The camper started first time and gained a few places off the grid before I was directed into a lorry parking slot, the extra height that I had added with the racks luckily had not been counted when I brought the ticket. Putting the hand break on and “in gear” completed all that was needed before making my way between the lorries for the upper decks. All I now had to do was to remember the colour and sign of the floor the next morning when we arrived. Easy.
A quick walk around the upper floors of the ferry gave me the bar and a seat in the front of the boat. Sitting down on one of the swivelling chairs at the bar, I ordered a pint before I struck up conversation with a fellow passenger who seemed to be travelling on his own: A South African, I found out through the first few pints who during the summer months ran a public swimming pool in London and then spent his winters looking after the door of the Quo Vadis Bar in Andorra. A few more beers and stories later, on the problems of shark attacks on his home break and trial bike riding techniques showed that it was not difficult for humans to communicate if they were in the same boat! Finally the thought of getting caught for drinking and driving the next morning as I set foot in France sent me crawling to my cabin, a “human locker” in the depths of the humming generators.
A fitful sleep as the ferry took us to our destination through the hours of darkness across the Channel was broken by the voice of the captain stating that we would be docking in 20 minutes. This jolted me out of bed. Only just in time, the restaurant situated 2 floors above for breakfast and coffee had already closed. So it was straight back down to the car floors. Was it the pink elephant where I had left the camper?
At 6.30 am local time the ferry opened her cargo doors, the rain lashing down on the camper’s front windscreen, a depression off the Atlantic Coast giving Brittany her winter wash was the welcome to France. With the rain keeping the French customs and traffic police hidden from view and the natural separation of speed and direction as people leave the port, I found myself at last alone, travelling down the western coast watching my surroundings drifting by at 50mph on my way south.
Coming out of my own world of wide screen television as I approached the toll on a section of motorway north of Bordeaux ten hours later, I found parked up before the barrier, Nigel, my drinking companion from the night before.
“What’s up?” I shouted over the background noise of the motorway.
“Ya, I’ve got no more Francs and my Switch doesn’t work in the bloody machine.” Replied the familiar South African voice from the night before.
”How long have you been waiting here?” I replied with a grin.
“I’ve been sitting here on my tod for over half an hour, trying to work out the best way to leave the motorway”.
“Has nobody tried to help you?”“Ya, I think so, but I’m not sure, language problem you see”
“Oh, follow me through, I’ll tell the person at the toll to take for two”
He was also sure that I would be going through this toll as the night before I had stated that I was going south, so at the worst all he had to do was to wait. My credit card did the honours and we escaped the jaws of the motorway. The small convoy was now rolling again, while the villages to the north of Bordeaux were starting to light up as the night set in. It was time to find a spot for the night.
Half an hour later with the rain still pounding on the camper’s roof I pulled into a lay-by and parked up behind a group of gypsy’s vans which were hiding in the shadows of the dripping trees. Nigel my newly found shadow pulled up behind the camper, the noise of the Datsun Cherry and the camper bringing an inspection by the local dogs and a few members of the family. We must have passed “the nomadic traveller test” as they quickly disappeared back into their vans, only the dogs seemed interested, the warmth below the fresh engine seemed to be a better choice than their own make shift boxes which had been abandoned due to a drainage problem.
Eating on my own is not my favorite pastime, so company at the table is always appreciated. With Nigel, came steaks, eggs and fresh mushrooms that he had been saving for a later feast. A mix, which brought relieving messages to my groaning stomach.
The rain intensified, its rhythm mixing with Bob Marley, until the difference could not be distinguished and I drifted off to sleep in the back of the camper hoping that my bike would still be attached to the back rack when I woke up in the morning.
The next morning with the noise of the lorries changing gear, as they top out of the valley, one hundred meters further up brought me to my senses. Opening my eyes, I inspected the new day from the warmth of the duvet, the inside temperature of the camper had dropped off during the night; reaching for the gas fire, I flicked the switch. The heater kicked into action, now all I had to do was wait.
I waved goodbye to Nigel, who was still hiding down his sleeping bag in the back of his car. The road was clear, the morning rush hour is a product only seen on television in this part of the world. The open road was flat and straight as I navigated my way between the villages and hamlets on my way south. Towards the end of the day after passing Hourtin, I headed due west arriving behind the sand dunes, which protect the village of Lacanau Ocean from the winter Atlantic storms. The village was a ghost town, the summer vibe blown away with the wind. Leaving the camper behind the surf club, I walked the village, finding the only bar open, here the locals consisted of the bar man and his dog, I kept on walking, the sea air giving me the energy that I needed, I was heading to an Islamic country, so lots of sea air to come.