Features: International Rescue
We drove to Gibraltar late evening and after spending the previous 3 weeks with either Delhi Belly or food poisoning coupled with a general lack of appetite after losing Chaka, we looked and felt a little worse for wear. Despite our disinterest in food, we knew that we had to eat something and by the time we had walked into the centre, the only options were Pizzaland or McDonalds. We plumped for Pizzaland and settled on the 'all you can eat buffet for £5.99'. As we stared unenthusiastically at our pizza's, 2 young boys no more than 13yrs of age, giggled and chortled their way through numerous visits to the buffet bar to pile endless slices of pizza onto their plates. Probably not quite what Pizzaland had in mind when they said 'all you can eat' but they were having a wail of a time none the less. They didn't stop laughing! We saw them the following evening walking down the road still giggling away, oblivious to all around them.
We spent that night parked in a car-park near to the Marina. Neil got undressed and climbed into the back but I felt a little odd about getting undressed in a public car-park and as I was also feeling restless, I decided to sit in the front and watch the night-life of Gibraltar go by. At 1.30am, I was still wide awake and watched with interest as a police car with 3 policemen inside passed by - very slowly. I remember thinking to myself that they would be back and sure enough they turned around and the next thing I knew they had parked alongside us, got out of their car and were flashing torches up and down the vehicle. Boy, was I pleased that I hadn't got undressed! One officer came up to the passenger window and said, 'Good evening madam, are you alone'? I explained that my husband was asleep in the back and after requesting our passports, asked for the side door to be opened. Neil had by this time woken from his sleep after hearing the commotion outside and was just trying to hide his modesty when the side door sprung open and he was confronted by 3 policemen shining torches directly into his face. He was lying in nothing but his cotton liner and I think the policemen were as surprised as he was. The policeman said, ' Terribly sorry to bother you Mr Lawson, goodnight' and off they went. It was all so terribly British.
We awoke later that morning to find a man from a local clamping firm taking down our registration details. He was very sweet and said that if we left straight away he would forget the clamp. We screeched out of the car-park, burning rubber as we went and headed for the Marina in the hope of finding a Launderette to wash our clothes which had been slowly piling up since leaving Fes. Our daily routines had gone completely out of the window since losing Chaka, we just seemed to go on auto-pilot. After handing our washing in for a service wash - what a luxury after hand-washing endless articles of clothing during our travels in Morocco, how do clothes get so dirty ? - we headed off along the Marina to admire the boats. As we walked past, the sound of clinking glasses could be heard as the 'sailors' sipped gin and tonic on the decks. Also, wonderful aromas wafted towards us from the restaurants lining the Marina. It was the first time my appetite had been tempted in 2 weeks and the thought of a decent meal with a glass of wine was too much to bear. Despite Neil's protestations that for the price of the meal we could eat for 3 days, my mind was set and I could not be swayed. I felt we deserved a hearty meal. I would put it on my Visa and blow the expense!
After our brush with the police the previous night, we headed off to 'the point' in search of a safe place to spend the night. As we rounded the corner, we realised that we were not alone and there were in fact 3 other camper-vans parked there already. It never fails to amaze me how camper-vans 'migrate' towards each other. Later that evening, we got talking to a Scottish lady who was in an adjacent camper and who had been travelling around Europe with her 8 year old son since April. Quite a feat! We slept well that night and awoke early in an effort to sort out and start the next leg of our trip. Our thoughts were never far from Chaka and it was unbearable to think of him alone in Fes still looking for us. We tried to keep ourselves occupied and not dwell on it too much, but there were times when it was unavoidable.
I got out of Bumble and was just brushing my teeth when we were suddenly besieged by coach loads of camera-clicking tourists from all directions. The coaches would park, everyone would disembark, take photographs of the straits of Gibraltar, get back on the coach and they were gone as fast as they had arrived. Kind of 'seen it, got the photo', scenario. Very funny to watch and I think we made our way onto a few rolls of film into the bargain.
