La Curve-Ball.

Wowsa, how Green? Well, green this green and grass has not been seen since the North of Morocco. It almost hurts the eyes… Seriously!

I reserve the right to enjoy and report on significant cultural discoveries that cannot be disputed and do not require any of my still less than useful French (FFS people still can’t understand me asking for bread and water in French!) and would surely be news to smart arses like Melvin Bragg who’ve made a career of alienating most of us with there pointless twatwaffle.

It’s a climb and descend all day job, but nothing big and unkind on the legs.
Yep, I’m definitely in the older person’s bracket now but I’m not yet certain that anyone under 35 is a dangerous thug.

Its Cacao not Cocoa!

I’m of course hugely jealous that the young strutting peacocks have something that I’ll never have again, youth.

Some sort of pepper/chillies here as Cote D’ivoire adds too it’s every increasing arsenal of stuff growing. Does seem like a bit of water Wouldn’t go amiss though.
So when I get the chance too look sniffily and ask myself “what on Earth are they wearing” and laugh at there percieved daftness whilst conveniently forgetting how cool a younger me and my mates ‘thought’ we were, at a group of “we are toooo cool to smile” young Ivorian’s I’m gonna enjoy the moment immensely!

Well have a look at that! Rain, last seen in Tangier!

It’s official and I’ve triple checked this, one of them is wearing a slightly off the shoulder sorta gangta style 100% genuine “Stay out of the black and into the red, nothing in this game for two in a bed” Bullseye Jacket, yep Jim Bowen would be loving knowing he is famous in Cote D’ivoire, well probably not at all famous and the best bit?

Everyone is getting a move on and looking for shelter.
This is Cote D’ivoire and those young cool dudes don’t stay cool for too long. “Bon Arivee Monsieur Blanc”. Big smiles and a very clear welcome for this white man. See proper culture don’t need no language man! It’s another day of total, all out friendliness from this country that threw a HUGE curve-ball right at me today.

It’s a full on rain storm for maybe 2hrs!

Today I’ve learnt is the First rain of the new rainy season and that’s something that strikes a little/a lot of fear into me, ie some unsealed roads are gonna be hard going and malaria will be rife, all the way until perhaps Angola.

There is way too much casually tossed rubbish in West Africa. To be fair a dustman is hardly likely! It’s pretty poor most of the time.
That’s quite a few countries away yet and although it’s not likely to be every day for quite sometime, I’ve had a taster of grit and grime that grinds wheel rims and shreds brake pads. Until today, the dry conditions have meant virtually no wear for a set of brake pads put on in Southern Spain.

Cote D’ivoire roads have been first class… Until this afternoon. Muck often mixed with Rubbish…. Hmmm.
Just a few hours heavy rain has destroyed 4 pads. That’s a reasonably easy find and replace job but stuff like wheel rims and the drivetrain… Not so easy.

See that old Peugeot 504 almost disappearing down a huge hole.
What is does mean is an extremely pleasant temperature of no more than 30c and zero Sun. It’s an absolute treat.

It’s also a reason too enjoy the company of villagers whilst waiting for the worst too pass.

Compare this to the 38-40c days that have been hanging around since The Gambia and add the fact it is again windless. I’m not sure how normal this lower temperature is going to be and the grey sunless day definitely helps.

Its beautiful if a little bumpy.

But whatever it means, you can’t help but admire these Rural Ivorian’s because even sat under cover in a village as the rain gets a bit too hard temporarily for cycling, the water rushes through the village and even the buildings are full of leaks. What a truly awful existence this must be. But I guess this rain is what keeps it a green a very pleasant looking land. Yep, I didn’t realise rainy season would be arriving quite this early.

Just the inner tent required last night. It’s that hot at night now.

Rubber is big business it seems down this way. Lots of it being moved around. It smells less than delicious, a bit like rotten fish.

They call out “Mr White” down this way, it’s a fair description.

Getting some drinking water for the village.

I think a few people here might really appreciate winning a Bullseye speedboat if it’s going to be this wet. Another “Super, smashing, great!” day in Africa.

It’s not an If but when.

Got a new found love for the Nuns who fixed me good and despite the ‘camera face’ were friendly, kind, fun and dedicated.

Well I never, really I’m still quite stunned as are perhaps the Sisters who persuaded me to get a Malaria test after another aborted morning attempt to ride, arranged it all and looked at me a little strangely when I declared “Malaria, thank goodness for that”. There’s no pleasure of course and when you look at the truly horrific amount of typically young children/babies who die every day, it’s no joke but I’m in the Cote D’ivoire’s second City and cash ain’t no problem for us lucky fuckers.

It’s a fair guess this is the old main road. It runs parallel to the modern motorway.

It explains why I’ve been sweating like a dog, had zero energy and have been feeling a little depressed for some time. This are just some of the symptoms.

The friendliness levels have gone through the roof on the road today.

I really expected that Malaria would have left me bed ridden, but not in this instance. I’ve still managed to get out for food everyday which is why Malaria never even crossed my mind as a possibility.

The policeman and lads in that photo have insisted I try something which tastes a little alcoholic and is made from palm. That’s what they pointed at anyway.

Just 20 minutes after my finger is pricked at the ‘Sisters of Mercy’ clinic and for the princely sum of £9 which includes meds and a registration fee all I need to do is munch 4 tablets AM and PM for 3 days and bingo. Yet again I’ve been diagnosing my likely demise for days and thats why I’m grateful.

Still another month or so until these Mangoes are gonna be ready. This tree is loaded with fruit.

Was it too soon to ride today? Well 80 of the best yet Cote D’ivore miles would say not. The road is deserted of pretty much anything other than a few bicycles and scooters and the air feels clean and having no trucks around spewing fumes… What a treat.

The UV again shows as extreme. Factor 50 applied thickly is the only defence.

And Cote D’ivore is really treating my eyes as the foliage becomes thicker and greener and the undergrowth is now mostly impassable without perhaps a machete and pretty much everyone has there own.

Loads of new treats for the eyes. Trees as of yet unidentified but dropping lots of thick crunchy leaves.

At times the amount of leaves on the floor almost have a European autumn feel. It’s 38c today so far far from Autumnal weather but looking ahead there may be some thunder storms and rain on the horizon.

Yep there is a hell of a lot of Rubber being tapped here.

And the thicker foliage at last means proper shade when required and this ever changing landscape is revealing a lot of different crops. And for the first time in days, the stiff headwind is non-existent, well, just a slightly cooling and welcome gentle headwind.

How long too fill one of these? Not a clue.

The plantation buildings nestling in the shade of the trees are definitely looking like a great opportunity too pitch my tent tonight. Not only are the people I’m meeting Incredibly friendly unlike the really quite reserved folks of Yammasouko city but I’m not making first contact here, I’m being spotted and waved at by everyone! Well pretty much.

Not the towering palm oil plantations of Malaysia and Kalimantan but definitely part of the landscape now.

Rice has been spotted as well and although the road is pretty old, it’s more than comfortable for riding on. I’ve crossed the Autoroute a couple of times and despite having a decent hard-shoulder and really not that much traffic, it’s a shadeless scar through this definitely more tropical looking landscape.

I’ve checked, no little chef, costa or MacDonalds on this motorway. It ain’t for me!

And at 61 miles covered on this delightful old highway by 3pm, it’s almost feeling toooo easy but Strava mapping won’t put me on the motorway and I can see a toll gate on the map so it looks like a strange diversion is on the cards and anyway, who doesn’t like a bit of unsealed red stuff every now and then.

Ahhh yep, there is your Rural services, I’ll have an ice cold you know what please.

And anyway, who doesn’t like a little end of the day adventure and a bit of “who’s idea was this?”

And the sealed road stops just like that.

I’ve done the math and it’s only 15 miles too the next town and water stop, even at an easy bumpy pace, I’ll be back in civilization in maybe 90mins.

Hang on a minute, it’s gone super Rural…

Thank goodness for the Banana ladies. Just too get me through a cheeky late afternoon, touching Bonk moment.

