Yes, I know I only sent something about 5 days ago, but I thought I’d do it again now because it feels like there’s been some sort of turning point in the trip and also I might not get to do it again for a while. I’ll try to keep this suitably brief.
CURRENT LOCATION: Yaounde, Cameroon
MILES COMPLETED: 10000 and then some more (10200-ish I seem to remember)
Like I said: a turning point. Firstly, I’ve ridden the bike for more than 10000 miles, as suggested above. I’m happy to say I’m still not bored, and my arse is mostly not too painful, and I’m developing some excellent throttle calluses on the back three fingers of the right hand. It also seems that I’m not falling off as much, most of the time. But not all of the time
Secondly, I’ve turned a very literal corner in the African continent, being in Cameroon: no longer will I be going east-ish. From here on in it’s south all the way (until it’s north when I start going up the other side). This feels like the fourth stage of the whole debacle: number one was Europe, two was the Saharan and deserty and mostly Arabic countries of Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, and three was the western African countries…Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The western African countries are mostly fairly flat grasslands with the odd bit of jungle and the odd bit of desert, which is in stark contrast to Cameroon which as soon as I crossed the border became almost 100% jungly and mountainous. It’s set to stay jungly and mountainous for quite a while longer, as I head into Gabon and the Congo and the DRC next…
…and turning this corner also means I get to put away my West Africa map and get out my Southern Africa map. I’ll call that reason 2(a). This is also good because the Southern Africa map is the other way up and it folds much more nicely along the already there folds to fit into my map case.
So, the third reason it feels like I’m actually getting there is because I FINALLY HAVE MY DRC VISA! Yes! All I have to get now is my Angola visa (and I know where that’s coming from…Pointe-Noire in the Congo, a 700 km round trip in the wrong direction, but it’s the only place it’s available on this stretch of the journey) and then ALL THE VISAS WILL BE DONE.
I’m not sure I’ve moaned suitably about just quite how much of a nightmare the visas here are. A massive nightmare: that’s how much. Different embassies for the same countries will charge different amounts and take different amounts of time, depending on where they are (DRC visa in Benin: $20, same day turnaround. DRC visa in Abuja: $250 for 3 day turnaround, or $100 for 10 day turnaround). They will demand different documents, ranging from nothing at all (Congo embassy in Lome) to hotel reservations, yellow fever vaccination certificates, maps with your route, photocopies of vehicle documents, photocopies of driving licenses, and so on and so on (Congo embassy in Abuja). As such, conversations between people doing this trip will always spend at least 3 hours discussing where and how to get visas in the cheapest and most efficient way, sort of like climbers discussing moves and grades and numbers or teachers discussing behaviour management techniques and AfL methods but even more exciting than either of those, if such a thing is possible. I have been rubbish at getting my visas in a cheap and efficient way, up until now. Andy, who’s riding an enormous BMW (a GS1200 Adventure if you must know) and who I met at the Nigeria / Cameroon border and rode with for a couple of days, has been outrageously good at his visas. He’s already got his DRC visa TWICE because he wasn’t sure when he was going to enter the country, and has managed to get a near-mythical tourist visa for Angola which gives him 30 days in the country.
Me? I’ll be having a 5 day transit visa for more money than he paid, in this place that’s miles out of the way, and will then need to ride absolutely hell-for-leather through Angola to avoid overstaying my welcome and getting a hefty fine. Ah well. If I were to do this trip again, I might spend a little more time planning this aspect of the journey…
Yes, so, anyway…I got out of Abuja and rode my bike and not very much noteworthy happened (well, that’s a lie: noteworthy things happened all the time, but none so massively noteworthy that I need to waste your time telling you about them, things like the procession of the maybe 500 school kids in bright purple uniforms with the marching band and the lunatic teacher at the front, I assume he was a teacher, who gave me a massive salute on my way past and blew his whistle frantically, oh, and the bit of road that had just the right number of potholes that it could be taken at 40 – 50 mph in a slalom style, weaving all about the road which was totally brilliant fun, oh, and listening to the birds in the jungle whilst I sat on the burnt-out car, oh, and all the rest of the colourful crazy weirdness that happens EVERY SINGLE DAY) and then I stayed with some missionaries. The missionaries were lovely folks, they give me some food to eat and some water to drink and let me camp by their red and yellow church. And the next day I met, like I said, Andy the Kiwi on the massive BMW when we went into Cameroon, after having filled out two sets of triplicate forms with almost all of the same information on them for the Nigerian side. Ahhh, border crossings.
And Cameroon was jungle and perfect tarmac with BENDS, beautiful linked turns through the mountains like I haven’t seen since Portugal, it’s all been dead straight roads in Africa previously. It took a little while to readjust and then it was marvellous. The next day I got an hour or so head start whilst Andy sorted some exciting SIM card stuff because we would be splitting up in the middle of the day anyway and I wanted to get to Yaounde quick-stick. Off I went and whilst trying to find a cash machine I got crashed into by a taxi who didn’t look, it was a crash that wasn’t my fault! Yes! But no. I was quite cross and the taxi driver very nervous when my bike didn’t start for a couple of moments until I’d turned it off and on again. Ho hum. I really shouldn’t have spent the previous night telling Andy how I had stopped falling off all the time, probably like I shouldn’t have told you how I’ve stopped falling off all the time at the top of this missive (touch wood). Now I have to bend my hand guard back into shape AGAIN when I find a metal worker, and also I had to hammer my pannier mounts back into shape AGAIN but that’s ok, my boxes are terrific and one of my favourite bits of equipment because they’re managing to take all the shit I’m throwing at them so far (touch wood).
Anyway. Then: more mountains, more potholed tarmac, then back to the good stuff and the bends, and then some excellent off-road through teeny tiny villages for 100 km or so and Andy caught up and we were nowhere near Yaounde by the end of the day. And in the middle of all that I managed to very VERY nearly ride my bike off the side of a little wooden bridge into some quite deep by the look of it water when I took a diversion round a concrete bridge in construction. I was just way too quick and suddenly the little wooden bridge appeared with all sorts of holes and obstacles, and there was a decision: correct and go for the good bit, or hold the line and take the nasty bit with the deep pothole of the exit, I went for neither and like I said it all went wobbly and is was, oh, maybe 30 cm off a 3 m drop into the water but I rescued it by throwing my bike on the floor. Sort of rescued it. I really REALLY shouldn’t have spent the previous night telling Andy how I had stopped falling off all the time. Oh, and it also meant I got to hammer the other box’s mounts back into shape again, just to make sure they’re nice and even and no one feels left out.
Right and so but then: we stayed in a little nowhere town filled with music and lights and excitement as they all are, ate a delicious grilled fish each accompanied by very strange chewy translucent things that came wrapped in a big old leaf which has an excellent texture but a strange aftertaste of urine or maybe bleach, and watched the first half of Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germaine because I wanted to see the crowd reaction when stuff happened. It was not disappointing and involved screaming and tables being hefted about. Andy, as a true Kiwi type who only likes rugby, was not impressed with the football but I basically repeated everything I’d been told by Celia about how good it is (baggies baggies boing boing, AM I RIGHT? EH? I’m a football fan, me, West Brom till I die and all that) and he seemed marginally less unimpressed by the end.
The next day we split up again but this time for good or until we bump into each other again, because Andy was off the the beach and I went to Yaounde and got my DRC visa sorted. I’m staying in a Presbyterian mission near four very graceful water towers in the garden of a 100 year old house with lots of trees, and it even had a go at raining today, but not for long. The drops were extremely big, but there wasn’t even enough to settle the dust. And last night I heard some music and went to investigate and managed to discover a practice session for a gospel choir. It was extraordinarily wonderful music and all sorts of synchronised dancing, and I sat and watched until I thought maybe they’d had enough of me, which was about four songs later. I wasn’t sure if they had actually had enough of me, but there was some moaning going on about something and I decided to make myself scarce. I don’t like to overstay my welcome, wot wot.
And whilst I’ve been doing all that, Babs has been having a holiday from his holiday in the UK, and going skiing in France. OUTRAGEOUS! HA! Well…there were extremely good reasons. I’m sure he will catch up in Capetown, as long as he doesn’t sink in the mud in the Congo’s wet season which is not far off…
Tomorrow, like I said, I will be off to Gabon and the Congo and the DRC, and eventually Angola. According to ‘The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook’ this next bit is the most difficult section of the journey. It says that “many will be or of their comfort zone by now, riding from dawn to dusk, and it can take some nerve to resist the ‘flee’ instinct”. Yes indeed. There have been many times on this trip where I suddenly feel myself zooming out to look at the whole picture and feel terrified by what’s going on, like what happens when soloing in climbing goes bad or when things are going west in the dark at a festival or when a lesson is going totally tits up, but it doesn’t normally last long and normally means I need to eat. Or sleep. Or have a quite sit down. There is going to be mud and terrible roads and rain and OH MY GOD these countries aren’t even in the Lonely Planet! This is it! I’m being An Explorer! I’m Off The Beaten Track! Huzzah! But after the Visa Dash in Angola (the common name for the 5 day sprint across the fourth? fifth? biggest country in Africa) I shall, according to The Handbook, “pop out of Angola’s southern frontier into the Disneyland of southern Africa like a well-oiled cork”. Ooo sir-ee. I say.
We shall see.
I say again: HA! No chance to get in touch? I DON’T THINK SO! Not when you’re hopping from free posh place to free posh place with super fast wi-fi and swimming pools and all the mod-cons. Like a disused gym to put your tent in.
Yep, so. The wi-fi in Yaounde was crap, so I didn’t get to send this then, and instead thought that maybe it’d be AGES before I got in touch. It kept my mind occupied as I struggled out of Yaounde, trying to follow the VIP convoy with the police bikes and the military truck and the jeeps full of people in dark glasses who were really creating havoc, they were, so I went on the pavement (at the suggestion of the cop on the bike) but it was blocked, so I got a man with a wheel barrow to pull me back up the hill, but I finally got out of there, and all the while I was thinking: what if they worry? I considered the communication predicament as I tore through the even more jungly jungle towards Gabon. I contemplated how I would get in touch as I paid some money to the enterprising young man who was filling in the potholes and demanding cash from the road users, he was doing a good service and I was happy to pay; and I was going crazed with worry about how to just not disappear when I had a chat with a cop and he took me to a big posh hotel where I could stay for free.
I’ve had a swim, and it’s now dinner time. And the wi-fi seems to work. If you are reading this, and there is no more after this, then it has.
Lucky, lucky you.
P.s. It’s now 10532 miles, FYI.
