For the first time in the three weeks of these travels my stomach rebelled against something I had eaten. I was half-way through my dinner of couscous and sardines when it registered a protest and threatened an upheaval. It couldn't have been what I was eating, as it was one of my two usual dinners, that or my preferred couscous with hard boiled eggs when I can find them. It could have been the rice meal I had bought along the road in the middle of the afternoon and only finished eating before starting in on the couscous. One never knows what sauce will go on the rice and how long it has been sitting, but I've seen plenty of evidence of good hygiene, from people wanting to wash my tupperware bowl before putting anything in it to warning me to eat my meal within a couple of hours.
I feared I hadn't eaten enough, but I had no choice but to desist. It was late enough to curl up and drift off to sleep, never a problem after seven hours on the bike. Laying down seemed to appease my stomach. I was relieved that I didn't wake during the night, either out of hunger or the need to expel whatever had been unwelcome to my stomach. Evidently I had fed it enough during the day and the protest was that it didn't want any more. That was a first and a good sign that I'd finally figured out how to get enough calories into me. I had been lucky that day to get two solid meals along the road from the village cooks and had supplemented them with dough balls and a couple of bananas.
The next day I was lucky to find a bottle of vanilla milk in a refrigerator. It had been days since I'd had such a quality drink, as at $1.50 it is more than the daily wage of most of the people and simply not stocked. I'd spent less than three dollars a day the previous three days since leaving Bamako and was hoping I could find more and better nourishment and up my spending. One way would be to indulge in soft drinks, which go for sixty cents, more than a bowl of rice. It doesn't feel quite right though to spend so much on a drink when a half-liter bag of water, larger than a soda, can be had for ten cents.
I don't feel comfortable savoring a soda while all around me are those who can't even afford a bag of cold water, simply drinking from the town well. But I'd also like to support the local businessman and spend more than a dime or two on those bags. They've got to be disappointed when that's what I choose. Anything cold is perfectly satisfying. Every twenty miles or so I come upon a village with a store that has a refrigerator and I can have a cold drink even though the heat isn't as oppressive as it can be. It has moderated as the wind has been blowing from the north and the east the past several days, actually giving me an assist, enabling me to have back-to-back one hundred mile days.
Even without a tailwind I'd be reveling in this ride. Aside from the occasional quagmire of potholes, the road has been smooth and there has been minimal traffic. The terrain is mostly flat allowing my legs to keep a steady pace and my mind to wander at will. All else other than the moment is a long ways away. The scenery is speckled with scraggly trees and bushes, highlighted by the occssional baobab, truly the king of trees. They tower above all else. This is a kingdom unlike any other.
Most are solitary figures, but there is also an occssional family or harem, whatever the case may be, clustered together.
I can go miles and miles without seeing any, so I was fortunate again last night to have one to camp behind when dark fell.
Some are exquisitely designed and some are magnificently deformed.
They come in many forms and perversions.
What undiscovered varieties might lurk beyond the horizon is beyond imagining. A true fanatic could wander in distant quarters for days searching them out. There could well be many spectacular versions never beholden by the human species. Those within site of the road truly place this 900-mile ride from Dakar to Bamako among the greats. It is unknown because one must be willing to rough it. The pedaling is within the capabilities of any cyclist, but the lack of accommodations and the uninspiring food can be daunting. Not being able to bath for days and days would be be an unendurable hardship for some. There may not be any side attractions--ruins or museums or wineries or waterfalls--but it is a purist's dream ride.
It is always most satisfying to do a ride independently, but tour operators could provide all the luxuries of an African Safari, carrying gear and setting up encampments at specific baobab sites with full-scale kitchens and portable showers and all else. But if one is catered, it greatly diminishes the feeling of independence and autonomy that is synonymous with the bicycle. And it would deny one the great satisfaction of the unexpected, such as coming upon someone selling slices of papaya along the road. What a celebratory moment that was. I had no idea what the orange fruit was, but it could not be resisted. It was astounding to have such a tropical delicacy in this semi-desert, but it came in a small village that had the capability for irrigation. A bite of papaya never tasted so good.
No worries about dogs. Not a one has barked or given chase. They are too preoccupied with more serious matters, accompanying the goat herders and also jogging along behind the donkey-drawn carts transporting wood. I did see one chasing a rodent that darted across the road in front of me. He was cantering along at a relaxed pace knowing the rodent couldn't outlast him.
The biggest hazard is the dust/sand in the air blown from the Sahara. It coats my bike, not only clinging to my chain, but my cyclometer wire and all else. It clogged the zipper on my tent, which I was able to save by washing it clean. A malfunctioning zipper wouldn't be a total disaster, as mosquitoes haven't been an issue except when I've stayed indoors, whether at a hotel or with Bruce and Sounkalo. They nibbled mercilessly at my ankles. Fortunately, when I've slept in doors, all except once, the beds have been accompanied by mosquitoes nets. And when I didn't have one, I simply erected my tent.
I don't know if the dust/sand-laden air is to blame for my generator hub malfunctioning, but it's not fully recharging my battery packs any longer. When I woke one morning to discover that my iPad had inexplicably drained to zero, I feared I was in big trouble, not only losing my GPS device and camera, but, most disastrously, my means of communicating with Janina. She was concerned enough to want to send me off with a transmitting device our friend Wendy used this past summer while she was hiking the Colorado Continental Divide Trail to appease her husband's worries. Not only could it send out a signal giving her exact location, but it could send out a signal if she was in need of help. Janina was all for that, but I figured I'd be able to find wifi every couple of days and let her know all was well, as I've been able to do in Madagascar, Oman, the Philippines and elsewhere. If I suddenly lost my iPad, it could be days and days before I could contact her, causing her untold turmoil.
I had a not so pleasant day of cycling as I worried what had gone awry with the iPad. There was no electricity along the way that day to wake it up. though I knew I'd be coming to a town with some the next day. I also had another battery pack buried in my panniers that might be more cooperative. I patiently waited until that night to dig it out. I could have given a yell of delight and relief when it worked. And the next day I was able to use an electrical outlet at a gas station to give it more of a charge. But I'm still having difficulties with my generator charger. Maybe it will heal itself as did my head lamp. It was out of operation for several nights and then when I tried it in Bamako before searching out a replacement, it was back functioning. It too is a luxury that I've grown used to. My Katydn water filter was also on the blink for a few days, but after a rest it's back in full operation, though I don't use it that often as I'm too dependent on wanting cold water.
There is always something to be concerned about. Next up is getting back into Senegal. Since no visa is required and I've already been there that should be no concern, but one never knows. Then it will be getting into Gambia. At least it is an English-speaking country. If I'm turned away I can just continue on through Senegal and give Guinea-Bissau a try before turning north back up to Dakat, possibly by coastal ferry.