After almost 3 months in Morocco, cycling across the Sahara and a bit of wandering in the hot interior of Senegal, I settled near Dakar, in Mboro, where I could spend a lot of time on my laptop compiling the videos taken since France. I am uploading them little by little as the Vimeo quotas allow me.
We went also for a trip around Dakar and in Cape Verde / Cabo Verde / Cap Vert, this archipelago 500 km off the African coast in the Atlantic ocean. I didn’t know much about it, apart from that they created the surprise passing the first round of games at the African Cup of Nations in South Africa earlier this year.
Flying less than an hour away from Dakar brings us to Praia, the capital city on one of the 10 islands of Cabo Verde. The Portuguese have used them for centuries during the slave trade as a strategic location between Africa and the Americas. Nowadays, it produces not much (wine), most of people working in the service industry, and attracts tourists with many direct flights from Europe. By the way, it seems to me closer in terms of infrastructure, habits, prices, to Europe than Sub-Saharian Africa. Well, obviously, to the south of Europe. I’ve never been to Brazil but it’s also close to how I imagine it.
As a contrast to the pleasant mess of Dakar, Praia seems to have a much higher quality of life, delicious pastries (in shops with opening hours and air conditioning), not many old cars, and lots of imported products, in majority from Portugal. We tried eating the moray eel, the fruit of the cashew tree (where the nut interestingly hangs outside and below the fruit) and took the local equivalent of the bush taxis. Those work strangely: instead of waiting in the garage or taxi park to fill up with passengers and leave, they roam around in town for one or two hours shouting the name of the destination and picking up people (with lots of arguing necessary) on the streets. In Senegal where the topic of the petrol price is trendy, this would never happen.
In Dakar, I’ve tried the world’s most disgusting coffee (a bad café touba with large spoons of powder milk), a sandwich of beef, potatoes and spaghetti, taken a taxi where all the dashboard warning lights were on (as during the start-up, but permanently), visited the westernmost point of (continental) Africa in Almadies, and noticed that the shirt of Messi, that half of the kids used to wear, is less popular since Barcelona left the Champion’s League (I even spotted a Dortmund shirt)(the Marseille one is not uncommon too).
Dakar is a huge city but I liked it. The Senegalese there are nice for an impersonal capital, and taxis running everywhere make travelling cheap and easy (2 to 4 € for a ride across town). I made an “embassy run” as Senegal is the last country that I can enter without a visa until Namibia. It started with Ivory Coast where everything went fine: the short conversation began with:
“– So … you need an invitation letter and accomodation reservation
– Hum … I’m actually cycling and camping and I don’t have those
– Ah OK, then just a picture will do. We had already 3 cyclists applying for a visa here.”
One day waiting and 90 € later, I receive a 3-month visa starting from the date I want. I then optimistically visited the Sierra Leone embassy, where I was told I need to purchase, on the top of the 80 € visa fee by bank transfer, an “insurance for my bicycle” of 90 € to be paid cash to someone in the embassy … hmm hmm, that doesn’t sound right. My refusal got me a “then please come back in 10 days“.
At that point, I thought I would skip this corrupt embassy and get the visa in another capital. My route is taking me through Banjul (The Gambia), Bissau (Guinea-Bissau), Conakry (Guinea), Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Monrovia (Liberia), so by asking visas earlier than in the last capital, it leaves me several options in case something doesn’t work well. But at my return from Cabo Verde, I thought I would give it another try, motivated by the fact I had written and gathered the application documents and I didn’t want to waste them. They asked me several times to “come back later” with different excuses, and at my last try (the Sierra Leone embassy is in the Plateau, the historical center of Dakar constantly jammed, and it’s not fun to reach), I got it finally on the spot: 2 months starting from the day of application. It feels like a victory to get this visa, even if basically, I just gave a big amount of money to obtain the right to enter a country where I’ll struggle to cycle the roads.
On the same day, I attempted to get the Liberian one. It was a challenge to manage to cross Dakar twice on jam roads with one passport and to meet two ambassadors, but it worked: the lady at the Liberian embassy in Sacré-Coeur III was very nice and gave me a 3-month visa starting from the day of application. The atmosphere in the embassy building was nice too (I met another cyclist) and it helped to forget that I had just paid out 135 € for a visa.
