Category Archives: Cycling

A goodbye blog…

It has been the most incredible journey of both of our lives. There have been challenges; the heat, the hills, the dust and the desert.

We set this blog to publish as our flight takes off out of Africa. I guess it’s a bit of a symbolic posting. It’s a goodbye blog.

We want to share a few photos we had been saving for the right moment. Some of these faces you may have seen in previous postings, some are new, but all showed us pure kindness, warmth and generosity. For that reason we wanted to devote a blog to the theme of generosity. These are the faces we will not forget as we leave African soil.

Mama: It had been a long day of cycling. We had never slept in a village before. She welcomed us with warmth, fed us and even gave us a crash course in Wolof. It was to be the first of many village camping experiences.

Senegal 010

Cheick shared a roadside pot of tea with us one hot Malian lunchtime. He had lost a bull and hadn’t had the best of days. But he dismissed his misfortune and instead welcomed us to the village, occasionally leaving us to make bull-related phone calls.

Cheikh

Pete: We met on the ferry to France. He was our adopted dad for the first leg of our trip. He encouraged us, kept our spirits up when our bums were burning and shared some very useful bike-touring wisdom with us. He was our first friend of the trip.

Tentatively we peeked through the bushes at a group of party-goers, only to be snapped up by the father of the bride who insisted that we join the festivities. We shared goats milk and attempted to learn a few words of Fula. It was the perfect half hour.

Semi Nomadic Fula Wedding

With a contagious smile he opened his home to us. Boubacar Kone is an artist, a philosopher, a businessman, but most of all he’s everyone’s friend. Bouba had polio as a child and now runs ‘Handicape Production’, a small shop selling his artisan work.

Boubacar

Ba Fousseyni: What can we say? Fousseyni, our Malian uncle and good friend. He fed us, offered us a home and became a very wonderful friend to have around.

Imran and Fousseyni

Sodio Boureïma: It was getting close to 50 degrees in the midday sun and we had been cycling on ‘corrugated iron’ sand piste for a long time… visibly exhausted we were heckled from the road and invited to rest. We napped at his side and when we awoke, waiting next to us was a pot of tea and a bowl of mangos.

Boureïma Sodio in Dogon village of Tedie Kanda

Jaliba Kuyateh: We had heard about him, turned up at his house on a whim and ended up sharing almost a week with him and his family. Generous and wise, he showed us a truly different side to The Gambia.

djeliba kouyate

Mama Lamlih: Baking us fresh bread every morning, preparing us a special couscous dinner (it wasn’t even ‘couscous friday’), she was the heart of the fantastic Lamlih family and made sure we felt at home as we entered the desert.

Mamma

Souleymane and Chekoroba: We met in Bamako, their home city. They agreed to teach Mikaela a couple of Bamana songs. A couple of songs turned into a true friendship, based on wonderful descriptive song translations from Chekoroba, the beautiful songwriting of Souleymane (which we ended up recording) and of course, Chekoroba’s mother’s ‘giniberri’ (ginger juice)..! We felt part of a family.

Souleymane

Souleymane`s final run through his song structure...

Chekoroba- Photograph by Florant Lalet

Coroba

There is a Moorish proverb that puts it more simply,

To travel is to know the true value of mankind.

Rush hour…

Beach time did not really work out as hoped. One day of splashing in the sea and snoozing in the sun before my belly started another war. But it turned out the beach was a cool place for recovery, which is in a way a sort of relaxation…

On our way east from the beach the scenery was stunning, lush green bush and tall palm trees stretching high into the clear blue. We passed through the bright fishing village of Dixcove where vivid rags and flags flapped wildly in the wind as the boat owners took a rest from the heat of the midday sun.

The beach at Green Turtle Lodge on the west coast of Ghana

Mikaela gets extra sick at the beach and instead of beach-bumming ends up sleeping in the shade…

Imran enjoying a little beach rest!

The colourful fishing village of Dixcove close to the Cote d’Ivoire border

Because we stayed longer on the beach than planned we now find ourselves rushing to Cotonou. With only a few days before our flight leaves from Benin we are facing a race through Togo and the prospect of barely seeing Benin. But it’s been an amazing journey and we can’t really grumble. Instead of feeling disappointed we have decided to see it as a good excuse to return and do it all again.

Mikaela wearing her new helmet after the old one fell to a serious crushing accident (luckily NOT with her head in it!)

