Friday, 27 May 2011

What we've been doing at work.

Josh, Caleb, Willis, Joseph, me and Sam

So I've gone here to work on a wind turbine, I should tell you a little more about it.   The design is actually quite a way from being perfected yet, in fact I would say we have only just started to get results which could be useful.   The principle of the access turbine is in its name- it needs to be accessible to those who need it.  That means it needs to be cheap- made locally and out of parts that are affordable to Kenyans.  This puts the expensive high-tech permanent magnet turbines one gets in the West out of the question.  Instead we are proposing to use car alternators, abundant in scrapyards and super cheap.
An alternator is a generator in reverse; the current is generated in the non-moving coil of wire (stator) as the electromagnet spins inside it.  As they stand they don't work very well for us, a car engine rotates much faster than a wind turbine would. But by putting many more coils of copper in the stator, we should be able to get a current at much lower speeds.  This is the theory, and for the first half of my stay the others have been trying to cram in as much copper into the iron core of a stator.  It is a very slow process, weaving the wire in and out of 36 slots- the most recent rewind has had 80 coils in each slot.  Scratching the fragile varnish insulation can make a short circuit, so winding requires a lot of care and frustration.  One can imagine how annoying it is to assemble a rewind that has taken two days, only to find a short circuit which requires an entire disassembly.
the hi-tech wind switch

Meanwhile I started off developing a simple wind activated switch.  Because the rotating part is an electromagnet, it uses power even when not spinning, draining the battery.  This is not a problem in a car as the the whole system is manually switched on (the ignition), but requires our design to have a switch to energise the coil when there is a useful wind blowing.  I had considered all manner of complex ideas to achieve this based on the blades reaching a certain rpm, but a simple flap lifting when the wind picked up sufficed.  Mark 3 was the simplest solution, made predominately out of the steel side panel of an old PC.  Designing things involve walking firstly to the friendly yet small scrap metal yard to see if they have the material in mind, then if they don't, going to the Aladdin's cave of junk where the owner tries his best to rip one off.

  Fabricating the design is done mostly on the dusty floor using our tools- drills, saws, hammers, angle grinder and an arc welder.  Any more advanced process such as turning on a lathe is outsourced to one of many other businesses in the area.  If our local machinist is busy he lets us use his geriatric old lathe.  Pretty much every standard industrial process can be made here, but only Jua Kali fashion- literally translated as 'in the blazing sun' but has become to mean slapdash.
So about halfway through my time here we assembled our latest alternator with the turbine body and blades Sam had created.  It is his first design, improving upon the many previous prototypes created by the other two, none of which had worked.  We took it down to Hippo Point and tested it with a fairly strong breeze coming off Lake Victoria.  Results were poor- the little bades didn't harness the power required to turn the rewound alternator.  Generation at lower speeds requires more physical load (torque).  Not only did we need to make them bigger, we needed to consider a more efficient shape, given that our current ones were mere triangles of a PVC drain pipe.

I proposed sculpting wooden blades, so after a bit of online research I went to the Kibuye timber area and set about getting a sample blade made.   Amongst hills of wood shavings and decrepit old bandsaws lie carpenters' shacks, bustling with men pushing lengths of wood through guard-free planer thicknessers, powered by crackling bare wires.
The wood yard is stacked with wild timber, rough cut before seasoning so all of the lengths are split and warped, and rarely parallel. I find a length of cyprus which looks okay and explain to a carpenter the alien concept of cutting the length of it at a diagonal, changing the angle every 20cm.  He nearly got it right, only messing the last angle at the base of the blade.  I bought some glue and salvaged the last section, and the following day tried some different guys to cut the angle on the other side and plane the aerofoil. I was pleased with the result, but considered their business minds a little bit greedy.  Back opposite the entrance to home I noticed a couple of carpenters sawing away in the shade of a little workshop.  I decided to see if one of them and do a better job, so I introduced myself and got him going.  Willis was keen and meticulous with his tools, and produced another very commendable blade with a hand saw with much more precision than the Kibuye lot.  I had no problem in leaving him to make four more.  I went back to Jua Kali to prepare a mounting and a geared system- an idea Sam had to increase the alternator speed.  I bought some Chinese bike parts and some block bearings, and set about putting them together on a box section frame.
In addition I have been investigating using the first wooden blade shape to form other plastic and fibreglass blades.  I have created a two-part concrete mould from it and we have cut and heated PVC pipe, pressing it into the mould to form two halves.  After that, the mould has been used by a fibre glass specialist to make a test blade, so already we have quite a few blade options to evaluate.  These have just been crude experiments, the wooden shape has to be tested and developed to find the best aerofoil angles.

