And so another Scooters in the Sahara trip draws to a close as we head out to the coast and a little bit of luxury before the team fly home and Steve and I prepare for the long journey back overland to the UK. We will probably be spending 3 nights at Banjul relaxing and meeting up with Sulyman as well as having a last mealand debrief with Anita and Co as they arrive on Saturday afternoon. One problem we face is that with the temporary closure of the Barra ferry for repairs, we have to drive all the way back to at least Soma and maybe even Janjangburreh to cross the Gambia river river before heading north for the Zebrabar
Its been a hectic few days for those of us that stayed at Bansang, but I think all who stayed at the hospital have thoroughly enjoyed it and all would have liked to have just a little more time here but such is the schedule on a scoots trip, it just can’t be done. The work done by the guys has been magnificent with most of the mosquito screens put up and a completely new systems of wires setup in the newly refurbished male ward to carry privacy screens which can be pulled around any bed, replacing the old broken portable screens. The system wouldn’t look out of place in an NHS ward !
For a variety of reasons communications have been a little difficult this time around with WiFi being very hard to find and incredibly slow when it was found. Even mobile phone didn’t want to work once south on Morocco in areas where we have never previously experienced difficulties. Hence the lack of blog and website updates for which I can only apologise. It also hasn’t helped matters with me suffering with the worst and most sustained asthma attack of my life which has been leaving me feeling pretty exhausted at the end of each day. Couple that with the stress of having to deal with a whinging willy every moment of every day….. well I’m sure you get the picture. However the other guys (and lady) have been great in the support that they have given, which is probably the only reason that there isn’t a body buried somewhere deep in the Sahara Desert….
If you want to catch up on the real flavour of the trip our youngest (and newest) rider this year Chris Smith has been avidly typing into his smartphone at every available moment as only the young can! Chris has give his blessing for me to copy it over to my blog, or I thought better still you can read it in its entirety at http://critsmit.tumblr.com/ It is very well written and certainly gives a flavour of the trip from a different perspective.
Today (Saturday) Steve and I will be trying to sort the trailer out to make our lives a littler easier on the road back. We will also be popping up to the local supermarket for some food, as whilst we still have a huge amount on board I think if either of us has to face another 5 bean chilli or curry we may well scream… in fact I don’t think I will ever be able to look a chilli in the eye again!!!!
Hopefully the truck will be OK after it’s interface with a rather large goat at some considerable velocity on the way down! It’s made a bit of a mess of the front panel and aircon radiator, but as the aircon wasn’t working anyway it should be too much of a problem. I think both Steve and I will be running somewhat slower than Sutay’s pace when we set off, not least we are both looking forward to being able to just stop whenever we wish for photos of anything else.
I may get a chance to upload another short update before we leave otherwise expect silence at least until we arrive in Morocco.
Tonight we are camped at La Casita about 20km from Algeciras and the ferry ! We had an interesting ride down through Ronda this morning, having spent the night at a rather pleasant hotel a few clicks north of the town. We opted for the hotel rather than camp as the weather had been awful for the last couple of hours of our ride and we were soaked. This morning the weather had improved although the clouds were hanging rather low.
We stopped at Ronda for the obligatory photo shoot after which the the weather deteriorated once more so we spent the first hour or so riding through very heavy mist and cloud but as we slowly dropped altitude we came out into clearer skyie and by the time we had lost a few hundred feet of altitude we were running in nice dry air although there were still many damp spots on the road to keep our enthusiasm under control!
We’ve spent the rest of the day trying to find Peter a new bike but with no success. So we’ll have another look once we get to Morocco which I think will be more fruitful. We may even end up getting as chinese C90 look alike which I spotted earlier in the year and which looked to be somewhat tougher than the offerings we purchased last year. but only time will prove whether that is actually the case or not.
The plan is to get on the road fairly early in the morning, pick up our ferry tickets on the way to Algeciras and be in either Chefchaouen or Tetoan for tomorrow night.
