Thursday, 24 December 2015

Senegal - St Louis, Lac Rose and a Merry Christmas!

The last post ended rather abruptly.. This was because we had finally found Internet and the blog was going up in what ever state I finished it in.. Luckily my editor (my mum at home) did edit my mistakes! 

So the tent.. Having now been on the road for 7 and a half weeks we have come to realise that things go wrong .. Things break.. You may spend a lot of money on something, but it may still break! The tent has been an issue for a while.. The zip holding the cover onto the tent when closed broke (it took a few weeks for it to finally go). We put out a FB plea on the WTNA page and lots of suggestions came in. We went with the best one, but sadly this lasted only one trip and by the time we got to St Louis it had completely gone. Asking the owners they gave us a name of a local reparation shop and off we trooped in a taxi. Getting there he seemed to understand what we wanted, the zip fixing and also two holes sewing as well as some material to strengthen the top of the cover (sun damage). He told us to come back in two days so off we went. Two days later we came back.. The reparations had been done  some better than others. The holes and material were great.. However he had sewn the zip together.. This would be fine but for the zip to work the two sides need to be separate so that one side can slot into the base of the tent and the other on the cover. We have yet to see if it works so that will be a mission! It only cost us £30 for all the reparations, but we will be looking out for a Howling Moon shop to buy a new one.. Why they couldn't make a sun proof cover with a more hardy zip in the first place I am not sure! 

We stayed at the Zebra Bar for 2 weeks, it was a hard place to leave! In between popping into St Louis we spent our time in and around the camp site and surrounding National Park. We did a lot of relaxing, swimming, walking, canoeing and fishing! Fishing is my favourite thing to do now, and we have even caught a few! Charles has caught 3 now and me two. .they are tasty as well! We met a German couple who caught a sting ray so we feasted on that one night! It has been good to supplement our veg meals with fish! The Zebra Bar is definitely a must, the owners are friendly and helpful, the staff are just wonderful and the food is amazing.. For £7 you can get a three course meal in the evening cooked to perfection by their chef. Breakfast there is also nice, omlettes, bread and coffee for £3. The facilities are basic, they run their electricity on solar therefore a constant electricity supply is not possible however you can charge up devices in their kitchen area. There was no wifi which was a shame however we bought an Orange SIM card in St Louis for £1 and top up which worked fairly well at the top of their tower!

After our little holiday stop it was decided to head to Dakar over the Christmas period for visas. We had a couple of issues with this because there are no camp sites in or near to the centre and we would be staying in a hotel car park (around £20 per night), or in a low budget hotel.. Luckily a camp site was found near Lac Rose. We went from one paradise to another, a pool, wifi and lovely owners (cold showers though). Arriving on the Sunday night we booked a taxi into Dakar for 7am.

We started the morning in the dark, waking up at 6am to get ready for the taxi. The taxi however was an hour late not arriving till 8.. Oh well! The journey into Dakar was amazing, horrific driving, lots of people heading to school and work. Buses full to the brim with colourfully dressed people. In England we forget how lucky we are to have a good education system, whilst there were lots of children with pens and note books heading to school there were also a lot who were not.. Wearing dirty clothing and begging whilst traffic stopped. In Senegal if a child cannot provide a pen and paper they cannot go To school.. I am reminded every day how lucky I am to be a teacher in a school which has so much. 

Getting to The Mali embassy was a mission in itself, the taxi driver did not know where it was however three stops later we were there. Getting the visa was easy, fill out a form, pay 50000CFA and come back at 3. We walked around Dakar, going to a very posh shopping mall.. It was like a ghost town and a real contrast to the bustling streets and markets stalls we have become accustomed to! We did see  a lot of Christmas decorations.. They are few and far between. Getting home was again another mission but the swimming pool was waiting for us!

Lac Rose is an interesting place, it is basically a salt factory in the middle of a tourist destination! The lake, at around 12/1, goes a pinky colour.. A pinky, purple murky colour but if you use your imagination it is pink! We spent a few hours walking around, the locals are friendly, but geared up for tourism! Lots of little side stalls with African souvenirs - I managed to get charles to buy something he wanted - you can swim in the lake, it is 50% water and 50%salt so you can float in it! There are some amazing restaurants and bars along the edge! Once you get past the tourism side and start chatting to the locals they are fascinating and interesting! One man told me on Christmas they have a huge party in the village with dancing, food and festivities! However new year is very busy, lots of tourists and lots of celebrating - here is it a bigger festival! 

I am writing this blog on Christmas Eve. The owners are French so Christmas Eve evening is a big celebration so we will feast like Kings..! This morning we went on a trip today to buy alcohol which you can only buy at petrol stations (a Shell garage!). Beer is very cheap, about 60p a can, wine is £2.50 a bottle (made in Dakar and in a plastic bottle.. But mandy and I are not fussy!), and gin is also £2.50 a bottle.. I have not yet tried it so it may be awful! This afternoon was spent chatting to my parents and brother - they are all in London for the three days - but it was so lovely to see them all together .. My brother bought my Mum some Star Wars Lego which they were building, whilst the dog (Zilla) chews through his new toy! Making time for family is definitely important! 

Senegal so far has been an amazing and vibrant place. A completely different feel to Mauritania and almost immediately crossing from the boarder you can sense it. The houses are different, gone the flat rooves and cuboid structures to be replaced by French looking buildings - burnt orange tiles and window shutters a prominent feature. The people are so friendly and smiley, and the women wear the most beautiful clothing. Bright patterned dresses, looking so smart and attractive. In St. Louis every one wanted to talk to you, not hassle but find out who you are and where you are going. Food is cheaper, not as fresh as in Morocco but equally as tasty. There is more to buy, corner shops have a wider variety of food, still tins but a lot more food we are accustomed to at home. I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of Senegal. 