Near Dakar, we also visited the Lac Rose, a pink lake just behind the dunes along the coast used for harvesting salt. The salt concentration is higher than in the Dead Sea and it’s fun to float in it. The pink color comes from an algae that often populates the high-salt environments. We tried the ATV quad-biking in the dunes, and not surprisingly it’s incredibly more fun than pushing a bicycle in the sand.
During those days, I got sick, my first time. I had a unbearable headache with vomiting. I visited the dispensaire in Mboro to make a malaria quick test, which happily turned out to be negative. The sight of all the ladies and kids waiting outside the building in the heat to see the doctor is strong enough to make me not want to be ill in those places. But I needed many painkillers and antibiotics to feel normal again. I won’t know what I had, the names of meningitis, special heatstroke, etc, were brought up, so I hope it won’t happen again.
After I finished with blog and video compilation, my only task before hitting the road was to perform the bike maintenance and change some gear with the good quality components Busi brought me. As people like to say, “Dakar has everything“, but the best I could find concerning bike gear was a Decathlon-like shop. I was waiting for Dakar since Nouakchott for cleaning my dSLR sensor too, as the Mauritanians told me the first shop I could find doing it would be in Dakar. Unfortunately, the shop I was directed to was a small office where a man worked on a desk with hundreds of cadavers of cameras around. He was certainly skilled to repair anything, but I didn’t feel comfortable to leave my dSLR for a day in the dirty and dusty office. I finally cleaned the sensor myself with a cleaning kit and it worked: I had 2 stubborn particles making grey spots on the blue sky pictures since Morocco. Now I won’t have to remove them manually on each pictures with Lightroom. In the same time, I emptied a tube of mosquito repellent liquid on my few clothes to impregnate them. There’s no point in wearing long sleeves and trousers if the mosquitoes can bite me through. The liquid is supposed to be strong (“use gloves to avoid skin contact”) and last for 3 months or 30 washings (I’ll obviously reach the former first) so I hope it works well.
After hiding spokes, a skewer and some money inside the bike frame under the saddle and inside the handlebar tube, I changed the Rohloff oil as it should be performed every 5000 km. I had to reverse the sprocket too, as the transmission is 11000 km old now. The magic with the Rohloff hub is that the sprocket can be reversed and the teeth used on the other side. However, to remove the sprocket, one needs the Rohloff sprocket removal tool, a ridiculously expensive little piece of steel (unless you make your own), a chain whip and a spanner, and a lot of force. I had read about the reversal operation, a simple but risky one: the sprocket has to be turned in the opposite direction as of when removing a normal cassette. Bigafricacycle did it wrong at first and it can be scary: the Rohloff hub is somehow “problem-free” forever, but if you ever screw it, the only way to get it repaired is to ship it back to Germany. I downloaded the reversal video to be sure that would do it correctly and headed to the bike shop in Mboro, who already had trued my rear wheel when I arrived there for the first time, since it was a bit buckled after I changed 3 broken spokes.
Sadly, the man doesn’t have a chain whip. I visit then the other mechanics shops, unsuccessfully. I come back to the first one, suspecting that we didn’t understand each other: it’s impossible he hasn’t anything to remove the cassette. I get him to show me how he does it, and finally understands. Yay! It’s actually a short-termed “yay”, as he shows me a destroyed sprocket, a hammer and a chisel. OK, that’s how they do it … but it’s not how I will treat my bike. I am very annoyed as I may have to cycle to Dakar to find a competent bike technician with the correct tools, and I don’t want to cycle to Dakar. Dakar is located at the tip of a peninsula, with a narrow access. It’s like if a 2 million people city was at the end of a dead-end narrow road, with all the intense traffic one can imagine. If Dakar airport was not right inside the city, it would be very easy to cut it from the rest of the world, with 2 large trucks stopping on both sides of the road that leads to it.
I remember the technician of the Decathlon-like shop told me he could re-build my worn brake pads with new rubber glued on the old shoe. So I would not go there only to find a chain whip, but also to see if we can really rebuild Magura brake pads (it’s naturally against the manufacturer’s guidelines, but since the manufacturer has no service between Spain and Johannesburg …).
I order frog legs at the restaurant to immortalize my last evening of comfort in the Mboro campement and get mentally ready to pack up and head into Dakar.