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 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.
The next morning with the sun rising over the lake, I put the camper into gear and continued on my journey with the forests still holding the darkness of the night, the sun to low to penetrate its canopy of vegetation. This is a time to relax and enjoy Les Landes. A flash to my left on the edge of the forest materialises into four legs and a body, the stag jumps the drainage ditch and the road in two bounds, it startles me as it passes fifty metres in front of the van, you’ve better watch out in a fast car. Arriving on the N10 after the lazy back roads through Andernos-les-Bains and Arcachon wakes up the nervous system with its endless line of lorries stretching out into the horizon, the thought of having to overtake brings a cold sweat to my forehead so I take the easy option and settle down to the steady 60 mph to grind up the miles. The style of driving an old camper is easy, drop into the lorry lane. Drive and eat, what more can I do? I watch the forever moving wide screen television my mind drifts, its time for a break so its pull in and kettle on.
With the shantytowns of the Madrid drifting into the background as the sun was setting, it was time to find a place for the night. The light dusting of snow on the sides of the road gave me the impression that I was off to the mountains for another winter season. Finding the next lorry park on my side of the road was the best option at this time of night.
A 500bhp diesel cold start up at 6.30am was the wake-up call to stop all dreams. Checking outside the widow all was green again, the snow from last night had moved on. After a cup of coffee and a mouthful of toast it’s back into the big armchair for the day.
While driving down the side of the River Genial I got my first views of Africa on the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar. The Rif Mountains could be seen hiding in the low cloud as I dropped onto the coastal road of the Costa Brava. On this side of the water, it was blowing 50 mph and the camper was taking her time, struggling into the head wind that makes Tarifa famous for windsurfing.
With the sun setting in my eyes, I pulled up in to the Port of Algercias. Below the customs and policemen could be seen surveying the arena for the immigrates determined to get to Europe across the thin stretch of water that separates the two continents. Over 100 people each day try to across illegally, only to be collected up on the Spanish shores by the local police. I set off along the beach away from the port by foot to stretch my legs after the days driving. Sitting on the high tide line, I found the remains of their passage; the rubber and plastic of a deflated inflatable compacted against the rocks, showing me a solid token of their passage.
Looking out to sea, I see a fast inflatable cutting the swell line as it makes for the shore. There’s no slowing of the engines as the boat carves through the calm water leading up to the shoreline. The poilote lifts the engine at the last second leaving the solid hull of the rib to ride up the sand beach. Waiting are two cars and a 4x4 hidden from the view of a casual observer by the line of trees. The crew from the rib throw bulging sacs to the shore while at the same time jumping into the water to push the boat away from the shallow beach before it heads off in the now darkening sky. The 4x4 with 3 men inside accelerates towards the bags, a hand reaches out to grab them as the vehicle makes a fast turn. The two cars start their engines as the 4x4 powers its way off the beach joining the convoy to disappear in the forest behind. The whole operation unrolling before me must have taken one minute from start to finish, a import from Africa which will not be seen by the customs officers standing at the other end of the beach! So with free guarded parking and a deserved rest, it was back to the job of getting to Africa.
The last few moments of Europe passed from my feet as the ferry left Algercias, the port slipping away into the armada of super tankers, which dominate the horizon as they pass through the Straights of Gibraltar.
For me it was onwards and to Morocco..