We drove into the centre to buy a few provisions and as we walked along the main street, a man passed by walking his Rottweiler. We had seen the same man and Rottie on our outward journey en route to Morocco but of course that time we had Chaka. We decided to have lunch in a local pub, but as we sat there, my thoughts once again drifted to Chaka and for that moment, it all became too much. Tears rolled down my face as we desperately tried to change the subject. We had discussed buying a short wave radio so that we could tune in to the World Service throughout our travels and keep up to date with world affairs. We had looked at a few the previous day but had got totally confused by the choice so we decided to go to the Internet Café and do a bit of surfing to see if we could get any recommendations. After getting the information we needed, we checked our 'e' mails and there to our astonishment was a message from Neil's parents saying that Dr Denys Frappier, the vet in Fes had telephoned them to say Chaka had been found. We stared at the screen in disbelief. We just couldn't believe what we were reading. Chaka had been found :-)
Chaka was alive, fit and well, just waiting to be collected!
We immediately telephoned Denys in Fes who said that an elderly gentleman had found him and handed him in. After spending a week and a half alone, wandering around Fes in temperatures of up to 55 degrees centigrade, it was nothing short of remarkable. Denys said that apart from a gash on his head and being understandably tired, Chaka was fine. We were speechless. We told Denys that we would catch the first ferry out of Gibraltar the following morning and would be with him late afternoon. We spent that night at the point again along with the other 'campers' and set our alarms for an early start.
The alarm sounded, unfortunately it was still on Morocco time so it was already 8 am. We set off back to Algeciras to catch the early ferry. This time we pulled the long straw and got on the fast ferry. As we settled ourselves in we realised pretty quickly that it was not going to be a gentle crossing. High winds were causing huge swells and as we left the port of Algeciras, the horizon was coming in and out of view as we rode the waves. Sick bags had been strategically placed throughout the ferry and my scepticism as to whether anyone actually used them was abruptly put to rest. The excited cries of 'ooh, ahh ' as the waves crashed against the boat were quickly replaced with the sounds of people heaving left, right and centre. Throughout all this chaos, my attention was drawn to a lady sitting opposite who proceeded to eat her danish pastry, drink a cup of tea and re-apply her lipstick whilst all around her heaved and groaned. She was totally unperturbed by the whole experience. With slightly less favourable constitutions, Neil and I had decided that the best option was to keep very still and just look directly ahead which seemed to work.
We disembarked from the ferry and drove to Ceuta to once again go through the rather laborious administration of entering Morocco. All was going well until we handed in the Temporary Importation Document to import Bumble into the country. Suddenly, confused faces all round emerged and heated debates between the officials began. It transpired that on leaving Morocco through Tangier a few days previously, we had handed the document in to say that the car was leaving the country as required however, their computer system had not caught up with the paperwork and as far as they were concerned Bumble had never left! We were told that we would have to go back to Tangier and 'sort it out' there. We protested - in a nice way - saying that it was not our responsibility to go back to Tangier. We had handed in the paperwork as requested and any subsequent problems were not our concern. After a lot of heated discussions, they allowed the document to be put through on my name instead of Neil's and we set off on our way to Fes.
We certainly didn't think we would be back in Morocco again so soon and after spending a couple of days in Gibraltar, we had forgotten about the oppressive heat. We drove solidly, finally reaching Fes around 5.30pm. We entered the Fondouk American and were met by Denys. Chaka had been put in a kennel until we arrived and as the door opened and he appeared, both Neil and I stood staring at him in stunned silence. After what seemed an eternity, Denys broke the silence and said, 'Well, is he yours'? At that point, Neil and I honestly didn't know. You would think that you would always recognise your own dog, but he looked totally different. He had lost quite a lot of weight and had a large gash on his head resulting in a bald patch. But as he came over to us there was no mistake, it was Chaka. Neil recognised his collar, which had become his trademark in Fes - it is slightly too big for him and as a consequence it is on the tightest hole, leaving a large piece of leather flapping around as he walks. He was absolutely beside himself, running to and fro between all of us. It was difficult to know whether he recognised us immediately. I think he had spent the last week and a half running away from people - there had been sightings