The old colonial buildings of Cape Coast’s historic streets

Cape Coast bay

We weren’t sure of what this sign actually meant?

Thirsty at the roadside: a coconut break

Leaving Ghana behind us we will whizz through Togo, collecting our French friends and cyclists Jérémie and Claire en route as they will join us along the coast. After which we will say our goodbyes and leave them as we cross into Benin. Then, in the way that only we know how, we will throw everything together, pack up the bicycles and jump on a 5 am plane from Cotonou to Lagos, Lagos to Casa Blanca, and finally Casa Blanca to London Heathrow. Then, home.

Being a bicycle sister…

Mik takes the slope carefully

Cycling in West Africa can sometimes challenge some strong stereotypes,

The bicycle is the poor man’s way to travel.

The bicycle is just a donkey. It’s no good.

The bicycle is not for a woman*.

For me, the last has had true resonance. Some of the comments, responses and hecklers have been worth remembering, some not! Here are a few of my favourites…

Hey bicycle sister!

You are a terrible husband. Look at your poor wife. She is so tired.’ (Multiple men have exclaimed this to Imran in horror).

Well now you will never have children‘, (Bassekou Kouyaté’s mother, Yakaré. She now requires evidence should I ever have any children).

Strong woman. Strong, strong woman.

So you cycled here all the way from England? And your wife, she flew to meet you?

(Yelled out of a truck window by a grinning driver as I cycled up a steep hill in Ghana)… ‘Hey achey, achey! You ache because you are a woman!

(Shouted by many beautifully rotund Ghanaian mothers) ‘Eat sister, eat to bicycle!!!!‘, (hand gesture of food to mouth as I cycle past).

On entering a shop accompanied by two other male cyclists, (male shopkeeper to me), ‘you’re tired, sit here now‘. I respond (rather sharply) ‘I am not tired thank you I will stand‘. Thirty minutes later I am forced to request his floor for a nap, he smiles understandingly.

(In response to our journey), ‘I prefer the Mercedes.‘ (My friend Fatu, wife of Gambian musician Jaliba Kuyateh and a formidable female force, though no cyclist!).

*Note: In Burkina Faso many women cycle.

Taking the long way home…

With only a few weeks left til our flight home, it has become very difficult keep friends, family, chocolate and the dreams of bangers and mash from the back of our minds. Especially after a very steep hill when our bellies grumble with hunger…

But we’ve been making the most of the final leg of our journey. In Bobo-Dioulasso,  our fantastic host Boubacar (AKA Baba AKA Colonel) proudly showed us around his fantastic city. Wherever we went, he got sidetracked by his many friends who, like us, were affected by his contagious smile.

Boubacar is one of the most inspiring and hard-working people we have befriended, his limitless hospitality and generosity made our good-byes difficult.

Our host Boubacar Kone in front of his artisan shop

Since then we’ve covered some serious ground.

After many months in several West African countries, we had got used to crossing borders to only initially notice subtle differences; the police wearing different uniforms, slightly sweeter tea… But coming into Ghana was like jumping to another world.

The arid, monotonous and dry semi-desert of the Sahel has given way to lush trees, green green grass and tall bushes. The long straight flat roads have turned into hill after hill. And of course, the rain!

Because the road we are using is quite a busy one, its side is littered with crumbs of exploded lorry tyres. These harmless-looking pieces of rubber lie quite innocently on the road, but in fact contain deadly shreds of wire which go straight through our tyres.

Time for a new tyre… the kiss of luck!

We often get asked, and ask ourselves, why are we cycling? A car would be much easier. But everyday that question is answered by the people we meet. Lannis’ family for instance welcomed us onto their farm, gave us lunch, water and a cool place to rest.

Lannis and her family

We took a few days off the bikes at Mole game reserve, where we befriended baboons, elephants, warthogs and many other animals. We took the cheapest accommodation (camping), but after the encounters with curious gibbons and warthogs became too many, we decided to sneak into the dorm

Pumba greets us

Relaxing baboon

Elephants having some breakfast

Now we’ve covered some kilometers but Mikaela’s tummy is sulking and she is struggling to eat enough… Making the already difficult hills insurmountable!

Time is no longer on our side so we’ve both decided that the most sensible decision is to take a few buses to a secluded beach and try to reawaken her appetite with the freshest of fresh fish and coconuts just plucked from the palm trees…

The beach awaiting us…

Chasing storms… accidentally.