In order to see which blade performs best, we need to compare the power generated against wind speed. Without a wind tunnel or an anemometer, we took advantage of the slightly more relaxed road traffic laws here and secured a box frame to the roof of the car.

So in the last couple of weeks we have given ourselves many options, and there will be a need for plenty of further testing and development to find out the cheapest, easiest and most effective design.  It is a shame to leave the project before reaching a significant milestone, but I have a strong inkling I will be back.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Island hopping part 1

The dusty sweaty heat of the workshop is intense.  Every day, my light coloured clothes and skin are caked in a layer of brown gunk.  Mixing this with sun cream or mosquito repellant creates a coating of soft brown plasticine.  One afternoon a refreshing wind picked up, carrying ominous clouds over the distant hilltops.  The tree tops swayed vigorously and the mark-i turbine buzzed in a worryingly fast frenzy.  Sitting on top of Douglas the spare parts man's shipping container shop, it normally is very indecisive in finding the wind with its small tail fin, but now it had no doubt.  Then the rain came, occasional big blobs of rain rising to a power shower of warm sweet water.   Brown rivers washed all of the dust and dirt away in no time, and soon the rain passed, leaving a much cooler, cleaner damp air.  

The following morning it was noticeably cooler.  I went out to buy eggs from the stall in the compound of the Marie Stopes nursing home and in true British spirit, chatted to Patrick our day guard.  He asked me if it was true that ice formed on the rooftops of our houses.  I explained to him the concept of snow and how it can bring everything to a standstill.

On Friday afternoon we packed and got in the car to meet up with Elin on Rusinga Island, off Lake Victoria.  We drove through a landscape of enormous Flintstones boulders and got to the Ferry slipway just in time for the 6pm departure.  A loud commotion of drunk men sprung upon us, amused by the unnecessary need to help us push the car onto the boat (a connection between solenoid and starter motor I suspect).  We sat on the roof rack and watched the most majestic sunset, spilling shards of light out through golden edged clouds. Sam pointed out that it looked like the cover of a self help book.  Night fell and we followed some vague directions over a dusty track with Josh still on the roof rack.   As we asked directions, locals joined him as they were going the same way.  Eventually we found Elin and Michael who she had been staying with.  We took the car over some pretty rutted off road track up to the small cluster of tin roofed houses where Michael lived with Mama Jane and their family.  Whilst having dinner, Michael roped me into setting up business with him starting a volunteer tourism business.
We rose at the break of dawn, greeted with large plastic mugs of gritty coffee from Mama Jane.  Two locals on their Indian motorcycles waited for us to take us to the other port on Rusinga.  I was confused how four of us plus luggage (including guitar) could get on the two bikes, but we did, gliding off down the dirt tracks with quite some grace.  We got to the port and waited for the little wooden boat to take us about 10 miles across the bay to Mfangano Island.  The start was much more leisurely than Mama Jane had warned us, after plenty of waiting around a breakfast of Ugi, Chapatti and beans, our boat arrived.  Most of the passengers were being carried through a stinky mire to the boat for 10 shillings (around 7p) but with my pride and gangle I squelched up onto the boat. We faffed for a while and left at 10, three hours later than expected, but only went 20 meters along the shore before we picked more passengers up.  Then we motored off through the soup of flies and algae in the blazing sun.  I amused myself at the sight of the passengers reading a newspaper named 'the Standard' and how different it was to the 'Evening Standard' reading passengers on the tube in London.
20 minutes in and the engine spluttered, forcing the driver to head for land. 200 shillings were handed down the boat to the helmsman, who ran off 'for a spare part.'  He returned a while later on the back of a motorbike with some sparkplugs and we were soon back on the water.  The algae and small flies increased and on the horizon there appeared to be a plume of smoke.  It was apparently an enormous cloud of these flies, visible twenty miles away. A local told us all about the ecosystem here, how the algae was caused by rainwater churning up the algae from underwater currents, and how the entire lake was populated by the Nile Perch.  Introduced in the 1950s, this enormous predator has eradicated virtually all of the other fish in the lake.   Growing up to two meters in length, its white flesh is exported in enormous quantities especially to Israel, creating a huge local economy where people from all over have settled on these shores.  There is one distant rock island on the horizon where twenty thousand fishermen have settled and created a tin city upon it.  A fragile microcosm which will only last as long as the massive stocks remain.

