It was so hard to leave the wonderful crew from Guinea in St Louis but after a week on the beach the calling of the open road was to strong to resist. I left a couple of days befor Christmas trusting that i would be in the right place for the special day and excited to be on the road again diving back into the unknown, and that's really how it felt this time.
The first day back on the road was just a short trip down the coast to the next town of Gandiol. I had heard about a lodge on the water side that was meant to be very nice so I payed a visit to the Zebrabar. It was strange to be in a place with lots of toubabs (white people) again. The name apparently comes from 'two bob' as in money back in the day, and seems to maintain some of it's original meaning for sure. It was such a paradise that i couldn't resist staying a night and i spent the afternoon on the lagoon in a kayack borrowed from the lodge. It was bliss and well worth the cost of staying the night. Most of the other people staying there were driving 4 X 4s across Africa but there was also an English couple driving an old Morris Minor to Cape town. It seems that we really are an eccentric nation and long may it continue! Another way is always possible.
The next day the road continued along the coast for a while through fishing villages with palm trees and pirogues pulled up on the beach. This was my first day having to deal with the red sandy routes of West Africa and i rattled over the corrugated tracks and got stuck in the sand but i was so happy to be here it really didn't matter. Then the road turned inland and i was back on tarmac again. I cycled for hours through vast open bush with occasional grazing herds of cattle or sheep accompanied by their shepherds. There was very little traffic on the road but for the odd horse cart and overloaded mercedes vans that are the local public transport. Here they are wonderfully decorated and adorned with pictures of the great Marabout of Touba where i was now headed.
I decided to spend that night in a village but in the first place that i stopped and asked, people seemed quiet bemused by me and no one spoke any french so i continued to the village of N'Diagne. Here i was taken to the compound of Iba Guisse where i could pitch my tent and pass the night. Iba was a wonderful character who was both a vet and an artist. I witnessed him treat a sheep with a prostate uterus that evening and this was something i remember well from my own childhood growing up on the farm, but needless to say the approach to treatment here was quiet different and i don't need to go into all the details now.
We spent that evening chatting and drinking atire (sweet strong green tea) which is the favourite pass time around here. As an artist he felt apart from the rest of the village who were all farmers and saw the world in a different way. He had moved from the city to seek the peaceful life of the village and was actually quiet an enlightened character and we very much enjoyed our conversations together. This was Christmas eve and the next day i would reach Touba, the most holly city of Senegal.
Another day of riding through the dry bush of Northern Senegal on potholed roads and passing only a few small towns but plenty of small simple villages of thatched houses and the endless calls of "Toubab toubab, donne moi agent!" and i arrived in Touba. Iba's friend Talla had arranged for me to stay with a friend of his there called Magga Tall, so eventually i found his home among the sandy streets. Magga is a welder and a hard working man. He runs a metal workshop outside the front of his house with a whole bunch of lads working with him. Once again i was blessed by the great Wollof hospitality of 'Taranga'.
Touba is a very special place and probably the most holy city in Senegal and this is why i had decided to be here for Christmas day and visit the Grand Mosque of Touba. It was indeed a great blessing to be here on this day and also the day of the new moon that is of significance for Islam and the 'Baay Fall' here. The stunning mosque houses the tombe of the saint and Marabout; Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba. There are wonderful stories surrounding his history involving great miracles including laying his prayer mat on the waters of the ocean to pray. This website has some nice info on the place and some stories of this legendary spiritual master if you want to know more as the stories are to many to begin to tell them here. check out: http://sacredsites.com/africa/senegal/touba.html/
From Touba it was another 3 days ride to The Gambia cycling through so many villages and open wild country side of bush land and flat delta country. I stayed one night in a bar-hotel in Fatick run by Christians which means that they were completely sozzled on boxing day but i reckon they are drinking there most days anyway. My last night in Senegal was back at the waterside but this time surrounded by mangroves on the river banks. And then to The Gambia!
For the final 40km to the boarder i felt like a long distant runner sprinting towards the finish. I had rested well the night befor and had the wind behind my so I cruised triumphantly into The Gambia.... well sort of. I was held up for quite a while by the immigration officers who seemed keen to get something from me; but the didn't, not a penny and on i went.
My first mission was to find an old friend I had met first back in 1995 here in The Gambia but then have had crazy coincidental meetings with both in the Gambia and in South Africa over the years since then. I have so many stories to tell of the fantastic Njankob Njob but you'll have to wait until the book is written for he shall have a whole chapter to himself. Any way, I found him sure enough, drunk and out on the street ranting at passes by. This did not bode well but we had some great times together over the next few days once he had straightened out a bit and was making more sense... well, a little more sense anyway for it seems that the years have taken its toll on this great man and many would call him crazy, or simply mad.
Still it was a pleasure to see him again, we played music together in the shade as the fisherman tinkered with their boats. I stayed at Lou's riverside compound known simply as 'Paradise' and it was beautiful and once again a lovely crew of folk living there who looked after me so well and again i didn't want to leave but i had it in mind to reach The Daffee Family for new year. Which i did, and this is where i have been staying for the last few days resting up and preparing myself for the next chapter of the journey.
In 1995 I came to The Gambia and worked in a little school up river in the village of Kwinella as a volunteer. I was the tender age of 19 and had never been out of Europe let alone the wilds of rural West Africa. The experience blew me away and became a profound time of learning and growth. Whilst here I lived with The Daffee family in the village and have kept contact with them ever since. They treat me as a member of the family now and all the children are grown up doing all sorts of things all over the world. Lamin their oldest son now lives in England but has set up and runs a great little charity here called the Fresh Start Foundation and it is this charity that i have been raising funds for through this cycle ride.
Remember you can easily make a donation at http://www.justgiving.com/ed-cycles-south
Take a look at their website as they are doing some incredible work here. I will do a post soon all about what they are up to. I will stay in The Gambia for the next month and support a project that they are running offering workshops in schools around climate change. This as many of you know is what i do a lot of in the UK so it will be interesting to have a whole different perspective on the topic here.
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I feel like i have left out so many photos and stories from the journey of the last week or so but this post is plenty long enough as it is and what with the power cuts and the lunch break of rice and fish it has taken most of the day to write.
So I wish you all a wonderful 2012 and much love from The Gambia, the smiling coast as it is known.