of him being chased down the street by 4 men - and he was just so pleased to be amongst people he trusted and not have to run away. He was also incredibly nervous, jumping at the slightest noise. This was so totally against his character which up until that point had been extremely laid back. Remarkably, he wasn't dehydrated which had been one of my fears. I felt that as long as he could find water, he would be OK, for a while at least. In those temperatures it was absolutely essential. Denys was as surprised as we were that he had been found. In the 6 years that he had worked at the Fondouk American in Fes and with numerous dogs reported missing by tourists every summer, he had never known one to be found. It was a first for him and as he had owned 2 Rotties himself, it was fitting that it should be Chaka. We gave Chaka a bath at the Fondouk and after saying our goodbyes, we headed back into the Ville Nouveau to find some of the people who had helped in the search. We felt it would be nice for everyone to see who it was they had been searching for. Everyone was so pleased that he had been found safe and sound and as we walked around the centre, we realised just how many people we had got to know and how kind they had been towards us. We finished our lap of honour at Atlas square where Mohammed and Abdullah spent their days looking for work. Abdullah's smile said it all and although we couldn't have a conversation as he only spoke Arabic, we all knew what was being said. Unfortunately, Mohammed wasn't there as we would have liked to have shared our happiness with him but I am sure Abdullah would relay the message. We were going to spend the night parked outside the Church and make an early start the following morning however, after putting our bed down in the back of Bumble and trying to lure Chaka onto 'his bed', we realised it was either going to be an extremely long, hot night or we would have to rethink our plans. The problem was that Chaka was wide awake, pacing around, alert to every sound. For the last week and a half, the night had been the only time of day he could actually move around out of the heat. We also realised that he had clicked into 'survival' mode and during those first few hours of getting him back his behaviour was totally alien to us. He didn't respond to his name, I guess he had got out of the habit of hearing it. He also wanted to escape our clutches, almost leaping out of the drivers window at one point to get to a passing dog, I would add that the window is approx 5 foot off the ground. It was all a little disconcerting really, we were just so happy to have him back, but at that point we weren't sure if the feeling was mutual. Trying to get him used to a lead again was also difficult. Having had unfettered freedom for a while, he did not take kindly to being restrained. My worries about how he would survive alone appeared to be unfounded as he had obviously coped quite well. To Neil and I he was still a little puppy and always seemed to be so dependant upon us, but it is amazing how their instinct takes over and how quickly they shed their 'pet' status and become true 'animals'.
After trying without success to settle him down, we decided to head off there and then and make our way back to Ceuta. As we approached the motorway just out-side Fes, we suddenly heard a loud bang quickly followed by a second, then about 30 seconds later there was a very strong smell of gear oil. We glided to a halt by the side of the road and Neil donned his head torch to inspect the damage. He walked all the way around Bumble trying to decipher where the smell of oil was coming from but could find nothing until he walked around to the back. There, the smell was intoxicating and we realised why. The whole of the back of the vehicle was covered in oil and as Neil got underneath, we found the culprit. There it was …..
…….. a 2 inch gaping hole straight through the rear differential cover. On closer inspection, it looked as though something had come lose inside the differential and had been catapulted through the cover. There was nothing we could do there and then, in the dark, at the side of the road, so we drove on to find a lay-by which we found within a mile.
Bumble drove OK and the differential rotated with no problem, we therefore decided to patch up the hole with duct-tape, fill the differential with oil and carry on the 40km to Meknes. In order to do this we had to get the spares box out which sod's law dictates is always at the bottom. Our major discovery that you are never alone in Morocco yet again came true. There we were at the side of the road, late at night and who should appear but 4 Moroccans leaning over a fence in an adjacent field watching our every move. They must have thought the aliens had landed with our bright yellow vehicle.
We drove on listening out for bumps and strange smells until we reached the turn-off for Meknes where we decided to pull over into a lay-by and spend the night. We had just passed the tolls and the lay-by was a hundred yards further on. Definitely one of the strangest places I have spent the night although we certainly felt safe as the traffic police had their office just across from us.
