Tag Archives: border

From Mali we blog..!

Beaming to each other as we pedalled over the River Senegal Imran’s words cut through the heat of our afternoon of cycling.

‘We’ve done it. We have bloody well cycled to Mali.’

border1

The route to the border had been dusty and tough but as we crossed the fresh river air welcomed us to Mali.

senegal river

The customs officials were interested in little more than a brief ‘hello’. In fact as soon as they absorbed the phrase ‘we’re on bicycles…’ we were dismissed as they returned to the daily grind of dealing with the hundreds of trucks waiting to bring supplies to landlocked Mali.

The days leading up to the border crossing brought peaceful encounters with other travelers, nomadic goat herders on their meandering path, wandering men who had walked some 500 km bare foot and hundreds of teenage boys on the first bicycle pilgrimage we’ve seen.

Previously spoilt by frequent villages this most recent leg of our journey has been far quieter, thus more of a challenge in terms of water, food and sleeping. But with a little bit of planning and a change of fuel in our previously failing expedition cooker we embraced a bit of solitude. Our culinary experiments have revolved around a variety of rice dishes; beef stock rice, fish rice, powdered milk rice pudding and this inspiring list is only in its youth…

whisperlite imran

morning chores

But rice only fills the cyclists belly for a short time and Mikaela was starting to experience recurring dreams of multiple food groups. Thankfully as we cycled into Kayes, a city about 100 km of the border, we spotted in the distance, a beautiful, though be it lonely, carrot stall…

carrot

So tonight, before we make a quick exit from the rumoured-to-be ‘hottest city in Mali’, we will create stew a la carrots, our first meat and rice free meal for quite some time!Tomorrow it’s back on the road. But with only around 600 km left to go the question that’s on both our minds is, where to cycle after Mali..?

To leave you with something small to ponder, take a look at our recently purchased Chinese-imported playing cards and see if you can spot the problem…

puzzle

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Just another day on the road…

19:00- A full day of cycling behind us, we have found our spot for the night and its right under a Baobab tree. The tent is going up and the soon the moon is lighting our campsite with a beautiful glow. We gaze at our beloved bicycles, now locked to a root of the Baobab, we know we will wake at regular intervals to check on them.

20:00- We are ready for bed, the sand beneath us is still warm from the days sun but the air cool. The breeze is gentle and sweeps over us as we drift off into a long sleep.

05:30- The first alarm screams in our ears. Its not light yet and now the moon has disappeared its darker than when we fell asleep. Groans can be heard before we both continue to sleep.

05:45- The second alarm sounds, we discuss the time, consider getting up before continuing to sleep.

early morning

06:00- The third alarm stirs us and reluctantly we peak our noses from our sleeping bags to see that its still not light. We fumble to find our smelly cycle shorts and discuss the stealth operation of leaving the tent whilst managing to avoid the savagery of the mosquitoes that await us.

06:05- Mosquito stealth fails; we spend a good five minutes killing the invaders in the tent. We realize we have camped on a bed of thorns and spend additional time removing them from our bodies, bags, tent etc…

06:30- Our morning wash stretches as far as tooth brushing but no further.

toothbrushes

7:00- After our breakfast of two bananas and a vitamin C drink we are finally on the road, the sun is on its way up the air is fresh and cool.

09:30- The children in the villages we pass have woken up which means the chorus of ‘TOUBAB!!!’ (meaning ‘white person’ or ‘foreigner’) returns. We are tired and grumpy, the children run in front of our bicycles, we shout at them angrily and then feel guilty.

09:45- Hungry for a second breakfast we find a street cart cooking up egg and onion sandwiches served with a super-sweet mug of condensed milk coffee. Belly bliss.

10:00- We befriend another cyclist who lives in a near by village, a warning of the condition of the road ahead is given to us, though he is happy to inform us the road improves after 35 km…

11:00- We hit the rough part of the road. Its bumpy, very bumpy. The dust is in our eyes and we begin to experience a sensation of ‘bum burning’ as we like to call it.

sandroad

12:00- Mikaela realizes she has lost another water bottle, this time the pot holes are responsible. For a brief moment consideration is given to following our route back, but it is a very brief moment before we continue on.

13:00- The temperature has risen beyond 40 degrees, we are sweating faster than we can drink and our heads are beginning to throb. Time for a long lunch break. We find some shade, lay out our blanket and settle down for a nap.

13:30- Children wake us up by asking us how we are. We respond in a bitter tone and then feel guilty. Its now lunchtime which means cheese triangles and peanut-chocolate spread (and I mean together in the case of Imran).

15:00- We have avoided the worst of the heat and its time to get back on the road.

16:00- Village stop, water refill. A local man tells that if we return through this route to England he would happily take the bicycles off our hands, to help us of course. We thank him.

