“The [bikeability] course is not aimed at encouraging children to cycle to school alone”

Freedom for families

Freedom for families – Postcard courtesy of Cycle Embassy of Great Britain

Bikeability training is due to start later this month at Dobcroft Junior School in Sheffield. A letter was sent to parents of children taking part which includes advice on allowing children to cycle to school alone.

Please note that the course is not aimed at encouraging children to cycle to school alone. Because of the heavy traffic conditions and parking problems surrounding our school, we expect parents to accompany their children who may wish to cycle to school in future.

It is the responsibility of our MPs and Local Councillors to change these conditions so that children can cycle to school alone safely. Sheffield Council’s current programs for improving conditions for cycling are woefully inadequate and this letter shows how far we still have to go. By investing in training children to how to cycle, but failing to provide the infrastructure necessary to support them we are simply wasting our time.

We need to transform Sheffield into a place where people of all ages are free to walk or ride a bike without being fearful. We can do this by changing the way we think about designing our roads, by prioritising the needs of people rather than allowing the car to become the only realistic choice.

Thanks to Edale Skyline on Twitter for sharing this.

Letter to parents from Dobcroft Junior School in Sheffield, Please note that the course is not aimed at encouraging children to cycle to school alone. Because of the heavy traffic conditions and parking problems surrounding our school, we expect parents to accompany their children who may wish to cycle to school in future.

Letter to parents from Dobcroft Junior School in Sheffield, Please note that the course is not aimed at encouraging children to cycle to school alone. Because of the heavy traffic conditions and parking problems surrounding our school, we expect parents to accompany their children who may wish to cycle to school in future. Courtesy of Edale Skyline

South Yorkshire Police repeatedly parking coaches on segregated cycle track on Asline Road in Sheffield

If you feel strongly about this, please join me in taking direct action as part of a protest on 22nd March. Facebook event here.

When a football match takes place in Sheffield at Bramall Lane, coaches carrying fans need somewhere to park. This task is managed by South Yorkshire Police who direct them to park along Asline Road cycle track. This is part of the Sheaf Valley Route and is one of the few safe ways to avoid cycling along the terrifying Queens Road or London Road.

Coaches blocking Asline Road cycle track in Sheffield

South Yorkshire Police directed these coaches to park here

Chris Rust has written about the issue on his blog here as well as CycleSheffield pressuring both Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Police without much progress. South Yorkshire Police don’t have a very good reputation for respecting cycle infrastructure.

South Yorkshire Police need to stop directing coaches to park on Asline Road cycle track.

Official Twitter feeds have stated that the cycle track subject to a road closure order (it is not), and that they will try to park the coaches somewhere else (they haven’t) and that it is for public safety (presumably excluding people on bikes).

 

 

Whoever posts on this Twitter account on behalf of South Yorkshire Police needs to stop talking rubbish and making stuff up!

 

The Inspector with responsibility for the South Yorkshire Police Operational Planning Unit has written to me about this. You can write to him too, he’s on Twitter.

the twitter feed you refer to was an error of understanding in terms of the road closure order, this does not actually cover Alsine[sic] Road. You are quite right to point out that the parking of the coaches in that location is inappropriate.

Parking of coaches on Asline Road has been custom and practice for many years however I appreciate that this doesn’t make it right to block the cycle path. As a result of recent contacts I am aware that some of my team have been working with Sheffield United to resolve this issue and I have been seeking the considerations of the safety advisory group.

I will be able to update you further in the near future but for now please be assured that we are working on this and will seek a solution that does not compromise the cycle path.

Neil Mutch – South Yorkshire Police (my emphasis)

This letter was back on the 6th Feb. One month on, the police are still directing visiting coaches to park on Asline Road cycle track. This video shows that the coaches are given a police motorbike escort from the football ground to the cycle track.

So, my question to Neil Mutch, Operational Planning Unit Inspector, when will your operational plans comply with the law and stop endangering people who ride bikes?

