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01: UK-Scandinavia
02: France
03: Spain-Portugal
04: Andalucia off-road
05: Morocco: Fes/Marrakech
06: Morocco: Atlas/Sahara Safari
07: Gibraltar, Switzerland, Italy
08: Turkey
09: Syria
10: Jordan
11: Iran
12: Pakistan
13: India
14: Philippines

Special Features:
Kirsten writes about exploring the Middle East

Kirsten's dispatch about her Indian adventure

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Current Status:
Back home in Seattle as of 1 August 2001

London Bombay Cebu

Andalucian back roads...
by Jim Laurel

Dispatch #4, Andalucia off-road
12 November 2000
Malaga, Spain
We pulled into the Hotel Guadalmar in Malaga to a familiar sight: a row of Land Rovers with their owners buzzing about making preparations for an off-road trip. We were met by Tracey Webb, one of our guides, who would prove to be a great help to us during the coming week. She got us settled into our rooms and, after the children had gotten another eyeful of the erotic channel previews on the TV, had those channels disabled in their room. Group communication was to be done with standard citizen's band radios, and I was grateful to find a coaxial cable and a live power cable hidden just above the front dome light in the Disco, left over from the Camel Trophy. The antenna plugged right into the coax fitting still mounted on the roof rack.

Meanwhile, Kirsten and Connor made some new friends, and explored the nearby beach. Connor made off with the digital camera and we discovered his photographic talents! He has no reservations about approaching a complete stranger with a camera and firing away. And since he is young, he can get away with it. No one ever thinks he has an ulterior motive. He's just having fun! Connor has several pictures in this dispatch - his artistic debut!

The next morning, route books were handed out and we were briefed by the organizers from TAG Europe. TAG offers a fly-drive option, so some of the clients had chosen to fly in and use the small Suzuki 4x4s rented locally. The Land Rover owners, of course, looked at the Suzukis with some suspicion, but they proved to be more than up to the task because of their light weight and solid design.

The organizers worked very hard to put on a great event. In particular, Steve and Tracey Webb, of 4x4 Verde, who did the recces, established the route, organized the accommodations, and led the trail runs, did a fantastic job. If you are interested in seeing Southern Spain from a different perspective than most tourists get, sign up for one of their trips. Drop them a line via e-mail at and find out when the next trip starts!

While some of the terrain reminded us of Eastern Washington, the variety of off-road conditions available in Spain is just unbeatable. The Serrania de Ronda has an abundance of rocky mountain trails, with spectacular scenery and some pretty scary drop-offs. The Doñana National Park has long, sandy tracks that go on for miles, and the plains of Sevilla can be muddy and challenging, as we learned. But the best part is that, during an off-road trip, you can call off at all sorts of interesting towns, each steeped in Spain's rich history.

One of the real surprises for us, was pulling in to El Rocio, a most interesting town near Sevilla. When you arrive there, you feel that you've been thrown back in time into a spaghetti western set in Mexico. The streets, though well-kept, are completely unpaved, with a smooth sandy surface. People ride horses as a part of daily getting around, so there are rows of hitching posts and watering troughs lining the streets.

Even though there are quite a few tourists around, at this time of year they seem to be mostly Spanish. We had the good fortune of happening upon a private party, where the guests were busy putting on an impromptu flamenco performance. I must admit that I was a little shy about getting in there and making some photos, but Connor jumped right in and started shooting away! The people seemed to like it, and he made some new friends who enjoyed looking at his photos on the Nikon 990 digital camera. Check out some of his photos below.

Just before we got to El Rocio, one of the guides' Land Rovers blew its rear differential. This is a scenario where the Land Rover design really shines. Because the wheels ride on floating hubs, you can recover from this situation by removing the half shafts and the differential itself, then locking the center differential and proceeding in front wheel drive. I know that probably doesn't mean much to those of you reading who aren't Land Rover aficionados, but believe me, with other vehicles, you would simply call a tow truck and call it a day. Of course, there is always the argument that other vehicles don't break down as often as Land Rovers!

Anyway, suffice it to say that we had a great time in Spain driving the tracks and trails of Andalucia. During the trip, our front bushings went again, bringing on a symphony of clicks and groans from the front end. Though it isn't dangerous, it is very disconcerting. If you've been following us, you will remember that we had the bushings changed at a Land Rover dealer in Blois, France. It turns out that the mechanic there had banged them in with a hammer, so within just a few thousand kilometers, they worked their way out and the racket started up all over again. So much for French mechanics. Fortunately, we were able to locate a Rover specialist here in Malaga, and have them replaced. He took one look at the job the French guy had done and couldn't believe their incompetence. What was that old joke about Hell having German lovers, British cooks, and French mechanics...?

Tomorrow, we are moving west along the coast to Algeceiras, where we will catch a ferry to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in North Africa. Then, on Tuesday, we will cross the border into Morocco, where we expect to be for about a month. For the first 2 weeks we will be on our own, so wish us luck, because we have been hearing a lot of scary warnings from other travelers. To mitigate our risk, we have removed the large aluminum boxes from our roof rack, and left the bulk of our things with friends here in Malaga, Spain. So, we're down to just two duffle bags, one for clothes, and the other for cold weather gear. In addition, we have just the basic electronic gear - really just enough to handle media from the digital camera. We hope that traveling lighter will help us to be a little more discrete, but our orange Disco is hard to miss.

On to the next adventure in Morocco!

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