As I close in on Bamako and the completion of the first 850-mile leg of these travels, I am fully immersed into Africa. My survival routine has become second nature and what seemed hardships are now charming facts of life. My transition from the comfort zone of the home front for the comfort zone of the road has not been as seamless and smooth as when heading out into the good 'ol U S of A or venturing off to France, but life on the road essentially becomes the same wherever it may be.
I can now look at the above supply depot with anticipation and pleasure rather than chagrin at how meager it may be, knowing that the white chest refrigerator in the background will have something cold, or at least a little cool, to quench my thirst. There is always the chance it will offer up a surprise, such as a bag of water that had been in a freezer and has a lump of ice within it--a gift from the gods. It may not seem much, but it can make my day.
Likewise lifting the lid on a pot at a roadside cafe and discovering pasta rather than rice. I have experienced that pleasure just once in eleven days. And I took full advantage of it. It was sixty cents to fill my Tupperware bowl and then another forty cents for my smaller auxiliary container. I was good for the rest of the day. That was a day I didn't have to worry about waking up hungry in the middle of the night. I've just about figured out how much I need to eat, but it is still a concern.
Even though I am on the main trucker route from Dakar to Bamako, the capitals of Senegal and Mali, the traffic has been negligible. Rare is it for vehicles to pass beside me simultaneously from both directions. The truckers tend to stick to mini-convoys of three or four. When they pass from behind me, they propel me with a welcome surge of air. The pedaling has been most pleasurable. I have an instant smile on my face when I hit the road each morning knowing I have a full day on the bike ahead of me. How lucky can I be. The occssional truck bulging with passengers makes me all the happier to be on my bike.
My sense of well-being biking along and being spared the nonsense of the daily Trump ruckus is heightening with the anticipation of meeting up with Bruce and Sounkalo, friends from the Telluride Film Festival. Bruce has been a compatriot for years, but I just met Sounkalo. Bruce has been visiting Mali for years, returning to his roots. He recruited Sounkalo to the festival this past year to work with him on the food lot. He loved it and plans to be back this fall. Bruce is in Kati, just north of Bamako, living with his wife. I'll visit him first and then stay over with Sounkalo in Bamako while I acquire visas for the Ivory Coast and Liberia and see what the city has to offer. Bruce has spoken in the past of doing some biking together. Whether or not that happens, it will be a joy to share his company and gain a better understanding of Mali.
After heading east across Mali for over 200 miles I have turned south down to Bamako. There have been a smattering of palm trees and bananas have turned up on the roadside tables after a several day absence. They are just what I need for a midnight snack. Though I am within 100 miles of the capital, there has yet to be a hotel. I would have been tempted last night for a shower, to be a little more presentable when I meet Bruce's wife. It's been nearly a week since I've been able to do more than pour water over me when I've been lucky enough to find a gas station with a faucet or a village pump that isn’t busy with a line of people filling jugs. Nearly every pump I've come upon has been mobbed by women filling jugs. Rarely am I am to stick more than a water bottle or two under the pump during a momentary lull before the next person can position their jug.