We've made 800 miles since the last post and it feels good that we have progressed towards sub-Saharan Africa. It's always felt like an important threshold.
|Getting on with it
'You're going to Africa?'
Twice, Moroccans, on hearing that we were heading to Senegal and the south, used this phrase. In some way the word 'Africa' seems to denote a difference between their world and the area below the desert.
Border crossing/Red Zone
The journey described includes the infamous border between Western Sahara and Mauritania. It's a UK government red zone - a do not go there area. But fellow travellers traverse it regularly and in the received wisdom that advice is, to quote Lonely Planet, 'hyperbolic'. And, anyway, you can't get where we're going from where we started by motorcycle without crossing it.
When we were planning the trip we researched copiously. We read widely, attended seminars, met and spoke with many travellers who had been where we were going. By the time we left, we were in touch with several individuals or groups with immediate knowledge of these areas. We still are and consult them daily.
It's heartening to be connected to so many people who help just because they want to.
They include Horizons Unlimited and the West Africa Travellers FB and WhatsApp groups - both curated by the wonderful Chloe Grant. I receive notifications from ACLED, an international 'crisis mapping project' and regularly look at the foreign sections of the Guardian newspaper.
We haven't done this flippantly or casually. And one of the reasons for going was to challenge our embedded aversions to the unknown, the alien. By definition, you can't do that by staying comfortable.
We know there are a few who believe that our trip is irresponsible. It isn't. And our first objective is to be safe and we've come into this with eyes open, fully prepared.
Some say the 'no-man's-land' in between the two borders is mined. No doubt it once was, but by now the hundreds of vehicles crossing it daily; big trucks, cars, 4x4's, motorcycles, must have found them all. My biggest problems when getting from the Moroccan compound to the Mauritanian was avoiding the other vehicles and staying upright on the uneven, sandy, rocky terrain.
In the process, I got rear-ended by a big van and ran into the side of a huge (staionary) truck when a patch of soft sand took my front wheel. As a result of the former, our pannier now doesn't quite fit.
We decided that we needed to toughen up and put the Sahara behind us. With this in mind we've done a couple of long days recently. It was the right thing to do, but it challenged our stamina.
It feels challenging. And then, once or twice, we've passed pedal-cyclists following the same route and it puts things in perspective. And, of course, the occasional figure we pass, sitting hunkering by the road, miles from anything, in the desert beeze and heat, waiting for who knows what, reminds us that people live here. And it makes me wonder.
Here's what I said to my friend, Leigh, recently; 'I've never been more aware that I simply cannot understand the experience of other humans. Sometimes the awareness is a little too much for me.There's so little money here, such narrow horizons. But kids play, the mother sweeps the dirt patch outside her house, the shopkeepers stock goods in ramshackle buildings and life goes on.'
People are fantastic if you give them the chance.
And perhaps later I'll tell you of the enthusiastic seminar Pascal delivered to me on the subject of his country's ethnicities and social structures when I asked him about his genetic roots. It was gripping and revelatory.