Sheffield City Council have the responsibility for enforcing parking, will Sheffield City Council stand up to South Yorkshire Police and issue parking tickets to dangerously/illegally parked vehicles? Do they have the guts to ask them to stop abusing Sheffield’s cycle infrastructure? Will they ask South Yorkshire Police to behave responsibly?

I doubt South Yorkshire Police will change their ways any time soon, or that Sheffield City Council will step up to the mark and prevent South Yorkshire Police from breaking the law. If the authorities won’t act then we must take a stand. This weekend – Saturday 22nd March – we will protest against the abuse of Asline Road cycle track. The cycle track will be occupied by cyclists and will not be available for parking coaches. We will ensure that it remains open for people to cycle on. It’s insane that these extreme measures are necessary to ensure that a cycle track remains unobstructed, but it seems that this is all we have left.

If you wish to join me and take a stand then join the Facebook event here

Labe (Guinea) to Mamou (Guinea)

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post, I survived the Guinea mountains and have now descended back to sea level and am in Sierra Leone.

I left Labe back on 7th January and headed for a town called Pita. I really liked Labe, the place I stayed was nice and quiet, with good food, cold beers and little tweeting birds in the trees, but it was a little bit expensive, especially for Guinea. But they did have hot running water! Each room had a hot water tank fed by a home made boiler, copper piping inside an old oil drum filled with water, and heated by a big charcoal fire underneath.

I went to the post office to post a letter to Emma (just to see what it was like and how long it would take). It was a big tumbledown colonial building with a huge counter with a lady behind. It took her about 5 minutes to look up how many stamps she needed to sell me, she kept them in her handbag! She didnt have any change for my money so had to nip to the shop over the road before she could give me my change (a very frequent occurance here).

While I was writing the letter at the counter a couple of people who ran a stationary business in the corner invited me to eat lunch with them. This kept happening in Guinea! We sat around a big bowl of very nice rice and groundnut soup in the corner of the post office, eating lunch! I’ve had lunch in a post office, in a remote village, and in the back of a petrol station, all spontaneously invited!

After Labe I stayed at a place in Pita called Chez Sister, a few km out of town. It was run by a Guinean lady and her Welsh husband, Captain Dave as he likes to be called! A retired Royal Navy captain with endless stories to tell about smuggling, people trafficking, drugs, weapons and even the eventual arrest of Charles Taylor! He’d been part of the British fleet patrolling the West African coast during the Sierra Leone civil war.

In Guinea they have good coffee everywhere. Normally made over a charcoal fire in a french stovetop coffee pot to make really strong espresso. Its kept hot in big thermos flasks and costs about 4p per cup! But as with all hot drinks in West Africa, they drink it with an unhealthy amount of sugar! I could stop at any roadside shack or cafe and find good coffee! I much prefer it to the sweetenned condensed milk variety in Guinea Bissau or the really spicy cafe touba I had in Senegal.

From Pita I cycled to Dalaba. It was a tough days riding, hilly, hot, but spectacular scenery through the mountains. I felt really ill after arriving and was sick all night, I felt better the next afternoon but still not 100%. I assumed that I’d got heat exhaustion, hadnt been drinking enough, or that I’d eaten or drunk something bad. I had a stomache ache and headache but pushed onto Mamou a few days later. Again great cycling through good scenery, one huge hill to get out of town but after that it was fairly easy going, more rolling hills than big mountain passes.

I stayed at a forestry school just outside of town. After speaking to Emma about still not feeling very well, I went into town to try and find somewhere to get tested for malaria…

I asked at a pharmacy who recomended a small clinic in town. I had a very strange consultaion where they weighed me, made me lie down on a very short bed (it was the size and height of a table!), took my blood pressure and my temperature using an armpit thermometer! They took a short history but I’m not really sure they recorded much of it.

They sent me over the road to a dodgy looking apartment/office block to have a blood test. No electricity here, no running water, but clean sterile needles and a microscope was on the desk. I gave some blood which was mixed with a few different chemicals. About an hour later after some microscope viewing we went back to the clinic over the road.