We hopped off the boat at Mfangano and strolled up the dirt track circling the island to meet Adam, a young American who has lived here for five years as a fisherman.  He lived an almost feral existence on the beautiful shoreline in a mud hut, line fishing every afternoon in his little boat.  We were showed our camping spot, went for a swim in the warm waters and then had a late lunch with him and Brad, another American seeking sanctuary from western civilisation.  We joined him for a trip our fishing, taking it in turns to cast the four lines as we drifted down the beautiful coast, watching the birds circling around and occasionally spotting a large monitor lizard on the rocks.  Needless to say we caught none of these legendary beasts, and as the sun set and we headed back we watched a dramatic tropical storm on the horizon with bolts of lightning illuminating the distant hills on the mainland.  Half way back it was clear we were not going to out-run the rain, and as the little boat crashed up through the huge oncoming waves we began to get rained upon by the biting wet deluge.  As I sat at the bow the spray of the lake water warmed me up, I looked behind us as the rest of the crew were huddled and shivering.   Visibility was nothing, so I was very pleased to hear Michael, the Kenyan navigator recognise our beach.  How, I just don't know. 
We heaved the boat onto the shore and fled up to the warmth of the hut where Elin had made some pizza dough.  How much of a treat this was!

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Arrival

After an easy flight from Heathrow, I touched down at Jomo Kenyatta airport, queued for an eternity to check a visa I had already acquired, and exited into Africa.  I was not sure whether I was going to be met by my friend Sam Duby and his wife, Elin, so I formulated a backup plan to stay overnight and meet them the following day (for that was the last incorrect rendezvous correspondence I had heard about).  Despite having no guidebook and effectively having no clue, I was armed with the confidence of coping with the unfamiliar and having a relatively hardened attitude and look about myself for a freshly untanned Mzungu.  I had decided that whilst observing the many young missionaries on the plane, and I had always believed my scruffy cheap green sports bag (aka the Tardis) was a better tool for establishing this look than an expensive strappy backpack.

Nevertheless, my contingency plan was unnecessary as I was jumped upon in the arrivals crowd by Sam, and I was escorted to his old ex Camel Trophy Mitsubishi.  We drove through the chaos of late night Nairobi traffic, past dark silhouettes of skyscrapers and up into Karen, a forest of upmarket compounds.  This was going to be our home for the weekend, staying with Leslie and Michael, an american missionary couple, their 7 month old baby Finch, and their enormous Rhodesian Ridgeback, Simon.  The night guard opened the big iron gates and we drove in, said hello, chatted and slept.  The following day we had a very un-African breakfast in an upmarket restaurant and strolled around Karen's market.  It was clear that my acclimatisation into Africa was going to be gradual, not just culturally but climate wise we were cool up in the forested hills.  We spent the time in Karen visiting different compounds to meet various people involved with projects developing appropriate sustainable technologies for Africa.  Each was heavily guarded, perimeter fences surrounded with razor wire or electric fence, often with pens of savage looking pet dogs. Sasha, a big Russian owned a beautiful plot with an organic farm where we purchased some milk.  Then on to Dominic, a half-Kenyan who showed us his affordable and simple bio-gas system, effectively a big bag which is filled with excrement and methane is tapped off straight to a cooker. Finally we went to see another more substantial concrete biogas system on a large dairy farm.  The swill from the cows fed the gas supply for all twenty of the residents of that compound.
The Rift Valley