Day one was as incident packed to a degree I hope we don’t see for the rest of this trip. I was up at about 6.30am and with most of the packing done and dusted had a leisurely breakfast whilst being amazed that the forecast of bad weather had been completely wrong… Now there’s a surprise. Andy from AP Motorcycles in Carmarthen, past Scoots participant and very good friend, having rescued me by sorting my broken exhaust stud yesterday had said he would run me and the Scoot down to meet with the guys at Chieveley Services, a run of about 150 miles. In view of the forecast I had readily agreed as I though it would save me a soaking. However with clear skies and a mild temperature, 8am, the arranged collection time came and went with no sign of Andy! As always at the start of a trip I was already stressing about… well about everything really! At 10 past the hour I phoned Andy’s workshop and spoke to his father who told me Andy had left well over half and hour previous and should be with me any minute. I waited with rising blood pressure for another 10 minutes and decided I simply couldn’t afford to wait any longer. So bags were strapped to the bike, kit donned and off I set to refuel at my local garage hoping that I might meet Andy along the way… Lo and behold just as I approached the fuel stop along he came. He’d been caught behind just about every tractor in Carmarthenshire it seems. Swinging onto the forecourt, the Scoot was quickly loaded and strapped down on the back of his pickup truck and off we went to Chieveley to meet up with 5 riders heading down from up North.
We made good time through the A40 and M4 arriving at just after 11.30; we had arranged to meet at about 12, so time for a coffee and pasty before the others turned up. It was really nice to have Andy and Mike there to see us off as otherwise it would have been a bit of a solitary departure for me from Pumpsaint and I was really chuffed that Andy offered his services so willingly. I’m also hoping he will be on the next Scoots trip in 2015…
Once the others arrived it was clear that we already had something of a problem, with Peter’s bike using a lot of fuel and generally underperforming. Something which it seems had been the case ever since he left Edinburgh and something that should have been sorted weeks ago. Although to be fair to Peter the “fettling” of his bike had been done by a third party who assured him that all was well and ready to go! I guess the moral of the story is that if the “fettler” is of unknown provenance make sure you also check it yourself….
Coffees downed we set of for Portsmouth with Joe leading down the A34 which was very busy, then onto M3 and M27. As we approached Portsmouth Peter stopped on a slip road to refuel, not really a good idea and in view of how close we were to the ferry not really necessary either. However a litre of fuel tipped into the tank and off we went once more. Approaching the junction for the ferry terminal, I overtook the group and led them into a service station to top up our tanks so as to minimise time lost on disembarkation at Santander…. Peter’s bike never ran again. In spite of riding it into the station by the time he had come out from paying for the fuel, his engine had seized solid!!!
We managed to locate another engine only about a mile from the port, but with only 25 minutes left before we really had to board there was simply not enough time to remove the new engine from it’s frame and to remove Peter’s engine as an exchange unit… One would have just about been possible two, just a little too much of an ask. So the bike was abandoned to Chas, Jill’s other half, to take away on the trailer he had fortuitously brought along and Peter boarded the ship on the back of Joe’s bike… with the plan being to travel with Jon in the Pajaero until we could source another suitable machine, possibly in Madrid. Our evening on board passed pleasantly enough, being only slightly marred by an inferior and vastly overpriced meal in the A La Carte restaurant… Shan’t be doing that one again. A couple of beers and off for an early night.
Today, as always is passing rather slowly, the team has yet to meld properly which wont start to happen I think until we get to the camp site at Chefchaouen ,although the visa and bike search in Madrid may expedite it a little. Tonight, against mt better judgement, we head for a rather expensive hotel ( our one and only! ) known and chosen by the two Andy’s; so I just hope it’s a good one! It’s about 50 mile from Santander so should be a fairly easy ride assuming that nothing else bites us. With another 4 hours of purgatory on board the ship left I think I’ll lay my grumpy head down for a snooze……
As Peter prepares to leave his home in Edinburgh tomorrow for the long run south to Portsmouth, the rest of us scurry around like demented things trying to desperately remember if we’ve forgotten anything !!! Thursday will then see Peter and Andrew, riding down to join up with Steve, Chris & Joe in Leicester, the five of whom will thy hopefully rendezvous with me at Chieively Services on the A34/M4 junction. The aim is then for us to meet with Andy, Jill and Jon at Portsmouth as they are coming from the south west area.
