Thursday, 31 January 2008

30th Jan 08

Date: 30th Jan 08
Location: El Jadida
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunny, 25°c
Status: Ben & Luke – frustrated, Colonel – back on top form

Another day of pounding the streets of Morocco in search of the seemingly impossible, battling the admin and spending money we shouldn’t be!

Up early with a soaking wet tent outside as we’d had the heaviest dew yet, so our 6am alarm clock was snoozed suitably until the sun had done its job and burnt the night’s water away! We even managed to get our washing done, dried and packed before we set off, ahhh clean clothes!

Headed north again (damn wrong direction) to Casablanca and as we’d marked the position of the clinic the day before on the GPS finding it was no problem. Then unusually so was finding the right department for Luke’s jab, in the hospital gates and there it was right in front of us, something different was happening from yesterday – things were going ok!

Within the hour Luke was all yellow-fevered up and we hit the road to Rabat, another 100kms north our destination the Mauritanian embassy at 3pm to collect (hopefully) our visas.

Got there at 3.30pm and this time the guard was even in a good mood welcoming us back, we headed down the box of a room to wait and no queue too so straight to the front and another friendly smile from the clerk! How different from yesterday!

“Mr Marshall and Mr Southall you are from England, here are your passports and visas, welcome to our country and enjoy your stay!!” This couldn’t get any better and Luke and I were on cloud 9 again...

Hit the A3 (not the same one) south for what we hoped would be the last time leaving the ugliness and industry of Casablanca and Rabat behind for good. The 3hr journey south took us towards the sun and the coast and back to our awesome little free camping spot on the beach where we had a fire, coffee and couscous before hitting the tent for some hardcore shithead games before bed.


End of day location: El Jadida
Distance covered: 320kms

29th Jan 08

Date: 29th Jan 08
Location: El Rajida
Weather: Scattered sunshine and dry, 25°c
Status: Ben – recovered, Luke – sleeping, Colonel – fixed and fit

Earliest start of the trip so far, slept the night on the edge of some stunning sand dunes and got up at 5am for the 200kms drive to Casablanca for Luke’s yellow fever jab and then onto Rabat to the Mauritanian embassy to buy our visas for the next country. All very easy, no this is Africa as I keep reminding Luke!

Drive was excellent on the best roads we’ve encountered so far, headed to Rabat to get our application in before 10am for the next day service…but no, not available until tomorrow at 3pm!! So we headed to Casablanca another hour away and found the clinic which Luke has to go to for his immunisation tomorrow. Mad big grotty city which does nothing to recreate the splendour which the film of the same name portrays!

Couldn’t even find a good place to stop for lunch so bit the bullet and had a McDonalds for the first time in about 10yrs. Zoe you would be so proud!

Left the city to find the only campsite in the area and as with all of the others out of season there was hardly anyone there apart from the stray cats and resident parrot! Luke whipped up a storm of couscous and we hit the sack early after the days adventures.

Up at the crack of dawn again tomorrow for more admin nightmares….

End of day location: Casablanca
Distance covered: 290kms

28th Jan 08

Date: 28th Jan 08
Location: Marrakech
Weather: Light grey skies with broken sunshine, 25°c
Status: Ben – legs of a 90 yr old, Luke – all good, Colonel – not charging quite right!

Last day in Marrakech today with loads to do before we head out and down to the coast again, up early, SSS, breakfast on the square and then the list of tasks for the morning! Got loads of passport photos printed for Luke in case we need them for visas etc, copied all of my photos onto CD for Kalid, our good friend at the hotel, and then tried to find somewhere for Luke to get his yellow fever injection…..oh dear.

Found the location on the map and no problem getting ourselves there, found the clinic, but the wrong place we needed the hospital, no probs only the other side of the road, to the reception, go to the next building, go to reception there to be told its downstairs, go there and told its not there but another location all together on the other side of town! Back to the Land Rover and again no probs finding the place, Luke went in and back out 10 mins later……yes he can get it, but only in Casablanca on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays!! AHHHHHH

Driving slowly, or so I thought out of town a very kind policeman decided to jump out behind a bush with his speed camera. I’d been following a Mercedes for the last few kms and for some unknown reason the cop decided to pull me over not him for doing 71km/h in a 60 zone. A nice enough chap who talked with me about the marathon the day before amongst other pleasantries, but I still left 200Dhms worse off than when I stopped. Still £15 for a lovely talk with a member of the constabulary; can’t think of a better way to spend my hard earned cash!! Note to self, drive slowly through towns.

