Tag Archives: bicycles

Bamako Musings: The journey of our DHL box…

Cookies, M n’ M’s, spokes and a new Nikon D3000.

Our Christmas arrived a little late. According to the man in the North London DHL shop all the drivers were ‘on holiday’, until he was reminded of our package so it seemed!

The incredible journey of our little box began on December 30th when Imran’s wonderful brother reminded the shopkeeper of its existence having taken the box to him 8 days before…

First our lovely box was flown to Brussels, held for a few hours before being sent off on a flight to Dakar, Senegal.

Next came a connecting flight from Dakar to Lagos, Nigeria.

Then from Lagos our beautiful box flew to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.

Then, on its final aeronautical adventure it travelled from Abidjan to Bamako.

‘KHAN?!’ The woman bellowed down the telephone.

Imran glanced at me and we both knew in a second it was the call we had been waiting for. We had been tracking the rather strange route of our box for a few days and, in the knowledge that we would soon need to leave for Timbuktu and the Festival au Desert, we were anxious for the arrival of our replacement camera.

‘KHAN! Ibrahim Khan?’

‘Yes… this is Ibrahim’, it was easier this way.

‘This is DHL Bamako, your package has arrived. You must pay 15,000 CFA if you want the package. You must come to the airport with the money’, the line went dead.

Though lacking in the Godfather-like tone her demands sounded fairly non-negotiable and we set off for the airport.

The door of the DHL office slammed shut and I found myself looking seriously disgruntled as we sat down in front of a large heap of paperwork.

‘Sign here, here, here, here and (after multiple page turning), here.’

It was nearing the end of the working day and anxious to get the package Imran gave the paragraphs a quick read before scribbling away.

‘You must pay 15,000 CFA now to release the paperwork and then whatever customs asks for…’.

Realising that we might have to hand over large sums of cash I began to moan and whine indiscriminately, polishing the performance with an emotional emptying of coins onto the desk of the uncomfortable looking member of staff.

She glanced to her colleague and inhaled deeply before glancing at my quivering face,

‘Well, I suppose we can ignore the 15, 000 CFA here, just this once, but you will still have to pay customs.’

The customs women laughed as we approached, with their feet resting on the table, they moved only in the effort to bark loudly at poor Mohammed who was running frantically around the warehouse floor.

‘What’s in the box?’.

Sighing heavily I began to present them with each item as Imran gave an explanation in French. But, it seemed fate had dealt us a good hand and the women were quickly won over.

The first item was drawn from the box, ‘tampons’ Imran politely translated. The women howled with laughter and grinned warmly in my direction.

‘Cookies, bicycle parts…’, the list continued as did the explanation of our trip, lack of children and subsequent challenge to the claim that the lack of children was resulting from our bicycles.

After building something of a rapport with the formidable team we felt more confident, as the senior member jotted down the customs note Imran smiled. Our new friends had intentionally omitted the expensive camera from our customs list. But now we were told, came the final and most difficult stage, an appointment with Mamadou Ba, Head of Customs in Mali. Admittedly it seemed a little over the top for a DHL package but in no position to argue we set off for the next office.

Busy with a text message the security guard missed us as we marched towards the Chief’s office. A short wait later we were instructed to knock on the door,

‘Come in,’ glittering with colourful medals Mamadou continued to gaze past us and his girlfriend focusing intensely on the television, ‘I am closed for the day, you must come back another time.’

I took a long breath in and turned away resisting the urge to throw something in his general direction.

‘Tell her to calm down’, assuming this was directed at me and not his teenage girlfriend the aging Mamadou asked us again to leave.

Realising it was once again time to call on the distressed-tourist within, I began to look flustered, on the verge of tears.

Mamadou shuffled in his seat and Imran seized the moment to win his signature. Ten minutes later Mamadou lifted his pen and as we relished in the beauty of our victory, signed on the dotted line.

We ran back to the warehouse triumphantly waving the paper at Mohammed and finally as the day came to a close our box was ‘released’ from the jaws of customs.

A DHL Christmas!


to Laayoune…

Our bodies have been wonderful to us, they really have. We on the other hand have not been so wonderful to them.

Things were going well, kilometers were being covered and our daily mini-yoga ritual appeared to be working. But the last few days we have pushed ourselves too hard and we are both feeling it. Covering up to 120 km per day has tested us and although we have no major injuries Imran is experiencing some knee grumbles.

So as we always agreed we would we are airing on the overly-cautious side and resting. We made this decision 50 km from Laayoune (El Aaiún) when we flagged down the first truck that passed us.

