On the tracks of Serigne Touba

After saying goodbye to the people from the Thiagar rice company who helped me, I finish the last 4 km of piste to find the asphalt again in Rosso Senegal. It is the town facing Rosso Mauritania, and where the main traffic between the 2 countries happens, as trucks are forbidden to cross at Diama.

 


 

I find one shopkeeper selling the Expresso SIM card, so the shortage must be limited to Saint-Louis. But since there is an official Expresso shop in Richard Toll, 10 kilometers further, I will wait until there to get it with the parameters and instructions, which will save me time. For the time being, since I am close to the border post, I pay a visit to see if there is as much trouble as it is often described.

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Rosso border from Senegal

 

But to my surprise, there is not too much hassle. One boat is coming from Mauritania and people are waiting with SIM cards and currency exchange. A bit further, other smaller boats do the shuttle with fruits. I continue on the road until Richard Toll, a town of 50’000 near Rosso. The road is bordered with the usual sights: workers in rice field, people spreading fertilizers, families in wooden huts, topless ladies bathing in the irrigation canals, a baby varan, vendors of stuff, … until I spot a huge factory.

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The CSS sugar factory of Richard Toll

 

The sugar company (owned by a French billionaire (resident of Switzerland)) is one of the biggest companies in Senegal. The whole area around Richard Toll is a landscape of dried sugar canes.

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Richard Toll

 

I break another spoke in the city, quickly changed, realize that the Expresso office no longer exists, have a quick lunch of thieboudienne (fish and rice, the flagship dish of Senegal), and head for more piste. I am told it is a bad one, but give it a try to see what “bad piste” means here.

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80 km of piste until Keur Momar Sarr

 

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The piste goes well until Mbane, although I have to cycle on the side to avoid the nightmare of the corrugated iron. But after Mbane, as I was told, the quality drops. There are sandy areas. Luckily I don’t have to push for more than 20 meters at once. There are no cars passing this way, the predominant mean of transport is the donkey cart.

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Women coming back from the fields to the village

 

I stop at a village when the sun is about to set. I was instructed to always ask the permission of the chief of the village before camping, so I am directed to his house. His son Pape speaks French and after a dinner of Senegalese couscous, I am given the central place to build my tent. All the villagers work in the fields, for peanuts, eggplants, onions, but not rice due to the unsuitable soil. Some kids can barely walk but they are dancing already. Families are huge and people take it as joke if I ask how many brothers they have.

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The night is noisy with goats and chicken being at the same spot where people sleep. And short, with the ladies sweeping the sand from 6 am.

 


 

The next day is the continuation on the sandy piste. It is very hot, it feels hotter than in the desert. People begging for things do it from the shade of their tree, while others tell me to take a rest when the sun is too hard. But if I want to avoid the sun and indecent temperatures, I’d have to hide from 12 to 6 pm.

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One man has a problem with the axle of his cart. He lost all the balls of the ball bearing on one wheel and is trying to repair it with little stones. But it works only for 10 meters before the wheel falls again. We “repair” it with bits of strings blocking the wheel inside and it works a bit longer, but in the end he has to carry the cart on one side until his village. That gives me the opportunity to make a break and refill my bottles.

I was purifying the water with Micropur in the beginning, but I am starting to drink the water straight, whether it comes from a tap or a bucket. Some say it’s good water, some don’t say anything, but with the amount I drink I get lazy of cleaning it all the time.

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Cooking break watching cows

 

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The asphalt comes back in Keur Momar Sarr and I keep stopping in each village to buy a cold drink, refill my bottles, and rest a bit in the shade.

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After passing Niomré, it’s time for a camp spot hunting. There are animals and houses a bit everywhere, so instead of pushing my bike in the sand for hundred of meters to end up on someone’s property, I ask again in a village to the chief.

I can stay there among the houses of the chief’s family and his 4 wives. He worked in France for almost 20 years. Everybody in the village, around 150, has the same name because it’s simply the same family. Despite being close to Louga, the capital of the region, this village has no electricity and no water. That’s a good point for Nokia whose old phones lasting one or two weeks on the same battery are still popular. The electrification of over 400 villages of the region is being done by a Moroccan company.

I see here in the toilets the biggest cockroaches I’ve ever seen, and smaller ones (but in the water jar I was drinking from), as well as, in the sky this time, Polaris and the Southern Cross at the same time.

 

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I counted that I drank more than 10 liters of liquids this day. And I’ve seen very little of it going out of my body. The heat is terrible, and my cycling is nothing compared to people who will be working in the fields in a few months during Ramadan.

 


 

The next day I pass through Louga. I meet someone from Dôle, which makes Franche-Comté very international after the doctor in Djoudj told me about his friend from … Pontarlier. I leave my bike for a while to walk and do some shopping in the relatively big town.