With departure of the ferry scheduled for 1700 hours and arrival in Spain at 17.30 on Saturday it promises to be an action packed start to the trip. Hopefully we can get a fairly quick exit from Santander to allow us to at least put in a few miles before the sun sets… Nothing booked for the first night ( or for the rest of the trip for that matter) as you can’t easily make up time on a C90, so it just depends on how the bikes are running. My plan (such as it is) is to try to clear the urban surroundings of Santander, possibly putting in around 50 miles before we look for a place in which to spend the night, be that a layby, a camp site or heaven forbid a reasonably priced hotel…. Whatever we find I’m sure the fact that we are at last up and running on our 4 week adventure trip will still bring a grin to most if not all the teams faces,
We have a small (9 people) team this years due to a few unfortunate withdrawals; 3 due to business commitments and a further 2 due to motorcycle accidents. So what could have been a team to equal last years fantastic trip, at least in numbers, is in fact something a little more modest. However I still have high hopes for the fundraising efforts of the team with father and son duo, Steve and Chris getting things off to a magnificent start. Only time will tell how the group will shape up, but they will have to go some to top last years lot, which on a personal level hit an all time high….. Watch this space!
That’s meeting number three well and truly done and dusted. I think everyone went away happy but thoughtful. As usual we had a lot of ground to cover but cover it we certainly did. The whole team is getting anxious to be on the road, but whilst the next three weeks are going to drag for some, they are likely to pass in a mad blur for me as I head off to London tomorrow to collect the visas for Mauritania and then fly out to Madrid to check out that the newly instigated visas for Senegal are going to be forthcoming…
I think Jon may be fairly busy too as he preps the Pajaero and trailer for it’s second round trip to Bansang. If it runs as well as it did last year I for one will have no complaints. Our chef, Andy was busy trying out his recipes on us Friday night and if that is the quality of food being served up en-route I’m sure everyone will be very happy; I can’t see us losing much weight this time around! One team member not quite so happy was Chris, with a second engine disintegrating on him on the run across from Leicester! It appears that they have both suffered the same problem; lack of oil. However the oil had been right up to the mark when he left Leicester about 150 miles earlier. The strange thing is that it is seemingly exactly the same issue I had with the first Chinese engine last year; Most odd!
With a little over three weeks left before departure thoughts are now turning from preparation to the reality of the trip we are about to undertake. 4000 miles on a 90cc motorbike really is quite an epic journey. It is not only physically tough but also mentally challenging; testing both riders and machinery almost to their limits. One thing is certain, nobody comes back from the experience unchanged !!!
With October rapidly approaching preparation for the forthcoming trip is now reaching fever pitch! Next weekend sees the last of our three planning meetings at Wonastow, but I still have a lot of work to do including getting to London to organise our Visas for Mauritania which I haven’t been able to do yet due to various people being out of the country so not having their passports…. As always the meetings so far have not been without their little controversies, and the last one will I fear be no different.
Nearly £2000 worth of spares for the Hospital bikes have been purchased and are ready to be loaded onto the trailer. Every year it seems to get harder to get spares donated by bike shops and suppliers! It also looks as though I may have another 2 C90s turning up this week to strip for spares. Additionally screwfix and the various courier companies have been kept busy delivering a host of other stuff for the hospital along with last minute bits and pieces for the trip.
The trip itself will follow the tried and tested format of using a mix of campsites and wild camps, along with the odd hotel or cabin where absolutely necessary. Costs are kept to a minimum to ensure that the hospital gets the maximum possible benefit from the monies paid by the trip’s participants. As this years trip is relatively small with only 9 of us, the along, the budget will be under a some pressure to stretch.
Our route will also be similar to previous trips once out of Morocco and into the wastes of Western Sahara, but after my recent recce trip on the airhead I have found a slightly different and hopefully better route down through Morocco whilst still making the obligatory stop over at Marrakech!
Whilst we are at Bansang Mike White from last years fabulous trip will be flying out to fit the new Dental Surgery that he has sourced along with a qualified dental engineer and Nick the Plumber will also fly out to sort various plumbing issues and do a bit more training of the Maintenance units plumbers. It’s always nice when previous trip participants and other sponsors return to offer more assistance. Also there to meet and great our arrival will be a host of sponsors and dignitaries so I think it will be a spectacular arrival for the team.
This years final team are: Jill Ollis, Chris Smith, Steve Smith, Andy Powell, Jon Davis, Andrew Duckworth, Joe O Carroll, Peter Wright and of course yours truly Dennis Robinson. Jon & Peter were missing from this team pic.