It’s funny, you know, how the things you think are going to be the worst bits turn out to be the best bits. Like Mauritania. I was extremely concerned about Mauritania before I left, but it’s been my favourite country so far. And camping by myself, which I have developed a great love for (and which I’m doing RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!), and also Nigeria. Nigeria, so far, has been mint.
CURRENT LOCATION: Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Ground, somewhere in Nigeria
MILES COMPLETED: 9137 (Ooo! Nearly 10000! Probably will be by the time I manage to get this finished and sent…)
The Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Ground is not so much a campsite, as a place on the top of a hill with big concrete buildings and lecterns where, it may be assumed, the Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. stage national camps where all sorts of next-level god-bothering happens. I turned up expecting as such, but also hoping for some resident missionaries who would be kind enough to let me camp. There weren’t any. However, there was a lovely chap who’s name I can’t remember but who’s name mnemonic (mnameonic?) was “Big Strong Cocks Inside Me”, and I knew even as I made up the mnameonic that the problem was not going to be remembering the mnameonic but remembering how the mnameonic and the actual name were actually linked, but it was just such a good one that I had to go with it. Anyway, Big Strong Cocks Inside Me lives close by, he said it was ok to stay and filled my water bag for me, and even came back just recently to check I was ok. I was, indeed, ok. He told me that he loved my life.
Had to give up last night, because the screen was attracting an unholy number of small and not-so-small flying things. Now I’m in a little town called something I can’t remember but it’s near to Suleja, which seems to mostly exist because it’s at a junction. I’m staying in a place called the Twins Guesthouse which has no running water and a somewhat overattentive (and very youthful) host chap, and which is significantly more pleasant than the first place I looked at. I stopped in this town because it had got dark and that meant it was time to stop. I’ve had my third lot (and best lot) of rice and beans for the day in a brightly lit corrugated iron shack on the side of the road. The people who ran the shack (which was doing an excellent trade, presumably due to the quality of the rice and beans) were hyper-efficient and outrageously surly. A ridiculously cute little girl of maybe 7 or 8 was sitting over from me by herself, staring at me the whole time, whilst shoving small bits of biscuit into her bottle of Fanta. A horde of boys had gathered on the outside of the hut and were peering through the wooden slats, whispering to each other and giggling. I was studiously ignored by all of the adults, which was tremendous and meant I could observe the various interesting goings-on. I love observing the interesting goings-on, but I am frequently disturbed in this by friendly people who want to find out what on earth I’m up to.
Although the corrugated shack restaurant (with TV room) was brightly lit, the rest of the town certainly wasn’t. Wandering around African towns at night is a real experience, but slightly daunting. Most of the lighting is what’s coming out of doorways, but the you have the odd fire or wildly flashing shop sign. There is all sorts of activity going on: having a chat, fixing trucks, cooking food, haggling, sitting around, taking the piss (there’s lots of taking the piss in Africa, I’m happy to note), standing up, sitting down again, prodding with the fire, trying on clothes, pointing at the strange white person. In Nigeria, you get all of that but you also get the occasional AK-47 or shotgun or WW2 bolt action rifle being carried about, and everyone’s just a little bit more on edge.
I’ve only been in Nigeria for two days, and I like it very very much. It’s like everywhere else I’ve been, but distilled down into a highly concentrated form. Before, the modal number of people on a motorbike was two, and with a (fairly rare) maximum of four. In Nigeria the mode is three, four is regular, and five and six are not that uncommon. The trucks are even more overloaded, even more shonky, piled up with even more people on top, driving even more recklessly, and belching such quantities of smoke when they’re going uphill that you can’t overtake because you can’t see the road. And I don’t mean: the road ahead is a bit obscured. I mean: you can’t even see the cab of the truck.
And the roads…well, the roads need to been seen to be believed. Today I was on the bike at 9 am and rode until 7 pm. Knocking off about 2 hours for rests, that’s 8 hours of riding. I covered 300 miles or thereabouts. 100 of those miles was on this glorious brand new windy road which took about 90 minutes. That means that the average speed on the rest of it was about 30 mph, which is not very fast considering I was on the equivalent of an A-road. This A-road started off extremely poorly. It was tarmac, but it had actual proper deep ruts (deep enough to catch the bottoms of the cars) and corrugations*. In the tarmac. After a while, the tarmac started to disappear for stretches of 300 m or so, to be replaced by deep dust and potholes. The Tarmac would reappear for 300 m or so, and then disappear again. And when I say potholes, I mean POTHOLES. They could be anything up to 3 feet deep, and filled with anything from dust to large lumps of broken tarmac.
In amongst all of this are the lorries. The lorries. THE BLOODY LORRIES. There were lots of lorries. There would be queues of lorries (and the odd car) of maybe 10-15 at a time. The normality of driving this road was to be part of one of these queues; occasionally I would get about 2 miles of clear road before I caught the next queue. Whether or not a lorry would chose to overtake the one in front in such a queue seemed to be a function purely of the quality of the road surface: if ok-ish, overtake; if not, don’t. Whether it was possible to see the road in front or not seemed to be of secondary importance. I lost count of the number of near-miss head-on collisions I saw. I had to leave the road on four separate occasions because I was faced with two side-by-side lorries bearing down on me. On one of these, the lorry that was already on the wrong side of the road THEN chose to leave the road onto the gravelly bit where I was, to avoid a pothole. We missed each other by what felt like millimetres, but was probably nearer to 30 cm.
The results of this insane driving are everywhere. Every couple of miles I would pass an upturned lorry, frequently burnt out and with large parts missing. I am amazed I didn’t see any crashes occur.
Ooo! But my favourite bits were the towns. Yes! Because then the road would be so dusty, so badly potholed, and the lorries so numerous, that any semblance of order would be lost. In order to avoid the upturned lorry in the centre of the road, the traffic would diverge, different streams taking wildly different lines through the holes, losing any last vestiges of regard for which side of the road was which, and crawling almost bumper-to-bumper for a mile or so in an ugly mess approximately four lorries wide. And in amongst it was little old me on a motorbike, struggling to see because of the dust and very very small indeed but with the major advantage of being able to go into and out of the potholes. Yes! The lorries certainly couldn’t go there, bear in mind these are big enough to contain my bike entirely, but I could, and so I managed to find a way in amongst it all feeling like a tiny boat in a stormy sea and emerge victorious – ha! – onto the opposite shore. Which was horrendous potholed corrugated tarmac nonsense with lorries and so on once again.
Hahahahahaha! Loved it. In a slightly manic, staring, tooth-grinding, manic giggling sort of way.
[Over the course of the next few days.]
So…yesterday I rolled into Abuja, the new-ish city built to house the government when it moved from Lagos. It is very posh, and very rich, and very shiny. I stopped at the side of the road for what would euphemistically be called a ‘comfort break’, and a Mercedes Benz pulled up. Adeyi jumped out and introduced himself and invited me back to his motorbike club, the 09MC’s Club House. Expecting a sort of Hell’s Angels / seedy bar / warehouse arrangement, I was surprised to ride into a beautifully appointed courtyard complete with Range Rovers, fast bikes, security guards, grass, comfy chairs, and so on. My bedroom, which was offered for free, is one of 12 here and has a bed which is wider than it is long, a massive TV, en suite, and room service. Later in the evening the bar-cum-club was filled with all sorts of ridiculously friendly professional types living it up to an excellent DJ with cocktails and dancing and so on. I had a hugely entertaining chat with Buju, the Nigerian city-to-city racing car champion who spends his time driving V12 Mustangs at outrageous speed, fishing, and hunting in the bush. The BBQ was incredible. I was in bed by 10, shattered and revelling in my outrageous good luck.
Blah blah blah, visas visas visas, Cameroon’ll be picked up tomorrow, Angola is confirmed as being possible on the border by someone a few weeks ahead of me, and DRC will get done in Yaounde in Cameroon. Finally! The end of the West African visa faff is in sight…
I’ll be leaving maybe on Saturday morning with Felix or maybe on Monday morning after a weekend here doing some sightseeing and shopping, and of we will go again. Yes indeed.
ANYWAY. Now you’re caught up I’ll back track to Lome, which was where I last posted anything. Lome was HORRENDOUS. I got there on Friday afternoon which immediately meant that visa faff would be delayed until Monday. On Monday I went to the embassy for Benin, and was informed the visa would be ready on Friday Friday! ARGH! So whilst one passport was there for five days I did the visas for Gabon and the Congo which were remarkably easy and then sat…and waited…and read all of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and got all lonley and stuff, and used the Internet in the bar with all the fat old white men with the skinny beautiful black “girlfriends”. And when I was done with that it was back to Kpalime where the waterfalls were and climbing up a mountain, and then back to Lome to collect the visa for Benin where I met loads of people who were also collecting the visas and it took 2 hours to get it back and I met someone who told me that about 20 over-landers were staying on a beautiful beach about 5 km away. DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT.
I also met a wonderful German lady called Bethina (I think) who told me that 15 km over the border into Benin was an amazing reggae bar called The Lion’s Bar and so off I went, feeling mightily pissed off and ratty because I really didn’t want to have been in Lome for so long and I really would have loved to have been with some other people to whom I could talk about bikes and wotnot, and I crossed the border and rode to The Lion’s Bar and last bit was the deepest sand yet but then I was there and
WOW. What a place. On the beach, surrounded by palm trees, a little bar and auberge in red / gold / green, with paintings of Haile Salassi and Bob Marley and King Tubby and so on, hammocks and tables in the sand, and colourful LED fairy lights and a little sculpture of a lion. The owner, called Lion, and his right hand man, called I Love Jah (who I thought was about 45 but was actually 60) could not have been more welcoming. To drink: cocktail. To be more specific: rum cocktails. To be yet more specific: a wide range of extraordinarily delicious rum cocktails for 1000 cfa (about £1) each, to be drunk whilst listening to reggae music superbly selected by Lion on the excellent sound system. YES! This was the place.
The tent went up, a shower was had, and a cocktail, and some of the other, and I sat with a French chap an Italian chap a local lady who didn’t speak English but – BUT! – it turns out that I can understand French after all! I just can’t understand West African accents. Yes! I managed to hold my own in general conversation for the very first time in another language and understood my very first joke in a different language and it was marvellous. I was very smug.
Somewhere around four cocktails and lots of the other later they all headed off which left it being just Lion, a lady who’s name I can’t remember who was a friend of Lion’s, and me. And, well…
(I am enormously gratified by the responses I’ve received about this blog. Thanks everyone. And thanks for reading my inane waffle. I genuinely means a lot to me. I try quite hard to write something that’s interesting and maybe entertaining as well, and it makes me happy that I seem to be having at least some success in this. So: in the spirit of completeness and outrageous over-sharing, I now offer this tale of debasement. Sorry Mum. Sorry Dad.)
