Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

jeudi, novembre 23, 2006

The Coconut Ride (October 28, 2007)

My bike had been loaded onto a small, dugout canoe (or pirogue) and was slowly being transported across the river to the opposite bank. I was watching the progress as a villager hands me a freshly opened up coconut to drink from. Coconut has not been one of my favorites in the past and though I was starting to enjoy eating the fruit I had avoided drinking the liquid. But here I was in the village of Koké, about a two hour bike ride from Wonkifong, and the man who guided me from the center of the village to the river so that I could continue my journey was offering me a drink. I could not refuse.

The outer layer of the coconut had been peeled back and then a spoon was used to open a hole on one end. I could not drink it fast enough. It was absolutely delicious! I tried to offer a portion to the villager but he just smiled and shook his head.

The pirogue had exchanged my bike for a passenger and was just returning on the bank. I’ve climbed into many boats in the past and getting into this one felt the most unstable ever. The construction of the boat was the crude hollowing out of tree. The boat was narrow with steep sides. I was instructed to kneel and the boat began to cross the river. On the opposite bank, the boatman got out with me. It seems to be an African (or at least Guinean) tradition to always start someone on their journey. On this river bank, I there was one available path but the man descended from the boat to guide my departure. We began walking on a dike through what I think was mangroves. After 10 minutes or so he pointed that I was to continue and at the fork to take a left.

Thirty minutes later, I rode into the village of Fokou-Fokou. My goal was to reach the Atlantic Ocean but when I stopped at an open-aired hut containing several villagers, I was told that the road stops here and that I could not reach the ocean. Instead, I was taken to the primary school. At Sunnyside, impromptu visits by visitors occasionally change the structure of the day but now the tables had turned. I was the one being taken into a school for a visit. The schoolhouse was small and the students (around 50) were all crammed into one room. I was told that the school had only started the year before. Up to that point, there was no education for the students here. I was introduced and asked to give a speech. Caught unprepared I went for the “I am so happy to be in Guinea and everyone is wonderful” talk. In celebration of my arrival, the students were then let out for a recess and I returned with the men to the hut. We sat and talked a little though there were few men who could speak French.

The school teacher eventually disappeared on a bike only to return minutes later with all the students. A chair was set up under a tree and I was placed in it with all of the kids around me for a few photographs. The village men also gathered around for a couple of shots. Now, they will always have proof of the day that the white guy suddenly appeared on a bike.

Once the photos were finished, it was time for me to leave but not before being loaded down with grapefruit and coconuts. My bag was filled to the brim with fruit. I gave my thanks and goodbyes and rode off.

Less than five minutes down the road, a motorcycle came up behind me. It was a man from the village. He hands me a photograph of him and some lady (his wife?) and then turns around and returns to the village. Since the coconuts are all gone, I too have a souvenir of the village of Fokou-Fokou.