Somewhere on the first leg part1

Very briefly, we have left the UK and are currently somewhere on the German/Austrian border. It has been a roller coaster journey so far. Everyone are well and things could not be better. The truck is holding up. I am writing this from a caravan park where we pulled up for express use of internet and electricity. Its just for one night!

So Going back four days to when we were in the UK. We packed all our possessions into the Zil on Wednesday. This started in the morning and we were not finished till sometime around eleven o’clock at night. Consequently the Zil in its current state resembles, from the inside, more a removals van than overlander home. We are living on top of cardboard boxes of books, crates of food, three suitcases of clothes, further shelves of clothes, ice box, three bikes, large rocking horse, printer, crates of toys, push chair, in short every random article amassed in the short time we were living on Farleigh road. We have to climb over this mountain to get to the bed every night. Cooking food is an even bigger challenge!

It was a relief to be leaving London. So many times I have said I wished to leave and have not done so. This time there was no space for dreaming or even planning. Just get up and move. This whole Morocco idea was cooked up not more than 8 weeks ago. Saying goodbye to Helen, our landlady and flatmate, was sad. I have grown very fond of her. Anika loved her. She works with the Nicaraguan Solidarity campaign and Peace Brigade International, two outstanding INGO’s. PBI use the consensus decision making model which I am very keen on. I was mainly concerned that she will be ok in what is a pretty crazy house thanks to one very difficult guy that when there – seems to create a poisonous atmosphere and yet is tolerated by all. It felt like our presence had helped create a balance that the house needs to prevent any one person or family dominating. Now the Farleigh road house goes back to its old self.

We left Farleigh road and pulled into my very good friend Andy’s house. He lives only two streets away. Come out of Farleigh road onto Amhurst road (where the Angry Brigade were based in the 1970’s), turn on Shacklewell lane and take a left onto Cecilia road. According to Ian Sinclair, Cecilia road is called after Cecilia, daughter of Thomas More. Shacklewell lane is the only lasting reference to her estate, the Shackwell estate. Her husband, the Sir Heron fell out of favour with king Henry and lost his head much like many other courtiers of that time. In that finale he followed the exit of Cecilia’s own father. Thomas More is the only English Catholic martyr that achieved sainthood on death.

Andy has been a friend and support for the twelve years that I have known him. Through all the years of squatting he has let me use his address for mail. He was part of the original crew that started the sound system. We went to the same college. The days leading up to our departure he spent working on a cardboard theatre for Anika. We stopped over to pick it up though Anika was fast asleep by this time. Andy wants Anika to add more characters to the theatre based on her travel experiences. We shall endevour to carry out this activity. If possible we shall film one of her productions so that he can see how far she has taken it.

Leaving Andy past midnight was a perfect time to avoid the Olympics road closures. At some point I feel the need to write a rant that sums up my distaste for this spectacle, thus quenching my need to feel recurring bitterness. We would have been quite unable to leave any earlier as the roads to the Blackwall tunnel (and the tunnel itself) were sequestered to the Olympics. At 1am in the morning we succeeded in avoiding police checkpoints and lane closures and creeping out of London and beyond the reach of the Metropolitan police.

Having left London for potentially the next year, we drove down to Sussex to make our goodbyes to Anika’s great grandmother, Bivo. Anika absolutely adores her Bivo. It was important to let her make her goodbyes. Bivo was also preparing for a flight the following day to Brazil. It was an emotional goodbye for all. A year away is a long time and we shall all miss each other. Whilst at her cottage we booked our ferry tickets for that very night.

The ferry departure times were 4am – intentionally so that we could see the sunrise over France and the start of a new beginning.

Back in London

So I am back in London having left the military barracks behind. Although I enjoyed my stay there I feel it is time to be moving on. The weather for the last two days was terrible and as the yard is built on clay, it water logs after a brief rainy spell.

Miki and I had one long last walk through the pine woods there. This time a much more cautious walk so as to avoid the highland cows! We did however encounter plenty of rabbits and deer which Miki is allowed to chase so long as she does not make a kill. We also came across some extraordinary spider webs in wrapped up in the heather. They are called Labyrinth spiders (like the funnel spider of Australia but without the poison).

The Labyrinth spider weaves a matting surface, the width of which was up to three feet. On one edge there is the entrance to the labyrinth which is a silken palace deep inside which she hides her children. Extraordinary!

I also found out that the yard (former barracks) was infact a former RAF base used to listen in on Soviet military radio. This is an appropriate history for a yard now used to store Soviet military trucks. Deep within the forest there are still relics of the radio masts, towers with intricate arrays of wire rods now rusting away. The fences enclosing the towers have mostly collapsed, or been pushed down by the highland cows in search of young grasses. Aged warning signs scarred by the weather.

Sketching our plans

So what are we going to do when we embark on our trip? Where are we going to go? These are questions that we do not have ready answers to. I can not imagine how we could have a concrete plan extending several months and stick with it. For a start there are so many practical uncertainties. How will the Zil hold up on long journeys? What will our cash flow be like? Will Anika enjoy herself and what would she like to do? How will Miki survive in the hotter climates?

The destination of Morocco was my story that has received a warm endorsement from the girls. It is very close to Europe should we need to be rescued. It is also culturally another world of sights and sounds to immerse ourselves in. I feel particularly drawn to the empty deserts of the south. Whilst doing some research I came across a photo taken just south of the Moroccan border in Mauritania, in Nouadhibou. It is of a beached cargo ship.

This picture has an apocalyptic feel to it. A human endeavour wrecked on the barren shoreline. What I love about it is the loneliness of the ship, like a ghost never seen. I am resolved to attempting to take my own photo of this hulk.

Mauritania is a dangerous country. Currently the bulk of the country (including the shores where the ghost ship rests) is a red zone (advise against all travel) as advised by the Foreign Office. This is due to the increasing militia, criminal gang and terrorist activity spilling over from Mali. The rest of the country is a yellow zone (advise against all but essential travel). The conflict is a tragedy for the region which only a few years ago was open for extensive travel. Now cities such as Timbuktu and Atar are closed off, their heritage under threat.

So my proposal now to the girls is that since we are in the area lets keep driving south (depending on getting a Carnet de Passage), through Mauritania (quickly and in convoy with other overlanders), Senegal, Gambia, Cote d’Ivoire to Ghana. My old school SOAS has ties with schools in Gambia and Ghana. It would be possible to contact them with a view to offering some teaching hours there in English. This would be my ideal second leg of the journey. There is a condition here though. That is the small window of travel, mid winter, which is the only time Miki would be able to cross the desert in any kind of relative comfort.

Well, I am very excited about this plan. I hope we can find a consensus to test it out. If one or both Mara and Anika block the proposal then I guess we have to find a second plan. I have heard that the border between Morocco and Algeria is still closed (despite an Algerian promise last year to open it). This means one possible route through to Tunisia and then a short ferry ride to Italy is no longer an option. Oh well, we will wait and see how we feel as a family.

For now I am doing further research into the health side of travelling through west Africa. I compiled a database (sourced from the National Health Travel Network) which I made pretty on gimp. Not wanting to sound dramatic but this is the data:

Reassuringly Hepatitis A, B, Tetanus and Rabies are found in most of Europe.