November 12 through December 17, 2003
Cycling Africa is nothing like flying in on vacation, visiting a Game Reserve, a big City and a village of huts then flying home. Cycling Africa is nothing like coming here with an agency or non-profit seeking the worst and hoping for a cure for the ills then flying back to solicit funds. Cycling Africa is nothing like coming here as a Peace Corp volunteer and living with villagers for 2 years. Cycling Africa is all of the above and MORE!
Myths like Tribal Warriors carrying spears and big game Animals lurking in the jungle are easily dispelled. They don’t exist any more than Cowboys, Indians, Bears and Buffalo do back home. Oh sure, they’re still there but mainly in shows for tourists. In reality most of the places we’ve visited are far more developed than we thought they would be. The range of sophistication runs from Satellite Imaging like Moctar’s Ecological Survey Company to Ox Carts moving freight into less accessible areas. Or, modern Ferries plying rivers next to Pirogues of hollowed out logs. Thus far we have always been able to find enough edible food and most of the time we drink mineral water in plastic bottles.
Sure, there are villages with grass roofed huts and people in the country that were few cloths but more often than not, they wear Nike T-shirts and sandals. People in the country live without electricity and the quality of drinking water needs to be improved but they usually know about the rest of the world and the things that they don’t have. Even in areas where there is no power we see TV Satellite Dishes probably powered by electric generators.
The big difference is, like always, GOVERNMENT. When you cross the border from a country like Senegal into Guinea Bissau the change is immediate. The roads deteriorated and infrastructure is non-existent. Food that’s abundant in Senegal is scarce in Guinea Bissau. In deference to Guinea Bissau, the food in Senegal isn’t all that available to the poor who make up a huge percentage of the population.
You’ll meet some People who make a difference. People like the Peace Corp Volunteers who give so much time and effort here. People who make a difference like Teddy, a Doctor from Louisiana, here learning about Africa and treating those who need his help. Or Dennis, who came with the Peace Corp 40 years ago, went back but never got Africa out of his mind. You’ll meet them and many more in this chapter.
The people of Africa have been friendly and helpful, for the most part. As our friend Duncan of
www.DuncanDoesAfrica.com puts it, “You’ll meet a few bad apples just like everywhere but by in large, the people are just people, just like back home.” We’ve only seen one case of leprosy since leaving Dakar and there are no starving or sick skinny people sitting along the road, either.
Africa is still locked in the past in some ways yet it is rapidly emerging into the future in so many others. Keep your eyes on her progress and our observations.
We hope they’ll have a positive affect on your understanding of,
“THE DARK CONTINENT”.
November 12, 2003
Breakfast in for the sake of brevity. We didn’t like the bread so we asked for extra croissants but the girl said they didn’t have any more. Coffee and our allotted then she appeared with an extra croissant. How nice.
Back upstairs, we packaged up our things to be mailed then headed for the Poste. Another learning experience, not un-similar to that of a trip to a US Postal Office. After an agonizing hour wait in line we had to buy boxes and address them. Once finished with that task we asked for tape. The woman called a guy and he began pressing the boxes into mailing shape then asked us for tape. Okay, we now knew that we would have to go back, get our tape then bring the packages back to the Poste.
On the way we detoured into the Internet Shop we made a quick check of messages and sent a request to Base Camp, Charlie, to try again to set up separate accounts for the proceeds of sale of our house so that the money is insured. As we left we were mobbed by sellers of things. They had been hovering around a couple that was seated on the high curbstone there. One of the boys pressed us then said, “They are from America, too”. I had to ask and sure enough, they were from Detroit, and African Americans. We talked, most of the conversation centering on how aggressive these sellers of things were. In fact, even as we talked the boys kept pressing until I tried the camera trick. Amazing, they not only know what no means but they all begin saying, “No photo” and backing away. What a great tool! We were so intent that I failed to get their names written down. As we walked away I wished that we had taken a picture with them. It is so rare to meet Americans here.
Abdellah, our friend in Morocco who has helped us so much, had given us the name of a man here in Senegal to call on for help. We e-mailed him two days ago and were happy to find a message that he had called this morning. After several attempts and busy signals I finally got through. The voice at the other end, Mr. Moctar, said, “I will send a car for you, now.” We asked if it would be okay to have a bite of lunch first so he told us the car would be here at 2:00 or 2:15.
Back toward the Poste, we knew that we had better eat first or we’d surely miss lunch. Café Ali Baba is on the corner near the Poste. The food wasn’t as good as Adonis and we were slightly disappointed. However, there was a blond haired guy seated nearby so I had to ask if he spoke English. Amazing, another American, Donald is from Maryland but has been living in Paris, France for the past 5 years. He’s traveling light, just a small backpack with some cloths. He told us of being robbed twice, in the same day, in Italy. Donald’s a Computer Programmer and he seems slightly naïve to be traveling alone here. He’s just hitching rides or riding the Gran Taxis. Although he had already finished eating he joined us and we compared stories as we ate.
Too late for the Poste, we hustled back to Hotel Ganale only to wait. The driver finally made it through the traffic at 2:40. We were almost ready to give up when he pulled up. The car had air-conditioning, what a treat. Moctar’s office is out the beach, toward the area where Eric and Sylvie live. His company is called Centre of Suivi Ecologique, he is Director General and a busy guy but took time to sit and talk.
When Moctar asked how he could help we told him we’d like to find someone with a Van or Pickup to take us out of town rather than risk riding back on the dangerous road. He introduced us to Mamadou, another of his drivers and told us that he will pick us up on the 14th and drive out of Dakar. After a couple of pictures Mamadou drove to the DHL office around the corner where we sent the necessary papers back home for the sale of our house.
The Poste is nearby, too. We had a parcel of things that needed to be off the bikes and back home. The young guy at the counter was happy and helpful. I gave him our card and as we were leaving he handed me one of his own. This is his DAY JOB, in reality he’s an Artist, struggling to be discovered, struggling to sell some of his work. He reminded us that we could mail some home.
Back at Ganale we met Alain after he got off work. We had CDs for him and the others with pictures of our party. He brought a list of Hotels and guesthouses that we may stay in on our route. He drank a beer with us then hurried off for dinner at home.
November 13, 2003
Business as Usual in Dakar
Early to rise, we had bananas in the room, OJ at the little store across the street and coffee in a very cute Patisserie. The scene of homelessness and leprosy just outside the window dampened the joy of sipping café au lait in this wonderful place.
Next stop, CitiBank, we want to try to set up accounts for the proceeds of the sale of our house. The FDSA will insure accounts up to $100,000. Being conservative, we really want to make sure the money is safe, it’s our retirement. Our friends, Charlie at Base Camp and Ron who has a Banking background tell us that the new “Patriots Act” back home doesn’t allow anyone outside the US to open new accounts? This is only a small loss of personal freedom compared to some of the reports we’ve seen on CNN but this affects us, directly!
The clerk in the window referred us to 4th floor of the building next door. We went to the first door, the 4th floor and found that we were in the wrong building. Down and out, then in the next door and up to the right place. The guys there were friendly and gave us their fax number once they understood what we wanted. The ATM is another door or 2 further down the street. As we passed one of the severely handicapped guys that are so abundant on the streets he said, “How about a little help for me”? His English skills and huge smile almost stopped us in our tracks. The ATM shelled out big bills. We started back up the street and the smiling face once again called out, “Don’t forget me next time you come by, okay”?
So many hands, so little money!
I had to talk with this guy, we went back to the CitiBank counter and got some 500 CFA notes. With two in hand we walked back toward the big smile and his friend. I knelt down and gave them our card then explained our trip. I gave them each a 500 then asked if we could have a picture for our web-site? They were ecstatic, the BIG smile was really big, the other was thin lipped but obviously happy. We had only given them about a dollar each but it is big bucks in the begging business. (We confirmed later that they, like the similarly affected people in Mauritania, were victims of the early Polio Vaccine.)
How do you decide whom to give something to? How can you pass so many and then give to these two guys? I guess that our donations will be limited to the most photogenic? There are so many Lepers, with no fingers on the hand they hold out. There are so many homeless just sitting, holding a plastic cup and jingling a few coins, hoping for more. I have seen a woman with 3 kids, living on a street corner. Once as we passed, her youngest was sitting on a potty chair doing her jobby, the older daughter was washing dishes in dirty, cold water and the boy was sweeping the sidewalk with a homemade broom. To them this is their home, to them this is normal.
Back at Camp Ganale, we learned that we wouldn’t have a guide today, the one they tried to get was booked. Okay, we’ll go it alone. As we walked out we ran into the Marathon Man from France. He suggested a taxi that was parked across the street and said it should only be 500 CFA to the harbor. We walked and asked, “C’est combien” and he said, “1000”. This is part of the deal here that we really hate. We told him we’d pay 500 and he said no. We started to walk when Marathon Man called out. When he heard the deal he spoke to the Cabbie in French then told us that he would take us for 500! Awe, the power of language!
The trip to Ile de Goree is a must when you visit Senegal. The main feature is a hallway with a door leading to the sea. It is called the “Door of no Return” because it is the last door the slaves would pass through when they were shipped out to Britain, France or of course, The United States of America! La Maison des Esclaves, the house of the slaves, seeps of the feelings of chains and servitude. You wonder what thoughts went through the minds of those who were going, they knew not where? On the way over we met a guy, Teddy, an African American Doctor here from Louisiana for a week. He says that they are busy, tending to people here on the island and trying to see as much as possible of Dakar and Senegal. Of course we told him of our love of Zydeco music and our 10 years of fun playing it with our Acadiana Band.
We’re fast studies, we see places and are ready to move on before some of the groups were even re-organized and started on their tours. The Cat was anxious to get on the 1:00 PM boat back because we need to get to the Gambian Embassy to retrieve our Passports and get our Visas. After our personal quick tour, we decided to have a quick bite to eat before the boat came in. We took a seat with a view of the dock and ordered a little avocado and shrimp thing. The boat came in and docked. We asked the waiter to hustle because we had to catch it and he told us that it would rest here until 2:00 so we could relax.
As we relaxed we struck up a conversation with another guy from Louisiana. Unlike Teddy, Milton is here to study and assist with business in Senegal. (Interesting, we don’t usually post last names here but his is unique, Senegal!) He talked about wanting to seek roots but now knows that he will have to come back because it will be a time consuming task. He’s pretty sure that his forefathers came from here and he knows the name of the Family that purchased his forefathers. Not much to go on but then, most of us are lucky to find real proof of forefather relationship beyond 4 or 5 generations back.
Milton said it, we agree, we’re lucky that we live where we live. Life is better there for more of us than it is for the majority, here. His forefathers had no choice, they were bought and brought. Mine were just poor dirt farmers who left poverty seeking opportunity but most of them stayed pretty poor for several generations. I guess that they were all slaves of one sort or another. This isn’t an attempt to compare the journey of my family to his. There is no similarity in the conscious choice made by my forefathers and the way his were taken to America but we do agree, we are the lucky ones.
Another interesting guy, Sven, had cycled from Europe to Dakar a few years ago. He was here with his girl friend and parents, reliving those days and introducing them to Africa. He relates well to the difficulties we’ve endured, he’s been there and done that!
Boat back, another negotiation session with Taxi Drivers, an extra 250 CFA and we were back in our neighborhood. Though late, we had no problem getting our Visas.
Another afternoon at the Cyber Shop, I came back to the room intent on typing. Cat stayed and worked through the messages. I did spend quite a bit of time pushing the staff here to get CNN up and running again. We had reported the loss this morning and it was still out when I got back in. The tech did come to the room then go up on the roof and adjust the satellite. With a great picture and no more staff in the room, I pulled out the computer and started this new chapter of our journal.
A glass of wine in the comfort of AC then down for dinner. Cat took a table and I ran down the street to see if Charlie had returned our e-mail re: the bank accounts. No such luck but we did get a message from some guys that we met in Amsterdam and our friend Mary from California sent a message that my favorite non-profit, The Coalition to End Domestic Violence has completed the refinance on the building that I helped them purchase. So, that is a big load off my mind and a wonderful thing for all the Women, well mostly Women, who need help.
As I hurried back a guy called out to me, “Hey Pat, how are you? I recognize you, do you remember me? I meet you in California!” I looked at him, he even invited me into better light but I can honestly say that I don’t remember ever meeting him. He started naming names of people we know but he only used first names like, “Jack, you know Jack, he is married to my Sister”. I suggested that he give me his e-mail address or telephone since I was late for dinner. He began to stall then finally, the HOOK! He asked if I could help with some money for Petrol, his car is out of gas? I told him that I had no money then invited him to stop at the Hotel. He thanked me but said he had to get back to his Mother then he asked it I remembered his dear old Mother? I had almost been had, again!!!
Dinner was the usual, pretty good. Our favorite waiters, Alain and Jean Luc served then wanted a picture with us. I got the camera and a gal we haven’t seen before, Gray, the Sister-in-law of the Hotel owner took the photo. She is from Denmark and confided with Cat that she hates it here, she has two kids and a Husband that doesn’t understand her. She does like riding bicycles and wants Dakar to make paths like they have in Copenhagen.
I checked us out, well, I paid the bill to date including tonight’s dinner and our 6, yes I said 6 days rent here. All in all, not too bad, almost inside our budget.
November 14, 2003
Dakar to Saly-Portugal
The usual included bread and coffee then things bags down, bikes unlocked and we were ready to go. Mamadou pulled up in the Centre de Suivi Ecologique 4WD pickup at 8:45 and the flurry began. We lay the bike in, one on the other then filled in around them with bags. I had to remove the front wheels to make them fit. They were still a little too long so I strapped them up on the cover frame. They were stable and we were off at 9:05 AM.
Mamadou had to run past his office to get a fuel purchase order. We thought we might have the opportunity to see Moctar again but no such luck. We waited in the truck. Then, we re-traced our ride in and re-confirmed the decision that had us riding in Mamadou’s truck rather out there in the dust. Morning traffic was only slightly lighter than the mess that we cycled through getting into Dakar.
At the turn off Mamadou swung south on Highway #1. We were about to give up 20 kilometers in order to see some animals. Moctar had suggested that we should really see the Bandia, the animal reserve. I was ready to re-trace our ride and cycle back down until we saw the condition of the road. It was under construction most of the way. Dirt and gravel, dust and traffic, a very bad bike ride, indeed. As we neared the gate of the Reserve I decided to reserve the decision until later.
Moctar had said that Mamadou would stand by and watch our bikes and bags while we toured the Bandia. At the gate Mamadou began to talk with the Rangers about storing the bikes while we toured. I really didn’t like that option when suddenly he indicated that we should buy two tickets and he would drive. Tickets cost 7000 CFA and we had to pay a guide, Samba, 3000 for his contribution. The huge savings is that by using the 4WD we save 35,000 CFA, almost $70.00. We were off to see the animals.
The most exciting stop of the moment was at the fairly large herd of Giraffe here at Bandia. What strange and beautiful animals they are. Gangly, long necked, slow moving patchwork coats of the most unusually evolved animal in Africa, maybe the world? As we watched Samba assured Cat that they weren’t dangerous and wouldn’t charge. Then a couple of them began to fight. Samba laughed and said, “They want to make a baby”. Oh boy, the boy had his tool out and was trying to mount. I shot a picture then waited, Samba laughed and said, “Paparazzi, if you get that picture you will sell it for a million dollars”. After a couple of failed attempts we decided to give them their privacy.
Winding our way through ruts and over bumps with Samba sitting on the window, spotting animals. Our first experience was what he called the most dangerous animal, if not in the wild, at least in the park, the buffalo. He says that they will charge at a moments notice. We could see their ears pinned back and their nostrils flaring as we drove up to them. The next hour was spent viewing lots of different antelope. Then in mid tour we stopped at the Park Restaurant. Pizza for us, Mamadou and Samba are fasting, Ramadan you know. We were seated on the edge of a pond that was stocked with Crocodile. We could see their snoots occasionally but never more than that.
As we ate our very expensive Pizza Mamadou got a call on his cell phone. He has to get going on to Thies for a business pickup. We thought that might mean that we would miss seeing the parks Rhinoceros herd. We took a picture together as I stood under a set of horns. I mention that because when I first proposed the shot Samba warned me not to get too close to the set of horns I originally chose. I questioned the reason and he pointed to a small spindly-legged spider there and said, “This animal can attack you”! Yikes, every once in a while we forget that we’re in Africa and some little things here are just as dangerous as the big game.
Samba introduced us to another guide, Ousmane, who had lived in Atlanta, Georgia for 2 years. He spoke great English with a slight southern drawl. I said that if he really lived there then he must pronounce it, "Atalanta". He laughed and said, “Yes and everything is named Peach Tree, the streets, the shopping center, everything”. He’s definitely been to Atalanta!
Back on the bumpy trails we were pleasantly surprised to see that we were on the trail of Rhino. Ousmane had clued Samba as to their whereabouts. We circled then honed in. There they were, 2 of those prehistoric looking beasts, lying under a tree. We stopped and I shot a pic from the window then Samba said, “Come quietly Pat”. I got out and we moved slowly toward them. I took pictures but they were of their heads. They were sheltered from my lens by the bushes. I asked if we dared go around the tree. Samba smiled, waved his hand as a signal to follow and we moved around in a half circle. There they were, directly in front of us but still lying down. Samba reached up, took the branch of a tree and bent it until it snapped. The ears of the Rhino nearest us began to wiggle. Snap, he did it again and it rose up on its front legs. Snap, one last twig and the beast was looking directly at my lens and us. Samba urged me to get the picture and slowly back away. He didn’t have to tell me twice.
I was glad to be out of there and feigned fear as we neared the truck. Cat seemed worried but Mamadou was laughing at my antics. Funny, he enjoyed the tour as much as we. He confessed that he had never been in the park before. Then, he was all business, he had to get to Thies.
At the gate, he quickly helped us off load the bikes, shook our hands and left in a cloud of dust. Samba took a picture of us in front of the sign for the park then we were off to Saly. Our first experience in a Game Reserve and it was a great one thanks to Moctar and Mamadou.
By now it was late and the bikes were both having shifting problems. Saly is 2 kilometers off the Highway. The wind came up and opposed us the entire way. We stopped at an Elf Station for a soft drink. No one there spoke English, no one there could help us.
Onward, we rode to a sign that pointed toward the beach. The road turned to dirt then became a promenade. Some guys there pointed ahead and told us to go on and we’d find a Hotel. A guard at a Hotel gate indicated that we had to go around to find the entry. Then we were dumped out onto the main street of Saly. It may be a beach community but Newport it’s not! The main is full of sandy stretches. A guy, muscular and insistent, began to shadow us and tell us he could get a Hotel for us. When we told him we would got to the Hotel behind the fence on our right he insisted that it was closed and again urged us to follow. We rode away and thanked him but didn’t offer the reward he sought.
At the end of the main we found a little Motel. We got soft drinks from the outside bar and Cat checked the rooms. Pretty basic and it is quite a way from town and food. We told them that we would take a room but had to go to the Bank for money. No one here takes credit cards.
Back through the loose powdery sand and left to the bank. Cat tried the CASH without success. It won’t take our ATM and rejects our Visa card because we don’t have that damned four-digit code number. Then the guard told her to go to the bank, it is open. Voila, she was able to draw on our Visa card.
As she worked the bank I walked to the gate of the Hotel that Mr. Muscle had told us was closed. The Guard at the gate indicated that they were indeed open and had rooms. When Cat returned we pushed into the compound. It is a destination Resort Hotel and they told us that they did accept Visa cards.
The place is sort of like a Club Med. Nice grounds, all French guests. Our room is a cottage and it is spacious. Plenty of room for the bikes. Not only no CNN, no TV. We showered then explored. A walk to the Super Market and we had the essentials, water and wine. On the way back through the gate of Hotel Bougainvillea the Guard called out and challenged us. “No water, you can’t bring water here”. We were astounded, I told him that was BULL. He continued to rail, we walked and told him to take it up with the front desk. He conceded, we guess that they try to keep the tourists from buying food and drink in town? Bad for their bar business?
The dinner buffet was a real spread. We enjoyed the food and ambience. It was fun, people watching and trying to figure out what they were talking about. They’re definitely only here short term, looking for sun and fun.
November 15, 2003
Saly to Ndangane
65 Kilometers, Piste and Bumps
The breakfast buffet was simple. Bread, cereal and cold, hard-boiled eggs. A short walk to the beach and an argument with the front desk. They claim that our Visa Card wouldn’t clear. We know that’s BS because Cat got money on it just before we checked in last night. Eventually we lost and had to pay cash. We were on the bikes and out the gate past the gaping Guard at 9:30.
It was a 2 km backtrack to the highway in headwind. The highway deteriorated into potholes and bumps. Cycling through a town called Mbour was a challenge, between the street condition and aggressive traffic.
Hungry, we found the Pub/Bar Cuban in Joal-Fadiout. They have a patio and invited us to bring the bikes around to the side and inside. A Cuban style chicken, almost like Jamaican jerk chicken. A guy, Mamadou came in, a jovial fellow who told us that he’s an artist. He took a seat and several others came and went, bringing pieces of their works of art to him. He seemed in control, he spoke to us in French and when Cat told him that her French wasn’t very good he switched to very good English. His wife, Malvine, owns the restaurant and he only does art. They are an interesting couple. She is Catholic and he, Muslim. When I asked for a picture with his wife he asked, “Which wife, I can have 4 wives but she can only have 1 husband”. She punched him and said something in local language. It was pretty warm but we enjoyed their company and the food.
I took the wonderful picture of them, the Muslim and Catholic in front of a picture of Che Guevara. So two religions and one who renounced religion. Mamadou insisted that we must ride 5 minutes and see the famous bridge that connects Joal with the island, Fadiout. It is built on shells that have piled up over the centuries.
We took his suggestion and rode to the bridge. If it hadn’t been so far to Ndangang we would have liked to ride across and explore. Mamadou had told us that the road would be the same from here to Ndangane as it was in front of the restaurant.
Joal-Fadiout is actually two towns, Joal is mainland and Fadiout’s an Island. Mamadou told us that the Island is made up by an accumulation of clam shells left there over the centuries. It is only reached by a footbridge and no cars exist there. Mamadou insisted that we ride down and at least see the famous bridge. The ride was on rough dirt, the bridge anti-climatic. We decided to shoot a pic and move on.
