West Africa Bike Ride. This was a part of the world we loved, a favourite after India for real adventures, and the obvious next destination for a long distance cycle tour.
The perception of this region by people of Europe and America is just so negative, wrongly writing it off as a place of wars, unsafe travel and robbery. This is based on no facts, just a lack of knowledge about the individual countries that are rarely visited by these people, and confusion about troubles from way back, or things that have happened in different countries. This fear of the unknown and the associated that it is all bad, is the rot that is spreading through the insular West.
We had caught some of this negativity and felt frightened about our journey ahead. The continual bombardment of comments before we left; “is it safe” “that’s a war zone isn’t it?” “You will get robbed” or worse “kidnapped “ “won’t see you again”, “ are they Muslims?” all took it’s toll, knocked our confidence and made us doubt our choice of destination. We lay awake many nights worrying is this foolish? Are we being unfair on our families and friends.
The trip was well researched and our route flexible. We hoped our journey ahead would bring tales of lovely kind people, interesting cultures and great adventures, that deep down we knew were out there, and not the dark view of the West.
Now we are in Benin after our 2500 mile journey through this land of vibrant varied warm people, we think back on all our wonderful memories of a truly great trip:
Crossing the Cassamance, dropping in on a funeral party and sharing their boat back to a village on an island.
Crossing the Mangroves of the Cassamance by dugout canoe, one for us and one for the bike.
Following small paths through isolated forest across the border with Guinea.
Crossing the sparsely populated, harsh barren landscape as we headed to the Highlands of Guinea.
Camping in Mamoudou’s garden, such a kindly man and we enjoyed helping him water his young trees that his grand children would grow up to appreciate.
Following rivers through jungle to find little known waterfalls in the Guinea Highlands.
All the pump and well stops, where we were included in the social and helpful aspect of water collection
The lovely Betu, who welcomed us with such kindness when we camped to the side of her house in Sierra Leone.
Everyday the children that run along with us, laugh and call out, and the schools that erupt with joy as we cycle by.
Looking for lianas, vine bridges in the jungle.
Colourful vibrant markets with all the bustle of life going on. Heaps of colourful fruit, spices and knarly yams.
All the villages, where we have passed through people’s lives, the greetings, the broad smiles, and friendly waves.
Coffee shacks of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, great places to recharge and chat.
Crossing lake Volta in Ghana, with these lovely ladies, thinking back to the adventures we had here with Becky and Katy 15 years ago.
Visiting the Rolley tribal village, Benin, that we knew so well thirty five years ago, and that they still remembered us, bringing out old photos.
It’s been a moving trip, meeting generous kind people that have let us pass through their land, welcoming us all the way, and offering us places to stay and rest. It has never felt unsafe or threatening, just the opposite, people really look out and help each other. Above all it’s a really relaxed place to travel and we have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Distance cycled 2621 miles.
9 countries: Gambia, Senegal. Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin.
Punctures: lost count, more than 10.
Bike Repairs: chain snapped three times, changed brake pads, lost bottom bracket bolt.
Worst roads: Guinea
Food: not great in west Africa, needed to cook a lot.
Checkpoints and Police: the horror stories that we heard never became a reality. All straight forward and we wondered if this is something that has improved a lot in recent years. The only nuisance officials were drunk ones in Sierra Leone.
Sleeping: Hotels most of the time, but it is very easy to camp in villages too.
Driving: generally pretty good and courteous. There just isn’t much traffic even on main roads connecting larger towns, so it’s pretty quiet.
Border Crossings: all very straightforward and friendly. The only slight ‘fishing’ for irregularities was leaving Sierra Leone.
Bribery and Corruption: we never had to pay any bribes at borders or checkpoints. Others we think did in some countries, but generally there seemed to be a move away from this with quite a bit of transparency and publicity against corruption. Most of the governments seem to be pretty progressive and are attempting to tackle this issue.