2.1 Departure for Morocco
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Not even a month has passed since our return from our maiden tour to Romania and already the adventure travel virus has gripped us again. Neither vaccinations nor the pious wish to celebrate Christmas at home will help. When this virus strikes, you're screwed. Admittedly, the usual November cold has strongly contributed to the fact that my thermosensitive Brigitte has given the green light for departure much faster than expected. Within a week from the decision, we are back on the road. Since it is hardly enough time to say goodbye to all loved ones properly, but we remain, as always, in vivid exchange.
An unwritten Law for us is, when the thermometer falls below 11 ° C, then it's time to move to warmer climes. Warmer means in this case towards the south, always nicely after the sun. On this foggy November Sunday, the forecast was for 9°C at the most. So it is high time to get moving again, also from a weather point of view. Of course we have optimized a few things on our vehicle and the equipment in the past four weeks of the travel break, the test drive into the Carpathians was also intended for that. The small electric heater now stays at home, because we believe that on our short trips we can bridge possible cold spells well with the diesel heater alone. A solid sand spade for the desert must of course now go with us, because with only a small folding spade an overlander does not go into the Sahara. In the board kitchen the chef has reorganized quite a few things. Thus, the already excellent food can hardly get any better, but it is perhaps even more fun to spoil the hungry crew with culinary delights.
So with one eye crying and one eye laughing, we set off and away. Not making an escape but fleeing from the cold wet fog that lies over the whole of Switzerland on this first day of travel. Only at the border to Geneva we see the sun for the first time. We have again decided to take the toll-free route - through France and Spain - even though we want to get to the south as quickly as possible. For Brigitte again more pleasant temperatures as well as reaching the sea, that is the primary goal of the first three or four days of driving.
So the first stage takes us behind Geneva another hour of driving towards Lac de Nantua. We are very well on schedule, because we benefit from the Sunday bonus. At the moment, we generally plan to arrive at the stage destination by 4 p.m. at the latest to avoid driving at dusk. It is now barely 2pm and we have only a short distance left to Lake Nantua when we spot a large strange building on the left. We stop to take a closer look at it. It is a former ice depot, the Glacieres de Sylans on the lake of the same name. Judging by nature, this valley is indeed rather humid and shady. The moss-covered trees are probably the most impressive proof of this.
A good quarter of an hour later we have already arrived at the destination of the first day of our journey. An old man at the stick assures us that we can stop here without worries. Of course, he is also interested in our conspicuous vehicle. Here in France we like to tell that our Unimog is actually French. After all, it was allowed to spend its first life in the fire department of Bordeaux. The French seem to be much more open-minded and communicative here in France than we got to know them during our expat life. Abroad, they like to stay among themselves, the French-speaking community. Here, however, we get to talk to numerous evening walkers on the very first day.
Day two should bring us a whopping 400 kilometers to Millau. There we are expecting much warmer temperatures. But whether we really manage this mammoth distance depends very much on the traffic and our only task, the refueling of diesel and gas. We haven't refueled with diesel since Burgenland (and never with gas since we took over the vehicle in March (!)) and have been speculating on the comparatively lower diesel and gas prices here in France ever since. The plan is to leave the highway in Saint-Etienne and drive to a gas station on the outskirts of the city. Shortly before Saint-Etienne, however, we read on the large highway signs that the next highway gas station has no more diesel. We are well aware of the politically fomented energy shortage, but so far this has remained without noticeable difficulties. In our darkest imaginations, we already see the ultimate disaster: stranded in the middle of France with empty tanks. And it gets worse. The first planned gas station is actually completely closed. The second one still has gasoline, but no more diesel. We are getting visibly nervous. I ask a truck driver where he gets his diesel and he says that not all gas stations can be completely empty. He recommends to just keep looking. We joke that in an emergency we could switch to frit oil with our 30-year-old transmission. We can indeed do that, but it requires a 2'000 Euro "surgical" operation and we don't even want to imagine the smell of exhaust gas. Probably as if McDonalds were driving through the streets. At the third and last gas station before rejoining the highway, we finally find what we are looking for. At Euro 1,799 we fill up the completely empty main tank. It holds 240 liters, but after a good 60 liters nothing works at this gas pump. I wonder if we have just emptied the gas station. I start a second refueling and, lo and behold, it works. The diesel god has heard us. So I fill up four times on the left and twice on the right and beat the energy crisis for the time being. Whether this will bring us to Morocco remains to be seen. At least we can lean back for the next 2'000 kilometers. But this gas station has no LPG. GLP, as it is called here in France, is only available at selected gas stations. But the gas level was still at 40% at the last reading. Down to 20% can be emptied in good conscience, so we still have about 20% left, which means a few more weeks of cooking until it gets really tight. We finally managed to fill up our first gas tank in France. For a paltry eleven euros we refueled again after more than half a year. We assume that this will be good for at least six to eight months.