Mamadou had also told us that the road to Ndangane was the same as that out front of the Café. This proved to be incorrect. The pavement ended in less than ½ kilometer and we struggled on loose dirt and potholes for most of the rest of afternoon. It took us 4 hours to ride the next 22 kilometers. Tired, thirsty and road weary we finally reached the crossroad. As we tried to buy soft drinks a crowd of kids and one old man surrounded us. The kids were fairly aggressive and we had to keep asking them not to touch the bikes. The old guy wanted us to buy a sort of tomahawk looking ax that he had made. I have wished since we left that area that I had taken his picture. He was so disheveled and sad looking.
Onto the pavement, we did find cold soft drinks. Another crowd of kids gathered round. They asked for gifts and we told them “No”. They seemed to accept that then laughed and played. Suddenly they broke into song. I was lucky to get it on our little video. A woman came out and scolded them but they didn’t seem to care. In fact as we rolled away several of them jumped on their bikes and followed for quite a while.
It’s 8 km from the crossroad to Ndangane. Fatigue aside, we were happy to be flying along though we still had to dodge potholes. Several signs have been leading us to a place called Cordon Bleu, an encampment/hotel. The final sign pointed down a dirt road. It soon became loose sand and a struggle to push through. We pushed into Cordon Bleu, leaned the bikes and learned, to our disappointment, that they were fully booked, no room in the Inn. The owner, a gal, took Cat by the hand and while I drank another soft drink they went across the sand to another small place, Auberge les Anacardiers. They had a room, we had a place for the night.
We got a cold bottle of white wine and made reservations for dinner then pushed across. They have a solar system that cut the edge off the cold but after today’s ride, a cool shower felt great.
Dinner was a little disappointing, too. Tough steak and cold French fries. Back at Anacardiers we met a young guy, Patrick, from Germany. He’s traveling alone, exploring West Africa. He turned out to be a great source of info for us. Though he speaks great English it’s with a strange accent. He spent 2 years in South Africa doing community work and has traveled the West coast extensively. A tired Cat went off to bed but I stayed and listened to stories of Patrick’s travels.
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Ndangane to Foundiougne
Slow Boat up the BIG River
Continental breakfast with Patrick. He has just a week left then it’s back to work as a consultant in Hanover. He has a girl friend but she couldn’t get time off so he came on alone, partly to practice his French language. The time he spent in South Africa was in lieu of doing military time. All Germans are required to spend 2 years in the Army or doing community work. He’s been around and it’s obvious that the travel bug has bitten him.
The consensus was that we’d have to pay between 50,000 and 75,000 CFA for the boat trip we have planned to Foundiougne. The plan was born out of info in the LPGB that we could take a boat through the mangroves for 25,000 CFA. (About $50.00) We walked into the village and found Jimmy, the boat trip dealmaker. He began by sounding like he had a boat and would take us but his price was 100,000 CFA. Wow, double what we thought it would cost. We began to make alternate plans to cycle back to the crossroad and two days to Foundiougne. The thought of losing a deal prompted him to cut the price to 75,000. Our decision was to ride if we couldn’t make a deal at 50,000. As we turned to go Jimmy the Dealmaker made a deal. (We justified spending $100 by figuring the cost of being on the road for the next two days.)
Another push through the sand then off loading bags, lifting bikes aboard and by 11:00 AM we were ready to get underway. Jimmy had chosen two young guys to pilot the boat. As we prepared to push off they stalled the engine. Try and try again, they couldn’t fire it back up. This worried us. They used poles to get back to shore then a nice guy we’d met at Jimmy’s shack office sort of took over on the repair. We told Jimmy that we weren’t confident in the young guys. He tried to assure us but when we began to insist he caved in, Mohamed would be our Pilot.
The trip was mangroves, birds and other Pirogues. Through channels and along the shore of Islands. The trip was long, arduous and hot! Fun, almost exciting at first, we were soon overheated and bored. When we finally saw the village of Foundiougne ahead it seemed to take an hour to get there.
Starving, we helped lift the bikes and bags out, Mohamed and his helper carried them ashore. I loaded the bags for security sake while Cat went into the nearby Spaghetti Café. The owner, a guy from Italy kept saying “It’s catastrophic, it’s catastrophic” but finally said that he would find some food for us. Though we had a tough time understanding him we did get the point that the road ahead was dirt and we’d find no Hotel in the next village. The spaghetti with muscles was okay. The Italian told us that there were two places, close by, where we could stay.
Cat checked our guidebook, one is a Hotel the other an encampment. They are both down the same dirt road so we pedaled toward them. The gate of the Hotel was closed and no one in sight. I unlashed it and we pulled into the driveway. There were several people sitting around the pool who just stared. A clerk finally came out and told us their room rate. It was beyond our budget so we rode on.
L’ Indiana Club that Alain, our friend in Dakar, had recommended was more our kind of place. Small and simple, they had a thatched roof cottage for us that and it was affordable. We moved in, and started to shower when we discovered that there was no water. So, was that the reason the price was right? The owner, a very relaxed looking guy with a pony tail laughed and said, “Plenty of water in the swimming pool.” Though his English language skills are limited we did finally get his point and then understood the Italians “Catastrophic” moaning and groaning. The Chateau d’ Eau (The Castle of Water) was broken and there is no water in town. They didn’t know when it would be fixed so we took their advice and swam. It was cool and refreshing.
Paul, the ponytail guy, and Martine, his wife, are the Patrones. They are ex-pats from Switzerland. Paul says that this is his second life. He hated his business and life in Switzerland when they saw this place and bought it. They spend a lot of time at the end of the bar, sipping wine and chatting with guests.
I began to type journal pages but started feeling icky. Cat wrote about some of the missing days, I crawled in bed and slept. When I awoke 2 hours later I was again a victim of “The African Guff Guff”.
Dinner at 8:00, I joined Chris, another guest, in sharing a bowl of rice. He too had been down with the diarrhea. What a nice young guy, he’s from Holland and he too, like Patrick, is working on improving his French. Cat liked the fish and rice but the boxed Rose wine left something to be desired.
A gal sitting with her feet tucked up under her at the bar was chatting with Paul and Martine in French. When I said hello to her she responded in great English. She, Soiziclh, is an adventurer. She comes from Brittany on the French Atlantic coast. Her vocation for several years had been teaching Scuba Diving but it was seasonal. She came to Dakar, bought a sailboat and took up “live aboard” residence there. Now, a friend of hers who has been taking people out on his boat tired of the life and asked her to take over. She says that she keeps very busy and is fairly booked up with guests who come to sail the river with her. She’s even sailed solo to the Cape Verde Islands, 600 kilometers off the coast. She told of having to wake up every 10 minutes throughout the night to make sure she wouldn’t hit another ship.
An enjoyable evening, wish I had felt up to it.
November 17, 2003
Lost Day in Foundiougne
Guff Guff Got Me Down
It was an up and down, diarrhea night for me and sleepless for Cat because of my frequent trips to the toilet. Shaky and tired I called off today’s ride and crawled back into the mosquito net. Cat ate breakfast and I slept.
She made a trip into the village for bananas and found an Internet site. She did find that our friend Donald Hunt was going through problems with friends and family over his health. When you have lots of things there is bound to be a squabble over them. This fracas has started even before his demise. He amassed wealth during his life, I’ve only saved memories. Nobody seems to want to take them away from me, maybe because I share them so readily?
Chicken soup from our camp pantry and local rice for me at lunch. Chris took a Pirogue trip down river and had a few stories about the village they stopped in. Soiziclh came in, her tour couple has departed and she’s free for a few days. The four of us sat and talked the afternoon away. These two understand the feeling of freedom and the value of travel. Kindred souls. We parted, great pals, at 4:30 PM. I lay back down. Cat tried to rest but she’s not very good at that! After a few minutes she took the notebook outside and wrote back journal memories. She was a real meal for the local mosquitoes.
Feeling slightly better, Cat rousted me out and we joined the others at the bar. A new couple from France, and a new Spanish speaking guy, Juan from Cadiz, Spain who says he saw us on the road yesterday. Another guy who seems to be a close friend of Soiziclh filled out the newby group. Our little group was splintered by language. Chris and I filled up on carrot soup and rice again. Cat had chocolate cake for desert, I decided yogurt might be best for me.
November 18, 2003
Foundiougne to Toubacouta
Early to rise and early to load up. Breakfast, bread and coffee then off down the bumpy dirt road toward our next step in this great adventure. Potholes and dust to Passy, the village that has no Hotel then a paved road. Well sort of paved for local standards. The cars and vans swerve and drive on the dirt shoulder raising clouds of red dust. It covers and chokes the foliage just like it covers and chokes us.
The word for the day is Toubab, the kids all call it out as we ride by. Being slightly cynical, we assume that it means “Give me money”? It resonates from behind bushes and even out of some adult mouths.
At the village of Sokone we pulled into the first Hotel we saw. We were hungry and they had a restaurant. There was a truck with bike wheels and parts aboard, surrounded by a bunch of nice looking yellow bikes. A group of moderate cyclists from France were lunching there. We took a table then introduced ourselves. Nice people from France, Holland and Switzerland, which presented the usual language difficulty. They only ride 15-20 Km each day and are sagged. They stay in one place and take day trips. Nothing like our trip but still a great way to see a little of Africa. They ate a gourmet feast, we had chicken and fries. Though I was still feeling a little queasy it went down nicely.
Our money supply is running low. Cat read about a Hotel 20 Km from here at Toubacouta that accepts the Visa Card. We have to find it and they have to take the card or we’re in trouble. The sign for both Hotels points down a long bumpy looking dirt lane. Concerned about whether to go on into the village or take the turn, Cat decided to go for the dirt. Hotel Les Paletuviers was on the left, they’re the one that LPGB says will do the Visa thing so we took a turn in their direction.
It looked like a couple of dogs crossing the road ahead of us? Then as we drew closer they loped back across. Their posture, low in front, high in the rear and the long tails made it clear, we had just seen our first wild monkeys.
Picha, a gal from Belgium who manages the Hotel, greeted us. She and her husband Piet have cycle toured and she was pretty excited to have us here. Piet was napping but she knew that he would be over as soon as he got up. Yes, they do take Visa but the bad news is that they only do full board and the cost for room, dinner and breakfast would be over $140. We gulped when she told us but knew that we had no other choice.
The room was large and almost too cold. Too cold felt pretty good but I had just found the secret of the controls when we got a knock on the door. Piet was very excited to meet us. He and Picha traveled in Central America on bikes and he has toured much of Africa. I told him about our wheel problem and he said, “Tomorrow, we fix it tomorrow morning”. He took a look at the bikes, he’s very technical, and asked several questions about the AutoShifter.
Picha said, “Don’t worry about the room, we are going to sponsor you, you still have to buy food but the room is no cost”. We objected slightly then graciously accepted. Amazing what empathy can lead to, sometimes. They understand our lifestyle and relate directly to the effort we expend. We asked them about the “Toubab” thing and they said it’s not a slam or meant to embarrass us it just means “White Stranger”. Piet gave us a word to call back that means “Black person” but we decided not to go there.
Piet told us stories of his adventures and asked about ours. He has done some amazing cycling. He’s the epitome of rough out bicycle touring. All that is behind him right now, they have two kids, Viktor age 7 and Charlotte age 4. He still dreams of a big bike tour but for now it’s work and raise a family.
As we walked across the open space toward the office a huge lizard. I mean, about 2 feet long huge. I told Piet and he said, “Yea, that’s one of the babies, you should see the Mother”! I told him about our monkey sighting earlier. He said that they have several families of monkeys and a couple of small baboons that live nearby.
A glass of wine at the outside bar and we met 5 nice people also from Belgium. Jan, Nathalie, Lien, Maarten and Hilde are all here for just a week and love it. The resort is touristy in a nice sort of way. We thought of our pals, Paul and Roos in St. Josev Olen. They should come down here with their bikes. They could ride several directions safely and enjoy the tropical weather at the same time.
Dinner was okay, no TV in the room so it was early to bed.
November 19, 2003
Toubacouta to Banjul, Gambia
The Gambia, Our 21st Country
Early to breakfast, Piet was just finishing and preparing to take Charlotte to pre-school. He told us he’d be back soon and we’d fix the wheel. Breakfast including eggs sunny side up, a real treat.
Piet pushed my bike around to the Hotel shop. They have a full mechanical shop that deals with problems from truck to refrigeration repairs. He pulled the wheel apart, greased the bearing and pondered the problem. For some unknown reason the plastic pulley between the gears and the wheel has pulled down onto first gear. Puzzled, they tried to make a washer to place between the two but the idea failed. Finally we just put the wheel back together and I adjusted the shifter a little further away from the low gear.
Piet kept saying, “Forget leaving, you’re staying the day here”. I knew that he was enjoying the feelings of his history and wanted to hold onto them as long as he possibly could. What he didn’t know was that The Cat and I were beyond ready to get into Banjul, The Gambia to find money, comfort and CNN.
Cat was loaded and ready to roll. We jammed my bags on then pushed out into the parking lot. Piet took a turn around the Hotel Driveway on Cat’s bike and Picha said, “Oh no, now he’ll want to take off again”! He road toward the camera then told a story of cycling across the Algerian Sahara and how he survive and carried enough water to ride 760 Kilometers. We hope that you can view the little video, “Condom Containers”. It’s pretty funny.
It was noon by the time we finally pulled ourselves away from Piet and Paletuviers. Although hungry we chose not to eat because we could easily fall into the trap of another day here. The soft life with Piet and Picha was very tempting.
One the road we saw several guys on bikes bringing their catch of fish to market. We got a picture of one but I wish that we’d taken some of the other guys who have boxes of various goods on the back rack. They are like little mobile stores, some have drugstore items, one had tools and electrical connections.
Another wildlife sighting, a small reddish colored baboon sauntered across in front of us then stood in the bushes and watched our passing. By the time I pulled up and we shuffled trying to get the camera out he turned his tail less tail and disappeared into the bush.
A couple of over loaded motorcycles followed by a 4WD passed and honked. Down the road a ways we came upon them, parked and having a snack. The two motorcycles are from Sweden. Daniel, Helena and Niklas are riding from Stockholm to Cape Town. They’re taking a year so our paths may well cross again. Marcel, the 4WD driver is from Holland. He met the others and is just tagging along.
It’s a slow ride through potholes that looked like a minefield to our wheels. We could only imagine what it’s like to weave through with the large overloaded motorcycles? Occasional small villages cling to the terrible roadway. The 20 Km took more than 2 hours to complete. Karang is the little village at the border to The Gambia. The place was crowded and dirty. I went inside the shack that acts as an office to check us in. What a surprise, the people were friendly, they didn’t ask for money, they smiled and welcomed us. Nothing like the horror stories we’d heard?
The next challenge was Gambian Military. A young guy in olive drab t-shirt and beret held his hand up and when we stopped he looked at my bike like he was looking at a naked girl. Then he reached out and stroked the handlebars. He liked it and that made us nervous. Our LandRiders aren’t expensive bikes, most of us in the States could easily afford one. Here however they are worth 3 or 4 months wages. Cat faced the Military guys while I held off the lusting soldier. He kept saying “Nice, expensive”? (Remember, they speak English here in The Gambia.)
Cat told me that she showed our Passports and as the guy checked them another young soldier fondled the taillight on her helmet. They really liked our equipment. We were ready to move on.
It was getting real hungry out, it’s been a long time since breakfast. There are no Cafes or stores but we did find bread. Sitting on a bench at the side of the road we choked down the entire baguette and a third of our remaining peanut butter. Dry and tough to swallow with only water to wash it down but it was nourishing.
Another 20 Km of bad, bad road and finally we were at The Gambia River. It was chaos, a line of trucks and cars impatiently waiting for the few Ferries that ply the river. The road is rolling potholes of soft dust ground to fine powder over the centuries. We cycled past the rows of cars, vans and trucks to the gate of the ticket office. The crowd crushed in on us as we tried to park. The Swedish motorcyclists were there in the midst of the fray, looking at maps and talking to other Europeans. One young guy wearing an Australia t-shirt tried to attach himself to us. He could help, he could get tickets, and he had connections. I doubted his ability but loved his gutsy approach.
I pulled the bikes into the walkway to the ticket windows but a guard came up and challenged me. He was indicating that we couldn’t park there because we were blocking the path. I said that all but the very fat people could get by. He became insistent to the point of pushy then one of the uniformed guys burst forth with a spew of words. The only one we recognized was “American”. Suddenly everyone was friendly. One of the uniforms indicated that we should follow. He took us inside the gated area, helped us buy tickets for the boat then asked us to wait there, away from the crushing crowd.
Nervous, fearful that we’d miss the 5:00 PM Ferry, we kept asking and the guard kept trying to calm us. When the passengers started coming down the alleyway from the Ferry after it docked we got up and ready. He again indicated that we should relax. We couldn’t! Finally he opened the gate and we pushed upstream against the off loading and were almost the first aboard. It’s hard to believe how many cars and trucks they pack on board. I went topside and shot the following photos. The most unbelievable thing I saw was guys unloading cargo from the big Canoes tied up next to the Ferry. They put big bags of rice or boxes of things on their heads then wade across to a dock and set them up, high and dry.
Dusk was closing in as the over loaded boat pushed off into the swift moving river water. They drift downstream then power across and up to the awaiting dock at Banjul. During the ride we befriended a young guy with a t-shirt that said, “Success Comes Through Hard Work”. As I tried to talk with him 3 young Senegalese toughs came up and squeezed in next to us. One said something to him and he clamed up. I turned to the little tough but he hid behind his French language. As we sat I felt his hand moving into my pocket. I grabbed it and twisted. He complained then I put my hand in his pocket and threatened to take his things away. He was pissed but he didn’t react. We drew our lines of defense and kept our distances for the rest of the cruise.
Our Ferry had to wait while another filled and pulled away from the dock. As we waited a lot of the other walking passengers climbed onto the loading boat and headed ashore. The 3 toughs and our little friend were among them. We had to wait for the big truck and several cars to get off before we could drag the bikes up over the railing and down onto the dock. Between the fumes of the boat engines and the idling cars and trucks it was hard to get a breath of fresh air. It was dusk, almost dark by the time our wheels were finally firmly on dry ground.
Competing with the remaining trucks, we moved off into darkness, lost except for a street name. We decided to go to Corinthia Atlantic Hotel because it was close and sounded clean. It’s expensive but we justified the decision by telling ourselves that we could move at break of day. The streets were dark and traffic was heavy and moving fast. We rode until we found a Shell Station. The guy there wasn’t very helpful but did say that we should keep going. At a huge gate that towers above the street a guard shouted at us. We were trying to get around a chain that blocked our way. Little did we know that only President Yahya Jammeh was allowed to cross under it. (Don’t you love the name, Yahya? Do you remember the old Rock ‘n’ Roll tune, “Sittin’ in my Lala waitin’ for my Yahya, unhuh, unhuh”?
The guard took it upon himself to guide us down the street, around the corner and through the gate of the Hotel. Nice guy, yes he wanted a tip but we had no money. I kept trying to tell him that but he insisted. We could tell by the look on his face when we shook his hand that he hadn’t believed us.
Just being off the dark dirty streets was a relief. The Atlantic Hotel was a bonus. Oh sure it is a tourist haven for sun seeking Brits but then we needed a haven and they did accept the Visa Card. We were at home and wouldn’t be moving. Despite our earlier vows of poverty we knew that we’d be here until we found enough money to move on.
After checking in and pushing the bikes into our room we headed for the restaurant. They shooed us out, no shorts allowed. The waiter told us we could be served on the patio. They have a pizza and ice cream place. Pizza sounded pretty good but the waiter there told us that they had just closed and the oven was turned off. We were getting pretty angry and vocal. As we argued with the guy Chef Henri waded in and began to scold him. He arranged a great meal and we truly enjoyed it, except for the relentless sting of mosquitoes on our bare legs.
The AC and CNN were a great way to end an interesting day.
November 20, 2003
No Mon, No Fun!!!
The breakfast buffet is included in our room rate and it’s pretty good. Eggs cooked to your request, good juice and coffee. All more reasons to justify staying here. Our objective today is to get to the bank and free up enough cash to pay up and move on.
There is a contingent of yellow t-shirt guys with official looking plastic badges hanging around the gate of the Hotel. As we headed out one of them attached himself to us and told us that we must have a guide. When we asked why he said, “It’s Ramadan and it’s dangerous out there”.
“I thought that Ramadan was a religious holiday, why would it be dangerous for us”, I asked?
“Oh, those boys out there, they’ll be in your face, they’ll try to sell you shirts and things”, he said in his interesting British/African accent.
When I told him that we’d been in Dakar and walked Ave. Pompidou he said, “You will probably be okay here then” and he gave up without any further fight. Interesting, we watched most of the other guests take the offer of a guide. They just didn’t have the experience that we did. The streets here are really calm compared to Dakar. We were never really pushed by the sales people. In fact we were rarely approached.
There are no Banjul city maps but the place, like the country, is pretty small. We found the only bank that advertises an ATM cash machine and Visa card acceptance. Standard Chartered Bank, has a cash machine on the porch area but it wasn’t user friendly to us. After a couple of tries we went inside and fell into a very long, slow moving line. Impatience set in and Cat went to a window without a line to ask who we should be talking with. The gal was friendly and told us that we could use the machine. After relating that we’d already failed there she suggested that the machine wasn’t working but we could go to another branch and get cash there. The other branch is in another city 15 Km from here so we asked her to call and confirm that the machine was working there.
The phones weren’t working that well, either. When she did get through she was surprised to hear that the ATM was out of service there, too. We asked her to advance cash on the Visa card here, inside the bank. Now the truth be known, she confessed that they had discontinued their relationship with Visa due to lack of use by locals. So, were we doomed? She thought that another bank in town might accept Visa and sent us in that direction. They not only didn’t but indicated that they probably never would! It began to look like we’d have to ask Charlie our Base Camp Manager to turn to Western Union again.
Since Hotel Atlantic does accept Visa we decided to try there first before paying the cost of wiring funds. Mrs. Job is the Financial Officer but she wasn’t in. We waited in the room then asked again. She would be back later this afternoon so we went to lunch. Here we were, stuck in a Hotel again, living off our credit, unable to eat or drink anywhere else. Oh, it isn’t all that bad, in fact this is a pretty nice place to be marooned if you must be marooned.
Lunch, Pizza on the patio and we met a couple, Joan and Mike from England. They are here relaxing on her first days of retirement from a career in Social Services. Both love birds and love watching them. They have a book about Birds of The Gambia. We loved watching them as they got excited over the birds that flittered around the patio. Mike says that they aren’t fanatical like some bird watchers but do it for the sheer joy.
