Puerta Gelves – Algeciras (134 miles)
Although there was no rush for us to get away, we set the alarm for 08:00am, although there was no need as we we’re both awake well before the alarm went off. It was the first time I had heard Shazza say that she didn’t like ‘Moving On’ days, this I think is because like me, she had enjoyed being at ‘Puerta Gelves‘ and had become ‘settled’. However, we were ready to roll by 09:30, no point in hanging about as we needed to stop and top up with both LPG and Diesel en route to Algeciras, so we said our farewells to ‘Dick & Toni, who were themselves moving on to pastures new, namely ‘Cordoba’, we paid the bill for our nine-day stopover and then we were off. Strangely enough, on this occasion, ‘Snoopy’ didn’t tell us to turn Left out of the Marina, she probably knew that we would have just ignored her anyway. It was very easy getting out and around Seville and soon we were on the Motorway, the ‘AP-4’. We had decided not to programme ‘Snoopy’ to take us via a non-toll route as this would have involved taking us out of our way, also, the ‘toll’ part was minimal and as it happened only cost us €7.25 (£5.91).
Our first brief halt should have been just outside ‘Jerez de La Frontera‘, where, according to the ‘Aires’ book, there was a service station that sold LPG. The service station was there, but it looked as if it had been ‘out of business’ for a very long time !! Oh well, we always have a ‘Plan B’, our second line of attack was the ‘LPG GIDS‘ book, a Dutch publication which lists LPG service stations throughout Europe. This told us that there was a ‘Repsol’ service station with LPG at ‘Los Barrios‘, just a short distance North of Algeciras and on our route. Unfortunately, either the GPS Coordinates were incorrect or the Aliens had been at it again and removed any physical trace of a Service Station !! We were now a little concerned, although at Puerta Gelves we had been on EHU, we had used gas for cooking, prior to that we had done three or four days ‘Free Camping’ where we had no EHU and so had used Gas for not only cooking but for heating the water also. We had planned to go to Morocco with full LPG as it was not available to us over there, we now had a decision to make, do we delay our crossing and go in search of LPG ? do we go with what we have and trust that the campsites we use will have an ample supply of EHU to cater for our needs, and minimise our reliance on LPG ? or do we cancel the trip altogether !! We spent a great deal of the rest of the journey in silence, each of us mulling over the options, could this be the ‘Get Out Clause’ I needed to remain on European shores !!
At least the GPS coordinates we had to get us to ‘Carlos’, the ticket agent for the ferry crossing, were accurate and ‘Snoopy’ delivered us right to the front door. “So what are we going to do” Shazza asked, I had been mulling over the options and suggested that first we open the gas locker and check the gas level on the gauges. Now these, as I have said on several occasions, are generally worse than useless, however, whilst they only show either ‘Full’ or ‘Empty’, if they showed that we only had one full bottle then this could seriously limit our time in Morocco, would it be worth the cost of the return ticket ? But, if both showed ‘Full’, even though we knew that this wasn’t accurate, it would mean that we would have enough for a few weeks, perhaps more if we were limiting its use by utilising EHU. Fortunately, both gauges were still showing ‘Full’ and I reckoned that we had ‘at least’ a bottle and a half. Shazza had been looking forward to this adventure for months, even before we finished our first season as ‘Elf & Elfette’ so I said “What is the worst that can happen ? If we monitor our LPG usage and see that it is getting critical, then perhaps we may have to decide to leave earlier than we really wanted to. However, if we find that we like Morocco on this trip then we can always come back another year, but ensuring that we have full gas bottles next time“. We agreed and then made our way to the office of Carlos, the ferry ticket agent. Shazza had done her homework, she had ‘downloaded‘ the necessary forms from the Internet whilst we were back in the UK, filled them in with all the relevant details and then printed two copies of the form, we only needed the one copy but she printed off two ‘just in case’. This had been well worth the effort as it saved time once in the office. I was expecting this to be a long drawn out process and was very pleasantly surprised when it took less than five minutes. I don’t know whether the lady behind the counter was the wife of Carlos, but talk about efficient, other than asking us for our Vehicle and Insurance documents, where we wished to sail from and to and of course when, she just got on with sorting out our ‘open ended’ return tickets, which, after officially stamping them, and marking the return sailing times on the outer cover for us, were placed in a nice plastic envelope along with other pieces of useful information, to peruse at our leisure. She also gave us the ‘Immigration/emigration’ cards so that we could complete these in advance of our arrival, these were normally obtained on board the ship, so that was another time-saving bonus. We had read that you could not obtain Moroccan currency (Dirham) outside of Morocco or leave the country with it. Well that is a myth, we changed €100 into Dirhams at the ticket agent office, €1 = 10.5dh which was not bad as the official ‘Commercial Rate’ was quoted as 11dh. Then finally she requested payment of €220 (£179), I was expecting to pay over €300, so I queried the price to make sure she had charged for a ‘return’ ticket, she confirmed that this was the correct price for a Ninety-day ‘Open-ended’ return ticket, well chuffed or what !! So, with a big grin on her face, Shazza emerged from the office with our ‘escape chits’ to Morocco, departing the following day at 09:00am.