Yep, I’ve slightly got my knickers in a twist, it’s gone a little less friendly in one of those horribly poor feeling villages but the Banana ladies have saved me with the perfect fuel and boy, those bananas are huuuuge.

More first seen in Cote D’ivore moments, this is granite mine looking very inviting indeed.

Nah, no time for hanging around because the banana ‘super highway’ named as it’s full of bicycles loaded with as fresh as you like bananas is slooow going and shit for brains here is out of water

But like any mini adventure, it all comes good and if you were too turn left here now I’m back in civilization or at least the motorway, which is going to be cycled along wether I’m allowed or not in about 6km is tonight’s cyclist savior. I very large and quite fancy looking Fire Station which has allowed me too pitch in there grounds. My Lord, even at 11pm i’m dripping with sweat in my tent which comprises of just the 100% mesh inner tent, but that’s how it is. I’m not quite ready for another round of Malaria and next time it might not be so, well easy. All I need to do is take tonight’s anti-biotics and final almost ‘mars bar sized tablet’ for the not fully understood infection that a full blood test revealed.

Ivory coast, I do believe you stole a bit of my heart today.

Only 120 miles too the coast, some Europeans and a chance too fill my slightly thinner than usual frame, it seems I’ve lost 5kg somewhere between Bamako and here although to be fair who knows how well calibrated Gerard’s scales and the hospitals scales are?

What I do know is in 6 years this is my first ever Malaria and it was never really an ‘If’ but definitely a ‘when’ I was likely to have it and it seems like anything, if it’s caught early and you can afford the meds the chances of full recovery are pretty goddam high and how am I feeling? Strong.

Thank goodness for four days with the Nuns.

Looking so much more Green & Tropical. Can choose from Coconuts or Mango right here.

Central Cote D’ivoire is definitely another change in climate. The same temperature but now it’s become humid, it seems the dry heat is now history. It’s wiped me out to be honest. Another two days Cycling and it’s a case of limping into Yamoussoukro which is the political capital and home to what is noted as the largest church in the world.

Biggest Basilica/Church in the world they say.

It’s a good looker and apparently based on what you would see in the Vatican, but definitely the only good looking architecture here. I’m not here for religion though, but it’s been noted the Nuns have a great hotel not so far from the city centre with clean rooms and plenty of hot and cold water. And they do. I’m guessing it’s a sort of cash cow for the church. I haven’t seen anyone dressed like a nun yet but there are maybe 40 Ivorian’s here for a week training as a Salesforce for Solar Energy.

Cloud, not seen in quite sometime, just an early morning phenomenon though.

Does it need mentioning I suppose what you might call modern Ivorian’s are very friendly (although they speak French and not English, the will is there but neither side had communication ability) and it seems strange to see people in a corporate outfit after time in the sticks and there is some sort of 5 minute motivational group stuff going on every morning a bit like “We are the best etc etc etc”. It makes perfect sense with yet more days of unbroken sunshine.

Starting to see these being offered for sale along the roadside.

It did seem that perhaps some cloud cover might be on the cards but that’s just an early morning thing it seems. The landscape looks a lot more sub-tropical and although my guess is most of it is secondary jungle, still some huge really quite magnificent trees still survive and reach pretty high and that lovely lush green and there is perhaps more shade. Ahhh yep, coconuts and Pineapple have appeared as have bananas, perhaps longer and thinner than the ones we see at home.

I’ll skip the offer of beer and sup 1.5l of Coke. The heat is on.

As have Yams, huge quantities of yams and all sorts of veg that I took plenty of pictures of but since filling my phone with sweat, none have saved and the phones on its way out. It’s not a glamorous city by any means and as Antoinette, a really friendly lady who speaks ace English told me, most people are surviving on 1000cfa a day (that’s the price I’ll pay for 2×1.5l waters along the way).

Super nice speaking English with Antoinette the lovely Real Estate Agent.

She’s ambitious and is Into real estate (not that there is much these Western eyes would see as having much/any value) where she can earn 10 times that amount in one day. She has explained something I’ve already felt here. Most ATMs of which there are plenty here dispense 10,000cfa notes or about £13 and that’s a serious amount of cash. You get one of those out in a village and getting change is almost impossible. Firstly a glance in the ’till’ shows there ain’t that much cash so first attempt to break it down is at a hotel which I’m using nightly and the moment.

Thank goodness for Cakes and Coffee.

I’m in the 5000-7000cfa (£6.50-£9.00) a night end of the market. That at least gives me a smaller but still not easy denomination. Another tactic is a Shell or Total station where some biscuits a couple big waters a box of ciggies and a Coke gives another opportunity to break a 10,000cfa. That order is probably about 4000cfa but often the coin part of the change just isn’t available and it’s rounded up and a handful of chocolates or another can of coke is the trade. Yep, coins are in such short supply here, shopkeepers or taxi’s have difficulty because of the lack of small change. And yet, although the majority of people are earning maybe 1000cfa a day (a watchman/security fella is an example), the pizza I’m eating is 5000cfa, My room is 5000cfa, I’ll eat a second dinner, add litres of liquid a day and £20 a day is easily spent. That’s way over budget. Incredible really. Other things I’ve seen but a sweat filled camera didn’t quite capture is most of the let’s say primitive villages weaving the cotton into some quite beautifully coloured clothes amongst the still very common business of producing charcoal plus some new food on the menu, it’s seems perhaps with the change of environment are some sort of quite large rodent type animals that have been trapped and are on the menu. It’s a tough life here for sure but the people seem as always remarkably resilient and there is plenty of laughter. On a normal day it would take me just two days too the coast and some Westerners to hang around with. I’m still trying to shake off a cold, maybe that’s why I’m struggling. Still a strange feeling to have a running nose. Whatever is going on, even cycling the less than 1mile into the ‘city’ centre with no panniers is a huge task. I think I’ll be waiting here for a few more days. Cote D’ivoire is having a nibble physically and a big chomp of my daily budget.

Four days Hunting for chuckles

£6.50 for a Quiche and Potato Gratin. Big portions and delicious. That’s lunch sorted.

They are few and far between these days, here’s one. Last night’s hotel room, read over-priced dive, it’s normal, you want more, you are gonna pay a lot more. And more is Generally air-con and hot shower and clean walls.

Evenings is Wrap and Fries with ice cream for pudding. Why not stay eh?
No hordes of Backpackers here forcing the price of accomadation down and quality up, but it is Africa and a cold shower is worth the £8 and the chuckle.

Couldn’t have been looked after better. Great staff. Definite win win right there!

Most hotels seem to be based in a compound with rooms around two edges. I just parked up for two days in a great one, far away in the corner not bothered by anyone, on the edge of town, no fumes, just the occasional Google Translate conversation and first class staff in a typically busy fume filled town.

Early morning puncture whilst trying to get some miles in before the burn. Annoying. Two recent punctures and its likely that rear tyre is getting close to being replaced. The tread is low.
But this one is for sure a little tired like them all so far but it’s 100% rubbish free AND as well as a peaceful hotel and a reasonable price, this town has two restaurants with waiter service, air-con AND some great dishes.

The good news is that these two at the garage wanna share a french stick. Perfect business, I’ll supply the Nutella, you bring the bread. Could even be in London right? Great girls👍

Kinda Western style. It’s perfect and it seems a good plan too stuff my face for two days and recover.

Shade is at a premium and here is a regular occurrence. A young lad who gets on my wheel. “Excuse me mate, but when you gonna give me a Tow?” They are always dawdling but like all of us, get a bit competitive when someone comes by😀 Always leave with a smile though.

One of the Side effects of my recent inject is dodgy guts but even today that’s now history. And as for the chuckle Hotel last night, this one is quite different.

The dream part of the morning.

Booze, not seen publicly since perhaps Spain really is back on the Menu in the Cote D’Ivoire.

Not THE most glamorous country so far but not without some special moments.