They brought out the record book for my appointment and said “these are the drugs you need to take” and pointed to a list of 4 words! Eventually it transpired that they’d diagnosed me with malaria, typhoid, lack of appetite and a headache, and had prescribed drugs for all, including a big bottle of appetite stimulant and paracetamol for the headache!

They’d only written down the brandnames of the drugs on the form which meant I had no idea what I was being prescribed! I asked to see the drugs and they brought out medicine that I was familiar with and could double check! A quick internet search later, I had some well recomended malaria treatment and some antibiotics for the typhoid. I don’t think they were planning on explaining how to take the treatment until I pushed them, even then they didnt really seem to know any of the details, just expecting me to read the leaflet with the drugs!

I really would have serious concerns going to a place like this for any sort of illness that required more treatment than common off the shelf drugs. They must prescribe these drugs relatively frequently but they didnt even seem to have much knowledge of them.

So I bought the drugs and started taking them. The next day I felt remarkedy better, completely healed! I stayed in Mamou for a few days until I had finished the malaria treatment.

After reading up about typhoid, I dont think I actually had it. The test they conducted involves checking for typhoid antibiodies in the blood, and given that I had a typhoid vaccination just a couple of months ago, I think they misdiagnosed me. They didnt ask me if I’d had a vaccination, didnt tell me they were testing me for typhoid, and I only realised afterwards that the test might have been invalid. But I’ve nearly finished the course of antibiotics, I figured that it probably wouldnt do any harm.

At the forestry school in Mamou I met three peace corps volunteers who’d come back from a training event in Conakary (the capital of Guinea). We went out for dinner together and to a small bar
afterwards. They were all fairly new to the peace corps, only a few months in. They each lived in a different village in Guinea on their own, working with the local community in teaching, or farming, completely immersed in local life and fairly isolated. I think they said that they each have a 2 year placement, its quite a commitment! With the introduction of mobile phones here, they were able to keep in touch with each other and meet up every few weeks in one of the bigger towns.

I left Mamou a while ago now and crossed the border into Sierra Leone, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

I really loved Guinea, the people were very friendly, the scenery was stunning, the roads mostly good and they had some basic facilities which are rare in this part of the world, a few hours of electricity each night, running water and solar street lights. These seem to be unheard of luxuaries in Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone, the two neighboring countries I’ve seen. I’d like to go back to Guinea and explore a bit more.

Bissau (Guinea Bissau) to Labe (Guinea)

Leaving Bissau I grabbed a coffee and egg sandwich for breakfast. It was Christmas day and everything was quiet, but the street vendors were already set up for serving food.

I was running short on local currency and had heard that there were ATMs that would accept international visa cards. The first two didnt work. One only took local cards, the other was out of service, but the third worked flawlessly. Its now easy to get cash in Bissau city (and also up country in Gabu where I got some more before crossing to Guinea).

Cycling out of Bissau was fine, but as I got into the countryside people kept asking me for money. They would shout “branco, branco, festa, festa” at me as I cycled past, making the recognisable hand guesture for money. Some people would just say hello “bon dia”, and how are you “kuma ku bu sta?”, but would then ask for a festa! An official at a checkpoint asked, children on the back of a horse carriage (actually a donkey cart!) would ask, it was everywhere and I hadnt been expecting it. I cant find any other reports of this from other travellers, and I still dont know what festa means. I’ve speculated that it has something to do with Christmas and gift giving, but I really dont know. A few days later and it never happened again.

I stayed in a town called Sokone on Christmas Day with an economics student who studies at the university in Bissau. He and his family invited me in, showed me around, fed me and made me feel very welcome.

The town at night gave me the creeps. Everyone was very friendly and it was safe, but there are remenents of the military coup from a few years ago. Burnt out admininistrative buildings left to rot, decrepid childrens playgrounds filled with litter, it felt like a scene from a zombie movie or a resident evil game! They told me that when the coup hapenned, the military set fire to the town hall buildings and 10 people died. The buildings are still there, no one touches them and plants have grown around them. Very strange.

