I had my much longed for campsite last night when a baobab presented itself 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 was all the camouflage I needed. And no surprise, I had the best sleep of these travels, accompanied by the first dreams I have been cognizant of in a while. 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 on the first couple days of a tour, but those 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 my multi-limbed companion. 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 small towns of bareboned 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 bad out of 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 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 was in luck when I came upon a couple of French grocery chain stores in Dakar. They were both stocked with the identical items one would see in France, even the yogurt, but at outrageously inflated prices. 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 casaulette 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 they are willing to pay such 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 have such large stores precisely emulating their counterparts back in France.
I went in to both looking for couscous, but they can be purchased so moderately elsewhere that couscous weren't 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 and once with a tin of tuna. 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 cooked eggs I will grab four of them no matter the time of day.
I am also looking for covered pots that could have 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. On occasion the woman will give my bowl a rinse, which I would prefer her not to, but they can be very quick about it. I'll sit and eat some and then head down the road. One woman asked if I'd like bread with it, a baguette of a sort. I gladly accepted it, thinking that would top off my 500 francs. I was surprised when she handed me 100 francs change, filling me up for seventy-five cents.
After I walked to my bike with more than half a bowl left 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 me 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 with the word "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 or banana milk, are less frequent and not always stocked with drink. Then 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, as it is better for him for making change 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 until I came to this last large city before Mali with billboards for several hotels listing it among their amenities. I spent nearly an hour in the previous 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 average citizens, 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.