In full view (clubs & Bars) and the chuckle comes from watching the young lad make the drinking sign too his mates when I pay for my room. Seems my perhaps slightly more than usual room rate is gonna help continue the party. I’m after water, but all the fridge contains is beer and coke. Yep, I’m guessing it’s the Christians and I’m sure a few under the radar ‘other’ religions boozing here.

I think its a classic Renault. I’ve seen some scooters on top of these. Hmmm, “would a bicycle fit?” I wonder. I’m super tempted.

And the courtyard hotel last night is full of young Ivorian’s, who are clearly lining up a night of what young people do, ie getting Jiggy. The girls in the room next door are being courted on and off by the young lads and they are a noisy bunch and the boom boom boom of Africa rap is coming from the bar.

Imagine this lot swaying and singing in unison. It’s a beautiful moment.
Yep, the Muslims are generally a quiet bunch and the music is really noticeable. Yet again, it’s been a while and alongside the Muslims who like too get praying early doors every day at about 5-30am with the call to prayer, the Christians are banging there bells for the first time in months, its kinda pretty, like bells in a little Spanish or French Village just a few hours later.

Its a certainty this is what they are stamping on. A fair few Lyle & Scott’s right here.

Perhaps they all have hangovers? Yep, clubs and bars are very much visible these days and I certainly don’t feel any religious tension. And moments too make every hair stand up in your body. It’s the first sight of quite large quantities of Cotton.

But any Man or Beast is best off under the Trees in the cruel sun.

No sight of it growing yet, like rice, the cotton seems too be grown quite some distance from the highway, but a huge and I mean huge, maybe 17.5 tonne truck waste coompactor is full of African fellas who I’m assuming are compacting wool by dancing up and down on it.

Amazing architecture which is likely to be full of Maize if I understand right.

When I say dancing, it’s everything my mind imagines when Traditional African dancing needs imagining. They are chanting beautifully, no drums, just singing in perfect harmony and swaying in that oh so imagined way and they seem so happy.

This old fella is gonna miss the quiet Muslim life if the last few days are anything to go by.

They Wave hard and seem happy for the photo. I’m not so delighted to be honest, for sure it’s a truly fabulous moment but any idea of easier cycling conditions are pure fantasy. Touching 40c mid-afternoon when finding a tree and snoozing is the only partly acceptable solution until perhaps 5ish when the peak of brutality has passed. Yep, had two police bag searches under the blazing sun today. Shade really is at a premium and touching 40c under the clear blue sky and would you believe it headwind has crushed any temporary optimism. The rewards for the daily battle are thin on the ground but still exist and it seems that if I can make the coast in the next 3-4 days, some rain is likely, more humidity and perhaps 35c Max and some over-landers plus a cyclist or two are parked up and waiting.

That’s better Jackson

Most side roads are like this but it looks like tarmac is coming. Leaving the hotel this morning to fight the likely headwind battle.

Let’s be very clear here, Google translate is useful but the longer the text you attempt to translate, perhaps the more lost in translation things can become. Keep it as short as possible is my tip. I’ve seen long stuff being translated a little strangely and have seen confusion and been confused.

Where do the cool dudes hang out world-wide? The coffee shop of course.
It’s not a real example but you could attempt “It’s been lovely meeting your family and seeing you look after the goats” might translate as “Its lovely to see you and your family look like goats”. It’s not far from the truth but this app IS a nice little ice-breaker and it’s come at the perfect time. You’ll notice that there are a fair few smart phones around. I also noticed in the Orange offices the smart phones are ridiculously cheap, for us
anyway, and it seems a cut down or back in the day Android system smart phone is perhaps ‘just’ £25-£40. (Perhaps less than the price of an i-phone 11 case?).

See the Nolywood film in the background, feels very Africa.
This is great news because it’s free, it’s gratis to download Google translate and use, apart from a bit of Data, and when I’m having a coffee stop, either the milky nescafe which is 90% milk powder and 10% nescafe sachet (or I even saw a sort of, but not quite Nespresso machine that we would have binned years ago).

You’ll see lots of this white stuff alongside the road. First thought, “is this more rubbish?”

The Ivorian’s who are enjoying what seems to be a very popular Choice of Film from Nolywood which is the Nigerian film business and I think like Bollywood in India is a big player here, I’ve seen the young cool Ivorian’s being impressed by Google translate and it’s a good chance to open a bit of communication and share a free gift.

I’m pretty certain it’s cotton. It’s big business here I’ve heard.

The Orange network is a good one here 3g and even 4g sometimes. What a difference from the networks in Gambia, Senegal and Mali and the opportunity to show the lads they can have Google translate as well quickly and easily is a real nice conversation and friendship builder. Yep, Google may be seeing a spike in this download in North Ivory Coast and I may even be trending on Twitter.

As are the crops from these Cashew Nut trees.

Brilliant, just brilliant. No-one is just randomly snapping away but politely asking if a photo is OK and therefore I can ask back. Yep, it seems perhaps normal cycling business has resumed. Last night’s hotel is expensive as is the food and it would be another £30 plus day here so I’ve decided to take an easier day on the road and a smaller 60mile leap to the next town where an over-lander has left a review for a far more basic hotel (fan & bucket shower) which reviews as “a peaceful part of town and great staff” for 5000cfa or a 3rd of the price of what it’ll cost here for another day and a chance to get cheaper local restaurant food.

This is the fruit of the Cashew, it’s called Caju and it’s Ok to eat them. It’s sweet and full of energy. But NOT the cashews themselves! Fair enough.

Bingo, it’s smaller mileage, I’ll know where I’m heading so won’t have to be hunting a free camp spot and bothering the local Headman and burning hours and I’ll have a shower. Yep, it’s an almost due east section of road which is likely to mean a headwind battle but from then on its pretty much a southerly route to the coast and that’s almost certain too mean less or maybe even no headwind from then on.

I think the Christians are becoming more common. Gonna have to get a photo but more girls no longer have the Muslim headgear and just that lovely short crop Africa hair. It’s noticeable that It’s not been seen before.

“Mr Jackson, may be God (hmmm not Allah?) be with you” the staff tell me when they line up too say goodbye and the world is feeling far more rosy and friendly. I think I’m feeling the Cote D’Ivoire love and it’s coming back at me all day. A friend has emailed me the possible side effects of the Meningitis jab and I’m thinking that’s all behind me and no wonder I felt a bit wobbly.

Actual street lights in villages along the highway. Not been seen in while.

The police and rural police checkpoints are friendly, we’ve had some nice short interactions and I’m wondering if perhaps the message has been shared I’m around and now they understand what I’m doing and where I’m going everyone is much more comfortable.

Itching to take some beautiful side roads that I hear great things about, but today, stick too the goal. You’ll get a chance for this soon. Looks fabulous.

Now, not everyone has got a smartphone for sure and the architecture may be less natural products and more block and corrugated roof and definitely some very basic African living so I’m still not getting those ‘typical Africa’ photos of the brightly colored ladies (because I’m not brave enough and we don’t have the camera photo trade-off option everywhere) and stuff but at a water stop, curiosity is high all round and about 15 ladies and kids who are carrying stuff like boiled eggs, donuts, things I can’t identify and popcorn on there heads are waiting for the next bus to come by and then they will vie for the business of hungry travelers.

Here are the kids and ladies keeping hungry travelers stomachs satisfied. (Sneaky smartphone zoom shot).

In the meantime, without any need for Google translate we are teaching each other the words for this food in each others languages and as normal in Africa, laughter is on the cards…

“Me? I’ll have some donuts please.”

And you know what, it’s still perhaps too hot but the trees along the road kept the wind gentle and more cooling, the staff in this ‘hotel’ are just fantastic and we are all sharing my pasta dish tonight.

Ahhh, there we go, first Mangoes spotted. The season is not quite here yet though.

I can report I’m back too sitting around in Africa along the road feeling entirely comfortable and really feeling the welcome of Africa.

The view from my ace choice of hotel tonight (and tommorow). Mont Korhogo is the name. Its probably gonna provide a great view. Biggest thing seen here so far.
I’m gonna take my day off here. I think a bit of slowly slowly will be good to recover some more and even some English, not a lot, is being spoken in town .

