routine now. Wash some clothes in the sinks, hang them on the tent or the bike, have another shower, search for breakfast, struggle to speak Spanish and eat something quite dull, spend ages getting sand out the tent then out of all my orifices and then think of something to do. The Scottish crew are going to walk into Santa Martes des Tormes. I shall join them.
The walk into town is easy, about half a mile. Santa Martes is a town in its own right but as part of the suburbs of Salamanca. The road in has several large houses in tiptop condition with manicured lawns and gravel driveways. Next to each mini mansion is a ramshackle run down shell of a house with rubble in amongst the dry grass of the garden. It is such a contrast from the fantastic to the drastic. The town has the now common 5,6,7 storey buildings that all Spanish towns have. These are drab concrete or brick but in a respectable state of repair. The shops are small compared to UK towns but in a good condition.
George and Liz seem to be able to use only Banco Telefonica cash machines while the rest of us happily insert our bankcards into any old ATM and retrieve the strange money they use here. My ATM tells me my exchange rate will be this and that and tries to sell me insurance all in perfect English. We wander round the shops and laugh as George points out Hector Brocklebank has been Straight through!! leaving a fish consignment Up the back passage of the local fishmonger. Whilst in a supermarket searching for tins of something edible I notice the girls being sneaky. It turns out its Mels birthday and they are getting him a surprise.
Back at the campsite we unload and snack on our purchases. There is a pool on site as part of the hotel and the poor people on the campsite are allowed into the pool area for a small fee, and we do this. I never thought I would do the holiday thing of lounging round a pool, sunbathing and taking the occasional dip, but that is exactly what I did. Lying there on a big plastic sunbed, making sure my white bits are getting some sun, turning over to burn the rest of me and moving with the sun for best effect. Im supposed to be some kind of wild man, travelling across vast plains and exploring new cultures. Im not supposed to be doing the ultimate British holiday hobby, burning myself to a nice tender pink. I feel Ive let myself down, but stuff it, its nice to relax and chill for the afternoon.
This is actually a little more like I expected being in Spain to be. The pool is clean, the area round the pool is pristine and the grass is lush green. There are a variety of holidaymakers lounging around in shorts and bikinis. And some of them are rather attractive. The Scottish crew point out a few younger ladies to me, but Ive got my eye on a strawberry blonde woman in her early 40s. I am disappointed when I hear her talking to her daughter in Spanish, theres no hope of me even talking to her. I sit a while with my shades on and letch. This only makes me miss the gf even more.
I return to the tent later in the afternoon for another hot, sweaty sleep. I can see why the locals have the siesta, its too hot to even think by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I wake and go for yet another shower. I dont even bother to dry myself, I just walk out with my shorts on. Theres not much to do. I sit with the Scottish crew and drink coke, smoke cigarettes and talk. We eat tea on the campsite, talk, other bikers are starting to turn up now. The evening runs as you would expect with nothing exciting to report. It is nice to be in company and I am starting to know the Scottish crew well enough to not feel like a total outsider.
I wake up early enough to notice how quiet it is again. Wed agreed last night to set off fairly early to avoid the worst of the afternoon heat. I get up and put my shorts on and take a look around outside. Its going to be yet another clear hot sunny day, Im almost bored with good weather now its so predictable. As I start the now familiar routine of putting things into bags in a certain order the Scottish crew are getting up and doing the same. Bags are packed, tents carefully folded, bungees pulled taught over luggage and checks made to ensure nothing will escape. For a moment I think I may actually miss doing this, putting my home into a bag and strapping it to a bike.
We pay our bill and get our respective passport returned to us, then hit the road around 0900. Im a little concerned. Todays ride should be a mere walk in the park after Sundays 450-mile trek. But the Scottish crew ride for 80 miles at a time. Im now quite used to 30 to 50 miles between stops and the discomfort from the Revere ensures I have to do this.
The ride starts off fine and we make simple easy progress. George is leading on his modern Triumph with a shock minus its damping due to a big pothole at the start of the trip. I notice it is running somewhat rich, which is the reason why they stop every 80 miles, it has drunk all its fuel. Speeds are similar to my own save through the tighter bends and rougher sections otherwise Liz on the back of the Triumph would be seasick.
As we roll along the countryside starts to change from scrubland desert to dry farmland. The views remind me of the south downs of England but basked in sun and every crop is golden brown not lush green. It is nice to see something other than hard grass and mean-looking bushes. It is also noticeable that there is more life here. Tractors in fields, cars on the road, kids in the towns and more of the omnipresent cranes. My backside is going numb now, and if they do stop every 80 miles Ive still got another 40 to do.