From what little I had seen of Nairobi, it was pretty clear that it's possible to live very comfortably here, but the razor wire around the compounds was a reminder of the massive gap between have and have not.  Monday noon we set off towards the have not, though I'm sure we'll still be a long way form its centre.  The drive took us a few hours into the real dusty Africa up to the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley.  We stopped to have a moment in a lay-by on the edge.  For as far as the horizon would let us see, this vast flat land was the birthplace of mankind.  We sat and thought about that, how we'd ventured out from here, discovering all sorts along the way.  Here we were, returned so easily having shrunk the world with aircraft, appreciating the moment with a Coca Cola sold to us by a kid on the roadside.
We descended the snaking road past prudent old beasts of trucks steadying themselves with a trail of the smell of hot brakes, and we levelled out onto a long straight, shimmering on the dusty hot horizon. The journey continued for six hours, stopping just once for mutton and ugali- the staple dish of many here.  It is effectively polenta, although when cooked in an Italian way it may be considered fancy.  Here it is a pale corn block of stodge, mixed with the salty juices of spinach and greengrams.
We climbed the other side of the valley hours later and Beryl (that is the name of the jeep) gave us a blast of hot air in the cab to stop her overheating.  We turned off the superior A104 onto the Kisumu road, the surface deteriorated significantly and Beryl's 4x4 capabilities proved her worth.  Dusk fell on the dusty track with a beautiful sky, and eventually we got to our home in the black of the night.
Our compound is noticeably more modest than the Karen ones, but also less guarded.  We got home tired, said hello to Josh, our fellow Access wind coordinator, and went to bed. 

 So after a day of rest, acclimatising to the massive environmental change my body faced, I have been working the last three days in Jua Kali, the feral and dusty 'industrial estate' of Kisumu. The place has to be seen to be believed.  The weaver birds, who have been engineering beautiful nests in the trees for many millennia look down upon quite a different mess of engineering.  The most part of the work carried out here is motor mechanics, though almost anything can be fabricated or repaired here.  Parts are salvaged from donor vehicles until they are rendered useless, then the metal carcasses are cut up by hand and sold as scrap metal to local smelters.  Teams of entrepreneurial Kenyans operate small businesses amongst derelict wasteland, donated to them by the government in an attempt to reduce unemployment.  The earth mixed with rubble, rubbish and engine oil paves a labyrinth of corrugated iron plots, populated with scores of young men, lounging in the shade.   I can only assume a lot of them are trainees.  We are located in a shell of an old fish market, or space next to an evangelical church.  We share our plot with a communal old black Singer sewing machine used to upholster car seats, a couple of old vehicle shells and a very dark and dingy space at the back where some of the kids skive and smoke weed. Our core operation is currently myself, Sam Duby, Joseph - a self taught local  who has a business installing electric fences, and Calib - an elderly widower who is delighted to help in 'his retirement.'  Alan, a jovial educated car mechanic joins us occasionally, chatting away in a happy manner about allsorts.  He has a fascination with Airbus, and wanted to know all about what I knew about it. 
Calib has been helping me make a wind activated switch and I have been coordinating his every move, too much so in my opinion. 

 He is the sweetest loveliest person I have ever met, he has a heart anyone would warm to and a slightly old fashioned colonial subservience about him.  For many years he worked as a trade unionist on the coast, and then a social educator, supporting villagers to help demand their basic needs.  Last night we were invited to his modest little tin roofed house for dinner.  He had killed one of his hens to cook, head to feet and everything in between in a pan, while the other hens and chicks clucked away around our feet as we ate one of their sisters.  It was almost tear jerkingly moving, this humble old man's humanity.
Joseph and Alan