…I was up to cocktail number five or maybe six, and all of the rest in abundance, and I suddenly came over all funny. I think it was probably brain overload caused by all the French talking that did it, yes, definitely. I made a quick mumbled French apology to Lion about the fact that I was going to have to not drink the rest of the cocktail he’d only just lovingly prepared for me, and headed to bed. Well, heading approximately in the direction of bed, only there was a palm tree in the way which I bounced off a bit, but I managed to make it the whole 10 m to the table which was half way to bed and quite an achievement, and then my legs ceased to function in the manner that they normally do and not even grabbing the table managed to halt my slide to the floor.
Lion and the lady were extremely amused. I was completely incapable. I remained on the floor for around 6000 years, clinging on as hard as possible whilst the Earth tried to throw me off into space and sweating extremely profusely. Lion came to check on my progress, and I was able to let him know I was just having a little rest because I was terribly tired.
The millennia slowly ground around, and the Earth slowly started being happy to have me on it again. With this came the certain conviction that I had soiled myself. The toilets were on the other side of Lion and the lady, but I had to get there. Up I got and off I went, managing to get within about 2 m of my host and his friend before I fell over again. Again, I made the long journey to uprightness, and again headed in the direction of the toilets only to be foiled by a raised piece of concrete. Again: up and at them! This time I got all the way there and even remembered to turn on the water pump.
In the toilet it became clear that I had not, in fact, done the nasty in my panties. YES! VICTORY WAS MINE! I was, however, absolutely covered in sand I remained in the toilet for a while, staring at the tiles which were an extremely lovely shade of yellow, with brown pinstriping and swirly bits. Eventually, I was ready. Sheepishly I made my way back to Lion and the lady to borrow a towel, still feeling extremely unusual.
The shower, taken cold, fully dressed, and in a sitting position, sorted me right out and by the time I had finished, my brains had stopped leaking out of ears an I felt GREAT! And extremely embarrassed. Stupendously, mortifyingly embarrassed. I took a deep breath and went to apologise and made the walk to my tent only about 30 minutes after the first attempt, the last few shreds of my dignity being protected by the rainbow psychedelic lion towel I was sporting.
The next day, I spent some time before I got up trying to decide whether I could remain or whether my behaviour of the night before was too outrageous and whether I would no longer be welcome. Again I took a deep breath and headed off to make my apologies.
Lion, I Love Jah and the lady handled my grovelling apology in the best way that they possibly could have done: by brutally taking the piss. Yes! It was all going to be fine.
The rest of the day was taken up chatting with Bethina, the lady who recommended the bar to me and who’d come to Benin as well, taking an excellent tour in a little dug-out canoe around the mangroves and to see a traditional fishing village where voodoo is still the major religion and swimming in the river and looking around the ruins of the Portuguese colonial town with my guide who was called Lazza, and who’s mnameonic was ‘Lesbian Gazza’. Then it was another night of cocktails (drunk in moderation this time) and finishing in a superb afrobeat club where the crowd was going absolutely wild and having the best time ever and the music was absolutely incredible and then a quick 4 hours of sleep and say goodbye to everyone and off I went again into the wilds of Benin and then the next day crossed into Nigeria where the roads were terrible and the Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Gound and after that the town and the 09MC Club House and last night I cooked risotto for a gang of Russians and played pool and ate mature cheddar which I found in the supermarket which cost twice as much as a bottle of wine for 200 g but it was worth it and back to my massive bed and then up and sit at the desk writing the blog and I’ll be off tomorrow.
Oh yeah. So now I’m at:
CURRENT LOCATION: 09MC Club House, Abuja, Nigeria
MILES COMPLETED: 9535
*Corrugations, which I’ve mentioned a few times, are waves which you find in almost all earth roads (and, it seems, some tarmac roads) which have trucks on them. They are usually about 50 – 100 cm from peak to peak, and can be up to 20 cm from peak to trough. I’m guessing they’re caused by some sort of resonance effect with the truck suspension but I haven’t really considered this in much detail. They are worst where breaking has to be done, i.e. on the run up to corners, but they happen everywhere. To ride them you have to go fast. As you speed up from stationary the vibrations get worse and worse until you’re going above 30 mph, then they get better and better as you skim over the surface. For me, the best speed for a compromise between safety and comfort is about 50 mph, but you’ve got to be aware when you’re riding them that you’re only in contact with the floor about 50% of the time and so steering and breaking is not great. They’re not very much fun.
Well well well. Due to the nature of writing these blog posts, this one’s temporally all over the place. You’re just going to have to deal with it. I started writing this about a week ago. I’m sure you’ll get the drift of what was going on. Anyway, at the moment…
CURRENT LOCATION: Some horrendous ex-pat filled bar and auberge with surly staff and a covers band in Lome, Togo
MILES COMPLETED: Somewhere around 8600 I think…
So: now imagine it’s a week ago, and I’m in a tiny little village in Burkina Faso which is very windy and I’m steadily accumulating a thick later of dust. Here you go, then. Have fun!
(Argh! Smooth jazz with a shaker! ARGH! And a rubbish – no! Extremely rubbish! – noodling bass solo! AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! I WILL BE LEAVING TOMORROW.)
I am on an “adwenture” with a Swiss chap called Felix. He has my bike. He will be back.
CURRENT LOCATION: Sapio, near Leo, Burkino Faso
MILES COMPLETED: I don’t know, he’s got the bike and the bike has the trip counter on it…
The adwenture started in Bamako in Mali, which I left after an inordinate amount of time which was mostly spent doing sod all when I should have been sorting visas. The sod all was totally brilliant: hanging out with Babs (who’d actually arrived the same day as me after an epic 4th day of 360-ish miles – “I’d got the bit between my teeth, Skippy, I’d got the bit between my teeth” – but was staying in a different guest house), listening to music, getting to know the locals.
The music in Bamako was unbelievable. Guided by our new friend Mohammad (who was as skilled a piss-taker as any at the Sheaf, as full of shit as Olly Wilkinson, and an extraordinary guitar player) we saw bands who would have graced the main stage at any UK festival, but in this situation, playing to about 15 people in dingy clubs for three hours straight. Drummers, eyes half closed and watching the TV which was on the stage with them, thrashing out the most insanely complex rhythms; bass players who’d NEVER played with the band before managing (just about) to hold it together for the duration; wonderfully soulful singers who you could see repeated to infinity in the mirrors behind them and at the back of the club; and a lunatic slouched in a chair, seemingly not moving his hands, but creating wild flowing solos on his tiny three-stringed instrument that I can’t remember the name of, whilst gnashing his teeth and staring White-eyed at the drummer when he did something particularly amazing. Babs and I would sit and stare, grinning madly and occasionally having a dance on the almost empty dance floor when persuaded.
Suddenly, I realised that my visa situation was dire, and that I had got myself stuck AGAIN. This was remedied with a quick trip to a rather nice waterfall at the end of a tricky rocky track with Felix, Babs having stayed in Bamako to play his guitar and sit on the roof and drink cocktails.
[Later, the same day.]
Now I’m in Nazinga Nature Reserve at the Ranch Nazinga, which hilariously comes up on Felix’s sat-nav as “Ranch Nazi”. There were elephants. Anyway: crashing on…
So, we went to a waterfall, like I said. The track was tricky And rocky (again, like I’d said), but it was fine, I only dropped the bike twice and that’s some good going considering, I think. Felix didn’t drop his at all, which I think means he’s not trying hard enough. We saw a snake and ate some chicken with the locals and camped in the forest and managed to get all the way out only dropping the bike once which means I’d improved significantly overnight. Felix hadn’t improved at all, still dropping his bike no times. After some barbecued food we rode along another bit of off road track (sat-navs are wonderful, I’ve decided, I’m going to use mine instead of letting it languish in the box, it’s quite a lot more detailed than the 1:4000000 scale map I’ve used thus far) and this was proper single track, through the forest, termite mounds to avoid, sandy bits and wiggling around stuff.
Then it was back to Bamako to sort the visas, change the plan when the Benin embassy was closed for 10 days (now I’m going to Togo too), listen to the excellent but emotional tribute to Ivan on Sheffield Live, get drunk, get invited on the “adwenture”, go to the poshest club in Bamako by mistake, go to a mangy but excellent bar on purpose, go to bed foolishly too late, eat a breakfast with Babs much too early, say goodbye to the motorbikes-in-Africa collective (which includes someone on a 1963 Czech-made beauty), pack up the clobber, and go.
NB: Babs is intending to stay in Bamako for a fair while to get more music, and take some guitar lessons, and drink some more cocktails. Me: I need to get a wriggle on. I love to be moving, and I’ve a date to keep in Capetown…
So: THE ADWNETURE. Neeeeeeeeowmmmmm! Moving again after much too long stationary (again)! Felix has had the same thing as me with the “two days on, two weeks off” method but for different reasons (turns out we were in Nouakchott at the same time, that’s Mauritania if you don’t remember) and was also itching for action. The aim of The Adwenture is to go along the crappy roads in the south of Burkina Faso, close to the boarder with Ghana. It includes a bit where the roads may or may not exist, depending on whether you use paper maps, Googlemaps or the sat-nav (we will find out tomorrow, possibly), and some other interesting stuff which I shall describe in due course.
The first day of The Adwenture was all about really really crappy driving and extremely knackered trucks. There is a lot of very crappy driving in Africa, but the racing and over-loaded minibuses on the outskirts of Bamako really took the biscuit and very nearly rode me off the road as I tried to get past to get out of the way. The overtaking stream of traffic just after really did ride Felix off the road, but there was some off-road to go to, and so no major calamities. The trucks were mostly standard (i.e. loaded to twice the height of the trailer and moving crab-wise due to unsuitable quantities of tracking adjustment, or stationary at the side of the road having a tyre replaced after a blow-out due to the crab-wise movement or an unsavoury interaction with a pothole), but there was a really spectacular number where the trailer was so utterly broken and twisted that the entire front left wheel of the cab had been lifted a foot off the floor. We moved to the other side of the road for that one, in fear of unexpected further self-destruction of the truck.
We camped in some brush just off the road, tried to avoid termites, and ate beans and sardines.
[Quite a few days, and quite a lot of driving later…]
THE ADWENTURE IS OVER. It’s over because it was always going to be over when we got to the boarder with Togo: the Benin Embassy in Bamako was not issuing visas when I got round to not doing sod all, and so I got a Togo visa instead, so I could get the Benin visa here (where “here” is Togo). This faffery was actually always part of the Original Plan, but the Original Plan got superseded in Bamako by the New Plan. The New Plan was to go direct to Benin from Mali, cutting out about three days and 800 km of riding, one boarder crossing, and a whole country. With the chappy in the Benin Embassy who sorts the visas being away for ten days, the Original Plan was reinstated to cheers all round and general rejoicing. ANYWAY. Felix had been doing less sod all in Bamako, so had already obtained his Benin Visa before the man left. Thus: at the Togo border, I ate there, and Felix went on to Benin. Get it? Got it? Good.