Im no longer looking at the scenery now, Im watching each mile pass slowly on the odometer. My mind is washing between anger, pain, peace, distraction and curses. Some folks tell me their backside goes numb. Id kill for numb. Numb means no pain. Numb is easy. No, I get an ache that grows into a feeling my arse is in a vice being squeezed ever harder. My dodgy knee screams until I move. My feet feel like Ive been stood on them for 4 weeks solid. I fidget endlessly, each time I feel fine for 30 seconds then the pain comes right back in. I sit up, hunch down, stretch my legs out, move my arse backwards and forwards and sideways, pull funny faces and still nothing works. Either this bike is all wrong or I am all wrong.
Finally with 78 miles on the clock we pull into a petrol station. I get off and smile weakly at the rest of my travelling companions. They are all a tiny bit stiff and ready for a stretch but I dont get the impression any of them feel like I do. Everyone fills up and we stand in the sun drinking water and chatting. Im ready for a 3 smoke, 2 toilet visit and big drink kind of stop but no sooner have I lit my cigarette they are all putting on their helmets and waiting for me. I complain but this falls on deaf ears as they wish to be getting on with it before it gets too hot. Too hot?!?! Its been too blinking hot since I left Liverpool 11 days ago, what difference is 20 minutes going to make. I keep these thoughts to myself, I do not wish to be seen as weak.
We set off again into the dry farmland. The entire situation repeats itself again like some kind of horrific groundhog day, feel ok, get a bit stiff, get worse, curse, cry, whimper then eventually stop. At least this time Im 160 miles into the journey. I deliberately dither and procrastinate to ensure I can at least get back n the bike. This time we are into the hills of Northern Spain and the scenery changes into valleys and mountains and trees. Real trees, green trees, forests of them. If only my arse was not so painful I would really enjoy this.
We pull off looking for food. The first town seems to offer no refreshment, back onto the main road. The second stop is open and ready, just not for us. We are told we would have an hours wait, we suspect they are either waiting for a coach party or the workers on the road we can see being built. We are back out of the tunnels and bridges of the mountains before we finally find somewhere to eat.
This place looks quite posh but I still eat the stringy ham on hard bread sandwich. One of the girls comes out with nice soft bread with nice boiled ham between. I ask her what she asked for to get that. Er ham sandwich? Arrrggghh!! It seems bocadillo is the hard things Ive been eating, sandwich means you get nice soft bread like I would expect back home. And Jamon means the stringy cured ham, ham means ham like I find in packets in Tesco back home. Curse that effing Spanish phrase book, it never told me that. I would kick myself but my dodgy leg wont let me.
Do you remember from Day 3 when I got off the ferry and did not dare to turn left? I ended up at a campsite in the outskirts of Santander called Cabo Mayor before I had built up enough courage to follow signs and make left turns. Well this is coming back to haunt me now. I had told the Scottish crew of my stupidity and now it seems I am to lead us into Santander and the campsite I am now considered an expert in Santander campsite navigation through being a big wet scaredy-cat.
It does not take long to gat into Santander, but I have no idea where to start. The only logical thing to do is follow the signs for the ferry, then carry on as I did last time, going either straight ahead or right. The ferry terminal is well signposted and sure enough Im back on the big scary dual carriageway. I follow the road, staying close to the right like I did last time. Each turning is a right or straight on up the hillside. Sure enough I soon find the campsite and take a moment to bask in my own smugness.
We book in a pitch tent on a patch of lush green grass with soil soft enough to get tent pegs into. All the usual things happen, washing, bike checking, drinking yet more water, talking and generally settling in. The site has the same good standard of facilities as the other sites Ive stopped at and I take another long shower to wash off the days sweat and pain. Later we all decide to venture into Santander by taxi for something to eat and a good look around.
2 taxis have come to collect 7 people, but we get separated and a long wait ensues whilst we gather ourselves together. Everyone has an opinion what he or she would like to eat. Im looking for a McDonalds, the Scottish crew cannot decide between curry, English, Chinese or Indian. We wander aimlessly until a waiter jumps out from a bar and hurriedly tells us what is on offer in perfect English. I think we all have had enough of struggling to speak Spanish so we sit down to be served in a familiar tongue. The food is English and somewhat basic. We eat our average meal and pay above average prices.
