Tag Archives: 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…
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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…

Leaving Senegal…

Days since we left- 89
Cheese triangles eaten- 148
Meals of Maffe- 31
Broken spokes- 3
Hours of lifetime lost to laundry- 9
Wells used- 23
‘Foster-Clarkes’ vitamin drinks- 24 (owing to the below statistics)
Senegalese vegetables consumed- 12 carrots
8 okra fingers
50 (ish) onions
Our bodyweight in potatoes

Orange faced and mud splattered we have reached Tambacounda where we have stopped for a day to catch up with the bores and chores of our little world. After some rather dusty terrain into the city we arrived to notice our bicycles were looking rather tango-ed. Thus a deep clean was in order for the bikes, panniers and most of all, us.

Diversion

Imran managed todays cleaning operation, becoming something of an expert at wilderness bike maintainance. Without explanation he had informed me a few days earlier that he was ‘going out to find a piece of scrap metal with a few holes in it. See you later’.

A couple of spokes from his back wheel had broken on the bumpy road to Ziguinchor and we realised that both were on the mech side. This means that in order to change the spoke, we needed to remove the gear cassette, which requires a special key. With no alternative, this tiny piece of metal was DHLed to us, but we nearly lost hope when we realised we also needed a chainwhip.

As we began dreading the wait for another package, Imran got inspired to employ some local metalworkers to make this amazing tool.

Homemade Chainwhip

Though I had become doubtful of his creative ideas I was proved wrong and his homemade chainwhip was pretty impressive.

Spoke repair

Whilst Imran busied himself with bike jobs I found myself reluctantly discovery my domestic capabilities; handwashing our putrid clothes before repairing socks and sewing up the bedraggled guitar case.

Laundry

But we are both feeling a renewed sense of energy for the journey ahead, a journey which in only a few days will see us cross the border from Senegal to Mali. It looks like it’s time to say goodbye to Senegal.

A Dakhla Birthday for Mikaela…

Yesterday Mikaela celebrated her 22nd birthday. Having been reminded of the importance of birthdays in Mikaela’s family home, I knew that my well-being depended upon her day being special.

So I thought I’d begin with an English breakfast in bed. This was no easy task, and the menu choice was of course dictated by a lack of pork! The final result of my market shopping skills was fried tomatoes, eggy bread, scrambled eggs, avocado smoothie and the pièce de resistance Heinz baked beans. Not a strictly traditional menu but Mik was content to break from the normal routine of a cheese triangle smothered roundbread.

I hear you asking “where on earth did you find Heinz baked beans in Western Sahara?”. They were in fact purchased in a tiny shop in the even smaller town of Olonzac in the south of France, which had a small section for English holidaymakers. The tin then survived several thousand kilometers undetected by Mikaela in one of our panniers.

On the morning of her birthday, I snuck out early to seek a kind café owner who would let me use his kitchen (a stealth operation for those who know Mik’s light sleeping and early morning wakening). Using the fresh supplies from the market, I clumsily stuck the meal together, turning down a few potential buyers of her breakfast. I then cautiously loaded it onto the plate I had also bought in the market and woke Mikaela to the smell of beans and toast.

Sometimes the things that at home are pretty normal become much greater tasks and sweeter surprises in this case! Equally the hairbrush and nail varnish that Mik unwrapped with the excitement of a five-year old were appreciated so much more. The little, simple things that can make us smile.

So now, with a birthday behind us we are ready to leave Dakhla. As we try to make sense of my knee grumbles, we are approaching the deadline of our single-entry visa to Mauritania on the 4th of November. So it seems we’ll have to load our bikes onto another truck at least until the border where we will negotiate the generous no-man’s-land by bicycle.

The next part of the journey brings new risks that we have not had to consider before. The route we must take through Mauritania has seen a rise in kidnappings of Europeans and after seeking the advice of everyone from the FCO to security experts on the region we have taken the difficult decision not to cycle. This is really a simple case of risk outweighing benefit and whilst disappointing the timing is actually pretty good for my knee injury. Besides, we can’t deny the child within that relishes every moment of truck fun, sat high up above all the other cars honking at donkeys and camels, every cloud has a silver lining

Hamam in Tan-Tan…

Soon after we had cautiously loaded our bikes onto a coach in Essaouira, our stomachs were put to the test on windy moutainous roads leading to Agadir. But this mild discomfort pales compared to the exhaustion we would have felt had we cycled.

Our original plan was to spend one night in Tan-Tan in order to get right back onto the road following a few days off. But as soon as we met Mustapha, who we found on couchsurfing; we knew we would have to prolong our stay. By the time we’d unloaded our bikes and panniers, we’d already been introduced to his
brother, Nourdinne, and soon we were sipping tea with his mother, another brother; cousin, sister and brother-in-law.

‘Here we say that when we have a guest, our house becomes his house and we become the guests’, says Rachid, the youngest of the brothers.

Dinner

puppyAfter dinner, the conversation turns towards the British love of animals. Before we knew it, we were receiving animal deliveries; a couple of tortoises, a rabbit and a puppy plucked from the street.

The following day was a treat for the senses: we spent most of the morning in Mustapha’s spice shop, looking at the herbs, spices, oils, remedies and soaps, trying to think of cunning ways of carrying them on the bikes and failing.

In the afternoon Rachid invited us to visit the Hamam. Excited at the prospect of a good scrub we were quick to accept the invitation.

Rachid, sesitive to the fact that I would have no way of communicating with the women who work in the Hamam (men and women naturally have seperate rooms), spoke with them beforehand to explain that a European would need babysitting.

Taken by the hand a plump Moroccan woman undressed me in the business fashion of a stressed mother. Leading me to the hottest room of three the exfoliation began. Using traditional soaps that Mustapha provided from his shop she scrubed my skin to a shade of raw pink.

Occassionaly she raised her head and showed me the rough mit, originally black it now accepted the colour of the first layer of my skin, she would tut dissaprovingly of my lazy exfoliation habits and then continue at the hard grind.

Whilst a little tough on the skin the experience was actually rather wonderful. I think I had made the false assumption that women lacked social time in Morocco. Its very easy to see men in the streets sipping tea and chatting all day, this brought both Imran and I to feel that women were somehow deprived of this of time.

There is, however, something rather sweet in being proved wrong. Seeing the women of the Hamam working together and bathing in the same rooms with no inhibitions brought me to realise how intimate the friendships between women are here. I felt a sense of a sisterhood as I was roughly undressed. Feeling rather exposed and a little sheepish I wished for a moment I had not accepted the Hamam invitation, but just then, as I felt so shy and out of place, the young woman next to me had spoken softly and with a smile said simply,

‘Bienvenue au Maroc’.