Monthly Archives: December 2013

Ziguinchor to Bissau

I felt really anxious about leaving Ziguinchor but I shouldn’t have been worried. Cycling south from Ziguinchor through The Cassamance region of Senegal. was great. Lovely scenery, friendly people, and lots more bikes than I’d seen in a while. I saw signs warning me of landmines, a legacy of the seperatist movement in this part of Senegal, however I’m not too sure how current these warnings are, the signs looked very old.

It was only about 25km to the border with Guinea Bissau. No problems at the crossing, no bag inspection and no bribes! Easy and quick.

The lorries coming from Senegal were seriously overloaded. They were piled so high with goods that they had men sitting behind the cab with long rods to raise electricity cables as they went under.

A few miles on in Sao Domingo I was approached by a German man who was on a round the world tour of sorts on a 125cc motorbike. Aisa to Germany, down West Africa to Cape Town and back up East Africa to Germany! We had lunch together (I understand that it was beever of some sort…) and it turned out he was staying with a German expat locally. I was invited to stay and stayed for a couple of days.

Neals (expat) is training a couple of youth football teams, he calls the team Africa United! They’d just received a delivery from the German football association of a full set of kit for the team. The local Guinea Bissauian team in Sao Domingo now have sparkling white German football kit! The kids really seem to love playing football and they’re very good at it.

The public schools here have been closed for a few months because the teachers are on strike, because they haven’t been paid. The kids seem to be really bored, they were excited when we’d ask them to go to the shop for us, or get water from the well, just to give them something to do.

I camped out in the yard, the first night I didn’t sleep very well. The combination of a Voodoo wedding ceremony with trance like druming and a family of snorting snuffling pigs outside the tent made sleeping a little difficult!

I left Sao Domingo early in the morning, I had a long way to go to Bissau and had to get to the Guinean embasy before it closed for xmas (it was 23rd December). I cycled all morning for about 50km to a town called Ingore where I got a minibus taxi to Bissau. 80km very quickly and easily skipped, for only about £3 including putting the bike on the roof. I made it to Bissau at about 1430 and got the visa the same day. Easy!

I liked Bissau, it had a nice relaxed feel to it. Only a little hassle from sellers, but a great place to spend a few days. Bissau has crumbling streets, no running water, no electricity, rampant poverty but it seemed very friendly.

Guinea Bissau has no functioning electricity grid, everywhere either gets by on candles, torches and batteries, has their own generator, or buys a connection to a private generator. The same goes for water, people use wells, or pump water from a well into a home made water tower.

I see evidence that it wasn’t always like this. There are electricity pilons, some intact with cables, but some without cables and broken in half. I see evidence of a water network via manholes and access points in the streets, but it doesnt seem to function anymore. I guess this is the legacy of colonial departure and civil war.

I met an Italian/Danish couple at the hotel in Bissau and went to Christmas Eve mass with them at the local Catholic mission! We had a lovely dinner with two of the priests from Italy, followed by a packed church service. I imagine that this is what church was like when it was in Latin, completely incomprehensible, a mixture of Portugese and Creole! The music was amazing though, a really enthusiastic chior and lots of drumming, I really enjoyed it. A good way to end my stay in Bissau.

Kaolack(Senegal) to Ziginchor(Senegal)

The past week has been a mixture of highs and lows. I’ve made good progress, got some important visas, but Gambia was hard because I encountered so much tourist hassle.

The repair to my seat post survived the dirt roads south of Kaolack. The villages south of Kaolack on the way to Sokone seemed more traditional compared to those I’d passed previously. There was much less litter, more thatched huts/houses, less begging from children, although they still seemed to get very excited, shouting ‘toubab! toubab!’ at me and waving wildly as I passed.

I spent a great day relaxing at Toubakouta, camped and eating grilled Baracuda. I couldnt have left much sooner, I didn’t plan properly and would have arrived in Banjul at the weekend (needing to get a visa for Sierra Leone, but the embasy only opens weekdays).

I crossed the border to The Gambia at Karang, nice and easy, no problems, but lots of hassle from money changers. I’ve not had any trouble leaving my bike. There is always a guard sat outside who I ask to keep an eye on it.

Soon after arriving in The Gambia I met what my guidebook calls Bumsters! Young men looking for a wife from Europe, I assume for the opportunity to live in Europe and all the advantages it brings. They showed me photos of one of their friends who’d married an older woman from my home town in England! I couldnt believe it, they had a postcard from her with local sights from where I grew up. I had no idea that this sort of thing happened so close to home. Later I saw a newspaper headline that read “UK Authorities Stop ‘Shame Marriage'”. I think the message got lost in translation somewhere!

