Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Welcome to Sub-saharan Africa - Senegal, The Gambia and Mali - Part 3

Today’s post is our third from Mike ‘the Bike’ McLellan, cycling enthusiast and long-time supporter of Yes to Life who is cycling from Italy to West Africa to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and raise lots of money to help us support people with cancer along the way.

The cultural differences between Mauritania and Senegal was probably the most striking of any of the border crossings. Senegal was colourful, noisy and much more in your face than any of the previous African countries.

St Louis is the first city you come to heading South, and was fascinating with its French colonial architecture and vibrant markets. A few kilometres south of St Louis at the popular over-landers destination of the Zebrabar camp site Annie and I met up with Belgium couple Antoine and Elizabeth who now live in the Gambia and were touring northern Senegal on their interestingly designed tandem, so we decided to continue together.

Cycling into Dakar was quite a challenge in terms of traffic chaos, being almost as undisciplined as Nuakchott in Mauritania. South of Dakar the weather was getting increasingly hot and Annie was suffering more and more, at one point getting a lift with her bike and meeting us further on. We headed into the national park area of the delta du Saloum and there hired a pirogue boat for the four of us and our bikes. It was great to sail through this beautiful area and we even got to have a swim while they refuelled the engine.

Getting back on bikes we headed into the Gambia for a few days rest in Antoine and Elizabeth's flat with its communal swimming pool and beach a few meters away. At this point Annie decided that it was getting too hot to cycle any further, and so I set off on my own into the Casamance area of southern Senegal. The temperatures soared as I cycled down to Ziguinchor and then East along two hundred kilometers of roadworks , dirt roads, dust, sand and mud. The people here were lovely, always very friendly and open. Gone was the 'give me some money' or even 'give me your bike' that we'd encountered in northern Senegal.

Back in Nuakchott Annie had got a fleeting glimpse of two cycle tourists, they had also been to Zebrabar a couple of days before us. Annie tracked them down online and we exchanged details, so I
arranged with Zak and Alice to meet in Tambacounda in eastern Senegal. From there we headed off south east towards the border with Mali. We saw an increasing amount of wildlife, especially in Niokolo Koba national park, including monkeys, baboons and wart hogs that had made friends with the guards and had become tame. I've never been face to face with a huge wild wart hog before. More menacing than the wart hogs though were clouds of horse flies that were intent on eating us alive!

Entering Mali Alice became ill with sickness and diarrhoea,  so they decided to get a lift to Kita while I continued to cycle. Unfortunately later that day I also went down with the same bug. After a sleepless night I stumbled into a family's compound and lay down on a bench to sleep. They brought me a bamboo bed and I proceeded to sleep all through the day and the following night only waking briefly to eat some bananas. After a tough 120 kilometre day I arrived in Kita only missing them by an hour! We later met up again in Bamako.

In the 'Sleeping Camel' auberge and campsite in Bamako also met up with a guy I had met in Dakar, David from Slovenia,  who is doing a tour of all of Africa and part of Asia on his motorbike. We were surprised to see each other again.  Were we travelling at the same speed? It turns out that he had done a months voluntary work in the Gambia. We had great fun touring Bamako and coming across some incredible music. Bamako seems to me unique in the richness of its music scene. If I could go back to anywhere I've been on this trip it would be to Bamako to take in more of its music and dance.Teaming up with Zak and Alice again we cycled out of Bamako and East towards Sikasso, Mali's second biggest city and the border with Burkina Faso.

Only two countries left and I am already looking up flights from Accra, Ghana back home to Bologna, Italy in June!

The adventure continues...

Please support Mike on his journey by donating here.

Read about the first and second instalments of his journey or follow his trip in more detail on Facebook 

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