Now began the most important and serious part of our journey – buying wine. Two hours’ drive brought us to the famous vineyards in the valley of the River Duero, where wine had been produced for two thousand years. We drove down La Milla de Oro, the golden route for wine and visited some of the many bodegas that produce high quality wines.
This hard work soon left us feeling peckish and we stopped for a delicious lunch of the local speciality, lechazo, slow roasted baby lamb. The following day brought more wine tasting and another nursery lunch, this time roast baby boar.
Our day’s drive north ended in the town of Caceres. We parked in an aire, an approved overnight parking area for camper vans. It was 2 pm and the aire was only ten minutes walk from the old city. We had missed breakfast and we were hungry so we chose one of a row of pavement cafes, asking to sit inside as we were chilly. Inside was the usual noisy tapas bar crammed with people. We were shown to an upstairs restaurant that was almost deserted. By now it was 2.45 pm so we assumed we had just got in on last knockings. But no, by the time we had finished our meal of soup, salad, steak and chips the room was full of diners with not a table to spare. We had forgotten that the Spanish eat late.
The aire was an excellent place to stay overnight and it even had one electricity power point – with six or seven campervans plugged into four available sockets. There was also a facility to empty grey water, but no toilet emptying. By the time we left in the morning the car park had more than twenty vans parked on the site. Most of these visitors would have gone into the town and spent money in the shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and, in return, would have got a free night’s parking. Why don’t towns in the UK do this?
The next day we took the motorway north towards Ceuta and our ferry back to Europe. We drove past Casablanca and Rabat, stopping only for fuel and a van wash.
Most of the larger fuel stations offer a lavage service and you can sit in the cafe having coffee while a team of men use a power hose to wet, soapy wash and then rinse and dry off. An excellent service which cost about £5 and took less than half an hour. We arrived at our campsite at Moulay-Bousselham after dark.
We had bought some fresh peas in the pod by the roadside and these we ate with Tony’s stir fried chicken. Peas have never tasted so good.
From Moulay-Bousselham to Ceuta was, according to TomTom, a two hour run but it took us much longer as we again found ourselves on narrow, winding roads. We eventually reached the Moroccan/Spain border. One of us stayed with the vehicle whilst the other took the passports for stamping at a booth. We then drove on to the border where we were pulled aside by a khaki clad armed policeman. He began searching the vehicle by tapping and knocking all around the exterior. More officials arrived, some talking loudly on their mobiles. Then they brought a German Shepherd sniffer dog who went all over the van, inside and out. They unscrewed our food storage boxes kept between the double floor and made Tony removed everything from between the floors. The knocking and tapping became more insistent, they seemed angry and the voices on the phone became more animated. We were reminded of the warning that these guys can rip your van apart should they choose to do so. Suddenly, after almost an hour, they all backed off and, with a friendly handshake and lots of smiles, we were allowed on our way. They had obviously decided that we were not the drug smugglers they had first suspected!
It wasn’t long before we were on the ferry to Spain and then we drove for another two hours to reach the campsite at El Puerto de Santa Maria where we had stayed for a few days prior to leaving for Morocco. It was good being in Europe again and we very much appreciated the showers and toilets, nice warm rooms kept clean by ladies in overalls and smelling slightly of bleach. Such a contrast to some of the facilities in Morocco where wash rooms were often open to the elements and you were lucky if the water was hot and even more fortunate if the feeble trickle of water continued long enough for you to rinse the shampoo from your hair.
We loved Morocco and we found the Moroccans friendly and genuinely eager to help but we couldn’t understand why no-one seemed inclined to repair broken plumbing. Nor could we understand their attitude to rubbish which was often neatly bagged, only to be taken away and tipped over a cliff.
It took us eight hours to drive the 265 miles north, past Agadir, to the coastal resort of Essaouira (sounds a bit like Essa-wearer). The road was narrow and winding but with spectacular views of the ocean as we rounded each bend; this was a surfers’ paradise.
Our campsite was about 2 km from the town, a pleasant walk along the beach.
Once we had completed our usual port and fishing fleet inspection, we explored the old part of town before relaxing with a freshly squeezed orange juice in one of the many cafes in the main square. Although it had been chilly overnight, about nine degrees, it was very warm sitting iin the sunshine.
We had lunch at one of the many outdoor fish restaurants with barbecues. The seafood was displayed at the front of the restaurant, the fish were either alive or very fresh. You made your choice, agreed a price, and then the fish was perfectly cooked and served to your table one item at a time. There were six of us eating, we had big prawns, small prawns, followed by crab and calamari, then sea urchins, bream, bass, John Dory and finally red snapper. We ordered some wine, ten minutes later two bottles arrived wrapped up in newspaper and secreted in a carrier bag. We couldn’t keep the bottles on the table, they had to be hidden under the table. It was one of our most expensive meals and cost just over £25 a head.
The town was a major tourist centre and was full of European visitors. Vast hotels flanked the wide promenade and the sea front bristled with cafes and restaurants but you could tell you were still in Africa by the state of the paving – acres and acres of fancy tiles but so many broken or sitting at bizarre angles that it looked as if someone had laid them on a newly ploughed field. The beach was enormous, they offered rides on camels and horses as well as dune buggy rides – but there was still plenty of space for the locals to mark out three or four football pitches. Some of the young footballers played with bare feet.