All that is left to say is Merry Christmas, and probably a happy New Year!

 I am not sure where we will be, somewhere still in Senegal for the celebrations and onto Mali after - which holds its challenges in itself! :) 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Last days of Mauritania and beginning of Senegal

** before I ramble on below.. I am compiling a list and location of each campsite we have stayed at, please either comment on here or on the face book page - Where to Next Africa - if you would like a copy emailed to you. Mandy has also been keeping a detailed expenses sheet, so again let us know if you would like a copy**

Please ignore any mistakes, I have not proof read it due to only having wifi for a short time! 

Arriving in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, was a bit of a contrast to the previous two days, it was a busy and bustling place, full of street traders and people going about their business. After battling in traffic, we set up camp in Hotel/Camping Menata and were surprised to find we were not the only Europeans. People quickly came over to chat and within minutes we had found another couple, Marlane and Gill, who were heading to the Senegalese border on the Monday! We agreed to go together (safety in numbers!), and settled ourselves in.

The campsite was a lot more expensive than Morocco (it turns out everything is!), however, there was a washing machine! Washing clothes by hand has not been an issue, however it had been almost a week since we had done any therefore there was a lot and you just can't beat washing machine clean!!
We also had wifi, unfortunately I logged on to my online banking to find I have been charged for the transaction I made in Mauritania where the internet connection was lost halfway through. I spoke to my parents in the evening and they advised us to always take out the smallest denomination first to see if it works.. good idea! 

On the second day we headed to a car insurance company who we had been told issued insurance for Senegal, this place was called National D'Assurance et de Reassurance company (come back for whether it is accepted!), and did some food shopping - again was similar prices to England! Time was spent fixing the cars, catching up with family and trying to stem the barrage of mosquitoes (last count I was on 30 bites). We are now taking our malaria tablets but have met lots who are not taking them!

We have had to fix our roof tent, the zip has broken which is very annoying when trying to do the roof tent up, so Charles spent most of the third morning doing that! 

Mandy and I did some research into what we need to get and where, for the onward journey and we are also following a face book page of a NZ guy who is doing the trip on a motor bike, he crossed the border a couple of days ago and had posted how much it cost etc (follow him by searching Wheelie Adventurous).

Monday came around pretty quickly, setting off early we headed to the border. There are two options when crossing into Senegal, each has their pros and cons. We had heard the other crossing, Rosso, was a nightmare.. Possibly run by a family who preyed on the ignorance of travellers.  Apparently they stamp the carnet, although speaking to another couple - Total Overlanders - they said their stamp was not accepted back at the border to leave Senegal so they had to travel back to Dakar to get it re-stamped. 

Diama, the second choice, is smaller and less known for corruption, however there was a rumour going around that they do not stamp the carnet ,giving you 48hours to get to Dakar (200km) to get it stamped before your car is illegal. We chose Diama - arriving there was easy, we had to pay to go through the National Park, and then pay for the car tax (receipts for both), and then we had to pay a few incentives (we tried not to but they would not give us our passports back..sneaky!).  Despite all our efforts,  they would not stamp the carnet - it seems it's an official thing from up on high, not a border thing. The insurance (bought in Nouakchott) worked a treat.  As we headed to the border the officials wanted to see our insurance, for both Mauritania and Senegal, and at the border they were most annoyed we had already got insurance (meaning they couldn't rip us off), they were keen to know where we had got it from! 

I liked Mauritania, the scenery was much more stunning than Morocco, with a lot less rubbish! The people were very friendly in most places, not wanting money, but presents or water. In the villages people were more 'grabby' (coming up to the cars and asking), but in the city people were so friendly, wanting to talk (a lot more English spoken).  We went to a printers to buy more copies of the fiche and met a man called Brahim who was an engineer and had travelled a lot and he was so interesting. The police were completely fine, never an issue and when asked really helpful (lots of fiches needed to hand out). 

I feel this country has really suffered from the outside perception from other countries, all the Foreign Offices (of many countries) say not to go there due to the risk of terrorism etc, however we never felt unsafe. In places where money was once spent it is now poor and run down due to lack of investment. It is a shame!

After the border we were given 48 hours to get to Dakar. This was a decision we decided to make at the campsite, the famous Zebra Bar. After getting cash, we arrived there, checked in and ordered beer. Wow it was good! The camp site was stunning, right by the sea with lots of space (the downside being that the wifi was not working, despite it being advertised. I think this may be an ongoing problem!). We ate in the campsite with another couple Dave and Natalie, and found that they run a tour company in America, with a big converted school bus which takes people on tours of various lengths from Las Vagas to Alaska. It sounded amazing, their passion and their knowledge of travelling really sold travelling through America for us all, something for the future maybe (their website is so check them out!). 

The boys also decided they would spend the next day getting a bush taxi into Dakar with Gil to get the carnet stamped. 

The boys set off at 7.15am the next morning.. And got back at 10pm, a long day. They had taken the bush taxi there which was completely fine (4.5 hours), if a little squashed and another taxi to customs in Dakar. By this point it was lunch time so they had to wait until 3pm. Getting the carnet stamped was easy, however a lot of people to deal with very little paper work! Getting back was difficult because they missed the bush taxi so had to get a private taxi back.. However this was all cheap - less than fuel - about £28 (including lunch). It meant the girls could relax! We hitched a ride into St Louis with Dave and Natalie and spent most of the day wandering around - bought some food (fairly cheap) for veg stew dinner  - then came back to wait for the boys!

