Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ride or Die

Everything is illuminated.  At least, much of Senegal has been illuminated. With "Bike or Die" as our motto, myself and three friends embarked on an epic journey through this country's innards.  Destination?  Kedougou.  Distance? 600 kilometers.  Path? Through the bush.  Guidance? Pulaar nomads.

6 A.M. Day One.  Setting out from Barkedji
Last Sunday, bikes in tow, Justin, Ann Marie, Mary and I set out from Ann Marie's village, 35 km outside of Linguere. It took us six days to bike down to Kedougou.  Most nights, we slept in the bush, more exposed than I've ever felt.  When I camp in the States, I generally bring a tent along; we had only a tarp, and one incomplete mosquito net for the four us.  The situation was somewhat perilous -- the first morning, for example, as Ann Marie sat up and stretched, I looked at the tarp where she had just been lying and spotted a large, live scorpion.  How she had avoided getting stung is a total mystery.  The next night, we saw aggressive lightning rolling in from a distance, so we clamored around trying to make our important possessions water proof and then huddled together, the four us, sandwiched together between two layers of tarp.  We cooked makeshift meals of pasta and other bizarre ingredients we found in tiny bush villages.  We navigated by looking at the sun -- we tried to make our way in a generally Southerly direction, following donkey cart paths through the country and stopping at tiny Pulaar encampments to ask directions to the next known destination.

The best part was traveling through all of Senegal's micro-climates.  Every kilometer we seemed to watch the terrain change before our eyes, become greener and more densely packed with trees. We started out in the desert, the very day a sand storm rolled through and covered us in unforgiving, corrosive dust clouds.  By the second day, we were already dodging sludgy puddles.  Day three, I no longer had to dodge low-hanging branches because the vegetation switched f rom unforgiving thorny trees to pliant bushes with soft leaves!  Day four, we found a verdant paradise.  Day five, we were in Senegal's Niokolo-Koba National Park, playing with baboons and listening to warthog calls.  From there on out, our scenery could only be described as jungle.  Glorious jungle. A welcome sight to flora-deprived eyes.  

On the road--

We went from this . . . 

. . . to this . . .

 . . . to this . . .

 . . . to this . . .

 . . . and finally, straight into Kedougou. 

Some fun things along the way: 

A confused baby in the bush.
Maybe we're the first white people he's ever seen?

Nomadic Pulaar community on the go.
Truly transient people still  baffle and amaze me.

Rad reverse mohawk on a kiddie in the bush.

This well is sooooooo deeeeepp.  I think they said 80 meters?
The donkey that hauled up the buckets  had to walk out ridiculously far from the well.

The scorpion that was lodged under Ann Marie's body
when she woke up on the first morning.

Huge hollow baobab filled with bats!

Newborn baby donkey!

Koumpentoum = Out of the bush!
And about halfway to Kedougou. 

Headed out of Tambacounda: 228 km to Kedougou

Park Ranger's adorable baby wearing daddy's hat
at the entrance to the Niokolo-Koba park.

That's nothin'.

We woke up to a pack of monkey's hangin' out over our
mosquito net in the Park on the last morning.

Warthogs at our campsite in the park.

The jerks stole our oatmeal!

It's all over now, Baby Blue.
We made it to Kedougou in time to celebrate with about 90 of our fellow volunteers at the annual 4th of July celebration.  We also floated along the rivers down there and hiked out to picturesque waterfalls.  Today? Back in the desert.  And happy to be here!