The ticket office is in a large commercial trading estate, plenty of room for Motorhomes of all sizes including those with trailers !! There is a large ‘Carrefour’ and ‘LIDL’ supermarket, a MacDonald’s and a couple of fuel stations, neither of which sold GPL (LPG), not the Auto Gas version anyway !! We knew that we could get fresh milk from ‘LIDL’, we already had two bottles of fresh milk and two cartons of the ‘long life’ stuff, which actually isn’t bad in coffee, but if we could get another couple of bottles of ‘fresh’ then that would see us through the first week or so. We decided to leave ‘Big Momma’ parked on the street where the ticket agent was located, along with Dutch, French, German and Italian registered Motorhomes. There were lots of ‘other’ vans parked up in the numerous other parking areas in this large Commercial area, even a few British registered vans. Inside the Supermarket it was my worst shopping nightmare ever, it was jam-packed with people, not all Motorhomers either, this is obviously where the locals come to do their shopping as well. You could tell the Motorhomers though, whilst the locals had trolleys full of groceries the travelling fraternity had trolleys laden with Beer, Wine and Spirits !! We were only able to grab one bottle of ‘fresh’ milk, the last on the shelf and although we had already done our ‘liquid refreshment’ re-stocking this didn’t stop Shazza from throwing in an extra case of six bottles of red ‘grape juice’ and a bottle of the White variety, just for good measure she also liked the look of two cartons of red and one carton of white !! She had forgotten that we had parked some distance away so all of this had to be carried back to the van !!
Back at ‘Big Momma’ we had lunch whilst we discussed either to stay where we were for the night, or travel the six miles to the ferry terminal and find a place to overnight there. We elected to do the latter, just in case, in the extremely unlikely event, that we overslept. Then disaster struck !! I turned the key in the ignition, the dashboard lights all lit up as usual but when I turned the key to start the engine, nothing, not even a ‘click’. Now I have learnt that ‘Big Momma’ has a safety device, the engine will not start unless it is in ‘neutral’, occasionally, because it is an ‘Automatic’ gearbox, I turn the engine off when it is still in ‘first’ gear, however this was not the case this time !! Now some of my regular readers may recall that I have encountered this problem before and it turned out to be a loose nut on the connection of the cable that goes into the starter motor. A problem that was supposedly fixed at my last annual service by a FIAT ‘trained’ mechanic !! There are times like this when I really do wish that I had a bit more ‘mechanical’ know how, I don’t, so there was only one thing I could do, utilise the RAC European Breakdown call out number included in my vehicle insurance cover. Shaun, the name of the very helpful young man on the other end of the phone at the RAC Accident & Breakdown Centre, was very efficient, he recorded all the details, I even gave him the GPS coordinates to my location as well as giving him a detailed explanation as to what I suspected the problem was. He informed me that someone would be with me within Forty-five minutes to an hour. An hour and a half later, with still no knight in shining armour anywhere on the horizon, I decided to take the matter into my own hands and I turned the key in the ignition once more, as you do when you have nothing better to do and you feel absolutely bloody useless !! I was flabbergasted when ‘Big Momma’ burst into life !! I looked at Shazza, Shazza looked at me, now what do we do ? I did the only sensible thing that anyone else would do in the same situation, yes, I turned off the ignition and then turned it on again, just in case it was a sheer fluke. It started the second time, and the third, and the fourth so this time I was not convinced that I had a starter motor problem. Now at this point I could just have telephoned the nice RAC man again and cancelled the call out, however, my worry was, what if it does this in Morocco, my breakdown cover does not extend outside of Europe so I would be well and truly stuffed. Then it appeared, the truck with the tell-tale orange lights on the top of the cab and the words ‘Assistancia’, it wasn’t a hairy arsed mechanic that arrived, it was a very attractive