The second day we spend out on the estuary on kayaks, we crossed to the other side to be rewarded with the most stunning, spotless beach, white sand, and roaring waves! All of us got in! The boys and Dave went off crab fishing. This was not difficult, on the sand they have swarms of purple crabs about the size of the palm of your hand, they have one big white pincer and are fairly fast. They come up and down with the tide and are fascinating to watch.. They take in the sand, filtrate the nutrients and then discard a ball shaped piece of sand. The boys caught a few to use for bait and we tried, unsuccessfully, to catch fish! Dinner subsequently was stir fry and spam! Could have been worse! Since being in Senegal we have all got burnt, mainly on the day spent on the water. We feel this is due to us being neglectful in covering up however also due to the malaria tablets (side effects include a sensitivity to the sun), so in the subsequent days we put on more sun cream and more clothes!

Rob's birthday was Thursday, Mandy decorated the car! At lunch we made him a biscuit cake with candles and then had some beer! The food served here is amazing, and is about £7 for a three course meal. We decided it would be good to have it that night and we were rewarded with salad, then two steaks cooked to perfection with a sauce and pasta, and a lemon egg tart! We were all very happy! A few bottles of beer finished the day! Just amazing! 

The Friday was spent fixing cars, Robs wheel bearing had gone and our bonnet won't close.. And then the tent zip finally gave up.. Our efforts to fix it failed! 

Friday, 4 December 2015

Moving into Western Sahara and Mauritania

SSo from Zagora and still feeling the effects, good and bad, of spending so much money on the car the desert was our next stop and port of call. Driving to M'hamid on the outskirts of the desert we were hounded by people advertising their luxury camping (something, due to the car incident we were not allowed to entertain!), but we set a course and spent 4 hours driving on the most amazing terrain! Despite the fact it felt like we were siting in a washing machine, the drive was rewarded by motoring up and over sand dunes, across flat, dried up river beds and serious 4 wheel drive roads (if you can call them that!). The wildlife included many camels, birds and also lizards! Setting up camp for the night we stopped by a large hill and dug into our rations box as we were not quite organised enough to get fresh food! It is amazing, you think you are by youself however within 10 minutes of being there we were approached by a man asking for cigarettes, and then by a group of French men in a car asking if they could buy food off of us if they couldn't find a camp site open. They didn't come back, just as well or it would have been tesco value super noodles! The most amazing thing was we could still get full 3G signal in most places!

The second day we drove to Lake Iriki, it was dry so we drove through it - possibly an interesting watch on the SPOT?! After this it was decided to head towards the nearest town for some fresh food, not before Charles and I got stuck in the sand twice! The town was a military town (possibly due to the proximity to Algeria), and we were asked for our passports before we were allowed in. We stopped off for more eggs and veg, and found a campsite. The boys were more than happy as it included a fire pit and a whole tree they were told they could burn. We had veg stew and BBQ'd spam.. Only made better if we had had a beer! In the morning it turned out that staying in a campsite was the best idea as my stomach bug had returned with vengeance! Having messaged my Mum asking for advice the boys and Mandy were sent on a mission to pick up metronidazole - a type of antibiotic, bottled water and Coke, accompanied by a letter I had written in French to give to the pharmacist! Luckily in Morocco pharmacists are common and very competent, so this was no problem. I think stomach issues are a normal thing!! This changed our forward plans which were to head to the desert again and we ended up in Tata for the night at a campsite which was fairly busy (mainly French). Driving through the town it was amazing how clean the roads were, this has struck me throughout Morocco, the roads are generally spotless however the surrounding area is not.

Leaving Tata we headed to Tantan, this was a gruelling 8 hour drive along the main coastal road and ended up in us driving after dark and camping in a bay. The views were pretty spectacular in the morning, however again a lot of junk and rubbish about. One thing we weren't expecting when coming into the South was we were of more interest to the police. Up to that point we had been flagged through with no issues, however now with our number plate being so uncommon we were being stopped at every checkpoint, with fiches and passports being asked for. Initially we thought it was because it was early evening, however the next day it was the same. We did not have any issues with the police apart from one wanted to know why we had spent so long in Morocco! For anyone travelling the same route I would advise at least 100 copies of the fiche, we initially took 30 then ended up in a post office where the manager took us into his office to copy us another 50 (for free!).

Western Sahara was a real shock, we were expecting rolling sand dunes, flat plains...we got rain, rubbish and some interesting smells! The drive for the boys was long, with not a lot to see. I think we were all disappointed! There is a real Moroccan presence there despite it being contested territory, flags everywhere and pictures of the King and Primeminster. The photo below has been our constant view since arriving!

As I write this (30.12.15) we are gearing up to cross the boarder into Mauritania! Morocco has been amazing, full of completely different experiences. When reading Mandy's lonely planet Africa guide it wrote that despite it being so close to Europe it was a world away culture wise. I completely agree, the culture, living and technology are worlds apart, however the Western world is creeping in - iPhones everywhere, I am presuming Facebook and lots of selfies. There is a real difference in generations, mainly the women in the main cities who were wearing more Western style clothes. This is contrasted however by the living and accomodation. There is still in some places no running hot water or constant electricity, or sitting toilets! Many of the buildings are unfinished or derelict, but the roads or main high streets are perfect, spotless with street lights! The people are so friendly and welcoming, but as I have previously written a lot want something (money or gifts) and will ask constantly, especially if they perceive to have helped you. This is a shame because it taints your opinion of people's welcome.. A lot of people want to just practise their English and find out about you. I guess this will be the same in a lot of counties we visit and indeed our own, a few can change your opinion of the majority. 