The 2013 Scoots team is slowly coming together with 9 riders so far confirmed following the Throckmorton meeting and several others awaiting meetings when I return from Gambia at the end of April. The year has started off as it looks like continuing… Hectic! Having only returned home 2 weeks ago after spending 3 weeks out in Bansang, I am just about to fly out once more; this time for about two months ( I have an open return ticket). However, as soon as I get back, my plan is to jump on my faithfull old BMW Airhead and head back down to Bansang to sort out some new routes through Morocco and Mauritania whilst also trying to get a feeling for the security (or otherwise) for the region, prior to taking the Team through to the Hospital in October.
This years trip is scheduled to leave Portsmouth on 18th October returning 4 weeks later by air. It looks as though we will have a twelve seater minibus as our backup vehicle which is being provided and prepared by Dave, our driver. The vehicle will be well used at the hospital, amongst it’s many and varied tasks will be to take staff out to work on the hospitals farm project which is about 15 miles from Bansang, close to the Senegalese border along some rather dodgy tracks.
As on previous trips we will be mainly wild camping along our route and I’m hoping that by leaving in October, the weather through Spain may be a little kinder to us, although it must be said that last year we were luck enough to have good weather all the way. So far I have only got one returnee on the run, Jim Cunliffe who came with us in 2010, but I’m hoping that we may see a couple more joining later on in the year before out first full team meeting on 6th/7th July.
A new Virgin Giving page will be up and running soon, but if you wish to donate please don’t wait as it all ends up in the same pot… The Bansang Hospital Appeal.
With Christmas done and dusted, Anita well on the mend and my ankle finally allowing me to get out and about it time to start some serious planning!
Next weekend sees the first meeting for Scooters in the Sahara 2013 at the Throckmorton Arms Hotel, Coughton. So if you fancy a REAL challenge for 2013 drop me an email and come along to find out what it’s all about!
I’m hoping to have a couple of previous participants in attendance, eager to ride again who will be happy to share their experiences with you and answer your questions as will I. contact me via www.scootersinthesahara.co.uk or message me on Facebook for more info. Either way let me have an email address so I can send you through some pre-meeting information.
Whilst a few have already dropped by the wayside as is usually the case, it looks like being a well attended event with the venue having been chosen for it’s ease of access from the M5. So if you’re interested get in early…
Well, apart from the end of the world tonight!
Anita’s hospital appointment yesterday went without a hitch and I know you will all join with me in rejoicing that she doesn’t need any further surgery! Her next appointment is in January to set up the schedule for Radio Therapy which will run between 3 and 5 weeks and some medication which whilst quite long term, should not cause her to much of an inconvenience. So it’s Christmas as usual in the Smith household always providing the Mayans have it wrong for tonight. If they are right then it won’t make a lot of difference to any of us… as we won’t know much about it!!!!
Focus now is on January 22nd when I fly out to Gambia along with Dr Bella Noel and Jeanette & Chris to try to keep the projects on schedule for Anita. I for one can’t wait to get back as along with the work at the Hospital I am hoping I will be looking at a couple of compounds that Sulayman has found for me! It will also be my longest stay at Bansang at 3 weeks so should prove to be quite interesting on many levels.
Planning for next years Scoots trip are pushing ahead with the selection meeting on the 12 January looking as though it should be well attended. Interestingly, it looks as though the trip will benefit from the experience of some past participants from both 2010 and 2011 repeating the experience. I can’t divulge names yet as nobody (other than Jim Cunliffe) has given a definite commitment yet. So all looks set fair for a fantastic 2013.
Once I return from Bansang on 15th Feb I will be setting off back to Africa almost immediately to recce some new routes and hopefully different border crossings to add a little more spice to the mix as well as smoothing our passage in a couple of places.
The dates for the next Scoots trip to Bansang have now been confirmed as 11th October – 12thNovember 2013. As usual the team will depart from Portsmouth for Santander for the four week adventure. As yet it is unknown how many participants there will be but interest is very high with inquiries being received daily.
The trip will once again be led by Dennis Robinson making his 5th overland trip to Gambia aboard the trusty C90s and it is hoped that some previous team members will also sign-up for another little ride…
On the 13th November, Dennis will fly out to Gambia with Anita Smith for a two week trip to establish just how things are progressing at the Hospital and to work out an action plan for the next few months. Amongst the many tasks already on the schedule is a meeting with the Minister of Health and at a rather more down to earth level, a survey of the plumbing and an inspection of how the waste disposal operation using the incinerator is now working. A holiday it certainly will not be, as having seen Anita in action at the hospital many times now, she is rather like Superstorm Sandy hitting town!
All donations go directly to the hospital appeal.