He or She has been enjoying the thermals above the Mont for a good few hours.

The border confusion is history as is the likely mining camp moment. It’s been reported that it’s not the most exciting scenery coming up and that’s true so far, but the feeling of being happy here, well that’s more than the perfect requirement for me.

Well hello gorgeous. Lots too see just sat outside my room tonight.

Cote D’ivoire…♥️ Just had a lovely chat with the owner of the hotel, a 65 year old fella, ex-army, has two wives (is he crazy😂😂) has 9 children(yes he IS crazy) and I think he’s understood the i-overlander app where I found his hotel review and shown him I’ve added my own and this might bring more business for him.

So it’s not the most glamorous Africa perhaps and I’ve yet to see an attractive Africa town. But it’s all feeling really rather good😀

Of Course what would normally be a quick conversation takes some time, but it’s been a great hour or so sat in the pleasant evening temperature and i’m confident it was enjoyed by both of us. Thank you for my welcome, good on ya Cote D’ivoire and let’s not forget Google translate and Orange.

Imagine if it all became tooooo easy and everyone saw how great West Africa is and started coming here in large numbers? Don’t wanna lose the mystery and status that comes with being somewhere so misunderstood. And yep, I’m still misunderstanding and assuming hard about stuff but It ain’t stuff too worry about like before and hopefully a good guess assumption.

And like when you root around in your panniers and find something like a half melted Snickers you forgot you had, I found a nice Greg Wilson Mix I never knew I had. And the first track is the Beatles – Here Comes the sun. It couldn’t be be more appropriate.

Here comes the Sun, Here Comes the Sun…
Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Wobbling Again

Breakfast with the teacher who helped me meet the Village Headman last night.

Yep, I can’t deny it, I’m definitely having a huge wobble again. It’s not like it’s unheard of cycling or overlanding through West Africa. It’s always noted it’s the hard bit. I guess I could point to many different reasons, perhaps lots of little reasons that alone might not be so significant but together all make the the perfect storm. It’s ,no longer 40c according to the forecast but still around the 35c mark come mid afternoon and quite incredibly drops to about 16c in the early hours. It’s quite strange to be putting on a mid-layer jacket at 5-30am yesterday morning and still needing it at 7-30am when I’ve got pedaling. Yep, looong days… Didn’t get cooking until about 9pm when the chief had ok’d for me to stay in the village.

Seems a typical North Cote D’Ivoire high Street view.

Tent up, a little socialising with the people who are quite rightly curious as to what I’m doing and what’s coming out of my bag next. It’s a comfortable night temperature wise but my mats still got a pesky slow leak somewhere. It’s a 5-00am start to get my tent packed down as my Teacher mate starts school at 7am and I need to be packed away by 5-30am as that’s when he wants to take me to say thanks to the Village Headman. The wind is more side now but still enough to make this tricky, the panniers and dry bag make quite a barrier to the wind. It’s nice to sit and share a french stick with him and drink a Milky nescafe and watch the world go by briefly. He’s a nice fella but I’m not overly chirpy, nor is he, but just leaving after the time he spent organising a meet with the Chief last is just plain rude.

Take a room here and re-group.

It’s the same the night before with the police. Again cooking at 9pm and writing my diary and trying to upload stuff with internet that’s diabolical at best. I need to note this stuff for my memories though. The huge change in friendliness is very noticeable. To be honest, anything after the Malian’s is going to be a hard act to follow. I’m fully aware that a flag waving red carpet welcome ain’t no right. I’m wondering does a Meningitis jab leave you feeling a little odd?

Learnt a lot from this Belgian and enjoyed talking English.

But I’m determined to crack on and see and feel better. As always I’m using Strava’s most popular route planning (because if others have done it, it’s probably good enough) and although the database of Strava uploads may not be extensive or even exist down here, I’ve got a nice route that uses a superb A1 road-surface with a wide hard-shoulder with very little traffic and virtually no traffic and a huge amount less chugging thick black exhaust being sucked up. I can’t help but wonder what my insides make of it all. And when the route says “dive off here into this lovely bright red dirt track that’s easy riding with either Cashew or Mango Trees which are blossoming it’s all feeling rosy.. Then boom, I’m into a.. hmmm, assumption over-drive moment.

Maybe a bit of salad will help sort things. Diet ain’t always so balanced on the road.

Imagine a kind of sort of 1980’s sort of large tent you might go camping with your Mum and Dad’s as kids, the one you could stand up in with a complex head-scratching frame that needs putting together with the tent outer than dragged over that. The frame is wooden in this case with almost like black bin liner material stretched over them. As far as the eye can see. Now, the rubbish, the goats, the smoking scooters, the mess, the whole different world is easy for me, it’s nothing new, but this kind of “Is this some sort of refugee camp?” makes me feel uncomfortable. It’s selling clothes, food, scooter parts, chinese electronics and looks semi permanent and the ‘coffee shop’ I’ve chosen even has a 21″ fat screen TV plugged in as do a few others. None of the traditional permanent West African buildings. Now, you put me in a room with people, even people I know very well and I start to get nervous or even the thought of planned events freaks me out, I’m awful at it. Don’t know what to say and its often mighty uncomfortable for me and perhaps those around me. BUT in a situation where I arrive somewhere for the first time, much like this sort of moment where I’m not tied too when I leave, I’m the best, I’m first class, I know how generally too play the game and I love it. Sure, it helps to be something different, but I’m confident, hopefully not cocky, have a friendly face, don’t flirt with girls or cower too the Main man and make sure I’m polite to everyone and 99% of the time it works a treat and I know just how to get those smiles going and even my pathetic French is enough to introduce myself, tell where I’m from and so on. The international language of football and the premier league with a few of that countries stars name thrown in and boom, it’s a nice, usually really nice atmosphere as a result and once I’ve supped a coffee or had lunch I’ll leave with what definitely feels like comfortable and “happy he was here” people. Not here though, perhaps my smile ain’t quite so genuine? Maybe these are people in a really difficult situation? I just don’t know. After leaving along a now bumpy not so good track a rope is strung across the track ahead. It’s lowered for a few scooters and it seems perhaps some cash has changed hands. I’m not allowed through and can’t ask why because I paid no attention to French at school. It’s a u-turn through the mystery camp and back into the highway. I’m rattled again. About 2 miles further down the road two sorta perhaps (assumption again Jason) sorta paramilitary type outfit wearing fellas have stopped me. It’s not the first time either and before they’ve been kinda gruff and my lack of French does not help. But the general gist of the conversation has been what are you doing? The best I can convey is “heading to Abidjan” which is one of the two capitals here right in the SE corner some 700km from here. “And from where?”. People are definitely surprised when I mention Mali/Abidjan as well. “On a bicycle?”. Even westerners I know can’t always quite comprehend what I’m doing and we have clear(ish) communication. Luckily, this latest stop had an almost perfect English speaker. “We’ve been waiting for you, we had a call that you were in the Village”. He’s a friendly fella and when I tell him about England to Cote D’ivoire even he doesn’t quite believe me. “How are you he asks me?” and I don’t believe in Sugar-coating and portraying a perfect life because that just ain’t life. I certainly don’t want to be rude because I’m lucky to do what I do, I’m fully aware of that. But tell him politely, “I’m a little uncomfortable in your country and that’s no complaint, I’m just worried perhaps I’m making some sort of Cultural faux pax and I’m here to live by your rules, I’m just a tourist who wants too see things with my own eyes but not offend”.

He’s explained that “even your french may not help in these small villages and there are many local languages here plus this country has suffered two fairly recent civil wars and this may affect the way people think and we are are very poor country but don’t worry we are friendly and welcoming people”. I agree, I’ve never had more than a handful of moments when I’ve been unsure of people. It can’t suddenly be a bonkers nation.