Tuesday, 23 March 2010


I set out early today as I was going to attempt to cover 200km and a climb of 2700m in two days. The journey was on the N2 through the centre of Ketama and was more or less 100km climb followed by 100km descent. After the Moroccan breakfast of eggs, olive oil, bread and olives I left the hotel and descended out of Al Hociema and upthe steep hill towards the mountains. The climb was relentless and already the sunwas fiercely beating down on me. Even bottom gear was hard work on the thighs as the steep dusty road passed by at walking pace, the lorries roaring past. The support of the locals and their 'ah! super sportif!' chants kept me going. The gradient reduced and the road snaked its way up a vast valley, little clusters of houses were scattered about like pastel coloured hundreds and thousands, some were way up the hillsides up remote tracks. In the foreground I saw donkeys and bellshaped hay stacks and yet more men, sitting about and smiling at me. I rested at another tea stop with its french speaking curiosity and continued on. It was pretty obvious that 100 km of uphill was going to be more than today, I planned to do about 60-70km and then 140 tomorrow. But my 10kmh speed in the baking heat was proving to be hard work, and I had developed a pain in my chest. While working out what to do, a coach overtook me and stopped a few metres in front of me to let passangers off. I had no time to ponder upon a decision, my mind was made to go and ask the driver if he was going to Ketama and he would take my bike. A few moments later and 50 dhirams poorer I was in the comfort of a seat, with plenty of time to ponder on whether I was cheating. The coach hurtled along the winding hairpins and I watched the landscape change to rocky ridges and fir trees. We stopped at a few more towns. This is the land of the Rifians, berber people who have fought occupation from Portugal and Spain until last century when their land became part of the Moroccan kingdom. As we budge through a busy market, they trade their animals, friut,vegetables and spices with each other in a way that I'm sure has little changed in a millenium. It is a lush green land which gets a lot of annual rainfall. A passanger gives me an orange and points to two collapsed houses. This winter's excess of rain has been catastrophic for some. The road jams as the traffic negotiates a hastily repaired section of the road. Many parts of the road have been badly damaged by landslides. After a delicious tagine for lunch we pass Ketama, the summit, and I consider when to get off the coach. It is nearly 3pm, so the remaining downhill is too much to do today. I wait until 4 when there is still 50 or 60km to go, I should get to my destination by dark. I get on the saddle and get going. The way is one of the most amazing but hairy rides I have done. The gradient is very gentle as the road follows the contours of the enormous Rif, up a small section and then down, down down. I am constantly trying to keep myself from being pushed off the tarmac as the Mercedes race past, often waving in support despite nearly killing me. I have little chance to admire the stunning mountains in my peripheral vision as I snake down the valley. I pass Bab Bezoot and level out, pedalling harder and slowing down as the road works its way up to my furthest point away from home, Chefchaoen. As the sun begins to setand my legs begin to ache, I see the lights of this charming peaceful city approach. I go straight up to the old Medina where I find Pension Souika, a beautiful old hotel in the centre catering for backpackers. I unpack and relax, straight away I meet my first friend here Diego. This is the first time I stay at a place full of other travellers in the whole trip. It is a refreshing experience. The next two days were complete relaxation, strolling the blue washed walls, up the hill to the mosque, eating lots of food, hanging out at Oussama's sandwhich shop,meeting French German US and spanish backpackers and feeling a little bit smug.
On my last night before departing, I am woken at about 1am by the light switched on and some loud Moroccan voices. I eventually open my eyes and am surrounded by four police officers and the Spanish guy in the bed next to me in hand cuffs. Dumbfounded, I watch as they gather his posessions and take him away, leaving us in peace. Naturally the following morning I want to know what had happened, I am relieved to hear that it was a mistake and he was later released. Apparently he shared the same name as a Cuban wanted by interpol for murder, and that his check in to the hotel's computer had rang alarm bells.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

near the end the adventure begins

In case some of you are confused about the goal of this voyage, Ceuta in Morocco is still the final destination I intend to cycle to. Rather than cross the Costa del Sol to get there, I decided to see a bit more of Morocco, so I will ride the north Moroccan coast from Melilla to Ceuta which is 20km more and five times the climb of the original leg. Just in case you thought I was cheating.

So far I can say that I am so glad to have done this. It has taken me no time for my spirits to be lifted no end by the people of Morocco. The french stage was so cold I was pretty much alone every day, and although plenty more people were out and about in Spain, I passed by pretty much unnoticed. Morocco is the complete opposite.