As we head back to the site there are myriads of tourists milling about and getting in the way. Amongst the stalls and cafes I can see several Spanish people dressed in Victorian costume. I laugh to myself, I am still over 1000 miles from home in a strange country and I come across traditional English dress. I can only assume this is some kind of entertainment but I feel like Im being mocked for my un-cosmopolitan dislike of all things Spanish. I want to go home.
The town is pleasant enough. It seems somehow cleaner and friendlier than I remember it on my first visit. The beach is vast and clean, the waters deep blue, the town hall bright white and the grass seems so green. I ponder if this is all relative. Am I seeing this as nice after seeing so many drab dusty concrete towns throughout Spain? Is this nice because it marks the end of the foreign part of my trip? Is it simply because I have stopped to walk through at leisure and have time to notice the place properly? My answer comes soon enough.
As we walk out of town and the tourist area, the grey and brown concrete 5,6,7 storey buildings make their return. The hillside is covered with them, daunting and depressing. The cranes break up the skyline yet remain still, the same as every other crane in this country remains still. I feel Im in a place of good intentions but nothing is ever finished. Im in a place where property is something to shelter in, not to be proud of. A place where the sun is a problem not a relief. And the problem is heading over the horizon much to my relief.
Back at the site we sit in the cool evening air drinking and talking. More quotes from Hector Brocklebank, more dissection of the rally and the trip, more talk of bikes and repairs, and how much we all look forward to getting back to civilisation. Of course being Scottish this means civilisation is not to be found in Plymouth, or even the North-West. Civilisation for them begins at Gretna Green when they are in Scotland. I retire to bed.
Today is a rest day. There is nothing left to do now except wait for the ferry tomorrow. The morning is spent washing, checking, showering, getting breakfast and talking. Susan and Sandra are going back into town to do the whole girly shopping thing, the rest wander up to the lighthouse for a nosey and I leave them to it. I need some time alone.
I sit for a while in the café and think. Im almost home now, just one ferry and a mere 300 miles till Im back home. I ask myself Why do I feel like this? The image I would like to project is that of the great traveller, a man of adventure and beholder of amazing experiences. I want to be like the Norwegian bloke I read about, I want pictures of myself in the Gobi desert, the Amazon jungle and the frozen Siberia. Im looking to be someone I may never be.
Ive done something I consider amazing. Ive ridden my motorcycle 2,000 miles to a far off country, camped for 11 nights, been to a truly international rally and experienced a different way of life. I should be quite proud of myself. But at least 500 other people from Britain have done this. Some like the Scottish crew have travelled further than myself. Some people have travelled all the way through France and back. This has been a huge, enormous experience for myself but compared to everyone else I am merely another rally-goer. It all seems so pathetic, this has been a life changing experience for me but to most folks its another rally.
I have missed home. I miss English speaking petrol attendants, English cafes and English supermarkets that stock familiar food. I miss the green fields and quaint villages, the familiar currency, the cool weather, endless rows of terraced housing and motorway services. Ive struggled with the culture of Manyana and the unfinished feel of this place. Ive struggled with the heat. If I cannot handle Spain, a country that shares many similarities and cultures with my own, what chance have I of ever surviving somewhere like China or India?
Later I go for a walk to the Lighthouse. The scene before me is stunning, rock faces slide down into a frothing sea, endless clear blue skies and mountains rising in the distant heat haze. I walk along a small outcrop on a dusty path. There is an odd concrete construction that seems to have no purpose other than a place for the local vandals to write their stylised messages on. The wind is quite strong coming in from the sea that makes me feel pleasantly cool. I sit down on the grass and ponder some more.
Is it me? Am I really just a homeboy, am I destined to live my whole life back there in the North-West, only venturing out to places not too different from home? I know Ive been concerned about the gf and Im trying to use this to excuse myself. I know Ive a lot of reflection to do when I get back home. I get up off my backside and try to appreciate the view and the cool sea breeze. It only takes a few minutes to wander back to the campsite. Its hot back at the site due to the shelter from the breeze. I go to sleep in my tent porch again, its become a habit now. I make a pile of bike gear and prop myself up against this and sure enough things fade away.
Later on I catch up with the Scottish crew and we talk of what to do for this evening. George and Liz want to take it easy but Mel, Sandra, Bill and Susan fancy another trip into town for a curry or Chinese. I dont fancy any of these options tonight, I think Im ready for something familiar again. I decide Ill ride into town and find another Burger King or McDonalds.