So…now I am in Togo. Togo may just have pipped Mauritania to the top spot in my mental list of favourite countries thus far traversed. It is luuuuuuuurvley here. At the moment, I am about 5 m off the floor in a hut-on-stilts in a bit of sort-of rainforest, there are some drums going on just over there, I might investigate in a bit, and all sorts of night time animal sounds also occurring. The candle just went out but even that was not enough to dampen my heady spirits because I had a lighter close at hand. It’s about to go out again, which may cause me to flip out and kill things, but we shall see. There it goes. But again: no problems. Unbelievable.
The roads in Togo are all brand new, it seems. The are youth clubs everywhere. Not one child (and only one adult) has asked me for money or food or a present. It’s all green and leafy and wet and jungly. Yesterday, I was nearly (but only nearly) cold when riding the bike. There is very little litter. There seem to be very few homeless people. The food is delicious, all spicy tomato sauce and rice and stuff. I went round loads of corners that happened one after another that I couldn’t take at 60 mph. I went up some hills, and down some hills. Not even just hills: mountains! Well, mountains in the same way as England has mountains. So hills, then. But steeply-sided and precipitous hills with rocks on them. Ooo, it’s very nice indeed, and just what the doctor ordered. I always likes the Original Plan more, don’t listen to what they tell you.
Oh, and the only interactions I’ve had with the police are when I’ve stopped to ask directions. The same could not be said for THE ADWENTURE, which we now rejoin on the second day…
The second day involved driving our motorbikes into Burkina Faso. The border was a wonderment of relaxed efficiency and being given food by the guards, and cleaning Felix’s fuel filter (bloody KTMs). We went to Bobo Dioulasso, and found that Felix had left his multi-tool at the border. Oh! And it was my birthday, so we ate pizza and went to possibly the worst bar I’ve ever been to, filled with people occasionally pretending to have fun but mostly sitting and looking glum and chain smoking, whilst being assaulted by very loud Afro-beat happy hardcore and fired on by strobing LEDs in the style of a group enhanced interrogation technique session. Luckily, curfew happened at 11 pm and we got to go home and sleep.
The next day, Felix (the lucky chap!) got to go all the way back to the border and I got to wander around some forest, which was lovely.
Day 4 saw us setting off into the wilds, riding amazing single track piste in the sand and the long yellow grass and the tiny weeny villages and the boulders and the markets and so on and all that, and crossing a river with lots of rocks in it, and it all felt like a proper adventure. It was punctuated by a puncture in the first 5 km which was a rear wheel and for me, caused by a section of 2 mm diameter steel rod. This was mended whilst surrounded by around 30 amused locals at a little shack in a village, and then quickly de-mended by the local mechanic whilst re-mounting the tyre in a slap-dash fashion. It was then re-mended and we were off to the aforementioned single track, river crossing, blah blah blah.
Somewhere around 50 km of glorious off-road riding later, we reached the road and my tyre went down again. As it turned out, both of the patches had come off. This was surprising, as I’ve mended punctures before with no problems, but in went the spare tube and off we went again.
A quick visit to the gendarmerie and it was already getting dry and Felix’s tyre had become very deflated but in a slow manner, so we had it pumped up and set off on the last 80 km to our aimed-for destination. A very dark 80 km along an earth road, and OBVIOUSLY you don’t ride in the dark in Africa BUT if you do you might get to see a forest fire at night which is bloody awesome and makes for all sorts of moody pictures whilst you drink the last of your water still 40 km from your destination.
But don’t worry! We didn’t die of thirst or crashing and we did get to the place and there was no room at the cheap inn so we went to the expensive hotel and we were terribly, terribly tired and not at all prepared for the gendarmerie to visit whilst we were signing in.
GENDARME: You need to come with us.
FELIX: Ok. Now?
GENDARME [cocks AK-47]: Yes, now.
We stepped outside the hotel, followed by the man sent in to fetch us. In front, another gendarme slipped off the safety catch and looked extremely ready for anything. On the left and right, two more folks with machine guns and torches.
We made our way to the gendarmerie post on our motorbikes, separated by two men on a 50 cc scooter. One of the men had a machine gun, which made up for the fact that his bike was smaller than ours.
An hour later it was all smiles and happiness when it turned out we weren’t al-Qaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs after all, and off we went to our big posh hotel for showers and food and beer and a very long sleep.
The very next day, it was up at not at all the crack of dawn to go to Nazinga Nature Reserve. It was only 120 km, so the late start was not a problem.
The start became later when we went to the tyre change place to get the new tyre Felix had carried all the way from Switzerland put on, to replace the one that had gone down over night. It then got even later when a lump of wood got stuck in my tyre, making all the air come out. Still later it got when I had to ride Felix’s bike all that way back to the road, with my wheel, to find a man who could fix it. He was highly scathing of my puncture repair kit, and fixed the hole using a cube of fresh rubber, a press, and a large lump of very hot steel to melt the new rubber in place. Apparently, rubber glue doesn’t work in Africa because it’s too hot…
All was well and we were on track to get to the nature reserve just in time for it being dark. Only, 10 km later, Felix got his very first puncture of the trip. Huzzah! Everyone loves a puncture. Ready for another night of off-road riding, we mended the puncture, got just enough air in the tyre, blew up the man’s track pump, paid for the track pump, put on our riding gear, and noticed that Felix had got his second puncture of the trip due to incompetent reassembly of the wheel.
Staying cool and composed, we resolved to stay the night. We were offered a place in a house in the middle of the village. There was some heated discussion which we did not understand. We were offered a shed on the outskirts of the village.
Content with our shed, we popped on the stereo, got the standard camp dinner of rice and beans on the go, and kicked back to bemoan our luck with tyres.
I had my back to the road, and didn’t see the pick-up truck of AK-47 wielding men arrive. Felix was on his feet quickly, hands in the air and being blinded by torches. There was a lot of shouting. I chose to turn off the music, not wanting to be listening to Nick Drake’s ‘Man In A Shed’ (I shit you not) whilst what was about to happen, happened. Fiddling with the green cylinder of approximately hand-grenade size that is the speaker was considered to be poor form, and led to more shouting and waving of machine guns and shining of torches. My heart rate was quite a lot higher than normal by this point, but I managed to not soil myself which I was quite pleased about, because they were definitely pointing the really big guns really right at us in a manner that suggested they really might use them if we moved too quickly or in an unusual manner.
The men in the pick-up were the police, which was a relief. After some extraordinarily tense moments and some very careful one-hand-up, one-hand-in-jacket-to-fetch-out-the-passport moments, the mood flipped to jovial when once again, it was realised that we weren’t al-Qaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs after all. The police seemed distinctly amused by how scared we had been, and told us it was all for our own good, and so on. We agreed that yes, it was funny, and yes, we were pleased that they had dropped by to see us. Slowly the shaking in my hands subsided, and the fizzing noise in my brain went away. We even got offered a live chicken by the villagers to make up for the fact that they had called in the cops, concerned as they were that we were al-Quaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs and severed heads and all that. After persuading the cops that we really did not need to drive 50 km to a town where we would be safe from the possibility of real al-Quaida operatives who may or may not have been in the area, we were left to our very disturbed and slightly nervous rest of the evening. We were not kidnapped, beheaded, or kidnapped and beheaded. Nor did we sleep very much.
The next morning I hung out in the village, played some table football, read some book, and wrote the top section of this blog post whilst Felix took my bike and his wheel and our multitude of punctured inner tubes to a man who fixed the inner tubes with a cube of rubber, a press, and a small metal beaker of diesel which he set on fire to melt the rubber. We said our goodbyes and rode the tiny weenie technical sand-covered rocky rutty single track which was great to the Nazinga Nature Reserve where, as previously mentioned in this post, there were elephants which we saw and they were rather large but quite a long way away, and so small, but they were drinking water and chasing birds and it was, once again, terrifically African. To celebrate I took my rear suspension apart to try to solve the squeak, replaced all the sandy water in the bearings with grease, and put it back together again. And, having written some of this, went to bed.
[Now it’s the very next day.]
After being woken up by the cockerels at about 4 am this morning, I was a little tired. However, it was nothing a cup of coffee grown in the surrounding farms, a 40 minute walk through the forest to a waterfall and a quick dip couldn’t solve. I’m looking out across a little hollow with the aforementioned waterfall in front and a stand of enormous bamboo(s?) behind, surrounded by all sorts of lush vegetation and being pestered by a large number of butterflies. Bloody butterflies. There’s one hanging out on me toe right now. I will just have to console myself with this here beer.
So, we were nearly at the end of The Adwenture. No more cops came to pester us with machine guns at Nazinga, which was nice of them, so we headed off once more into the wilds. We went to a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Telebele (which should have accents over all but the first of the e’s but I can’t find how to do it on the i-pad, have I mentioned that I hate i-pads?) and did a spot of tourism, learning about animism and and looking at the tiny huts with all the red and black and white painting and the doors you have to crawl through and how they choose their warriors based on whacking each other with sticks once a year and deciding who can take the most brutal punishment. Pythons are honoured guests as they are reincarnations of the ancestors, you tell your hopes and dreams to tortoises and they sort them out for you, and chickens are generally in for a bad time and get slotted on a regular basis. Placentas go in pots and are put over there on that huge mound (the village is more than 2000 years old, I want to say 3000 years old but I might be exaggerating for effect, it’s hard to tell) and dead people go in the holes just there. Oh, and if you’re a lady you’ll be missing your clitoris once you’re older than 8. Mustn’t judge, but…
Then we were off again, camping in the not-quite-so-wild, surrounded by little compounds and with lots of people who surprisingly didn’t move us on. It’s nice to somewhere where no one seems to own the land.
The next day it was time for the bit where the roads disappear. After an accidental 15 km foray into Ghana (“all the road signs are in English and I just saw a place called ‘The Ghana Medical Association’. Have we gone wrong somewhere?”) we finally got to the river down some little tracks As expected, there was a ferry. As expected, the ferry was small. Very small. It could, in fact, be considered to be the exact opposite of the iron ore train in Mauritania. The ferry was wooden, flat-bottomed, and around 1 m wide and 4 m long. It was whole 30 cm deep, and it leaked somewhat.
