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Israel to Malaga,  One journey ends and another begins!

7th May to 17th May 2006

There have been a number of strange coincidences that have occurred during this trip and continue to occur. The first day of the trip in Morocco, North Africa was the day before Blanca’s birthday and the last day of the trip in Israel was the day after my birthday, the last time I left Africa in 1968 was by ship from Durban, South Africa and now by ship from Ashdod, Israel……….

    

It was mid day and the ship wasn’t due to set sail until the evening, but I was keen to get Grommet safely aboard the Grande Mediterraneo as soon as it was possible. We were introduced to Paolo, the first mate and during an interval in unloading I was able to drive Grommet up to deck number 6 of the 10 available and park him. He was all on his own in the vast cavernous space of the hold, this was definitely a far cry from the old cement barge across lake Nasser.

I think Blanca was expecting to be aboard for a year or so by the amount of clothes and shoes she’d packed. Cocktail parties with the captain, to the boat sinking and being marooned on a desert island, Blanca had every scenario covered. The only problem is we looked like a couple of stowaways with our plastic bags of things! As we have spent pretty much the majority of our time in Grommet we never had the need for luggage!

Fortunately, some of the crew were on hand to help us to our cabin and home for the next nine days, then we were met by Salvatore, the chief steward, we were in luck and were just in time for lunch. At lunch we were introduced to the Captain and his officers and joined them for lunch, the rest of the crew eat in a separate mess.

What we had failed to realise was in addition to somewhere to sleep, and store the Grommet we were aboard a floating Italian restaurant; the days of Chinese noodles and rice with sauce were well and truly behind us. So while dolphins and whales frolic around the boat, we indulged in three superb meals a day with such delights as buffalo mozzarella, pasta with pesto, clams or the usual tomato sauce, Palma ham and other cured meats, pork, beef, fish, fresh baked bread, wine, it was heaven …and the perfect way to reacquaint ourselves and our stomachs with “the civilised world!” This was by far the better option than fighting our way through a bureaucratic nightmare, trying to obtain visas and access to countries that didn’t really want westerners (tourists) there in the first place, such as Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Much better to sit back with a good book, watch the dolphins, relax and wonder what further delights the chef has in store!

The Mediterranean was like a millpond so no “talking to God on the big white telephone!” And it wasn’t long before the ship’s very friendly, mainly Italian crew had taken us on a fascinating in-depth tour of the ship, including the bridge and engine room. We were also given a short safety induction course, which was very similar to the safety talk whenever you fly. It was all very different to the barge on Lake Nasser, but then if you don’t actually have any safety features there’s nothing really to mention apart from if we start to sink, don’t bother looking for life jackets as there aren’t any and if you can swim aim for the shore, good luck and inshallah.

All the crew made us feel very much at home and I was surprised when we were invited on to the bridge as we entered and left the various ports along the way. It was incredible to witness from the bridge the Grande Mediterraneo’s amazing manoeuvrability, despite its enormous size at almost 52,000 tonnes, as the captain and crew squeezed this colossal ship in and out of ports where I would think twice about trying to park a dingy!

On the way we had to make a couple of stops at the Italian ports of Salerno and Savona to load up with cars, vans and an assorted cargo of containers and plant. Watching the teams of stevedores loading all the new Fiats and Alfa Romeos and Iveco trucks aboard ship reminded me a little of the “Italian Job”. By the time we left Savona there were well over 2000 vehicles aboard, just a few more than the four minis and somewhere in amongst them all was our little Grommet.

Breaking the journey provided us with an opportunity to cast aside our sea legs and go ashore and experience a little bit of Italy. This was of particular interest as neither Blanca nor I had been to Italy before. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the style capital of the world had really taken to the latest Triumph motorcycles as the current must have accessory. Blanca was a little concerned by the trend towards white shoes and boots but was relieved to see orange was still in fashion! It seemed strange to see “white” people out and about, and to see “white” people on the street begging, some thing you almost never see in Africa. In fact most Africans find it hard to believe that white beggars exist in the nirvana of the west! Our little trips ashore also helped us re-acclimatise to Europe and without any pressure!

Somehow almost as soon as our nine day “cruise” had begun we were passing through the straights of Gibraltar surrounded by frolicking dolphins with Setubal just round the corner, it was coming to an end.

