Archive for December, 2010

Bamako, Mali

Friday, December 31st, 2010
The Niger flows from Bamako to Timbuktu.

The Niger River flows through Mali from Bamako to Timbuktu before entering the nations of Niger & Nigeria.

We entered Bamako via the new highway from the airport and crossed the wide Niger river on the Pont des le Roi with a view of the grand Moammar Kadhafi government center which was paid for by the leader of Libya, completed in time for the 50th anniversary of Mali’s independence. We called Julie’s old Peace Corps friend Michele, who is now the Peace Corps Medical Officer for Mali, and will be staying at her house. From the roof at midnight we saw fireworks light up the sky all over this city of 1.8 million.

While cycling 35,175 km in 396 days of travel we’ve had a total of 131 flat tires, an average of one every three days.  I get about twice as many flats as Julie, perhaps because my tires are wider. I’m riding with my 11th chain and have been through eight sets of tires, varying from 10,000 km for Schwalbe Marathons and 8,000k for Kenda Kwests to 2,500k or less for knobby tires made in China, India, or Sri Lanka.  Julie put over 12,000 km on a Tioga City Slicker front tire, which wears down slower than her rear.  My tires wear evenly, so I usually replace them at the same time.

6/Jan Update:  During our week in Bamako: the US Embassy added extra visa pages to Julie’s passport ($82), we got visas from the Mauritania Embassy ($126), and bought an HP Mini laptop ($525).  We were not at the French Embassy at the time a lone gunman attacked it (I was less than 2 km away, biking across the bridge these photos were taken from).  Now I am finally able to post photos to this website again.

bamako4

A large dugout hauling 4 smaller canoes.

A large dugout hauling 4 smaller canoes.

Ouelessebougou, Mali

Thursday, December 30th, 2010
Samou Mounkoro is a kora musician

Samou Mounkoro is a kora musician

A gendarme at the toll booth in Bougouni tried hitting us up for a bribe. The presidential motorcade had passed through a couple minutes before us, so the gendarme motioned us over and said something about us being on the road when the president passed. He assumed that we were and it was a plausible excuse to arrest us. We feigned ignorance, but as a matter of fact, the presidential motorcade went around us on a detour while we cycled on the road under construction. Though if we would have pressed that point, he may have held us for driving on a road under construction. We’ve heard of similar things happening to tourists driving cars or motorbikes, but this is the first time it’s happened to us. After a few minutes one of his colleagues took pity on us and waved us on. We tried not to get too angry, but next time I’ll try to head off a corrupt official by being friendly, and talking about our great adventure. Everyone is fascinated by our trip.

We are pushing hard, and made our two longest days in Africa (140 & 155k) in order to arrive in Bamako by 31/Dec/2010; and towns with lodging are spaced far apart.

The 21-stringed kora is made from a large calabash, cut in half.

The 21-stringed kora is made from a large calabash, cut in half.

Boys soliciting donations along the highway.

Boys soliciting donations along the highway.

Koumantou, Mali

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

I had a silent blow-out.  I stopped to squeeze my rear tire and it was firm, but when I started to go it was totally flat.  I must have squeezed the tire at just the right spot to release air from the gash in the sidewall.  I’m glad it didn’t blow-out when I was speeding downhill. I put on my folding spare tire and should have no problem getting to Bamako with two new tires, though I don’t like to travel without a spare. We are staying in a room that Mr. Barry (a Fulani) will soon have ready for guests behind his cafe and petrol station.  Another guest has a bumper sticker that says “Osama bin Laden-Never Die”.

Jean-Louis is cycling from France to Ouagadougou on a cheap mountain bike.

Jean-Louis is cycling from France to Ouagadougou on a cheap mountain bike.

Sikasso, Mali

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

We had no problems crossing the border into Mali; though we worried that they might question Julie’s visa, which is on another sheet of paper stapled to her passport. She needs to get extra pages added to her passport.

Imagine that at random moments you’d be reminded to stop and smell the roses. That’s what a flat tire can do: after finding a seat under the shade of a tree I’ll notice the birds that fly to and fro; within fifteen minutes I’ve found the cause of the flat, patched it, and we’re back on the road. We had three more flats today, and I bought a new tire after noticing gashes on the sidewalls of both my tires with only 4,000 km on them from Nairobi (I’d hoped these Bontragers would last for 10,000k). Arriving in this city well before dark we discovered most hotels to be full, with President Toure and his entourage in town. We’re staying in an overpriced dorm room ($38) in the new Cinquantenaire Hotel and had a good conversation at dinner with a Malian journalist who has visited Worthington, MN.

