Rear View: The Calum's Caballeros

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Calum's Caballeros Convene

When we last left our gallant band of travellers they were hoping to finally meet up as a group of 9. The not-so-soft Southerners had left the UK first and were already roaming the tourist shops in out-of-season Benidorm, the Scots-Irish brigade had endured a slow and painfully cold journey across central France, and one poor soul had damaged his bike in England, but was catching up fast having made use of the Plymouth - St Malo ferry.

The Scots-Irish found the bar where the others were, and had just ordered a round of drinks to celebrate their eventual confluence, when Dai's phone rang. He motioned to the others to be quiet: it was Sock, the lonesome biker. He'd had another accident, in a car park about a mile from them. He'd been turning at a slow speed, so the damage to the bike as it fell was minimal, but unfortunately he'd got his leg trapped underneath it, and was about to be whisked to hospital. The team roused themselves into action, and dispatched a Spanish speaker amongst them to go to the hospital and act as translator, while the others tried to recover the bike itself ( i.e. see which bits on it they wanted to 'borrow' for themselves).

News from the hospital wasn't great, though it could have been a lot worse – he'd broken his ankle and would have to stay in hospital for a few days before being flown back home. The Calum's Road trip was over for him, a fact made even more disappointing given that he'd intended to head further south after The Gambia, and spend a few more months travelling round southern Africa. But it was not to be. The moral of this story is, if you're ever on a motor bike, and you feel it is falling over, get your legs (or other body parts) out of its way!

The extra day's delay allowed the remaining 8 to fettle their bikes, changing oil and tyres ready for the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar. This process took much longer than they had anticipated, as did the task of locating a courier in order to repatriate all their cold weather gear, no longer needed once on African soil. They re-convened in Algeciras, the massive port that sits beside Gibraltar at the very southern tip of Spain.

It was a Tuesday morning by the time they made the crossing to Tanger and waved goodbye to Europe, almost 2 whole weeks since Dai had left home. But adventures are like that: it's difficult to stick to a rigid timetable, and you have to be ready to expect the unexpected.

North African driving techniques were certainly a new experience for many of the riders, and I think some of the locals learned plenty of English swear words as the bikes dodged and weaved through the Moroccan traffic, getting quite anxious as they drove around Rabat in the dark trying to find a place to stay. Wednesday was taken up with a battle with African bureaucracy, in an attempt to obtain a visa to cross Mauritania. Dai described the scene for me in an email :

'After a restless nights sleep, we headed off to the Mauri embassy for its opening at 9. Guess what, it didn't, this is African time, they started letting us in at 9.51! I say us because there were a collection of 50 odd visa seekers including dread-locked new age travellers, suited Arab business men and a young Chinese couple who were walking around Africa with all their possessions including a guitar packed on a Maclaren collapsible buggy! Thing was everyone was helping everyone else out with filling in the forms which had been passed out, was really nice, we felt part of the group.

When the embassy officials decided to open the door to admit the first batch it was everyman for himself and Northern Europeans with a concept of queuing came off worst. Two repeat performances and 45 minutes later we got inside, hooray we thought, then we got our first introduction to the African civil service, no sense of humour, no patience but with the power to stop your journey with the stroke or lack of a stroke of a pen! The application process took place through a post office style glass screen with a hole and slot which was blanked off with parcel tape with 20 people in a windowless room which was 7 ft by 7 ft.

Luckily I had a copy of the fiche you made for me showing my passport, as they wanted a copy of your passport, but then they wanted payment solely on dihram not Euros. Frantic borrowing of dihram later, with a finger clicking and increasingly annoyed official, I had a receipt and was ejected into the street by one of the guards. Next stop Marrakech!'

I'll be singing that song now for the rest of the day – 'Don't you know we're riding on the Marrakech express!'

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