I crossed the river to Banjul early in the morning from Barra. The ferry was very very slow and beltched out horrible fumes. I heard from someone that it is an old Dutch ferry from the 70s! The exit ramp at the Banjul end was lowered by driving a truck onto it!

Banjul wasn’t much fun. Far far too much hassle from men on the street, children begging and ‘guides’ in the place I stayed. I felt hounded everywhere I went. I didn’t like Banjul, but I got my Sierra Leone visa easily from the embasy.

Leaving Banjul, I kept seeing billboards congratulating the president on his 19th year in office (after a military coup). The billboards were all from Africell, the local phone company. I saw grafiti that said “We support Jammeh, our town is 100% Jammeh, president for life”! There were cafes called “22nd July Cafe”, the date of the millitary coup in 1994. This is the first time I’ve travelled in a country with long term millitary rule, I found it a very strange experience. I’d recommend looking up recent Gambian politics, they recently withdrew from the commonwealth after criticism over human rights abuses from the UK.

I sayed in Sanyang for a night with some people my sister knows. The sense of hassle continued, I felt hounded for money with them asking me to lend them money and that they’d pay me back the next day. I didn’t enjoy The Gambia. I hoped that Sanyang would be a place where I felt at ease, but found that I couldn’t let my guard down. I really wanted to get out of The Gambia ASAP. I have no idea how it is such a popular tourist destination.

I crossed back into Senegal at Kartung where I crossed the border in a dugout canoe. For anyone considering doing this… don’t! I got stamped out from The Gambia OK, but there was no imigration post on the other side of the river in Senegal. Just a 10km sandy track to the paved road, no imigration point in the next town, then a 15km ride to the border point I should have used originally at Seleti. They stamped me in without any questions, I’m not sure they realised I arrived from the wrong direction, I have no idea if it was ok for me to be in Senegal for half a day with no entry stamp!

The Cassamance region of Senegal has been really great. The people are friendly and happy to chat. The landscape is a mixture of lush forest, deltas and farmed wetland. And I can get my favourite La Gazelle Ananas drink!

I’ve not had any trouble with animals apart from on one occasion when I saw a pack of about 20 dogs in the road… but as I approached it turned out to be just some monkeys! They scattered into the trees very quickly as I got closer, no problem!

I’ve been warned about bandits on the road at night in Casamance, but apparently the roads are safe in the day. There are military checkpoints at each town and in some villages. I understand that there was a huge problem with a separatist movement 10 years ago, it is mostly resolved now but has left a legacy of criminality. However I feel safe here, especially in the towns, but in the countryside too.

I’m now in Ziguinchor at a hotel. There is a huge tree outside with hundreds of noisy storks in! Zig is a great town, nice and relaxed, lots of shops and restaurants, and really in the middle of a stunning region of Senegal. It’d make a great holiday destination. I’ve heard that there is an overnight ferry from Dakar, I think it would make for a good trip.

I managed to get my Guinea Bissau visa today after spending an hour looking for the consulate. It’s moved out of town and I had to ask for directions many times to find it, people kept sending me back to the old location! Very easy application, they even filled in the form for me! Just a copy of my passport required. 20,000 CFA paid in cash. Prices posted on the door.

Tomorrow I’m heading for the border at Sao Domingos in Guinea Bissau. I’ve heard that there is a carnival/festival from 24th Dec for one week in Bissau. I should be there by then. I’m looking forward to it.

Thies to Kaolack – Bike trouble…

Senegal seems to have changed over the past few days. The countryside has become a lot more rural, with small villages full of thatch huts. The towns have been further apart, and people much less used to seeing visitors.

I’m becoming acustommed to hearing people calling me ‘white man’, children pestering me for money, and even adults asking me for gifts or money if I stop for a rest or to buy something, or even as I cycle past. Its a strange feeling, I feel harassed by it, but I never feel in danger or that I’m not safe.

In Diourbel I was invited in by a family for lunch when I asked if there was anywhere good to eat. I spent a very nice afternoon with them, drinking tea, chatting and being shown around the town market. The poverty in the market was overwhelming, people selling really small items, begging children, people (sellers) asking for gifts, and rubbish absolutely everywhere. The guy who showed me around seemed slightly ashamed of the constant requests, I got the impression that he was a little shocked at how people saw me, although I’m more than sure he understood why.

Cycling towards Kaolack and about 30km away, disaster struck. The bike felt like it collasped from under me. I didnt fall off, I was able to pull on the brakes and get off. The seatpost had snapped in half a couple of inches above the bolt… I think in the past I might have overtightened it at this spot and then raised it a bit, creating a weak point.

