Published: April 30th 2012April 29th 2012
Bear, Alex and Tyrone
Farewell from Avillon
It was not the best of starts, Gill had been up most of the night sick so there was no chance of catching the 9am ferry from Dover in the state she was in. We pinned her illness on a dodgy prawn from the curry we had the previous night. After some last minute rearranging of bookings and with Gill feeling marginally better we finally managed to get on the road around 10.30 and headed off to Dover via a quick stop at Halfords to try and get a new car stereo installed as I had failed in my attempt to get it working. Sadly their ‘radio man’ who looked about 14 decided that the new stereo and my installation was fine but ‘something in the car’ must be the problem, so with half an eye on the time we popped the old rubbish radio back in and took off to Dover and without too much fuss hopped on the ‘Pride of Calais’ for the 90 mins crossing. We then took off across France with a view to staying with friends Mark and Alex who ran a French language school near Avallon. We tip toed over the Somme battlefields, negotiated the
Roof mounted machine gun or hi-lift jack?
Paris perephrique before homing in on Magny, Sadly due to our late departure we did not get close to them till almost midnight and then promptly failed to find their house.
Alex sensing we were quite clearly lost took it upon herself to mount a search party to find us, thankfully two and half ton expedition prepared Land Cruisers are not that easy to hide on rural French country lanes and she found us in a layby as we were ‘discussing’ the next best move forward. Once safely back at their home a few cold beers and some food was most welcome after several hours on the road. Alex and Bear (Mark) had moved out to Magny from London about 18 months previously and thankfully their residential language school was proving a great success and was already booked out for the remainder of the year and well into 2013. They offer French immersion courses to British school kids through traditional classroom teaching as well as utilising outdoor activities to help improve language skills. We took a tour of the school the next morning and could see why they had left London to settle in a beautiful French
Old and New(ish)
Tyrone meets his Great Grandad
hamlet surrounded by the forest of the Morvan National Park.
We eventually said our goodbyes and resumed our journey to the south of France where we planned to stay with my folks for a few days. After another several hours on the road we slowly entered the medieval village of Collobrierers set in the heart of the Var region. Rumour has it that it was in Collobrierers where someone came up with bright idea that sticking cork from the local trees into a wine bottle helped preserve its contents. The village, protected from the unchecked development of the St Tropez coast by a ring of hills, vineyards and wild forest had not changed much in the last few centuries. The wide shuttered windows, narrow winding streets and relaxed pace of life was easy to admire and get sucked into. It was understandable to see how the spell of the place had affected my parents twenty odd years previously when they decided to take a gamble and buy a house there.
Usually when I am in Collobrieres it is to relax, eat, sleep and eat. This time however there was a sense of urgency
as we used our time to iron out any last minute problems, pack, repack and test out the roof top tent which seemed to amuse the locals no end when it was erected. It was also a good opportunity to load up with a few boxes of rose wine, essential Sahara survival items! Finally it was probably our last opportunity to get the new stereo fitted and working properly and we were recommended a garage in nearby Hyeres.
We found the place without too much difficulty and parked up outside, a mechanic who looked uncannily like retired football referee Pierluigi Collina popped up from under the bonnet of a Renault and sauntered over to us while wiping his hands on an oily rag. After explaining the problem he found out within a few minutes what the fault was and after a few tweaks soon had the stereo installed and working, no more Euro cheese FM, we could actually now play our own tunes. The chap refused to take any payment for his quick fix so dad rewarded his generosity with a lengthy discussion about Eric Champ and what a little bollix Gavin Henson was while at Toulon.
We capped the day off with a grand send off meal at the ‘Petite Fontaine’ restaurant where we ate our body weight in food. As a finale we indulged ourselves at desert with a particular pungent noxious homemade green cheese that if left to its own devices for another few hours would have become self aware.
We pulled out of Collobrieres leaving behind an excited dad and a slightly tearful mum and snaked our way through the lanes and back on to the autoroute east.
After crossing the Pyrenees we decided to push on past Barcelona to Tarragona where we had been recommended a campsite. Tarragona was dangerously close to a resort called Salou where I had been on rugby tour a year previously, flashbacks of drunken excess and kangaroo courts seared back into my consciousness, it felt like returning to a scene of a crime. The campsite did not disappoint and we found a cracking position on the headland overlooking the beach. This was the first time we had used our tent and camp kitchen in anger. It was a gentle introduction to life on the road as we enjoyed
an outside meal under the pine trees and a few glasses of rose.
As we travelled further south past Barcelona and Valencia the neat lemon and olive groves finally gave way to the arid dusty brown scrub land which in turn surrendered itself a few hours later to the vast commercial greenhouses and poly tubes that supply Tesco’s with its peppers and tomatoes all year around. By this stage we had covered well over 400 miles, were feeling jaded and were looking forward to setting up camp and getting some food and sleep. The last 50 or so miles dragged on forever but we eventually descended into Almeria late in the day as the dusk shadows from the imposing surrounding cliffs stretched across the bay. Like many a port town Almeria had not been blessed aesthetically, the ramshackle cranes and warehouses of the docks monopolised the sea front and they left little room for the row upon row of drab 60s apartment blocks and rough looking cafes that jostled behind for a view of the sea. We found the docks main entrance easily enough where a bored security guard waved us through to the ferry ticket office
without so much as lifting his head from the sports pages of the newspaper. We purchased our one way ticket to Nador before scurrying off to find the campsite.
The campsite had clearly seen better days, and there seemed to be more wild cats present then guests while the motorway bridge that arched overhead destroyed any ambience that the waves lapping on to the nearby beach may have offered. We did a quick circuit of the site before deciding to try our luck and find somewhere else to stay. We edged our way further down the coast passing by various package tour hotels draped in German flags trying their best to cling on to some misguided sense of grandeur. After several miles there was a flickering rising of hopes when we stumbled across another campsite but this one looked even more desperate then the last so with the last vestiges of light at our disposal we despondently dragged ourselves back to the first campsite in Almeria.
We soon discovered that a dour Scottish man ran this less than salubrious place, he had seen us do our brief recce earlier and knew we had only
returned due to the absence of any viable alternative accommodation. He grumbled his way through our registration before telling us we could camp by the sea. We fired up the hob and thrashed out another chorizo, pesto and pasta meal before sinking a few beers while fending off the interests of the feral cats whose number had seemed to have swelled in our absence.
‘Tyrone’ looked a bit plain compared to the other overlander vehicles that were also queuing for the morning ferry , the owners of which had decided to splash huge stickers and logos all over their bonnets and doors advertising just quite how hardcore their ‘expeditions’ were. I was not entirely convinced that shouting ‘Extreme 4x4’ , ‘Extreme Off-road’ and ‘Extreme Africa’ in 1 ft. high gaudy letters to the casual observer served any other purpose other than radiate smugness and make you look like a bit of a twat. All the drivers had matching ‘extreme 4x4’ t-shirts and jackets too just in case you were in any doubt as to how extreme they really were when they were away from their vehicles. We were clearly amateurs at this game.
Eventually after a delay of 40 mins as the crew tried to shoehorn as many vehicles on board the ship as possible it finally slipped out of the harbour without much fanfare and into the Med. We found a perch on the stern of the ship to witness our last views of Europe for 8 months. I don’t think we will miss Almeria too much as it sulked off into the distance before disappearing altogether into the fine sea mist that hugged the coastline. Morocco lay ahead and hopefully some time to relax after our 1700 mile dash across France and Spain. We found another quiet spot on the deck to sit down and promptly fell asleep.