After last writing in Almeria, I went down to the port and bought a ferry ticket. The boat departed at 11.30pm and I tried very hard to assume a comfortable sleeping position across two reclining seats. The crossing was calm and quiet, but the night's sleep wasn't particularly good. Like so many of the other Moroccan passengers I caught my best nap on the floor. As the sun rose behind a pretty drab sky we arrived into the Spanish province of Melilla. It was early and I had little inclination to explore the town, so I went and found the frontier. The transition from Europe to Africa occured in 50 meters, orderly queues descend into fighting chaos as cultures filter through the barricades and past serious looking border police. After filling in an immigration form I am issued with my stamp, past the guard and into the land of Morocco. I knew to expect a sensory overload, but it's always underestimated. The sights, the sounds and above all the smells are overwhelming. I also forgot how much attention I attracted, and being early in the morning after not much sleep I wasn't yet ready to face this, so I withdrew some Dihrams and got going towards Nidhar. The dusty dual carriageway took me south around the hilly peninsula as I passed countless smiles and greetings of Salaam alikum by the men of the roadside watching the world go by. I went straight through Nidhar still unacclimatised to the overwhelming attention, but I was getting very hungry so I rested up at a little tea stop out of town. I ate six eggs, a baguette and my first of many delicious mint teas while watching a guy dunking a lorry inner tube in an old bath tub to find the puncture. Suitably recharged, I got back on the N16 and rejoined the Mediterranean. The road had been recently rebuilt with EU funding, and the carving through the gentle foothills of the Rif mountains was immense. I wondered what kind of machine could slice through rocky hills so straight and cleanly on such an enormous scale. The earth walls revealed the geological periods of sediment of these ancient hills as I cycled past them relatively effortlessly, for the gradients were fairly easy. On I went, I realised that there were very few built up areas on this coast, just small settlements of farmers and fishermen. The traffic was incredibly light for a national road, possibly one vehicle passed me per minute. Every other vehicle here is an old Mercedes, handed down from from a European owner and cherished and repaired indefinately here. Th is is a land where things get fixed rather than discarded. I stop for another mint tea and am invited to share lunch with another customer: Yet again I am the centre of curiosity; here people want to know what it's like to be a young Engish guy, what philosphy we have if we don't worship our god. I carry on, and it dawns upn me I should think about where to stay. There is nowhere particular on the map indicating a guest house is likely, so 90km along I stop at a tea stop, meet the customers and use my judgement whether they seem sound enough to trust if I ask them if there is a place to stay nearby. I do this about three hours later after doubling my arabic vocabulary; learning about each other's lives, talking about the mad world we live in and the volatile situation with muslims and the west and how they just want to coexist just like most of us. We share the tranquility of this rural beach with the strangest looking cliffs behind us. The customers leave and bid me the warmest of farewells; saying how honoured they are to have met me, and Mohamed the owner of the tea hut lets me stay in the security of his hut behind the shutters, he will wake me at 8 and cook me breakfast. So after another load of eggs and baguette and some cake for lunch, he insist I pay only what everyone else would, about £3 for dinner, breakfast, countless cakes and teas.
I get going and the sky is even more grey than yesterday. An hour in and I take refuge in a marble lined classy cafe as the heavens open. I put my waterproofs on and continue along, playing duel with a tractor full of farm workers. They are highly amused that I'm quicker on the downhills and they overtake me on the uphills. I pass Ajdir and the gradients get fierce. My road goes inland but I decide to cycle 10km further to the big town of Al Hoceima. I realise the amount I withdrew at the start; 100 Dirhams sounded like a lot but was about £8 and I only had 30 Dh left. As the hills of the detour got steeper and steeper I hoped there would be a bank. Sure enough there was, and after a huge steak and chips for lunch I decided to find a hotel and recuperate. It had been 3 days since I stayed anywhere with washing facilities.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010


