Arriving in Portsmouth two hours before the departure of the ferry, gave me the time to buy a ticket, put the tea on and kick back until loading time. Watching the arrival of the other travellers, as they were directed into their places passed the time, the last five minutes before the loading started, gave the impression of a formula one race as the competitors pre heated their engines before the green flag.
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.
Driving the van out of the village of Lacanau-Ocean and carrying on south was an option I could have easily followed; the breaks of the Basque country and Anglet further south would be holding this swell direction. Otherwise the Lac de Moutchic situated among the trees of the Medoc was an attractive option on a blown out day only ten minutes away. I had found the spot for the day, the lake had been made in the Napoleonic times, when they were draining the marshlands and since this time has held the waters of the Atlantic at bay. Here the winds of the western storms are held at bay by the covering of pine trees which where planted by the prisoners of his European campaigns.
Before moving, a process must be covered, the camper’s lockers must be either locked or tied down, a close resemblance with her cousin in the water. If this law is not followed the first corner will create mayhem. The unsecured objects thrown from their resting places behind my head, will give the message to my disc breaks; easy! That afternoon on my way to visit Philippe, who’s office can be found hiding under the pine trees, I forgot to latch the fridge, the roundabout’s centrifugal force threw open the door, jam and butter hit the floor; ”nice”.
Getting to the right pine tree, I turned the camper into the drive, a move I had done with a collection of cars over the years only to find a group of unknown faces holding banners standing in the path of my camper. My first reaction was to think that they were protesting against Philippe, an odd assumption. Reading one of the placards gave me more information on the group, a protest against the mayor and his project to build a waste paper recycling unit on the side of the lake. I saw Philippe through the crowd, his distinctive voice reaching my ears as our eyes met over the heads of the people.
We had not seen each other for 12 months; my arrival had a double blessing, two more hands to carry the placards. We set off in convoy to the centre of Lacanau, over two hundred people with the same purpose: To put a stop to the project. The mayor was out, but our grief did not fall on deaf ears. I heard that a problem with the high water tables has since halted the project after our march through the village.
That afternoon I headed off to the lake where I pulled out my fishing rod, for a late afternoon session. The lake was mature enough to hold some size. 15 kg line and the silver lure was all that was needed as I waded out through the shallows to fish the sides of the reed beds. Half an hour and two reed beds later, the fish hit the lure hard, I could hear the reel singing as the line was ripped from the spool, the fish stopped her first run after thirty metres, the line becoming slack as the energy from the unseen hunter sapped its strength. Now was my time, keeping the pressure, I brought the catch land wards, the fish felt the pressure of the line and ran again, this time towards the beds, I hit the clutch, the line wining as I applied the break, the fish tired before reaching her goal, now was my chance, keeping the pressure in her mouth, I eased her towards the shallow sand bank in front of my spot, I could see her dorsal fin sticking out of the water, a 15- 20 kg pike! The fish ran again, showing energy she had not yet shown, the line running past the reel’s break as if it did not exist.
I was helpless to the power of the Pike, this run lasted over 50m towards the centre of the lake before coming to rest, I kept the pressure up, trying to tire the Pike as she made her way to safety, this time I could feel the change at the end of the run, a lightness, a feeling of submission. Keeping the pressure on her mouth, I slowly brought her towards the shore, this time passing the sand banks, a feeble resistance could be felt, the worst was now over. The lure was lodged in the upper lip, watching the sharp teeth of the pike I dislodged the hook from its resting place. The fish now free from its master, moved off from the sand bank and with a flick of its tail disappeared into the reed beds, the dorsal fin showing its route as the pike looked for a safe haven where it could recover from its meeting with my lure.
From my vantage point at the edge of the lake, I decided that I would not be able to find a better place to pass the evening. Opening up my chair I watched the sunset, the blue of the day turning to red, the lake with her high content of iron giving off its own show in unison with the now darkening sky. That evening brought together a group of locals at the lake. The topic of the days march being thrown from one group to another, with the stories of tired arms and feet drifting across the fire I decided that it was time to move on south.