The ferry man seemed unconcerned by the size of the bikes in comparison to the size of the ferry. Felix was mad keen, in part because he hates sand and was not keen on the additional 80 km of riding required to use the bridge. I was considerably more reticent, being the one with the 206 kg bike. Felix went first, and indeed: the ferry did not sink. It did only have somewhere around 1 inch of draft left before it would have sunk, but that was not the point. I was persuaded, and once again the ferry did not sink. Peace reigned in my mind-tank, sullied only by the fact that we were ripped off brutally because we hadn’t sorted the price out until we were on opposite sides of the river.
Somewhere around 3 hours and one delicious lunch with friendly locals later, we said our goodbyes at the Greenwich Meridian. The crossing into Togo was only slightly more complex than the crossing from west to east, and I stayed in a quite little hotel for cheap about 50 km later. Then it was a 500 km day of riding on mountain roads on lovely Tarmac, and a short day to here, and now here I am. Although I don’t have any internets (what?! No wi-fi in the jungle?!), so you’ll get this when I get to Lome (the capital) later today.
Alright then! Lovely to chat with you all, catch you soon.
Right then, so then, we’re back in Lome. The bass solo has finally just finished with what I will generously call a ‘jazzy’ chord, and I am now eagerly anticipating the next number. Oh good. Great. It’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’. The bass player is taking a leading role once again. It’s not quite Bamako, that’s for sure…
You lucky people! It’s a 3-for-1 offer on blog posts, because I’m trying to catch up. Anyway…enjoy! (Maybe.)
It’s pretty tough here at the moment.
CURRENT LOACTION: Lac Rose, near Dakar, Senegal
MILES COMPLETED: Something like 6200
After managing to survive Mauritania (which was a lot easier than had previously been expected), we made our way to Senegal. Babs formed an advance party to prepare the ground for my glorious arrival in St Louis a day later. The last day of riding in Mauritania, on the 23rd December, was wonderful. To start off with it was more of the same: scrubby desert and sand. But then suddenly, about 80 km before the boarder, grass started to appear. Grass! Yellow grass, but: grass! I hadn’t quite realised I was missing it. I got mildly hysterical about the end of the desert (until Mali, that is…) and had a fun time shouting out the names of things that could see into my helmet. Things like cows, green stuff, water, and more grass.
After the grass, came a multitude of non-deserty delights in the form of wetlands. Wetlands! Even more green stuff! Warthogs! (Watch the warthogs; they have a death-wish.) Taller grass! Yes: it was an exciting time.
The boarder was a dream of fairly well organised bureaucracy and the handover of modest sized maybe-bribes (it’s hard to tell sometimes), and then a dam, and then Senegal. On the Senegalese side, they even threw in free lunch with the guards because it was that time of day, and they weren’t busy. Things were going extremely well, and even my first encounter with Senegalese speed bumps* didn’t manage to spoil my tremendous mood. I knew what was coming next.
BEER. Delicious beer. Some was drunk. It had been quite some time.
The next day gave some time to reflect on the wonderful place in which we had found ourselves. St Louis was the first French colony in Africa (I seem to remember from discussion with Dennis, who knows such things). It is on an island, and has all sorts of French buildings of the type that would grace a French colony in Africa. It has a lovely big bridge. Everyone wears extraordinarily colourful clothing. The buildings are painted extraordinarily colourfully. There’s lots of other colourful stuff as well, most notably the fishing boats, of which there are many. The buses are painted in colourful colours, and colourful people hang our of the colourful sides and grin and wave and stuff. On one notable occasion, a colourful bus full of the colourful youth who were all wearing colourful uniforms drove past. The colourful youth were playing djembes and singing and being excitable and it sped past and I have no idea what was going on but it was bloody brilliant, I can tell you.
Before I got there, Babs had already made a friend. Babs’ friend was a terrific artist chap called Mbarik. He was much better than my friend who I made when I first got there. My friend was also called Babs, just like the Babs who normally features in these writings. New Babs turned out to be a con artist. Another friend who Babs and I know is Dennis. Dennis is a tremendously clever chap and all-round nice guy from Belgium who is hitch-hiking to somewhere that begins with a “G” and is not Gambia (The), or Gabon. Anyway, I might have mentioned him before, who knows, we’ve seen him a few times and are always happy to do so. Dennis was, at this point, travelling with Kade. Kade is from Kansas, and loves being compared to Dorothy.
Dennis and Kade were staying in St Louis with Mamadou and his two wives and his many children. Mamadou was yet another wonderful person with a huge heart, as were his wives and children. I really wish I could remember the names of wives and children, but they were numerous and all the girls (and women) had names beginning with “A”, and the boys, “M”. This presented a serious challenge, but one I have had a lot of practise in working around.
RIGHT THEN. Some of the stuff we did in St Louis was at the campsite. At the campsite we had fun being pissed off the Trevor the owner (who we called Trevor because of his striking resemblance to Trevor McDonald), who was a man for who money was extremely important, and having chats with the night watchman Omar, who was actually called Omar, and who was mint. During all of these occasions we would be plagued by extraordinary quantities of flies, which bred in the piles of rotting fish that colourfully took up much of the space between the colourful fishing boats. The flies were so numerous that when eating food during the day, I found it necessary to be constantly on the move. Babs discovered early on that there was a reason they provided beers with the cap loosened, but still in place.
Other stuff we did in St Louis was in the town. This stuff included visiting Mbarik’s workshop (which was very pleasant, and involved tea drinking), avoiding hustlers, pottering about, and going out for Boxing Day drinks.
Boxing Days drinks occurred in collaborations with non-con Babs (i.e. usual Babs) and Mbarik. We went to a terrible bar, and drank some drinks, and then went to a very good bar, and drank some more drinks. At some point in the very good bar whilst listening to the very good band, it became clear to us that Mbarik had become very, very drunk. Very drunk indeed. This was probably (definitely) due to the fact that we were buying Mbarik drinks at the rate that we wanted to drink our drinks. Fortunately, we were listening to an extremely good band. And extremely good band! They were outrageous…for three hours they whipped the crowd into a frenzy with insanely tight jazz? ska? afro-beat? WHO KNOWS WHAT brilliance and so Mbarik’s thrashing and grinning was well in keeping with mine and Babs’ and the rest of the crowd’s. And ha! Con artist Babs had to leave when we arrived, which he looked upset about, because he realised I might start asking awkward questions about the money he had “borrowed”. So I got a very small measure of sweet, sweet revenge.
Anyway: that band, who were one of the best bands I have ever seen, were the house band for the bar. UNBELIEVABLE.
The other major venue for goings-on in St Louis was the aforementioned Mamadou’s house. Most of the goings-on at Mamadou’s house were food based. We ate lunch there a couple of times (rice, fish and vegetables, all cooked in the same pot and absolutely delicious) and breakfast just before we left (spicy fish paste sandwiches, also delicious). And it was there that we (Dennis, Kade, Babs and I) celebrated Christmas by cooking for the family.
The mission started at about 2:30 pm with Kade, Dennis and I going shopping. This was supposed to take 2 hours. At 6:30 we returned to Mamadou’s house with everything except for the meat and fruit. I returned to town with wife number 1 (who may have been called Anou, but I may well be making that up) to find the meat. I selected 4 kg of lamb, which was a rear leg, tail and side. The man chopped it up for me with a very large knife. The look of the tail made me feel slightly unusual, as did the times when shards of bone hit me in the face.
The person who was maybe Anou and I arrived home at about 7:30 to find everyone busy chopping. I joined in.
Somewhere around three hours later, and having used every pot in the kitchen at least twice and having drunk three bottles of wine between us, the starter came out. Dennis had created the Iranian version of babaganoush, and served it with bread. It was delicious, but Mamadou and family seemed to be hiding their disappointment. After a short discussion, Mamadou and family were made aware of the concept of the starter and that this was not all we had been doing all night, and all was well.
Main course arrived at 11:30 pm in true Wil Wiles style, and consisted of pan roasted lamb (my responsibility, for which I felt fully qualified having watched quite a lot of Masterchef in my time), served with potatoes fried with onion and red wine (Dennis) and glazed carrots and green beans (Babs). Served on two enormous plates it looked remarkably like Christmas dinner, and was eaten with our hands.
A fruit salad desert (made by Kade) finished us off at 12:30 am on Boxing Day, and massive food comas ensued.
A couple of days later, Babs and I got on the bikes to head to Lac Rose, a very salty pink lake near to Dakar, where we have been ever since. Whilst here we have sat by the pool and done nothing. We have made a foray into the absolute madness of the Dakar traffic. We have made new friends. We have been to a New Year party. And I have done some tourism.
Dakar traffic, then. Dakar traffic is absolutely the most difficult and dangerous I have seen anywhere, including India. In India, I would guess that they have more accidents, but the speeds are much lower and the accidents come from a lack of attention and an inability to be looking everywhere, all at once. In Dakar, the speeds are a lot higher. There’s less traffic. Unfortunately, there’s still an awful lot of traffic, and everyone wants to be where they’re going to now. The driving is outrageously reckless, especially from the taxis. Once (and this is all at about about 60 mph), a taxi squeezed between me and the car in the lane next to me, filled the only-just-big-enough space between me and Babs, before undertaking Babs without really getting out of the lane that Babs was in. The buses seem completely unaware of how wide they are, and generally drive down the line between two lanes, which gives space for undertaking and overtaking them by different cars at the same time, leaving a bus and two cars occupying two lanes. On two separate occasions, when turning left from a major road into a minor road, I had set up for the manoeuvre and was about to turn only to find a taxi overtaking me at the last minute. On one of these this led to me misjudging the turn, and being side-swiped by another taxi coming from the opposite direction (oops). Oh, and giving way to traffic already on a roundabout, or driving down the major road you want to turn on to, or generally occupying the space that you want, is not considered a necessity.
Nevertheless we are still alive and, having gaffa taped my indicator back on and having got my hand protector bent back into shape, so is the bike.
Our new friends are Carlos, who has the most outrageous luck at dice games I have ever witnessed, and Fred, who has, on a whim, bought himself a lady’s push bike from the 1990s, strapped a bag to the back of it, and is riding around Senegal. He does not know how to fix a puncture. His tool kit includes one spanner (suitable to change the height of the seat) one bottle of oil, and three hex keys. He is going to have An Adventure for sure. I am impressed. Mightily impressed.
*Senegalese speed bumps are not to be taken lightly on a bike with lowered suspension: they are at least 20 feet tall, and covered in razor wire and machine gun nests**. In a 50 kph zone they will occur once every 100 m or so, and should be attempted at 30 kph or less. Babs likes to take them as fast as possible.
**May be a lie. They are very tall and sharp, though.
I’m in hospital.