We got another version from Joan about the origin of the word Toubab that many yell out as we pass. She says it comes from the wage that most Brits offered when they first colonized The Gambia. Two Bob a day was the standard wage offered so the locals began to call the Brits, “Two Bob” and it evolved from there. (We’re not sure what a “Bob” is but we liken it to a quarter, which is often called “Two Bits” in the US.) An interesting theory and story but later I began to wonder because they were using it in Senegal too and it had been a French Colony? The story did point out the absurdity of Colonization and the way it chopped the African Continent into little pieces controlled by outsiders. Even to the point of language and cultural differences that now often lead to dispute and violence.
Mrs. Job was cordial but made it clear that she would have to get the General Manager to agree before she could help us. Assuming the best, we asked her to advance $200 dollars, half in local Dalasi currency and half in CFA. She did say that they only use Dalasi and we’d have to exchange that at the bank. (A good indication that we would be able to do a deal.)
Another interesting aside, quite a few of the women around the pool sunbath topless. We don’t hear any French being spoken so assume that the usually staid Brits let it all hang out when relaxing in the sun, too? Another hint that they’re Brits is their pasty pallor. Some look as though certain body parts have never seen the sun. Others look as though they’d probably look better covered.
I spent the afternoon at the computer keyboard, Cat spent 3 hours and most of our few Dalasi at the Internet Shop down the street.
Mrs. Job called with good news, they would help us with our cash crunch problem. We zipped our pant legs on and went out to celebrate. At dinner we met a couple of gals from Germany, Monika and Patricie. They too came to soak up some sun and relax. Their biggest problem is that they don’t speak much English and they’re the only Germans here.
November 21, 2003
We’re In The Money!!
Day of R & R and Journal
After breakfast we met Mrs. Job at the front desk. She carries herself with and air of elegance. Her English skills are very British sounding. After a few minutes of chitchat we got down to business. They would advance the $200 in Dalasi. We asked where to take half of it in order to get a reasonable exchange rate? After a moment of thought she said, “Let me send it out, we get a much better rate”. So, we were back in the money. We took the pile of Dalasi and she kept the other for exchange.
When we walked out the front door the Security Guard, Bindo, cheered, clapped and chanted, “Pat and Cat, Pat and Cat”. Maybe just going for a tip? Maybe truly interested, maybe even inspired by our crazy effort? Whatever it was, he got the same fun cheer going every time he saw us.
Lunch in, a quick look at the bikes then I typed and Cat spent 3 hours sorting out messages at the Internet Outlet.
Dinner in, at the Buffet, pant legs on, of course. Not as good as last night but not bad. They have a local dance show scheduled for tonight so we ate slowly then moved onto the open area in front of the stage. The dancers were from Guinea, the drums were great. They invited anyone up from the audience to dance with them and Cat accepted the challenge. We really enjoyed the show, the group has a great sound and look. After they finished they called us back stage then hit us up for money. We would have given something but we had left the pile of Dalasi in the room and frankly we’re worried about making it back into Senegal with the little money that we now have.
November 22, 2003
Banjul to Brikama
Breakfast, goodbyes to our British bird watching friends and the German gals. I went to the Engineering cage to retrieve the bikes. There was no one around. One of the security guys said he’d get someone with a key so I waited. After 10 minutes I tired of the wait and slipped under the fence. The wire was covered with dust and grease, I got some of it on my shirt, another waffle print. That was a disappointment but an even bigger one awaited. The rear tire on my bike was flat. The key man finally showed after I had unlocked and pushed to the gate. With both bikes in tow I pushed to the entry doors. There near the steps, with half a dozen well meaning guys giving me verbal assistance, I pulled the tube out. Another nail, a long thin skinny nail had found its mark. This is the second time that a nail has penetrated our thorn proof tubes. Remember the first, in Rabat, Morocco? That’s pretty good when you consider the miles we’ve covered and the tough roads we’ve ridden. It was after 11:00 a.m. by the time I had it patched and back together.
We posed for a picture with Mrs. Job in front of Hotel as we were leaving. She had the Desk Clerk check for Hotels in Brikama. One option was Motel Dormor Dima but she thought it might not be too nice. Our Gambian Desk Clerk agreed. He called and talked to someone then said, “Go to West African Mission, ask for Mr. Lee, there is a Hotel close by.”
We pushed to the nearby Shell Station looking for air pressure. A tall bushy haired guy walked along with us and tried the old line, “Remember me, we met at the encampment”? I wasn’t in a great mood but I waved him off telling him that he was wrong, we’d never been to the Encampment. He said it was a guy that looked just like me. I started not liking him.
At the Shell they didn’t have or didn’t want to give us any free air for the tires. Bushy hair said, “Come to my shop just across the street.” Another lie, guys like this always tell you that they own the shop then lead you there and expect a cut from the owner.
He walked across where the Shell Station guy had pointed and said something to the mechanic there. The guy was working on another flat tire but stopped and pumped mine. Then Bushy hair said, “You pay him for the air, 150 Dalasi”. I stood up in his face and said, “That’s Bull Shit, I could buy a new tube for that much money.” Then I took our 25 D’s knelt down and put it in the Mechanic’s pocket. He was Senegalese and only spoke French. When I stood back up I told bushy hair that I wasn’t paying him anything and that I thought he was a bad guy. Several others gathered around and watched. One older guy in robe and small hat smiled and gave me us a smile and a thumbs up. A young guy said, “You don’t give him money, good”. Bushy hair just stood and stared as we mounted up and rode away.
The road was wide and the surface good. We crossed a bridge then and came upon a Police Checkpoint. The guy in reflector vest talked and acted like he was drunk or out of it. He made us come to the station house about 100 meters across dirt. There he started talking about Ramadan, and the dangers. We told him that we weren’t afraid and that the people here are good people. He tried to ask for money but I worked around him, he finally gave up and told us to go on.
It was hot but the road remained good. We stopped along the roadside and ate bread, cheese and meat that Cat had found on the Breakfast Buffet. The roads became confusing, we passed what probably would have been the shortest route and went on out toward the beach area. The smell of decaying flesh scorched our nostrils but was music to the taste of the vultures that swarmed around the carcass. I tried to get a picture, they took off. I settled for them in a tree.
Brikama is a teaming cross roads and a cross section of humanity, trucks and cars. We pulled into the Shell Station. The first guy we talked with said, “Why are people always asking me these questions”? I told him it was because he is the Shell Man and knows everything. He did smile at that and pointed to another guy. He directed us to the next left turn then out the highway for about a kilometer and said we would see it on the right. Then he got a paper out and asked for a donation for the children’s community garden. We gave 50 D’s, about $1.60. He confirmed, ask for Mr. Lee.
A swarm of kids, one said, “Mr. Lee’s wife is beautiful. They hovered around as we entered the grounds. One edged up and started talking very good English. He skirted the issue, hinting about needing money then told us that he needed 50 Ds so that he could buy shoes. Cat pointed to his feet and said, “You have shoes”. They won’t let me wear these sandals in school and I want to go to school”, he replied.
A guy at WAM, Suwaibou, told us that Pastor Lee has been gone since 1999. Now they have Pastor Kim. He was at another Mission but would be back later. We sat with him and a hired guard and waited. After more than an hour we decided to go back into town and find the Motel Domor Dima.
The kids swarmed us as we rode out the gate. On the road, a teenaged boy cycled up and tried to talk to us. We are so wary that we almost shunned him until he held out our bottle of chain lube and one of our wrenches. They had been taken from the little bag under my seat, the boys had unzipped it and taken everything from it. We turned around and followed him back. In the dusty street another older boy had one of the kids by the arm and a couple more of the missing tools. He hit the little boy and gave us the items.
They thought that they might recover more of our missing items but we decided to go on with our plan. Back in town we found an Internet Shop only to find that the 3 machines were in use and there were at least 20 names on the list ahead of us. I asked about the Motel Domor Dima and one of the guys said he would take us, then checked the list to see when he would get a machine. He stepped out the door and said, “This is my brother, he will show you”.
The brother took us through back alleys but got us there. We sat, sipped a cold soft drink at a table out front. I offered one to our guide but he told us he was fasting. I gave him 50 D’s and told him to buy one later tonight. He was pretty happy. Another boy who had started walking along with us and talking with Cat asked for money. “I know much more about this town than he does”, he said. I told him that the other boy had volunteered and was our guide, we only needed one guide. The second boy hung around, pssst pssting through the bushes, trying to get something, anything.
The Motel was pretty basic but would have been okay for one night if they had had a place for the bikes. They wanted us to leave them out front and they’d move them in when they close? They are open to the wee small hours during Ramadan. Not a good option. We tried to figure a way to get them into the tiny room but that wouldn’t work, either. Finally, we headed back toward the WAM.
Suwaibou talked with us then went inside a building and came back with a telephone number, a cell phone number for Pastor Kim. When I told him we had no phone he pointed across the road then let me out a locked gate into the soccer field. I walked across the road to the Telephone Boutique but it was out of service. They pointed to another just a little way down the road. My friend, the boy who wanted 50 D’s for shoes so he could go to school, followed like a puppy dog. He is bright and knows a lot about the area. I enjoyed his company. He has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. The call was a surprise to Pastor Kim. He said they would be back in an hour.
Back at WAM, we sat, talked to the shoeless boy and two of his friends. One of them, was proud to tell us that he is the only son of his Mother. Then he told us that his Father had died but had two wives and the other wife had 11 other sons. They must live on the very edge of poverty?
A truck pulled in, honking, a young Korean guy, Byun, jumped out of the back, he and another young guy ran around, sort of exciting the group. They unloaded some bottled water and other boxes. Later, a 4WD pulled in, Pastor Kim and his wife. They were gracious and kind. We told them that we had food, they invited us to eat Gambian food with their group but being fearful of diarrhea we asked if we could use a stove to boil some water for pasta. They showed us to a room, there were several bedrooms in what they called their guesthouse. A young woman, Sue, also Korean but a volunteer from Australia, was staying in the other room. Though she spoke English she was shy and she said, “A little sick”.
Cat cooked while I got the other things ready for dinner. As she stirred the pot she talked with Mrs. Kim about their life here. Mrs. Kim isn’t all that happy with their assignment here. Life is difficult and health is a constant concern especially for their two children. She told Cat that they were robbed when they first arrived, the house was broken into and a lot of their personal things were taken. That’s when they hired the guard that we had met earlier.
We ate at the desk in the bedroom then slept in mosquito net.
Sunday, November 23, 2003
Brikama to Bignona
Awoke to our second flat tire in as many days. The nasty nail that caused the first had left a second puncture on the inside of the tube. I applied my improving skills and it was a fast fix. (An old axiom from my early days in sales, “Repetition is and aid to learning”.)
We ate over leftover baguette with jam at the desk. Loaded and ready to roll we asked Mrs. Kim if we could get a picture of them for our journal. She told us that Pastor Kim was not feeling well and they thought that he had Malaria. Through the doubt he appeared and stood with her and the group for a quick pic. He looked a little peaked as my Grandma would have said. Sue, our housemate was there when we asked for the photo then disappeared. As we put the camera away and shook hands she reappeared with fresh makeup on and looking good. She had missed the photo opp. By the way, these are really nice people doing what they think is the right thing. I just hate to see locals who need things and want things coerced to believe things in order to get them. You know what I mean? Well, recruiting is a big part of the Religion Game.
As we pushed out the same boy, Lamm, appeared with the same story, he wanted money to buy shoes so that he could go to school. On the road by 9:30 AM, he walked along beside us then loped as we gathered speed. I stopped and told Cat I had to give him the 50 Dalasi. (About $1.65) I thought of the time when I was in 3rd grade, Mom came to parents day then all the other Moms let their kids buy a hot dog and coke. I couldn’t, we didn’t have the money. It cost a dime. Maybe he was scamming us but I felt empathy. I’d been there and I knew the feeling. He just stood and stared at the bill in disbelief. I shook his hand then helped him stuff it into his pocket before one of the bigger kids could take it away. I’ll never know whether he got his shoes or not but I will never forget the feeling I had and the lump in my throat as I looked back at him in my mirror.
Pastor Kim had told us to go about 2 Km to the Police Checkpoint then turn right. We stopped at the service station next to the checkpoint and bought bananas. Each of us ate one in front of the staring crowd then rolled down to the right a ways and ate the rest in tropical solitude.
The road went from bad to the worst! There were more holes in the asphalt than solid areas. A huge old truck caught us, tailed us then in a mighty effort, passed us. It spewed black smoke every time the driver applied the accelerator. By now the road was so bad that he couldn’t pull away from us. We were trapped in his tail pipe trail and it along with the dust choked off all air and a lot of the light.
The road though terrible is flat. We think that the weaving back and forth between the potholes is like walking through a minefield. It may add 20% to the length of the ride? The scenery though covered in a cloak of dust for the first 10 feet, is tropical and beautiful. When we reached the Military Checkpoint on the border a rope with rags tied to it raised up as a barrier. The uniforms were seated on the porch of the outpost shack. The guy pulling on the rope relaxed it and they indicated that we should come inside. Our plan is that one of us, this time Cat, stays with the bikes, a ways from the checkpoint and the other takes both Passports and faces the system.
in the Jungle
As I stepped though the door a short, crass guy got into my face after looking at my Passport and asked, ”Have you read this”? I looked the Visa page over and told him that I had. “You must stay for 30 days”. He snarled at me.
“Oh no, look it says anytime during the 30 days”.
“Yes, but you can’t come back in,” he said as though it was a penalty.
“That is not a problem”, I answered, “We don’t intend to come back”.
He faded, he had been fishing for a little money but knew that he had lost the battle. A small win but one that felt pretty good. He tried to extend his authority by insisting that he personally stamp my Passport. The other clerks seemed to like the way it was turning out. Some even smiled and nodded as he stamped and signed.
“Who is that woman”, he asked in a slightly more friendly tone.
I told him Cat was my wife and he said, “Bring her here”!
“No, I’ll go watch our bikes and she’ll come in”, I told him with conviction. I was getting a little cocky but why not go for it?
He was a sweetheart to Cat and in just minutes we were ready to get out of The Gambia, into the Casamance and onto our next adventure
As we started to mount up a guy came out from a little booth and asked if we wanted to change money. I thought it was a good idea but Cat wanted to hold out for a bank where she thought we might get a better exchange rate. I traded my Dalasi for CFA at the rate of 27.50 to 1. Cat thought that we should get 30, I feared that we might have a pocket full of souvenirs if we didn’t get rid of the Gambian money here and now.
Between here The Gambia and Casamance there’s a 2 Km strip that they call the Frontier or “No Man’s Land”. Funny but there are houses, farms and people going about daily lives in this “No Man’s Land”?
The guard on the Senegalese side looked at our passports and waived us on without question or fanfare. It was more of the beautiful tropical terrain. The road went from terrible to great at the border. The tropical scenery thickened and we loved the look and feel of the place. We passed an armored vehicle with heavily armed soldiers sitting around watching us with interest. We could only hope that they were the good guys.
Diouloulou is a crossroads. We would be turning to the left and out toward water. A small cluster of buildings and a store mark its existence. We bought soft drinks and sipped in the shade. There is a Teleboutique across the street so we decided to try to get a call in to Dennis, the US Embassy Warden that Rita had introduced us to. He was in and reminded us that we should stop and say hello to the people at the Mission Catholic. He is a very open friendly sounding guy and we’re anxious to meet him.
The Mission is just a couple of one-story buildings. A local pointed them out and we cycled across to them. As we rode in Father Jean Bernard greeted us. He was on his way to a meeting but asked us to stand by for a few minutes. We sat on his porch and started eating our left over pasta. He came back out and insisted that we join him and the others on the back patio. Dennis had been close to correct, he said, “They’ll offer you a beer.” Their offer was a shot of rum. They laughed and joked. They say that Father Jean Bernard is called J. B. just like the whiskey.
The others are Frs. Bernard D., and Antoine ‘Tony’ S. There were several Nuns there, we only got the names of 2, Sr Lea and Sr Christine. They were holding a round table discussion and relaxing with a drink. We ate our pasta and accepted Cokes. Fr. Bernard D. was stiff and sore, the effects of a Soccer game he played yesterday. He slugged down 2 aspirin with his drink then took some of our bread to help digest.
Another treat for us, Marie-Laure, is visiting from France. She is a cyclist, in fact her avocation is teaching mountain bike skills. Her Mother is involved with the Mission and visits every two years. Our conversation was slightly hobbled by language problems but we enjoyed just being with her and the others and relaxing out of the hot sun.
As we reluctantly re-mounted Cat asked about a bank where we could exchange our remaining Dalasi. Father Jean Bernard shuttered and told us that there was no bank in Senegal that would accept it. E-gads, we would have about $50.00 worth or worthless currency. As we lamented Fr. J.B. spoke with Fr. Tony and they decided that they could exchange it as they go into The Gambia often. What a great deal for us!
Our LPGB told of an encampment in the village of Baia. We crossed a bridge over the river and slowly cycled through the village looking for any sign of a place to stay. Baia is only a cluster of 8 or 10 small houses. We couldn’t see anything that looked even suspiciously like an encampment so, although we were hot and tired, we rode on.
The 20 Km was flat and hot, we were ready to get off the seats. Bignona is another crossroads. There’s a hotel here but it’s pretty well hidden. We asked at the Shell Station and the guy pointed across at a side street. Once across the highway we caught a sign but it was unclear which of the two streets would lead us to it. Our questions, to the group of locals that gathered when we stopped, set off a big discussion that ended in a consensus that we should take the second street. The street is lined with small booth shops offering all sorts of goods. There are crowds of shoppers or lookers in front of each one.
The street dwindled to a sandy trail and we had to push. Hotel le Palmier is at the end of that trail. The Hotel is an old looking building. Desire, the manager was seated out front reading his mail. He showed Cat the room, pretty basic but it does have a toilet and shower of sorts. With the bikes safely inside we turned to the bar. Desire is also the bartender. Cat decided on beer instead of a soft drink. I took a sip of the icy Gazelle and changed my order to beer, too. The first went down so easily that we each had another.
After a cool shower in our slightly less than adequate bathroom we went to work on dinner. Desire had told us that they only cook if they know in advance that a guest wants food. We were out of luck except that they had pots and pans and would let us cook some of the food that we had on board.
Jessica, a cute teenager working here, who speaks great English, helped fan the fire and cook our dinner. In the midst of squatting next to the cook stove and fanning the flame she got a cell phone call. This seems to be the epitome of the collision between the old and new Africa.
Cat added soup mix and pasta to the boiling pot, one of the kids ran to the market and got a baguette for us. Dinner included a BOX of red wine. It and the pasta soup were pretty good. As we were eating we asked Jessica if the fan above us worked. It was hot and still in the room. She laughed and told us that for the locals this is winter and it is cold. An older guy seated nearby, maybe the Grandfather, kept looking up at the fan then over at us as though he was annoyed by the cold draft. Even with the fan stirring things up we continued to sweat.
The ceiling has clusters of bugs clinging above the fan. One of the down sides of the breeze is that it dislodges some of them and they fly down on us. I felt one hit the back of my neck and fall inside my t-shirt. I tried to catch it but finally gave up. Then came the hot burning pain in my groin area. That made me jump and dig for the culprit. I got him out, a hard-shelled black bug, but it was too late the damage had already been done. I had been bitten in a very sensitive spot.
We gave the left over pasta to Jessica for the family, if they wanted it. The kids came in, sat around the pot and ate every morsel.
The heat in our room hadn’t dissipated but there was an oscillating fan on a stand. After a slight learning curve we got it up and running. The bed has an ill-fitting sheet covering the foam mattress. Cat kept the fan running all night but we had to roll up in the sheet in the wee morning hours.
November 24, 2003
Bignona to Ziguinchor
Down the dirt road, onto the paving and into the once again bustling marketplace that cried out to be photographed. An older guy, probably younger than I, was running a used bike parts shop on the side of the road. I took his picture then a younger man seated nearby insisted on a photo with me? We are beginning to think that people here just want to be remembered? They know that we can’t get a copy of the picture for them, that doesn’t seem to matter to them.
Jessica had insisted that the best place for coffee in town would be Le Jardin. With a little ask, ask, ask, we finally found it. The guy there was surprised to see us. He did say that they had coffee. We ordered 2-café au lait and waited. He rushed out the door, the girl cleaning chairs made us move then told us to sit in wet chairs. We moved to dirty dry and refused to move again. The guy who seemed to be in charge came back in a flurry and in short time served us bread so fresh that it must have just come from the baker. That was the good news. The bad news, the coffee was instant, café au lait in an envelope. Well, it was pretty good. The place is a nightclub. We are the only customers here at this hour.
Our next challenge was to find an air hose to pump 4 BAR, 60 pounds, into my rear tire. The nice guy who had made the coffee run led us to a tire shop. They pumped then we took pictures. A small crowd gathered round and insisted on more pictures when they saw them on the camera. One woman who refused to have her picture taken held money out, we think she wanted to buy the camera?
The ride is flat and fairly fast to Zig. The tropical scenery was inspiring, the road condition demoralizing. The bridge came up so quickly it surprised us. The river is wide and has some large cargo and passenger boats and pirogues plying its waters. There is a small fleet of hollow log pirogues lying against the lapping shoreline and larger boats tied up to a wharf of sorts.
A large roundabout had signs pointing to Centre Ville. The road is in terrible condition and slow going for the motorized traffic and us, too. Another round about where a Shell Station drew us in for info and soft drinks. The place was abuzz with activity. I had to wait in line to buy the drinks and a Popsicle. The patrons ahead of me were buying frozen turkey legs and other meat items. The store is stocked like a super market. The clerk told us that we’d find the Hotel Flamboyant down the adjacent street. Just a block and a right turn and we were at home.
Hotel Flamboyant, as unique sounding as it is, is actually named for a tree that is found in this area, the Flamboyant tree. It is a 3-story place with a pool that takes up the majority of the courtyard. The room is clean, the AC is cool and the phone works, too. The first thing we did was call Dennis to let him know that we had arrived. He insisted on coming over and going to lunch.
Cat had spotted the Guinea-Bissau Consulate just across the street and decided to check with them as we waited for Dennis. Good thing that she did, the guy was preparing to close for Ramadan and would be closed for the next 4 days. She rushed back and we went back across with Passports and money in hand. Dennis drove up, I was standing on the balcony overlooking the street and I hollered at him. He parked and came up in time to help us through some language difficulties. Within minutes we had our ticket to ride Guinea-Bissau.