I ride into town and start searching for a McDonalds. I cannot find one but one thing does come as a surprise. I find Im mixing it with the traffic here in the same madcap way the locals drive. Pedestrian crossings are more advisory than compulsory, traffic lights can occasionally be ignored, especially if youre turning right and its clear, pedestrians are suicidal lemmings that you honk your horn at and road position is dependant on your mood. To think that only 10 days ago I was terrified, now Im as ignorant and careless as the best of the Spanish lunatics.
Round the back of the town I find the rough areas. The multi-storey apartments rise up in a gloomy greyness that even the evening sun cannot cheer up. Dogs run across the road while weary owners shout relentlessly and hopelessly in their strange language. Cafes and bars are filling with a variety of people and pushchairs and youths smoke on street corners. I came to Spain to see how the Spanish live, and I dont think I would like to live this way.
I get back into town and give up on my search. I know where the Pizza-Hut is so I head there and park up on the footpath. No-one else cares where they park here so I dont feel any need to worry about it myself. Looking around I spot the Scottish crew up above me in a first floor window and they motion for me to join them. They are in Pizza-Hut but when I go in to find them they are nowhere to be seen. Back outside it takes me a while to realise they are in the Chinese restaurant next door. I feel quite stupid. Through the now open window I inform them Im going to have Pizza and Ill catch up with them after.
The menu has pictures so this ignorant English tourist can see what he wants and point to the picture when the waitress babbles something. I also manage to get a coke in my best Spanish, Una cola por favor. The pizza is good. The rest of the evening is spent back at the campsite talking some more and listening as several more bikes arrive to stop the night before the ferry tomorrow. I talk a while with a couple from South Wales who have pitched behind me. They are veterans of this trip but I take some comfort when they tell me it has been particularly hot this year and their group has had a few moments where fuses got too short.
I wake around 0800 and smile to myself, this is the last time Ill wake up in a tent, in a foreign country, in this mad heat and so far from home. Im excited and glad Ill be on my way back to the UK this afternoon. I climb out of my sleeping bag and laugh at how much it smells now. I stuff it into its compression bag for the last time. I stagger out the tent into the already rising heat of the day and notice the tent is dripping wet. There is no evidence of rain, this is dew from the cooler nights up here on the coast.
The Scottish crew are milling about and making similar packing noises. The morning is spent packing things. I make a point of watching Bill and Susan pack their tent as it is the same as mine and they always manage to get their tent into its tiny little bag when mine has been rolled loosely and bungeed onto the bike. They carefully remove the inner sheet, remove the poles and spread both the inner and flysheet out on the grass neatly. These are both folded precisely in half then half again, rolled up and firmly shoved into the bag. It all looks so easy.
I remove my poles but leave the inner still attached to the flysheet. I spread out the sheets and fold them sort of in half and sort of in half again, its much harder when there is only one of me. I roll these up in insert the poles and pegs. I place the bag under this enormous mound of polyester and start to stuff. I curse, struggle, curse, stuff then curse some more. Slowly, inch-by-inch the zip on the bag is closed whilst I sit and twist and stuff the tent. Finally I let out a yelp of joy as the zip slips closed on the last 3 inches. After 11 nights of camping and 11 mornings of packing and on my last night of camping, the ten is back in its little bag.
We eat breakfast, talk with some of the other bikers on site and load up the bikes. I prepare a plastic back containing the basics I will need on the ferry. I remember the garage decks will be locked whilst at sea, I also remember I will not have a cabin on this trip which is worrying me. Being the resident expert on navigation in the Santander area I lead the Scottish crew down to the ferry terminal about 1200. We arrive and there are already 30 40 bikes ahead of us in the queue. The sun is up, Im wearing full riding gear and Im beginning to sweat profusely again.
Its going t be a long wait until we get aboard. Whilst stood there is spot the Hull crew arrive and go over to see how they are. Its been a hard trip for them too. The Harley has had 3 punctures. Fortunately the owner has some kind of European breakdown cover but it has lead to delays and nightmare trips. The standard Triumph under its enormous load has popped its fork seals and overheated regularly. The customised Triumph has gaffer tape on it to ward off evil mechanical spirits. There have been arguments and short tempers. They are tired of the relentless heat, foreign ways and more than ready to go home.
Talking casually to some of the other bikers the mood is much the same. Everyone is tired and ready for home. I get the feeling those who tell me they have loved every minute and cant wait till next year are trying to convince themselves. Finally the gates open and we pour onto the ferry. I park the bike, strap it down, get my plastic bag and leave most of my gear, including the helmet, on the bike.