Time to bid the captain and his crew farewell and get Grommet’s wheels back onto dry land and into Europe once again. We were looking like a couple of homeless people, with our arms full of bags, as we made our way back to Grommet on deck six. Oh, did I mention that on board ship there was also that thing overlanders dream of?  Well, apart from a clean toilet with a seat and a hot shower, but a washing machine, so we could wash some of our clothes. At the port there was a slight hold up with the police and customs as they checked our passports and paperwork. We weren’t particularly bothered as we stood on the dock watching the “Italian Job” unloading all the shiny new cars and vans. I couldn’t help but wonder who buys all these cars………….. I think we’ve been away from the world of extreme consumerism way too long! Finally we were free to go and surprisingly, didn’t have to pay any money. 

It was wonderful to be back in Grommet and on the move once again, only it just felt a little strange to be surrounded by familiar things. Drivers taking heed of the road signs, trains that run, trucks with straight chassis, roadworthy cars, advertising, organised farms and beautiful wild flowers abound. But the coach drivers are the same the world over, driver with brain disconnected and the coach at maximum speed! It was also nice to be anonymous, to pass through a village without everybody shouting at you or trying to attract your attention.

We were in Europe but still 600km away from Malaga and driving through the beautiful countryside of Portugal and crossing the now redundant and derelict border with Spain. We were now in Huelva an area is famous for its cork oaks, free range black pigs and fighting bulls. There were pork products on sale everywhere, which is something we haven’t seen for a very long time.

Due to the delay at the port I realised that we would not make it to Malaga in daylight so we found a petrol station just the other side of Seville to “bush” camp for the night. It’s funny how some habits are hard to break, such as driving at night. But after a chat with a truck driver about our trip, he was very quick to inform us of the dangers of sleeping overnight in truck stops in Europe. It seems to be the more “civilised” a country is, South Africa, Israel, Europe and how can we forget the good old USA, the greater the dangers. Well against all the odds we survived the night, there are times that we are quite relieved that we have the option to sleep inside Grommet and not just in the roof top tent. After a quick breakfast in the lorry park under the astonished gaze of some Spanish locals we headed off.

At last we had arrived back in Malaga, Spain, where our trip had begun to the day nineteen months ago. As we approached Malaga, Grommet was thirsty and needed some fuel, the first since Egypt. I was relieved to see that petrol prices here weren’t that much higher than a year or so ago, still they were a lot more than the €0.10 we were paying in Egypt! Grommet just loved his new fuel despite being exactly the same octane rating as the old fuel, it was if he’d got a 400hp boost, or may be he was glad to be home and looking forward to a well earned rest, I think that if he was an animal he would have found one of those dusty spots and had a good roll around!

Well, we’d opted for a very slooooooooow return to “earth” and had arranged to spend a few days with our friends, Reg and Charlie, at their house up in the hills behind Torre del Mar. Great food, great company and a swimming pool to complete that total relaxation experience. With a few days relaxing and playing catch-up under our belts, it was time to return to our house near Malaga to face the music and think about what to do next. We arrived just in time to see our friend Renato, who kindly offered to help us unload, after a few welcome back glasses of wine. With an extra pair of hands it didn’t take long to empty Grommet and fill the yard.

We were home but there was no time to relax, as our first guests were due to arrive. “The accountants” Ivan and Rachel, dropped by for a few days R and R on their way to Morocco, the last destination on their Africa trip before they return to the UK. Yes I know Spain isn’t Africa but with the Algeria, Morocco border closed the only way round is via Europe and in their case Italy, France and Spain. We had a great time catching up and then sent them on their way with a full itinerary of things to see and places to stay. Part of me was keen to join them, but as we’re severely short of funds and have to think about our future, maybe next time……………….

So what of the future? We hope to start a business here in Spain, selling accessories for 4x4s along with organising and running overland trips around Spain and North Africa and in my spare time I would like to write a book of our experiences and then maybe we will let Grommet take us to Asia…………… or the Americas, so watch this space!

Grande Mediterraneo


Our ship


Grommet on deck 6


The Med


Italy


Salerno, Italy


New cars


More new cars


Boys toys


Bridge


The Amalfi coast


Paolo


Savona and more cars


Savona and some smaller boats


Savona


Latest bicycle


Sunset on the Med


Sunset on the Med


Dolphins


Portugal


Local village


Storks


Spain at last…


El toro


Africa? No Spain!!


Dinner with Reg and Charlie


R&R at Reg and Charlie’s


A donkey for Jan the german…


Renato and some of our stuff


Grommet meets a friend


Blanca and ‘The Accountants’