Traditional Bambara dwellings on the border of Mali & Burkina Faso.

Traditional Bambara dwellings on the border of Mali & Burkina Faso.

The Chutes of Farako.

The Chutes of Farako.

Touring Burkina Faso

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

“Mellow” is a good word to describe my experience of cycling in Burkina Faso. Much drier than Ghana, less populated, and poorer, we spent just 13 days here. We shared the road with many other cyclists. Bicycling was a major form of transportation for men and women, young and old, often carrying small children, some on their mother’s back. The roads we traveled were well maintained, lightly trafficked, flat, relatively wind-less, and rain-free (during this season)…perfect for cycle transportation. We also saw donkeys pulling carts. This picture, to me, is the epitome of mellow. In the larger cities, Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, more people rode moblyettes (small motorcycles). Especially fun were seeing women, dressed to the nines in spiked heels with tightly coiffed hair riding in rush hour. Mango trees were everywhere, greening the dry landscape. In villages the mango tree was sometimes the only tree, usually standing in a central place and always surrounded with locally fashioned benches where men and women lounged and chatted in the shade of the midday sun.

One of my favorite experiences was our stay in Chez Tess, a sweet B&B in Ouagadougou. We shared the home with another family, Tony and Idoia, and their soon to be adopted daughter Leonce. Tony and Idoia, from northern Spain, had been working to adopt a child for the last 5 years, and had begun the process of adopting now 3 year old Leonce, from an Ouagadougou orphanage two and a half years ago. They were waiting for paperwork to come from Cote d’Ivoire, where the disputed election was creating problems for them, and then planned to fly to Paris to make it home in time to celebrate Leonce’s first European Christmas. I felt lucky to be party to their great joy as their long awaited child was becoming a reality for them. It was also fun watching a very cute three-year-old Leonce get acquainted with her new parents. We left before knowing the outcome of the adoption and whether holiday snowfalls in Europe disrupted their Christmas. In a recent e-mail photo, Leonce was dressed in a winter hat and coat braving the northern Spain winter with her lovely smile. They had made it home Christmas Eve and she was making progress in her multi-lingualism adding Basque and Spanish to her 3 year-old fluency in French and Bambara.

We decided to spend a 4th night in Ouagadougou to give us time to get information about our route. We planned to travel north from Ouagadougou to a lonely Mali border crossing, and then on to Mali’s famed Dogon country, much visited by tourists. The US State Department had issued travel warnings for part of this route, not including the tourist areas we wanted to visit. Al-Qaeda has its fingers in a wide, but desolate area of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Mauritania in an organization known as AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Mahgreb). Most people are not sympathetic to its message, but it has found some followers in disaffected youth, as one source I read put it. In the past several years a dozen or so people, many of them European tourists, have been kidnapped in these areas, and held for ransom. A few have been killed, including two Frenchmen in January 2011, who were kidnapped from a bar in Niamey, Niger. They were killed by their captors during a rescue attempt by French authorities. I didn’t take the warnings lightly, but I also knew, realistically, we were more likely to be killed on the road by a passing truck than by terrorists. Yet, David and I hadn’t talked with anyone who had traveled this route recently, no cyclists, no other tourists, no locals. So we waited until Monday when the Peace Corps Office would be open to talk with their security person. As he was on vacation, Shannon Meehan, the director of Burkina Faso’s Peace Corps took the time to talk to us. She gave us a very sobering picture of cycling our route, including our plan to go north along the coast in Mauritania. Mali’s Dogon area was still safe but we would need to go around the long way to get there. She was very enthusiastic about our changing our route to traveling in western Burkina Faso, southern Mali, and western Senegal (where she had been a Peace Corps Volunteer 20 years ago). She graciously gave David a detailed map of Burkina Faso, a treasure for him. We decided we would not visit Mali’s Dogon area (a disappointment for me) because of the increased distance. I didn’t know what I would do about Mauritania and its travel warnings. The road along its coast was the only practical way to cycle north north. I decided I would gain what information I could and figure out what to do when I got there. AQIM’s presence was a bother for us, but (among a host of other negatives) it is an economic disaster for people depending on tourism in countries where paying jobs are difficult to find.

Orodara, Burkina Faso

Monday, December 27th, 2010
The Domes of Fabedougou.

