This post has been a long time in the making. I've only just recovered from the trip and it appears as though the power plant that supplies Thies and the surrounding area has completely stopped working and we've had power for maybe 1.5 hours a day, which also means minimal if any water.
So here it goes...
After confirming everything with our sept-place driver which was obviously much more difficult than I could have possibily imagine and even included PC staff members at the center calling me in a panic that I hadn't yet called the car company, I successfully directed the driver to my house, in Wolof, for a dry run. This day also including my family telling me every chance they got that I was absolutely crazy for taking a bike to Kedougou - they didn't even believe when I told them I was going to ride my bike to a waterfall, that was just too much. Per usual I also left my packing to the last minute which meant that I had to pack in the dark since we didn't have any power.
We wake up at 4:15am and the sept-place driver arrives on time at 4:30am. The best part was that my dad was up and getting ready to go to work while we were loading up the car. He was the only person enthused and interested about the trip and didn't think that I was absolutely crazy. The first lesson I learned about early morning travel in Senegal is that although businesses may advertise themselves as open 24/7 this is blatantly untrue. The driver needed gas right away and the first two gas stations we went to were closed even though there were gas station attendants there who would talk to us, all the lights were on, and their signs said 24/7. Fortunately we made it to the next big town outside of Thies and one of the 3 24/7 gas stations was open.
Our first actual stop was in Bambey to pick up Katherine who was waiting for us on the side of the road. This is also where we learned that our driver, Ibrahima was totally badass and awesome, as he quickly disassembled her bike, threw her bag in the car and strapped her bike to the roof. While Ibrahima was doing this, I was attempting to sneak away from the road in the slowly brightening morning light to pee. I thought I had found the perfect location to pop a squat, but, as usual, I was totally wrong. In my slightly compromising position I heard an Alham public bus, turn off the main road. I thought to myself that there was no way it was going to make the left turn near my pee spot. I was wrong and approximately 20 Senegalese people saw me peeing behind a shack at 5:30 in the morning. If that doesn't start your day out right, I don't know what would.
From Bambey, the next large city is Diourbel. In Diourbel we turned south, heading to Kaolack, and it was like we turned right into a completely different world. As soon as we made the turn south things were green. It was an amazingly drastic change. It's only rained a couple of times in Thies, but everywhere just south has seen a lot of change so it was nice to see green and some animals that didn't look like they were going to keel over and die with the next breeze. At this point I passed out for a while and awoke in Kaolack where we picked up Elizabeth, who completed, our car and some delicious bean sandwiches for the ride.
The rest of the ride featured a lot of dozing, Ibrahima telling all of the police check points that we were on official business and needed our bikes (he really knew how to drop the PC name!), and trying to embarrass Tamar with fun facts her family sent me in honor of her 25th birthday! We were making unbelievable time to Kedougou until it started absolutely pouring. I was actually slightly scared for my life because I'm fairly certain Ibrahima couldn't see out the windshield, but I lived to tell the tale so everything is all right. About 85k from Kedougou, while it's still raining heavily, I see a blurry group of people out the window. I tell Ibrahima to stop and it turns out to be a great of volunteers who were riding their bikes from Tamba to Kedougou who were tired, freezing cold, and had ran out of water. We gave them all the water we had and the next day they did make it safely to Kedougou. I'm happy we took a car!
We stayed at one of the nicest campaments in Kedougou, which has a poll and is where all of the PCVs hang out on the 3rd of July eating Warthog sandwiches. Warthog sandwiches are something of a Kedougou legend and are actually quite deliciuos. I would have liked a little bbq sauce, but they were delicious nonetheless. Hanging out at the pool was a lot of fun. We drank, ate, and watched soccer.
I was totally impressed by all of the Kedougou PCVs and the party they threw for the 4th of July. They put a ton of work into the preparations and it came off great. They roasted three pigs, made a ton of coleslaw, potato salad, beans, yummy dips, and cookies. The drinks flowed, music blared, games were played, and fireworks launched. A good time was had by all.
Our last day in Kedougou was the day that I had really been looking forward to. Not only is Kedougou green and has hills that are almost the size of mountains, it also has waterfalls! Everyone always talks about riding bikes to the waterfalls in Dindefelo and how beautiful it is. July 5th wasn't exactly a good day for a lot of people after the happenings of the 4th, but Jackie, Katherine, Elizabeth, Tamar, Erin, Cj, and I got up early and headed out on our bikes. The road heading out of Kedougou is a nice red road and it's almost all downhill which tricks one into thinking that the ride is going to be a pleasant afternoon of looking at picturesque villages and laughing merrily. My ass will tell you this is not true.
Turning off the red road, we started to see the trail would not be easy. Roads that were once paved are now falling apart, have fallen in on themselves, hold pools of water, and are covered in slippery gravel. The going is tough to say the least. I can't possibly justly describe the ride. Everyone was sweating profusely, bleeding, and out of breath before too long.
A little over half of the way to Dindefelo we ran into an extremely difficult patch of "road." The "road" was actually a sand pit that extended for several kilometers and which reduced my thighs to Jello and my mental state to verging on tears. Everyone made it to a village called Segou where we split up into two groups. Erin, CJ, and I leading the pack and the rest of the girls following. The ride from Segou to Dindefelo was terrifying. A lot of it was down sharp inclines which were full of jagged rocks, gravel, thorny plants, and many other scary things. I'm definitely not a daredevil and I did not enjoy this part. I also didn't enjoy that fact that once we arrived in Dindefelo we discovered the 30 minute hike to the waterfall was more like an hour hike even taking out the time when we were lost.
Fortunately we persevered and made it to the waterfall which was spectacular. Everyone had told me the waterfall was beautiful, but it was much more impressive in person. We swam in the pool, took some pictures, and then turned around because we needed to leave quickly to make it back before twilight. Erin, CJ, and I headed back to Kedougou while the other girls waited for a car to come get them. I have to admit that when we set off on the return trip I wasn't sure I could make it. I didn't even really want to try, but there was no way CJ was going to conquer this challenge and hold it over my head!
Getting back into Segou was a challenge and only represented a quarter of the distance back and I really wasn't sure I could do it, but I kept going and I'm really glad I did. What I failed to mention about the sand pit part of the road was that we saw a Senegalese man riding his bike some distance from us on a bush path. In most situations I have learned to do as the Senegalese do because they know best so I have no idea why we didn't switch to that path in the first place. On the way back we did and it turned out to be the easiest part of the trip. The trip back turned out to take about 2.5 hours while the trip there took 4 hours. We definitely learned from our past mistakes. Erin, CJ, and I made made it back well before nightfall and the other girls followed several hours later.
I'm so happy we made the trip. It was beautiful and exhilarating. I'm also really proud of myself that I biked 80k in one day! Although I've barely been able to move or bend my knees for the past two day, it was well worth the effort and an unforgettable experience.
Pictures of the trip are up in the album "Kedougou and On," check them out!
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