I have loved my time in Morocco, would we visit again..? Charles' reply is: yes, but on a motor bike and spend more time in the desert!  Mine.. Maybe, however it would be in a hotel with a hot shower and decent toilet from which to explore the area.

The boarder and no-mans land!

We had managed to camp about an hours drive from the boarder in a hotel's car park! It was called Hotel Barba and the staff were lovely, the food was amazing and very cheap (meal and countless drinks cost us £14), and a night guard. We had breakfast and headed off with a positive mind! The Moroccan side was fine, minor issues with the paper work but nothing serious! Crossing into the 3km of no mans land between the two countries was other-worldly!  It was like a car junk yard with no real road, goodness knows how the Lorries were navigating it! The problem with the boarders is there is always men hassling you (one man had made a very convincing badge on his computer and said he was obligatory!). The Mauritanian side of the boarder was quite imposing, it had gone from police to military, with a rather scary guard checking our car looking for alcohol. Many people we had met advised us to not take any alcohol, reports of up to 1000 euro fines were being given! We had someone do our paper work and insurance and we were free. Fiches at the ready we headed to Nouhadijbu and arrived there at 3pm. We all needed cash however the first bank informed us the Internet was down across the whole of the city so we would be lucky to draw any! After trying 6 banks we were rewarded with 40000ug you divide every thing by 450 to find the £ so approximately £88! I felt rather rich with so many bank notes... Charles improved me it would be a better feeling in Zimbabwe! Our campsite was nestled behind the bustling Main Street with hot water! We were all knackered and I was in bed early reading Game of Thrones!

Day two and Mandy had read about the southern most tip being home to seals. We drove into the middle of know where and reached a beautiful beach. Met by a man who could speak French only, who toured us around the beginning of Mauritanians national reservations. Sadly the seals were all out fishing but the scenery was rewarding in itself! Here we bought our tickets into the national park and set off to find a campsite across some quite random terrain! This caused a lot of problems for our car which got stuck twice.. Again!! This makes the score 4 time stuck for Charles and none for Rob! 

We arrived at the campsite at 7.15 just after dark, we could hear the waves, turns out they were 20m away! Us arriving so late was lucky as we saw the  phosphorescence for the plankton in the waves! Charles being Charles was in the water and splashing so the splashed turned ultra violet! I had never seen this before and was amazed, Charles assured me it gets better! Waking up to the beach with no rubbish or stuff lying around was a great joy! The water was freezing! 

(Rob doing repairs to his CB radio which has been fairly temperamental. It's amazing, you can do so much work on a car before you go however we have had lots of things along the way going wrong. Our electrics are playing up meaning we have varying degrees of mood lighting in our tent at night, the back door is a pain to close, the tent cover zip is threatening to come off - if anyone knows where we can get a new Howling Moon tent cover let us know! - and we have a resident mouse who is chewing the wood work and probably the electric cables).

Driving through the park the second day was a nightmare! It is not like the National Trust reservation parks (would have killed for a bit of cake!), just sand, and sand dunes and tracks that were probably put onto the Tracks4Africa at the turn of the last century! No tracks and just sand.. And rapidly running out of fuel Unlike yesterday when frustrations were showing, we banded together and used all of our brains! Digging it a car is far easier when there is 4 people! And easier when you can laugh about it! We ended up driving along the coast where it was flatter and let the tyre pressure out! Mandy and I ran ahead to scout and would run after the boys.. Hard work in the heat! We managed to get onto the main road with litres between us of diesel. Speaking to a local policeman he said fuel was 100km in Nouchitt.. Slight dilemma! Luckily Rob saw a pump at the side of the road he asked.. Two very lovely ladies told us it was 15000 for 20L.. Expensive.. However we had no choice! Whilst the cars filled up they have me a mobile phone so that I could speak English to all their relatives so they could practise! A great meeting however not for our wallet! To anyone thinking of driving through the park, do it but plan you route in and out, making sure you have enough food, fuel and toilet roll!! 

Considering my apprehensions about Mauritania it has so far been a beautiful country, much nicer than Morocco scenery wise. The people are friendly and are shocked when you say you are English (I want to say it's because my French is so good but I think it is lack of English venturing out). As a woman I feel we are treated differently, they shake hands with the boys and don't really acknowledge me until they realise they have to speak to be because charles doesn't speak their languge - even then they look to charles for a response. The beaches in the national park would make it an amazing destination for a holiday, it just possibly need to upgrade its sanitary facilities! I am told however it is already a popular destination for bird watchers?

I am sorry about my spelling and grammar, I did proof read it however writing in a bumpy car is never easy! 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Morocco (Rabat to Zagora)

So after 4 hours wait we got our visas into Mauritania! Finally we could escape the city. We first had to endure the taxi ride back.. Which can only be described as hair raising! Morocco has very few laws and regulations regarding the ownership and upkeep of cars and taxis; getting one with functioning seat belts is a bit like playing Russian roulette. However we got back (yes it was fairly safe Mum), stayed one more night in our rather dubious campsite, got up early in the morning and set off for Casablanca. 