Still in our stinking cycling cloths we rode with Dennis to Hotel Kadiandoumagne for lunch. Beers and burgers and a great patio seat overlooking the river. Dennis knows everybody, they all stop at the table to say hello and he introduces them. We met a guy who has just formed the first private airline in southern Senegal. Also, a young guy who owns a Cycle Touring Company. He specializes in French cyclists who vacation here.
Back at Flamboyant we showered up then Cat took our dirty laundry to Dennis’ house. He has generously offered to have his housekeeper, Sebastiana, do it for us. Dennis was out but his Gardener/Guard, Bruno let Cat in. Every piece of clothing we own save that on our backs, is in the bag. Bad news, Sebastiana is off for the holiday so the laundry won’t be back to us for 2 days.
We hovered over the Cyber Café computer for the next 3 hours. The Mini Mart had wine so we picked up a bottle and enjoyed happy hour in the room. Flamboyant doesn’t have a restaurant but the Hotel just across the street, owned by the same people does and it is serves what is purported to be good, safe food.
Chase, a young guy from New York, was seated alone. We opened conversation and invited him to sit with us. We were the only three patrons so seating was no problem. He is only 20 years old but has traveled way beyond his years. His family is affluent, his Father is the current Ambassador of Liberia and has been since appointment during the Clinton Administration. Of course there is no Embassy there at this time but just the sound of it conjures up intrigue. Chase says that Charles Taylor isn’t as bad as the press makes him out to be? Well he, through his Father, knows former President Taylor on a different level than those of us who have only met him on the pages of the news and on George W’s lips.
Chase started College but after floundering for a year he told his Dad that he wanted to travel. Dad understood, Chase and his girl friend spent a year in Europe and he fell in love with Rome, Italy. Now he’s kind of on his own. No girl friend but he’s doing some writing for a travel book similar to Lonely Planet called Rough Guide. He is moving around Africa and writing about the experience and the places he visits. A nice young guy, we enjoyed trading stories and speaking English twice in one day. (Dennis is an ex-Patriot from Iowa, heart of the USA.)
November 25, 2003
Day of Journal
This morning we enjoyed instant coffee and bread on the deck, near the pool. This place, Hotel Flamboyant, is really an enclave in the dusty midst of a teaming village. My day was spent hunched over the computer. Cat’s was similar but in a different location. She worked through the messages at the Internet Shop and added all the new e-mail addresses we’ve accumulated in the past few weeks.
We took a lunch break and walked the street. Zig isn’t teaming today. It is Fete, the final day of Ramadan and the streets are almost deserted. We found a little sandwich shop that had Bob Marley music booming out into the street. That Jamaican sound seemed to fit here in Africa. There is a camera shop across the street doing a fair business. People turning film in for development, buying more or having their cameras checked out. A young guy dressed in red came out, looked over at us and sort of did that saunter step that goes so well with Bob Marley’s music as he walked away, down the street.
Two guys, both disheveled, came up and stood at the wrought iron that encloses the outside patio. The first had bad legs and sort of drug the right along with each step. He didn’t beg but tried to sell us some simple woodcarvings. He was so skinny and dirty that we hated to turn him down but there are so many like him, here. The second was very straightforward, he walked right up, held the stub where his left arm used to be out toward us and said he was hungry, in French. The best we could do for him was say, “Sorry” and “Bon chance”, good luck.
Back to the grind, both of us sat at computers. In fact Cat bought a 5-hour ticket. Surprise, Patrick the young guy from Germany that we met at L’Auberge Anacardiers in Ndangane was there sending and receiving, too. He will join us and perhaps even tag along when Dennis picks us up at 4:00 PM.
Patrick knocked on the door at exactly 4:00. He spent a minute looking at pictures on the computer then, Dennis walked in. We did the intros then told Dennis about meeting Patrick and he volunteered an invitation. The 4 of us joined Dennis’ sort of adopted son, Alex and his friend Fabian in the Toyota and set off toward a village south of here.
Dennis is really connected to the Catholic Church and knows all the Priests. He pulled into a Church just to say hello and introduce us to the resident Priests there, Fr. Nestor and Fr. Charles. We chatted as best language would allow, although Dennis is extremely fluent not just in French but as Patrick put it, “He speaks French with the same accent as the local Casamance people”. After a short visit we climbed back in the Toyota but it refused to go. The brakes seemed to be locked. Dennis got on his cell phone and called his mechanic. I toyed around with the emergency brake and loosened it a little.
While we waited for the mechanic we walked across the street and had Gazelle beers. The boys sat quietly sipping orange drinks. They are both enrolled in a seminary. Dennis has known Alex’s family since he first came here almost 49 years ago. An Aunt was raising him after his Mother died and his Father drifted away. Dennis has sort of adopted him, pays for his schooling and gives him necessities. His relationship with Alex is just one of the many things that we admire about him. When he drives down the street everyone waves or calls out to him.
Dennis loved the idea of our Languages of The World and got a local guy to do “You Must Be Crazy” in Diola. (Diola is pronounced Deeyola) It was great fun, even the priests got involved.
Must Be Crazy", Diloa
Once the mechanic arrived we were on the road again, in minutes. Daylight was fleeting so Dennis shortened his original plan. We visited a farm house in the jungle where the Mother of a young Priest lives. The Priest is stationed in South America, Dennis received a letter from him and wanted to let his Mother know that he’s okay. The two houses there were typical mud construction but pretty large. The area around the home is thick trees and palms. They use a lot of things from the trees in everyday life here. The leaves make a tea of sorts, the oil of the palm is fermented into something they call Palm Wine. The fronds are used in construction of fences and roofs in fact Dennis says that they call the forest “a warehouse” because it stores so many usable things.
Years in Paradise
On the way back down the bumpy dirt road we encountered a line of women returning to the village after a day of harvesting rice. They had baskets full on their heads. Gathering is women’s work, the men do the heavy work, turning the soil with their unique shovels they call Kadiandoumagne. (That’s the name of the Hotel and Restaurant where we had lunch with Dennis yesterday.)
We dropped the boys off at the Seminary and went to Dennis’s place for wine and cheese. What a treat, Moroccan and French wine along with REAL cheese. We sat and talked about each of our lives, the meaning of life, art and politics. (Cat wouldn’t let us get to deeply involved in the political discussion.)
One of the subjects of discussion was the word Toubab. Dennis disagreed with Joan’s idea of “Two Bob”. He says that the original word in several local languages originally meant stranger but as more and more white skinned strangers appeared it evolved into white stranger. This makes some sense because they still call it out here and the French had always controlled this area. In fact everyone here speaks Diola (Jola pronounced with a sort of D-J sound at the beginning of the word.) the local language and French.
Dennis is retired from a career with USAID and spends most of his life now working as a volunteer with the Catholic Diocese. His first project was the re-building of an old Mission. It had been used as a Hotel but was run down and they were going to close it. Patrick stayed there a few days ago and told us that it’s a wonderful place.
He also helped set up a shop where the locals work carpentry and wrought iron. Dennis’s house is furnished with great looking things that he designed and they built. He also collects art. Most of the work he has on his walls is the product of one artist. The guy attended Art School then returned here and began teaching Art to the local kids. Some of the work starts with a small picture that a student created. Dennis has one that has a drawing of an eye and pencil. The student said it was his sister putting on her eye makeup the said that it was like wearing a mask, to change or hide your real face. The artist placed it in the center of a canvas and created “The Mask” around it. We really like the work, hope you like the pictures or it.
One of the Artists works Dennis called “Waterfall”. It is one of a set of three pieces that match. Cat and Patrick looked and told him that it looked more like a tree? Dennis almost agreed but assured us that the Artist had told him that it was a waterfall. In fact he pointed out the fish swimming in it. I looked closely and said, the fish are swimming upside down? We all studied it then agreed, with his usual hearty laugh Dennis turned it over and we toasted to “The Waterfall”!
Though Dennis lives a fairly simple life it is a good life. His house was the home of the “Old Bishop”. It was in disrepair and became another of his projects. He invested a considerable sum of personal funds rebuilding it and has lived in the upper floor for the past 5 years. They built office space on the ground floor and have it rented out. Very entrepreneurial, don’t you think?
Patrick finished school a year ago and is working in a bank. He has a girl friend that usually travels with him but she couldn’t get time off. All German youths must either spend 2 years in the Army or do volunteer service. He chose the later and spent his 2 years in South Africa. He has traveled East Africa extensively but this is his first experience here. For a guy only 28 years young he has really been around. He’s now traveled in more than 50 countries.
The party broke up at 9:00 PM. We bid Dennis a good night and walked back to the Flamboyant. Hungry we ate again at the place across the street with Patrick and continued exploring each other’s pasts and futures. Cat scared everyone then really made the girls who work here laugh when a huge bug flew in and landed on her leg. She let out a scream as Patrick brushed the big grasshopper off her leg. Patrick has decided that he will try to join us next year in Mexico. What a really nice young guy he is!
Home and bed at 11:00 PM, a very late night for us.
November 26, 2003
Another Day in Zig
The Barber of Zig
We sort of stalled after our showers, waiting for Patrick who said he would join us for breakfast here this morning. When Cat opened the door there was a note from him. He decided to leave early and didn’t want to wake us up. See, I told you he was a nice guy! So it was Nescafe by the pool, again.
The streets are still virtually deserted, we assume that the moon didn’t show up at least for one of the sects. Dennis told us that there are two main groups of Muslims here. They’re sort of like the Baptists and the Pentecostals, if one says the moon was right the other has to say it wasn’t. At any rate the town got two holidays out of the deal.
For me it was a big computer day. Cat did Internet duty then walked the streets and picked up ham, cheese and bread. We sat on the bed, ate our picnic and talked about all the picnics like this that we’ve enjoyed as we travel this world around.
Back at it, Cat walked over to Dennis’ and picked up the laundry. He was out but Bruno, the gatekeeper let her in and Sebastiana, the housekeeper, had the clean laundry ready for her. Another nice thing that Dennis arranged. We paid her 3000 CFA or about $6.00, Dennis told us that that’s a day’s wages for her. She took it home on her day off. He thought that she probably had her kids do the wash while she rested. More cleanup at the Internet for Cat in the afternoon hours..
At 4:00 PM we walked over to Dennis’. I now call him “The Barber of Zig”. I’ve wanted to get a short haircut like his. We asked him who his barber is and it turns out he cuts his own hair. He volunteered to give me his famous, “Dennis short cut”.
Dennis’s house is a busy place. Yesterday we met another Priest, who stays in his guest room when he’s in town. There is a big meeting of the Diocese this week and he’s involved. Today we met a couple, Tina and Tony, who are peace activists. They put together a program here a couple of years ago that was funded by various agencies including the United Nations. They have just returned from Peru and Bolivia where they explored possibilities of a similar program. Nice people, quiet people. They took their leave as Dennis pulled out his shearing tools.
Not quite a shave, he has the shears set at about an eighth of an inch. I told him that when I was a kid we took off our shoes and got what we called a “Baldy” cut on the first day of summer vacation, every year. He laughed, he and his brothers did the same in Iowa. The electric shears cut a swath down the middle of my head, it was too late to turn back. Okay, it’ll take some getting used to but I like the idea of NO
We went back to our respective computers, Cat added all the names we’ve been collecting, to our list of FRIENDS. Dennis came over and we shared a glass of wine then walked to a small local restaurant. It was surprisingly simple and at first glance dirty looking. Dennis assured us that the owner, who he introduced us to, was a good cook. The food was very good. We shared a bottle of what he called just a notch above box wine. It comes in a thin plastic bottle. Not good but not too bad?
After an attempt to understand the news in French we called it a day.
November 27, 2003
Ziguinchor to Sao Domingo
We Have a Lot to be Thankful For!
Most of all, our health and the health of all our family. We have been out here for more than a year and a half without serious illness or injury. The WORLD is an incredible place.
I awoke at 6:00 AM and started clicking away on the keyboard. I’m dedicated to completing and e-mailing the Agadir to Dakar Journal before we leave here today.
Dennis stopped by at 9:00 and we three went to breakfast. There is a nicely decorated place next to the Shell Station. They have an espresso machine so we had our hopes up. After a long wait the girl set cups, envelopes of Nescafe and some hard croissants in front of us. The food was a disappointment but we had a great time, as usual, talking, laughing and being with Dennis. One guy there asked if we were brothers. It must be the matching haircuts?
Hugs and goodbyes or rather, promises to see each other again and Dennis went on about his wonderful, busy life. I hovered over the keyboard and Cat just hovered. The Hotel began to press us about checking out. They are changing the air conditioning units and want to pull the one in our room. The owner, a French woman seemed to be understanding. Cat paid the Hotel bill, I typed feverishly. It was finally finished and copied the text to a floppy disk at 1:00 PM.
Cat had all the bags ready to go and her bike loaded. I had to pull the rear wheel on mine. The slow leak was quicker than I thought it would be. Sweating profusely in the shade I got the tube out and discovered another small hole. The little nail had punctured the underside of the tube twice. I also discovered that one of the other patches had a tiny leak, too. My attempt to patch over the patch didn’t work too well. We ran out of the glue that helps adhere the patches. Frustrated, I put the wheel back on and we rolled around the corner to the Cyber Shop. I had a little trouble getting the text to attach to the message for Web Master Wally. The guy then the girl working there had to help but it did eventually go. Cat was burning up as she stood guard on our machines out front, in the sun.
A quick stop at the Shell Station for a blast of air taking the tire up to 4 BAR, 60 pounds, and we were off. It was 3:30 by the time we got back to the main highway. Our plan is to cycle the 25 kilometers, stay in Sao Domingo then catch the daily boat to Cacheu. It’s pretty iffy, no one seems to know if the boat still runs or if it can handle our bikes.
The road is as bad as we can remember riding here in Senegal. The low bidder who strayed from the specs or convinced the authorities that base wasn’t necessary probably built it? The thin asphalt looks like it started crumbling shortly after installation. What a shame, most of the cars run down the unpaved shoulder because it has fewer bumps than the roadway. That, of course, leaves us in a cloud of dust every time a car or bus passes. The scenery is lush but it is hard to take your eyes off the potholes. It’s like winding your way through a minefield. A direct hit in any one of the huge potholes could spell disaster for our wheels.
Leaving Senegal was fairly simple. A guy on the left side of the road motioned us over. We pulled down near him and he pointed toward a guy seated under a tree. That guy asked for our passports, leafed through the pages then asked, “Where is your Customs Declaration. O Boy, here it comes? He continued to demand a form that we didn’t have. Our defense is ignorance, we just tell them that we only speak English. He became sort of annoyed, seemed to be stalling, trying to figure out how to communicate, then waved us on, into another No Man’s Land. Whew!
We’ve heard so many horror stories about the border guards of Guinea-Bissau that we were nervous as we pulled up to the rope with rags on it, hanging across the road. There is a guy sitting near the Border Guard hut that raises and lowers the rope. He dropped it to the ground and the soldier motioned us over. Continuing our plan of ignorance, Cat went inside with both Passports while I stood the guard. She was back out in just a few minutes. They had stamped our passports without question or request for money. The guys outside were very friendly with me, asking as best they could, about our trip. We were pleasantly surprised, all that paranoia for not?
The road condition improved and we sailed into Sao Domingo by 5:30 PM. Once there we encountered frustration in trying to find Hotel Constantine. Yes, our 22nd country has a couple of new languages, Crioulo and Portuguese. A well-dressed guy told us to go around the corner and down a dirt road. He said the boat would come in at the end of the same dirt road tomorrow but he didn’t know when. We tried the dirt and saw nothing that looked like a Hotel. Definitely no sign. We rode back up onto the asphalt and through the crowded market street. Another ask, another direction back to the same dirt road. A guy on the corner, holding a cardboard box, called me over. Thinking that he may have info I pulled up. He lifted the flap on the box and exposed a huge centipede. It must have been 4 inches long. When I told Cat about it she expressed joy in not having seen it.
Back onto the dirt and a fellow there pointed to what looks like a house? I counted two, he corrected me, three houses back. No sign, but when I walked into the hallway the numbers on the doors assured us that we had found Hotel Constantino, the only game in town. The price, 5000 CFA, about $10.00, was right so we took it for the night.
The owner, Joao Constantino, was sitting at a metal table on the back patio. It seems to be his office. We took a look at the room and bath. Both are pretty basic. Cat found a huge spider on the wall, Constantino got one of those small brooms they stoop over and sweep with. He smacked the big bug and slid the broom down the wall. They never found the spider? That didn’t instill much confidence in The Cat.
There are screens on most of the windows of our room but several have holes big enough for the biggest bugs to easily pass through. We decided to wait until dark then set the tent as a mosquito net.
Constantino and a guy he calls a family member, Paulino, hold court on the back patio. Paulino got the point across that he is a Concrete Contractor, he had to go make a bid so bid us goodbye. The Hotel has only 5 rooms, there are doors in the rear but that’s where the family lives.
We both took advantage of the barrels of cool water in the toilet to cool down and rinse off the road dust.
Constantino set up one of those square barbeques on another metal table and Cat cooked soup and pasta. We hadn’t seen any thing that looked close to a restaurant as we cycled up and down the streets. We had a bottle of wine that Cat cagily poured into our water bottles. As the pasta boiled the disco next door began to pulsate. So, we would have entertainment with our meal. As darkness set in a young boy began to dance on the other end of the patio, as though he was trying to learn how. Shortly 5 girls who really gyrated with the rhythm joined him. They were all only about 12 years old. Some of the girls had the moves down pretty well. They even taught each other how to slow dance but none of them seemed to be interested in dancing with the boy. Dinner, music and a floor show.
At 8:30 we set the tent and crawled inside at 9:00 PM. The disco continued to throb and a noisy crowd milled around in the street our front. Constantino told us that they were celebrating the end of Ramadan. We likened it to Mardi Gras in reverse. Instead of jamming sin and gluttony into the day before Ash Wednesday they were living it up after a month of deprivation.
It was so hot in the tent that we worried about heat stroke. We crawled back out and sat on the bed near the window. There was no breeze and the air was thick. After several real or imagined bug bites we slipped back into the sauna atmosphere of the tent. Between the heat and the revelry we were doomed to a sleepless night.
November 28, 2003
Sao Domingo to Cacheu
20 Kilometers by Kanoa, 4 Kilometers via Bicycle
Breakfast, Constantino boiled water for our coffee. Cat found bread and butter and we had our own continental spread. The consensus around the Hotel was that the boat would leave at 12:00 noon. Across the street at a little store/café the clerk told Cat it would be about 2:00 before it could leave because of the tides. A Greek guy, George, is here developing a shrimp business. He is all consumed by it and only talks about it. His thinking isn’t very positive but he’s positive that the boat won’t depart until 3:30 or 4:00 this afternoon.
So, we waited, sat with him for as long as we could take the conversation about shrimp and the terrible things about Guinea-Bissau then went back across and got our things ready to go. I sat the bikes out front and we sat in the shade. Several kids gathered around, one was pretty assertive. He pulled at the bikes until I threatened him then he started asking for money. I joked with him until he got aggressive. Then when he tried to grab our mirror off the bike I chased him away.
Blanco, the language changed the calls from the side of the road from Toubab to Blanco. Of course that means white in Portuguese and Creolo. It isn’t just kids that call out Blanco, men and women also call and wave. I began waving, smiling and yelling back, “Africano or Africana”. It all seems friendly and nobody appears to be begging or asking for a gift. That’s why we were surprised by the boy’s actions.
We bought some tire patching glue and a couple of patches at a bike shop next to the store, across the street. I wanted a picture of the guys out front working on bikes. When I raised the camera the owner yelped and indicated that I would have to pay him what amount to about $10.00 US if I wanted a picture. I laughed, closed the lens and told him it was his loss.
The owner of the market is from Portugal and speaks some English. He wasn’t sure what time the boat would go but they have to come up and buy fuel from his store. He was leaving but instructed his clerk to help us when the boat arrives. The clerk is a nice guy who has a huge desire to go to the US and work. We told him of the difficulties in getting a Visa with Green Card but he was adamant. With that kind of desire he may just make it.
We saw the passengers arrive from the boat and started to get ready. The clerk called across and told us not to get excited, it would be an hour before they would be ready to go. Back into the disappearing afternoon shade and more waiting then at 2:30 we pushed down the littered sandy path to the ram shackled dock. There is no shade and the sun bore down with vengeance. Kids diving and swimming made the cool water look pretty good. (Our guidebook tells us that no matter how inviting, we should avoid swimming because of the bacteria and virus’ that could spell severe sickness. We’ll take their advice.)
They boarded a few women then it was our turn. I handed the bikes with bags intact to the deck hands. They lowered them into the hull and we crawled aboard. George, the Greek came down and joined us. He had been saying that he had a speedboat picking him up but apparently it has failed to show. Then a young guy pulled up on a moped and they lifted it down, too. Some bags of rice and other goods came on and we were finally ready to push off. The boat had just cleared the dock when they reversed the engine, a late arrival was allowed to come aboard. Finally at 3:30 we were on the way, down river.
The ride was hot, the sun almost unbearable. There is a small shaded area but locals filled it before we were boarded. Cat and George shared the amids seat and I was in the bow. The river is vast and lined with mangroves. The wildlife, Hippos and Crocodiles, we had hoped for was not to be. There were a few big birds but that was the extent of it. The river is all part of a huge National Park.
George in his “know it all” mode finally projected a positive thought. He predicted that we’d arrive in Cacheu by 3:30. We hoped he was right but had been told that it is a 2-hour trip. He was incorrect, 3:30 came and went. It was almost 4:00 as we motored out into the main channel and into visual contact Cacheu.
Getting ashore was a chore. I had to climb into the hull and lift. None of the crew came to help. When I finally muscled the first one up a young guy stepped forward and lifted it onto the bulkhead. He did the same for us with the second, too.
An argument broke out between the guy with the Moped and the boat crew. They had made us pay for 4 tickets because of the bikes and wanted the same from him. He had resisted and now it looked like they were confiscating the motorbike?
We rode away looking for the road to the Parque Natural Dos Tarrafes Do Rio Cacheu. There is no Hotel at this time in Cacheu but LPGB tells us that there are bungalows there that can be rented. Stymied at a crossroad we were looking at the map when the Moped boy came up and offered advice. He had seemed confrontational to us on the boat. His bike even had an Osama Bin Laden sticker on the fender. Now he was extremely anxious to help. Never judge a guy by his bumper sticker!
Our bike ride today will be limited to the 4 Km to the Park Headquarters. The road surface was good, the boy had told us that we’d find the place across from the Radio Tower. He was correct and so was Lonely Planet. Numo, the lead Ranger, met us and took us to a bungalow. Surprisingly, it had 3 rooms and a full bath with shower. Okay the water is cold only but it was running water.
