I was awarded my much longed for campsite last night under a baobab when one presented itself just over a rise near dark as I was looking for a place to disappear to. It wasn't too distant from the road, but it's hulk and low-lying brush provided more than enough camouflage. And no surprise, I had the best sleep of these travels, accompanied by the first dreams I have been cognizant of. None were of significance, I don't think, but I will see how prophetic they might be. If I have another chance at a baobab sleep, I will be fully attentive to what it injects into my subconscious.
My guardian for the night also had a therapeutic effect on my leg cramps. The night before I was besieged by a series of cramps such as I have never experienced before in both legs and in multiple places--ankles, calves and thighs, sometimes two at the same time. Some were genuinely excruciating going on for minutes. I am prone to them the first couple days of a tour, but these didn't come until day three despite my efforts to drink and drink and drink. It was a relief to be cramp-free under the baobab. I had a near-full moon to stare up at through the eerie limbs of my companion for the night. Glancing at its thick rugged bark/hide I imagied I was sidled up against a pachyderm, it's counterpart in the animal kingdom. No sunrise has been more magnifcent than with my baobab for the night stretching out his arms to greet it.
The baobabs remain the highlight of my ride across the flat, arid interior of Senegal. They don't come any more frequently than do the small towns and villages, making them all the more special. The way is dotted every ten miles or so with small villages of walled compounds of mud huts with thatched roofs and slightly smaller towns of bareboned box-like concrete homes and businesses. I know I'm coming to a town when the litter along the road thickens to a virtual carpet.
The litter isn't so flagrant beyond the towns, but approaching them and through them it is a genuine eyesore, just as it was in Dakar.
The most striking litter out along the road is the carcasses of abandoned cars and trucks.
But I have the baobabs to sustain me.
I am still figuring out my diet. I can't count on grocery stores, as they are nothing more than a few shelves of little suitable for my purposes in a town's one room general store with everything behind the counter. I thought I would be able to stock up on food when I came upon a couple of French grocery chain stores in Dakar. They were both clones of their counterparts back in France, stocked with the identical items one would see there, even the yogurt, but at outrageously inflated prices, everything having been imported. A yogurt drink that sustains me in France cost ten dollars. A bottle of mint syrup had a price tag of twenty-five dollars. A can of cassoulet was priced at fifteen dollars. In France I was accustomed to not paying more than a dollar for any of them. It is a testament to the French love for their food that those residing in Senegal are willing to pay such exorbitant prices. But I have to admit, after a few days of food deprivation, those prices didn't seem so unreasonable. Plenty of people do indulge to sustain not one but several such large supermarkets.
I went in to two of them looking for couscous, but they can be purchased so moderately elsewhere that couscous weren't imported or stocked. I was able to buy a kilo bag from a small town store that the proprietor had to stand on a chair to reach high above him. That has been my dinner so far with hard boiled eggs or sardines. When I slowly bike through the small towns I scan the tables of the women along the road looking for eggs and fritters and other enticing food. More often than not the eggs haven't been cooked. It is so rare to come upon hard-boiled eggs, when I come upon any I will grab four of them no matter the time of day.
I am also on alert for covered pots that could contain some sort of stew. There have been no noodles as in Madagascar or rice as elsewhere. Mostly it's been some bean concoction. I am happy with that. I hand over my tupperware bowl and 500 francs, never knowing how much I’ll get. Sometimes that will fill it and sometimes not. Sometimes I will receive change and sometimes not. On occasion the woman will give my bowl a rinse, which I would prefer her not to, not knowing the cleanliness of the water, but they can be very quick about it. I'll sit and eat some and then head down the road. Sometimes I’m asked if I'd like bread with it, a baguette of a sort, which I gladly accept.
Once as I walked to my bike having only eaten half of what a woman had put in my bowl, saving the rest for later, she chased after me in a highly agitated state. If she hadn't given me change I would have thought she wanted more money. She was close to livid as she jabbered away in a French I couldn't decipher. A couple of men came over to see what the commotion was all about. I had no idea what offense I might have committed. I kept saying, "Je ne comprehend pas," hoping some English speaker might materialize. Neither of the men interceded, but neither looked very friendly. I couldn't imagine what trouble I was in. At last I opened up the Tupperware bowl to show that I hadn't pilfered a spoon or any other food, but that wasn't the issue. She pointed at her stomach and said "midi" (noon). I finally understood that she was warning me I had to eat the food by noon, otherwise it would go bad in the heat and I'd get sick. With that we could smile and everyone was happy.
As I have penetrated deeper into the country and the traffic has diminished to a trickle, the gas stations that had been mini-oases for me offering cold bottled water, sometimes with an ice cube frozen in it, and chocolate milk, have become less frequent and not always stocked with drink. It can be a challenge finding a store with water. The price had been 350 francs for a liter-and-a-half, but has risen to 500 francs in the hinterlands. I've been buying three bottles a day, a little more than a gallon. My water purifier turned testy the day I left Dakar, so I have been saving it for emergencies. I'd probably be foregoing it anyway for the pleasure of cold water. When I handed a small shop owner a 500 franc coin for a bottle, thinking I might possibly receive change, he pointed at the other coins in my hand, preferring five 100 franc coins to make it easier for him to make change for other customers and also he said to lighten my load.
It's a good thing I don't need to check the Internet every day, as its not a fact of life in these parts. In the 300 miles I have cycled these past four days from Dakar I have seen only two signs advertising WIFI. I spent nearly an hour in the decent-sized city of Kaffrine two days ago hunting WIFI. I stopped at a pharmacy and a camera shop and a telephone shop and a couple of hotels without any success. They all said I could find WIFI just down the road. When I asked pedestrians along the road, the majority were utterly baffled, having no idea what I was inquiring about. After I had passed through the town, a young man at a gas station told me to go back to the gas station at the roundabout in the center of the town and ask there. That did no good. I tried the police station and they sent me to a hotel back near the gas station on the outskirts of town. It's sign didn't mention WIFI, but they did have it and a better signal than any I found in Dakar.
I'm now just one hundred miles from Mali. I'm hoping the street food there will be more abundant and varied, or that there might be restaurants. Even in Dakar, restaurants weren't so common. At least I don't have to worry about changing money as it, along with six other countries, all use the same currency as Senegal.