This time I find an exit that has a lift! No more huge trips up long flights of stairs, just a short walk across the deck then up up and away in my beautiful mirrored lift. I find the reclining chairs on the top deck and let out a humph!. I have a black fake leather chair in a row of 4 and nowhere to store anything. Nowhere to lock away my kit or valuables, just a seat. It is hot outside as ever and I have my jacket, bike pants and boots on. I am brave and leave as much as I dare on the seat and go out on deck. I make a note to book a cabin both ways on any overnight crossings in the future, whatever the cost.
I walk around on deck for a while, go into the bars, look around the shop and try to kill time. I cant settle. The ship leaves port at 1600 and I watch as Spain slowly fades into the mist. I think about what Ive done. I think about how little old me, Ren Withnell, has ridden a 600cc motorcycle from Bolton in England to Faro in Portugal. Ren, the guy with no passport, the guy who thinks Birmingham is a long way away. But it all seems so hollow. I feel as though I have climbed Mount Everest yet I am among 500 other bikers who have all travelled as far. I take some comfort and kudos from the fact I did it alone. So far I have not met anyone else who was not riding in a group or with a partner.
I cant settle. The mood on the ship is different. On the outward crossing there was a party atmosphere, now the air is filled with tiredness, frayed tempers and relief. Those I talk to are subdued and talk is of homes and familiar places. The Scottish crew will not feel quite at home for another 2 nights as they are booked into a hotel in the Lake District to break up the 600 mile journey home. Im still considering another nights camping to break my journey home, but inside I know I want to see the gf and I wont be able to wait.
The gf. Lord only knows how much Ive worried over her. The last messages were both positive and negative. Her mother is out of the hospice that means she has improved a little, a great relief. She went to see a Physio earlier in the week who hurt her and she has been suffering with her back more than ever. She still wants me not to worry and to enjoy myself but I cannot switch of my concerns. I feel, more than ever, that I have left her to go and have a great adventure whilst she stands and sits in all kinds of strange ways trying to get some relief. I feel so guilty.
The day wears on with nothing to report. Im constantly checking my kit on the chair, considering changing into the pants Ive put into my plastic bag, wondering where I can shower and if anyone will let me stow my kit in their room. I dont like to ask favours and it would only lead to confusion in the morning when we disembark. The entertainment in the evening is another cheesy resident band and another cheesy show from the same magician and his beautiful assistant. The applause is muted tonight.
On my lonely wanderings I spot next to the kids pool a toilet that feature a shower, presumably for those coming out of the pool. But at 1130 there is no-one about so I get my towel and go in there. I shower and wash away the days sweat. Only I did not plan for my clothes getting wet. I spend the next hour out on deck trying to dry myself in the cool sea breeze. Needless to say this did not work.
I wander around one last time. There is nothing to do so at 0100 I go to the room full of crappy fake leather chairs to see about sleep. Out of the 20 or so folks in there only 2 are using the chairs. The rest are on the floor between the rows or in the corners, propped up on mounds of sheets from the cupboard in the corner, and snoring loudly. I grab the last remaining sheets, make a pillow and bed and wedge myself into the gap between my chair and those in front. It is not comfy but with earplugs, fatigue and boredom sleep finally arrives.
Id like to say I wake, but that would imply I have slept. Ive had fitful moments of sleep between tossing and turning, fighting sheets and jackets and plastic bags, removing and re-inserting earplugs and rubbing cramped limbs. At around 0600 I finally give up and un-wedge myself from between the chairs. I tidy up my mess and sort out my belongings much to the disgust of the guy in front who scowls at me then shuts his eyes hard again.
I start my now usual wanderings. I stand at the back of the ship and watch the wash slipping away. I note how the sun is shining but the heat is different, not as hot but stuffier, we are getting close to England now. I sit with some of the Hull crew and breakfast on cereal whilst talking of the trip. I learn of more shenanigans and who was trying to do what to whom, who has drunk what and details of bike failures. The Scottish crew surface from their enviable rooms and slowly the ferry comes back to life. I do some more kit shuffling then change into my bike kit far too early, we are still hours from port.
I sit alone at the front of the ship, staring hard to see when my long lost home country comes into view. Finally out of the sea haze I spot land. Sweet land. Land that contains people who speak my language, land where the food in the shops is familiar, land where people drive on the correct side of the road and where tea is served in big cups with milk. Tea, Id kill for a cup of proper tea right now. I walk round to the side of the ship and dig my mobile phone out of its bag and switch it on. Im excited when I see Orange rather than some odd name. Then I get some messages, nice one, everyone will be welcoming me home.