Destination Essaouira will have to wait for another day, decided to head up to the clinic as its essential that Luke has the immunisation before going to some of the countries as they won’t let you in without it. Driving north for some distance for the first time in the trip and it doesn’t feel right!

Rather than staying in one of the towns again we headed to a location slightly south of Casa called Sidi Bouzid and found another absolutely stunning camping location 10m from the ocean on a headland jutting out into the Atlantic. Luke cooked dinner, I planned the next day and we went to bed!

End of day location:
Distance covered:

Sunday, 27 January 2008

27th Jan 08

Date: 27th Jan 08
Location: Marrakech
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 27°c
Status: Ben – Overjoyed to have finished the marathon, Luke – All good, Colonel –
parked up

So that’s it then, the Marrakech marathon out of the way – probably the least prepared I ever want to be for one of the challenges ever, but I managed to drag my sorry-ass around the 42kms course (god it sounds further in KM’s!) and set a pretty damn fine time of 4hrs 6mins which amazingly is 3 mins quicker than the last one I did in Wales, and only 6 mins slower than this years London time which I trained for weeks for!

Was an excellent experience and very different from the UK races I’ve been involved with, no toilets, mostly French runners and for some frustrating reason 3 different finishing banners all of which I thought were the final few metres and the finish!

Sitting in the internet café typing this out with the intention of finding some beer in this city and drinking it somewhere out of harms view as its still frowned on here and I don’t want to offend and end up in jail like that stupid women who named her teddy bear Mohammed!

Clothes are being washed, dinner is taken care of and we intend hitting the road sometime in the next 48hrs to go south and start the adventure proper.

Luke is a massively valued part of this whole thing now and I’m so glad to have him on board until Ghana, if your looking for a ride down the west coast of Africa leaving Ghana sometime in March then get in touch! Navigation skills would be a bonus…

Have a great day in the UK, I’m off to lubricate my insides with the good stuff.

End of day location: Marrakech
Distance covered: 0kms, apart from the 42kms I ran!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

25th Jan 08

Date: 25th Jan 08
Location: Marrakech
Weather: Blue skies with some cloud, 26°c
Status: Ben – as prepared as my unprepared body can be!! Luke – on board, Colonel – parked up safely

Mission for the day – find the registration point for the marathon! Had a long walk around the city and found it!

All sorts of entertainment going on with bands, singers and entertainers filling the Jardin de Harti with a festival like atmosphere and me constantly thinking about Sunday and how on earth I’m going to drag myself around the 42km circuit!! I WILL do it…Inshallah!

Found a terrace café overlooking the central square to sit and catch up on emails whilst Luke and Sue did a final bit of shopping before she hits the road tomorrow with the next destination being the Alps and the family. Enjoyed the atmosphere and sunset over a coffee before heading back to the hotel.

Morocco has provided the most incredible start to the journey with indescribable places, uber-friendly people and the sort of weather I craved whilst planning this thing back in the UK. My only real negatives so far have been the condition of my feet, Owen’s failure to show and the training I feel I have missed out on but they are minor issues when I put them into the bigger picture.

I’m looking forward with great excitement and anticipation to the next few weeks on board with Luke as my wingman and sidekick, a real chance for us to cement our already brilliant relationship. The photos and diary will become better, more descriptive and a true feast for all of you!

End of day location: Marrakech
Distance covered: 0kms

24th Jan 08

Date: 24th Jan 08
Location: Taghazoute
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine with a wee bit of cloud in the distance, 27°c
Status: Ben – trying my best with knackered feet! Colonel – still missing the tap!

Left Taghazoute early to meet up with Luke’s mum who’d stayed in hotel in the town as the night before the warning light for the alternator had come on during the drive up the coast. Once we started it up again in the morning the problem seemed to have gone so we hit the road, destination Marrakech, and for once we’re leaving in the daylight – a novel experience for us and probably a really good thing for our lives!