CURRENT LOCATION: Bafoulabe Hospital, Mali
MILES COMPLETED: 6703
But don’t worry! It’s not like that. I met a lovely chap called Abdul on a ferry, and he’s taken me in for the night. I’m staying the in the nurses’ quarters here, because he’s a nurse, duh.
Anyway, where was I? Lac Rose, in Senegal.
With Carlos and Fred, Babs and I had our New Years Eve. At one time or another throughout the evening we pushed a car out of some sand, got taken to a big posh hotel, went to a house party with very loud music and almost no people where Babs and Carlos got offered some new wives (which happened after I left…I was too drunk to hold conversation and needed either (a) vigorous action, or (b) total inaction, and after Fred left because of some sort of bad food experience), went to a very odd hip hop gig in the middle of town where most of the crowd was kept 50 m back from the stage and about 20 people were allowed into the VIP front stage area, met some folks on a bus and got taken to a much better party with one flashy light in a very big room and excellent music and danced like a twat (which seemed to make me attractive to the ladies, who came over one by one to dance with me, which meant they stood in front of me whilst I carried on doing what I was doing but now also grinning awkwardly, until they left) and went home. And that was that.
Well, round 2 was pretty short, I’ll admit. I am determined to catch up with round 3. Little and often with the blog post writing might be better, maybe…
CURRENT LOCATION: The Sleeping Camel Auberge, Bamako, Mali
MILES COMPLETED: 6960
Right right right. So. I was still waiting in Lac Rose for some parts to be sent out. Had I mentioned I was waiting for parts? Maybe. Anyway: I was waiting for parts. Specifically: new suspension dog bones, a new rear tyre, spare levers (which I forgot to buy before we left) and an e-reader of a common type because swapping books out here is NOT POSSIBLE and I like to read an awful lot.
The suspension dog bones were because it turns out that the bike that I had bought had had the suspension lowered. This was not good, because every time I went over a compression the rear wheel would hit the exhaust pipe. The rear tyre was because what with all the (now I think about it, much too fast riding in Europe) my tyre was basically bald even though it’s meant to be good for maybe 10 000 miles. So once again: waiting for the post.
Whilst waiting I was mostly doing three things: reading, learning French, and tourism. Reading took the form of Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’. I was initially sceptical: it’s a book about climate change, which has been something I’ve been unable to think about properly for maybe two years. I was unable to think about it because every time I did, I would sink into paroxysms of despair, basically feeling that we’re all doomed, no one cares, millions will die or be displaced, the West will carry on anyway and oh god what’s the point. Having spoken to a few people about this feeling, I get the impression that it’s pretty common. To anyone who recognises what I’m talking about:
I repeat: READ THIS BOOK. Get everyone you know to READ THIS BOOK. Or watch the documentary that goes with it (not sure what it’s called, not seen it, but pretty sure it’ll be excellent as well). I’ve not finished with it yet, but I already feel hopeful, furious, inspired, ready to fight, hopeful, hopeful, HOPEFUL. Get your heads back out the sand they’ve been in ever since Obama’s broken promises and the financial crash and the re-election of David Fucking Cameron and the continued business-as-usual rise of fracking and the Alberta Tar Sands monstrosity, and READ THIS BOOK. Go on. Do it. It’ll make you feel better, I promise.
Oh yeah: and then get on with joining in with what it says. (Like riding a motorbike across Africa? Hypocisy? Hmmm…)
Right then. Did I mention you should read this book?
Learning French: Michel Thomas is totally brilliant. I’m much better at speaking. I’m not much better at listening. Conversations have been one-way affairs, but that’s better than zero-way affairs, right?
Tourism: Ile de Goree (a now very beautiful ex-slaving station) and walking.
AND THEN THE POST ARRIVED! I managed to wrest it from the hands of DHL and Senegalese customs through the application of time and money, got the tyre fitted by a man in a shack (turns out a hammer can be expertly used to re-mount a tyre, who knew?), sorted the suspension, tested the suspension, loaded up and LEFT, singing “on the road again” like Donkey from Shrek, which I sing to myself a slightly embarrassingly large amount. There’s a lot of time to fill when you’re riding a motorbike through Africa, alright? Lots. In fact, I spend a large quantity of time shouting into my helmet, or singing, or making faces, or thinking deep thoughts (maaaaaaaaan), or thinking no thoughts at all.
[“What about Babs?!” I hear you cry. Fives days ago (which is when I left), Babs was starting to make progress getting another new clutch (the old new clutch being only a temporary measure) and trying to source a new tyre. He’ll be along shortly I’m sure. I’ll let you know…]
Five days, then. Being on the road again, as previously described. Some camping, some terrifying pot hole encounters, long days on the bike, a boarder, and MALI. Making progress on my ‘things to see in Africa’ tick list. Baobab trees? Tick. Naked children? Tick. Red earth roads through the grass lands? Tick. Women with their boobs out? Tick. Gangs of baboons? Tick. Burnt out up-side-down trucks? Tick. Cows with really big horns? Tick. Villages of little round huts made out of mud and grass with pumps made by the Rotary Club and filled with naked children and women with their boobs out next to up-side-down burnt out trucks which have fallen off the red earth road through the grass lands dotted with baobab trees which have baboons in them? Tick. IT’S JUST LIKE ON THE TELLY! Only more noisy, more smelly, more all-encompassing, and quite a lot more real.
Yep: I’m have a Good Time.
And I got to spend a night with Abdul the nurse and his mate Omar and all the rest who were mint, in his mobile phone side-line business shack, and talking to Sam who had lived in the bush for a month with three others after the village in Liberia he was working in was razed by the rebels, and discussing the relative merits of Africa culture vs. European culture.
And now: Bamako, where I have watched the new Star Wars film (which is just a crap as all the rest in my opinion but scratched an itch all the same) and chatted with Pawel the Polish lunatic who’s on the 14-year-old version of my bike with a clutch repaired with a t-shirt and boxes strapped on with knackered bungees and he’s going round the whole world! Yes! He may well be my new hero. And he wears old-school flying goggles and an open-faced helmet which proper awesome looking. Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.
And that, as they say, is that.
Thus endeth the lesson.
I am on a train. Well, sort of. I am in a portacabin on the back of a flat-bed trolley, which will shortly (hopefully) become part of the train. Once complete, the train will be around 2.5 km long.
CURRENT LOACTION: Nouadibou, Mauritania
MILES COMPLETED: 5023
CRASH REPORT: lots and lots
My compatriots in the portacabin are Olam and Abus. We have swept up and put down a mat for sitting on. Abus is making dinner; Olam’s main preoccupation is tea production. Abus’ truck, which transports tar and is beaten up in the extreme, is on the next trolley along, keeping my bike company. We have so far been in the portacabin for about 8 hours, and we have moved very little distance in all that time. We are mostly being shunted backwards and forwards past the iron ore works. It is night time now, and the iron ore works look as if they have been drawn straight out of maybe Robocop or Bladerunner…the sodium lights making incredible shadows in the dust which is filling the air; conveyor belts running up and down and all around; flashes of welding; mounds of dark red ore ready to fill the ships that are waiting at the harbour. It is absolutely tremendous. Before getting in the portacabin, I spent 6 hours knocking around at the goods yard with various folks, getting the bike loaded and generally preparing. Nothing is done in a hurry in Mauritania.
Since I last wrote something on here, we’ve come all the way through our second country (sort of), Western Sahara. Whether you count it as a separate country depends on who you talk to. Moroccans count it as theirs; the locals believe they should be separate; the Mauritanians seem to side with the locals. The main reason, as far as I can tell, that the Mauritanians side with Western Sahara is because they make their tea the same way*.
TRAIN UPDATE: We are going!
I’m still on the train. That was a pretty extraordinary night. The portacabin is slowly shaking itself to bits, but doesn’t seem to be moving around on the trolley, which is good. The ride and handling characteristics of the train could be described as ‘relentlessly brutal’. The noise is unbelieveable, but forms music of a sort. At about 200 bpm there is a hard-edged bass thump that forms the basis for the rest. The roller shutters rattle at twice that speed, and the tea cups at about eight times. When the train really gets going, there is a resonance-induced “MMMMMM-WAAAAAAAAAAA” that lasts for around two bars, and rests for two, then repeats. All this is amplified by the portacabin. The portacabin bounces up and down in time with the bass with an amplitude of maybe 1 cm, and sways side-to-side about 15 cm in either direction randomly and without cessation. Every thing is covered in a thick layer of dust, and the air is thick with it. It’s 08:24, we’re half way through the journey, and three rounds of tea into the day. How Olam can pour in this environment is beyond me.
When the train was finally constructed last night, its first task was to turn around. It went around a loop that was close to a kilometer in diameter, and when it got back to the start, we could see the back end end of the train in its own headlights. When it stopped to have the points changed, a sound like thunder shot around the circle as each wagon crashed into the one in front.
We do about 3 hours moving, then 1 hour stopped for the train to fill up with water. The first round last night was particularly rough: I spent all of it freaking out with terror at the thought of my bike being shaken to pieces. Then, when the “MMMMMM-WAAAAAAAAAAA” started, I forgot about the bike and was concerned for my life (the portacabin is not really attached to the trolley, it is just placed on top and some steel cable loosely draped over). Under closer inspection of adjacent trolleys this morning, all appears well (for the bike; less so for us): our portacabin is definitely on a trolley with a wonky wheel. The rest seem to be far less…bouncy. Argh!
(Now we are listening to Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. It is going down a storm. I love the minirig…it’s been a brilliant thing to offer anyone who’s hosting.)
The rest of the night was passed in half sleep, having weird hallucinations brought on by the noise and movement. It’s all been (being) quite the experience.
[Same day, 14:53]
We are in the absolute arse-end of nowhere. The roof has blown off the portacabin, which means our previously fairly comfortable little squat is now full of grit and sand. The stuff is everywhere, and there is a steadily growing pile of bits that have fallen off (light fixtures, doors, etc.) in the other room. Most of the train has gone ahead; we need to go back about 3 hours to Choum, where the big train didn’t stop. We currently have no engine, and information about when we will be leaving is sketchy, to say the least. Hmmm.
Thankfully, we have managed stock up on cigarettes and food and are now ready for the next onslaught. The bike still seems to be in one piece. Lunch is being prepared. All will be well, as long as I can ride the 120 km of sand tomorrow to Atar, which is my current aim.
ANYWAY. Western Sahara. It’s mostly very big, very flat, very windy, and very bleak. We did long days of riding and blasted through. On day 3, we decided to go a couple of miles down a sandy track and camp in the desert. About 200 m into our ride, a Land Cruiser with three chaps came past. They were also aiming to camp in the desert about 20 km away, and asked if we wanted to join them. It was getting dark, but with a support vehicle full of helpful strangers, we decided to go for it.
