Hello Sand … I mean Senegal!

We arrived to Dakar, Senegal in the night, with hopes that our host, Alex, would be there to greet us. He wasn’t, but a whole gang of local Senegalese sure were! We had guys helping with our bags, our trollies, getting us phones, trying to solve our problem- of where to go at 10pm at night in a new country without any language ability!

Eventually we got in a taxi to Alex’s house with a driver and one fellow to give directions, however, it became clear neither knew where to go and after many dashes into alleyways and stops at shops to ask directions … we reached Alex’s assistant, Mr. Tall by mobile close to midnight… and found our way!

Alex, his entire office at Bassari Resources and Joszef became a tremendous support the next couple days!! Providing a roof, delicious local cuisine, a car to get into and out of the far north of Senegal, and most importantly trusted advice and friendship!

During late nights at the Terrasse D’ Anvers we learned a lot about the good things miners do. I guess I never thought about it, and am often exposed to media (that I must seek out) that only discusses mining’s negatives. But, every industry is comprised of people, and it is the good people do that make differences, and I am fortunate enough to be exposed to the good of miners. These gentlemen have initiated agriculture projects, provided education for village children, seek out and invest in alternative and renewable energy sources, drill wells for the communities near sites, ensure no ill becomes of the natural water-stream or vegetation, pay locals fairly and inspire entrepreneurship, plus have a passion and affection for the local population in which they work that is unparalleled. I’m glad to have met them and am thankful for the insightful advice given and the great tales of adventure told!

After a full day getting supplies and our visas for Mauritania, meeting with WiserEarth and the solid group of miners we headed out to a world class organic cotton production farm. Follow this link to learn more about the farm here.

I love this story, a quick peek (1min video) here. Essentially what happened is a group of farmers in Koussanar said, ‘hey, lets stop using pesticides and chemicals because our animals are dying and our people are sick’ … so they move to organic, become accredited and begin selling organic raw cotton to European countries …. after a little investigation, they find out that their cotton is being mixed with other cotton and made into products sold at a greater profit then they are receiving margin. So they say, ‘whoa … that’s not cool. We can do all that production stuff here, at home!’ And that’s just what they did. They now have a democratic cooperative spanning 7 village areas that employ over 2,000 villagers to not just pick, but also spin, weave, naturally dye, and take pride in beautiful finished organic cotton products. Beautiful story of empowerment and success. I was treated to a splendid rich navy blue piece that was tied around my waste in traditional ceremonial fashion – for a wedding! The village women had a good hoot over how fat I looked and we all had a small song and dance!

This story was told through a communication chain, as there are 36 local dialects in Senegal, in this area the language was Wolof which someone translated to someone that knew French (the official language), which they then translated to English for us … a bit of a challenge, but achievable.

After 14 hours of driving and up to 40 degrees Celsius from our trip to Senegal’s center-east, we returned to West Africa’s gate, Dakar. Sprawling and diverse, Nic and I noticed that everywhere houses are being built and learned that people invest in ‘bricks rather then banks’, love that expression. Another thing that we noticed was the runners! At dawn and dusk they flooded the streets and blurred the coast line, all sizes, all strides, all outfits, running! Reminded me of Born to Run‘s manta … there is purpose in athletics.

All this hobnobn’ one might forget that we are on a cycling adventure! Well, three days later we headed out on our bikes and have ridden, now wind-burnt and sandier, some 260km to St.Louis, which boarders Mauritania.

Two and half days … into a strong headwind, everywhere sand. I’m not sure what Nic and I were expecting, but, no there was no wifi, or supermarkets … we basically spent all day riding, being cheered by children as we passed through villages and asked for money from children when we passed through bigger towns … riding, riding, cooking, sleeping (sneakily) in the sand. We were careful though and made sure that we slept not where we ate … so after cooking, would pack up and ride again until a bush or tree was found that might somewhat hide us.

I think that as we venture north tomorrow, we are headed into less wifi opportunity, with more wind and sand. At least we are prepared a little more now (mentally) its not easy. But, I feel, it’s the good healthy challenging cycling that we need to make us strong for the whole year ahead. I guess Nic didn’t plan on a 16 km hour average though.

Another thing, I did not realize would be so difficult is language. Our limited vocabulary and hand jesters get us so far … but I wonder how much deeper we could go with the tools of language. Nic, can you learn French please?

Another thing I wonder about is the plastic bags. Plastic in general and specifically these black plastic bags are more ubiquitous then anything else, save the sand. Kate, was this the same when you cycled through a couple years ago? I wonder what happened. Rural and urban, from the airport to Koussanar, and from Dakar to St. Louis, the roadside and as far as I can see (save some groomed villages) is a sea of plastic and little black plastic bags stuck to thorns and bushes, blowing in the wind. They almost look alive, bird like. Where have they all come from, Dakar someone advises me, but why, and where will they go?

Something for you to think about as Nic and I gear up and head out tomorrow. Hope to be in touch soon! We have checked into the local police station and will alert the Canadian embassy of our passage into and through Mauritania, and most importantly you can follow us live on TrackLeaders!

Until soon, be well! xxK