To our delight Ahmad pulled over and hopped out of his truck asking what the problem was.

Imran limply hopped at him and pointed at his knee, this was enough.

‘My truck is full, there is no space for your bicycles’.

Our faces dropped and we smiled to him accepting rejection, we had thought hitching might be tough.

‘But my friend Rachid is just a little behind and he has an empty truck’.

Sure enough Rachid hauled up, jumped out of the truck and rushed over. Bouncing over to us he shook our hands with a grin. In a moment he had seized the guitar and the scarf that cushioned it. Rachid began dancing and strumming the guitar, throwing the scarf around his head he imitated a woman and continued the performance.

Ahmad looked on and with a familiar sigh and announced Rachid as crazy.

We trucked along happily entertained by Rachid and his countless impressions of stubborn camels, until around 10 km before the city checkpoint where the military would not be happy to find the truck drivers helping us out. We threw ourselves out of the cab with little grace and about as much dignity as Rachids camel impression.

Thanking them for the ride we cycled towards the checkpoint into the biggest city of Moroccan occupied Western Sahara.

The checkpoint was busy with soldiers and though friendly we immediately felt a sense of the kind of city we were visiting. One of a controlling military presence.

We cycled away from the officials and towards the slightly clinical looking newly built city. For now we are resting but we might have to hitch a ride, knee dependant. Fingers crossed…

… 24 hours to go!

The days since our first post have been some of the busiest of our lives. Between all the deliveries, route planning, haircuts, emails and packing, we surprise ourselves in finding time to eat and sleep!

The most significant recent development wasBrendan builds a wheel the completion of our amazing bicycles. My friend Brendan put them together, to call him a bicycle mechanic is true blasphemy; Brendan is an artist. When we put the idea to him, he had already assembled our bikes in his head and knew all the parts we needed. Well almost, he was disappointed that we had to halve the budget he hoped for (pfff went the dreams of Rofloff hub gears!). Nevertheless, we now have dream touring bikes.

We were persuaded by one of Brendan’s colleagues that clip-in pedals were the way to go (when he said “…up to 40% more efficient”, the idea was sold). So now we have to get used to the clip-ins. I by-passed the getting-used-to part of our clip-in experience and instead learnt the hard way- during a moment of intense boredom in the opticians, I decided to screw the cleats into my shoes to pass the time. Later on that evening, not taking heed of the warnings from Mikaela, jumped on my new bike on what would be its maiden voyage from Islington to Waterloo station. Six to eight metres later my shoes automatically clipped in and in a moment of panic I attempted to unclip, but instead my fully-loaded pannier-clad bike and I took a tumble. Not surprisingly, it did not take long for Mikaela to see the humour, I’m still not laughing.

On a side note, Mikaela finally succumbed to my diabolical ways: while walking through the supermarket, we ‘accidentally’ ended up in the biscuit aisle. After some deliberation, she uttered the words I’d been longing to hear, “well at this point, it won’t make a difference how many biscuits we eat.” Whoop!

Backstreet BoyAlso, following my first visit to the hair dressers in about 3 years, I ended up with clippered hair. As the hairdresser cut away I visited multiple decades, first a cropped 1970s cut, followed by a revisit to the 90s with a pair of dashing curtains and finally a brief moment of mullet-dom  before settling with the piece de resistance (semi-baldness). Waves of guilt washed over me as the poor saturday worker repeatedly swept my hair from the floor and onlookers gazed in horror at the lake of locks.

Though it seems we are readying ourselves for an exciting, epic trip, I don’t think we’ll ever be as ready as we’d like (or Mikaela would like). Bring on Portsmouth!

Less than a week..!

So we’re both attempting to get into ‘doing’ mode, but the temptations of working from home beckon us away from the should-be-doing to the absolutely-should-not-be-doing, right now such activity consists primarily of eating. You see, Imran has this theory that we can now eat as much as we like because we cycling thousands of kilometers… the grave reality of waddling across Europe is looming however and I am now parroting the phrase ‘tomorrow we are eating nothing but healthy, wholesome, LOW FAT foods’. It hasn’t happened yet.

But our personal battles aside, practical arrangements are coming together and things are beginning to fall into place. We have a tent, a cooker, sleeping bags, roll mats, insecticide treatment, all manner of medical supplies, a swish GPS thing, but something is still missing, something important… our bikes.

They’re a work in progress, with the emphasis on progress I am told.

In the mean time we have an album to finish, routes to plan and funds to raise… I think I can sacrifice sleep for a few days.

Please donate whatever you can to the Joliba Trust via the Just Giving website.