That evening the local discoteca (there are a lot of discotecas in Guinea Bisau) has a childrens Christmas party, followed by a youth Christmas party, followed by an adult Christmas party (until 5am in the morning). They party hard in Guinea Bissau. The club was like any other anywhere in the world, dark, noisy, hot, flashing lights and generic pop music. But being the only white man in the place I felt a little out of place! The girls would look at me and giggle, and pinch my arm! I have no idea why!

Cycling further east towards Bafata and Gabu I saw evidence that there was one more infrastructure here. Electricity pilons alongside the road (but without cables and some snapped in half), but there’s no electricity network now, street lighting columns with parts scavenged, or bent at an angle (but there are no woking street lights now), water distribution network manholes and access points, but there’s no piped water here. I have no idea when or who built these or if they ever functioned, but they are in a bad state of disrepair now. Very very strange.

I really enjoyed the evenings in Guinea Bissau, you could wander along the street, buy sandwiches, or grilled meat from stalls, get a beer in a bar, lots of people about all milling around being sociable. There is no electric so stalls have torches, or lamps, or candles. Everthing is cooked on charoal, grilled meet, deep fried sweet potatoes or boiled eggs.

In Gabu I watched a man repair mobile phones on the street. He had a magnifying glass, tools, solder, tweezers and a soldering iron. But there’s no electricity, he heated the tip of the soldering iron up in a charcoal fire.

I had dinner with the Nephew of an ex president of Guinea Bissau. Killed in a military coup I think… He wasnt very keen on politics in Guinea Bissau. The elections were scheduled for the beginning of December for the transition for the temporary military rule to democracy (of a sort) but they’ve been delayed until Feb/Mar. The story is that the government cant afford to pay for the
election/polling process. A country is in real trouble if it cant afford elections. But I can believe it, with the teachers being on strike for 3 months because they’ve not been paid.

I stayed the night at the border with the Guinea Bissau national guard/millitary. They were very friendly, happy for me to pitch my tent in the yard, the tin of Nescafe and box of tea I offered went down very well and we sat drinking it all afternoon/evening.

In the morning they werent keen on me leaving, they made me tea, coffee, bought me a sandwich and some hot very sweet goats milk! I was worried they would ask me for money, or a gift, or a bribe, but no problem at all. The imigration people stamped me out without any question and they waved me on my way!

The entry into Guinea was equally easy, waved past the military post by the soldiers, into the imigration office and stamped into Guinea with a smile and just wanted to know where I was going for the ledger. I always just give the name of the next main town and dont offer a full breakdown of my trip!

I’d not seen a tarmac road for about 50km and I had 40km more to go to the next sizable town where I was planning to stay. No tarmac until then, but a good dirt road.

The people in Guinea were immediately noticably more friendly. Very happy to chat, offering me food while on my bike and asking if I needed anything. Perhaps it had something to do with being back in a French speaking country and I can get by in French quite happily.

I stopped beneath some stunning outcrops. Similar to stannage edge in Sheffield, but 5 time as high and many miles long. Absolutely stunning. I didn’t see the children, but they saw me! From about 100m away they spotted me and began running towards me! They seemed genuinly interested in what I was doing there, very happy to say bonjour, cava etc and smile for the camera. No asking for gifts or money, just coming out of curiosity and intrigue. Really lovely children and a really spectacular place.

I stayed in a real dive of a place. I paid 30,000 guinea francs, or about £2.50. Rice bags for a roof, tarp for a floor, no elec or running water, and I think it might have been a brothel. There was a bar with a few older men, and younger women hanging about… Nevermind, it was cheap and I was only staying 1 night.

The town had a paved road, big concrete drainage ditches, solar street lights and seemed to have had a lot of investment. This new road stretched about 80km down the road, with solar street lights for each village, and there is construction work happening to take it all the way to Labe on the other side of the mountain.

In one of the villages where I bought some water, one of the children looked at me, he looked petrified. He screamed in fear and ran away crying! The adults seemed to find it quite amusing!

I spent the night in the last town before the big mountain crossing. I slept of the floor of a little cafe in my tent.

