Category Archives: The Second Adventure

Posts from the second African adventure in 2016

A Brief Excursion to Extinction?

A bit of a monologue from 6th April…

Camping L'Ocean Bleu
Camping L’Ocean Bleu

If the ocean is blue here, its probably more down to the prevalent colour of the rubbish than anything else. A beach strewn with all manner of human detritus…plastic and broken glass; bottles and cans, broken plastic implements and even the odd spent shotgun cartridge. Behind the beach, that strange landscape of apartment buildings apparently being simultaneously built and falling down, scattered amongst them the temporary (though probably as long-lasting) block and corrugated shacks of the less well-off.

A small sample...
A small sample…

It is no wonder we stare at the long vistas of waves breaking on the shore and out to the horizon…past the rusting ships…out to a blue haze where all seems well with the world. I sat and gestured conversation with an old guy about nothing much, facing the inland chaos which was more relevant to his life than the distant horizon the tourists come to enjoy.

Driving West from Fez, the landscape changed from flat to hilly, and from dry to damp and green. The small scale producers selling their fruit and veg by the side of the road fading away, replaced by bigger fields and more machinery. But all the way was occupied by human food production, though the rural population seems pretty low compared to other places. Nearer the coast it seemed ever more French…the road markings and signs the same with added Arabic…the bare rolling hills like an impoverished version of some of the less interesting parts of Northern France.

The roads full of overloaded trucks…through towns with whole new zones of modular smart apartment blocks laid out in rigid grids. Where are all these people coming from to fill them? Consumers and profits needed for the ever-improving efficiency and scale of agricultural and industrial progress?

So biodiversity and people don’t seem to mix. It seems to me that is not the accidental effect we like to think, and which we can do something about. At root, food production for people underlies our entire society and all its jobs and industry the rest of us occupy ourselves with. And what is this agriculture but the deliberate and increasingly efficient destruction of biodiversity? We choose a few species which we need, and manipulate the environment to produce vast quantities of those few species and systematically exclude the others. And whilst we all look out to sea at the pretty blue horizon, this all-consuming machine behind us is driven by our system of economics to  extract more and more to support ‘growth’.

The species we choose are even manipulated, through unnatural selection and even genetic modification, to produce more of the bits of them we need. Imagine what would happen if there were no people? Very few of our favoured species could survive without us, so we’re hardly doing them any favours. So basically, people are very bad for the world. Developed people are even worse as we consume more. It is with these thoughts in my mind that I arrived at the coast, ending up camping on a patch of grass and concrete in the rain between some sheep and chickens and concrete apartment blocks.

The next day was supposed to be another visa-gathering day, but I had added a trip to the Toyota dealer to see if I could find some genuine mirrors as the after-market cheap ones I’d got were busy falling apart. Sadly, the mirrors would take 20 days to deliver, and the Ghana embassy weren’t going to issue a visa in less than 10 days…at which point I gave up and headed South towards Casablanca, pitched up at l’Ocean Bleu and set about fixing the mirrors with glass-fibre paste and crossed fingers and contemplating all that is wrong with the world! And there I was going to leave you…but I prefer to end on a high note, and I had one today, so…

Today is the last day in the highly populated coastal area, as I am picking up Yury and Maria from the airport tonight and tomorrow we head East to the mountains and deserts. They requested a first night hotel…reasonable enough after travelling from St Petersburg via Frankfurt and arriving after midnight! So I booked into an Ibis in Casablanca and headed into town via petit-taxi – for lunch at the Vegan Cafe. This cafe is open for lunch in a yoga centre, a quiet oasis in a busy city on a busy coast, and the food is just delicious.

Vegan Cafe Casablanca
Vegan Cafe Casablanca

Whilst there, in my own blue horizon perhaps, it seemed that there is hope – with development comes positives as well as negatives for the non-human world if we use it well. Vegan food is a much more efficient use of resources than processing animals, so maybe that is where we go next and reduce the impact of our increasing development and growth? I still don’t think it is enough – biodiversity is the world’s protection against change, it is what keeps life going long-term. By using land and sea for our own purposes we deliberately and systematically reduce diversity wherever we are active – the long term solution has to be to reduce the places we are active and allow nature to repair some of the damage we have already done?

 

A brief excursion to Africa

And for the first guest appearance of Adventure 2, Pete flew in to make his first trip to Africa. Here are his impressions…

I am currently in Fes, preparing to return home. I left the UK in the early hours of Friday and it’s now Sunday afternoon – hopefully the whole trip will have been completed from leaving my flat to getting back to it again, in not much more than 72 hours. Got to Liverpool Street mostly by night bus and then took the first Stansted Express of the day.

I flew out to meet Jonathan in Almeria. Had most of the day to hang around there, and made it onto the ferry despite an extremely bad traffic delay on the roads (we had driven just along the coast to eat and do a little sightseeing).