He also solved our need for some food. When I asked how far it was to a store he started his motorcycle, handed me an old jet pilots helmet and we were off on a Mr. Numo’s wild ride. He sped down the road and we bottomed out on every bump. The store is just a little stand but they did have cold beers. I got 2 of those, 2 soft drinks and canned milk. Next we rode to another little shack where they had bread. I also bought a package of powered Mango drink. I wanted bananas so we rode on until we encountered a young girl with a basket of little ones on her head. I think she was related to Numo because he told me not to pay. I didn’t like that so gave her a handful of change.
Back at the bungalow, Cat was organizing. Numo fired up the power and we even a couple of lights, working off solar batteries charged by solar panels. They did hold back the darkness as it began to set in on us. Our showers were brief but it felt good to be clean and cool wasn’t all bad, after our day in the sun.
There were some boys working on a fence, a corral for livestock. I took pictures of them because they were tying the cross bars to upright posts with hand cut strips of bamboo or something like that. A step back in time as the sun sank into the west.
Numo fired up his barbeque and we again cooked pasta. Though he likes his job he told us that they only have limited funds and he makes very little money. He, like so many, wanted to know how to get to the US and make money. We cooked while talking then carried the finished product back to our bungalow and dined by candlelight.
The beds were clean, the room free of mosquitoes, we lay on top the sheets and cooled in the dark night air.
November 29, 2003
Cacheu to Bissau
We boiled water on our little camp stove and made some pretty pour Nescafe coffee. Numo had helped me buy bananas on our flying trip to the market. That and some left over bread made up breakfast.
A picture of Zanda, a gal that works with Numo then one of the 4 of us in front of the Park sign and we pushed out onto the road. Another unique sight, 2 boys came riding along on their cows. Real Cowboys!
The road surface remained good until we reached the turn at Canchundo. It is lined with thick foliage. We rode through several tunnels of trees, their branches reaching across and intertwining with those on the other side of the road. We have seen what look like drip sand castles, you know, the ones you made at the beach when you were a kid? They are termite mounds. They seem to be everywhere but especially in places where the trees have been cut down. Maybe they thrive on the rotting roots?
Wiem O Way
Lunch, left over pasta again. We stood and ate out of the Tupperware container and again blessed the gal who gave it to us back on St. Louis. I decided to that I should straighten Cat’s rear wheel. The mistake I made was in attempting it while her bike was leaning against mine. When I tried to lift the back wheel off the ground to spin it my bike crashed over. In the excitement my sunglasses fell and one of the lenses broke into small pieces. No real damage to the bike. I had to straighten the seat and handlebars but the glasses were the greatest loss.
The surface of the road really deteriorated after the turn to the west. At the same time it started to pitch up and down in easy rolls at first. They stiffened with each surge. Cat was remembering the ride into Rosso on the desert of Mauritania and how the hills ground us down to a snails pace. One of the flatter areas along a riverbed was also home to a couple of guys that live in mud. Probably digging clams or muscles they were knee deep in the gray goo.
On one downhill through a small village I saw a boy holding a monkey up by the tail. These are the kind of events that deserve a picture but when you’re going down hill and tired it’s hard to make yourself stop. The monkey was dead, gutted and ready to eat. He held it out like a delicacy hoping for a buyer. I thought about articles I’d read of the brain disease that some tribe somewhere had suffered from eating monkey brains. The poor monkey just hung upside down looking like a rabbit ready for the pot. Those haunting eyes stared at me as if asking what had happened? Why wasn’t he still swinging from a branch instead of from the boy’s hand?
We pulled into a Service Station for directions and ended up with a cold bottle of wine and soft drinks. The young people there had some heavy rock music cranked up to 500 decibels. I came out the door dancing. They loved my little show, an old white guy trying to keep step with African rhythms.
Entering Bissau we encountered a tank. Probably a Soviet built model left to molt in the bushes after being neutralized during the conflict. Reminders of tougher times in earlier days here. The street was busy and lined with little booths offering lots or little of nothing.
A guy in cool cloths and sunglasses called out in English, “Where are you going”? I stopped to ask him where the Hotel is located and had a hard time getting away from him. He pointed to a rundown looking building a short way down the road then started asking about us. I gave him our card and asked him to send us and e-mail then said goodbye and left him mid-sentence. He kept yelling, “Pat, come back, I have something to show you, please, come back”.
The Hotel looks run down from the street. We passed the side street entrance and had to circle back. The look of the exterior carried through, into the lobby. I stood the guard as Cat checked on price and availability. She came out disappointed in the price and condition of the place. A short conference and we decided not to spend the rest of this late afternoon shopping for a room. I pushed the bikes inside while she checked out several rooms. The rate is $89 US per night, the room she saw was terrible and the AC didn’t work. The clerk came back down and got a hand full of keys. They looked at room after room and found a problem in each. The clerk finally threw up his hands and gave in to giving us a suite.
I had to lift the bikes onto their rear wheels to fit into the elevator. The room is rooms. We parked the bikes in the living room, now our garage. We have CNN and AC, what else is there? Oh yea, hot water and a good shower.
Dinner at the restaurant downstairs. The food was pretty good, service was very slow.
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Day Off In Bissau
The included breakfast food items are pretty good, the service is similar to last nights dinner. Lazy morning, I typed and Cat tried to do some Internet work but AOL was frustrating. She could get in but couldn’t answer any of the messages. She finally gave up and just read the Lonely Planet Guide Book, preparing a plan for our days here. We will get our Visa for Guinea Conakry and info from Guinea Travel tomorrow, we hope.
Hotel Bissau, formerly the Sheraton, is 3 kilometers from down town Bissau. At noon we took a cab into town. This place looks like a disaster, almost like a war zone. The streets have potholes large enough that they could be shell holes. The cab has to zig and zag as it makes its way. The local market is just that, the mains street lined with junky stands. The gutter is full of brackish looking water much of the way.
A shopping trip to Bon Jour, the big Super Market was semi successful. We hoped to get picnic supplies and eat our room but, no meat or cheese. So, we got essentials, water and wine plus mango juice and cookies. Cat bought bananas from a gal on the sidewalk just outside the door.
When I came out a young guy with terrible effects of Leprosy begged. He reached his fingerless hand out almost touching us. We don’t fear the disease but would prefer not to be touched by anyone. As tough as it is, we don’t give. The boy looks healthy except for his fingers. Teddy, the Doctor we met on Goree Island said that the victim’s fingers and toes get numb and painful. The treatment is amputation. This boy hasn’t been treated, his fingers were twisted and shriveled. There are drugs that slow or even stop the deterioration. Was it that he couldn’t afford it or just thought begging would be easier without the treatment? Either way it is terrible to see an otherwise healthy looking boy so afflicted. This is the first time we’ve seen Leprosy since those fingerless hands in Dakar.
Lunch was another struggle. We met a German guy, Hannes, at the market. He came here during the war, 19 years ago and has stayed. He told us about a restaurant that has pretty good food and is pretty safe, health wise. We found the place and the waiter tried to understand but couldn’t. We finally turned our fate over to him. Two cheese sandwiches and two beef and cheese. We ordered ham and cheese but when he delivered he said, “No Jamon”. While we ate a trio of musicians, a percussionist with wooden shaker, noise makers and two flute players. They just stood and played, one held his hat out, and they played and played until I finally gave in and gave up 2 CFA. We paid to get rid of them, not for the joy of their music.
Another frustrating hour at the Cyber Café, like Cat’s problem this morning at the Hotel, it will allow us to read but not answer mail. And it kicks us off line often.
Another harrowing Taxi ride back and we spent the afternoon in our room. Typing for me and puttering for The Cat. CNN takes some of the edge off the boredom.
A glass of wine then down for dinner. They have two restaurants here and we have decided to have Chinese food tonight. Surprise, the Chinese restaurant is closed. Our only choice is the Grand Buffet. Actually pretty good, for Guinea Bissau standards. Our friends, the Cashew Farmers Ed and Ronald from Virginia and Soukouloa from The Gambia were there. We had our new friend Maria, manager of food services, take our picture together. They are a "for profit" company called Reach Out to Africa. What a risk, what a great opportunity?
Back up by 9:00 PM we watched a little CNN then turned in. Tomorrow is a pivotal day in our travels. We want to be up and at em, early.
December 1, 2003
Another Exciting Day In Bissau
Up early and down to breakfast only to find that the Monday morning crowd eats real early. There was little left for us at 8:00 AM. We ate around the lack of food and felt like locals. Yes, there seems to be a real shortage of food here. Even the best-stocked stores, stores where locals can’t afford to shop, have half empty shelves.
Then a taxi ride to Guinea Tours to glean whatever info we could from them. Our plan is to find a boat out of here and south to a town called Cacine. From there it is a short ride across the border into Guinea. That will leave us about three days of cycling to Conakry where we hope to fly out, over the war zones, to Ghana.
As we walked I spotted posters focused on Sexual and domestic Assault. This is a disease that knows no boundaries, geographic or economic. My 7 years with “The Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence” taught me that and a lot more about the size and scope of this malady that affects so many families. The posters like those of The Coalition point out the universal size, scope and hopefully treatment of it.
The woman at Guinea Tours spoke no English and seemed irritated that we didn’t speak Portuguese. She did check prices on flights from Conakry and write down the prices. When we asked about a boat she flippantly spoke to one of her co-workers then they agreed, there is no boat.
Onward, undaunted, we went to the Guinea Embassy, a drab little building just down the street. The office was dark and dingy. The guy we had to deal with motioned us into his office then worked on another visa while we sat. Suddenly he rose and left without a word. We waited then Cat looked out the window and found him and another guy working on a car. He re-appeared and told us the cost would be 30,000 CFA for each. Our guidebook suggested they should cost 20,000. When Cat told him that he sort of said, “Guide book, Smide book”, well he said something like that in his native language then left the room again.
That brought on a fairly brisk discussion about the book, the deal and my desire to get to Guinea Conakry. That is as close as we dare to go toward the border with Sierra Leone and points south. Cat has been hinting that we could stop here and fly to Ghana. Beyond my dream, the cost is almost 1/3rd higher to fly from here as you have to circle back to Dakar and change planes.
When the guy returned I got the money out, he got friendlier and we made a deal. He will have the Visas ready for us at noon. Checking the map we decided to walk to the Port and try to find a boat line with a schedule. It was easy to find the place but impossible to get any real information. A young guy at the gate thought that the boat would leave at 8:00 AM tomorrow. Language got the best of us, we walked back up the street.
Our next stop was the Cyber Café just around the corner. Surprise, we ran into Chase, the young guy we met in Ziguinchor last week. He has been to Bolama on the Ferry and had some horror stories about the place then said he wished he had stayed there longer? Nice young guy, we invited him to meet us for dinner. He has money problems, and is looking for an ATM. We wished him good luck as we’ve read that there are no ATMs in Bissau. Hopefully a bank will advance money on his credit card?
Still seeking info we set off to find the Tourist Info Office. On the way Cat noticed a UNCHR (United Nations Commission on Human Rights) truck like the one we had seen in Ziguinchor. Hoping that it was the guy we’d talked with there then saw again on the road out of Birkama, we started in the door. A guard stopped us then a nice guy that spoke English tried to help. As he explained that the Guard was saying that there are lots of the same trucks around, Lucien, the man we had met, stepped out the door. He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. He invited us into his office, listened to our problem then asked his co-worker, Alisau to come in and try to help. We stood at a map on the wall and they really tried to figure a plan. Failing that Lucien suggested that we come back in an hour or two and meet a guy, we thought he called him “The Pastor”, who should know. These guys were so concerned and tried to be so helpful. No wonder they work for “Human Concerns”. They attend to the needs of refugees and they tell us there are still several thousand here from Sierra Leone.
Back out the door, the young guy, Abrahim, that had spoken with was still there and wanted to tag along. He tried to help us find the Tourist Office. We went to the spot shown on the map then he asked several locals. Finally one of them told us that it had been moved to the Port. Abrahim is one of those thousands from Sierra Leone. He fled there after his parents were killed and has been here for 8 years. He wants to study and become a Pastor. He, like so many others we’ve met here, want to find a way to go to the good old USA.
Lunch in a very Portuguese Café, all the customers were Portuguese. Cat just had soup but I had to try the Baccalou, fish and potatoes. Not exactly like that of Portugal but then it is probably impossible to get cod down here.
Back to the UNCNR office, we met Godfrey, the Director of the USAID project of Re-construction, Peace Building and Conflict Mitigation. He called another guy in and we discussed possibilities. Most of the boat lines indicated on our map are no longer operating and haven’t since the upheaval in the late 90s. After a long conversation their only idea was to take the boat to Bolama then try to find another boat or Pirogue to take us on. They did tell us that there are several Americans living on the Island. Godfrey has three kids and two of them are attending University in Texas.
An artist, an older guy, probably younger than I, sat sanding little wooden statues on a street corner. It is rare to find a true carving artist. Most of the sales guys carrying wooden figures around are just selling machine made things. I liked the look of the scene. Ebu, the Father sands and his son rubs shoe polish onto the carvings for color. I took a pic and did a little video then left him all the coins we had accumulated. He seemed disappointed that we didn’t buy some of his work but we explained, as best we could, that we didn’t have room to carry them. I have since decided that his work is probably machine made and he does the little show of sanding and coloring to induce sales. A great marketing idea.
We walked to the Mavegro Market, Hannes had told us that they sell cheese and other European goods. Lost for a short time, we finally made the right turn only to find it closed. A woman walking past told us that they don’t open until 3:00 PM. We decided to go back to Bon Jour Market, get pasta and other dry supplies. Another long walk only to find that Bon Jour, too, closes during the mid day but it won’t open until 4:00 PM. Damn, it was 2:40, we headed back to Mavegro.
There was a guy sitting in what we thought was the door to Mavegro. Turns out that he, Bassiro, is the Sound Engineer for Radio Mavegro. He told us the bad news, the market doesn’t open until 3:30. Then he invited us to join him and his friend Flaviana in the studio. It is up a steep wooden stairway in a blazing hot hallway. Once through the door the room was full of cool air, music and equipment typical of a radio station. Bassiro chooses the music so he made us feel at home with songs by Phil Collins and Elton John. At 3:00 he stopped the music patched in the BBC for world news. We were surprised that it was in English. In fact all their programming is in English but Bassiro says that he doesn’t speak good English. He was educated in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. We spent an enjoyable 40-minute interlude while we waited.
Mavegro market turned out to be a disappointment. They were poorly stocked with food items so, back to Bon Jour. Cat shopped while I checked Internet at the Cyber Cafe across the street. As I entered the shop a young guy seated behind the desk started helping the girl answer my questions. Kolize is a native of Guinea Bissau but lived in New Jersey for 5 years. His Father was an Ambassador until the change of Government forced their return. He stood over my shoulder as we outlined the problems we’ve had but when AOL came up it worked fine. Luck of the NJ transplant?
A clunky taxi ride back to the Hotel and we relaxed. The power went off about 5:00 so we just sat talked and sipped wine. It was an enjoyable hour and a half but we did miss the AC. Cat wondered why the fan in the bathroom continued to run. She looked out into the hallway and found the lights shining brightly. I asked her to flip the main switch and lo, we had light.
Down to dinner at 7:00 PM and Chase was there to join us. He had been successful in his quest for funds but only through Western Union. We had Chinese food and good travel conversation. He is really a gutsy lone traveler. His story of the trip to Bolama on the slow, rusty old boat made Cat shudder. He did enjoy being on the Island, it is time warped to 1941 when they moved the Capital out and here to Bissau. By the way, he did have to resort to Western Union for cash. A guy we met the first day here came in and we chatted with him, too. We remembered his name, Johannes, because when he introduced himself we both thought he called Cat, “Your Highness”! Very funny. He’s a contractor who relocated here 22 years ago from Eritrea, a small country north of Ethiopia. He says that he came to help build the Airport on an 11-month contract and never got away. Maria, the gal from Hungary who runs food service for the Hotel and her Husband Attila were there, too.
As we left the restaurant the two Cashew Merchants, Ronald and Ed came in. We introduced them to Chase then I told Ronald that I would take him up on his offer to use his Satellite Phone to call friend, Donald Hunt in California. One of his employees has sent an e-mail telling us that he is having health and business problems and asked me to give him a call. I wanted to talk with him about our uninsured money, the Patriots Act and get his bankers name and e-mail address. Amazing telephone, Ronald says that it only costs about $1.50 a minute. The call went right through and Priscilla, Donald’s friend’s voice was crystal clear. Unfortunately it was her recorded message so I left one for them.
Attila and Marie came out and we talked. They have been in Africa for 15 years and here in Guinea Bissau for 3. They’re really tired of it and are planning to go back to Hungary next year. In fact he wants to do some traveling like our Odyssey. I was disappointed that the Internet Shop was closed but they opened it and we tried to get a message out. The phone system wouldn’t pickup? Attila gets frustrated about things that don’t work. He was the Chief Engineer for the Hotel for a couple of years but finally gave up because management wouldn’t budget for proper maintenance. He is suggesting that we cycle the distance and he drew a map with Hotel and Encampment locations along the route. What nice people. We agreed to meet in the morning, they are also worried about the Malaria medication we’re taking and want to bring what they feel we should be taking.
It was after 11:30 by the time we finally hit the pillow.
December 2, 2003
To Boat or Bike?
Indecision, what to do? Where to go? Breakfast and another conversation with Attila. He, Marie and their son Thomas hovered over their map of Guinea-Conakry and suggested itineraries. He still feels that we should cycle but now understands our money problem. We’re getting down to small dollars and hate to have to use the expensive Western Union as a supply. Cat found info in the LPGB about an Island called Gahlinas where a guy with a boat may be able to help us.
Later we went back down and I asked Maria if we could find the schedule for the boats to either Gahlinas or the bigger Island, Bubaque. She introduced her older son, Gabor, and asked him to help. He does some of the tour work for this Hotel and felt that he could get us there?
Somehow a guy named Futre appeared a little later and said that he had a boat and could get us to Kamsar, a coastal town in Guinea. He says that his boat is fast, 7 meters (about 24 feet) and a fiberglass hull. He says that the 150 horsepower inboard will get us there in one day. The bad news, he wants 300,000 CFA or almost $600 US to do the deal. We told him that we’d let him know tomorrow. We don’t have that kind of money so that may have already made the decision.
Futre’s price put us to thinking, even if we cycle we’ll be short of money. Figuring 6 or 7 days, the buck will run out somewhere in the backcountry. We will have to get Base Camp Charlie to send $$$ via Western Union.
So, another bumpy taxi ride back into town. Our first thought was to find the Bank and try to get an advance on our Visa Card. All sources say it isn’t possible but we wanted to give it a try. Near the Port we came upon the walls of an old Fort. Curious we started down the dirt road toward the gate. Some guys under a tree called out, we thought they were just trying to sell something. Then one told us in broken English that we couldn’t go in. When we questioned him he said, “Militaire”, and he raised an automatic rifle into the air. I threw my hands up in the air as to surrender and they all laughed. We exited.
There was a line at the back door. Were they making a run on the place trying to get their money out? We asked a couple of people and finally got an answer we could understand. They’re government employees trying to get paid. They haven’t had wages in more than 6 weeks. That reminded me of our Hotel, the building is owned by the Gambian government. The operator has a lease on the building because they purchase a fleet of 4WD vehicles from him and couldn’t pay for them? What a way to get into the Hotel business. The guy who told us that story said that they’re only breaking even, at best.
So, we went to the Cyber Shop and sent a request to Base Camp Charlie for money via Western Union. Another session of answering and sending messages then lunch. A place around the corner, Le Bistro, is purported to have good food and the owner is connected to boat trips, too. Hannes, the guy we met a couple of days ago was there. He informed us that the info about boat trips was old news. The owner wasn’t in, in fact he is out of the country at this time but he gave up the boat business more than a year ago. We enjoyed talking with Hannes and the food. Le Bistro has some unique art scattered around. One piece that caught my eye was a bust of VI Lenin.
Back at Base Camp Bissau, Gabor greeted us with news that he’d tried to find a boat to the Islands that could connect with one headed south but failed. He has now joined the rest of his family in suggesting that we ride the bikes instead. So, the dye has been cast, so to speak. We spent the afternoon planning the route. The main highway goes way inland but the route Attila has suggested will be shorter. He thought it would be more interesting, too, although some of it is what he calls “Jungle Track”.
Dinner downstairs where we met a guy from France. He’s with the World Bank and is here working with the Guinean Ministry of Finance. Cat asked how ling he’s been here and was shocked to hear that he has been living at the Hotel for almost 6 months and will be here at least that much longer. When she asked why he didn’t get a house he said, “Simple, they have constant edible food here, constant power and water and good security”. He had a point or two there. In fact Cat has conceded that Hotel Bissau is probably the best choice here.
We were able to confirm on the Hotel Internet that Base Camp Charlie had sent money. So, we ride tomorrow!
December 3, 2003
Bissau to Mansoa
This Boat Won’t Float!
Our plan is set, our bags on the bikes, we’re ready to roll. Breakfast then we’ll taxi in, pick up our money and cycle away as early as possible. Gabor was waiting when we exited the restaurant and we were surprised to see Futre here. I told him that we had decided to cycle. He confessed that he’s not the boat Captain and that they couldn’t take us across the border into Guinea. They would take us to Cacine, a small village near the border and we could ride from there. Okay, one last try, we offered 200,000 or about $400 for the trip. He stumbled, stuttered then said, “Okay, if the Captain will accept it is okay with me”.
So, once again we were off on a “Wild Boat Chase”. Taxi into town and to a house where the Boat Owner works. He told us that he didn’t speak English then he and Futre had a heated conversation. Futre told us that he declined the deal then the owner spoke almost perfect English and explained that the boat was in Bolama and it was too late, because of the tides, to get it here today and it was booked tomorrow. He apologized and blamed Futre for not making the deal last night. We took the heat off of Futre and explained that we couldn’t have made a deal yesterday until we had confirmation that we’d have money.
A handshake with Futre who was shaking his head, trying to understand how he had come so close to making a deal then missed, and we walked into town. Western Union is a busy place. When we got to the window they asked us to stand aside then a young guy came out and spoke with us in English. He provided forms and helped us understand how to fill them out. Then we had to give up our Passports to a gal in one of the glass cages and wait. She finally called our name and counted out 421,000 CFA. We sat and counted then split the huge wad of bills 50/50, stuffed them in our wallets and ducked out the door. It seems dangerous to us, there are several rough looking guys hanging around near the door and they all know that those leaving with bulging clothes probably have money in their pockets. We jumped into the first passing taxi and headed back to Hotel Bissau.