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Barbers are initiating a competition of ugly drawings

 

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Louga is on the main axis to Dakar, but I pick a road away from it and head through the heat to the interior again towards Linguere.

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I stop in the petrol station after only 20 km for a fresh drink. The people working there are eating and invite me to join them. When people talk about teranga, the Senegalese hospitality, I can’t find a better example than food. It seems everybody share their food. Every day around lunchtime (2 pm), the people eating by the road are systematically asking me to join them when they see me cycling. Food is cooked in large quantity often in a big metallic pot that can take 5 to 10 people eating in it. It’s always rice, and very often with fish (thieboudienne). It doesn’t change much if one more mouth comes around the rice, but every time I’m surprised to be invited by people who just saw me.

We also talk for a long time and I learn about Touba, a religiously important place that I can reach tomorrow, and I add it to my empty flexible route plan.

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A mosque near Ndiagne

 

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Alarm for camping

 

In order to get some time alone, which is in the end rather hard to get, I decide to camp by myself instead of asking in a village, where I’ll be surely very welcome and well treated. I just signal myself to the neighbors as their cows and goats are grazing. The wind blowing in my neck is so warm I mistake it for the sun. It is this warm until the middle of the night when I close the tent and put something on me.

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I wake up to the songs of the villagers taking the animals out. Some come to see me folding my tent and ask a few questions. I find people are much nicer in the villages, unfamiliar with White people, than in the towns. Yet I am asked to take one of the babies with me as if I was about to fly to France.

I finished my water and my food that doesn’t require cooking, so I need to cycle a bit to refill.

 


 

The next decent town is Darou Mousti, and here I can find the Expresso SIM card! Except the one re-seller at Rosso, no one had it in the whole north of Senegal. Of course this one comes also from the black market and is pricier than it should be, but considering the situation, it feels like a miracle. Of course, the automatic configuration doesn’t work and I spend one hour trying different access points until I guess the right one that will work.

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The mosque of Darou Mousti

 

I am heading to Touba, the holy city founded by Cheikh Amadou Bamba. Gendarmes stop me on the road for a chat and to remind me that Touba is a non-smoking and non-drinking area.

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Entering Touba

 

Touba is a city that had only 5000 inhabitants in 1964 and over 500’000 in 2007. Today, people say it is bigger than Dakar, with 2 or 3 millions, but it still feels like a big village. The founder Serigne Touba is buried in the mosque, one of the largest of Africa, easily identifiable by the 87 m high central minaret, called the Lamp Fall. He founded the Mouridism brotherhood of Islam, which cannot be ignored while travelling in Senegal considering the huge influence it has. Despite being persecuted and exiled by the French during the French West Africa times, Serigne Touba survived and drawings of him, based on the only photo available, are visible everywhere.

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The Lamp Fall of the Touba mosque

 

The tap water in Louga is said to be salty. The shopkeeper who invites me for lunch even says the citizens buy the bottled water when they can. But it tastes fine for me, after all I have drank from all taps and buckets available on my way. I still didn’t get sick l’hamdulillah, maybe I have many little worms living inside me.

 

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I leave Touba in the late afternoon. Being squeezed with my bicycle in between two donkey carts – those things have a slow reaction to turning and stopping – makes me quickly wanting to escape the mess of the city center and omnipresent markets. I am heading to Thiès, on the way to Dakar, in an attempt to trade some degrees against mosquitoes by getting closer to the coast.

It is almost night when I stop near a village to put up my tent. But the chief says I must ask permission to someone else, in the neighboring village. That’s how, accompanied by a delegation, I end up in the Dalla Ngabou communal office where I am allowed to stay. According to a sign in the front of it, the building was made by the Belgian cooperation, but I doubt they’d be happy to learn it is not very well maintained. The toilets/shower is invaded by very big ants, so I am very careful while showering but it feels so good to be clean and fresh.

When I look for a boutique in the village at night, my two hosts tell me it’s straight ahead. So I walk until the public lamp, one of the two that the villages has. Under it, a group of 20 kids are playing. But when I emerge from the darkness, one of the kids points at me shouting “Toubab!“, with the same facial expression of Scooby Doo seeing a ghost. Then he ran into a house courtyard followed by half of the kids. That’s a much funnier welcome than the usual “Toubab! Cadeau!” (“White! Present!“). So they got scared for seconds, but when I say I am looking for the boutique, they all walk along with me through the dark alleys of the village asking questions and showing their little English. That’s for me a much more natural behavior than the begging one, but such kids behaving like kids are quite rare.

Back to the communal building, the office rooms are like a sauna, even at night. As a result, the chief, the guard and myself, are putting mattresses outside to sleep without sweating.