After a good 3hrs on the road we rolled into the back streets of Marra and Luke’s new-found navigation skills got us straight to the car park they’d used before! Walked through the central square and souk and we’re approached by all manner of madman, snake charmer, monkey trainer before finding peace and solitude at one of the many restaurants in the centre of the square for a fat feast!

From reading email after email from Owen all of which follow the same line I have decided to continue the adventure alone for the time being, well with a fantastic passenger on board, my dear friend and new challenge partner (although I fear the marathon could be a step too far!!) Luke J

We will spend the next few days preparing for the marathon, saying goodbye to Sue as she departs for the Alps tomorrow and searching out a replacement tap for the Land Rover! The expedition has not faltered, merely changed course as we plan to head to Ghana, the host of the African Cup of Nations, where we’ll take in one of the matches before packing Luke off back to the UK (maybe) Inshallah!

End of day location: Marrakech
Distance covered: 286kms

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

21st Jan 08

Date: 21st Jan 08
Location: Mirleft, Morocco
Weather: Another great day in Africa
Status: Ben – struggling to get my feet ready for the marathon, Colonel – missing water tap from the rear tank, in need of fixing.

R&R beside the beach for the day following an exciting trip into the nearest town Sidi Ifni to visit the Monday market to buy fruit, veg, spices, a washing bowl and a good section of lamb ready for tonights culinary delights.

In the process of sitting by the Land Rover, relaxing in the sun its amazing how many people sit down with you to start conversation which is awesome.

Flavio the Italian/Swiss surfer in his Merc Vento parked up next to us and a day later is still here after sharing a stunning evening meal and making us all laugh with his jokes and stories.

The german couple next door decided if they can’t beat us, join us and pulled their chairs into the fire while we chatted until the sun went down – a fantastic lady who has travelled extensively around the globe, is very similar to my friend Jay’s mum and brought a whole Tupperware of nibbles to the evenings meal!

And then there’s the weird camper, a bit of a run-down American-style day wagon which when it arrived deposited two guys and three girls at our doorstep. After a quick conversation it turns out the 40yr old owner of the camper is on a road trip, picked up the Spanish guy in Casablanca and at the same time collected three ‘female passengers’ from Fes – all between 20 and 25, and there to service their needs as required! Interesting arrangement J

Once the sun had set behind the horizon we set about producing another fantastic meal for ourselves, Flavio, Abdullah, Eisha (2 local cousins who’d parked off with us)! When Eisha had to go as the darkness was setting it, Luke was only too happy to oblige and spent the next couple of hours introducing a bit of English charm and humour to their evening as neither spoke the other language…but we managed to get an invite to tajine at theirs this evening!

Bed before midnight…..

End of day location: Mirleft
Distance covered: 50kms

20th Jan 08

Date: 20th Jan 08
Location: Merleft
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 25 °c
Status: Ben – 100% good, Colonel – much the same

Got up late and packed, refilled and swept out the vehicle to prepare for the lengthy half hour drive to our next stunning location to camp at, headed to the local hotel for breakfast of baguette, strong coffee and OJ and got the map out.

Our destination the small town of Merleft 30kms down the coast and according to the Lonely Planet, an uninspiring hippie hang out; spend a few days there and its ambience is contagious!

Arrived and Sue left her car to have the window fixed and I found an tiny internet café and oh my god…..they sell card readers so finally I can take the photos off my camera and stick them on the site! Will do that tomorrow….inshallah.

Headed to the campsite, on the beach predictably, and set up camp. Off to play Frisbee now so will report back sometime soon.

End of day location: Merleft
Distance covered: 30kms

Saturday, 19 January 2008

19th Jan 08

Date: 19th Jan 08
Location: N of Tazhoute
Weather: Clear blue skies, some light cloud, hot 25°c
Status: Ben – recovering feet, but enjoying the ocean and the sun! Colonel – Parked up

Have spent the last 24hrs parked up with all the other campervans right at the edge of the Atlantic soaking up as much vitamin D from the sun as I can in preparation for the marathon at the end of the month. My feet are bruised and battered from the climb and from having a pair of, although damn fine looking boots, ones that rubbed and chaffed like you wouldn’t believe!

