Hello everyone. Its been a while since I last posted anything here, but then its been a while since I’ve had anything of value to say. Perhaps this is no exception, but hey. A few days ago I got word from an old friend of mine back in my hometown of Bath, UK. One of the last true free houses in Bath, The Bell, is being sold off.
If you ever meet anyone from Bath, or even better, go there yourself (which I of course highly recommend) I ask you to ask them to list all of the decent pubs in Bath. There is one thing I can guarantee you, The Bell will be on that list. The Bell sits on a street called Walcott Street and is something of an institution. If you’ve ever lived in Bath, you will know The Bell.
I would go on to describe it, but my words would not do the same justice as this documentary my friend made:
Yes its a little rough round the edges, but it has captured the essence of what this place is, and what could so soon be lost.
Have a little look, maybe in this way you can know a little piece of part of my life, and of so many musicians, artists, friends and families.
Promo for upcoming short 'I'm Not Gavin' -
Directed by Andrew Tidmarsh
Director of Photography: Oskar Kudlacik
Produced by Kaya Stanley-Money
"People who interfered in your life always did it for your own good and I figured it out finally that what they wanted was for you to conform completely and never differ from some accepted surface standard and then dissipate the way travelling salesmen would at a convention in every stupid and boring way there was" - Ernest Hemmingway - A Moveable Feast
Watch this space....
Wow. So we made it at long last. With 2 days to spare. We felt it better to leave the final post for a few days to let our minds settle. Here goes.
Let me picture for you the scene In Algeciras that morning. We awoke to as miserable a day as you could ever find in the UK weather-wise. Drizzly, grey and dark. The faint smell of broken dreams hung low in the air for some reason. Yet it was into this day that we stepped, full of excitement and anticipation. We had opted for the two ‘o’clock ferry to Tangiers and so had time for a breakfast of coffee, oil, bread, pastries and chocolate (in that order of course). The coffee fellow appeared to have an overwhelming urge to bust moves, and seemed to be dancing every minute he wasn’t working.
Once at the ferry port we entered what looked to all intents and purposed like the ticket office, but were immediately informed of its state of closure by a kindly looking gentleman. It was at this point that we fell victim for the first and (to our knowledge) only scam. He spoke in superfast spanish and with an impenetrable accent, but he carefully allowed me to glean the information that he would show us where to get tickets. (Foolish Englishmen no?) He led us to an office where we indeed purchased tickets. For €25 each. Fairly shortly we learned that at the official ticket office only a few meters from the closed one, they were going for €20 each! I know its only €5, but it’s the principle.
After I had calmed down and stopped cursing the man and vowing that he would rue the day he crossed me, we checked in. Or at least tried to. We waited until 2pm and sure enough, someone turned up to check our tickets and to inform us that, completely contrary to all the other information available on the departures boards, the ferry would board at 3 instead. I must take a moment to illustrate that this ferry port, a fairly major one considering its daily footfall being one of the only sea crossings to Morocco from Spain, appeared to be staffed by only three people. A fact elegantly assured by the complete lack of customs, security or even someone to point you the right way down the corridor.
Suffice to say, we made it on board, and were fairly lucky to get our passports and forms stamped early on in the voyage (one policeman had to stamp every passenger’s passport and validate their papers. He batted not one single eyelid despite having quite possibly the most boring job that the depths of bureaucratic hell could dream of)
We assumed that Tanger Med, being a fairly large and important port, would have decent transport links to Tanger city. Oh how wrong we were in our foolish western ways. It appears that almost every hour, an unofficial coach turns up and all hell breaks loose. As soon as it pulled up, all the Moroccans simply hurled their bags in the hold and piled on. There was a fair fiasco as it became apparent that there weren’t enough seats. This was how we found ourselves waiting another hour for the next one. It was also during this time that we met some soon to be familiar faces. We got talking to Dave and Olivia, two more hitchers, some Basque students, Drew, an ex US Marine and Osama, a Tanger citizen and one of the kindest people we have ever met.
We finally arrived in Tanger at dusk. Osama had kindly agreed to lead us to the station, and afterwards to somewhere we could eat. We became quite a group, and turned many a head.
The time eventually came to catch the Midnight Marrakech Express. We settled into our sleeping cabin and chatted away (It was Miles and I on the top bunks and Drew and another American on the bottom. The talk was transatlantic) In all, the journey was extremely pleasant, and I certainly slept well.
