Monday, February 14, 2011

Trans-Gambia Bike Ride (2002)

If there is one bike ride I remember very fondly, it is the time I crossed The Gambia with my friend Will.  We were Peace Corps volunteers in Senegal at the time, and we decided we wanted to see The Gambia, but not through the window of a bus speeding down the dusty red laterite road. So one early morning we hopped on our Peace Corps issue Trek mountain bikes and headed south from Nioro du Rip. We carried with us water, a change of clothes, and a list of Gambian Peace Corps volunteers to look for along the way and beg for floor space on which to sleep.

Considering how little planning went into the trip the results were great. We made it from end to end (Nioro du Rip to Velingara, via Gambia) with no real incidents, and never had to spend the night in an uncomfortable situation. However, if I were to do it again I would avoid planning my bike trip during Ramadan in a heavily Muslim country. When you are biking 60 miles in the hot sun, food and water are important to have. After very early morning it was hard to find food until sunset. The food at sunset was amazing though.

I guess we had some toilet paper in our pack too, but how much pooping you gonna do when there is little food to be had, and you're biking all day long. I guess a fair amount if you're drinking whatever water you can find.

Me and a Gambia volunteer, Jenny

Along our way we stayed with fellow Peace Corps volunteers and in Peace Corps regional houses.  We enjoyed West African hospitality, often sharing meals with Peace Corps volunteer host families as if we were honored guests. Gambia volunteers allowed us to sleep on their floors despite our state of filth from daily cycling.

The most interesting volunteer we met, by far, was Robert. We stayed with Robert our first night, his story was interesting. He had been a mortician, but he had been fired from that position multiple times, four if I remember correctly. He told us he came to the Peace Corps because he misread a pamphlet that said "looking for volunteers to undertake...". He didn't finish reading he just said, "Hey I can undertake".  Chances are he was pulling our legs, but for some reason I believed the entire story at the time, perhaps the hot sun and lack of food.

Meagan and Will
We met Meagan on the island of Janjanbureh (Georgetown) in the middle of the Gambia River. We were there midday so we did not spend the night at her house, but she did give us lunch and treat us to a dip in The Gambia. We had been avoiding swimming because we had been warned off fresh water swimming by our Peace Corps medical staff. Fresh water in Senegal and Gambia can contain things like schistosomiasis, and crocodiles. Meagan regularly went swimming in the river and seemed ok to us, so we went, happily we are still here, and it felt soooooo good in the middle of the day. I did not stray very far from the dock, in my mind there were crocs right beneath the surface of the murky water.

I have always ridden my bike a lot, but I think that this trip convinced me that it really is a superior form of transportation. The bicycle can get you from one place to another quickly enough. However, I never felt like I was missing anything along the way. Like the laterite hill below, or the stone circle hidden in the woods.

I look forward to my next bike ride that takes me to new and unfamiliar terrain.  I look forward to my bike commute through familiar North Carolina scenery tomorrow morning. I look forward to riding my bike.

1 comment:

Chandra said...

Hey Tabb,
Very cool post on your journey in Africa! I really enjoyed reading it.
I am petrified of Crocs and Alligators. You are a brave guy!

Peace :)