I knew the challenges were going to be difficult mentally and physically and I was/am prepared for that but having feet feeling like this with only a few days to go before the next challenge really isn’t too good! Still if Zola Budd could run long distances in bare feet then maybe that’s what I’ll have to employ to get the next one out of the way and completed!

We’re off south today to restock at the supermarkets before trying to find another surf beach further south to enjoy the full effects of!

End of day location: ?
Distance covered: ?

18th Jan 08

Date: 14th Jan 07
Location: N of Tahzoute
Weather: Clear, Blue Skies and the warmest morning of the trip so far!
Status: Ben – In need of recuperation by the ocean, Colonel – moving again

Blimey what a rollercoaster of a last week it’s been!! Started it feeling the worst and most tired I’d felt in 10 years and now finish it sat once again by the Atlantic Ocean basking in the wicked sunshine soaking my aching feet after the exertions of climbing a mountain!! JJ

Once Jenny and Colin had finished the last bit of their fish lunch and headed north for their village fiesta my stomach hadn’t felt right, I spent a complete day holed up in the tent doing nothing apart from run to the loo and then we had to head to the Atlas to prepare for the first of the challenges – Toubkal, great!

After a good drive through Marrakech, again in the rush hour but safely navigated, we drove up to the mountain road to find the quiet village of Imlil; the base camp for summer and winter ascents of the Atlas range, four of which peaks are over 4000m.

When we strolled into the Café de Soleil after sundown we met another truly great character and big part of the trip so far, Alex our French/living in Wales guide and instructor. We all immediately hit it off and shared the same approach to the situation “How are we gonna get Luke up and hill instead of Owen?”…simple, off dashes the hotel owner and brings back a pair of boots in the right size and a set of crampons, couple that lot with the other bits I’ve got and there he is….Luke the intrepid mountain explorer!

After a cold nights sleep we rolled out of our freezing rooms and got the kit together to start the three day journey to scale Mount Toubkal. They’d be split into one hard day and two easier with the worst of it coming first as we try to cover most of the distance while feeling fairly fresh at the start. A long 6 hour trudge up to the refuge at 3140m was made a damn sight easier by the addition of crampons for the first time in the mini-adventure and together with it the joys of trying to walk with your knees ALWAYS slightly apart to save from tripping up and heading off down the sheer slopes before you’re meant to.

Was wasn’t making the trek any easier, was that every step we were taking nearer to the refuge our task was becoming harder and harder as the air thinned and oxygen became more precious causing our hearts to beat faster to compensate, not so bad in the early stages but by the time we’d got to the last hour of our efforts we needed to stop every 2 mins to get our breath back. Makes you feel really, really unfit and it doesn’t matter how fit you think you are it still gets you big time, Luke meanwhile with his literally minutes of preparation for the climb, wasn’t really looking forward to day 2.

Up bright and early for the assault on the summit and it was ‘Another shit day in Africa’ again – clear blue skies, sunshine and about -8°c in our rooms (honestly) as we scraped the frost off the inside of the glass! After stuffing down some breakfast and making my final unscheduled visit to the toilet we headed outside full of expectation and aching feet to crampon-up. The ascent was only around 1.5kms away but up gain of nearly 1km so some serious thigh work to do if we’re gonna make it! 3hrs later we’d made most of the distance up and the climb stated to level out so the ice axes became more like weapons and the summit finally showed it face over a ridge at which point Luke decided to break into a sprint to be the first there….and made it in superb American sport jock style……YEAH!

A more-than-Titanic struggle to get there but oh so worth it, the huge amount of huffing puffing, not changing for 4 days, wind-chapped face, blistered feet feeling it was incredible. Challenge one complete.

Back at the refuge that night we were enjoying the last of the afternoons sunshine, last being about 16.00 as the refuge is deep in a valley, getting sunlight for about 6hrs a day before dropping back into the sub-zero zone, when along rocked a bunch of four Catalonians to join us for the night! Later that evening, even though the language gap as a bit of a barrier, the rules of Shithead (card game) had been swapped and battle commenced!

Most amusing part of the trip so far? Watching Daphne (the female member of their troupe) pick up the complete set of rules in a game and kick Alex’s ass straight away afterwards….”But I never loose” he said!!

Next day, yesterday, involved travelling down from the mountains to Marrakech to drop off our good buddy Alex, then headed west as far as you can go and back to the coast!