After this diesel hunt it is not enough time for us to reach Millau before nightfall. We move to the shore of the Lac de Charpal reservoir at about 1'300m.a.s.l. a very idyllic night camp under trees. The night becomes again quite fresh and our longing for warmth and sea all the greater. Early in the morning, in dense fog, we drive on narrow roads back down from the Plateau du Palais-du-Roi. We prefer to look at the gigantic highway bridge of Millau from a distance and discover the small town of the same name and the rugged mountain ranges further south thanks to this small detour.
Around noon, some sun finally pushes through the fog. The route takes us over numerous huge bridges on the way down, heading south. 10% gradients are not uncommon here and again and again there are the emergency lanes, where you can put your truck in the sand, if the brakes should fail at this enormous gradient. The French do not only know how to make good baguettes, they also like to build enormous bridges. Chapaux!
The distance that we did not manage to cover yesterday because of the diesel crisis, we still cannot make up today. Nevertheless, we reach our actual interim objective for the time being: We are at the sea at a good 20°C, shortly before Perpignan. The place, where we want to install ourselves for the night, consists, like almost everywhere here, of numerous vacation houses and is at this season, in the middle of November, swept empty accordingly. A few hibernating pensioners and some locals we meet again and again and they are quickly in conversation with nice sayings about our XXL vehicle or the eye-catching fatbikes. At night we finally listen to the waves and enjoy the view of the starry sky through our skylight. That's how we imagine it, on our trip to Morocco.
On the fourth day, we finally enter our country number seven. We cross the border to Spain in the usual manner without any checks. It is noticeable that there are still many campervans on the road. But we haven't seen a single overlander, i.e. expedition vehicle, until today. This will probably change in Morocco at the latest.
In Girona we stop at a shopping center to finally equip ourselves with SIM cards. For the few days in France we did without them and we already miss to communicate with our loved ones. Today we move into our night camp very early to dedicate the evening extensively to chatting. We have chosen a ranch, the Agrobotiga of Mas Bes, where we can fill up with fresh water. To spend the night on a cattle ranch has two big disadvantages. First, it often smells very strong and second, it is no longer really relaxing and quiet from five o'clock in the morning. So it was again here on Mas Bes. We write in our logbook that we should avoid farms of this kind in the future. Before breakfast we leave the site in a hurry and drink our morning coffee next to a small park at a safe distance and in the fresh air.
After this scented experience, we are inevitably drawn back to the sea. The route leads us, as so often, over the AP7. This runs virtually parallel to the A7. It seems crazy to build two highways parallel in the same direction. We guess that the first one was too congested and that's why the second one was added much later. Today, both are toll-free and depending on the exit you want to take, you use one or the other. Highway hopping is what we call it, sometimes AP7, sometimes A7.
The vegetation is getting drier and drier, so the typical Spanish landscape you like to see. Everywhere where agriculture is practiced, one sees orange and tangerine plantations. Partly as far as the eye can see, everywhere only the orange shining baubles. Like Christmas decorations, the citrus fruits shine in the low winter sun. In between, of course, we also see olive groves, artichokes and much more, which we do not always recognize right away.
In the region of Calafat we take the exit and drive down to the sea. A huge almost level parking lot stretches about 50 meters above the water surface. A fantastic view is offered to us here and we quickly agree, here we stay for the night. As always, we first get out and walk our potential overnight spot to discuss the best location and orientation. On the parking lot is already, well spread, some traditional white camper vans. We could stand there, but we don't necessarily want to. We decide to drive on a natural road about 150 meters up to a cliff. This is a proper parking place for an overlander. Probably not quite legal, but in the low season you can risk it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained or as they say?
We now celebrate our definitive arrival in Spain with a glass of cava in front of a dramatic cliff backdrop and even with double rainbows. We are just floating on cloud nine, when the police comes by and politely asks us to join the other camper vans. All right. It was worth a try and worked well for a few hours.
Besides the soothing sound of the waves, there's something else you can almost be sure of at the seaside: great morning and evening moods. So we have it also on the following day, my birthday. I know many people who wish they could drive a Unimog as a birthday present. I am allowed to drive four hours on my birthday ;-). Off we go to the next highlight on our journey of discovery, off to Valencia.
On the highway we finally meet the long awaited first overlanders. Elisabeth and Kurt, the "Zugvögel", are driving their Unicat Mercedes from Zug to Portugal for wintering. When overtaking on the freeway, it remains for the time being with waving. But as luck would have it, the next day we are standing next to each other on the camping site in Valencia in the "Swiss" corner. Valencia is at the top of Brigitte's Spanish wish list. In particular, the "Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias", (site of the arts and sciences) an architectural masterpiece by star architect Calatrava delights pretty much every photographer there. Of course, we also prefer to discover this city on our fatbikes. The numerous bike paths grant us safe access to the center, as well as to the port. The icing on the cake is finally our first Paella Valenciana, which we enjoy on Sunday afternoon, exactly one week after the start of the trip, in bright sunshine and really hot temperatures on the harbor restaurant terrace of Valencia.
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