3/12/89

The sun shining into the truck woke me up at about 8:00 before anyone else was awake. I got up and took my camera and went for a walk out to the headland near our camp. The sea was calm with a light swell rolling in onto the beach and the head of a small cove. The sun shimmered on the water and a gentle breeze blew in off the sea. I clambered over the sharp white rocks to a point and sat watching the sea and the passing ships for a while then wandered back over to the camp where most of the gear was already packed up ready to go.

Our final overland lunch, Santander, Spain.

We drove into town, stopping for a coffee on the way, and spent 2 hours driving round looking for an open camping ground. We eventually found one on the peninsula on the opposite side of the bay, about 20 minutes drive from the ferry terminal.

We had some lunch then Scotty, Mike, Bron, Pullar & I went back into town to try and change money to pay for the campsite. After a fruitless search we discovered that we could scrape up enough money between us so we returned to the camp.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning out the truck and packing all of our gear and souvenirs into our packs. Once Linda and I had finished, I sat down with Mike, Scotty and Sale and had a few beers while Rob and Pete cooked tea and bitched at each other! I went to be (a seat in the truck) at about 11 but Mike, Scotty & Sale carried on drinking and arguing round the fire which they kept going by pouring diesel on it.

Packing Up, Santander, Spain. NB: the red and black backpack, centre left, with the New Zealand flag stitched onto it, accompanied me through all of our travels.

2/12/89

DAY NINETY NINE. We got up with the sun, which was rising bright and golden through the mist and packed up the sodden camp. We drove north out of Madrid without the hassle of rush-hour traffic which was all going into the city in the opposite direction.

About 9:30 we stopped at a Servicio for our customary breakfast but found that i was too expensive so we had to settle for a bag of taco chips and a Coke. We were heading for the hills behind Madrid where the monument and shrine to the people killed in the Civil War, known as Los Valle de los Caidos” is situated. We stopped to photograph the huge cross showing through the mist high up on the pine-clad hill upon which the shine sits and as we were pulling back out onto the roadway, a a car hit us at full-speed from behind. The only damage the truck suffered was a bent wood-rack but the car, a Ford Granada, was fucked! The driver and his wife were alright, however, so after Scotty had taken some photographs and given them Kumuka’s address in London we carried on.

The Basilica of the Valley of Heroes is a massive cavern carved into the face of the hill beneath the huge cross. We spent 3/4 of an hour there looking around but it was bitterly cold and once we’d seen the interior there wasn’t much else to detain us. So, we spent the rest of the day driving towards Santander and at about 4:30 we pulled into a field beside a ruined farmhouse on the side of the road, intending to camp. However, the weight of the truck was too much for the sodden ground and we got stuck! It took about 10 minutes to dig and sand-mat it out (just as we had done in the Congo jungle all those weeks ago!), keeping a nervous eye out for the farmer and by the time we were free there was a dreadful muddy mess on the edge of his wheatfield. We beat a hasty retreat!

After that little faux pas, we decided to drive right to Santander so we settled into our sleeping bags and caught a couple of hour’s kip.

We got to Santander at about 9:30 and after 1/2 an hour of driving around, found that most of the camping grounds were closed for the winter. So, we drove down to the beach and set up camp in a carpark! We cooked up a feed of de-hy and soup for tea then spent the night in the truck.

1/12/89

NB The entry for this day is missing from my diary. However, writing about it from thirty years in the future I can still clearly remember what happened that day. We still occasionally tell this story.

After breakfast, most of us took a commuter train into the centre of Madrid. Linda and I went to the Prada museum where we saw, among other famous works of art, what remains one of my favourite paintings: Los Meninas by Deigo Rodriguez Velázquz. Painted in 1656, the picture shows the Spanish Royal family as they appeared in a mirror, with light flooding in from the side and the artist himself at the left of the composition: a neat self-portrait disguised as a portrait of the royals.

Upon leaving the museum we were greeted with a sudden and somewhat scary realization…we did not know the way back to the camping ground. Not only that, we didn’t even know its name, what part of town it was located in, nor even which train we had taken to reach the centre of the city earlier in the day. We were lost! After several hours of making fruitless enquiries at various train stations, we just happened to spot two of our fellow overlanders in the queue at a bus-stop. We were saved!

That evening, we all got severely hammered on sangria.

30/11/89

We had a leisurely get-away from the old kiln and headed for Madrid. We stopped for a snack at a rip-off service station then drove into the city amongst heavy traffic. We by-passed the centre of town and got on a motorway heading north and found a camping ground about 10 minutes out.