Casablanca was a real contrast, as we drove through it was modern and quite Western. We stayed on the outskirts in a fairly decent campsite (hot showers included.. Toilet roll not), which was next to the market. We spent a few hours rummaging through stalls of veg (a whole host of veg for Dh7) and attempted to buy some meat.. Rob was convinced it was camel.. However I think it was beef! Meat in comparison to veg is fairly expensive, 1.5kg came to Dh90 which is approximately £6, however most of it was fat! Dinner that night was stew (it was stew the next night also). It was during this campsite that my poor flip flops almost met their maker.. not that they are anything to write home about but they are the only thing I have ever bought in Bicester Village (those who know me know my dislike for the place) - Havianas, and I have had them for 4 years and they are so comfortable. During the night the local dog (named Scroffels by ourselves) was keenly sniffing at them, eyeing them up. I left them over night in the tent however one must have fallen down..  by the morning said flip flop, and the dog, had vanished.. Driving out my flip flop was found in all it glory with the campsite owner telling me the dog had brought it to him last night... 

Again we decided to press on and drove the few hours to Marrakech, the drive into the city was amazing. Amazing villas and flats next to tin roofed shops! The scenery reminded me a lot of that scene in Star Wars when Anakin Skywalker competes in the pod racing on Tattooine (yes real Star Wars geek.. And my mum and brother will definitely get this reference!), endless sand and stone, cuboid houses. 

Driving up to the campsite (le relaxais de Marrakech) I was thinking if this campsite is like the last one I am going to have a serious diva strop, but turning into it we saw a pool, gym and beer!! For Dh90 it was a dream! Spending a few lazy days by the pool was going to be welcomed!!! Sadly another repeat flip flop incident occurred..they broke irreplaceably. Saturday afternoon we booked a taxi into Marrakech. It was an amazing experience: The winding streets selling stuff carried on for ever.. Jewellery, tagine pots, sweets and Flip flops (a well known brand called Coldsilver.. Like quicksilver.. It was either those or Proxy..) which were a pricey Dh40! We stopped for food and spent a good hour eating and watching the lads try and entice oncoming tourists into the restaurant! Great entertainment! Watching the street performers was good - acrobats, boxing, music! It was a bit like Covent Garden!

Having spent 4 days dopping about in the luxurious campsite it was decided it was time to move on! Heading towards Zygora on a gravel track that took us up through the Atlas Mountains. We drove past the most breath taking scenery, and even saw snow right at the to. Due to the amount of time taken to drive the route when we saw a camping sign we decided to check it out. Once it was established there was a decent toilet (I was in the midst of a stomach bug), we payed our Dh 80 and settled in. The camp site was in the most stunning place, mountains all around, the stars at night were amazing. It made up for the fact it was windy, and quite possibly the coldest night we have had (including in the UK!).

Leaving the camp site and driving to Zagora took us another 6 hours, again amazing scenery- much like the Alps in summer - and then into flat roads that could go on forever. It seems like Morocco has had a lot of investment into its transport system. New roads are springing up everywhere (sat nav tells us it's gravel when in fact it is brand new Tarmac), men working by hand to add in drainage ditches. Up mountains there are new roads and flats in the middle of nowhere are new roads! When in Fes we were told that UNESCO have labelled a lot of places in Morocco world heritage sites so this may have something to do with it. 

Driving in Zagora at 5.30pm brought its challenges, Mandy had read that mechanics sit by the road in their defenders flagging you down giving you their cards, "come to us, come to us" they say! As it was getting dark we quickly found a camp site (with a proper loo) and settled in for the night. Walking around the next day we found a mechanics, Ali's workshop, which had reviews online so we decided to get a quote for removing the gear box and the bearings changed (on both cars). The quote seemed acceptable however day 1 Rob's landrover went in and it turned out to be more serious, and more expensive, with the whole gear box needing to be changed. Day 2 and you can guess what happened... the same thing had happened to our car.. around £460 later and fingers crossed it will be fixed we were back in business! Mandy and I, whilst this was happening, spent the 2 days washing and then on the limited wifi researching our next stops (mainly visas and routes!). 

On a side note to those who are planning a trip like this, 4 weeks in and we have come across some things we would change (or have changed) given the chance! 

1. Charles wishes he had spent a bit more on the inverter so that it didn't draw as much power from the second battery. We are have real issues with charging appliances without draining the battery.

2. We are using tracks4Africa as our navigation system, however having spoken to a few people now they have used Open Street maps. We have managed to get a copy which we are running simultaneously - much better!!

3. Spent a bit more money on binoculars!

4. Bought head torches that didn't explode!!!! 

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

And onto Morocco.

France and Spain 

In total we spent 2 days zooming through France, and another 5 days in Spain. My conclusions from these countries were... 

- The scenery in general is stunning, especially Spain, even when on the tolls. 

- The tolls are not that expensive due to the fact the diesel is cheap. They are faster and the services have toilets.. Essential for us ladies..! 

- The roadside services (especially France) are immaculate, the toilets are decent and in general there is wifi - in Spain they aren't so great!

- The campsites are not particularly expensive (if you are ever camping in Europe get an Axis card (I think that is how it is spelt) for £13.99 which will give you up to half price off). Campsites ranged from €14 to €30. The people on the campsites are lovely, they come up and talk to you - a lot of them staying in the sun for 8-9 months of the year - and always willing to help! In Benidorm we met Chris who was keen to do the same trip but by bike, we spent a lot of time talking to him, and in Terifa we met Martin, a gentleman from Germany who had spent 2.5 months biking from there - we spent a rainy day in the bar with him (€1.8 for a San Miguel) and cooked him spag Bol in the evening! 

- There are also swimming pools and generally wifi!

There isn't much negative to say about these two countries, only the cost to travel down both was quite high... And also when it rains it pours! 