So that’s exactly where I’m writing this from now, the beach, with the sun hitting my right shoulder so much I’ll have to turn around soon and a set of achy, tired and bruised feet but a very contented and satisfied head! Doctor’s orders are as follows: sunshine, relax and let the blisters recover before in 10 days time they have to get moving again to run the streets of Marrakech and the first marathon of the trip.

Signing off for now…..Ben & Luke

End of day location: on the beach at Tahzoute
Distance covered: 353kms

Monday, 14 January 2008

Jan 12th 08

Date: 12th Jan 08
Location: Essaouira
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunny, 10°c at night, 18°c in the daytime
Status: Ben – aching from playing far too much Frisbee, Colonel – all good

Not the biggest diary entry in the world as very little has happened over the past few days, we’ve taken the opportunity to relax, eat well and soak up the atmosphere of the beach during the day and the medina at night filled with its strange smells, sights and most of all people!

Today we’re heading down the coast in search of another campsite which should be cheaper than the beachside, retirement camper-filled, rather too tarmac-based site I’ve been enjoying! It really is a little too much to have dogs/building site/people waking you up at 6am every morning when I’m supposed to be on holiday!

Writing this part 2 days after the script above as I’ve been holed up in the tent for the last 24hrs only leaving to make a bee-line for the toilet block as something, be it food, water or sunshine has struck me down with a good portion delhi-belly (and in Morocco too!), on the mend now and making our way back towards Marrakech and then south from there to Imlil to arrange for Luke to make the climb with me…if we can find some equipment!

May be out of touch for a few days but will report back ASAP on our descent! Inshallah

End of day location: Sidi Kaouchi
Distance covered: 35kms

Saturday, 12 January 2008

10th Jan 08

Date: 10TH Jan 07
Location: Essaouira, Morocco
Weather: Blue skies and the best sunshine yet, 18°c
Status: Ben – on the coast with Luke smiling 100%, Colonel – marching on

Awoke at 6am with cramped up knees as I’d spent the night in the back of Jenny’s car so they could enjoy the comfort of the tent! Made our way to the shop for coffee and crepes when who appeared round the corner….Luke and Sue!! Fantastic to see them both and the start of the next part of the adventure.

Made our way towards the Atlantic coast and the town of Essaouira 140kms west, as we passed through the olive grove lined roads and dropped in altitude the fog built up until we were slowly advancing with headlights blazing! Once it had cleared we’d almost arrived at the coast and dropped down the final few kms until there it was in front of us….the ocean!!

Frisbee took up the next hour of our lives as we relaxed and I felt like the expedition had taken a turn for the better after the last few days disappointment and deep thinking, a quick run down the beach and a good swim in the ‘english warm’ ocean blew away the cobwebs and the interesting nights accommodation!

Sue had managed to find a good contact called Ali who’d found us a sweet little apartment just back from the beachfront for D200 a night and it was perfect, 3 bedrooms, 2 lounges and a roof terrace so we parked off until Luke had prepared us an appetiser for the walk into town!

End of day location: Essaouira
Distance covered: 0kms

9th Jan 08

Date: 9th Jan 07
Location: Chicchaoua – the arse-end of all service stations
Weather: Clear blue skies, 10°c
Status: Ben – Loving Morocco, Colonel – marching on

Another cold night in the tent due to the altitude, so awoke to 2°c temps outside, hastily packed up and left the gorge behind as we started the trek to Marrakech to meet Luke and his Mum. Our journey took us over the High Atlas mountains and for the first time we spotted Mount Toubkal in the distance, snow covered and ominously huge! Will be back in this area in a weeks time to start the first ascent.

Dropped down from an altitude of 2200m to 500m on some of the most exciting/scary roads yet with sheer drops of the side and crash barriers which may as well not be there. Passed a number of broken down trucks halfway up the passes – god only knows how they get spares, repair them and then get on their way again! When you see how some of the trucks are loaded with hay you’d be amazed, literally hanging 5m off the back, front and sides and looking like they’ll tip over at any point – one had done just that and managed to completely block one lane on the steepest of descents leaving about 20 bales all over the road with one guy fast asleep on top waiting for his ride to return, only in Africa!