We booked in and set up camp then drove further up the road to a HUGE hyper-market where we spent 2 1/2 hour buying food for tea and yummies for ourselves. Scotty and Mike bought a shopping trolley full of assorted booze to make a sangria for tomorrow night.

The Madrid Camp

Back at camp, we mixed up the sangria and ended up with about 30-35 litres! For tea we had de-hy¹ chicken supreme² with mashed spuds and cabbage then relaxed in the camp bar for the rest of the evening playing pool.

Your narrator plays a mean game of sticks.

¹The truck carried a supply of dehydrated food in cans for emergency rations. We referred to this stuff as “de-hy” and it was quite revolting.
²”supreme” is the hopeful title given to this pale, amorphous white stew.

29/11/89

We broke camp just as the sun was breaking through the thick fog and drove the last 30 kilometres to Toledo. We stopped for a hot drink in a cafe on the outskirts of town and by the time we got into the city the fog had thickened into cold drizzle with a biting wind.

It took about an hour to find somewhere to park, at the foot of the hill upon which the old part of town is built. Toledo is an old walled city surrounded on nearly every side by the Tagus River, which curves around the base of the hill. The huge palace at the very top of the hill, called the Alcazar, was the scene of the decisive battle of the Spanish Civil War. The Revolutionary Forces, under General Franco, defeated King Juan Carlos’ forces there in 1936 and virtually reduced the place to rubble in the process.

Linda and I walked up one of the narrow streets and found a place to have some lunch then went off in search of the sights. Our first stop was the cathedral which, at first sight, seemed closed but after walking right round we found the entrance and went in. It was a magnificent cathedral with huge pillars reaching up into the vaulted ceiling, with a huge amount of wood panelling and sculptures. There are several works by El Greco including a domed painting called the Transparency and many of the statues are finished in gold. We met Scotty there looking around and together we walked up to the Alcazar.

The palace has been restored to its former glory and turned into a museum of the Spanish Civil War and Spanish military history. One room has been left as it was after a shell exploed in it during the seige of 1936.

About 2:30 we made our way back to the truck and drove out of town in the direction of Madrid. We camped the night in a dis-used brick factory under the cover of a lean-to shed. We found some old pallets to chop up for the fire and made ourselves comfortable. We had a very warm and comfortable night sleeping on the ground around the fire which we kept burning most of the night.

28/11/89

Up and away about 8:30 on a clear and frosty morning we headed up the highway through rolling farmland and olive groves. We stopped for a hot cup of chocolate at a wayside cafe then carried on, heading north.

The whole day was spent travelling and about mid-day, fog and drizzle came down and it got very cold.

We free-camped the night beside the road in an olive grove with the freezing mist swirling around us. The firewood we had wasn’t much good and it took us about two hours to cook up out tea of de-hydrated beef curry, beans and rice. We spent a cold and damp night in the truck.

27/11/89

After a very wet and stormy night, we woke up to find the sky clear and the sea calm. During the night, Russ and Jo’s tent had blown down forcing them to spend most of the night on the floor in the toilet block. Sail had found a dry shed to sleep in and Scotty was asleep in the laundry!

We decided to skip breakfast and stop at a cafe later on so we were away from the camp pretty quickly.

Loaded with food, Malaga, Spain.

About 9:30 we pulled into a Hypermarket¹ on the outskirts of Malaga. The huge building was full of food, wine & edible stuff we had only dreamed about in Africa! We walked around goggle-eyed at the selection of yummies and couldn’t decide what to buy first. In the end, we settled for some bags of chips, bread, cheese, salami and yoghurt.

We hit the road again, stuffing our faces, and drove until about 12:30 when we stopped for a picnic lunch beside a flooded river amongst some wooded hills.

The afternoon was spent wrapped up in our sleeping bags, dozing , so we didn’t see much of the countryside. About 4;30 we stopped at a camping ground on the northern side of Granada. Scotty told us that the truck kitty would pay for the camping to save us all some money, so we set up camp and got a fire going in a barbeque pit then settled down with a few beers while tea cooked. We had splashed out on some fresh veggies and a couple of jars of pasta sauce so the meal of spaghetti with vegetable bolognese sauce made a welcome change to the dehydrated food we have been eating during our last few days in Africa.

After tea, most of the others got up into the truck out of the wind but Mike, Scotty, Sail and I sat round tipping diesel onto the fire to keep it going and telling jokes.

Most of us slept in the truck for added warmth.

¹A hypermarket is a giant supermarket.