The next morning I chickenned out. After strugelling the previous day on 20km of mountainous dirt road at the end, I decided to take a taxi over the pass. 150 very rough, mountainous km later we arrived in Labe. ,I’m very glad to have taken a taxi, it would have taken a minimum of 5 days very hard and remote cycling to get across, I think I would have struggled.

The landscape was spectacular. Big closely packed mountians, very steep, covered in dense jungle. A dirt road running along cuttings in the sides and over plateaus on the tops. River crossings on chain boats. Monkeys on the road, and lots of brightly coloured birds. Some small villages, small round mud brick houses, with thatched roofs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens wandering around. Some villages a little bigger where you can
buy oranges, bananas, nuts or big fried pancake globs!

At the edges of the road I saw forest fires, trees and grasses burning. Huge swathes of forrest destroyed to make way for the new road. Huge quaries in hillsides where agregate for the road had been mined (especially where the road had been finished). Big earthmovers flattening the land where once there was forest.

We stopped in a village and I chatted to the people there. The work crews had been through to make space for the road that will be built. They had half demolished huts and houses along the edge to make space. Just single walls with a door left, or a thatch roof falling off a half demolished hut. They werent happy about the new road, I suspect the younger generation had a different view, but they just saw it as something that meant houses in their village had to be demolished.

All paid for by China I understand, and mainly Chinese workers I think… Its an important road, the link from Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Mali. It definately needs to be improved, but it’s just quite horrifying to see this process in this environment and the huge environmental destruction.

I’m now in Labe at a really lovely hotel. Nice restaurant where I’ve just had a goat stew and spaghetti, pizza the other night. Nice bungalo in the garden. Nice cold beers! Its expensive, but its nice to sit back for a few days.

There have been some other overlanders here, two Dutch couples. One headed north in a custom off road motorhome, one south towards South Africa in a Land Rover. Its been really nice to have some other travellers to chat to and I was sad to see them go.

Tomorrow I set off south, it will be mountainous (Labe is at 1000m) but I hear it is a good road and it’s less steep. I have lots of info on what’s ahead. I’m looking forward to it!

Ziguinchor to Bissau

I felt really anxious about leaving Ziguinchor but I shouldn’t have been worried. Cycling south from Ziguinchor through The Cassamance region of Senegal. was great. Lovely scenery, friendly people, and lots more bikes than I’d seen in a while. I saw signs warning me of landmines, a legacy of the seperatist movement in this part of Senegal, however I’m not too sure how current these warnings are, the signs looked very old.

It was only about 25km to the border with Guinea Bissau. No problems at the crossing, no bag inspection and no bribes! Easy and quick.

The lorries coming from Senegal were seriously overloaded. They were piled so high with goods that they had men sitting behind the cab with long rods to raise electricity cables as they went under.

A few miles on in Sao Domingo I was approached by a German man who was on a round the world tour of sorts on a 125cc motorbike. Aisa to Germany, down West Africa to Cape Town and back up East Africa to Germany! We had lunch together (I understand that it was beever of some sort…) and it turned out he was staying with a German expat locally. I was invited to stay and stayed for a couple of days.

Neals (expat) is training a couple of youth football teams, he calls the team Africa United! They’d just received a delivery from the German football association of a full set of kit for the team. The local Guinea Bissauian team in Sao Domingo now have sparkling white German football kit! The kids really seem to love playing football and they’re very good at it.

The public schools here have been closed for a few months because the teachers are on strike, because they haven’t been paid. The kids seem to be really bored, they were excited when we’d ask them to go to the shop for us, or get water from the well, just to give them something to do.

I camped out in the yard, the first night I didn’t sleep very well. The combination of a Voodoo wedding ceremony with trance like druming and a family of snorting snuffling pigs outside the tent made sleeping a little difficult!

I left Sao Domingo early in the morning, I had a long way to go to Bissau and had to get to the Guinean embasy before it closed for xmas (it was 23rd December). I cycled all morning for about 50km to a town called Ingore where I got a minibus taxi to Bissau. 80km very quickly and easily skipped, for only about £3 including putting the bike on the roof. I made it to Bissau at about 1430 and got the visa the same day. Easy!

