Tag Archives: senegal

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.


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.


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.


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`s final run through his song structure...

Chekoroba- Photograph by Florant Lalet


There is a Moorish proverb that puts it more simply,

To travel is to know the true value of mankind.


Mango rains…

So, life in Bamako has been busy and as our time in the city comes to an end the music just gets better. We are on a high. Now it’s the end of another mad day and as our beds call us we feel it’s time for an overdue update, in photo form!

Its April, the weather is hot, sometimes the temperature reaches a scorching 45 degrees. Walking from to the kitchen and back makes you sweat. We both sleep and I begin a folder of photos entitled ‘Mikaela naps through the hot season’

Mikaela sleeps again...

Our friend Sadio Cissokho arrives from Senegal with his kora to work on the album. Sadio is a creative kora player, arranger and soulful singer. Together with Mikaela’s kamele ngoni teacher, Lassine Kone, we jam with Sadio for the first time since we met him in Casamance. Our musical high begins…
Kamel ngoni kora

The band meet Sadio and one of our best rehearsals follow. We rehearse at Baini’s house and a crowd gathers. The children dance madly to the music and the sky grows stormy. There’s talk of mango rain.

Madou with the kids
Imran takes his guitar back!
Muktar on Kalabash
Sadio and Imran
Lassine 'Ton Ton' plays tamani

A mango storm hits the city and as the rehearsal ends the sky is lit up with sheet lightening. We head home on flooded roads as the first rain we have seen in more than 6 months pours onto the dusty streets. We grin and laugh as we paddle through the water back to the house. Beautiful rain, perfect day.

Mango rains in Bamako

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!

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…












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.’


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…


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…


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.


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.


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.

Sounds from Ziguinchor…

After our extended stay with Jaliba Kuyateh we planned to whizz through Ziguinchor to try to reach Mali sooner. But the music of Ziguinchor kept us and we found ourselves staying much longer than planned! Because of some camera issues we couldn’t take any photos, but we feel the sound recordings will do justice to our time there.

Meeting with Sadio Cissokho, a well-reputed kora player, was humbling, his kora playing is simply beautiful, but considering the musical nature of his family it’s no surprise. The family household is busy with the movements of its resident kora players and the young boys are all learning.

Sadio first played us ‘Maké’ a traditional song about the first king of Suni. Mikaela was keen to learn her first Mandinke song…

The tuning of Maké worked well with a lot of songs we knew and we didn’t want to make Sadio retune his 22-stringed instrument so we went straight into “Jonny was a shoemaker”.

Before making Sadio change tuning, we played another folk song, ‘Seven Little Gypsies’.

Finally Sadio retuned and I set my guitar up for lap slide, and we played on of his own pieces, ‘Nion saba’.

We left the city feeling inspired and with the beginnings of a music project that will bring together folk songs from home with the beautiful sound of Mande music.