A Day in the Life – West Africa

Posted on
November 25, 2007 by

Beep beep beep.  We hear the alarm and wake up in the darkness.  We love this time.  It is the coolest part of the day and we feel able to eat and begin riding.  It's still dark but we hear people walking through the dry bracken as we pack up the tent and prepare to eat breakfast.  A man rides through on a very squeaky bicycle and we smile and wave as he passes.  We wash our peanut butter and banana jam sandwiches down with an instant cafe au lait made from nescafe and powdered milk.  The mangoes we bought yesterday are perfectly ripe and taste a little like pineapples.  Mangoes are a regular in our diet and although we could just pick as many as we can handle right from the trees, we prefer to spend the few pennies and buy them from the locals.  After consulting the map and digesting for a bit, we push Franky to the road and ride.

This is the best time for us to ride, while the sun is still low on the horizon and we don't feel like we're riding through an incinerator.  We see something moving on the road ahead of us and as we approach, we realize it is a monkey and watch as it runs into the forest.  Luckily the forest here is not dense and we can see a family of monkeys climbing trees and bounding through the bush as we ride past.  There are already lots of people riding bicycles on the road or walking and carrying large pots on their heads.  We are always on the lookout for a guy with a cooler on the back of his bike because there is a chance that he will have ice for sale.  Not today.  We ride through several small villages and fill up our water bottles at a village pump.  None of these places have electricity though, so we don't bother asking for ice.

It's starting to get hot and it's only eight in the morning, so we take a short rest in the shade.  We eat a banana each and some deep-fried dough balls (DFDBs) that resemble timbits.  As we wash off a mango a few boys walk up and say "bonsoir".  We say "bonjour" and it takes all of ten seconds to exhaust the ways of communicating with them.  After this though, they remain at our side staring at us.  We eat the mango as our spectators watch with awe.  We don't want to get back on the road because it's so hot but it's only eight o'clock and we have to make a few miles before the heat becomes unbearable.  We say "au revoir" to the boys that are still staring silently at us and pedal away.

The traffic has got heavier and vehicles coming up from behind us often have to slow down before they can pass.  For the most part we think they enjoy this and would slow down anyway just to get a better look at the crazy "toubabs" riding a bizarre contraption down the highway.  We get the thumbs up or friendly waves from most of the passing vehicles and the occasional look that we can't identify.  Most of the traffic is either public transport or cargo trucks and none of them look road-worthy.

By ten o'clock we are sweating buckets and our skin is starting to blister but we push on in search of a good spot to spend the next six hours.  We see a village up ahead and cry as we pass a mango grove across from the village.  A mango grove is the best for finding good shade but unfortunately they are only ever close to the villages.  When we stop in them we never get a chance to really rest because we are stuck entertaining the locals who come over to stare at us.  We see a tree ahead that has some leaves on it and hope as we approach that the ground is flat enough for us to lie down on.  Yes!  We don't think we could have gone another kilometre in this heat.  We put down our ground sheet and pull out several bottles of water in preparation for the next six hours of torture.  We eat a sardine sandwich and you guessed it, a mango is on the lunch menu as well.

For the first few hours of our rest period we continually fan ourselves.  That and spraying ourselves with a little water sprayer are the only things that get us through this time of the day.  We manage to fall asleep for about an hour and wake up to see some clouds heading our way.  We cross our fingers and hope that we might see rain or even just get a break from the sun.  As the clouds reach us we notice the temperature drop a little and decide to get an early start to the afternoon ride.  The road is still radiating a lot of heat but at least we don't have the sun on us.  We enjoy this but start laughing and shouting as we feel the first drops of rain fall on our parched bodies.  It doesn't rain for long but it comes down hard and cools us off enough to ride the rest of the day.

We round a corner and see a village ahead that has powerlines coming to it.  We stop and ask for ice but have no luck.  We decide to drink a semi-cold coke and buy some food for the next couple of days.  We find eggplant, tomatoes, bread, bananas, sardines and some little sesame cakes and decide that's enough if we find mangoes to buy on the road.  When we get back to Franky-T there's a dense crowd of people waiting for us.  They all stare as we pack our food up and prepare to hit the road again.  We don't watch our stuff like hawks as we feel safe from theft in the villages.  Once again nothing is gone and as we ride off we hear the people laugh and gasp in disbelief.

It's now five-thirty in the afternoon and it will be dark within an hour and a half so we begin the search for a good spot to camp for the night.  Sometimes it can take an hour or more to find a spot that we can use but tonight we find one after only half an hour.  This is perfect because it gives us enough time to cook, eat and set up the tent before it gets too dark to see anything.  We are a couple hundred metres off the main road down a little path that probably leads to another village.  We cook our couscous with sardines, tomatoes, eggplant and throw in half of a Jumbo stock cube for more flavour.  We sing out some names of towns we've been through in the tune that begins The Lion King movie.  The sunset always reminds us of that movie.  It gets dark as we clean up the supper dishes and put the stove away.  We're exhausted as usual and prepare our bed for the night.  We toss and turn in the heat for a couple hours and eventually drift off.

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