I am fully aware that this update is very late, and I do hope that my recent silence has not lead to too many worries.
After another week in Saint Louis I decided to go home. I thought through a number of options on how to continue but my heart wasn’t in any of them. Finally I dismantled and packed up my bike, got a car to Dakar where I got on a plane back to Europe. I have enjoyed spring in the Alps since, primarily.
So far, that is the facts. There is no more substantial information further down. However, if the world would just stick to the facts, there wouldn’t be any good stories, so here is some of the feelings that came with them.
Due to its location Mali being not safe restricts travel in West Africa significantly. Starting from where I was, it would require myriads of visas to get through a number of small countries along the coast. The Cassamance, the part of Senegal which is south of the Gambia has a rebel problem, and there has been a coup in Guinea Bissau as well. On top of all that, the rainy season was approaching. A flight to Ouagadougou would have been an option but that would have only taken me 1500 km ahead of the next dead end Nigeria. And leaving out the good parts of Mali, as well as most of Burkina Faso was disappointing. Of course my break was partially an attempt to sit it out too, hoping things would improve quickly and I would go back to Bamako and continue as planned. Soon I came to the conclusion that I was wasting time. Further more some problems were brewing back home that needed sorting out. Both being too private to put on the internet, but trust me, too boring as well. I don’t know why I remember that it was a Wednesday when I decided I would fly home, for the time being.
The hardest part was, as so often the letting go, accepting that this bike tour was over and anything further would be something new. Flying out to Cameroon and take it from there is an option, or go for Ethiopia or Kenya. But this would be a new bike tour, the long line through Africa was not going to happen. Accepting something is over however opens a lot more options, allows as well for a new story.
I had ordered a car to take me with my big luggage to Dakar airport. It took four uneventful hours. Despite my reservation there was a bit of trouble with my oversized luggage but after some negotiations we got there. A grumpy immigration officer took my fingerprints and stamped me out but did not even check the data page of my passport. Had I not had an entry stamp, he wouldn’t have noticed.
I stepped into shiny Brussels Airport early the next morning. Outside it was cold and rainy. In my zip off trousers and sandals I did not fit in well with the Monday morning crowd of business travellers. I noticed I had maintained clean feet for sixteen hours, something that really doesn’t ever happen in Africa. It felt sexy.
Some more seasoned travellers to Africa had told me that Europe can be overwhelming when you return from Africa. You don’t notice how you change with the world that surrounds you, several people told me, but you realise when you come back. How bloody right they were. It was all quite overwhelming.
The supermarket, primarily selling plastic, with its abundance of foods, most of which I actually didn’t miss. The crowd of well dressed people, hurrying around, focussed. The number of fat people, in my sleep deprived, slow and absent state I caught myself staring at one in a cafe for several minutes. I wandered around that Monday morning airport scene erratically and felt I did not belong.
It took some shopping around to find a rental car in Vienna. Before I left I spent some time standing in the pouring rain. I had not had experienced any rain in five months. I hit the motorway, full of cars, oh, yeah, the traffic as well was overwhelming. Somewhere in Upper Austria I had a break at one of these motorway break places. It was decorated with transparent walls filled with different kinds of wheat and beans, the local produce of the surrounding fields. In the Sahel, hunger season was about to start.
I got fed well. A Schweinsbraten for starters, how often had I dreamed about it in the past half years? It remained cold and rainy, and I kept to myself for a few of days, before I called up some of my close friends that I was back.
Ok, and here are the answers to a few questions you might be having at this point.
What will you don next?
I don’t know. No proper plans as such. I have spoken to a few companies for a job but on the terms that I am not sure whether I want one quickly. I might as well head off again. Thoughts always precede an action. Judging from the things on which my thoughts have been focussed in the past few weeks I don’t think chances for this are great in the near future.
Are you disappointed that you quit your tour?
Yes and no. A few times earlier on the trip I was thinking about not going all the way. I might have well quit ahead of time. The scale of the undertaking was very large, and it can be very lonely at times. A lot of what I wanted from the trip I got already. I would have preferred to end it on my own terms though. Now it feels a bit as if I was being pushed out of it randomly in Bamako. Despite all, I am proud that I cycled over 7500 km and made it all the way from London to Bamako. Then, I am still curious what is there down the road.
Since it didn’t work out the way you wanted, do you regret it?
Hell, no!! I had a dream and I went for it. And it was a great trip with at least one of these magic moment every single day. Be it the autumn colours in Europe, the endless Sahara, the nights out in the Savannah, dining with the villagers, the baths in the rivers, the heat of the Sahel and the cold of the Atlas, the bright stars by night, the friendliness and generosity from strangers, the pride after a mountain pass, the independence of setting up my home just anywhere. And this is just a few of the highlights which were there every single day.
Did you learn something on this trip?
Yes, a lot. I crossed the Atlas and the Sahara. I spent months in the Sahel. I saw places. I experienced different cultures, different people. I learned what a different culture means, and how much we are stuck in one. This said, I learned about personhood, on being a human. I learned about my possibilities and my limitations. About looking after myself and being looked after. I have rarely written about the spiritual part of this bike tour, or a journey in general. Well, a proper and concise answer to this question would probably fill up my server space.
Will you go to Africa again or are you scared now?
Nothing I have experienced has put me off. I will certainly go again. Africa is my love as a travel destination and I will have more trips, hopefully longer ones. If anything I am more relaxed and confident about the place than I ever was.
Will you do this kind of thing again?
Hopefully. You never know, but if it will be time once more, there will be a way once more.
What will happen to your bike?
It is still packed up, what doesn’t show a lot of respect towards it. But then, as much as you get attached to it on a long tour, it still is a thing, and it would be unpractical to unwrap it when I don’t know what happens to it next. I examined it before I left and it entered the carton clean and healthy. On the longer run… It will certainly do a few more trips. In between it will be well looked after.