I need a SIM card and even that’s proving difficult/impossible. Orange like most of West Africa is the main player and amongst the very basic living here, that branding stands out in larger, small towns, usually with a gun-toting guard and air-con and even computers inside. It’s a different world. But even Google translate can’t get me what I want. Usually it’s a doddle. Passport out “A SIM card please and 2gb of Data. No phone calls required” but nothing, it just can’t it seems be done. So the alternative network MTN is the other choice but the girl in there is so less than interested. It seems perhaps the power is down? I just don’t know… The heats cranked up, times been wasted and I’ve decided a Hotel that’s noted on an app that shares over-landers hotel/restaurant/border/embassy etc experience show a hotel that’s for me. Air-con, re-group and gather my thoughts and don’t worry about the budget busting Africa, we already know is expensive for that sort of thing here. It’s been a good choice, I think I’ve probably over-stretched myself, Africa is a different world, the heats bonkers, I’m old etc etc etc… And as luck would have it, a Belgian, well, a European born and bred in Abidjan who has shared his life story which is quite remarkable has reminded me about the feeling of being alone that sometimes accompanies this sort of life and speaking English and having a good chat was needed. He’s fascinating and is working with The Shea but harvest here on behalf of a Scandinavian company and is doing great things to make the harvest accountable, cutting out the middle men and ensuring the ladies who harvest this fascinating crop (which is so worth a Google) explains the people in the camp were probably miners, and as well as the national police, there is a whole network of traditional local police and that’s who I’ve come across. And as for friendliness, he tells me they are great people and the meeting the village chief is the best policy here and the Ivorian’s are likely just as frustrated as I am about the communication barrier. I’ve put the feelers out in my West Africa Cycling group and a cyclist is some 300miles south of here in the second capital, another couple are in Grand-Bassam on the coast another is in Ghana close to the Border with CI and another heading this way from Liberia. I’ve popped into town, had a great time in the barbers, got an Orange SIM very easily and friendly, found some toothpaste. Not had any since Bamako! I wonder if that makes you feel odd? It’ll be another £30 plus day here tomorrow because I’ve got Films that need watching and air-con to be cranked up. The closest cyclist told me he has a much cheaper air-con hotel near some great pizza. Yep some better diet or feeling full would help. Yep, this life may not be understood by many but it’s my choice and it’s no different from knowing when to give up on a relationship or running a business that may be struggling. Knowing when the time is up is a personal decision. This is mine and I’m not quite ready yet, almost but not quite. Some Western contact and maybe a cycling buddy could help. If not there is always Abidjan airport and perhaps The Ivory Coast and me just ain’t gonna click? Well, that’s life…. I can think of plenty of other worse situations. Hmmm, you and your first word issues again. For now, just chill out tomorrow. Apart from a quick petrol bath and rear and front mech wipe, the rest can wait. That chain was grinding and this old fella is done for now!

Miss you already Mali.

Not available on trip advisor or or Hostelworld. You’ll find last night’s Hotel down a dusty side Street.

Nah, not in the mood for wasting more time with the police this morning. If they are upset they will come and find me, there is only one road too Cote D’ivoire and I’ll just play dumb.

Breakfast with Milky Coffee right here.

We have no shared language. I’ve spent and hour fannying around sorting my puncture, emptying bags and stuff and I’m feeling a bit grumpy. 8am start is an hour later than I wanted and the damn mosquitoes must have loud hailers or something buzzing like mad, thankfully outside my mosquito net all night.

Getting braver with camera. Just not the fancy one yet.

Still, this is Africa and as soon as I walk out of the hotel an impossible amount of roadworkers are balanced on the back of a Toyota pick up, chatting away and a quick bonjour gets one back in perfect unison and I’m back in love with the morning, in fact it’s bonjour central all the way down the little side road too the as of yet completed highway or road from hell.

Ready too eat dirt?

Another couple of Miles and on the left is a shack, a typical shack that would surely get a zero health safety rating in the UK but works rather well here in Africa. “2 baguettes si vous plais”. One to eat now with egg in it and one too be folded and put in my bag for later then a quick full on diplomatic fly the English flag moment and shake maybe 20 hands and the get the smiles going.

Never ever get bored in the Red Stuff.

Then realise that although in my mind I’m heading south and that’s how it looks if you look at the map of Africa, I’m in fact heading east and into a bastard headwind. Balls! That kinda sidey I hoped for ain’t here.

My spokes ain’t on speaking terms with me right now.

Sure it ain’t a storm Ciara but along with the dust that fills the air and a little light cloud cover, I’m getting some sun respite. It’s not all bad but it’s a sort of moody day of weather for a moody fella. Que Sera. It even had another weak attempt at rain last night. Yep it feels a bit like that. The road goes from rock hard dirt too inches of flour like dust and then some brand new sealed stuff that goes through what often feels like secondary jungle mixed in with some quite magnificent trees, many of which are Mangoes but despite it being nearly the season, I can see no fruit yet.

Had a spicy kick that one!

Last year in the south of here, the Trees were bending under the weight of fruit. I need some photos. Alongside the trucks bringing material for the new road, there are still plenty of “how on Earth does that still move” vehicles moving large amounts of charcoal around and stacks of nicely stacked firewood.

And whilst watching the world go by at Lunchtime.

The ladies continue to be quite remarkable and often have an axe balanced on there head and disappear into the undergrowth then return with large amounts of this firewood stacked in there heads. Strong ladies, but amongst the rumours they do all the work round here and that mathematically from my eyes looks likely generally, right now there are plenty of fellas working hard on the roadworks with picks and shovels. Still the order of the day would appear to be majority of fellas taking it easy outside the small mud hut villages. What do I do know? Assumption is very often wrong and generally suited for those who love to point and fill in the gaps that provide gossip, misinformation and temporary power for the weak.

See, super double friendly in Mali.

Yep, that’s the mood I’m in. I reckon In maybe 5 days I should be on the Cote D’Ivoire coast. Some R&R and maybe a swim would be nice. But you just cannot feel this way for Long in Mali and lunch is well, I don’t know what, but the lady shows me what’s in her bubbling pots. It’s rice with something quite tasty and a little bit fiery! They (because I’ve got some temporary best mates) can see it’s hit me a little bit, laugh like drains and there is me worrying about should I take photos, there are a few smart phones but mostly some sorta Nokia 3310 era with a camera stuff and I’m chuckling that I’ve been thinking careful Jackson, Africa ain’t a zoo of interesting people and perhaps I’m the exotic animal…

They were a bit nervous at first “but you did want the photo lads”.

Yep, it’s another tiny red dust covered town waiting for it’s silky smooth tarmac too arrive and perhaps only 1/2 way there and a typical horse and cart with a load of grubby lads on top of a load of I suppose charcoal perhaps all sub 10 yrs old and my arm and thumb is up and so are there’s as they pass. They have dived off and run over for a photo. Now a selfie with me is a step too far it seems but I’m saying c’mon let’s do a selfie. They are nervous as hell but now the crowds bigger and others are having a go with the camera and bang!

Very nice Lunch that cooked by this lady.

The horse and cart crew are full of beans and the nerves have gone. You just tell me how you can’t enjoy this. There is so much more small detail and just being with the Malian’s, well does it need noting how I enjoy this. And just down the road there is a sort of official road block, two oil barrels Painted red and white with string hung between them and the Mali flag. This I’m assuming is the passport control cos a bus is unloading it’s passengers and yep, under a tin roof are more of Mali’s biggest fellas with the AK-47’s and the boss with pistol holstered in very smart uniforms.

The sealed road starts and stops all day.

It’s lunch time and as is the Muslim law I’m invited and expected to dive in a join, all hands in the bowl but don’t forget, wash your hands! They have stamped me out in a nice little spare corner of an already mostly used passport page and I’m feeling a touch flat. Mali…. excuse the perhaps over-used travelers cliche, “People with fuck all will give you everything” and of course the reality is they probably wouldn’t mind a load of fuck all cos they don’t even have that.

Once you’ve had red there ain’t no going back they say.

I’m gonna miss those end of day moments when the ladies are wandering home with more wood and stuff on there heads, brightly colored outfits and every “bonsoir” gets a loud and smiling perhaps followed by laughing like drains “bonsoir” back.