It was after 12:00 noon when we took a picture with Gabor then rolled out of the driveway without further fanfare. Our target is Mansoa, a village where Attila was sure that we’d find lodging of some kind.
It’s uphill and back tracking past the Airport and due north for 16 kilometers. We stopped, sat on a bench in the shade and ate our on board lunch. The family in the house there were really curious but stayed there distance. Cars and trucks passed and waved. It felt great to be “on the road again”.
The village of Salim, where we stopped for soft drinks on the way into Bissau is where the turn to the east will take us into uncharted territory. The road condition deteriorated and the temperature heated up. We have 41 kilometers to go and due to our late start we’ll have to hurry to beat sundown. The scenery is jungle and rice fields. The road has little ups and downs and passes through villages not shown on our maps.
Several Police Officers were sitting along the road at the turnoff near Mansoa. We asked about a Hotel or Motel and after a discussion among themselves their best English speaker told us that it is back, 5 kilometers. We asked again if there was any place in Mansoa, which lies 2 km further to the east. Another discussion then they decided that there might be a place there. Going on that possibility and Attila’s word, we decided to head for Mansoa. There is a Service Station down the road we’ll take tomorrow. We decided to check there for bottled water. They had that and beer, we bought both.
As we cycled back past the Police they cheered and clapped. We had just started down the terrible road toward Mansoa when a 4WD pickup pulled up and the driver, Henrique, told us that he Police had asked him to help us. He is Portuguese but was born here in Guinea-Bissau. He speaks good English and that’s a good deal for us. He thinks there may be a place in Mansoa but isn’t sure so he set off ahead to find out. We bumped along for the 2 Km and into the village. Our presence caused a real stir as we passed a soccer field.
Henrique did find a place, a room that Mr. Spencer would rent out. He led us to the Spencer home then gave Mr. Spencer a ride back to the room. We followed on the bikes. It is a basic small room. There is a rough toilet and a pipe that spouts water for a shower. There is no electricity or cooking facility.
Must Be Crazy", Crioulo
Henrique says that there is a restaurant in the village and invited us to ride in his truck there. It’s quite a way to the place and it’s only a bar with a limited menu. We bought beers for the three of us and sat at a table out front. Henrique is a great guy. He lives in Bissau and is staying at the Motel the Police had told us about. He spent the time searching out the room and café/bar just to help us. He’s a sports fishing guide out of the village of Buba, further south of here. Though he’s a native here his Father was born in Lagos, Portugal and his Grandfather came from Salema. What a small world, we enjoyed talking about those two places of great memories for us. His daughters go to school in Portugal and he visits them and other family every year.
He did a “You Must Be Crazy” in Crioulo for us then dropped us back at our little room. We broke out the little cook stove and our bottle of wine. It was Top Raman with soup and wine by candlelight.
No, we didn’t take advantage of the pipe shower, we just lay on top of the sheet and waited for the heat to dissipate.
December 4, 2003
Mansoa to Saltinho
Broken Bridge, Boat Ride
Noises in the night, the neighbor came in at 1:00 AM in his noisy truck. Then a couple of guys talked, harked and spit into the wee small hours. Despite that we slept pretty well and awoke early, no breakfast, we just took the keys to Mr. Spencer and rode back down the terrible road. We did stop for a photo at the bridge. It looks just like one in Jefferson Oregon near my sister Joan’s home.
The same lineup of Police waved again as we passed. Around the corner we came upon two girls selling breakfast burritos. Well, they were actually split baguettes with what we thought was eggs inside. They rushed toward us and both tried to get their goods into our faces. We did the only correct thing, we bought one from each.
Carrying our goodies, we rode to the Service Station and got orange juice to go with our treasures. The egg turned out to be like a thin crepe of some kind but still tasty. Hopefully they won’t give us the Guff Guff?
The road surface was good and our spirits high. We are really feeling good about cycling again. It’s 54 kilometers between villages. The nice road was like new. The new ran out after 30 kilometers and we were in road construction for the next 15 or so. Then it was the old worn our surface.
There was a checkpoint as we entered the crossroad. Attila had mentioned a restaurant near a checkpoint but we thought he said “As you go up the hill into Bambadinca”. We rolled down into a river valley then were stopped abruptly at the bridge. Well, the gaping hole above the river where the bridge used to be. The gap is about 40 feet across and 12 feet deep. Water is cascading across the old footings. People walk across on a thin concrete curb but we’ll never be able to walk and push the bikes that way. As we surveyed the scene a crowd gathered, pushing and shoving and offering advice or portaging service. There was an argument between a muscular guy that had just carried a bag of rice across and one who was trying to convince us to use his hollow log pirogue.
I settled it by choosing a guy that spoke a little English. We followed him to the other side of the road. He and a host of friends helped me get both bikes down and into the boat. I was sure that we would have to walk but they had us get in. The shell rocked and pitched but she didn’t take water. They guided it across and lifted the bikes onto dry ground. As we pushed up to the road a real hubbub broke out. The English speaking one quoted 1500 CFA then that changed to 1500 each. We just wanted out of there then we discovered another problem. We only had 10,000 CFA notes. I took one out and feared that we would be caught in the middle of a real fight. Even the muscular one was back and demanding a piece of the deal.
I called to a nearby Policeman and asked for help. He took the 10,000 and went for change. A guy there gave him two 5,000 CFA notes. I took them, handed one to the English speaking one and we rode. ($10.00 seemed a bargain compared to sticking around looking for smaller change.)
Once safely up the other side we looked back, the natives seemed to have worked the problem out and were all back to carrying people and things across. No cars or trucks can pass here. No wonder there had been so little traffic this morning. The Porters have to transfer all goods and people from the here to there.
We didn’t see a restaurant on or at the top of the hill. At another crossroad we asked if the left turn would take us to Bambadinca. Using sign language, the people all indicated that we were in Bambadinca. Okay, where’s the restaurant? The only Café they could think of had already run out of rice, which was all that they had to serve.
We loaded up with 4 soft drinks, sardines, canned corned beef and bread at a small grocery store. Out of the fray, we stopped along the road, sat in the sun and ate.
It’s 34 kilometers from here to Xitote. Attila felt that there would be no place to stay there but Gabor told us that there was. We hoped so because we were tiring and the excitement of the crossing had taken its toll. We passed a few huts with thatched roves and were out of Xitote before we even knew we were in it.
Like it or not, we were on our way to Saltinho, another 22 kilometers. Time was fleeting, the sun was setting, even the heat of the day was dissipating. We asked some people along the road and they indicated it was ahead on the left. Fearing that it would be off the road and we’d miss it, we asked again. This time the guy pointed, there it was sitting slightly above the highway on the right, just like the others had said. We were happy campers, we wouldn’t be camping tonight, after all.
The staff is friendly albeit quiet. The manager, a short Portuguese guy seemed to have a Napoleonic complex. He verbalized loud and clear to the others. We had a room with toilet and shower, even hot water. Cat jumped in then let out a scream. A huge spider that had been living in the drain came crawling up near her foot. I moved in for the kill and the rest is history.
Dinner was in a dark room. They put a Miami Sound Machine videotape in and we listened to Gloria Estefan sing and watched her dance as we ate. Dinner was fantastic. Fresh fish, potatoes and a very tasty squash. They even had a bottle of pretty good wine. It was 10:00 PM by the time we crawled under the covers.
December 5, 2003
Saltinho to Quebo
The included breakfast was better than the usual Continental. A fried egg and sausage, sort of like little smokies, along with the bread and coffee. I ordered an additional orange drink to wash our malaria pills down.
We were out the door by 9:00 AM but stopped at the end of the drive to pump my tire up a bit. While pumping I found 2 broken spokes and a wheel that was way out of alignment. After applying my non-skills for half an hour with the help of a young guy named Suleimani. It was obvious that the wheel was getting worse, not better so I asked if there was anyone close by who worked on bikes. He and the group of spectators that had gathered all pointed down a trail. Suleimani said he would take the wheel to the mechanic. I agreed because I didn’t want to leave Cat there alone.
After he had been gone for 10 minutes we decided that I should have gone to keep them from trying to take the gear cluster off. We thought he had said it was ½ kilometer but it would be more than 2 ½ to the second village where I found the local Guru of Velo in the middle of a group of groupies and onlookers. He was working on another bike and hadn’t started on our wheel, yet. I had replaced the two broken outside spokes and just wanted him to true up the wheel. He tried to get some point across but it was lost in the language abyss. Finally he got the point and did his best to straighten it. (Later I would discover that he was trying to tell me that there were 2 more broken spokes on the inside.)
It was 11:00 by the time Suleimani and I got back to the bikes. The walk was a walk back in time. The 2 villages were timeless. The huts may have been there for several centuries and lifestyles that haven’t changed in that time, either. I wished that I had brought the camera. He told me about his family, he’s 22 and has 3 brothers and 2 sisters. His family owns much of the land along the trail near the road. It’s a cashew grove. The trees are in bloom now and they harvest in April.
Cat had entertained lots of onlookers while we were gone. Suleimani helped again and we soon had the wheel on and were off. We stopped at the bottom of the hill for photos of the waterfall. It was created when the old bridge collapsed in 1947. I checked the wheel while Cat took pics. My brakes were dragging badly so I cured them the only way I know how. I loosened them to the point that I had no rear brake. Mpeg 057 Saltinho Falls
No, we didn’t get going then, we went back to the Hotel. Cat discovered that her headlamp wasn’t in the bag. Napoleon and crew disavowed knowledge but we felt sure that they had found it. Cat checked the bedpost where she had hung it and under the bed, too. They crew stood silent and watched while she searched as we questioned the Manager and as we rode away. We’ll always believe that the little girl found it and the Manager kept it.
We rode 10 kilometers then stopped and ate our left over fish from dinner and some bread that we took from breakfast. Time was again getting away from us.
I spotted a girl pounding the stick into grain under a tree. It’s sort of like a giant mortar and pestle. Yesterday I decided that I would stop and ask if I could take a picture the next time I saw this grain grinding process. The girl was young and shy. She seemed okay so I took a photo of her and a little baby who was clinging to the mortar. As I shot a little video a young woman walked up and was curious. She was well endowed and her breasts were exposed beneath a net blouse. I raised the camera and she seemed pleased to have a picture taken. When I showed it to her she squinted then pulled her hair back and pinned it up. She posed again, this time with her husband. He was shirtless and muscular. Then they gathered the entire clan around and asked for a picture. I wish there was a way to leave a copy with them. However they seemed happy to have just shared a moment of their lives with us.
The American Breast Fetish
(This is the third example of women or girls that have appeared bare breasted and posed for a picture. It is as natural as life, here. Many women sit and nurse their babies in public. If, like me, you’re a male, raised in the US, the lack of public display of breasts was cause for breast fetishes. Sure, I admit that I am drawn to look, you are always drawn to those things forbidden. I remember reading of a woman who was breastfeeding in a shopping mall in California. The security guards held her and the local Police arrested her for indecent exposure? Isn’t that a great deal more unnatural than this lifestyle?)
We knew that we were at the end of our ride when we rode into Quebo, just 29 kilometers from the Saltinho. Our hope was that the Airport indicated on the map would have a motel or room for rent. Several people gathered round us on in the heart of the village and denied any existed. A stop at the Police Station didn’t help much but a guy we met there took us to a bar where they had a room they would rent. It began to look like the room that the barroom hookers might ply their trade to me. It was dirty and had no windows. As for a toilet, only the one in the bar and it was dirty beyond belief. They asked 6,000 CFA, twice as much as we’d paid Spencer for his room with bath. I turned them down, they wanted to negotiate but I hated the place. Cat worried that it was the only option we had but we finally decided to try the airport.
Down the Main and up a long hill there was a nice looking building that had a Telephone Company sign on it. We pulled up and I went in and asked if we could sleep there. The guy must have thought we just wanted to rest because he took me out back and pointed to a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. When I finally got the
point across that we wanted a room he shook his head in the negative direction.
Back out on the road, a guy watching urged us to follow. He took us to his home, we followed him inside and he showed us a bedroom. It was unkempt but he began clearing the cloths and personal items and insisting that we stay. He, Saido, had given us his room. His wife, Adema, came in and they finished clearing their things out then he had some boys take some doors and hardware out of the room next door. He also had a guy that was sleeping there remove his bedroll. We had more than just a room, we had a family for the night.
Tired, we sat on the porch and watched as his neighbors paraded in and out trying to get a look at the Blancos. Saido seems to love the limelight. We think he’s fairly affluent, he has a truck but hires drivers. He has other businesses that he tried to tell us about but we couldn’t get it. A friend operates a small store in a room of his house with a window where he passes merchandise our and takes money in. Though it is tiny he seems to have customers coming and going a lot of the time. He stays open from 7:00 AM until 11:00 PM.
We met 2 of their 3 children, Mussa their son who is 18 and daughter, Mariama, 23. They have a daughter 16 who wasn’t around. Saido sort of curled up in a wooden chair on the porch and talked with us as best he could. He does speak some French so Cat can get part of what he is trying to say. He told us that he has 2 wives, the other lives in Bissau. When Adema came out he stopped talking about the other. There are several young kids running around. We assume that at least some of them are grandchildren.
They fired up their little barbeque and we cooked pasta. Cat slipped our bottle of wine into the water bottles and we had a loaf of bread. They are a Muslim family and we didn’t want to embarrass or upset them with alcohol. We do think that Saido and his friend, the grocer, smoked hashish or something. They both got real loose, laughed at things they said between themselves and lounged with feet up on chairs on the porch.
The toilet is outside, inside a bamboo fence but open to the sky. It is what one area had called, Long Drop. A squatter toilet that is positioned over a hole in the ground. They have no electricity or running water either. Darkness comes early. We threw our sleeping bags on the mattress and were on Saido and Adema’s bed by 8:30 PM.
It was hot and the family remained on the porch, talking and laughing. Despite the noise we both dropped off before 9:00.
December 6, 2003
Quebo to Kandiafara
6 Paved, 40 Dirt and 20 on Jungle Track
A National Geographic Experience!
It’s easy to get up early but hard to start before the 7:00 AM sunrise. We didn’t bath last night and I didn’t shave this morning. We spent a half hour saying our goodbyes to the family and neighbors. What a great experience. We cycled back down the hill into Quebo and bought bread and water.
Outside the village we stopped and brushed our teeth along the road then found a spot where we sat on a couple of truck tires and ate the bread and drank our Orange soft drinks for breakfast. Several farm people walked by or stood and stared but it was impossible for us to communicate.
Interesting, Mampata is the village at the crossroads where we leave pavement and start riding on red dirt. Mampata is also the name of the village next to Saltinho. Maybe the map is incorrect? We stopped and asked at the Service Station to be sure that we should turn. A group of locals gathered round. One of them had enough English to tell us, “You go that way”, as he pointed toward the dirt.
Though it’s dirt the surface was flat and smooth. We rode hard and made good time. When we pulled up at the Frontier roadblock at 10:30 and we were surprised to hear that this is Gadamael. On our map its 40 Km from the turn off. Then they told us that the way to Kandiafara wasn’t a road at all, just two shallow ruts through the bushes. Should we go on to the south and cross at Sansale as Attila had suggested. The Border Guards all agreed that it would be shorter going to Kandiafara. One of them took our Passport and then began to tell us that we had to pay them for a Visa. We took the Passports and turned to the pages with the Visas. They talked among themselves then gave up and waived us onward.
We think we may have missed the turn to Kandiafara as we were now slowly picking our way northwest through dirt, rock and ruts. Our plan has been to ride to a place called Dabiss. The trail worsened, the jungle thickened and a guy we met told us that it was still 20 Km to Kandiafara and 35 more to Dabiss. We began a series of ups and downs on very tough, hard rock and dirt trail. We are now mountain biking with 60 and 70 pound handicaps. The downs were steep and led to creeks that we had to ford. Crossing 7 of these really slowed progress. We had to stop, take our shoes off, wade and push then put the shoes back on wet feet and push up the steep hill away from the water. The only consolation is that the water was cool on this hot humid day. (Some of our information tells us not to go in to the water as there are bacteria and virus that can give us bad medical problems.)
Oh, there were always people doing laundry at each crossing. Most of the women are bare breasted. At the first place where we saw a group of them I asked Cat to take a picture. She was worried that it might upset them but I insisted. These are what I call National Geographic moments. These are pictures usually reserved for the pages of that magazine and now we in the midst of it. As she raised the camera she thought that her fears were about to be realized. One of the women began to scream and run through the water. Cat was almost ready to put the camera away when we realized that she was getting her little boy so that he could be in the picture. The kid was screaming, probably afraid of the Blancos. The other women came running, splashing and posed in a line in the middle of the creek. Again, what is taboo where we live is perfectly natural here.
At one crossing I took my bike into the water and Cat went on ahead to get pictures. Her bike stand slowly sank in the mud and the bike tumbled over, into the water. We both ran through the creek and struggled to lift it out. She is carrying the computer bag that was damaged when our room was robbed in Morocco. We’ve gotten lazy, lately. Thinking only about rain and not expecting any, we haven’t been putting the plastic bag around the computer. The outer case was soaked and most of the CDs and maps and papers were wet. We dried the case as much as possible, took everything out and wiped the bag then repacked. Another learning experience. Hopefully the computer will survive?
Two of the creek crossings were into water so deep that the front bags would have completely submerged. Ortlieb bags are waterproof but that would be too great a test. I lifted the front wheel of the each bike and held the top of the bags above the fast flowing water. At times the rocks were slippery adding to the struggle to stay upright.
A narrow plank bridge saved us the time of removing our shoes. About half way across I staggered but caught my balance. I thought, maybe I should have taken my shoes, maybe all my cloths off? Go native!
We began to sense that seeing women with laundry on their heads coming toward us was a bad sign. They were coming back from the next creek, the next big down hill and water crossing for us. We’re also amazed with the cleanliness, women seem to be constantly washing and spreading cloths out on bushes or the roadside to dry. The washing system its self seems tough on the clothing. They rub, scrub and pound them on the rocks. The process may be tough on the environment, too. The water is often full of soapsuds and oily film downstream.
Lunch was our left over pasta as we sat on a log. Thank goodness for leftovers. The pasta and bread are a pretty boring diet but way ahead of hunger.
Some of the up hills away from the creeks have become so rough and steep that we had to double team and push one bike up at a time. Hot, sweat and strain were taking their toll. The path deteriorated and was covered with sticks and branches. As we passed a village it was clear that they use it for a toilet. What a stinky, nasty looking mess and those flies, they were having a feast. Our wheels seemed to be attracted to the piles. We ground to a stop at a huge mud hole and Cat walked back to ask directions, we couldn’t go on this way!
The villagers were amazed to see us. They gathered around and stared as we tried to communicate. One of them pointed to a pathway when Cat asked, “Kandiafara”? He indicated that we should go down the tiny dirt trail. We took his word and started then came into a clearing with three huts. A woman had some bananas and held them out to us. Cat dug out some Guinea Bissau coins and gave them to her. She didn’t know what they were. I wolfed three of the tasty little bananas down as she and her grandkids puzzled over the coins.
A young guy, Sadio, rode up on a bicycle and explained what they were, to her. She gave us more bananas once she understood the value. Then Sadio signaled for us to follow and he led us along the pathway, through deep, thick jungle. Few words could pass between us but he somehow knew that we needed help. He would lead and when he got too far ahead, he’d stop and wait. There are many forks in the trail, we would have been sitting, trying to ask, ask ask if not for Sadio.
The frontier Border Crossing is just a few huts and a lot of military uniforms. We pulled around the cable stretched across the path and pulled up to a hut. The man in charge called out for us to come inside. We played dumb and spoke English. He almost foiled our method by bringing a guy in that spoke pretty well. He told us that the man was Douane, what ever that means, and he wanted us to take everything out of our bags for inspection. We gave him our Passports and disregarded his demand. I stood outside the hut and leaned through a window. He insisted that I come inside but I told him that I had to stay close to the bikes so that kids wouldn’t bother them. He was getting angry then he read my Passport and asked if I was born in 1939? My answer had the runner that brought our English-speaking friend on the run, again. He came back with a man that they introduced as also having been born in 1939. He may be the eldest in this village. We’ve read that the average age of men here in Guinea is only 49 years.
The guy was happy to meet another old man. We discussed being old through our interpreter, which I’m sure lost something in the translation. The mood of the entire group including the angry Douane, softened. He called the Commissair of Militaire over and they talked. With a wave of the hand we were off the hot seat and released from his custody. We mounted up, I shook hands again with the old one and we cycled down the hill. Sadio had been hovering on the outskirts of the crowd. Perhaps not wanting to get involved with the Police? He quickly joined us again once we were freed and led us to the shore of the wide river below.
As a memory, there was a huge old truck, trying to get up the almost impossible looking hill as we left and rolled away from Douane Man. We had to wait while the 20 or so people riding on the top of the 20 or so tons of goods, got out and pushed. The engine had died so they all did the heave ho and a young boy crawled along putting a big rock under the wheel to keep it from rolling backward. We came down to one of the little rivers as one of the all wheel drive monsters roared down on the other side, back rapping against the engine. I wanted a picture but the moment was so intense, as we tried to get out of the way, that we couldn’t get the camera out before the driver gunned the engine and roared up and away. You’ll just have to picture it in your mind based upon this verbal account.
We had two choices to cross the big river, a hollow log pirogue or motorized ferry. The ferry cost 3 times more but it looked stable. The guy had to paddle his pirogue over, fire up the ferry and motor back across. The boat runs on cable, one rolls up on a spool as the other plays out. The roll up pulls the boat through the water. We said our good byes to Sadio and gave him the little water left in one of our plastic bottles. The bottles seem to have real value to locals. He shook hands then we pushed up the ramp on the shore and onto the boat. It is a slow ride and there was a surprise on the south shore. The boat couldn’t reach shore, we had to take our shoes off and wade, as we pushed. Again, it was deep so we had to lift the front wheels for the first 10 feet.
Our feet were loaded with mud. The ferry operator indicated that we should walk to a little stream to wash them. We joined several locals as they washed up next to a woman doing laundry.
Up the hill away from the lake and into Kandiafara. It’s a very basic Border village. Several women were sitting in a row along the track, selling produce and little a few other small things. One of the big trucks pulled up, the 20 or so people poured off and faced the Border Guards. The truck rolled down, through the water and onto the ferry. It is hard to believe that the rickety thing could handle a load like that.