Its always a strange feeling waking up in a different city to the one you fell asleep in, but thats what happened. We awoke in Marrakech. We were there! We made a beeline straight to the Riad, gulping down all of the weirdness Marrakech had to offer. It was amazing. We discovered that there are seemingly no traffic regulations as we dodged cars in the main square and weaved past pedestrians, scooters and donkeys all thrown together.
We reached the Riad at mid morning, though it seemed a lot later, and quickly established the run of the place. Everything was so relaxed it was untrue. We finally managed to to figure out how to pay for two nights and then had a well deserved sit down and a cup of Moroccan tea.
We were introduced to some of the riad’s permanent residents, including five tortoises and a chameleon called Douglas. We also met Anabel and Pete, who had been in Marrakech for a fair few days. We ate (I backed a loser with a kefta tajine) then decided it would be a good idea to visit a hamam.
To be perfectly honest, I feel the hamam experience deserves its own dedicated post, nay, a book, or tome dedicated to it, but I digress. For those who don’t know, and i wouldn’t blame you, I didn’t, a hamam is sort of like a moroccan bathhouse. We had been told what to expect, i.e. a really relaxing time, so we went right ahead, feeling like we needed some R&R. Now it cost us 300MAD, which isn’t as cheap as they come, but we wanted the best we could get. We were led into a darkened and heavily scented room, the decor of which looked like it had been designed by the biggest fan of brothels this world has ever known. We were asked to step into a small curtained off room and remove our clothes. It was at this point that we both became acutely aware of the weirdness to come. Then the heavy hit. The woman handed us to small rolled up garments. These turned out to be the tiniest, flimsiest, gimpiest male G-strings I have ever seen (not that I generally consider myself a connoisseur or anything). We were cracking up with laughter, but we duly obliged, figuring that it would possibly be more embarrassing making a run for it. We were given dressing gowns (for a short while) then led to a room. We then received a full body massage, which was, given the (ahem) awkward circumstances, severely unrelaxing.
After that trauma, it was time for the scrub down. Now, before this trip, If you had said to me that for the equivalent of around £22 you could ged a full on oiled massage, and then have women soap you up, scrub you down, then hoi buckets of water over you, I’d have thought you madder than a colander of wasps. And yet here we are…….
We slept well that night in a tent-like room on the roof of the riad. My dreams were however invaded by strange chanting and visions of minarets as I was slowly awoken at 5am by the call to prayer. That day, our second and last full day in Morocco, we decided to explore the souks. We walked for hours past stalls and stalls, each displaying their wares, and each vying for your custom. I have to say that about ninety percent of everything there was utter tat, but hey, what can you expect, us westerners (a term I don’t really get as Morocco is further west than lands end) just lap it up. All the while the weather was going berserk. One minute we were soaking up the baking African sunshine, next we were running for cover from huge thunder storms
We went through the mandatory experience of purchasing goods too. There’s a funny (and surprisingly effective) sales strategy in Morocco; it seems that The general idea is to entice you/trick you and even grab you and hurl you bodily into the shop, then shout at you, call you a Berber and point at things they think you might like. We found out later on that they employ a similar, more physical tactic when they try to get you to eat at their stalls in the market. Miles was quite literally ripped limb from limb. Miles had skewers of meat, laced with bacteria whilst I had a plate of assorted, deep-fried fish bits. Anyway, that night we ate and chilled at the riad with a bunch of americans.
We hauled our sorry asses out of bed at 5:30 the next morning as we had decided to walk to the airport. Tired and hungry, we packed up, said our goodbyes and headed off. The walk was longer than we had thought, but y that time, long walks were nothing for us. The pavement was well, interesting. Interesting in that it looked like whoever was responsible had forgotten to build it. Sidestepping the five food deep holes in the pavement (no exaggeration) we arrived at Marrakech international airport, our adventure nearly at an end.
From that point on, except for witnessing an old italian man trip on the moving walkway at Gatwick, our journey was uneventful. Miles and I said our goodbyes in the arrivals area. I think both of us didn’t really know how to feel. Our adventure was suddenly over, and we then both had time to reflect.
I have to say, I didn’t really think much about the experience over the next few days. That may partly be why this post has taken so long to write. It has since struck me just what an amazing journey it was. It sort of occurred to me in a flash one day that I really missed being on the road, lapping up all that each day had to offer. I can barely begin to describe what an amazing feeling it has left me with. Suffice to say, I will never forget it.