Red dust shower no.87

The kids and I mean kids riding the Mali status symbol a motorbike or a clunky single speed (or even a fixie the other day) that’s too big and in our eyes fit for the tip, or the countless waves and thumbs out moments as they plod by on a horse and cart (and I sure as heck wouldn’t wanna be a donkey even with those beautiful eyes) but not once, as I have seen before, does it get a whack on its behind with a stick.

That’s a happy face that. But sad in 1 mile I’ll see the last of Super Mali.

Beautifully slow going here. You really have done me good Mali… You heart stealer and smiling country. The last 15miles to the border is proper dusty rattler, and who don’t like those moments. I reckon I could shit a rather nice red brick if needed and then bang… Just like that from rough as feck too smooooth with actual road marking and a BIG fancy road sign with mileage distances and stuff like that and a new Flag… Cote D’ivoire.

Just simply friendly in Mali with no catch. Just friendly. Fact.

I’m looking back longingly… But it’s a good fun border too start and much more organised. “Mr Jackson, we need to check your inoculation card and we need to inject you because of the dust”… Hmm, it’s not perfect English from my well turned out copper friend plus I’m not overly excited about having a needle stuck in me but let’s not be hasty eh Jackson?

You don’t see any signeage like this in Mali. Welcome too Cote D’Ivoire.

All will become clear. They are flicking through my yellow fever certificate and in a side office, the doc who is looking organised clean an official and a little English spoken tells me it’s Meningitis A&C. I have no idea if I’ve had this or not a no is not an option so for the princely sum of 2500cfa (about 3quid) the brand new needle and medicine and is in and out before I can say “Didier Drogba” because I’m certain he is Ivorian. Another fella who is happy too squeeze my entry stamp in the corner of a used page and bingo. It all feels rather nice here. Well that’s until some sort of Douane about 100m down the road who’s waved me over and gone ballistic just by his security barrier. I haven’t passed it, I asked where to go and then boom, he’s gone pop. 15 minutes of surely red in the face ranting in French leaves me a little annoyed. “Pardon Monsiour, Je ne pas parlez Francais”.

In the queue for my Meningitis jab at the Cote D’Ivoire border.

I’ve got Google Translate and use it too explain, but nope he’s not having it and nor am I. Anyway, it’s not the ideal start and Cote D’ivoire feels a lot more advanced, but by no means advanced, uniformed kids are heading home, didn’t see that in Mali, smarter scooters and yep cars, you don’t see much of that in Mali, oh yep and super smooth highway. The shops are Fuller, I can see dustbins and I just realized that I didn’t see Veg in Mali and the bright colors of carrots and stuff is quite stunning but that easy smile happiness has gone.. Just like that. Wow, I love a wave and smile and I also know sure as hell it’s not a god given right to get it back. Now, the small town like many is often far less friendly than the country folk as a rule.

But I’m slightly rattled. Wow, even the mud huts look far more organised and perhaps better built. Hmm if that the price of progress you can shove that where the Sun doesn’t shine. In Mali everyone equally has fuck all, perhaps that slightly more imbalanced look between have and have nots created some sorta status race. Ease that old brain, delve a little deeper into the how’s and why’s of this new country and find a little village, have a Coke and see if you can find the head man and you know what, out of town it’s a little more friendly. Breathe Jackson, one misunderstanding doesn’t make a decision on a countries people. So right now, I’ve had a coffee, found by luck an English speaker who unsurprisingly is an English teacher. He’s arranging a meet with the Village boss but can’t do it direct because he’s only been at the school here for 5 months and is still an outsider and speaks a different language. So his colleague who is from here is on his way to make that cultural bridge. I’ve asked him what’s the best thing about Cote D’Ivoire and he tells me avoid politics and be a courteous guest and all will be well. Sounds pretty straightforward to me. Still curious about what the Douane was so angry about… Hmmm.. Some things I’ll never know and who knows what sorta day he’s had, what’s going on at home or whatever. I’m too old for all that bullshit and we left shaking hands and I have heard a few times a lot of the old french colonies don’t like the English much. What I do know is Mali makes for the most enjoyable contact with great people even if we can communicate very little. Good on ya Mali and tommorow let’s see how the Ivorian’s shape up. It can only be good right?

And we’ve found the Village Headman, paid our respects and bowed a little. I’m parked bang in the middle of his Village. And a wedding is going on. Another day not without it’s challenges but that’s like any day in life…. And what a life!

Another First Class Mali day.

Waking up in last night’s tiny friendly hospital. No tent required, it’s plenty warm enough, but it seems mosquitoes are likely to become the norm now. Just the inner tent for protection needed now.
I’ve been reading this stuff off an on for quite a few years, the reality of how good we are at reading how genuine and great people are and things and the conclusion is we are garbage at this sorta stuff. Well maybe. Yep, sometimes I wonder “does this culture have a habit of smiling at your face and then planning on chopping you up in little pieces when your backs turned”.The view over the other side of the compound, I think it’s the maternity ward.
Well, apart from a little ‘nearly’ adventure at the end of the day when the sun’s dropped and the mosquitoes are on shift and I’m thinking, here we go, this is gonna make a good pub story. I’ll get back to that but for now, those scientific ladies and gents in white coats and clipboards and Bic pens in there top pocket need too come too Mali.I’m still not entirely comfortable doing anything other than full zoom shots and still they detect the camera pointed there way.
The welcome here is first class, the smiles are wide and genuine and I’d say that a wave is 99.9% guaranteed with the eyes smiling as well. And if you stop in this majority Muslim country your only likely to be killed with kindness.The first of many Teas offered and accepted today.

I’ll get my chance too shamelessly share my thoughts on why I’m here on a bicycle if they ask. So my French is poor but I’ll point too my nose “I wanna smell everything”, Then my eyes, “I wanna see everything” then my mouth for taste, ears for hearing then a thump of heart to “love everything about your country” A bit of French too tell them, the people of Mali are great, the nature is beautiful” and then point at the Sun just too balance the books with some harsh reality “The sun’s a bit hot for the white man though”.Sneaky shots again. Here is the men’s barber.
Results include countless offers of strong and sweet green Tea with the signature froth on top served in a shot sized glass that’s passed around amongst everyone, or maybe the Mc’Mali like this morning. I’m minding my own business chugging on a really too strong Rothmans in a pleasant small town trying too keep total how many beautiful African women I fallen in love with today. Easily in double figures and it’s only 9.00am. Some lads outside a shop have insisted I share a Mc’Mali Egg and Beef muffin. They have a tub of scrambled egg and what looks like minced meat.Tasty breakfast that and the cost is just a few photos with my kind hosts.
Well, it’s in a baguette and served with a big mug of ‘Liptons’ with maybe a mint flavour but confirmation isn’t certain because that’s way out of my French vocabulary range. And the cost? Nothing, no money is accepted and it comes washed down with .50litre pillow of water in a plastic that I’ve noted is fully biogradable which makes the usual solution of “chuck it over there” when you ask “where is the bin” a less guilty moment. Yep, when the question tries slipping in my mind “Hmm, how many years to degrade?” I know there ain’t a hope in hell of answering that as it flutters down the round having given up fighting today’s headwind.Annoying but I’ve checked tomorrows forecast. It should be assistance from mother nature, IF my nearly genuine brave hero moment from earlier doesn’t escalate into an international incident tomorrow morning. It won’t of course. I’m off the main highway for half the day, but it’s a highway that looks in the process of becoming a main one. Large long sections are in the process of being turned into a really rather nice sealed road with occasional tiny villages, most of which appear to be built with perhaps mud bricks that can be seen laying out in the sun ready to be turned into a hut with either a sort of straw or corrugated steel roof.Bricks and corrugated roofs.The friendliness continues albeit a little more reserved and when a quite large town appears at dusk with this new highway still being in the process of being updated. The huge red rutted scar that runs through the middle of town is bicycle component breaking standard and despite being shown as a two or three street town is far bigger and feels a bit edgy as a result.I’ve found a small compound that doesn’t feel entirely comfortable too pitch my tent but having negotiated a space for the night under a large mango tree, I’ve told my hosts I’ll pop down the shop and grab some supplies. Here I’m met by two gigantic man mountains in camouflage toting AK47. They don’t seem that friendly, wanna see my passport and insist “For your security” to follow them too the police station, a very dilapidated one at that where I’m taken too the commander. He’s taking plenty of time checking my passport, wants to know where I’m going and where I’ve been. I’m a little confused because the police have not paid the slightest bit of interest in me at all in Mali.Plenty of dust on this half built highway and some typical impressive African balancing acts going on.
Halfway through as darkness has arrived he has indicated I must wait for his return from evening prayer. He doesn’t return but maybe 1hr later after some more what seems like ‘for show’ passport checking and photo checking. It’s become much more relaxed and I have no choice but to follow a colleague too a hotel just down the road. It’s only 7500cfa, typical basic Africa standard. Tired but clean and of course the Malian’s are back too reserved friendliness. The police want me to come see them again in the morning. My guess is they can’t quite work out what a cyclist is doing here and want to be sure I’ll be heading the 50 miles south to the Ivory Coast tommorow.And yet more photo requests. Perhaps I can start pointing my camera a bit more, the fella on the left is a nurse.After an hour whilst my pasta is boiling away nicely a knock on my room door from fella who took my cash reveals two ladies with him. A lack of shared language leaves me a little confused but fairly certain this is an offer of prostitutes. It’s all plenty friendly but really not a great plan and anyway, I’m covered in a thick layer of rich red African dust.Afternoon tea-break #4
Perhaps the police recognized a shower really is needed. Whatever it is, I can confirm just by the huge number of very friendly Malian’s today, I don’t need any particular skills too guess if these people are friendly for real or not. It’s very clear indeed that they are. Really finding Mali is a very special place although when you look at the size of this huge country, I’ve hardly scratched the surface. Oh yes and it even tried to rain today. Not see rain since the High Atlas in Morocco 😀 Just a tiny few spots though. Lucky really would have been mucky in the dusty bits and blimey, just notice I have a puncture. Not had one of them since France! And all of this being done in the dark of my room because we don’t have any power but that bucket shower was ace!Look hard and you can just make out the spots of rain.Thats no Sun tan by the way😀