So we TRIED to get into Marrakech to find a bed for the night but it was 17.30hrs slap bang in the middle of the rush hour and when we tried to ask a policeman for directions it was obviously the wrong time to do it as he asked us very politely to move on!

Marrakech is split into the old and new town and we were trying to meet Luke near his hotel in the old medina but trying to get vehicles there is a nightmare, so we made the decision to head out of the centre and try again in the morning, simple you’d think? The road to Agadir was bound to have a hotel/motel/riad/Kasbah somewhere along it but after an hour driving with the sun disappearing rather quickly nothing surfaced so we pulled into a service station (where I’m writing this from) and set up camp by the side of the road with the blessing of the Royale Gendarmerie. Not the most attractive of camps so far but somewhere to rest our weary heads until the morning when Luke & Mum arrive to rescue us!

End of day location: Chicchaoua, Morocco.
Distance covered: 350kms

8th Jan 08

Date: 8th Jan
Location: Gorges du Todra
Weather: 18°c max, 0°c min
Status: Ben – Well exercised and happier, Colonel – rolling along just fine

End of day location: Gorges du Dades
Distance covered: 110kms

Awoke as the sun rose around 06.30hrs very reluctantly as the inside of my sleeping bag was ten times more appealing than the thought of going running outside, but finally managed to drag myself from my pit.

Headed up the gorge parallel to the river which went from an ice covered pool to a running stream to a dry bed all in the space of 5kms, the imposing sides of the gorge directing me to the village of Tamttatouche 12kms away and uphill the whole way!

As I rose through the valley the frost became heavier and the snowline closer and closer until I was into it and felt pretty stupid for leaving the tent in a pair of shorts. I started my run at 1500m and over the 12kms rose some 250m so by the time I got to the village my Xmas-laden legs were really feeling it, together with the altitude which made me feel like finishing the Marrakech Marathon a long way off.

There’s a good bit of training left to do in the next few weeks if I stand a real chance of reaching the finish line in a reasonable time, the ascent of Toubkal at 4170m should go someway to helping anyway.

Tomorrow was supposed to be the day that Owen arrived in the country to start the mission proper, but I’ve had an email from him telling me that work commitments are too much to break away and therefore he won’t be arriving until the 25th leaving my rather stranded in the meantime so it looks at this stage like I’ll be climbing Toubkal and running the marathon by myself, oh well I’ve gone this far another few weeks won’t matter as long as he makes it ready for the west coast journey it’ll be fine.

I’ve been in touch with a great friend Luke Marshall whose managed to keep to his agenda and side of the bargain (Owen take note) and has arrived in Marrakech today for a 3 week break with his mum, so over the next couple of days we’ll make our way to the capital and hook up with them to plan what the next 3 weeks will hold for us all, bring it on.

Tonight we’re holed up in another hotel in a spectacular gorge and the Colonels parked up next to the river, the suns already gone down and the temperatures dropped away sharply from about 15°c to 8°c, still should be warmer than last night as we’re about 400m closer to sea level. As I tried to fix one of my fog lights earlier by the water a group of local kids gathered round to watch and giggle away as I worked, all of them left after a while except one girl who started to speak to me in French so we had a chat about her life and family and what I was doing in Morocco. Her eyes lit up when I gave her one of the bottles of bubbles I’d brought for a situation just like that and she happily marched off blowing them all the way home, then 20mins later she arrived back with a small black bag in her hand full of fresh mint so I could make my own mint tea – the local speciality!

Loving the friendliness of the people and enjoying every opportunity to integrate and find out more about them as I wind my way down through the country, this is what travelling is all about!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

5th Jan 07

Date: 5th Jan 2008
Location: Azrou, Morocco – on edge of Mid Atlas mountain range
Weather: Clear blue skies, sunshine, @ 18:00 7°c, 4” snow on ground
Status: Ben – excellent, Colonel – excellent

Stayed in the tent in front of the Atlas Hotel, Chefchaouen and the view from my window was superb to say the least! The Rif mountains stretch from the coast at Larache to Oujda in the east on the Mediterranean coast and the campsite for the night was slap bang in the middle of them. Snow-capped from about 1200m, and our camp being around the 800m mark meant that in the distance the snow was visible but wouldn’t be effecting us unless we ascended by some distance….wait for the end of the day then!