After getting over the initial shock I removed the snapped off part, there was enough left to lower the saddle and keep riding. I rode the 30km into Kaolack with a very low saddle, in a very low gear!

Today I tried to find a new seat post. No luck at all, I found one but it was too small a diameter 🙁 A student who I met cycling into town this morning showed me where to go, and helped me try to find one.

We ended up at a metal workshop… I still have the same seat post, but it has been mended by putting a steel metal pipe through it, and it has been welded across the crack. Perfect… I hope!!! I still can’t believe that it snapped!

I stopped off on the way out of town for a kebab!

Tomorrow I head for the border, I think it should only be 1 or 2 days before I’m in The Gambia.

Dakar to Thies

I’ve had a great couple of days. Leaving Dakar was fine, apart from the motorway esque road I needed to take. There was a big shoulder though and plenty of slower vehicles (horses and carts!)

I was invited in for tea by some agriculture company workers. They had a little bag of charcoal and a small metal tea pot. They showed me the sorts of things they grew… bananas, carrots, fish.

I had lunch at a petrol station. There were a few seats and a table at the back, where people waited for repairs, washing, a great place to have lunch, in the shade, lots of people coming and going. The security guard seemed concerned for me and gave me his name and number if I needed anything! Thanks Mamadow from Rufisque!

I emerged from the never ending Dakar suburbs. The guide book said they were not safe, they seemed fine to me! Much more pleasant than downtown Dakar where I’d cycled the day before. In Dakar I managed to get myself mixed up in a protest. About 150 people all marching down the road towards me, banging on cars and buses, chanting, blowing horns, and followed by some very mean looking riot police! Turned out that I had nothing to worry about, just some regular protests by university students against rising tuition fees! Some things are universal!

I realised yesterday that I needed a long sleeved shirt to cover up from in the sun. I bought a t shirt from a shop in Sebikhoutane. The owner was a bit confused when i asked him to cut it down the front like a shirt… But it’s now great for wearing over other things and keeping cool on the bike.

I spent last night with a lovely family who invited me in who lived behind the clothes shop. I had dinner with them. Learnt about drinking water from bags, eating a strange cous cous and milk concoction from a bag scooped from a freezer (very nice) and learnt to eat macaroni and beef with my hands! I think I had three dinners yesterday evening, they seemed very keen on feeding me… I think perhaps that it was actually 4 now I think about it(rice and spicy sauce, macaroni and beef, chicken and chips, and cous cous and beef…)

I left this morning and cycled to Thies. Its a great town, really chilled out. I’m sat in a place called Big Faim (hungry in French) where I’ve just had a huge burger and fries!

I’ll leave in a bit and see where I end up. Am very tempted to get a room here in town though… I’ll think about it!

So far Senegal has been amazing, the people are so friendly, if a little confused about what I’m doing here on a bicycle.

Sheffield to Dakar

I’m now in Dakar, the starting point of my journey. I’m sat on the roof of the hotel, nice a cool now that it’s dusk.

I flew from Heathrow after a night spent on the terminal floor. I was able to fly with my bicycle in a big plastic bag. Air France made me sign a waiver form for it’s safety!

The plane was delayed for 1 hour taking off (security problems with a piece of luggage that had to be removed). When we arrived, at about 21:30, the airport seemed overwhelmed. I queued for about 2 hours to get a visa. It was taking about 10 minutes per person, with 5 people working for a full 777 jet!

I collected my luggage, it all looked fine, but the bike bag looked a bit battered. This was a hassle, there were so many people offering assistance/help, some official for a job, some official soliciting bribes, and some unofficial. I managed to fend them all off.

The taxi driver was waiting outside for me, organised by the hotel. This is definitely the way to do it. I would not want to try and negotiate for a ride with all my baggage and all the hassle.

Made it to the hotel by about midnight. Nice place but turned out I’d not been specific enough about the room and was paying more than I wanted to.

Looked over the bike, I had to remove the front forks for the plane because it’s so tall, I’d forgotten to take out the top headset bearing cartridge, it had fallen out but very luckilly was just loose in the bag. I will pack that part better next time. The rear rack has taken some damage, the extension on the back is slightly bent along with one of the rack stays, but only slightly. It must have taken some force though to damage it like it did. Good thing it didnt buckle!

Am staying a second night in Dakar, but in a cheaper room in the same place.

Dakar seems nice, I’ve walked around the suburb I’m staying in, got some food, petrol for the stove, cash from the ATM. I’ll go out for dinner later at a place I spotted earlier. I’m not a great fan of cities, I much prefer rural areas.

Tomorrow I leave, heading east for Thies. I think it will take a couple of days. The aim is to get well clear of the city and find somewhere to stay. I’m excited!