No. A message from the gf telling me not to worry, but shes had to go into hospital, contact her sister for details. Another from my mother telling me the gf is in hospital but dont worry. Why do folks do that?! Dont worry, yeah like Im not going to care at all about someone Im connected to both physically and emotionally. Its ok shes only in hospital. My last gf died suddenly only 18 months ago, is it all happening again? Worried? Im practically sick!
Frantic calls reveal her legs have swollen badly. It seems after seeing the Physio she has been in a great deal of pain, then on Thursday her legs swelled up. One doctor told her to go home and rest but in the evening she was in so much pain she called out the doctor. Another doctor came and told her to go to hospital, no ambulance, get yourself there. After much trouble sorting care for her kids her very helpful brother-in-law finally took her in. Now she is waiting to find out what the problem is.
Im stressed, angry and frustrated. I should be there, I want to let her know I care, I want to tell her how thankful I am to be with her. I want to say all the things I never got to say to my last gf. Bill and Susan talk to me and offer sympathy but its not helping, Im not in the right mood. The ferry seems to take and age to dock, the wait in the garage is slow and maddening, I want to be thankful for being home safe but all I can think about is getting back home and finding out what is going on. I smile as I note my kit is all present and correct yet this seems so stupid now.
I ride off the ship, I dont look back. I dont have the chance or the energy to say goodbye to the Scottish crew. I show my passport to the official then hit the highway hard. Plymouth is busy and it takes half an hour to get out onto the dual carriageway. Im back in the old dispatcher mode, cutting through lines of cars, blasting past on the inside of slow traffic and gassing through junctions.
Im back home and I should be happy, its what Ive been thinking of for a few days now. But Im 300 miles from where I should be. 300 miles of motorway and slow British traffic. I did not realise how slow British traffic is compared to Spain. On the Autovista overtaking is done quickly, here we all sit in the middle and outside lane while the inside lane is almost empty. This is my lane today, Im passing car drivers all moving like sheep in the herd, stuck in the middle and outside lane because it takes too much thought to pull back in after overtaking. I curse the British for being such crap drivers.
I curse the volume of British traffic. I curse the way we cleverly use our motorway network as a car park when the cities are too busy. I curse the mindless drivers who do not look in mirrors to see the crazy eyes of the fool squeezing between them. Spanish drivers are lunatics that drive too fast, but in so doing they need to be awake and alert, here we move so slowly we simply switch off. On the odd stretches of clear road I get up to speed and think of what to do when I get home. It will be too late to go to the hospital and I dont even know which ward she is in. I will make calls and see her tomorrow, but it might be too late tomorrow.
The road rolls by slowly. I stop between 60 and 80 miles to refuel and smoke and check the mobile. I try to reflect and calm myself by telling myself she is in the best place and no one seems too worried, just concerned. Its not working though and my arse is starting to hurt on this tortuous seat. Mile after mile after mile after mile I ride and finally the signs tell me Im getting closer to home as the evening draws in. It is with huge relief I join the M61, only 10 miles to go.
Home, sweet home. The house is still as it should be and as I left it. Neat piles of post greet me but I ignore this and get on the phone. I speak with the gfs sister, my mother who is pleased Im home safe and then try to call the hospital. It takes a while to track her down but then I hear her sweet voice. I cry a little as I ask her the most stupid of questions, How are you Angel?
Shes ok. My body slumps with relief and I notice the long sigh coming from my chest. No one seems to know what the problem is, various tests need to be done, some have been done, shes in some pain but not as bad as before and I can see her tomorrow.
I dry my eyes and start to unpack.
After 5 days in hospital and lots of frustration with tests being arranged then unarranged, I took her home. The swelling went away on its own and no cause was found. She did however get different pain killers which are helping. We still await proper treatment but we now suspect this may become a way of life. She can function and we have had some good trips together. She is not fixed, but she is living her life as best she can with a smile.
The Scottish Crew:-
Various e-mails have passed between us. I was hoping to meet up with them at the Stormin the Castle rally, but I was in Cornwall with the gf that weekend. I intend to go and visit them before the year is out. I hope I have made some friends who I can catch up with from time to time
The Stag Do Crew:-
G and AM are now married, my son has a step father! I was there at the wedding in my medieval costume to wish them the best. No doubt they will continue to bicker relentlessly for the rest of their lives. I think they like bickering, its a sport for them.
Not working but spending all my time getting my website sorted out. No plans other than to get a smaller bike to save on the high cost of fuel, and to do more trips so you can read about them here!
Thanks for reading.