Drove south from our accommodation across the Rif range into the Cherarada valley below and the transformation was spectacular – from olive groves producing oil using traditional presses powered by donkey, into arable fields producing winter wheat which were very well tended and stretched for miles. I was surprised by quite how green everything seemed and how self-sufficient everyone appears in this part of the world, an awesome way to live!

After a bite of lunch on the wing of the Colonel we continued south with the Mid Atlas range looming progressively larger in the distance en route to Azrou, and as we climbed the snow became more and more obvious until we hit the snow line and before we knew it there was 6” of snow on the ground from the fairly heavy falls 2 days prior, not exactly what I was expecting from Africa – the shorts will have to stay in the vehicle for another few days yet then!

Found the Panorama Hotel at the top of the hill which Azrou is sited on, a very Moroccan styled building with big roaring fires as they all seem to have at the time of the year! Jen and Col found their room and I chose my site in the car park…gonna be a cold one tonight me thinks! Had a wander down in to town and through the market area before sampling the wonders of mint tea at a really cute little street-side café. Its really good to get back into using French in everyday conversation and something I wasn’t expecting to have to do at all – just wish I’d gone to a load of classes before I left the UK!

Loving Morocco, the friendliness of the people we meet at the edges of the road, the helpfulness of the police and the sunshine!

End of day location: Azrou, Morocco.
Distance covered: 250kms.

3rd Jan 07

Date: 3rd Jan 2008
Location: Jenny’s house – Benisuera, Spain
Weather: 9°, Clear and fairly cold
Status: Ben – in need of getting some fitness training done asap!
Colonel – Primed and ready for the next leg.

Awoke at 7am to get the vehicles packed as we had a long day driving ahead, nearly 800kms, if we want to get to within spitting distance of the ferry today! Finally left Jenny’s house at around 9am to drive straight to the airport at Alicante to drop Sam off to catch his flight home back to the U.K., shame as its been the perfect company I needed for this, one of the easier legs of the journey, in Owen’s absence. Good luck back in the U.K. Sam, hope the weathers not too bad and cold.

There are some things you regret saying almost as soon as they’ve come out of your stupid mouth….this being one of them! The bad weather I’d spoken about was about to turn round and bite me on the nose.

Date: 3rd Jan 2008
Location: Just east of Granada, 1280m – Sierra Nevada mountain pass
Weather: 2°, snow and sleet showers
Status: Ben – all good, Colonel – all good, Others – slight side damage

Sat by the edge of the A92 motorway en route to Granada as Colin has just been involved in an RTA due to no fault of his own!

As we have travelled W since dropping off Sam at Alicante airport earlier this morning the weather has slowly got colder and wetter, as we finished a long climb section rising to 1200m the rain became sleet and the sleet became snow, lots of snow. So much in a short period of time that the road became quickly covered and it wasn’t long before the brake lights up ahead became hazard warning lights as visibility became minimal and inevitably an accident happened!

We sat in the stationary traffic, nose to tail with all of the other motorists when a BMW X5 came sliding past in the outside lane with no where to go but the thin gap between the line of cars and the central reservation, as it did so it smashed the wing mirror from the Mercedes 4Matic in front of us and came to a halt. As I looked in my n/s mirror a white car appeared to be driving far too fast and skidded into the side of Colin’s stationary Nissan X-Trial and then straight into the back of the Mercedes, before coming to a halt.

After running back to the scene the motorway was impassable and the emergency services arrived to help with the clear up operation. We escorted the other vehicles which were involved to the next slip road to wait for the police to arrive, and in the meantime started chatting to one of the other people involved who turned out to be the editor of the German automotive magazine testing 4x4’s en route to watch the Dakar Rally which starts in 4 days time! Much appreciation was shown for the Land Rover….of course!

After waiting around for the Civil Polica to come and take details etc for what seemed like an age, we hit the road again, and the 2hrs delay had really put pay to our distance mission for the day. Once we pulled in to the first services we got to after dark we decided that Jen & Colin would get a room in the hotel for the night and I’d pitch the tent in the car park. Bring on the snow again!

End of day location: Antiquera, N37°04136 W004°19,741
Distance covered: 272kms.