Category Archives: Planning

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.

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…

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!

All good things…

This is how we spent our final 24 hours in Bamako…

8h: After a speedy breafast, I get on my bike to try to find some spare bike parts. After running through our local market I find what I need and get some new bar ends welded together to ease the strain on our hands when cycling.

Bar ends

8h45: Back home, Mikaela is madly planning our next route while I file down guitar parts to get a road-worthy guitar together.

10h:  With the help of a welder I get an extension to Mikaela’s back rack for carrying her new kamele ngoni.

Rack

11h: We take a long taxi ride to Kalaban Coura ACI to say good-bye to Makan and his family, who hosted us when we first arrived in Bamako.

DSC_0342

14h12: After going back to the welders for a quick alteration, I start fixing the bikes up.

17h: With only a few hours left we reach the studio to record Mikaela’s vocal overdubs. Kona, the recording engineer, starts to transfer all the files onto a painfully expensive 8GB USB stick (35 euros!).  He tells us we can come collect it later on.

19h33: We guzzle down a final brochette and plantaine meal by our house with our flatmates.

21:13: Jumping in a taxi we race to say good-bye to Souleymane and Coroba’s families in the Badialan neighbourhood.

21:56: We then go the the rap podium that Souleymane helped to organise.

22:45: Souleymane asks us to join him to play is song “Maman”, his mother is in the audience and a few tears are shed.

DSC_0378

23:45: Realising we have around 4 hours til we needed to leave the house, we say our goodbyes to the party and rush off to collect our precious USB stick.

00:15: We collect the USB stick safely and say goodbye to Kona and Bob at the studio.

DSC_0394

00:30- We rush to meet our friends who will take the USB stick back to the UK. They are playing a gig at Radio Libre and we’re invited to perform a few songs.

DSC_0401

1:45: We say our final good-byes and rush back home where most of our packing is yet to be done.

4:10: After some very rapid packing (or stuffing!) we are ready to go.

Bamako, we are leaving you, your dusty streets, crazy roads and friendly faces. It has been sweet, sometimes bitter-sweet, but for now its goodbye, just until next time…

A few dark clouds: our house is burgled…

Arriving home to find our house had been burgled was a low point of the trip.

Everything gone. The camera, sound recorder, all our money and unfortunately the list goes on. Walking to the police office we noticed, for the first time, the sky was full of dark clouds and as Imran commented on the unusual weather a drop of rain fell to his nose. It seemed the first rains of our trip in West Africa had fallen.

But stuff is just stuff, our time here and on the rest of the trip has been fantastic, our encounters unique and the friends we have made will remain in our lives far into the future. For a moment we considered getting out of Mali as soon as our recording was finished, but that would be turning our backs on something so positive and leaving with clouds hanging over us.

But, we cannot change the fact that we have experienced a financial loss and of course the impact this has had on how safe we feel. These factors combined with a sense that if we continue to Kinshasa we may have to rush on the bicycles so much that we will actually miss seeing the countries we pass through, has led us to make a big decision.

In May we will return. We will fly home from Lagos where we have music contacts and a press passes for Sub-Saharan Africa’s exclusive performance of Fela!

So now with only a few months left and almost all of our valuables gone (except our bicycles and the GPS!) we are actually feeling positive. We are ready for the next leg of the journey, but not ready to come home. It’s not quite time to say goodbye.

Thinking about April: The road ahead…

We both feel it has long been time to change the header of our website ‘From the UK to Mali…‘, and now, after some agonising over what to change it to, the time has arrived.

We have both been investing time towards planning for the next exciting leg of our journey, the visa beauracracy, security situations, FCO advice (and the obvious insurance implications), sending emails to other cyclists, calculating kilometers, calculating days of cycling and rest, the list goes on.

So, right now the plan when April arrives, looks a little bit like this (ambitious and still a work in progress!),

– Pedal out of Mali and into Burkina Faso, where we will met with an Association of Young Musicians.

– Cycle through Burkina Faso and into Benin.

– Crossing our fingers that the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou issues us a visa (they normally refuse visas to travellers with an Embassy in their country of residence), we will cross the border into Nigeria.

– After enjoying the music scene in Lagos we hope to continue through Nigeria on a carefully calculated route (owing to security issues) and cross the frontier into the green (though rather hilly), Cameroon.

– Hopefully overcoming more expected visa problems, we will manage to obtain a visa for Gabon (known for its lush rainforests covering more than 85% of the country). By this point we are almost expecting to have run out of time and will possibly be forced to fly home from Libreville (Gabon). But if not…

– IF we can secure a visa and time remains on our side, we will cross into Congo heading a few hundred kilometers to Brazzaville.

– At Brazzaville we will take the ferry across the Congo River and border into Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, famed for its rich music scene.

Admittedly the last two stages of the journey are by far the most ambitious and remain in our minds a hopeful extra! But even if we only get as far as Nigeria’s energetic Lagos, I know we will have been slowed down by the best of distractions, as has always been the case on this fantastic trip.

So with many hopeful ‘ifs’…’ hanging in the air, we’ll leave you with a map of our proposed 5000 km additional route, some images of the countries we hope to pass through and the funky sounds of DRC’s Baloji!

Mount Cameroon, 4,040 m (13,255 ft), we will be cycling its foothills and if we have time, who knows we might even climb it!

One of DRC’s biggest stars, Baloji