Tag Archives: visa

Thinking about April: The road ahead…

We both feel it has long been time to change the header of our website ‘From the UK to Mali…‘, and now, after some agonising over what to change it to, the time has arrived.

We have both been investing time towards planning for the next exciting leg of our journey, the visa beauracracy, security situations, FCO advice (and the obvious insurance implications), sending emails to other cyclists, calculating kilometers, calculating days of cycling and rest, the list goes on.

So, right now the plan when April arrives, looks a little bit like this (ambitious and still a work in progress!),

– Pedal out of Mali and into Burkina Faso, where we will met with an Association of Young Musicians.

– Cycle through Burkina Faso and into Benin.

– Crossing our fingers that the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou issues us a visa (they normally refuse visas to travellers with an Embassy in their country of residence), we will cross the border into Nigeria.

– After enjoying the music scene in Lagos we hope to continue through Nigeria on a carefully calculated route (owing to security issues) and cross the frontier into the green (though rather hilly), Cameroon.

– Hopefully overcoming more expected visa problems, we will manage to obtain a visa for Gabon (known for its lush rainforests covering more than 85% of the country). By this point we are almost expecting to have run out of time and will possibly be forced to fly home from Libreville (Gabon). But if not…

– IF we can secure a visa and time remains on our side, we will cross into Congo heading a few hundred kilometers to Brazzaville.

– At Brazzaville we will take the ferry across the Congo River and border into Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, famed for its rich music scene.

Admittedly the last two stages of the journey are by far the most ambitious and remain in our minds a hopeful extra! But even if we only get as far as Nigeria’s energetic Lagos, I know we will have been slowed down by the best of distractions, as has always been the case on this fantastic trip.

So with many hopeful ‘ifs’…’ hanging in the air, we’ll leave you with a map of our proposed 5000 km additional route, some images of the countries we hope to pass through and the funky sounds of DRC’s Baloji!

Mount Cameroon, 4,040 m (13,255 ft), we will be cycling its foothills and if we have time, who knows we might even climb it!

One of DRC’s biggest stars, Baloji
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Dakar, decisions and the new route…

Time for a brief update from Dakar…

Days since we left the UK- 60
Days when Mikaela has declared she wants to go home- 7 (becoming less common)
Soaps used- 8
Cheese triangles eaten- creeping up to a shameful 100
Offers to buy our bicycles- 35
Advice that we drive next time- 20+
Punctures- Mikaela 1 / Imran 0
Snakes spotted- 4
Living snakes spotted- 0 (thankfully)
Monkeys in road- 18

Our visas for Mali begin on December 5th, thus we have decided to change our route in Senegal. Originally we planned on a quick sprint through the region following the course of the Mauritanian border, but at the border, realising we had more time than planned we changed our minds deciding instead to head to Dakar, through The Gambia and into Casamance where the scenery and culture is known for its vibrancy.

Keen to get back on the road we are now waiting in Dakar for the Tabaski festival to pass us by. Tabaski is a festival of sacrifice, here in West Africa that sacrifice means a kind of goat apocolypse. Everywhere goats are being transported to various destinations where they will serve to feed families as they celebrate this important festival (more commonly known as Eid al-Adha). As a result of this celebration all shops and services close for several days making it a bad time for us to be on the road. The decision to stay in Dakar has not been difficult given the incentive of large quantities of food and mass festivities!

Nearing Tabaski

Currently we are staying between two houses, one belonging to some very hospitable couchsurfers from Tunisia who are studying in Dakar and the other is of Dialimady, the brother of a kora player and friend in London. Dialimady offered the roof to his shared house which given the sweaty night temperatures has brought us some very cool and starry nights!

Dialimady's house

Over the next few days we will celebrate Tabaski before getting back on the road and heading towards the border with the Gambia where we are told the landscape will become greener, the people even more hospitable and musicians abundant.

The Diva of the Sahel…

After much reassurance that our new friend was a trustworthy chaperon to lead us on our musical outing, Aiwa the President of the Human Rights Association we were staying with finally agreed, ‘ok, you may go, but you must be back by 11 pm’.

It was already 9 pm and feeling rather limited by the mothering Imran replied quite perfectly, ‘Inshallah‘. Aiwa flashed a grin in our direction and nodded.

Armed with a guitar, camera and sound recorder we made our way through the dusty cratered streets of Nouakchott to the house of a family we had been told were great traditional Mauritanian musicians. Jeick Ould Chighaly welcomed us with warmth as we entered the busy household. Scattered around the generous sitting room were instruments of Mauritania. Jeick approached us with his electric guitar.

It as a quarter-tone guitar’ he casually exclaimed.

Jeich Ould Chighaly plays his quater-tone guitarImrans eyes lit up as he cradled the guitar in his arms and explored each fret, twice as many as on a standard guitar. Jeick watched content at the shared enthusiasm.

With so many notes at his disposition, Jeick’s playing style is somewhere between the desert blues of Ali Farka Touré and a proficient oud player. After playing the electric guitar he then demonstrated his agility on the tidinit, a Mauritanian lute almost identical to the ngoni. We sat mesmarised by the improvised lines that could rival Bassekou Kouyaté‘s.

As Jeick played to us his intimate audience Noura his wife and fellow musician joined us. With little more than a brief salam Noura picked up the ardine and began to brush across its strings with eloquent skill. As she played we sat in awe of the beautiful harp-like sound.

Noura's hands

The ardine is a 20-string harp with similar ancestry to the Kora. Unlike its Mande cousin, the ardine is played exclusively by women. In the region of West Africa where instrumentation is dominated by men, this female tradition is unique to Mauritania.

Ardine

Noura Mint Seymali and her husband are very successful musicians both in Mauritania and on an international level, playing at Festival au Desert amongst many others. Her voice is rich and deep with resonating strength, Noura tells of of how she is not afraid to mix Griot traditions with other sounds,

‘On my album, I have traditional songs that are recorded as reggae pieces with drums, bass and saxophone’, she says with a smile.

But there is little talking, soon it is our turn to play. As we finish sipping our tea we play my song ‘Wine Merchant‘. There is no discussion of who we are, our cultures or traditions, yet a sense of musical connection hold on to us for the a couple of hours before Imran and I are forced to leave for our 11 pm curfew.

Noura invites us to form some kind of music project together, presumably blending our styles, Imran and I are instant to accept. We are forced to explain our visa situation, expecting this to be a major problem but Noura simply tells us to come back or they will meet with us in Mali. Relaxed to feel a natural sense of this only being the first meeting we would share we said our goodbyes, but not before I was welcomed to play the Ardine and presented with a gift of a stunning Mulafa (the traditional dress of the Moor women in Mauritania).

Mikaela and Jeich

Cross-legged I clumsily plucked at the strings without a trace of the beauty and grace that Noura had displayed. Jeick sat with me and in the last moment of the evening we played the traditional song ‘Wading Deep Water’ with Jeick accompany on tidinit.

We parted leaving Jeick and his beautiful wife, Noura the Diva of the Sahel in Mauritania, the country we were only just beginning to discover.

Noura Mint Seymaly and Jeich Ould Chighali

UPDATE: since we wrote this blog Noura Mint Seymali has released a new CD (September 2013)!

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