We caught the ferry from Terifa having bought our tickets the day before in Algersiras. This was a rather interesting place however for our efforts we saved €30, making the price €150. On the Monday Luckily the storm had halted long enough to squeeze our car onto the ferry (maximum height in the hull 1.32m so we were placed rather precariously right next to the door) to make the choppy one hour ride to Tanger. Arriving there we waited to get visas etc for about 45 mins with a very stern looking policeman asking for our passports every 5 minutes, the car being inspected (mainly for guns?!) and a trip upstairs to the police HQ! All fine we headed through to be greeted by a man who claimed to be working for the government.. Non-surprisingly to ourselves he turned not to be, but was a fixer (someone who sorts out documents etc), he was pretty useful providing us with car insurance and other things needed. He wanted Dh100 (there are 15 dirums to the pound... So the rest of this blog post is going to sound very cheap once you convert back!).

Having declined the fixer's offer to look after our cars.. (Wonder why) we found a campsite (Dh 72 per night) and wondered off into town. Mandy and myself were apprehensive about our clothing, however our trousers, jumpers and rain macs were not out of place. Regarding covering our hair, it seemed to be personal choice and no one really took much notice of us. During the night there was another torrential downpour, and we woke up in the morning to a grey sky and a kitten under the bonnet of the car.. Which did not move (despite coaxing with ham) until we had driven 100km down the road where it bounded out of the engine on a road side stop..! Taking the back roads we carried onto Chefchouon famous for its blue houses which were painted like that in the 1930s. Across the back roads we came across a lot of people goat herding, wanting money, lifts and finally our warning triangle which was taken out of the back of car.. Could have been worse! Spending time in Chefchouon was beautiful, heading to the cascades and walking through the hilly town trying not to get lost! Buying food was an adventure in itself (night one: camping beef.. As it sounds...! Pasta and eggs, night two being veg stew.. A whole host of veg for Dh13 and a kg of beef for Dh72). 

Four days in we headed to Fes, arriving to an immaculate campsite with toilet roll, soap and temperamental hot water! We were approached by a guide in the evening offering us a lift into Fes and a 4 hour tour including visits to various shops.. We took it up and would cost us a total of Dh320.. Bargain... And it was, his knowledge was vast, and he took us to the mosaic factories, tannery, oil shop (yes Beckie, be proud I bought so actual Moroccan oil!), a silk weaving shop (pashmina bought..) and a rug loom, where Mandy and Rob bought a lovely blue rug. We spent 4 hours winding through the Medina, full of stunning architecture and interesting little stalls. After this we were taken to a restaurant and left to a lovely meal.. We were not sure what to expect, however for £33 each couple we got endless supply of meze type vegetables, couscous with lamb and chicken. Safe to say we could not move after (they even served beer). On the way home the driver told us he would take to a super market to buy beer... We finished the day with two happy boys and some wine!

Packing up we headed to Rabat, there is not a huge amount to see however here is where the Mauritanian embassy is. For those of you wanting to camp in Rabat for a good time my advise would be don't! Our campsite (the only one open for miles) was a little piece of land, no showers and a hole for the toilet. We managed to book a taxi (again some actions and limited French) to take us to the embassy. The embassy opened at 9, some vague translating of questions from French to English but myself, helped by a gentleman from Belgium and the applications were in for a princely sum of Dh1000 (for all of those over landers out there it has gone up..!).  I leave this blog post whilst sitting in Rabat waiting to hear if we have got our visas.. What a cliffhanger! We leave for Casablanca after this! 

My conclusions so far from this country:

- People are very friendly, they love to chat to you and always say tourists are welcome in the country. They try and chat in English where ever possible.

- Very few people are helping you for free, that is just the way it goes. However it does make people very helpful and most can speak limited English and good French (they even understood me!). French is definitely the language to learn at school.. So all my former pupils try hard in French! It will pay off in the long run!

- Apprehensions about female dress are going to be there, out and about we wore trousers and at the least covered shoulders. In the camp sites shorts were worn and in more touristy areas this was also ok. I did always carry a scarf around with me in the ruc sack.  

- Hot water (and showers) is a luxury, it very rarely comes included with the price of the campsite and can cost Dh15 (not huge amounts!), and even when it does it is more likely to be cold! 

- For those who like a beer, take it across from Spain, it is very hard to get over here! 

- Remember that whilst things seem expensive, you divide everything by 15 and it becomes very cheap!!! 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

France to Spain!

.. and so we set off, on Friday evening at 6pm. We had all our family and friends wave us off, was great to see them one last time!
We arrived at the ferry port nice and early.. about 9pm… we arrived for a second time at 10pm.. the reason being was that we had to exit the port to get rid of the petrol in our jerry cans at the top (luckily only equating to £8 of fuel!), however not a mistake we will make again! It was a quick and easy crossing, however would I do it again? Probably not, we were all shattered and with the crossing being only a couple of hours we did not sleep. Whilst on the ferry we realised we had no light adapters for the car (we did have the high vis jackets, triangle and 2xbreathalisers) so were able to get some on there.
Our first stop was in Champlost, this ended up being a very long drive (considering we got off the ferry at 1.45am) and we arrived at about 11am. The boys did really well staying awake, I spent most of the time asleep. We did a little hour stop at a services for a nap but that was it until Saturday evening! We stayed with Rob’s family for the day, we were spoilt with amazing food and company and a free camping spot in a field next door (always handy!).
On Sunday we were off again and after spending the whole day driving we stopped off in a parking place by a lake about 7pm. We were all so tired (and Mandy being very ill) we took our chances and slept in the car! It is at this point I thank Charles and my Mum for making blackout and heat proof curtains for all windows!! Monday morning (and my birthday) we woke up to do the last 5 hours to get to Barcelona! We finally arrived early afternoon and quickly found a bar! We managed to find wifi, Facetime-ing my brother and parents which was great! We stayed in a camp site in El Masnou which was in a great location; facilities were minimal but clean and useable!
Tuesday was my second birthday and I woke to find Mandy had put up banners and balloons on the car, lovely surprise! We got ready and headed into Barcelona on the train (€10), and then spent the day wondering around and going on the Barcelona tour bus (amazing way to see Barcelona on a time limit!). We had a lovely lunch and got back to the car to have dinner and champagne – as well as a birthday cake from Mandy J.