Mali the Rollercoaster that almost threw me off.

First impressions of Mali are very impressive. Miles and miles of large hills and valleys and I’m wondering if some climbing is on the cards. It’s been flat for weeks and weeks.

What a week. WHAT a week. Africa and in this case specifically Mali continues to be a great adventure full of everything you just don’t expect. Rewind 6 days ago, at about 6pm just about 1hr before the sun sets, trouble has arrived, big trouble and not the way I would have imagined, not in this country that clearly has security problems. First impressions are that there a both plenty of mines and as of yet unseen westerners here working those mines, probably Gold Mines and the gate security is minimal, almost token and no weapons on view.Mother nature at her absolute finest, how, why…? Wow!

The first tiny Town is full of Africans that mainly wear mine uniforms and breakfast is some sort of…hmmm, they speak french here but it seems a bit like… Semolina with some veg on top. It’s not a taste to delight or upset the taste buds either but it’s just 500cfa (very cheap) and a big enough portion to feel full. It’s not the confident friendliness of the Senegalese or Gambian’s but it’s friendly enough with no shared language plus a likely tough day ahead for these workers, but feeling entirely comfortable is the order of the day.This landscape deserves a better camera man.
Yep, they also have small white baguettes here which are likely devoid of any nutrition and in the 40c plus heat will dry out as fast as hell but alongside pasta and sauce for dinner, honey or a sort of chocolate spread will give them enough kapow for cyclists. All systems are go. But the curse of another full on headwind and legs and mind that really are at the limit, in fact probably past it have been dealt the biggest blow.Water. There isn’t much life shown on the map for perhaps 150 miles with occasional villages dotted along the way. The tiny shops have everything but water or any liquid. It’s dry as hell here and I don’t have enough french to ask if they have water in those sorta 10litre tubs that have been balanced on heads and walked for miles from who knows where. I’m not fussed where it comes from, but I don’t even know if they have enough to share. It does not look in any shape or form an easy life out here. I can’t see any evidence of farming, just occasional shepherds I suppose you would call them, with goats or cows.Leaving Bamako (Mali’s capital) this morning with Gerard through a typical edge of an African city scene.
I’m done, sharing a 1.5 litre bottle of water with a couple of African’s along the road (how can I possibly say no) leaves me with just one red hot bottle myself and sipping and swilling in the mouth is the order of the day. Shades at a premium with the sun high in the sky as is any sort of positive thought from me. Somewhere around 2pm and about 47 miles, a stop for buses and trucks gives me what I need, energy drink, cola and 4 1/2 litres of water and the opportunity too ignore what is looking more and more likely. I’m ready too give up, but that’s not in a touring Cyclist mentality. But back to the start of this blog at 6pm and with just 12 more miles grovelled since the truck stop in 4 hrs and my wet sweat soaked socks causing blisters, the decision to turn around is made. I’ve been broken by the last week’s exertions. Get back too that ‘truck/bus stop’ and sleep there, get some water and cycle (or hitch) with a friendly tailwind back too Gambia.Local knowledge from my Warm Shower host takes us parallel with the main highway. Very peaceful out here.
The truck spot crew have given me a place too lay my mat and I’m accepting I’ve been beaten by Africa. BUT this is Africa and amongst the fumes and constant noise and people wandering around in the chaos, it’s an entirely comfortable feeling and then the Drums and chanting start getting faster and faster and the chanting getting more, let’s say perhaps frantic somewhere just over behind those beautiful round huts. The atmosphere is electric…Do I want to leave Africa now? Not a chance, but I know the reality, I’ve seen more than most, enjoy that fact, you’ve had a great run for your money Jason. Be grateful and accept a new chapter in your life is coming.Even the very edge of Bamako is wonderfully busy, and makes you feel alive, if a little choked by fumes…

But with a perfect nights sleep at 6am with that strangely chilly, wind-less pre-sunrise moment, indecision has arrived. And ultimately, I’ve decided, no regrets lucky legs, continue this journey. It would have been quite a sight for the Africans this morning because on several occasions I’ve ridden around in circles on the highway… “Do it, No Don’t Do it, Do it” and so on. Continue this journey is the winner though, only just, but at 12 miles covered at just the point where I turned around yesterday, the inevitable has arrived along with the heat and headwind. My thumbs out and I’m praying for a lift too Bamako. It’s easy and the 200 mile trip in the back of a pick-up truck leaves me on the edge of this unattractive capital and just 8 miles to cycle too the United Nations worker who has already agreed too host me as a warm shower host. “Stay as long as you like Jason” he tells me, gives me a key to his house and heads off too work at the UN mission HQ. He’s a tech guy, heading up the systems that gives the UN peacekeepers up in the Desert an early warning of incoming mortars or Rockets. “It might take a few days to get your Ghana Visa here” he tells me. But right now, doing nothing is all I want to do. And when he gets home that night i’ve decided too pack my bike in a box and fly too Casablanca and wait for the British summer too arrive.We have been following the electricity pylons south although we are not convinced there is any power here. They don’t make the throbbing sound of power running through them.

Gerard is a smashing fella, and we’ve eaten pizza, Pork Chops (flown in with the UN, it’s majority Muslim here), I’ve been invited too the UN compound for a BBQ with French, Romanian and Middle east contractors, also tech guys and girls who do 6 weeks on and 6 weeks and are not even allowed to leave the compound in this time….The hills that kept me company 6 days back have gone and so have the huge potholes and I think it’s getting greener slowly.

What an experience and the four days of relaxing, talking to my friends and having a long first class Skype with my daughter leaves me inspired, re-charged and ready too head south towards Cote D’ivoire away from 40c temps and into the coooler but more tropical climate. What an enjoyable day, firstly with Gerard cycling south for 20 miles with me, it’s only 35c and the wind which should gradually calm down is a side wind…. I’m delighted too be back cycling Africa and as a Dutch lady who runs a B&B in Bamako told me when I asked “Why on Earth do you stay in this filthy chaotic city?”…. “Freedom” she tells me.These African ladies….♥️♥️♥️ Strong, Fun and Beautiful. This is the Maternity crew and patients and a fairly new addition.