We awoke and checked the train times to Málaga, having decided the night before that hitching would not be an option. The distance was short, but our haste was great. Our plane back to England leaves Marrakech on Tuesday morning. The RENFE website said there were trains leaving every two hours, and we made it to the station in good time. However, Spain wasn’t having any of it, and the conductor gleefully informed us that there were no trains to Málaga and that we should shut our cake holes and stop being so silly anyway. So we walked to the bus station (a faux art deco affair that looked like it had buried the better days it had once seen, and now only visited them on Sundays with some flowers) only to find out we had missed the bus. We attempted (half heartedly it must be said) to hitch until the next one.
Once we finally arrived in Málaga, we left as soon as possible (a good move of ever you visit) via the metro-esque cercanía train. Again we aimed for a service station, recommended by hitchwiki, on the west edge of town.
The recomendation was sound,and after crossing El Pinillo we found our way across the autopista by way of a tunnel and some fence hopping.
At the service station we saw the first hitchers since Château-du-Loir. Great to chat to them, but a bit rude both trying to hitch from the same place to the same place. We let them take the prime spot at the petrol pumps proper. In the event, we actually won, but not by poaching, we took people sipping coffee and happened to get lucky first. Good luck guys! As far as we know they’re still there…
Anyway, the lovely couple that Ollie got chatting with we’re not going to Algeciras, but to an urbanisation called Sotogrande about 30km before Algeciras. However, they said they’d take us there anyway, mostly due to our kind faces. Winning!
We made excellent time to Algeciras with lots of lively conversation which I could understand, but barely contribute to. Balls.
In the city, they took us past the port so that we could see where to catch the ferry the following morning, then delivered us straight to te door of our hostel. Amazing kindness.
So here we are then, one hours ferry ride from kissing Moroccan soil. Our last lift was an excellent one, but we have now packed away our hitching T-shirts (well, I have, Ollie has packed away the green T-shirt he has been wearing inside out for th last two weeks).
Tomorrow we’ll arrive in Moroccco, the official part of our journey over, and will begin the dash to Marrakech to catch out flight. Over and out.
tl;dr: I can take you as far as Alderaan
P.s. Ollie says “lets assume ‘prohibido pasar’ actually means step right on in..”
So we had read (on Hitchwiki, the best thing ever) that the easiest way out of Murcia was to get a bus to a place called Alcantarillas, then walk to a service station called La Paz. All well and good, but we’d run clean out of luck; the strike meant only two buses ran that day, 7.15 and 14:00. Needless to say we were on the former, after our beautiful unbroken nights sleep. Thanks Spain!
We were however, lucky in finding the petrol station, the first person we asked in Alcantarillas drove us straight there. One settled in, we watched the sun rise over the diesel pumps, and waited.
It was about 9.30 when we started seeing cars, and we attacked everyone. Our salvation however, came unsolicited we were called to by a bloke who offered to take us to Lorca. Once there, we tried to hitch on the side of the sliproad to the autopista, but this being Spain, all we got was an assortment of odd looks. Then, a Guardia Civil car drove past and gesticulated for us to stop (odd considering that not two days before, two Guardia cars had waved and cheered at us in Valencia). Anyway, our only choice was to stroll a cool 6km out of town in the midday sun, along a super straight road to a petrol station.
Whilst there, the hand of fate again gently cupped our nuts. After only an hour, we asked two women where they were going, and they offered to take us almost all the way to Málaga with them! As it happens, they were Dutch and spoke almost perfect English, so communication was easy. We were dropped (and given mini croissants!) at a rather obscure restaurant by the motorway. With daylight fading, we tried our luck to get the last 40km to Málaga, but got nowhere, so we walked another short 8km along a road with very little in the way of pavement. We were hungry and fractious, and despite the long distance we’d travelled, the mood became desperate. Imagine our delight when Antequera turned out to be a beautiful little town with open shops (on strike day no less!) and plenty of hotels.
We purchased bread an ting, and headed for a room. The price quoted on hostelworld was much lower than the hotel tried to charge us, but after some good old blagging, we had the biggest hotel room room either of us have ever seen, for a very good price! I find it ironic that we travelled our largest distance while Spain was on strike. Yes Miles and Ollie.
tl; dr We love the Dutch. Dutchy Dutchy Dutch Dutch.