Today another drive to an hour from Alicante, having now set up camp and eaten dinner! Tomorrow a quick run, a visit to the beach and another 5 hour stint to head towards Morocco!

The next time I post will probably be from Morocco! Via the face book page you can look at our ‘Spot’ location – you need a password but message us for it!

Mandy has also posted on her blog, again this can be reached through the Where to Next Africa page.

Expenses through France and into Spain:
£80 (in England)
€249 (plus another tank to Morocco – the fuel gets a lot cheaper the further down!)
Approximately €150 through the whole of France and Spain.
We spent the first stint not taking the toll and regretted it… the price of taking the toll is less than the fuel needed to go the long back roads!


Thursday, 22 October 2015

1 day to go...!!

Just a quick check in.. I definitely will not have time to post tomorrow (don't really have time today but don't tell Charles!!).

Things have been a little bit frantic... moving house was bad enough whilst working (including attempting to convey to utility providers that we are leaving the country... a certain water company could not quite get this!), however the actual packing has been smooth.. possibly because I have done very little!

My parents went off on holiday yesterday so there were a few emotional goodbyes.. it does mean we can spread out in their lounge.. (it is now all tidy I promise!). Last few things to do tonight (Spot.. and go to the pub for a drink!), and we will be set for tomorrow!!

We are leaving from the Black Bull in Launton at about 6pm... the boys and Mandy will most likely be there from 4.30, with myself joining them after I finish work!!

Fingers crossed the next post will be from somewhere more exotic!!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Countdown commences!

So we are all finally British Citizens and all have a jumbo British passport which means we can now head off!

Our leaving date is 23rd October! I finish school at 3.15pm, come home, shower and then set off to the Eurotunnel! Our train is 23.15 ... and we will arrive in Calais approx 01.45 on 24th! It will then be a morning drive to a campsite where we can then sleep!

From then on we are going to be finding somewhere to stay for my Birthday (26th) - can't really ask for much more for it than setting out!!

Until then it is a mad rush - Charles has 4 more days in work which means he can move us out of our house, do countless tip runs, put things into storage, pack and re-pack the car (countless times!) and buy any last minute things! We are off shopping on Saturday to get last minute bits and pieces!

The cars are all ready - if you follow the facebook site - Where to Next Africa -
 you will have seen the boys repaired the oil leak, and Rob has done a clean of his car!

Fingers crossed the next time I blog we will be either on our way or just about to leave - depending on how much time we have in the run up!

Any questions or comments please feel free to add below, they will definitely be welcomed when we are on the road!!

Monday, 28 September 2015

It's the final countdown...!

As the title of the blog suggests we have a second final date... fingers crossed for 24th October - all things well with Charles and Mandy's passports coming through in time!

The cars were finished last weekend until our Land Rover - Ditzy - sprung an oil leak... better now than half way through I suppose so hopefully it will be just another week!

Last weekend we made an appearance at the Stratford Overlanding Show which was good fun - the weather was also beautiful which helped! I was not there for much of it due to other commitments however we spoke to some great people including Ruby Landy and Lizzy Bus about their previous and upcoming adventures! We also caught up with some other lovely people to watch SA in the rugby! Nothing bought, but the solar panels did their job!

With a final date looming we have last minute bits to buy,.. mainly little things like clothes and decent shoes (shoe shopping what a shame!), and kitchen bits - couple more metal bottles and a pressure cooker to add.

Keep following us at Where To Next Africa and Mandy is also writing a blog as well as showing her video making skills so keep up at

Monday, 7 September 2015

A little bit of positivity (and crossed fingers!)

We it has been over a month since I last posted - mainly because there has not been a huge amount to post...! Our leaving date has been pushed back to October due to paperwork issues (which are slowly being posted and worked through!), so we are a little bit in limbo .. back to work, still in the house (minus furniture and our lives in boxes), winter clothes in the loft (hopefully it won't get much colder!), however we are still positive!

The solar panels have now been fitted to both the cars - photos of Rob's car are below - so we have now spent most of the bulk of the money and done all the work (only one more seal to replace I think!). We still need to weigh the car and fill out the Carnet however we want to do this as close as we can to the leaving date, and also look into and pay for travel insurance... if anyone has any ideas or good providers please let me know!! Minor things to get done now.. nearly there!

At the end of the month I am informed we will be at the Stratford Overlanding show 25-27th September, and I think on a stand!! It will be great to see people there and hopefully catch up with Miles who we have been in contact with who is doing the same trip as us leaving in January (details to follow once I get some!).

In the mean time please keep liking our facebook page Where To Next Africa for up-to-date details and photos!

On a side note (real different subject) I have been keeping up with a family friend who is writing a blog as she under goes treatment for MDS - her blog is very well written (unlike this one!) and very inspiring - definitely worth a read!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Waiting with fingers crossed!