She’s a huge West Africa fan and in particular adores the desert (At this stage I’ve confessed I’m deeply in love with her) another doer…. who explains there is no freedom like this in Europe and she’s right. Tonight I’m in a ‘Hospital’ a very small one 75 miles south of Bamako, in fact more specifically a Maternity hospital if that’s the right word with my mat laid outside and all I need to do now is totally admire the constant friendliness of the Malian’s for who life is getting harder by the day (although water is much easier too find now) as the population grows, the Sahara relentlessly creeps south, water becomes more scarce and quality of life (if it’s possible) reduces further in one of the world’s poorest countries and the terrorist threat gets closer. Thank you too the patients, Nurses and babies here who stole my heart, with there unwavering kindness, and constant deep belly laughing. It’s great too be back, and Gerard, my United Nations friend, thank you for everything you’ve done too put this old fella back on the road and as ever, no man’s an Island, thanks to my friends and Family for listening too my really quite unimportant first world decision. I love you Africa and Mali, very very much! What a life……Welcome to just 10% of this awesome rollercoaster.

And guess what the Drums have started C’mon… C’MON!!!

And I should note I’m restocked with 6 bottles of Pasta sauce and 2kg of pasta and even some Scotch porridge oats for breakfast.

I think thats an adjustment

Africa… Africaaaa or more to the point Senegal and Mali. About 10 miles inside the Mali border, 9pm and after dark a Mine (probably a Gold mine) security crew have Ok’d me putting my tent outside and although I’ve got all the bits and pieces I need Mohammed from Ghana who has given me a nice little taste of what’s ahead, ie perfect English and great hospitality (“do you need any food Jackson?”) in just two countries time has insisted I share the ice cool water from the fridge in his Articulated truck. He’s made the 2000 mile trip from Ghana to deliver something here although we don’t know what and is waiting until morning to tip his load. To be honest I’ve been a tad nervous about Mali, not that I haven’t done my research about the reality of the safety situation and even though I’m in a “Essential Travel only” part of the country, the same as half of Mauritania or much of Western Sahara for example, it’s nice to hear his thoughts. “We are told the North of Mali is the dangerous bit” he says and just like parts of Western Sahara and Mauritania that’s the “Do not travel” bit. It’s a shame because it had iconic names like Timbuktu and the Dogon people. Yep, it feels just fine down here as also discussed with a UN fella in Bamako, some troops who are on the ground fighting the bad guys are in the North and a few overlanders and Cyclists who’ve been this way recently have reported favourably.

“Blimey, you don’t see many of you round here”.

And my very favorite moment earlier today about 20 miles from the border when you can’t help but say out loud “Blimey, you don’t see many of you round here” because in a small town shop at an energy drink, biscuits, water, spaghetti and fags top up, right there in front of me is Susan from the Peace Corps (American and White) who is helping the people of a little village some 8km just down that lovely dark red dusty road with methods of improving what they are eating and growing and stuff. She’s one year Into a 2 year posting where she lives as the only European. 25 years old and not just talking the talk but walking the walk. And I could have talked at her for hours because firstly, my first impressions are she’s very nice, secondly it’s a right treat to speak a shared language and third and finally I’ve got questions. “How is it and hows life here, because it sure looks like Carnage a lot of the time but people seem genuinely happy amongst this life, they laugh a lot and don’t seem too hungry”. It’s a question that needs more time (but it’s 3-30pm and I wanna get the border shenanigans done so I can crack on tommorow and it’s still 30 miles to go and the winds gone a bit headwind) but she tells me “people are happy and they value family more than money and if they have a bit to spare they share”. And I wanna know, “How successful are you and how do you measure that success?” She’s pretty honest that it’s hard too measure and she may never see that success if and when it occurs, but the villagers keep asking her for ideas and tips so she ain’t forcing unwelcome ideas. And “do you feel lonely at all”? Well firstly she’s got Mandinka (which I think is spelt right but my new Mali SIM ain’t playing ball) the local language down nicely and she says “comms are good but we are also different people for sure from different worlds”. Yep, no sugar coating bullshit but someone who’s clearly enjoying what she’s doing and you can see the locals like her as well. And of course I want her opinion of being down South in Mali and although she’s not been, she tells me “Lots of my Village are from Mali and they make the trip with no stress”. Yep, a few days fighting the cruel heat and seasonal bastard headwind may have left the old brain whizzing around too much and just a nice chat puts me at peace. I can only have a little chuckle because the day before at just 20 miles covered in the glorious calm before the battle part of the day and the weather has given this old fella little shake, the park rangers at the edge of a national park have said, “nope, you ain’t riding riding this next 65miles in case a Lion takes a fancy”. Getting a lift in a Truck through the National park.

Normally in this sort of situation I’ll go with the the gentle persuasion, drop in stories of my previous exploits and extreme bravery (what a load of bullshit) and then if needed work my way up too the “Well I’m going anyway and what you gonna do about it?” and see how they react to that, but I’m pleased, I’m shot, mentally and physically and surrender gracefully. All we gotta do know is find a vehicle with space and one of those old Renault trucks with the sort of bouncy cab from back in the day appears with an empty sorta tipper trailer and I’m sorted. All I need to do is jump in the trailer and put the Black Flash and my bags just how I like it. They don’t think it’s a good plan but I’m insistent and give them a good laugh when I go arse over tit and do a classic Torvill and Dean because the floors covered in some sort of oil. Yep, Susan also told me the Senegalese have a great sense of humour. Anyway, I’ve jumped in the bouncy and quite comfortable cab of the truck and tried too find out what the really quite good music is. Mohamed (not the Ghana one) has sort of explained (in French) it’s some sort of religious bloke from Touba (of the Touba coffee fame) it’s Islamic and in that sorta drums and dramatic almost aggressive African sorta style, it’s got me thinking, I guess if I put The Prodigy “Firestarter” on and you didn’t understand the lingo it might get that same impression. Attention aux Animaux Sauvages.

Yep, no sight of Lions or any of the very cool animals on the signs along the way but a nice time and when I get dropped off, I’ve done the maths.

The river by the Hippo Lodge. The Hippo never turned up.

With my cycled 20miles and the 65miles driven I’ve reached my target for the day and a sign for “The Hippo Lodge” on the Gambia River (in Senegal) and a bit of logical thinking because at 2pm the 40c zone and headwind has arrived and I’m still working out “can I manage the 95 miles to the border tomorrow then manage the 320miles from the border too my UN mate in Bamako (capital of Mali)in 3 days cos I’m still feeling a little Mali nerves. No Hippo but some of the most amazing colour birds I ever saw.

The logical part of my brain says “Relax and eat two square meals then crack on tomorrow with fresh legs and attitude. So the Hippo took a day off but it’s lovely knowing she’s nearby somewhere and a Lunch and evening meal of Beef and a sort of onion/spicy sauce. 10/10 for that one means I’m kinda ready for todays 7am pack up in the dark start. Early Morning Senegal. Beautiful.

Positive I ain’t but it’s only 25 miles too a big town and the dream of some Senegalese Fast food (on rolling roads, gulp, rolling hasn’t been done for weeks/months) but after a nescafe stop in one of those super cool huts with water boiling over a pot (not big enough too chuck in  white fella) and the super African friendly people at half way I’ve realised there is no wind… No head wind…. Yaay!Oh Africa, I’m not always entirely sure why but you have my heart.

And in town is my favorite Senegalese petrol station chain and I’ve scoffed two Schwarma Royal avec Ouef and let me tell you, I’m back in love with Africa BIG time and I don’t even feel the need to race too Bamako, although I probably will♥️

I’m gonna have to accept the challenge. It’s mad to think not so far North of here in Nouakchott I woke up shivering in a 0c Sahara morning. This weather change has come pretty fast.