The following morning we set off for Meknes in the hope of getting in touch with Mike Cloud who could maybe head us in the right direction for a Land Rover garage. We arrived in Meknes and called Mikes house but there was no reply. We were just beginning to wonder what we should do when we remembered a chap called Craig who we had been introduced to in Meknes and who had given us his business card. Very foolish! We found his card and made the call. Within 5 mins Craig was with us and we were following in hot pursuit to the garage. An inspection confirmed Neil's initial diagnosis that something had probably been rattling around inside the differential cover for a while, an old war wound from it's military days and had just happened to launch itself out at that point. The cover was dismantled, taken away to be welded, returned and secured back in place and whilst the join was drying, Craig very kindly asked us to join himself and his family for lunch. Craig is originally from Canada and he and his family have lived in Morocco for around 6 years running a successful and well respected opthalmic business in Meknes. We were shown the process of physically making a pair of glasses which was fascinating and then enjoyed an extremely welcome home cooked lunch. It tasted absolutely wonderful. After lunch, we set off to the garage to collect Bumble and headed off back to Ceuta. Total cost of the repairs including parts, welding and labour - £8.00. Say no more!
Yet again we had met some incredibly kind and generous people, in fact throughout all of our travels in Morocco, this had been the case. We would like to thank Craig and his family for their spontaneous help and generosity. They were extremely kind and welcoming to us and we thoroughly enjoyed our short time with them.
We drove back to Ceuta eventually reaching the border around 01.00am. I have to say that some of the driving we encountered en route was nothing short of terrifying. At one point, we were driving along a very narrow, dark, winding mountain road and a coach, full of passengers, came looming up behind us, pulled out sharply, passed us at a ridiculously high speed and then swerved back in front of us again. I was speechless at the stupidity of the driver. I couldn't believe he would take such a risk. This was the general standard of driving. People swerving out from behind you, then swerving back in front of you just missing on-coming traffic. Quite terrifying.
As we approached Ceuta, the usual throngs of ticket touts waved their prices frantically in front of us and we as usual smiled and drove on. Our main concern was whether we would encounter any problems with the Temporary Importation Document as we had done on re-entering Ceuta and sure enough questions were asked. This time they couldn't understand why we both had a vehicle on our passports. Where was the other vehicle? They even asked us whether the other vehicle was a motor-bike. Whilst all of this was going on, I watched the customs officials as they randomly checked the vehicles passing through. One guy sat eating his bocadillo and smoking a cigarette looking totally disinterested. For the most part he waved the cars through, but from time to time he would rise from his chair and flag a car over to the side to be searched. He would take their passports to check their details and as one driver handed his passport over, money could be seen tucked neatly inside. He was whisked through without inspection. Not a practice to be recommended however. I got the feeling that the tide could very easily change.
As we had spent quite a while waiting for our details to be sorted out - which eventually they were - and not being exactly inconspicuous in Bumble, I felt sure that we would be pulled over for an inspection and sure enough we were. Out we got, accompanied by Chaka whilst a rather large gentleman set about the search. One of the things they look for is a false bottom to the vehicle, in which it has been known for people to be smuggled across the border. As such, a great deal of banging goes on inside and out. After the guy had got underneath Bumble and found it pretty difficult to get back up again, he gave up and waved us through.
We knew we had missed the last ferry back to Algeciras that night - or rather morning - but we made our way to the port to get in line for the first ferry out at 6.30am. We thought we would be alone or at least there would only be one or two other vehicles there, but we actually joined 3 fast growing lines of cars. Some people were sleeping on the ground by the side of their cars, others sat listening to music eating and drinking. It was a very relaxed atmosphere and after a quick bite to eat and my obligatory coffee - no I haven't managed to wean myself of it yet - we settled down in the back of Bumble for a few hours of much needed sleep. Suddenly we heard the sound of engines starting up and as we regained consciousness, we realised we had been asleep for a good 3 hours. Everyone emerged, bleary eyed, still half asleep, scrambling around trying to remember where the ignition was.
Our next worry was whether we could take Chaka up on deck again. You are actually supposed to keep dogs in the vehicle but there was no way Chaka would have stood for that, unless we fancied the idea of an extremely ransacked vehicle on our return. So out he leapt and we tried to blend in with the rest of the passengers as we all ascended the stairs to the seating area. We had planned to go straight out on deck but as it was still pitch black outside, we were told that the deck was out of bounds to passengers, so we made our way into the seating area and hid Chaka under the seat in front of us. It was a fast ferry so no sooner had we settled ourselves in than it was time to disembark again. All without incident!
Back on the Spanish mainland, we drove to Gibraltar to take a couple days out, catch up on a bit of sleep and take stock of the last few weeks events. Let it not be said that we do things by half!