16:15- A village mad-man squeaks past us on a very rusty bicycle with no inner tubes, he is singing and yelling frantically at us. Locals remain unstirred by his musings thus we do not worry.
16:35- A short bum-break becomes a long one as we get distracted by passing monkeys.

whydidthemonkeycrosstheroad

17:00- We reach the border of Senegal-Gambia. Immigration are pleasant and easy going. The customs official looks utterly bored as he asks us to list everything we have in the panniers. We approach using a bore-him-senseless tactic to avoid being searched. We begin to list everything, ‘Four t-shirts, two for each of us, one sports bra, two pairs of flip flops, some soap… oh no hang on I think we might have two bars of soap- is that bar finished?? No, actually one bar. Ten hair clips, four hair bands, errr, four pairs of socks, or is it five..? No, its four. Two books, one is an autobiogra-…’, ‘okay, okay. You are fine. Go please’. Content with our work we continue on. But alas, the plain clothed police officer has spotted us and requests that we empty each pannier discussing every item as we go. Resisting the urge to huff heavily we begin the tedious task, the medical bag brings the most lengthy search ‘that’s an anti-biotic, this is also an anti-biotic, this one is an anti-biotic…etc’. The repetition continues until he strikes gold with a mystery drug which he whips away from our hands and disappears with. He returns announcing it is controlled but as we are on bicycles he will ‘let us have it for free’. The drug is Lopermide, an antihistamine. After the long searches it is dark and we cannot clear the border for the night. The kind immigration officer advises us of an auberge we can sleep in. The corrupt police officer urges us to camp by the border because ‘these Senegalese are always plotting against you’. We assure him that we will be careful of any plotting and make a swift exit. He is excited for our return to the border when he tells us he will take some euros from us. We are less excited.

21:00- The owner of the auberge thinks we are mad as we put our tent up, turning down a bed for the night but we are content in our mosquito free home with the breeze washing over us.

05:00- We wake up and as though we are on a military operation, pack away the tent and head back to the border.

05:30- Keen to avoid waking the corrupt policeman we use hushed voices to convince an official we have already been through immigration. He appears to care little either way.

06:00- We avoid the policeman and with our emergency euros still in our pocket we cycle victoriously away from the border, our laughter filling the dawn air.

The road to Nouakchott

Time had passed us by faster than we had realised, it was the 2nd November and as we opened our eyes to the same grotty walls of our hostel room we contemplated another day of waiting and searching for a lift through Mauritania before our visas expired. Our bikes sat unloved in the garage while we pined for them as we began our daily round of asking truck drivers if they were Nouakchott bound. Lunchtime came and went and our spirits were sinking, we had been informed that owing to a major lamb festival (and national holiday) that was nearing no sane minded truck driver was going to get himself stranded from his family in Mauritania. Finding it difficult to argue with the ‘not wanting to miss the party’ logic we began to consider other options. But luck was on our side…

We spotted the beautifully painted trucks of Lise and Tony from a distance, we had met them in El Aaiun (Western Sahara). What we couldn’t communicate via the blog was that our French friends had organised to be smuggled into a nearby camp of Sahrawis (‘refugee’ camps in Western Sahara are tightly controlled by the Moroccan military).

Tony and Lise were in trouble, whilst their time at the camp had been immensely constructive, the material they had filmed had hit the French and Spanish press along with their names. The police, gendarmarie (special police) and military had now been following them since they left the camp, so they were even more pressed than us to reach Mauritania. By the time we met with them we were at the border and it only took our acquaintance to ignite problems with the police. Though we had finished all the border formalities and had our passports returned the police confiscated them and began to question us on our relationship with the French.

A 14 year-old boy had been murdered in the camp, shot dead by the Moroccan forces. The achievement of our friends and the risk they had accepted in circulating evidence was huge. When you see such injustice, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, so we knew we had to do whatever we could to help our friends. So as their vans were meticulously searched, we made out to be happy-go-lucky tourists who simply adored the jokes of the police.

After what felt like an eternity of waiting in the sun we were reluctantly given our passports and together we crossed into the stretch of no-mans-land, which was ironically quite a relief. We passed the sand piste and its famous land mined surroundings without a problem and made our way through the bureaucracy of the Mauritanian side. But a few hours later, it was all over and as the heat of the desert cooled to welcome us the evening closed in while we pitched our tent in Nouadhibou.

Now after some sweaty driving time in the breath taking scenery of the Mauritanian desert we have taken a day off the road in Nouakchott the capital city. Here we are enjoying the hospitality of the Association de Development et de Promotion des Droits de l’Hommes (Association of Development and Promotion of Human Rights) who today took us to a human rights conference of all the countries of the Maghreb region. There is so much we would like to write about the conference today but we are so frustratingly limited by time!

Our stay here is too short, our visa has already expired and we must now leave whilst we can pass the border ‘in transit’ to avoid hitting enormous overstay taxes. There is so much more we could and eventually will get around to writing but for now we have a musical meeting in the city before we leave tomorrow for the border of Senegal at Rosso where we will cross the river Senegal and end our cycle break at long last!