About 10 km and maybe five crashes each later (I’ve lost count), I was in front. Babs fell off behind me, but I didn’t get the message and carried on. I got to firm ground and the Land Cruiser, but Babs was nowhere to be seen.
It takes two to pick up a loaded bike in the sand, and so our support vehicle went back to help. I heard a lot of revving, and then silence. The Land Cruiser came back for me.
Babs had burnt out his clutch trying to get the bike out of deep sand, and so we camped where we were, ate camel, played the guitar, and drank lots of tea.
The next day, the bike went in the back of the Land Cruiser, and we went back to the main road. Riding in the sand was a lot easier in the light.
After an aborted attempt at hitching, Babs noticed that the clutch was adjustable. The clutch got adjusted, and the bike became ridable at low speed. Babs decided to try to limp the bike over the boarder in Mauritania before fixing it, which he now has, for about £40.
The morning after the escape from the desert, only 200 m of absolutely flat-out sprinting in flinty sand and bare feet stopped my tent from being lost over a cliff and into the sea. My feet felt amazing for the rest of the day, having been so thoroughly exfoliated.
The boarder was challenging on the Moroccan side. There was 5 km of Mad Max-style no man’s land between there and Mauritania, complete with burnt out cars, people razzing around in knackered Mercedes, loads of sand, piles of tyres, and so on.
The Mauritanian side was easier – we decided to shell out on hiring an excellent fixer, who knew the guards and the intricacies of the bureaucracy – and then we were in Nouadibou.
[The day after, 11:31]
Patience is a virtue, so I have been told.
We finally got into Choum yesterday, at 11 pm, after 25 hours on the train. For the last part of the journey we had cleaned up the cabin, and were joined by five other folks. One of these was the best tea maker I’ve seen so far, who was actually quite young (25-ish) and a bit of a rude boy. He had extraordinary flair and didn’t spill a drop, even when the train was moving at maximum speed.
We got off and went to on of Abus’ friend’s, safe in the knowledge that the bike and Abus’ truck and Olam’s portacabin could be dealt with in the morning. It is now the morning, and the train has gone all the way to the end of the line, with our stuff. It’s ETA back to Choum is anywhere between 25 minutes and “later”, depending on who you talk to.
Choum is slightly less the arse-end of nowhere than the last place I was in. It deals with getting stuff from here to Atar, via the sandy track which I am aiming to take. UnfortunateIy, I’ve not had a chance to explore much. My stuff is in a pile just over there, and I am determined to be here when the train returns. I will lie in the track until they unload my bike if necessary. Babs has probably overtaken me by this point (he stayed an extra day in Nouadibou, and was going to take the train as a passenger here and then back, before riding south. We’ve decided to split up until Dakar, by the way, where we hope to spend Christmas).
In the Lonely Planet, it said “no one in Mauritania is in a rush, and you shouldn’t be either”. This now seems somewhat prescient.
[A good while later again]
All that train nonsense happened a few days ago. The bike finally turned up, and, with the application of the too much money, was removed from the train. I was grubby and tired. And still quite a way off from Atar.
After loading up the bike, I went to consult the local gendarmerie (some sort of not quite police, not quite army person the like of which are seen all over the place and who are almost invariably entertaining and good-natured sorts) to get some directions. They were: keep the mountains on your left, and after 50 km you will find another gendarmerie who will provide further directions. I attempted to look positive. The gendarmerie felt my plight, and hooked me up with a pick up truck with 8 folks in it who were going my way. When told they were now the guides for an idiot on a motorbike, they looked extremely concerned. There are almost no motorbikes in Mauritania anywhere; there are certainly none in the desert.
It was somewhere around 5 km in, and I was proving to be less hassle than my guides were worried about. Then, in the space of about 1 km, I fell off six times, each time requiring help to pick the bike up. (One of these was a particularly spectacular high speed plough through a big pile of sand round a corner and into a rock with the front wheel, and resultant high side, dented box, whack on the head, and bent hand guard.) The starting to fall off coincided fairly accurately with the start of the sand.
Some discussion occurred. They were more keen than ever for me to (a) follow the car precisely, and (b) go slowly. Unfortunately, this is not the thing with sand riding. At any speed below about 30 mph the whole thing becomes impossible, and combining this with the aerated sand and ruts caused by cars is not good. Not good at all. So I decided to totally ignore them and ride fast, and also ignore the track, and ride wherever seemed best in the desert. It bloody worked! And was very entertaining indeed. (A shout out goes to Nye at this point for sending me a sand riding article by Simon Painton, without which I would have been even more useless.) And when my guides stopped for a quick road-side pray, they actually seemed fairly impressed. Ha! AND there were times when it was all going wrong but with more power and some sideways action and sand everywhere it all sorted itself out, which was definitely due entirely to my skill and not at all to total blind luck.
I still fell off a couple more times anyway, just for old times sake.
And then we were at the gendarmerie, and tarmac, and high-fives all round, and then Atar, which is nice, especially when you treat yourself to the best air conditioned stone hut with fancy drapery the very nice auberge has.
Since then: r-r-r-r-r-rode me s-s-s-s-s-some c-c-c-c-c-corrugations for 80 km all the way to some sand dunes, stayed me in the mingingest auberge I ever did try not to see, sat me on some sand dunes for some hours and watched me some sand flowing about the place, got me a puncture, mended me a puncture (1 hour 30 minutes, of which 30 minutes were pumping with the tiny tiny hand pump – front wheel, being as you ask, going fairly fast on corrugations, all managed to be brought under control juuuuuuuust about), got proper cross with yet more sand (may have shouted a bit), and had a bath in a hot spring which came complete with several hundred cleaner fish. And accidentally (but happily) squashed me a dead big spider that was under the stuff in my room. And then came to Nouakchott (the capital) on TARMAC.
Oh how I (now) love the tarmac! Smooth, black, easy-riding stuff of dreams! Yes! You know where you’re at with tarmac.
P.S. The bit at the top should now read…
CURRENT LOCATION: Nouakchott, Mauritania
MILES COMPLETED: 5524
CRASH REPORT: oh, give up already
P.P.S. Still not seen any islamists in this most-dangerous-of-all-the-countries. It’s properly mega friendly. You should all come for a visit. Seriously: THERE’S NO ONE HERE. It’s lovely. But sandy. Very sandy.
*The social life in Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania revolves around the production and consumption of tea. Making a brew is a complex process. Everyone has their own take on it, and endless discussions will be had about the best method. Making the tea takes around 10 minutes. Drinking the tea takes around 30 seconds. The best at tea production are generally wizened old men in turbans.
HOW TO MAKE MINT TEA
This is the Mauritanian method, because it’s better here than in Morocco. Mauritanians will ensure that you know their tea is better than in Morocco. They are right. The Moroccans tend to spend less time over it, and drink more. It is also far less ritualised in Morocco. Anyway…
You will need:
A teapot (small, enamelled)
Two or more glasses (slightly bigger than a shot glass)
A large and deep metal tray
Bunch of fresh mint
Everything during this process is done over the tray. Any waste liquid is just poured directly into the tray. During tea making, nobody should leave.
1) Rinse the cups and pot.
2) Put 1/2 cup of green tea and 1 cup cold water into the teapot. Slowly bring the water to a boil.
3) Pour the liquid contents into one of the cups. Add a small amount more cold water to the teapot to rinse the leaves, and add this to another cup. Throughout the rest of the process, this liquid will be poured from one cup into the other from a height of maybe 40 cm over and over again to aerate it; this pouring will be done maybe 50 times for one brew. Whenever you have a spare moment, get pouring. The best tea makers move from pouring this liquid to the other tasks in a smooth flow. If you have more than two cups, the liquid is rotated through all of them.
4) Add around 2-3 more cups water to the pot; slowly bring to the boil.
5) Remove from the heat. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and a sprig of mint to the pot.
6) Pour out one cup, return to the pot. This pouring is also done from height, as is any other pouring during the entire process.
7) Repeat 4-5 times, in order to stir the sugar into the tea.
8) Taste for sugar content. Probably add more.
9) By this point the liquid you’ve been dutifully aerating should be able to hold a head that is around the same volume as the liquid. Add this liquid to the pot.
10) Pour out a cup, return to the pot. Repeat a few more times.
11) Share the tea between the cups, but ensuring that you save one cup-full; this will be what you aerate for the next round. Before passing them out, make sure that you wipe the bottom of them.
12) Slurp noisily.
13) Collect the cups back. Rinse. Pour the contents of the tray out of the window.
14) Pour the remaining liquid into one of the cups. Add a small amount more green tea to the pot. Repeat from step 4 for at least three rounds.
All right then.
WE ARE IN AFRICA.
CURRENT LOCATION: Targua International (i.e. French camper van owners’) Campsite, Tiznit, Morocco
MILES COMPLETED: 3941
CRASH REPORT: Babs – 5, Me – 14
I like Europe, don’t get me wrong. I like all the posh architecture of the cities, I love being able to get actually really good coffee pretty much everywhere, and there’s all sorts of sunshine and interesting bars and driving on the right and using the euro and so on, and meeting new people is always pretty entertaining as well. And yes yes yes, can’t complain, lovely big holiday and all, but by the time we’d knocked around Seville for a couple of days waiting for the guitar case, we were both pretty ready to be in a whole new continent.
MOROCCO IS TREMENDOUS.
Everywhere you go here, you are confronted by the most astounding stuff. It’s literally difficult to comprehend it. The landscapes are astounding. They vary from lush meadows covered in huge swathes of bright yellow flowers on dark green grass, to huge expanses of rock where the flatness is broken only by 100 m high wave-shaped faults breaking in parallel rows across it that the road winds through and over and around. There have been barren hill sides where, on closer inpection, you find that every part has been carefully cultivated, the farmlands rolling on for tens of miles. There was a time when the dead straight road dipped into another small compression in the desert, and with a sudden moment of vertigo a half mile wide gorge appeared, filled with palm trees and a desert town, in the space of a second. And in all the mountains and waves and ridges and valleys you can see the strata with incredible clarity, making it look as if every feature has a fingerprint.
Come to think of it, there’s geology absolutely all over the shop. Everywhere you look, there’s more evidence of overzealous application of geology to everything, which makes the roads frequently windy. Like in Todra Gorge, where there was loads of geology, and also Dades Gorge, where there was loads more geology. The geology Dades was different than in Todra, however; Todra was more up-and-down, Dades was more lumpy. I liked them both, but for different reasons.
