More than 60kg was the consensus. The hostel proprietor and his brother were taking it in turns to lift my bike, now loaded up and ready to roll. They might have been right. A 5-litre jerry-can of water was resting on the front rack – the latest addition to the black behemoth. I’d found it in a nearby market, alongside a pile of other re-cycled containers. It had once held  vegetable oil, but seemed to be well cleaned out now. In Morocco and Mauritania it is common to see empty plastic bottles  and containers at the roadside. Here in Senegal people collect and re-sell them.  It’s a pity they can’t do that with the plastic bags. They’re everywhere.

St Louis departure

It was good to get back on the road, although the thefts in St Louis had left me a little paranoid and dis-trustful.  It’s not a good frame of mind to be in when you’re travelling alone and need to depend on the kindness of strangers. I shut myself off for most of the day with the Ipod.  Kids called out at the roadside. I waved and occasionally removed an ear-piece to hear the words  “Toubab, Toubab” (white man).

Away from the coast the wind died and the temperature increased. Villages slept under the brilliance of the mid-day sun. The landscape appeared harsh and half-desecrated, until late in the afternoon when the shadows began to lengthen and the light softened. By this stage my water finally began to cool down. Contained in plastic bottles and the jerry-can it heats up to an unpleasant temperature under the sun. Someone suggested using hessian sacking to wrap around the containers. I must keep an eye out for this.

There was little to detain my interest as I pedalled south, until an enormous Baobab came into view. Rising out of the savannah like prehistoric guardians of the land, the Baobab is a distinctly African tree. It’s branches resemble roots –  the African myth being  that when God made the world he gave each animal a tree. The Baobab was given to the hyena, who threw it down in disgust. Hence the reason it’s also known as the ‘Upside Down tree’.

The trunk of this particular Baobab was hollow. You could walk inside. I wheeled my bike across the sand and woke two nearby curio-sellers. They were dozing in the shade of some make-shift shacks containing  carvings and masks.  Had I arrived on four wheels they might have begun a sales pitch. They regarded me without moving whilst I admired this ugly yet majestic monster.

Big Baobab

An hour later a dark mass of moving objects half-blocked the road. A  colony of vultures were feeding on a dead mule. I stopped to watch and listen to their angry squawking. These piranhas of the sky were ravenously devouring the beast. The sound of it’s skull being lifted and slammed back on the road was audible 20 metres away. They paid me scant attention as I slowly wheeled passed.

Vulture feast

The road was free of traffic now. I’d turned off the highway in Kebemer and opted to detour west to the sea. My map depicted a small track running south from the coastal village of Lompoul sur mer. The idea was to follow it and re-connect with more minor roads leading into the capital, Dakar.

The track didn’t exist. Second opinion reached me in French, Wolof and Pular. The latter two languages are spoken widely throughout Senegal and neighbouring west African countries. A few words go a long way. I had 4 hours of practice. It seemed that rather than heading back the way I’d come it was possible to use the beach as a road. I just needed to wait for the tide to turn.

Lompoul sur mer

I didn’t think it would be possible to cycle along the beach. Local opinion differed. My Wolof/Pula speaking company were right. The sand and salt might not be good for the bike, but with wide tyres I pedalled south, following the line of the wash.

For most of the next 40km the beach was wide and empty. Several horse-carts trotted passed,  their passengers waving with looks of bemusement. Pirogues pulled up on the sand and small buildings disappearing into the undergrowth denoted a village. None appeared on my map. Those that do are effectively towns in comparison.

Waiting for the tide

Children played football along the beach beside these villages. There were hundreds of them – children that is. It is something any visitor to Senegal will notice very quickly. Approximately 45% of the population of this country is below 15 years of age. Children are everywhere and there appears to be no limit on the size of families. It is the same in many African countries. In St Louis I had spoken with a man who wanted me to buy him some milk . He had explained he had 3 wives and more than 10 children. Your decision I told him. It doesn’t sound very sympathetic. It wasn’t.

Occasionally the game of football was more interesting than the Toubab cycling along the beach. At other times it seemed more interesting to chase the toubab and pull on his bike. The children did this until a nearby adult shouted something at them.

I left the beach shortly before sunset. I would have happily carried on, and  I later heard it was possible to travel all the way to Dakar itself  this way. Better to be on a road than stranded on the beach at high-tide with no fresh water though.

A solitary acacia tree had been company for my tent the previous night, but this time I ended up in a small Pular speaking village. The headman had been standing on the road as I passed. A simple meeting of eyes,  a small smile on  his face as we observed each other – it was enough for me to decide that I would ask his permission to pitch the tent in the village.

It was less a village and more a  small compound of  about ten straw huts. No electricity, no water. There are thousands of places like this in Senegal alone.

Excitement ran through the air. Children ran to watch the sweaty toubab pitch his tent. I expected yells and demands for gifts. None came. Tea was served in the headman’s hut, and dinner later served to me in my tent – rice with fish.

Morning company

A cockerel woke me in the morning, along with several donkeys. The headman was dressed in a long blue kaftan (boubou) and explained he was leaving for  the day. I offered a few thousand francs. At first he seemed shocked and half -embarrassed to accept, but soon took them.

My camera provided much amusement with the children, before I finally pulled myself away and was given a big wave-off.

Mother and children

Pular girl: Mboro Nden

Saying goodbye

Dakar soon began to sweep me into her bosom. The city lies on the tip  of a peninsula that stretches west into the Atlantic. I’d hoped  that the smaller roads would avoid the throng of traffic that people had pre-warned me about. They didn’t.Villages merged into suburbs of the city and the roads filled with cars, trucks and colourful mini-buses. There are few driving rules.

I’m staying with teachers from an International School here.  The hospitality of people never ceases to amaze me at times. Their world is different from mine, and different of course from the Senegal I’ve experienced to date.

I’ve spoken to a number of classes here about my two-wheeled travels. It’s  been an opportunity to share the experience, and promote awareness for the Against Malaria Foundation.  One of the presentations was filmed. I ‘ll share some of the footage here in the next few days.

As always, if anyone has recommendations, advice, criticisms, questions – about this post or whatever, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

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