I liked Bissau, it had a nice relaxed feel to it. Only a little hassle from sellers, but a great place to spend a few days. Bissau has crumbling streets, no running water, no electricity, rampant poverty but it seemed very friendly.

Guinea Bissau has no functioning electricity grid, everywhere either gets by on candles, torches and batteries, has their own generator, or buys a connection to a private generator. The same goes for water, people use wells, or pump water from a well into a home made water tower.

I see evidence that it wasn’t always like this. There are electricity pilons, some intact with cables, but some without cables and broken in half. I see evidence of a water network via manholes and access points in the streets, but it doesnt seem to function anymore. I guess this is the legacy of colonial departure and civil war.

I met an Italian/Danish couple at the hotel in Bissau and went to Christmas Eve mass with them at the local Catholic mission! We had a lovely dinner with two of the priests from Italy, followed by a packed church service. I imagine that this is what church was like when it was in Latin, completely incomprehensible, a mixture of Portugese and Creole! The music was amazing though, a really enthusiastic chior and lots of drumming, I really enjoyed it. A good way to end my stay in Bissau.

Kaolack(Senegal) to Ziginchor(Senegal)

The past week has been a mixture of highs and lows. I’ve made good progress, got some important visas, but Gambia was hard because I encountered so much tourist hassle.

The repair to my seat post survived the dirt roads south of Kaolack. The villages south of Kaolack on the way to Sokone seemed more traditional compared to those I’d passed previously. There was much less litter, more thatched huts/houses, less begging from children, although they still seemed to get very excited, shouting ‘toubab! toubab!’ at me and waving wildly as I passed.

I spent a great day relaxing at Toubakouta, camped and eating grilled Baracuda. I couldnt have left much sooner, I didn’t plan properly and would have arrived in Banjul at the weekend (needing to get a visa for Sierra Leone, but the embasy only opens weekdays).

I crossed the border to The Gambia at Karang, nice and easy, no problems, but lots of hassle from money changers. I’ve not had any trouble leaving my bike. There is always a guard sat outside who I ask to keep an eye on it.

Soon after arriving in The Gambia I met what my guidebook calls Bumsters! Young men looking for a wife from Europe, I assume for the opportunity to live in Europe and all the advantages it brings. They showed me photos of one of their friends who’d married an older woman from my home town in England! I couldnt believe it, they had a postcard from her with local sights from where I grew up. I had no idea that this sort of thing happened so close to home. Later I saw a newspaper headline that read “UK Authorities Stop ‘Shame Marriage’”. I think the message got lost in translation somewhere!

I crossed the river to Banjul early in the morning from Barra. The ferry was very very slow and beltched out horrible fumes. I heard from someone that it is an old Dutch ferry from the 70s! The exit ramp at the Banjul end was lowered by driving a truck onto it!

Banjul wasn’t much fun. Far far too much hassle from men on the street, children begging and ‘guides’ in the place I stayed. I felt hounded everywhere I went. I didn’t like Banjul, but I got my Sierra Leone visa easily from the embasy.

Leaving Banjul, I kept seeing billboards congratulating the president on his 19th year in office (after a military coup). The billboards were all from Africell, the local phone company. I saw grafiti that said “We support Jammeh, our town is 100% Jammeh, president for life”! There were cafes called “22nd July Cafe”, the date of the millitary coup in 1994. This is the first time I’ve travelled in a country with long term millitary rule, I found it a very strange experience. I’d recommend looking up recent Gambian politics, they recently withdrew from the commonwealth after criticism over human rights abuses from the UK.

I sayed in Sanyang for a night with some people my sister knows. The sense of hassle continued, I felt hounded for money with them asking me to lend them money and that they’d pay me back the next day. I didn’t enjoy The Gambia. I hoped that Sanyang would be a place where I felt at ease, but found that I couldn’t let my guard down. I really wanted to get out of The Gambia ASAP. I have no idea how it is such a popular tourist destination.