It was almost 4:00 PM and we feared that we would never make it to Dabiss. In fact Sadio had stammered out in his mix of Portuguese, French and English that we should stay here tonight, rest and go on in the morning.
I stood the guard while Cat went to meet THE MAN. Jean Pierre is THE MAN here. He is in charge of the Gendarmerie. He gave her a hard time at first then softened when she asked about his Brittany Spears t-shirt. He stamped our Passports and we were free to go.
When Cat came back we talked about our options. We can’t make it to Dabiss, Jean Pierre confirmed that it’s 35 kilometers on jungle track. Since Cat is already acquainted she went back and asked if there was a place where we could sleep here in the village. After telling her no three times he finally suggested that we could sleep in his Gendarmerie, they have one vacant room.
The room is dirty, dusty, and there are 3 giant spiders hanging on the wall. Pretty bad but it feels safe. We took his offer. We don’t have privacy because one of the guys pointed out that he sleeps in the adjacent room and there is no door between the two. Jean Pierre sent one of his young guys in with a broom. I took it and shifted the dust around a little. We decided that we’d wait until dark to set the tent. It was still hot and we feared a re-run of the heat we had endured in Sao Domingo.
After a disappointing inventory of our foodstuff Cat went shopping. The women have little food and there is no store in the village. Disappointed, she came back empty handed. I suggested asking Jean Pierre if he had some rice we could buy. He brought a bag out and poured the last of it into our pan. We would eat after all. When Cat asked him how much we should pay he just waved his hand. This hard looking guy is soft in the middle, after all.
Using our little camp stove we whipped up big pot of rice and ate it, from the pot. Cat had added a bag of vacuum packed tuna that we’ve carried for months. It wasn’t gourmet but pretty tasty when compared to the nothing we had been facing. As we ate three little girls came in and watched. They sat on the bench and talked among themselves.
There is a dance in the village tonight. The Gendarmes wanted us to go with them. We were tired and feared leaving our things unattended. The girls stayed and baby-sat a little girl while the Gendarme in the room next door and his girlfriend/wife went dancing. They lay on the mattress on the floor and played with the baby well into the night.
We sat the tent and crawled in. It was hot, we put our street cloths on and lay on our sleeping bags. Sleep came despite the chatter of the girls next door. The Gendarme came in about 1:00 AM. He and his girl friend took the other girls home then came back and talked for a long time. The baby cried and cooed. We slept, what a day. We have cursed Attila several times today but as we drifted off we agreed that this is a once in a lifetime experience. A National Geographic experience.
Sunday, December 7, 2003
Kandiafara to Boke
69 Jungle Tract Kilometers
26 Kilometers via Taxi
Somehow it seems easy to wake up early when you’re sleeping on the floor. The sun streamed through cracks in the window shutter and the baby in the next room started singing her morning music. (Crying to wake up the Mom so she could get fed.) The three curious little girls soon joined us again. They sat, amazed as we took down the tent and slipped it into the little sack. We had everything packed away and were out the door by 8:00 AM.
The village was just starting to stir. Our Gendarme friends were all a little blurry eyed, too much fin last night? I wanted a picture of Jean Pierre, he gathered some of his men around then several kids ran to get in. I love the picture, it shows his stern face yet you can feel that beneath the stone surface lies a heart. (When I look at the picture I also see the look that we often see in rebel fighters, too.) Cat had made a trip to the Village water well last night. We decided to get some to pour over our heads later when it gets hot. The girl pumped with her foot as she filled the bottle.
We were off, up the hill and away from Kandiafara without breakfast. More tough terrain and jungle then we stopped, sat on a rock and ate the left over rice. Not the tastiest breakfast but it does have good food value. Jean Pierre told us that it is 90 kilometers to Boke and the first 35 will be jungle tract.
It was more struggle, down the rocky hills to creeks, water crossings, then back up the other side. Then, a change, a bridge, then another. We were getting back into civilization. An amazing thing we’ve noted, so many people walking carrying a plastic bottle or other small items and either coming from or headed toward Dabiss? A 4-hour walk to get oil or gasoline or food?
A steep downhill then we crossed a bridge over a fairly large river. There were the usual assortment of launders along the water but one guy standing, soaping up and bathing, seemed oblivious to the others and to our stares. This was Cats revenge for the way I’ve sometimes studied the washerwomen. There was a beautiful shaded area on the upstream side that rendered a wonderful reflection picture. We have begun thinking of trying to get a ride into Boke. The red dirt, dust and heat were getting to us. Three guys stood next to a 4WD but couldn’t understand what we wanted. Finally one pointed to the decal on the door. They were a State vehicle. We supposed that meant that they couldn’t or wouldn’t take us?
Dabiss was not much more than Kandiafara, however, among the huts was a small grocery stand. The place was cluttered and there were hundreds of bees buzzing around the door. They have no electricity here so no cold drinks but the guy did have American Cola. I drank 2 two sitting on a small bench as the bees buzzed round my head. Cat sipped 1 then we bought 4 more to put in the bags. She asked if he had bottled water, he said no then amazingly found one buried under the piles of cardboard and clutter.
The jungle track became a dirt road. We never thought we’d be so happy to see a dirt road. There are a lot of potholes but we could easily slither around them after what we’ve been through these last 2 days. There were a series of bridges or culverts that had washed away in high water times. The road reverted to creek crossings but the water was shallow, we began walking through without taking off our shoes.
The area suddenly became much drier grassland. We stopped and sat on the edge of the road to drink another cola and eat a package of cookies the guy found in the mess.
We passed an old car with a flat tire. The three guys were on their hands and knees patching. They thought it was 22 kilometers to Boke. Cat was tiring and the day was fleeting by.
The grass grew taller and the trees scrubbier. A tower of smoke we had been watching for several kilometers became a fire that raged on both sides of the road. I felt confident that we’d be okay but Cat was really afraid. We’ve seen the results of the ravages of fire in California and know that it can become dangerous. The wind shifted, the fire was driving it’s self. The shift brought a shower of hot ashes and fanned the flames on our left up into a roaring inferno. The wall of orange began to move parallel to the road. The heat was becoming unbearable. We pedaled hard to outrun it. Some of the area had burned earlier so the fire was forced to take a turn away from us. Passing through that area we were hit several times by smoldering branches falling from trees.
The flat tire guys passed, honked and waved then pulled in front of a couple of huts across the road from each other. When we pulled up the driver pointed to one of them with red numbers painted on it. PK 26, he told us that it was now 26 more kilometers to Boke. We’d come quite a way since his 22 KM assessment and had thought we were inside the final 10. Cat was crushed. It was 5:30 and at our present rate we’d never get in before dark.
So, another rubber off the road experience was born. (Sorry Terry but we’re hot, sweaty and tired, we’ve been tested by fire and water but darkness in this rural area seemed to tough a test. They offered to take us to Boke for 3,000 CFA or about $6.00, we took the deal.)
We loaded the bikes and bags into the back seat and trunk as a crowd gathered. Even in the car it took an hour to pick the way through bumps and water hazards in the clunky old car. Then, in front of another house with the story of distance in red on its wall, we found that we’d only come 16 km.
The driver pulled over and checked his front tire. It was flat so we had to get out then take some of the bags out of the trunk. I thought he was digging for his spare but no, he found a lug wrench and old tire pump. That’s right, he had no spare or jack. They got large rocks and tried to lift the car with one of the pounding sticks that a lady was using to grind her millet. I watched then remembered a lesson my Dad had taught me years ago. My first car, an old 1946 Ford, suffered several blown transmissions because of my heavy teenaged foot. Our jack wouldn’t lift it high enough but Dad got a 2 X 6 and tree stump and lifted the back of the car up high enough to take the rear axle off. He called it lever and fulcrum and said that you could move the earth using the moon if you had a long enough lever.
I moved the rock (fulcrum) closer to the front wheel and tried to use the stick as a lever. It wasn’t strong enough so they got another. Three of us leaned on the lever while another piled wood on a second rock. The wheel was off the ground.
They pumped for a while then realized that they were getting nowhere. When they took the tube out it had a huge hole. Undaunted, they patched with a huge patch. Cat and I were offered chairs so we sat like spectators watching an event. The repair took more than an hour. (As we sat I reflected on one of my theories about life. I think that one way to eternity is through the thoughts and things that we pass along to others during our living years. This is an example of the lever and fulcrum theory passed to me by my Father. Now these 3 guys in the heart of Africa have it in their minds, thanks to Dad. They’ll never know Dad but will carry his thoughts and perhaps pass them along to others and continue our chain of life thoughts. )
It was dark when we finally got into Boke. We had them take us to a Le Chalet the only Hotel in the pages of Lonely Planet. Cat and the driver went in. I stayed with the other two and the bikes. They had no room in the Inn but would move one of their employees and let us sleep in her room, tonight only. We saw no other option and took the deal. The three guys helped us unload then shook hands and exchanged goodbyes. There was a feeling of having shared an adventure among the 5 of us. We knew that these past 2 days had been an adventure of a lifetime for us!
The room’s small and cluttered. The toilet and shower are communal and across a courtyard. We were covered in red road dust. Our sweaty cloths were filthy. First things first, once we had the bikes and bags safely inside we locked the room with the huge padlock and headed for the bar. It was dark and the music loud but the beer was cold. The bartender even sent out for food. Chicken and salad, not great but almost filling. The beer and our elation at having made it, one way or another, turned the evening into a celebration of life and our good fortune by candlelight. They lost power twice. We were left in total darkness until our friendly bartender brought a candle.
Our showers were just sponge baths. The water dribbled out of a pipe but we got most of the red dust off then fell into the sagging bed. The strain was too much for the old bed and it fell apart. I lifted the mattress and replaced the cross bars. We lit the mosquito smoker and this time, gently slipped into bed.
December 8, 2003
Moving Day in Boke
An annoying squeaking sound kept us awake. Drifting in and out, we finally decided that it must be an insect. I turned the lights on and found the culprit, on my shoe. It was a baby mouse crying for his mother. I got him in a piece of paper and set him out onto the walkway. I dared not tell Cat that if there was a baby there was a Mom and probably other siblings living in the room with us.
We did sleep soundly despite the heat and smell of the anti mosquito smoke. When we awoke we reviewed our options. We were still dirty, our clothing was filthy, covered with the red dirt. The bikes were limping along with broken spokes. We decided that we needed to stay another night and get back into shape today.
Bad news, nothing has changed, the Hotel is over booked and they can’t let us stay, even in the employee room, tonight. They suggested another place but had no phone number for it. I met Doctor Adama Marie, the Minister of Health, in the courtyard. She’s here for the conference that has filled the Hotel. She spoke a little English and tried to help us. When I asked about breakfast she invited us to come with her into town. We had to hustle to get together in just 10 minutes. She has a 4WD, five-passenger pickup truck and driver.
We rode with them to the restaurant she had told us about only to find that it was closed. Asking around she found a small café. We wolfed down an omelet and washed it down with Fanta Orange. Dr. Adama-Marie paid for breakfast because we had no Guinea Francs. Then she told her driver to take us to a moneychanger where we could exchange CFA. He dropped her and we promised to see each other again. The moneychanger is a merchant in a tiny store stall. He took our CFA and gave us a huge pile of Guinea Francs. He took us to a taxi stand in town. After asking and walking to a different stand, 7 of us jammed into a sub compact car designed to carry 5. The car had a hard time getting started, some of the other drivers had to push it.
The Hotel Le Filaou is 7 Km south of town. The road takes a turn down through a riverbed then climbs up to the Hotel. The taxi driver turned off the engine and coasted down then got it running again and sputtered up the other side. Le Filaou is up a dirt road away from the highway. Once inside the walls it is quite nice looking. They have a room, in fact they have lots of rooms. We booked one then stood and waited for a taxi at the road. It took two changes to get back to Le Chalet. It’s up a dirt road away from the highway. Once inside the walls it is quite nice looking. They have a room, in fact they have lots of rooms. We booked one then stood and waited for a taxi at the road. It took two changes to get back to Le Chalet.
Mohamed, the reception clerk at Le Chalet, hosed off the bikes. Sitting in the shade we ate Peanut butter with dry bread and used a soft drink to wash it down, that was lunch. We pulled our filthy cycling cloths back on, bid Mohamed farewell and headed up the hill toward town.
The road is familiar now, the weather hot and muggy. We pedaled through town then coasted down to the river and ended up pushing and sputtering the last ½ kilometer to Le Filaou.
The shower was great, we had warm water and the AC blew a steady stream of cool. Amara, the guy who checked us in took our dirty laundry. I took the rear wheels off both bikes then Baba served us cold colas at a table under a tree.
When I asked Baba about a bicycle mechanic he got a young local boy to take a look at the wheels. He knew a lot about bikes but couldn’t true wheels. Baba insisted on accompanying me into town. We caught a cab and he found a group of young kids working on bikes. One, a 12-year-old named Amadou Korka, took charge. He and the others had never seen the wrench that Brad sent to pull the cluster off the axel. I showed them how to break it loose. They changed out the broken spokes then I asked them to true the wheels. Baba, who speaks some English, explained that they didn’t have any way to do it here so the boy would come back to the Hotel with us.
We needed more money so Baba led us through the hot crowded streets to another little stall. The guy there changed CFA to Guinea Francs at a much better rate than the first moneychanger.
Back at Le Filaou, Amadou Korka went right to work on the wheels. I bought 3 Cokes and treated him and Baba. I have a feeling that this may be the first time Amadou Korka has tasted Coca Cola. He also looks around at the Hotel like it’s foreign to him, too. He spun the wheels, tweaked the spokes and eventually got them into fair shape. My wheel is running fairly straight but is out of round. This was way over his and my level of ability. They seem worthy of the trip to Conakry.
Amadou Korka asked for 5,000 GF for his work. (About $2.50 US) I gave him 10,000. He stuffed it into his greasy pocket like it was a lump of gold. We’re sure it’s the most he has ever earned in such short time. Probably more than a couple days wages. As he started to leave I called him back and gave him cab fare. He was astounded.
There is a funny looking little animal roaming around the courtyard. A poster in the office says that it’s a Celephalophe? Never heard of it or seen one like it before. It eats out of the planters and walks up to us without fear. It posed, I took its picture then a big frog hopped up. You get 2 pics for the price of 1.
Cat spent the afternoon emptying all the bags and drying out the computer. One of the rear bags took a little water, too. It has a small hole that I will have to patch before we get to rainy weather. The good news is that she set up the computer and it worked.
For dinner, Baba served us cold beers, steak and fries. The food was great but the gathering cloud of mosquitoes chased us back into the room fairly early.
December 9, 2003
Boke to Buffo
Breakfast was as good as dinner. With the long road ahead of us we needed the fuel. We learned that Amara had done more than just take the laundry, he had done the laundry, himself. These guys have been great to us. We tipped them half of the extra amount that Baba had gotten for us at the money exchange. They were as happy with that as we were with all they’d done for us.
It was 10:00 AM when we finally bumped down the dirt road and out onto the highway. There were two buses and several vans full of chanting and singing people. A pro President Conte Caravan. I wanted pictures but they started to move on and we needed to get a move on.
It was to be an ups and downs sort of day. We stopped at a little store in a village and bought canned corned beef and bread. The gathering crowd made it impossible to eat so we rode on. Hungry, we stopped, sat on the shoulder, next to the bikes and ate. I was having a tough time between the heat and my sickly stomach. The shade felt good but the air was still. I took my shirt off, Cat stripped to her sports bra and we poured some water on our heads and down our backs. The best feeling was when a truck or car swooshed past and stirred up a breeze.
In mid-afternoon we pulled into a fair sized village. School was just getting out, I pointed the camera at a large Mosque and that started a stampede. The kids ran to get into the picture. We rode a ways further and stopped to buy a soft drink from a café. As Cat made the attempt the kids came running and crowded around. I took their picture then decided to get a video of them. I started the camera then said, “Bye bye”. A few responded then I yelled it out again. This time a lot of them yelled back. Again and the entire group yelled in unison, “Bye bye”!
The hills and heat took their toll. Our late start and slow going had us a long way from Boffa as dusk began to close in. It was after 7:00 PM and after dark as we entered Boke. Cat turned her tail light on and I got our headlight out. We needed them to keep cars and trucks at bay. The crowd on one corner directed us onto a dirt road to find the Hotel. Three more asks then a guy led us to a corner and pointed toward a wall and gate. He pushed the pedestrian gate open, we were there, we’d arrived at Hotel Niara Bely.
They don’t have AC but there is an oscillating fan on the ceiling. We have our own toilet and shower but, bad news, no water. The young guys here are great and want to accommodate. They brought warm water for a bucket bath. We asked about dinner, they sent out for food while we cleaned up.
The dining room has two of the ceiling fans. We had several beers and a pretty good meal. After dinner we went out front and Cat started a conversation with a couple of guys that are going to Boke tomorrow. They were amazed that we’d cycled from there in one day. We are pretty amazed ourselves.
The young guys, Aly, Ousmane, Amara, Youssouf and Al Hassan gathered around her and began asking for the English translation of words like head, neck, and shoulder. They wrote them down side by side and pronounced them with her. She was their teacher. They loved it, she did too. Later a young guy came who spoke very good English. He, Mohamed, told us about his school and invited us to visit it in the morning. As much as we wanted to we told him that we were going to cycle more than 100 kilometers again and would need to get an early start. He confided that he, like so many others, wants to come to America, work and get rich. I told him to hold onto the dream. All things are possible and they all start with a dream.
You Must Be Crazy", Sou sou
December 10, 2003
Boffa to Gamesiah
All the boys were there and hovered around as we ate our omelets and bread. At 8:30 they all left for school and we headed for the ferry. It’s only a kilometer to the banks of the Fatala River. We rode down toward the water past the long line of cars and trucks waiting for a spot on one of the back and forth boats. The roads surface and the dirt on the shoulders is covered in a slick coat of oil accumulated over years of vehicles sitting, waiting and leaking.
There is a scramble for position as the boat pulls up to the shore. The people coming over run to get out of the path of cars and trucks that must back off the ferry. Pedestrian traffic and us on bikes then run to get aboard in the midst of the moving trucks and cars. The ramp is down in the water and is slick with oil, too. I made it but Cat lost control and her bikes almost went down. As she struggled several guys came to her rescue, got her upright then pushed her up the ramp.
The boat is old and dirty. There were several Soldiers on board. I wanted pictures but we were warned not to take them. When we pulled away from the shore the boat rolled and dipped in the waves. The mouth of the river is wide and the current strong. The boat really feels dangerous and we were ready when it finely began approach to the opposite shore. Then it stopped and sat bobbing around like a cork. We had to wait while the other Ferry finished loading and pulled away from the dock. De-embarkation was the same scramble in reverse. We got off without incident and almost felt like kissing the ground.
It was now 10:00 AM, another late start. It was another hilly ride in hot, humid air. I didn’t feel very well and our progress was slow.
We stopped for soft drinks at every place we found that sold them. A small café and some little stands around it sold us canned meat and bread. We drank Colas in the café among a crowd of students. They were playing games and just sitting, talking. We were the great curiosity of the day, perhaps of the year?
To avoid the stares we cycled down the road then stood and ate near a banana stand. . We’re both feeling the effect of yesterday’s long ride and the heat. We asked if they had some water that we could pour on our heads. Negative at first, the Banana lady then took a pitcher and walked across the road. She returned and handed the full vessel to us. Totally refreshing, the cool water cascaded onto our heads then down our backs. We poured on each other until we felt refreshed. We bought bananas from the girl, she charged more than usual then as we put them in our bag she gave us another hand full.
At 3:30 we came upon a small Hotel, Relais de Campos. It’s just a few thatched roof huts surrounding a bar but it looks better to us than the prospect of another 40 kilometers. Cat checked the hut. It was almost adequate and the brothers who own it were real characters. We settled in at a table and drank a warm beer. They have no power or running water. Christopher is the elder and seems to run the show. Toure, the middle son, looks and acts like he’s half out of it. He dances around and sings along with the tapes of African music they’re playing. Harvey (Pronounced AR Vay) is the youngest, taller and thinner than his brothers, he seems not quite together and takes orders from both of them.
Toure volunteered to fix Cats shorts. They are falling apart from wear and washing. He uncovered an old pedal sewing machine and actually did a good job of pulling the ripped material back together.
Harvey came with a big bucket of water for our showers. It was cold but felt great. The toilet is the bath, too. Both need water from the bucket. Christopher brought some rubber flip-flops and we both splashed and cleansed.
Christopher made it clear that they had no kitchen and could serve no food. We asked about cooking and he said that they did have some pots and pans and a stove that we could use. About 6:00 PM we pulled a package of pasta out and went in search of the stove. Christopher’s wife, came across the road from their house with a big metal pot on her head. She sat it on top a stairway and Christopher waved for us to join him. They had made a huge bowl of rice and we were invited to eat with the guys.
Christopher dished out two plates for us, white rice with red sauce and dried fish on top. He gave us small chairs and spoons then he and Harvey crouched down nearby and ate the traditional way, with their hands. They roll the rice, that’s wet with the sauce, into oblong balls then shove it into their mouths in one piece. Toure wondered in, squatted and took a couple of bites then straggled off, still singing to himself. We ate then sat and finished our beer in the light of a kerosene lantern. The boys went down and opened the bar.
We took the lantern back and sat in front of our hut listening to the sounds of the jungle. Though we had both sprayed with bug repellant the mosquitoes began to win the war. Inside, Cat felt claustrophobic and hot. We lay on top the sheet, sweating and breathing the smoke from the smoldering anti-mosquito spiral.
December 11, 2003
Gamesiah to Conakry, Guinea
Final Day of Cycling on the African Atlantic Coast
Early to bed, early to rise. We were anxious to get on the road. With only 2 bananas under our belts we bid Christopher farewell and limped off down the road to Conakry. I confirmed that 3 of my inside spokes have broken. We chose to wobble on.
No bread to be found in Gamesiah, we did find a liter of water and two orange drinks. Rather than eat in front of so many who struggle to find enough to eat we rode on a couple of kilometers and stopped in a quiet spot. Not the start of a great diet day!
Another 10 kilometers, another small village. Here we came across 2 guys on bikes with boxes of baguettes on the back racks. 2 loaves and we set off, again looking for a quiet place. A driveway to what looked like a vacant house looked good. With in moments of stopping a crowd began to gather. A woman came out of the house and indicated it was okay to sit on her bench. Then a couple dozen political marchers caught us and wanted to know what we were about. (The Presidential Elections are on December 21. 84 year old President Conte seems to be running unopposed but we’ve seen lots of trucks and buses full of people waving Conte signs. Shades of the election in Mauritania?) Next the two bread sellers pulled up, their baskets empty, and stared. The neighbor kids from across the street came over. They had picked some of the green oranges and offered them. We asked how much and the older one, about 6 years old said, “Two Hundred”.