The Domes of Fabedougou.

A gaggle of tourists on scooters passed us on the way to the Domes of Fabedougou and nearby Karfiguela Falls was full of families swimming and picnicking.  Both were fascinating enough to prevent us from returning to our hotel until two pm.  We’d planned to get on the road by noon.  We had no time to waste with 50 km to cycle on unpaved roads.  First Julie got a flat, then my front tire started getting low.  Twice I just pumped it up but at 5 pm stopped to patch it while Julie rode on.  We got to town at dusk and seem to be the only guests staying in the 3-story Hotel Prestige.

Playing in the Cascades of Karfiguela.

Playing in the Cascades of Karfiguela.

Banfora, Burkina Faso

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

We cycled along the top of the Banfora escarpment, then enjoyed a long downhill run to Banfora where we were surprised to see sugar cane fields.  This is the lush, green part of the country and full of tourists here for the holidays.  Tomorrow we’ll tour the vicinity, then head toward Mali.  if we push hard we could be to Bamako for New Years.

Cruzbike in Banfora.

Cruzbike in Banfora.

Lilypad pond

Lilypad pond

Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010
The Sahel-style Grand Mosque (1893).

The Sahel-style Grand Mosque (1893).

Petit déjeuner at Elise’s roadside tea shop (with baby Bienvenie on her back) gave us an early start so we had time to visit Koro.  Kadi, a female guide, led us up to her traditional village of Koro, with houses built amongst huge boulders.  Most villagers were away working in the fields, but many children chased after us asking for “cadeau” (a gift).  Even a toddler joined the group as they followed us back down the steep path from the village.  Bobo has several charming B & Bs, and even though Villa Rose is full through the holidays, Franca and Moctar said we could return to use their WiFi.  We stayed at the nearby Le Pacha which served wood-fired pizza in a shady courtyard and moved to Hotel L’Entente on Christmas Day, because it is downtown and has free WiFi.

Elise  & her daughter Bienvenie.

Elise & her daughter Bienvenie.

Donkey cart in Hounde.

Donkey cart in Hounde.

Houndé, Burkina Faso

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
Girls selling sesame cake snacks.

Girls selling sesame cake snacks.

Thirty-three years ago today I returned to Amery after cycling the world.  After twenty months on the road this trip, it’s starting to feel like the end is within sight. Gibraltar is 5,000 km away, so April in Paris is our goal.

Toady’s ride was tougher than yesterday’s, with more hills and less tailwind.  The new chains we put on in Ouagadougou make the bikes feel new again.  I like to replace the chains every 3 to 4,000 km and this is my eleventh chain (and I’m on my seventh set of tires).  We can buy chains in almost any small town, but the narrower (3/32″) multispeed chains are harder to come by.  Julie found a yellow pages ad for a bike shop; and though they did not carry it, they took us to another bike shop nearby.  They also did not have them, but sent a runner to bring back two from a third shop.  This kind of co-operation between shops happened in Arusha, Tanzania, too.  But there I was clearly overcharged, paying $25 for a 3/32″chain (made in India).  Here I wonder if they undercharged me, as it cost only $3 for two 3/32″ chains (also made in India).

Mango trees in Burkina Faso.

Mango trees in Burkina Faso.

A mosque at dawn.

A mosque at dawn.

Tita, Burkina Faso

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
Burkinabe woman on a bike.

Burkinabe woman on a bike.

Peace Corps director Shannon Meehan strongly discouraged going north to Mali; so we are cycling west and therefore we’ll miss seeing Mopte, Djenne, the Dogon country and Timbuktu. The land is extremely flat, and a smooth road with a nice tailwind makes this an easy 125k day; even for Julie who’s tired from working on her blog until after midnight last night. It does feel good to have posted her return to Buah, along with photos. We borrowed a laptop from Spaniards Toni and Idoia staying at our B & B. They came here to adopt Léonce, a delightful 2 1/2 year-old now learning Spanish.

Today there’s a full moon on the solstice, but the eclipse happened here at 10 am (GMT) so we could not see it. We watched the full moon rise from our lodging’s outdoor tables as large hog-nosed bats left a tree overhead and egrets roosted on dead trees out in the pond as the sun set. I got up at dawn and saw a donkey face down a vulture at the same spot.

The egrets are visible at dawn.

The egrets are visible at dawn.

Dusk on the Winter Solstice.

Dusk on the Winter Solstice.


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