young female donned in blue overalls with orange safety side markings down her sleeves and legs, one that could also speak very good English with a charming Spanish accent !! However, my hopes soon faded when she enquired as to what was the problem with my ‘Battery’, I think something had got lost in the translation. My hopes of a swift resolution faded even further when I explained the actual problem and she stated that she was ‘not’ a mechanic, so I guess that ruled out any chance whatsoever of her tightening my nuts !! To cut a very, very long story short, the ‘non-mechanic’ female escorted us a very short distance to a ‘Auto Parts’ store, a bit like the ‘Qwik Fit’ places in the UK, where they checked out the battery to ensure that it was not ‘shorting’, it wasn’t. They agreed with the ‘non-mechanic’ female in that they did not believe that it was a starter motor problem as the vehicle had started three or four times for them, although they didn’t look underneath to check the connection !! I now had a decision to make, go to Morocco or not go to Morocco ?
We needed Diesel so we thanked our Spanish helpers and drove the few hundred metres to the fuel station. This would be another test as I had to switch the engine off again whilst I refueled, but again, once I had filled up, the diesel that is and not filled up as in welling up in tears !! ‘Big Momma Started first time. We decided to make our way to the ferry terminal and remain there overnight, if, in the morning, ‘Big Momma’ would not start then the decision would be made for us !!
‘Big Momma’ may have been throwing a tantrum, perhaps like me she didn’t fancy going to Africa, or she knew that I was reluctant to go and was trying to help me out, anyway, ‘Snoopy’ this time wasn’t playing ball as she guided us perfectly to the ferry terminal. On the way up the access roads a group of rather ‘unsavoury’ characters were stood out in the road attempting to direct us into a car park. I guess had we have followed their directions they would have demanded money for ‘Secure Parking’ or some other ‘Scam’ ! We eventually arrived at the parking area where, in the morning, we would or would not, board our ferry. Another very nice young lady, on inspection of our ferry tickets, raised a security barrier and told us we could sleep there in the van ‘No Problems’. I am certain that this was not the official ‘Overnight Parking Area’ for Motorhomes, as our guide-book stated that the parking would cost us €20 per night !! Official parking or not, we were perfectly happy where we were and it was costing us nothing !! However, it has to be said that this was not the quietest area as the Ferry movements went on all night with vehicles coming and going at all hours !!
A small van came and parked up next to us, not a Campervan, just a van. Being my usual sociable self (nosey) I went outside to see what registration was on the vehicle. It was Spanish registered, but after a bit of a chat with the driver I established that he was Moroccan. Later that evening we heard a lot of chatter outside, I again went to investigate, in a casual sort of way, as you do, pulling down the blinds and peering out the windows would have been so rude !! My new-found Moroccan friend had acquired two more Moroccan friends, they were sat on a rug on the Tarmac in front of the van with a gas stove and a kettle and they made a pot of Moroccan tea, served up in small glasses. They invited me to take a glass with them, it would have been rude not to, and very nice it was too, it wasn’t, as I had expected, of the ‘Mint’ variety but just normal tea but very sweet.
Then it was time to ‘lock down’ and try to get some sleep, our ferry was due to depart at 09:00am and we had to be ready to check-in an hour before sailing. We were quite alone on the massive parking area, our Moroccan friends having departed on a night crossing. We felt quite safe here, the area was well-lit, their were plenty of port workers milling around and the Police had made several circuits of the area, safety was not the issue, just the constant noise. This would not be the only thing to provide us with a restless night, having got so close to an adventure in Morocco, we had the ferry tickets, we had Moroccan Currency, we were parked near the boarding lanes, however, whether we actually get there will now be totally dependent on the turn of the key in the ignition in the morning……………………. !!