Hanging out in Almeria
Hanging out in Almeria

Lunch in Almeria wasn’t too bad, even though there was very little veggie-frindly on offer. We finally found somewhere where we got patatas bravas, salad etc. and stuff that was basically vegan tapas, although it was ad hoc and not on the menu. And this was in a pub, not even a restaurant – understanding and friendly staff made the effort to make us something tasty.

I wasn’t entirely vegan while we were eating out in Aguadulce, having forgotten to ask for the pizza with no cheese in the evening [Rookie mistake! I’m sure lots of us have been there!] but I have been since then. Dinner last night consisted of pasta with a combination of harissa and tapenade…a quick meal since we’d arrived late at the camp site.

During the Moroccan half of my leg we drove from Melilla to Fes in one go – not intentionally, but we failed to find a campsite anywhere in the national park south of Taza. Went through quite contrasting landscapes – the bit inland from Melilla and Nador might not quite have counted as desert but it certainly was very close to meeting the threshold.

Train Spotting in the Desert
Train Spotting in the Desert
Coffee Stop in the Mountains
Coffee Stop in the Mountains

Up in the mountains, we passed a few un-melted snow patches, and saw a lot more in the distance.

Photo Opportunity in Tazekka National Park
Photo Opportunity in Tazekka National Park

Fes seems quite nice although the municipal campsite would probably be about 10% of a star by European standards.

For lunch today, eating out, we had salad accompanied in my case by black coffee.

All in all, not bad for less than 80 hours (assuming of course that I get home OK and there aren’t any problems with Ryanair). Let’s hope that you don’t end up reading another post about how I’ve got stuck here. Originally I did plan to go to work tomorrow but now have the day off. Trips away are necessarily short at the moment due to having young children…

Barcelona

Day 1. A gentle meander down from the hills in France to the coast of Spain. As I left St Michel I hoped my stashed worldy possessions would be safe and not too tasty for rodents – there was definite scratching and scuttling going on the last night there and I don’t think it was the lizards and birds on the roof. A little way down the road I found an appropriate sign…

The Road to the End of the World?
The Road to the End of the World?

The plan for Barcelona was basically to get a Visa-Entente covering Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and (just for completeness though I don’t intend going there) Niger. I had read reports that the Benin consulate in Barcelona was the place to go for this on ‘The Hubb’ – an invaluable resource. I even made an appointment! So I headed down to Spain along roads familiar from previous travels to the most convenient campsite North of Barcelona at El Masnou. I guess in summer it would have required booking early, but there was lots of space when I got there just in time for a beer before sunset overlooking the sparkling blue Mediterranean.

BeerMasnou
The ‘tache might have to go…stopping food and drink getting into mouth…

A short walk and a train trip in the morning got me to the centre of Barcelona with lots of time to spare and I found the consulate in a small first floor office with no trouble. 20 minutes later I had my first 5 countries visas in my passport and was back out in the sunshine. Nice. I’m sure this will be balanced later on in the trip but I’ll take the good going for now!

Visa(s) sorted in record time...
Visa(s) sorted in record time…

Success in getting the Visa-Entente so quickly and without any trouble meant I had a little time in Barcelona. First up I went to see how La Sagrada Familia has progressed since I was last here with Elena. I have to say its looking much more advanced – more balanced with the spires looking pretty much completed. Then, as I was feeling hungry and it was getting on for lunchtime I searched ‘vegan’ on google maps…and up popped a whole selection of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants – this is an improvement on that previous visit where we wandered around trying to find something tasty and ended up with an apparently ready-made veggie paella…Elena would have been excited! As it was the first place (Veganoteca) was closed for a few days, but the second was open and excellent – if you’re in town, try out the Veggie Garden. On the recommendation of some other British customers I had the Thali, a (rather early in the day) Caipirinha and a carrot cake, and went on my way full and recharged.

Veggie Garden...I was a bit early!
Veggie Garden…I was a bit early!

Back at the campsite I picked up Troopy and let Google navigate me South (avoid tolls/avoid motorways). A new game was born…listen to Google’s instructions and try and guess what on earth she was saying. Then, having given up, look at the screen and try and cross reference the sounds she was making with the printed street names. Then, give up and just go with the flow!

In this manner I spent a few hours travelling down the coast…mostly built-up, quite run down with little islands of nature. I couldn’t help but think of the miles of coastline from the last trip and hope we don’t end up making the whole world like this. Between vast tracts of agri-industry and sprawling towns and cities, we haven’t left much of Europe for all those other species. You can see why certain developing countries might think we ought to do something about restoring our own back yard before telling them to stop cutting down their forests. Close to home, I have an antique map of Wiltshire which has the commentary (paraphrased from Olde Englishe) “they mostly burn wood for fuel, which the North of the county used to have in plenty”. Indeed…I guess we could burn rapeseed oil but its not great for biodiversity.