There is also super high-speed not-quite-geology is sand dune form at Merzouga, where there are also pleasant people to chat to. I have, in fact, had many pleasant and varied times with people in Morocco so far. The two on the dunes were other travelling types, but you don’t see many of them – although we have met a chap who’s hitching to somewhere south, maybe Gabon, whilst studying for a degree in Maths on the road, and there were a pair of motor bikers doing the same trip as us, but on one bike. Most of the people we’ve met are, obviously, because there’s loads of them around, locals. There are currently four stand-outs for me. They are, in chronological order of interaction:
(1) Trouser Man. When Babs and I first got to Rabat to get some visas sorted, we chained our bikes up and went for a wander around town. On our return, we were confronted by an irate Trouser Man, shouting in arabic. Apparently, we’d chained out bikes to a ‘No Parking’ sign. In our defense, we were parked on the pavement, so we couldn’t see the front of it. Anyway, this was the spot that Trouser Man usually used to sell his trousers from, using, funny-lookingly, the legs of mannequins as tables.
As I mentioned, he was irate, and Babs was trying to be all pacifying and apologetic for the both of us, and I was looking on feeling pleased that this was Babs’ job as the group’s only arabic speaker. This went on for an uncomfortably long time before Trouser Man let it be known that he was just having us on and really didn’t care, and had, in fact been using the bikes as a seat.
(2) Fake Police Whistle Blowing Man. After our last morning in Rabat, which was, inclidently, Babs’ birthday, and after we’d eaten exceptionally posh birthday breakfast, and managed to score a bottle of vodka off the security guard, and got our Mauritanian visa, and when we were on the way to the place where Babs would get his sunglasses stolen again but this time for real, and then get them back (because he knew it was one of the huge number of children who were screaming and shouting and being excitable and so did their teacher and the servious-looking older chap and now that kid is soooooooooooooooo grounded, but I have to admit that all along I was expecting them to be in his pocket again), and also on the way to the quite nice but very yellow hotel with the bidet in the room behind the curtain, which was the venue for what I am now retrospectively entitling “Babs’ Big Birthday Bash” where we drank vodka and coke and played whist, but which we arrived at after the hour-long passport check with the police, we met Fake Whistle Blowing Police Man. He had a police man’s uniform on, a gun made out of a bit of stick and gaffa tape, some plastic flowers, and a whistle. We were in a cafe, and he spent about 10 minutes whilst we gearing up to go constantly blowing his whistle, saluting and kissing the bikes, saluting us, putting flowers on the bikes, marching round the bikes and us, pointing at the bikes, stopping the traffic to look at the bikes, saluting some more, and blowing his whistle.
(3) Said’s family in Dades Gorge. After Babs’ Big Birthday Bash (which, as previously explained very clearly, was after we’d been in Rabat) we decided to split up for a few days to do some stuff by ourselves. I trundled about for a few days in some deserts, and finally ended up in Dades Gorge, where there is lumpy geology. There I stayed with Said and his family, who were incredibly hospitable and entertaining people, and talked about all sorts of fascinating stuff. I can’t think of anything else really to say, other than that I had a lovely time with them all. In fact, a lot of this sort of stuff goes on. Folks just being massively hospitable. So this is actually also going to be for the chap in the antiques shop who was genuinely up for just watching football and drinking tea, and Hossin the guy who tried to guide me to an off-road track between Dades and Todra, which was much too hard and made the boots worth it when I ended up with my right foot pointing backwards and pinned under the pannier box. He was great, even if his gums did bleed when he used my water bladder’s bite valve. But he gave me tea and calmed my ragged nerves and put his dog under a wheel barrow for me. Nice guy, excellent guy, we spent a happy hour being crap at french together. All of them, and all the rest.
(4) Hossin was going to be here, but he got in above. Nevertheless: let’s hear it one more time for Hossin.
Oh yeah, so as well as falling off on the really terrible road that Hossin showed me (it was a dried river bed more suitable for moto-x bikes, all cobbles and plenty about head sized), I also fell off just before then on the horrible bit of track that I got myself on before Hossin found me to offer his guiding services. Got it? Right.
And also twice on the sand, but that’s understandable. Odd stuff, sand…you feel totally out of control when you’re on it, everything’s going everywhere and not always in the same direction as anything else, when it starts going really wrong you dab massively, miss the peg, sit on the seat, get back on your feet, and desperately try to bring everything to a halt because actually you have to go quite fast because otherwise you sink up to the hubs. And then to get going, give it loads of beans in 2nd gear, sand everywhere, paddle with the feet, until you get going fast enough to get back on top of the sand, and then it’s back to the everything everywhere out of control.
I have ridden on sand for a total of maybe 100 m so far. It was memorable. (For the chronologically-driven, that was in Merzouga, two days after Babs’ Big Birthday Bash, and the day after wild camping in the High Atlas BY MYSELF and not being scared even once because THIS TIME I lit a fire, which made the most extraordinary difference in how scared I get camping by myself.)
Babs dropped the bike best, though. He stopped to ask directions, and put the bike on the side stand but stayed standing over it. He then got ready to go, and took it off the side stand. Suddenly, he thinks of something else to ask and goes to rest it on the now not-in-position sidestand, and throws his bike on the floor in front of the local. This, I think we can all agree, is a little bit of class.
And we also dropped them once each in the woods we camped in on the first night, after the yellow flowers and before Rabat, where the dogs barked all night and the cocks started crowing at 3:45 am and for some reason we didn’t think to go to find the amazing sounding distant drumming until we were both in bed. Next time: party first, bed second.
Right, so, anyway. We’ve now got back together and are currently engaged in a day of faff, sorting petrol containers and documents and so on (and new suspension links because my bike’s actually got lowered suspension (?!) so the wheel hits the exhaust pipe) in a small town called Tiznit. It a nothing special non-touristy sort of place where the locals just knock around together and get on with their everyday lives which is brilliant and endlessly fascinating to be a little bit of. Tonight, hopefully, we’ll go to the beach for a day off, then get into Mauritania. And maybe get on the 3.5 km long iron ore train, who knows.
Hope some of that makes some sort of sense.
FINALLY! WE HAVE ACTUALLY GOT OUT OF PORTUGAL! This is, as I’m sure you realise, a Big Event for us because we have been there for quite some time. But today we left Lisbon and headed to Spain, and it felt pretty good to be finally doing some motorbiking again. But I’ll backtrack a bit first and so…
CURRENT LOCATION: Seville, Spain
MILES COMPLETED: 2300-ish
CRASH REPORT: Babs – 3, Me – 9
I left the farm and Liz and Adam and Cleo and Malcom the pastry chef and Peter and Adele who are all mavellous people and also Babs, I left Babs, and I went to Lisbon. My feet were extraordinarily itchy. A tentative ride ensued, due to the minor calamities of the week before having dented the confidence somewhat, but I got all the way there without damaging myself or the bike. After some getting lost and going over the two-and-a-half mile long bridge twice, I got to a hostel and dropped the bike and picked it up again and had a hot shower and settled down to await Mr Babs.
He arrived 2 days later to my great delight, having ridden using the steering part repaired by the marvellous Carlos. We faffed some and went drinking the second night, which involved an extraordinary quantity of vodka, a terrible gabba night, and the attempted leap-frogging of a thing, with badly misjudging speed / height / trajectory / arm length but NOT cracking my nuts into it, oh no, it was too low NOT to high, I didn’t make contact at all and just fell on the floor. Babs was mighty impressed, but our two new youthful Portugese friends who were showing us the way to a drum and bass club, they were mostly just surprised, I think. As previously mentioned, the drum and bass turned out to be very terrible gabba, and I actually like gabba and don’t think it’s all terrible. Babs doesn’t like gabba at all ever. He was not maximum impressed.
Nevertheless we had some fun twatting about and the next day we went to see the Real Bodies exhibition by Gunther Wassischops who plasticises real human bodies and then displays them in all sorts of complex, artistic / informative ways. They really are very good and very beautiful, and I’ve wanted to see them for ages.
The first time I saw dissection when I was in Y9 at school, I had to run out of the room to go and find a place to lie down, got half way to the locker room and passed out in the middle of the playground. Much the same thing happened here.
I’d begun to be hyper-aware of the tendons on the backs of my knees since seeing the man displayed like the Leonardo da Vinci man in a circle thing, but I’m usually a bit weird about them anyway. Steadily, I became less and less able to dissociate the things I was seeing with the weird clickings and sloshings and so on of my own body, and it all became A Bit Odd. I went for a sit down, and then a lie down, on a bench, and then was sitting up again (which was difficult) and having a conversation with the concerned lady with the badge […] and then I was sweating profusely and lying on the floor surrounded by Portuguese children. And Babs.
[Apparently I had collapsed half way off the bench, and had adopted a sort of up-side-down sitting posture, with my head close to the floor. Babs and the concerned lady had to help me the rest of the way.]
A man fed me sugar and water and I was mostly very, very embarrassed and very, very sweaty and then I went home to make dinner.
AND THEN THE NEXT DAY THE RADIOS TURNED UP! FINALLY! After two weeks of extreme faffing about and refunds and reorders and parcels not delivered! And this was a good day, also because Babs went to buy a new tyre (his one won’t last), and he got free one instead. I am sketchy on the details but it was something along the lines of: he stopped to ask a man on a moped for directions and the man told him to pull over, so he did. And the man used to own the same bike as Babs’ bike and was very excited by Babs’ bike, and the trip. And so he took Babs home over the bridge and FOR FREE got his semi-worn but still quite well knobbled rear tyre out and just gave it to Babs FOR FREE, just got it out right there and let Babs hold onto it and ride off with it. And also some bungee cords.
I am not lying.
Meanwhile, I was having very classy coffee and some proper Hard Chat with this excellent pair of folks from the hostel. Ha! And all was well with the World.
AND THEN the radios were charged so we sat in the hostel wearing our helmets and shouting at each other for a while. The radios are amazing and allow me to tell Babs all sorts of very exciting things whilst we’re riding around. Or listen to music. Or receive a large number (8) of phones calls from my very alcoholic not next door neighbour anymore.
But most importantly: because we’re not waiting for them anymore, we’re not in Portugal anymore.
Tomorrow: Terifa. Thursday: Morocco. “DUHHHH DUH DUH DU-DUH DUH DUHHHHHHHHHHH! (Ple-dow-plou-dow-ple-dow-plou-dow),” etc.
P.S. So: I wrote this last night when a bit drunk, and didn’t post it immediately. Since then, we have found out that 3/4 size guitar hard cases are not available in Seville, and so now we have to stay here for another 24 hours whilst Amazon does its thing. Argh! But, still: can’t really complain. We’re sitting on a rooftop in Seville. It’s a tough life.