On board ferry from Algeciras to Ceuta (Spain), Sat 21 May '77

We are a week and 4 hours out of London and have arrived via Dover, Calais, Bordeaux, Biarritz, San Sebastián, Vitoria, Madrid, Granada and Malaga. Our 4-ton bright orange Bedford truck (with blue tarpaulin) and trailer trundle along so slowly (30-50 mph) that we have to get up before the crack of dawn, at c. 0500-0530 (depending on whether one is on cooking duty) to get under way. We stop fairly early to set up camp, wash (when there is water), cook etc.

There is only one truck (not quite full), one NZ driver, 17 passengers, divided into 14 males and 3 females (who consequently receive a great deal of attention), 9 nationalities (a preponderance of German-speaking Swiss, to whom can be added the guy from Liechtenstein) and a multitude of professions (several farmers, a plumber, a toolmaker, some students, a mechanical engineer, a site engineer, a secretary, a couple of computer people etc.) Our spirits are maintained by a very talkative and witty Englishman, ably supported by a laconic Californian. It's strange how different people are. We also have an English former tour-leader (now photographer/travel writer) who lived for some time in Spain and South America and speaks good Spanish. There is a young "Englishman" who grew up on a WA farm and whose father is now a real estate agent between Albany and Gnowangerup.

The group, in fact, is quite well balanced between extroverts, introverts, capable people in various activities (the sexual imbalance is apparently unusual in organised tours which generally contain a preponderance of girls – Africa is presumably a bit too tough). I have been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of all to pull their weight, help others out, etc.

The only mishap so far has been a twisted (at soccer) and swollen ankle. We are divided into groups of three for shopping/cooking – one group per day – almost all paid for by Encounter Overland. I have been impressed by EO's serious approach to organisation, equipment, true "inclusive costs" etc. It is said they have by far the best name in the overland business, even though (perhaps because?) they are slightly more expensive. They even subsidised a meal eaten out in a cheap Madrid restaurant.

I'm finding it hard to concentrate now for the deafening singing, dancing and clapping (flamenco-style) by the Spanish schoolchildren on board. Especially here in the south they have it born in them, and start up whenever they have a spare moment. Their sense of rhythm is astonishing (syncopated clapping, especially, is extremely difficult) and very soulful. One can understand their attachment to their culture. We visited a backstreet bar in Madrid and stayed till late at night listening to gypsy flamenco players plying their trade. Really quite stirring.

The truck has cooking equipment, lots of pots and pans, water and fuel tanks. Everywhere under the coach-style seats ranged along the sides in a U shape is packed tight with all sorts of provisions, tinned, dehydrated and plastic-bagged – from washing-up detergent and cooking oil to packets of spaghetti, Weetabix and cheddar cheese.This is complemented daily with purchases of bread, wine, salami, vegetables etc. Works out quite well – so far, but then we have been in a reasonably civilisd part of the world.

Some of the nights were very cold at the start; there was a lot of rain in both France and Spain (first consistent sunshine was toward Malaga yesterday) and we were all rugged up in our superb conveyance. I feel a pleasant physical tiredness all over and a particular ache in my right hand from beating tent-pegs into rock-hard ground.

I have trouble understanding rapidly-spoken Spanish, but with a little Italian and the limited Spanish words I know, manage to make myself understood. There are a number of Arabs on the ferry in traditional dress (jalaba, fez etc.) We'll be in Fez with some luck tomorrow night. Suppose the town gave its name to the cap.

Our first night was in a camping area in Calais (where we picked up a Dutch girl called Marianne); the second beside a broken-down old water-mill at Château-du-Loir between Le Mans and Tours. Next day we passed Poitiers (smokestacks and skyscapers in the distance – Black Prince, thou shouldst be living at this hour), Biarritz (caught a glimpse of the Atlantic) after picking up another Swiss in Bordeaux, and slept in a forest clearing; thence into the prosperous, polluted Spanish Basque country near San Sebastián – all the houses are flying Basque flags with "Amnistia" written across them. There is a surprising paucity of election posters in a country with general elections only 3 weeks away, but they are probably not used to the ropes; there are the usual ugly communist graffiti. The north of Spain has magnificent mountains and quite lush hills: one understands the inspiration of Cervantes, El Greco, Picasso etc. Saw a lot of beautiful paintings in the Museo del Prado in Madrid and found the Moorish palaces of the Alhambra quite breathtaking.

The truck has not yet 4WD capability (drive shaft to be added later), so we had to use sand-mats (metal strips in front of wheels) to get going one morning.

Fourth night was just before Burgos in a wet camping-ground; the fifth on a windswept site outside Madrid; the sixth in Granada with hot showers and washing facilities (!) Met a taxi-driver who lived 5 years in Australia and couldn't understand why I didn't know the Spanish club in Liverpool St.! Last night we spent among the gum-trees just north of here.

Spain is a country of fairly good roads, billboards, filthy rivers, nesting storks and ghastly high-rise apartment blocks, especially in tourist beach areas along the Mediterranean from Malaga. Some of the white Moorish architecture is very attractive. Lots of poppies, goats, mules etc.

We have now arrived in Africa! I must finish now or be left behind. Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the coast of Morocco, is a "free" port – lots of liquor-buying going on, and some black-market money dealing.