Oh well – the citrus and olive trees are at least nice and green to look at. And another upside to the sunny but slightly chilly time of year, there’s no mossies!

And finally…the tracker very nearly came up trumps tonight, since I was informed (sadly just too late to drop in), that I am camped for the night a short hop from some distant relatives! So all you tracker-watchers out there feel free to message me if I’m about to bump into someone…but before sundown! 😉

Next up…a dash down towards Almeria to meet Pete at the airport on Friday morning!

Base Camp

It has been a fairly slow week – while the trip has officially begun, it has so far been more of a personal preparation for the real adventure. The house in Chippenham has been emptied and cleaned since this time round I’m selling up and moving on. Whilst lots of accumulated ‘stuff’ has been freecycled and recycled, there’s still a big pile of boxes and crates filling half the house here in St Michel, and the week has been spent sorting out the things I’ll need on the road for the next few months.

It was also a slow journey down from Le Havre – and not without incident! Having bought a shiny new set of door mirrors for Troopy, one of them just fell off back in the UK on my way down to Wales for a friend’s birthday camping trip. The second mirror made it as far as Clermont Ferrand before it too succumbed to the wind and snapped off – but thanks to the first incident I had already ordered a new (stronger) pair which were delivered here at ‘base camp’. Driving Troopy with no rear view is fine in the middle of the Sahara, but I wouldn’t fancy it on European motorways or negotiating Casablanca! Fingers crossed for the replacements.

Troopy at 'Base Camp'
Troopy at ‘Base Camp’

Winter is still hanging on here on the Causse du Larzac – some days it wins and I’m very glad of the log fire, some days the sunshine and early flowers remind me of years past when we came to enjoy the Spring in the space and peace of this unique landscape. Part of me just wants to stay here and quietly pass the time, away from the rest of the world. But I have another journey ahead, and even here it is not possible to disconnect from the global human network – for better or worse what we do each day now has an impact around the world. On this journey, I hope to find many positives but in honesty fear that the negative effects of human activity might be more than I expect. Perhaps the fact that I’m writing this on a day that the grey skies are winning affects my mood – I am definitely looking forward to a warmer climate further South!

Luxuries of Home
Luxuries of Home

So on Tuesday I’ll be leaving behind familiar surroundings and heading for Barcelona with the aim of getting some visas – another sort of familiarity from the last trip – and easing my way into the routine whilst still in Europe. On Friday, Pete will be flying in to Almeria before we make the crossing to Melilla and the real adventure begins. Whilst looking forward to the heat of the Sahara, it is going to be a while yet – and I just saw a friend’s photographs on Facebook from last week’s cycling tour in Morocco – there’s lots of snow in the Atlas mountains and rain is forecast lower down. Brrr…Troopy is not fitted with a log fire!

The Second Expedition Plan

Well, I guess it is time for an update and a small announcement…Troopy is being prepared for a return to Africa!

Tyre Fitting
Troopy’s New Shoes

In a couple of months time I’ll be heading down to Spain and across to Morocco. It has been in the balance – I had a good offer from a nice guy I met in Cape Town to buy Troopy, but in the end there were too many problems with import/export regulations and it didn’t happen. This is good news for me, since its really too grey and wet for me in England and the opportunity to go back to the Sahara was too tempting. South America was considered, but in the end I don’t think we’re finished with Africa…and its also really easy to just drive to!

So the Vegan Without Frontiers ‘Mission’ will go on, but with some differences and a few new faces. Planning is now pretty advanced – the format this time is a core crew of 2, Jonathan and Leo the Lion…with guests joining up for individual legs.

Joining in as ‘leggers’ so far will be Agne, Yury and Amanda (and maybe my brother Pete for a mini-leg) – you’ll hear from them later as the adventure unfolds.

  • Stage 1 : Paris-Dakar
    • Prologue – The prologue to this adventure takes us from the UK, through Paris to the South of France, where there will be a base-camp before setting off for Africa.
    • Leg 1, Morocco – For this part of the trip Jonathan will be joined by Amanda, as we get straight into the wild scenery of the Atlas Mountains and then get a taste of the Sahara.
    • Leg 2, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal – Striking out South and making the crossing of the Sahara where it meets the Atlantic, Yury and Maria join for the final part of the Paris-Dakar (including driving along the beach for 27km whilst the tide is out, and a detour through the desert following a railway track).

The rest of the trip is still in planning, but features include a Special Stage for the Dangerless Sports Club – Bungy Jumping and White Water Rafting at Victoria Falls (hopefully avoiding injuries this time!). And somewhere around Congo to Namibia, sometime around July, Agne will be flying in for a Leg. This is about as much detail as we dare put in at this point…as we found last time, border crossings, illness and political situations can disrupt the route and the timing!

But if anyone feels the urge to visit somewhere on the route map which isn’t yet marked up as a leg…let us know and we’ll see if we can add you in as a legger – just 1 rule – you have to be or go vegan for the duration of the leg!