I admired his spunk and got the 200 out but one of the bread guys slapped his hand and pushed him to give it back. Then the boys Father came across and insisted that he return the 200. I shook hands with the Papa and got the point across that we wanted the boys to have the money. He took one of the fruits and cut the peel off. I tried to peel one and eat it. The crowd laughed then Papa cut the top off the one he had peeled and sucked the juice out. Pretty soon most of the crowd was sucking on green oranges. We sat and ate our bread dipped in our diminishing supply of peanut butter as they watched and talked about us.
Onward through lush tropics and into coastal mountains. Fortunately, the road was fairly level to rolling yet it was pretty slow going on the wounded machines. (Cat has a broken spoke, too.) By 1:00 PM we rolled into Dubreka. 40 kilometers, it would have been impossible to have made it here last night. The main street is off to the right at the Round About. It is dirt, dusty and littered. The food in some of the little shacky restaurants smelled good but fear for our health led us to a small grocery store. The owner spoke a little strange English and said he was born in Australia but is Guinean. He pointed out a canned chicken sandwich meat and Cat bought. It and a couple of really cold Colas were pretty good. We sat on a bench in the shade and watched the coming and goings of Dubreka. The taxi stand in front of us was an interesting social phenomenon. Tiny compact cars built to haul 4 end up with 7 bodies jammed inside. The van buses are even more crammed full of people and their roves stacked with goods. Everything is loaded to the hilt, in fact, over loaded.
The remaining 44 kilometers started as an undulating road under the cliffs. At 33 Ks to go it joins the East West highway and gets dangerous. The traffic thickened to a steady stream and they all seemed to be in a hurry. We swept down a steep hill then crawled up the other side. About half way up a bus sat, broken down. The downhill traffic refused to slow and the uphill crawled on, into the oncoming onslaught. We were two little ants, stuck in a stream of elephants, African elephants!
Our choice of Hotels was one in the LPGB called Le Riviera. It has a good price, sounds clean and includes breakfast. We began the ask, ask, ask program and worked our way off the main highway onto a steep up that had us pushing for at least 1 ½ kilometers. It did widen and at the top we rolled, or limped, across and down. At a Shell Station a group of guys surrounded us and chattered among themselves then drew a map that turned out to be accurate. It didn’t reflect the distances very well so we ended up asking again and again. It was getting late, we worried that we’d be stuck on the street after dark, again. A scary thought in this city traffic.
At last, signs for two hotels near Le Riviera. We made the turn and bumped down a rocky lane. Two young guys advised us to go straight ahead then to the right. We’d missed the simple route in but they assured us we’d get there. We did.
Through the gate and into a different world. Our room is ground floor and nice, nice and cool. We showered then walked across for dinner. The place was fairly deserted. I’d heard a guy call out to a gal, “Hey, we’re over here”. Wow, very American sounding English. Inside, there was a guy sitting alone. We sat near him then turned and opened a conversation. Tim is here working on the construction of the new U S Embassy building. He just got here 2 weeks ago and will be here for 2 years. What a nice guy, he’s from Philadelphia but has traveled the world working for US Embassies. At just over 40, he is as well traveled as anyone we’ve ever met. He and his wife both worked and traveled together then he lost her to Ovarian Cancer. Despite the loss he remains upbeat and says that he will continue to travel and learn about the world and her peoples.
Our bed is king sized. The AC is affective. We tumbled in and slept.
December 12, 2003
Rest and Errands in Conakry
We are so happy to be here. Sleep was sound until 7:00 AM. The big bed beats anything we’ve slept on in several weeks. The AC kept us cool and the mosquitoes away. That in it’s self is worth the big bucks we’re paying.
As we headed out for breakfast we introduced ourselves to the manager and showed him our Lonely Planet where it says that breakfast is included. He asked how much we’re paying then stepped in to the office. When he came out he waved us toward the restaurant and said, “It is now inclusive”! Another great thing about this place.
A good Continental Breakfast that we supplemented with fruit plates. The manager was sitting near the pool so we bothered him again. He estimated that we could get a car and driver for the morning for about 20,000 Guinea Francs. ($10.00) One of the guys working near the gate waved and a car appeared. Yes, he would do the deal, we were off to get our Visas to Ghana.
Sadoubah drives like he knows what he’s doing but was lost for a time and played the ask, ask, ask game until he found the way. A jolly fellow at the gate of the Embassy asked what we wanted. When we said Visas he asked, “You want to visit my country”? He ushered us inside then we sat. Cat was impatient and finally opened the door and asked him if anyone was working. He flushed out a gal who reluctantly dug out forms for us to complete. That took just a few minutes then we sat again until Cat asked again. When the gal re-appeared she seemed almost disgusted that we didn’t know that we had to get 3 copies of the form made and pay $20 US? The jolly guy told us, “No problem, just go to the Hotel and get money and copies.
The Hotel just around the corner struck home as we pulled up. Tim had told us that the guys across the street gave the best currency exchange in town. We almost passed on asking because we needed US bucks. A last minute turn and we found that they had wads of every kind of money you can think of. Just 3 guys with two handheld calculators, sitting on the corner running a private bank. The rate of exchange for dollars was a little steep. They used limited English and sign language to let us know, as if we didn’t, that the US Dollar is still sinking like a rock.
With funny looking US money and copies we hustled back to the Embassy hopeful that they’d issue our Visas today. That was not to be, the laissez faire lady smiled, almost smirked, and told us to come back on Monday at noon as she slipped our forms under a stack on her desk.
The jolly guy gave us advice, “Go now and get Airline tickets, lots of people travel here at Christmas”. Sadoubah knew the Ghana Airlines office and we were there in minutes despite the dreadful traffic. The clerk was friendly, he should be, at $332.50 US per ticket plus about $162 for excess luggage. Yes, they take only US Dollars or Guinea Francs, no credit cards. Another challenge, where to get cash.
We tried two banks and struck out. Then, tired, hot and hungry we went back to the Hotel and asked for help. They were great, they put 900€ on our Visa Card and then did a switch to Guinea currency. Yea, we had to pay a penalty but not as much as we’d pay if we had to dip back into the Western Union supply. Lunch then we had Sadoubah pick us up and we made a trip to a Cyber Café. Cat went shopping at a nearby store for a few essentials while I opened the burgeoning e-mail box. Wow, 198 messages. After eliminating the junk we still had more than 150 to sort through.
Yikes! Web Master Wally sent an SOS message, our web site had expired? Holy Mackerel, it’s been 2 years since we set up www. WorldRiders2.com. How the time flies. Wally needed to know who we had bought the site from. We couldn’t remember? After a moments panic we opened another message and WonderMan Wally had found the site managers and renewed, WHEW!
A bottle of wine, a 5-liter jug of water and toothpaste, an hour and a half on the computer and Sadoubah whisked us back to our Shangri-la. This place, Le Riviera, is a tiny Island of luxury in a sea of dust, exhaust fumes and trashy streets. On top of all the other advantages we asked if they knew where we could get cash from our Visa Card and they told us, “Right here”! They put 900€ on it and they exchanged that for Guinea Francs. Amazing, (900€ becomes a huge pile of GF! Our tickets will cost 1,328,000 GF. The largest bill they have here is 5,000 GF so the stack has 354 of those and a little small change.) Wow, who would ever think that it would cost over 1.3 million to fly for 2 hours?
We savored a glass of wine in the room while I typed and Cat wrote small details of the past few days. Tim, our new friend from dinner last night invited us to attend a party at Marine House tonight. Yes, a contingent of US Marines live here and guard the US Embassy. We met him at 7:00 PM and walked around the corner to the House. Amazing, a security fence, an iron door with a little window like the old speak easies of prohibition days. You knock the little window opens you show your passport and suddenly you’re back in the US of A. The party is for the new Gunnery Sergeant, a woman, who assumes the Post, tomorrow. We met the out going G. S., Kurt, a very Gung Ho guy. He gave us a commemorative coin, “Marine Security Guard Detachment, Conakry, Guinea”. We could feel his pride in what he does as he handed it to us. He and the new G. S. were shooting a game of pool. Most of the detachment was watching a movie.
Two couples, one a career Marine, wife and two kids and the other, who work with the US Embassy, cornered us and we spent our time talking with them. One interesting aside, about half the marines there were African Americans and they all stood, drank and told stories amongst themselves. Though the Corp takes pride in its integration, equaled opportunity policies there still seems to be a color line within the troops? Maybe we just didn’t have enough time to really get to know the lay of the land but that was how it appeared?
Back at our Shangri la, we dined at the Friday Buffet trough. We always joked about those heavy weight folks who go to the Buffets but now we are them. Cat compared it to being on a Cruise Ship. Whatever, it was filling and fulfilling. Boudy, the Chef, introduced himself. He, the Manager and Engineer are all from Lebanon.
December 13, 2003
Another Day in Conakry
Brother Bob’s 58th Birthday
The Day They Caught SADAAM!
Slow start, now included breakfast, by the pool. Cat pulled our wad of bills out of the safe and we recounted. They gave us a big envelope to carry it in but we still felt conspicuous and hoped that folks on the street wouldn’t guess that we were packing almost a million five!
Our driver, Sadoubah, was ready and waiting. We rolled through streets that were just a crawl in yesterday’s traffic. The same Airline Clerk we talked with yesterday had us ticketed in short time. He even provided an Inflight Magazine with a map of Accra. At first he indicated that the flight was open seating. We could just see the swarm of people pushing and shoving as we struggle to get seats together. Then, he said, “You have assigned seats”. Whew!
Cat asked a guy there where we could get bags like those we got in Nouadhibou to bundle our panniers into. He suggested Marche Niger that turned out to be a series of small stalls. As we pulled up a dozen young guys swarmed us and asked what we wanted. Cat and Sadoubah explained and they fought with each other over who would get the deal then led us to a stall where they had one. We wanted 3 and that started another hubbub. Then came the haggling. They started at 25,000 for each bag and finally settled for 28,000 GF for all three. One guy had “The Look”, a NY Yankee hat, shirt and the attitude. I wanted to take his picture, he wanted money. I laughed, gave him our card and told him it would be his loss. Suddenly he wanted me to take his pic. What an interesting moment.
Next stop, Super Marche BOBO. It’s a well-stocked store shopped mainly by foreigners. We bought food for lunches, soft drinks and wine. What a way to live.
Sadoubah took us to a pressing place a couple of days ago. He and Cat went in and the guy took all our things out and counted them. Then something happened, Sadoubah spoke with the guy then told Cat that the machine wouldn’t work so they couldn’t wash the things? We’ll never know what really happened but we began to fear that the guy just refused to pay Sadoubah a little spiff? He took us down the street to a typical cloths washing place and we left our things there. Today, we picked them up. Once back in the room we discovered that we only had 2 cycling gloves. It would be bad to loose 1 pair of our gloves but this proved to be even worse. There was only 1 of Cat’s gloves and one of mine. We went back to the laundry but he didn’t have it. Our next stop was the original pressing place. Maybe they dropped out when they counted? No such luck. Back to the Laundry man, we pressed him, to no avail. We will now be riding with the Michael Jackson look.
Dinner with Tim at Café Hong Kong. He had heard of the place and felt it was safe. We rode down with Sadoubah but sent him on and will cab back later. The restaurant was void of customers save one very occidental looking guy. I said hello and he responded in English. I asked if he was from England based on his accent and he said, “Guess again”. Australia, New Zealand? No, George is an American, from Seattle, Washington. We invited him to join us and thoroughly enjoyed trading tales of travel. He is here on contract with the US Embassy. He is really tired of the place and is happy to tell us that he is flying out tomorrow for home.
He filled us in on his history. He was born in Shanghai, China thus the slight Brit accent. He lived there for the first 14 years of his life. His best story was one of here in Guinea and it occurred just a couple of days ago. He and a local guy were out in the countryside for a drive. They parked and had a soft drink then, when he started the car it ran over something. A goat had crawled under but was only slightly injured. A crowd gathered and they all murmured about how bad it was and how he would have to pay for the damaged goat. The owner appeared and lamented about his loss even though the goat was up and moving. Negotiations began, his friend suggested that they should offer 25,000 Guinea Francs. The owner wailed again about his loss and said 60,000 would be more realistic. The reaction of the crowd was mixed but he could see that even some of them felt 60,000 was a little rich for the slight injury.
One of the ways to win friends is to offer them Coca, the bitter nut that Boudy had brought to us. They didn’t have any but offered to give a little GF to each person as a substitute. Once that was done things mellowed. The owner confessed that he didn’t actually own the goat but was watching and fattening it for a friend in the next village. When the real owners name came up they learned that he was related to Georges local friend. The crowd laughed. No clansman could possibly take advantage of another. The matter was settled for the original offer of 25,000. The experience was worth a million dollars!
As we ate the “sort of” Chinese food served by the local looking crew he told us about the restaurant. The wife of a Chinese merchant who sells Ice Chests here opened it. She had a good business going but got pregnant and decided to have the baby at home, in China. She left and failed to come back. The husband looks in on the place occasionally but the chef and servers are all Guinean. The conversation was better than the food but the food wasn’t all that bad!
We walked George back to Hotel Camayenne. We shook hands and vowed to stay in touch. He will be back home in Seattle before we get out of Conakry.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Another Day in Conakry
Sunday is definitely a day of rest here. Most stores and shops are closed. I typed the day away. Cat did some Internet and I joined her for a little while. Lunch in the room. Dinner at our favorite restaurant. Cat is really going nuts just sitting here. We’re both really ready to get going. CNN was just a series of one story after another, all with the same picture of Sadaam's open mouth as the Dr. looked inside, checking for WMD, we assume?
December 15, 2003
One More Day of Waiting
Early to rise, a cloudy overcast morning in Conakry. A little language problem almost interrupted breakfast. We decided to order a fruit plate and tried to get the point across that we’d like it first and we’d like extra bananas and no apples. Also we asked that we get 4 croissants and forgo the toast. The very nice girl brought the coffee first but we had no plates, cups or silverware. We tried once again and thought that she understood. She came back and said, “Sorry we have no apples”? Again we told her that we didn’t want apples we wanted bananas instead. The fruit plate usually comes with mango, papaya, apple and banana. She came back in a few minutes with a whole plate full of bananas and no other fruit. We went through the same process with the toast and croissants but eventually had a fine breakfast.
We walked down to the sea wall and looked at the rocks below. Not very scenic and a little smelly as it looked like raw sewage running into the tidal pools. Just beyond were a couple of guys fishing, one could only wonder how the catch would taste?
A little work on the computer, laundry in the sink then at 11:00 AM we met Sadoubah, the driver, and headed back to the Ghana Embassy to retrieve our Passports and get our Visas. The ride was long and slow, he blamed it on Monday morning. Then we came upon the real culprit, a political demonstration for President Conte. They were forming up a motorcade and blocking the lanes. Trucks full of people carrying signs with President Conte’s picture on them.
It was 12:00 Noon when we arrived at the Ghanaian Embassy, expecting to get our Visas. They were the ones who told us they’d be ready but, you guessed it, they weren’t. The gal muttered something about visitors and meeting as an excuse for the Consol General. She told us to come back at 2:00 PM. We pushed her until she called and confirmed that they would be ready then. We’re paying the car and driver time and distance so we made that clear to her.
We made it to the US Embassy but feared that they might close for lunch. They were there and a very nice young guy, a Guinean, loaded us up with info on the countries we plan to visit. He even provided names and e-mail addresses for the US Citizen Services people at each Consulate. The Travel Officer wasn’t in but we did get his phone number and assistant’s name. We want to find a way to get from Benin to Uganda and it doesn’t look like it will be easy.
Next stop, Super Marche BOBO, which is just around the corner from the Ghanaian Embassy. We picked up a few things to fill in around our pasta for tonight and some dried foods to carry on the bikes.
It was exactly 2:00 when we pulled up at the Embassy. Our jolly pal out front laughed and said, “She got em’ all fixed for you”! he was right but she still had to finalize them. Cat had been waiting in the car but got curious about the time it was taking and came in. Mr. Jolly began to joke that I should leave her here with him and take his wife who is in Ghana. Funny to a point but we went along with it. Actually pretty sexist. With our fresh new Visas, Passports and receipts in hand we headed back to Camp Le Riviera. The big disappointment of the day turned out to be Sadoubah. He insisted that he had earned 30,000 GF. On day one he charged us 20,000 for 4 hours and a trip into Conakry. He must sense that our time here is running low? We argued a little then decided that our business with him was finished. I paid but we will take a different car and driver next time.
There is a park along the roadway. It’s fenced and there are never any people on the grass. In the middle is a huge obelisk with a soldier a woman and a boy atop it. I had Sadoubah stop for a photo. According to our LPGB it commemorates an unsuccessful attempt by Portugal to invade the country. That win opened the door for Dictator, Sekou Toure to take the reigns and begin a reign of terror that lasted for the rest of his life. He died in 1984. Maybe that’s why nobody uses the park? (His death propelled Conte into power.)
We whipped up a great dish of scrambled eggs for lunch then walked to the Internet Shop. I just got the two important messages off to Base Camp Charlie and LandRider confirming that we would be in Accra, Ghana on Thursday and asking them to ship the packages ASAP. LandRider is shipping new wheels and Charlie will send tires, tubes, the East Africa Lonely Planet and a Michelin Map. The message had just confirmed that it was sent when the power went out. We waited for about 15 minutes then decided to come back in the morning.
Drivers here in the city have no patience for pedestrians or bicycles. As we walked down the little street to the Hotel traffic backed up. Then a Mercedes came swinging around the others, horn blaring. There was no sidewalk and little room for us. He pulled up with a screech yelling and signaling that we should get out of his way. We gave him a piece of our minds but he just drove on. Probably didn’t get a word of it?
Our TV had to be re-programmed and when we got CNN, President Bush was in the midst of a press conference. He is getting better at the job. He was actually glib and straightforward. The questions were pretty simple but he did a good job with them. He is still sure that there are Weapons of Mass Destruction and Sadaam may provide the answer as to where they are?
He had just finished when the power failed, again. The generator kicked in but our TV had already de-programmed. This time we lost CNN. The tech said he would have it running again in about half an hour. We drank a glass of wine, I typed and Cat watched French language programs.
Tim came in from work and we chatted for a while. We had an idea that we’d ask him to pick up some Chicken Roti from the stand up the street tomorrow on his way in and we’d share dinner. He poo pooed the idea saying that he never eats from the stands thus he stays healthy.
Our desire for home cooking faded and we went back to the restaurant for dinner. We’re getting tired of the food but it is easy and clean.
CNN, computer and then, sleep
December 16, 2003
Another Crazy, Lazy Day in Conakry
Daughter Stephanie’s Birthday # 33
Steph is the single Mom, the one that struggles daily trying to balance her time between work and family at the same time keeping her budget in control. She has a tough job but continues the daily routine for the 3 kids, our Grandkids.
Happy Birthday Stephanie
Petit Dejeuner and lunch in the room. Cat spent a lot of the day getting her shoe fixed, her shorts to a guy for patching and her haircut. One of the guys at the Hotel took the shoe for repair. It looks like it may hold for a while. The cost, about 50 cents, US, was a bargain.
She walked down the road until she found Robert, a tailor who would patch the shorts but he wouldn’t have them ready for her until tomorrow.
I spent most of the day doing pictures and text for this time consuming journal. I think that this installment may be one of the most interesting for those of you who follow along on these pages with us.
Lunch in the room then I went right back to my appointed task and Cat went for a haircut. The girls at the shop, just around the corner, were busy braiding hair. Most of the women here wear braids. The intricate work takes about 6 hours and they wear it for up to 3 months. We see lots of women in villages along the road braiding each other’s hair in the shade. The girls in the shop work barefoot and are up to their ankles in hair. A lot of the customers have extensions woven into their hairdos. It was hot, Cat was soaked with sweat when she came back in.
She undressed and I put her cloths on the deck chairs out front to dry. She just lay back and soaked up the cool AC air and watched CNN.
We finally cooked in. Pasta with canned veggies topped with grated cheese. Not really Parmesan but not bad. Good bread, they really do have good bread here. And, wine, of course.
December 17, 2003
Another Boring Day in Conakry
The usual breakfast then I took a break from the pages of the journal, disassembled the bikes and taped them in preparation for tomorrows flight. Cat took care of re-packing and preparing the bags.
She walked up to Roberts Tailoring Shop and found that he hadn’t started on her shorts yet. She sat, talked with him and watched the comings and goings of locals. He is from Sierra Leone, born in a small village. He told here that he didn’t see a white person until he was a teenager. He has been an avid cyclist and showed her pictures of himself cycle touring with some people from Belgium, Germany and a girl from Holland. It took him2 hours to fix the shorts. He did a great job. Cat enjoyed sitting, talking and witnessing life here.
It was lunchtime when Cat got back in. We ate our left over pasta with lunchmeat. Pretty good, a change from the restaurant food.
It is the 100th anniversary of flight today. Imagine the changes our world has seen since Orville and Wilbur flew a few feet into the air and onto the pages of the history books. They owned a bicycle repair shop, you know. Neither were engineers and lots of the parts on their Flyer were from bicycles. They tried to reproduce the flight but failed to get the replica off the ground. Today’s planes including the one that we expect to board tomorrow still use some of the ideas from that got that first flight. If we get out of here we’ll have them and Ghana Air to thank.
Dinner at the Hotel Restaurant. Tim came in and had a bite while we ate. We took pictures of the staff, even a shot surrounded by them in front of their Christmas Tree.
Must Be Crazy", Lebanese Arabic
The room is stacked with our bags and the bikes. We’re ready and anxious to get going. Tim says that if we don’t get out tomorrow he’s heard that President Conte will close the Airport Sunday during the election. We won’t be able to leave until a week from tomorrow. Heaven forbid!!!!!!
Half Way Home !!!
Yes, our journey across North America, Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia and the whole of Europe then down the coast of Africa has taken us from the Arctic Circle, South to the Equator. We’ve cycled 18,681 Kilometers, that’s 11,582 miles. It has been physically and mentally challenging. We remain healthy and anxious to continue our Odyssey of Discovery. Thanks to all of you who enjoy riding along on these pages. We hope that you too are discovering the WORLD through these words and pictures. Stay tuned, there’s lots more to come!
Pat & Cat