We spent a good, sunny weekend at Billing Landrover show - met some interesting people, and spent some valuable time with friends and family...! We got use the new lightweight back section which was really useful - much easier (for Charles) to put up - and I also braved the shower and pop up shower tent for the first time - was cold but will definitely be good once we are in Africa!

You may know that we were meant to have left by now (August 3rd from the Billing show) however we are waiting for some paper work still so life is in real limbo! Charles and I have sold the majority of our furniture now so the house is looking very bare at the moment! Charles is happy as it means all the trip stuff can finally be stored in the house - it has a whole room!!

However.. since we are not leaving for a while the boys have been looking into solar panels to charge the second battery.. so much their brains are sore apparently! The dilemmas being the Wattage, whether they are fixed or can be moved and whether they work without loss over 25 degrees! After much debate they went for a monocrystalline 100W folding solar panel with a 15A charge controller (message the FB site for more details). It is easier to mount, can be moved for optimum sunlight (leaving the car in the shade) - there is a power drop from 25 degrees however due to cost we will accept what we can get! I will post photos once it has been put on!

Keep updated via our facebook site Where To Next Africa for the latest news and photos, and keep fingers crossed for the paperwork to come through!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Light weight back section (and a light in the tent..!)

After a final weekend of car work the car is now almost ready to go.. (when we get the go-ahead!) apart from a couple more buys .. the list is endless!

The boys overhauled and refurbished the transfer box, upgraded the rear suspension, and added a light to the tent.. which means no precarious balancing with a torch on the way up the ladder.

They also added a few more lights in convenient places as well as some tie down points!

We finally found a light weight back section for the roof tent (Charles now just needs to sell our original one - message me if you are interested!!) - he picked it up in the week from a family who have already done the trip! Lots in interesting information was exchanged!

In the week we also had a great meeting with Fred Mutebi who is a woodcut printmaker from Uganda. We are hoping to visit him and spend some time with him planting mutuba trees to make barkcloth (see more on his website ). We are very excited to do this!

If you have been following our face book site Where To Next Africa you will see Mandy and Rob have been cooking with the Dutch Oven! They will be professional very soon  -  very impressed!

Next weekend we will all (plus others!) will be at Billing Landrover Fest so if you are around come and say hi or have a look! It would be lovely to meet you!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Thank you Craghoppers

Clothing has been rather an issue for myself.. someone who gets burnt on a vaguely sunny day in the UK... trying to find clothing that has a high sun protection factor but is also wearable has been a problem in the past. Therefore when we got an email from a facebook post to Craghoppers offering help with clothing we jumped at the chance!

I already live in my Kiwi Pro Convertable Stretch trousers - they are a good length (trouser and short wise), smart (I wear them to work!), fit well and are easy to clean - so for myself and Mandy to get another pair was great as these are all we will be wearing next year - they have a solar shield technology also!

Craghoppers also do a Nosilife range, I had already purchased some of this range Base Short Sleeved T-shirt and Base Long Sleeved T-shirt- again they are light weight, cover the shoulders (and arms), have a solar shield and are mosquito repellent (great all across Africa!). In addition to this myself and Mandy will be wearing the Adayna Hooded Jacket for cold nights - again does have solar shield if worn in the day, and the mosquito repellent, but also has security zipped pockets! Finally we have received the short sleeved Polo T-Shirts which will be great for when we need to look presentable in the Embassies!

The boys also received their gear this week! Both have gone for the Nosilife range Convertible TrousersLong Sleeved Shirt, and Polo shirt, which again all have solar shield as well as the mosquito repellent technology.

There are sill a few things that need to be bought - shoes, hats etc however thanks to the staff over at Craghoppers for all their support and help!

Keep liking our facebook page -Where to Next Africa -  for all the updates.. Rob and Charles are doing loads to the cars still and posting onto facebook more often than I can keep up on here!

(photo courtesy of Rob)

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A quick update...

With a short amount of time before we leave things are hotting up.. money is flying out of the account, parts are being bought and fitted, and general things that we 'need' are arriving! All this is timed around Summer Term at school, moving out of our house and countless other things that seem to pop up during the summer months!!

Regarding the car, Rob and Charles have been fitting new parts: cam belt, new radiator, breather filter, breather hose, rocker cover gasket, water pump - the head gasket will be fitted this weekend along with anti-roll bars (I am told in luminous green!). We have to program key fobs still which fingers crossed will be done next week! Long weekends ahead....

We have bought from ebay a Garmin Montana 600 so we can load Tracks of Africa onto it - Rob is slightly ahead of us having done this already and says it looks amazing! Tracks are all marked out in fine detail so we look forward to having a copy of our own!

We are in the process of also ordering a new notebook to store and edit photos.. this is one thing I can actually have an input on as I half know what I am talking about!

I have been clothes buying.. have managed to get some mosquito repellent, UVA 40+ clothing from a well know brand at a good price - they are really comfortable and covering (good for me who sun burnt last weekend in the UK!).

We still have to look into and buy insurance (we have been told approximately £800/person), and the Carnet for the car, as well as a train crossing to France which cannot be done until Charles and Mandy receive their UK Citizenship (time is ticking!!).

Finally Charles and Rob have been very kind to myself and Mandy and bought us pop up shower tents... it's the little luxuries!

I will keep trying to update more regularly than I have been - things happen every day, so I try to wait for a whole lot of things to write about before I do!!

Keep liking Where to Next Africa on facebook as this is updated by Rob very regularly!