P.S. Miles says “I reckon I could run Spain better, can’t be that hard.”
Today has been our darkest day, we were dropped on the outside edge of Alicante and waited in the blazing sun for about 2 hours. Then, a man offered us a lift as far as Murcia, the chat was good and the music was of a soulful nature. Todo bien.
Then the problems started. He dropped us off at a spot he reckoned would be good, just outside the University of Murcia. Bad move it turned out (not that we would have known better). It appears that students have even less intention of helping hitchhikers than the rest of Spain.
I don’t remember how long we waited there, but the sun dropped and took with it our spirits. Feeling utterly defeated (it’s worth noting at this point the geographic proximity of Alicante to Murcia), and after looking in vain for a bus to a service station out of town, we took the tram into Murcia and bought comfort food in Carrefour.
As it turns out Carrefour has free wifi, so we were at least able to find a hostel for the night. It also turns out that my bootlaces can easily snag on the other boot and send me flying; says Miles “It looked as though you threw everything you were holding on the ground in anger, then were ejected a good few meters past me before hitting the floor for a bit of a slide.”
So with much food, a bruised knee and elbow and a broken Trey (Our tea-tray / whiteboard), we set off for the hostel. A great one it turned out to be too; comfortable beds, decent showers and helpful staff who informed us with not undisguised amusement that the whole of Spain was going on strike the next day, and hitchhiking might be tricky…
Happily, we were reminded of this fact again when we were woken at 1am from the aforementioned comfy beds by about 1500 angry Spainards marching through the street below our window (the hostel was in the very centre of town) whistling and blowing stuff up. Excellent!
tl;dr Could have walked it.
P.S. Miles says “Maybe they were just protesting against our presence in Spain?”
So we hiked to the edge of Valencia, past the mad maritime centre, and out to the start of the autovia. The roundabout was an 8 lane behemoth, and there was no shortage of traffic, so although the wait was long (Spainards seem to have a chronic fear of hitchhikers) it wasn’t the worst.
By this point, we had decided to visit some family of mine just north of Alicante. As we had a specific destination, we had to turn down the first lift we were offered (a first for us) as it was in the wrong direction. However, we did eventually get a lift to Alicante, then trammed a few km back up the coast for a free bed, a meal, and a few magnums of Rioja. We also dispatched the bottle of red from the chief fireman (A 2008 Pouillac) which was excellent. Good times.
tl; dr It helps to have connections.
You’re probably getting the idea by now. We woke up in the hostel, ate our breakfast and part walked, part trammed out of town.
They dont really do lay-bys in Spain, so we stood at the start of the autovia to Valencia, slowly sinking into deep, deep depression as car after car of grumpy looking Spanish drivers accelerated past and either shot us a look that would burn water, or looked in every direction but ours.
Three hours later, fully depressed, we headed back into town for a standard lunch of bread, cheese and jamòn. The night before, we had sent out a tweet, wondering aloud if anyone would be crazy enough to give us a lift to Valencia. It was intended as a joke, and we’d forgotten all about it by the time we sat munching our meagre lunch in the campus district of Zaragoza (a place so dull and devoid of soul, it makes Belmarsh prison look like Thorpe Park). Then, fate smiled upon us. A text came through from an unknown number. It read simply “You guys still need that lift?”. Suffice to say we were skeptical. As far as we were concerned, it could easily have been a cruel joke, but at this point, with very little chance of catgching a lift on our own, we were willing to try anything. So we had a text conversation withour anonymous benefactor, who turned out to be one Christina Belmonte (@crisPYGO), who we researched. All seemed legit, and eventually, after much deliberation, we decided top put our trust in a complete stranger.
An excellent choice it turned out to be! The lift was arranged for 8pm so we passed the time by drinking many coffees. A brief distraction came in the form of being attacked by a pack of wild french schoolchildren. Apparently some people do think Ollie is a good actor!
Anyway, the lift was not a joke! Christina et al (Marta and Carolina) arrived and after many thanks, and the presentation of biscuits of gratitude by us to them, we went on our way. Much enjoyable confversation was had, and (on account of some ninja driving skills) we arrived in just 3 hours. The girls were great company and we are hugely indebted to them for going so far (nearly 500km) out of their way to help us.
tl;dr: You can always depend on the kindness of strangers!
P.S. Ollie says you’re the best.