I realise that I have been spoilt for hospitality. My Cartagena host, a young Mexican student called Pako was quite busy, so I was happy to pass the time before he finished at school, then cook us and his two housemates some food while he continued integrating radio frequency calculations. The housemates were Polish and German, and seemed more interested and offering of their Sangria. I really can't complain though, I just know I have been extremely spoilt. I got breakfast in a cafe, and got ready for a big day, 110 km and over 1200m climbing, west down the coast to Aguillas. I think it's too hard to describe the ride today but it was definately the most beautiful, traffic free yet gruelling rides so far. About 20km were on a rocky coastal track, and the finale was a 600m climb in the beautiful Cabo Cope y Puntas de Calnegre. I'll let the following photos do the talking...
I arrived at Aguillas, had a pizza and met up with Camille and Frederick, my hosts for tonight. French and US respectively, they were delightful company, but I was probably not the best of company as I was so exhausted. Fred told me about his complicated immigration situation, how he had remained in France after his marriage with a French woman had ended, and he had been deported from France after refusing an offer from the authorities. He was a perfect candidate for working for the government as a spy, apart from his political stance which meant now he was in Spain, teaching English on a tourist visa.
I left relatively early and realised my ride to Mojacar was tiny in comparison to yesterday´s, and with a strong tail wind I was there in no time. The sun was fierce today, and I was happy to go slowly in order to recuperate. The last leg however was a very steep hill into this ancient hill fort. The warren of whitewashed buildings have seen an occupation of many different tribes over it's long history. Greeks, Moors, Spanish and most recently English it seems. My host, David was born in Merseyside, but had never considered Britain his home, having raised a family in Denmark for the most part of his life. We went to a bar and did a very British pub quiz with some other English. Our team came second and we left. David was tired of this community and wanted to go on to Thailand for his next chapter.
We walked down the steep hill and after filling my bottles with warm spring water I said goodbye and got going again. I would break up my journey to Almeria and take David's advice to go and wild camp in Las Negras, where I may find some other young travellers. I warmed to this idea, since France I have felt a lot more alien to the locals and other more 'mature' holidaymakers, and I am sure this is not just due to my language barrier. The going was tough as the road worked its way through a desert landscape. David had told me it had been used for many spaghetti westerns as a fake Nevada or other US wilderness. Although not a long distance, the climbing was fierce today, and eventually I descended into Las Negras. I cased the joint for evidence of wild campers and younger, more alternative travellers but there was nothing, just a 6 euro site with designated pitches, entrance barrier and noise curfews- not my idea of camping, but an option if I found nothing else. Eventually I found a hippy and asked him of this spot I had imagined. Victor, a Czech guy told me it was not Las Negras but San Pedro, a mere 3km along the coast, but the only way was by boat or a very rocky track which he doubted I could ride the last part. It didn't put me off, and after buying some dinner I pushed up an extremely rocky track and cycled around the headland on a terrain most mountain bikes would have never graced. Victor was right about the last bit, carrying a 35kg bike over it was hard enough, but off in the distance I knew what I could see would make the whole chore worthwhile. It was like a paradise, a shanghri la. A small abandoned beach hamlet with a beautiful sandy beach. Cut off by the modern world with no tarmac connection, the sandstone structures were rebuilt using found materials. The odd tent was pitched in amongst a terrace of beautiful wild gardens, vibrant with herbs and flowers. I knew I was in a dilemma, I was going to be sucked into this place. Getting the bike back up the path was going to be a mammoth ordeal, yet I had come with no food and needed to remember my mission. I met a few Germans, one of whom had been here every winter for 7 years. He showed me the abuse the elements gave his tent, a couple of months of sunshine and the nylon disintegrated. We had a couple of beers in a makeshift bar an entrepreneurial Austrain ran, a tarpaulin over the terragce and some small warm cans for a euro each, then I went to sleep in my beautiful little pitch.

I packed up and carried the bike and the bags in two stages, I was exhausted having not even ridden anywhere yet. The 3km took close to an hour and I picked up a coffee, breakfast and lunch and got going. Yet more spaghetti western backdrop, and the route took me off tarmac and up a red earth track steeply up into the mountains. It was a route the GPS had chosen for me so I didn't know what to expect, but it was ideal. A hard climb up and then 40km of ever so slight descent through the plains of Nijar, populated by hectares upon hectares of tomato poly tunnels. This was my landscape for the day until the civilisation built up to Almeria. I am ready to change my lansdscape and culture now, and continue the last leg along the North coast of Morocco.