“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” (Friedrich Nietzsch)

“Anywhere is walking distance,  if you’ve got the time”. (Stephen Wright)

The book and the morning walk provided the inspiration. It was 7am, the sun had just risen and the birds were full of voice. It’s the best time of day to be walking in Africa. The light is soft, the air cool and people have fewer worries.  The day ahead still offers opportunity. People  you meet have a purpose. They are walking to work, setting up a stall, waiting for a bus. It dawned on me as I began my morning physio of flexing the left wrist and fingers, that rather than waiting to be strong enough to ride my bicycle, and in the process growing increasingly restless, I should be exploring my surroundings on foot.

Laurie Lee had chosen to do just that when he walked out one midsummer morning and tramped across Spain. That was in the 1930’s. I was reading his celebrated memoirs of this journey last week, around the same time I went out on this  walk. What better way to see the country, meet the people, and re-acclimatise myself to the Africa that I came to experience than go for a long walk?

My Mum is finally flying out of The Gambia tonight. She was due to leave last Tuesday, but then that cloud of volcanic smoke disrupted things. Her flight company moved her/us to another hotel. Accommodation is paid for, as is  the food. I can’t complain. They served a full English breakfast this morning, although it’s the kind of hotel I would never choose to stay in. You could be anywhere in the World, enclosed within the spacious confines of this tourist village. Watching the overweight and tattooed white bodies sunning themselves beside the pool makes me more restless.

Poolside in The Gambia

English Breakfast in The Gambia

The beach is more interesting. Here there are more overweight bodies, mostly white, female and middle-aged, lying or walking alongside black men half their age. The men are known as bumpsters and the women boss-ladies. The latter have the money and therefore make the decisions – hence the name. It might be their first time in The Gambia, but for many this will be a repeated visit. It taints the image of tourism in the country, but those involved will argue that it brings money into an otherwise poor place.

I met another English cyclist a few weeks ago. He contacted me by e-mail a long time back, explaining that he was also riding a bike to South Africa.  He’d sold his narrow boat and had no intention of returning. After racing through north Africa he’s been in The Gambia for several months now. I wanted to suggest he eat more. He looks like an auswitch survivor and has  attained such a dishevelled  appearance that he  manages to draw sympathy from the locals. (the management in the lodge we were staying in gave him a free room for the night when he said he was going to cycle home in the dark because he couldn’t afford a bed). That’s quite an achievement for a white face in Africa. He might be reading this – laughing or feeling offended. Mick, do yourself a favour and start eating more.

Mick with his 'Sherpie'

Yesterday I visited a small International School here. I didn’t talk about the machete attack – it might have scared my audience. They were only 10-13 years old. Instead I explained it was an injury. It’s easier to deal with and prevents me from going through the story again. I’ll be telling it many more times I know. They said they would be organising a fund-raiser during early June for the Against Malaria Foundation. I may even be cycling back through here then.

Talk at The International School

My walk is unplanned – a bit like my cycling. A peacecorps volunteer here has lent me a back-pack. I will travel as light as possible – no tent.  Water will be the main weight. I expect it to be hot, very hot.  I’ll walk in the early morning and late afternoon. I hope to sleep in villages  – re-enter the Africa I was in before arriving in Dakar. I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone – a week, ten days perhaps. I’ll keep flexing that wrist. I’m getting there – slowly.