Tag Archives: cycling

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 day in sound…

The clue’s in the name. To make to most of the sound, I recommend using your best set of headphones…

6:01

7:12

7:54

10:26

12:15

15:47

16:04

17:34

18:14

19:52

21:07

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

It’s a nomad’s life…

You would think that the potholes, wasps stings and bazooka bearing military men would be enough to put us off Casamance but we can’t think of a more beautiful route.

A typical roadside view

Casamance is alive. The fresh air hums with the sound of colourful birdsong and the crickets buzz all day long. The region really is breathtakingly beautiful and we both struggle to avoid hitting the enormous potholes as we gaze out towards the rice fields or catch sight of an amazing bird.

From the road to Ziguinchor onwards the route became much tougher, it’s as though the Senegalese government has forgotten this place. Whilst the Dakar area enjoys newly surfaced roads, the people of Casamance struggle to travel a meagre 30 kilometers to the next village. Cars cannot pass these roads, it’s only the bush taxis and an occasional four-wheel drive that dare tread on the broken tarmac and dusty sand pistes.

Another beautiful roadside view

With a little guilt we have to admit that we benefit from this lack of transportation in the region. With the cars scared away by the difficult conditions, our main encounters are with other cyclists, large groups of school bound children and groups of women travelling to the rice fields. The normal hazards of cycling alongside traffic have faded into the distance and our brakes now respond to the unpredictable crossing of goats, cattle and donkeys.

One of the many rice fields

As we cycle towards the border with Mali we find ourselves reflecting upon the strange life we are living here. Eating and sleeping wherever the road takes us, filtering cool well water at regular stops and relying on solar power for all our electrical needs. Wherever we go we feel the same sense of self-sustainability through cycling. It’s an independent existence we are living, one that tastes of a pretty sweet freedom. It’s a nomad’s life.

100 km into the day, Mikaela finds a restful cycling position

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.