In Ghana it now rains daily, usually as we attempt to cycle our last 10-20km of the day.

The blue sky fades away and an eerie wind sweeps over the lush green bush of Ghana’s dense forests. The sky turns dark with angry clouds and then the rain falls.

In its first few minutes the rain steals away our road and a river of muddy water floods the path ahead. Visibility is zero and we push the bikes to some kind of shelter. In a moment it all feels rather like a British summer style picnic-panic-run; madly covering our bags and throwing an ugly raincoat on.

After a while the heaviest drops have left and by now we are ready to jump on the bikes again. But then we notice the sky ahead is darker,

The storms all go south to the coast, just like you actually…’

Thirty minutes of pedalling pass us by and sure enough, we have caught up with the monster again. He growls at us and beats his thundery chest. He punches at the sky above with deadly forks of lightening. Time to make another swift exit...

Cycling towards a storm

Fishing after the rains

We arrive in Wenchi just as the sun goes down and storm clouds threaten…

Hello Burkina Faso: the highs and the lows…

On a low: Only 5km into our day of cycling and a huge thorn has buried itself within the depths of Mikaela’s front tyre and is causing multiple punctures. Time for a new tyre.

Mikaela gives her new tyre the kiss of luck!

On a high: A long day of pedalling and we arrive at an actual hotel. As students on bicycles we are swiftly shown to a cheap spot on the roof… we discover the hotel has a swimming pool and sneak lots of cheeky dips free of charge.

A blissful afternoon off the bikes…

On a low: Discovering the rumours were wrong, the road had not been paved as far as hoped…

The signpost gave little detail as to what the ‘danger’ was…

On a high: We rest our piste-shaken bones in the small village of Tedie Kanda. It’s an artisan village of Dogon people and we are invited to meet the local weavers at work.

Hard at work weaving cloth

On a low: The dust is bad and the borderland is much bigger than the map told us.

It should have been 15km…

An orange mist

On a high: At the Malian exit point, we worry about our dodgy visas (Imran was mistakenly given a 100 years duration). But it seems the officials are so happy we took the road against the advice of ‘evil Sarkozy’ (we assume a reference to the kidnap warning recently issued by the French Embassy for this particular road), they offer us tea and barely even glance at our invalid visas.

Sharing a glass of tea

On a low: We cycle past a truck accident, no one is hurt but there is fuel all over the road. It coats the tyres in a greasy layer and we nearly fall of our bicycles trying to brake, we then have to clean it off before heading down a bit of a hairy hill…

Scary stuff

On a high: We reach Ouahigouya and the end of the piste, smooth tarmac stares us in the face and a friendly ‘ça va?’ calls out from next to a cart full of mangoes, we lean the bikes against a signpost for cold coca cola, time for a break…

Djenné, the dry dry road and decisions ahead…

Mikaela’s triumphat arrival at the ferry crossing to Djenné

Djenné did not really welcome us; a flat tyre, disappearing daylight and a mass of children demanding gifts.

After a tough day of bum adjustment back on the bicycles we crashed early and limited ourselves the next day to market-and-mosque-meandarings only (after our rushed exit from Bamako we still had a mountain of bike jobs left to do!).

Djenné’s history is rich and colourful, between the 15th and 17th century it was an important town of the trans-Saharan trade route. Centuries ago precious goods such as gold and salt passed through this town. Now in the aftermath of its economic decline the tourists are the most precious things passing Djenné’s narrow lanes. But whilst the impact of tourism shows its irritating face, the city’s Sudanese- style architechture remains beautiful, particularly the Grand Mosque; a sun-baked mud brick structure with smooth curves, touched only by the annual rains after which the whole community works together to restore the structure to its former glory.

Djenné’s famous Grand Mosque

Djenné’s equally famous market

The dust from Djenné’s weekly market begins to settle

Now we have reached Sévaré, 120 evil, hot, sandy, unforgiving desert kilometers from Djenné. Here we hoped to hear good news on the military mutiny and civil unrest in Burkina Faso. But just three days from Burkina Faso’s border we hear mostly bad reports and new warnings against the route. In what will be our last internet stop before passing the frontier and with only three days to go it seems we have some big decisions to make.

Imran crosses what was once a river

Mikaela’s Shimano shoe gets stuck to her pedal!