I crossed back into Senegal at Kartung where I crossed the border in a dugout canoe. For anyone considering doing this… don’t! I got stamped out from The Gambia OK, but there was no imigration post on the other side of the river in Senegal. Just a 10km sandy track to the paved road, no imigration point in the next town, then a 15km ride to the border point I should have used originally at Seleti. They stamped me in without any questions, I’m not sure they realised I arrived from the wrong direction, I have no idea if it was ok for me to be in Senegal for half a day with no entry stamp!

The Cassamance region of Senegal has been really great. The people are friendly and happy to chat. The landscape is a mixture of lush forest, deltas and farmed wetland. And I can get my favourite La Gazelle Ananas drink!

I’ve not had any trouble with animals apart from on one occasion when I saw a pack of about 20 dogs in the road… but as I approached it turned out to be just some monkeys! They scattered into the trees very quickly as I got closer, no problem!

I’ve been warned about bandits on the road at night in Casamance, but apparently the roads are safe in the day. There are military checkpoints at each town and in some villages. I understand that there was a huge problem with a separatist movement 10 years ago, it is mostly resolved now but has left a legacy of criminality. However I feel safe here, especially in the towns, but in the countryside too.

I’m now in Ziguinchor at a hotel. There is a huge tree outside with hundreds of noisy storks in! Zig is a great town, nice and relaxed, lots of shops and restaurants, and really in the middle of a stunning region of Senegal. It’d make a great holiday destination. I’ve heard that there is an overnight ferry from Dakar, I think it would make for a good trip.

I managed to get my Guinea Bissau visa today after spending an hour looking for the consulate. It’s moved out of town and I had to ask for directions many times to find it, people kept sending me back to the old location! Very easy application, they even filled in the form for me! Just a copy of my passport required. 20,000 CFA paid in cash. Prices posted on the door.

Tomorrow I’m heading for the border at Sao Domingos in Guinea Bissau. I’ve heard that there is a carnival/festival from 24th Dec for one week in Bissau. I should be there by then. I’m looking forward to it.

Thies to Kaolack – Bike trouble…

Senegal seems to have changed over the past few days. The countryside has become a lot more rural, with small villages full of thatch huts. The towns have been further apart, and people much less used to seeing visitors.

I’m becoming acustommed to hearing people calling me ‘white man’, children pestering me for money, and even adults asking me for gifts or money if I stop for a rest or to buy something, or even as I cycle past. Its a strange feeling, I feel harassed by it, but I never feel in danger or that I’m not safe.

In Diourbel I was invited in by a family for lunch when I asked if there was anywhere good to eat. I spent a very nice afternoon with them, drinking tea, chatting and being shown around the town market. The poverty in the market was overwhelming, people selling really small items, begging children, people (sellers) asking for gifts, and rubbish absolutely everywhere. The guy who showed me around seemed slightly ashamed of the constant requests, I got the impression that he was a little shocked at how people saw me, although I’m more than sure he understood why.

Cycling towards Kaolack and about 30km away, disaster struck. The bike felt like it collasped from under me. I didnt fall off, I was able to pull on the brakes and get off. The seatpost had snapped in half a couple of inches above the bolt… I think in the past I might have overtightened it at this spot and then raised it a bit, creating a weak point.

After getting over the initial shock I removed the snapped off part, there was enough left to lower the saddle and keep riding. I rode the 30km into Kaolack with a very low saddle, in a very low gear!

Today I tried to find a new seat post. No luck at all, I found one but it was too small a diameter :( A student who I met cycling into town this morning showed me where to go, and helped me try to find one.

We ended up at a metal workshop… I still have the same seat post, but it has been mended by putting a steel metal pipe through it, and it has been welded across the crack. Perfect… I hope!!! I still can’t believe that it snapped!

I stopped off on the way out of town for a kebab!

Tomorrow I head for the border, I think it should only be 1 or 2 days before I’m in The Gambia.

Dakar to Thies

I’ve had a great couple of days. Leaving Dakar was fine, apart from the motorway esque road I needed to take. There was a big shoulder though and plenty of slower vehicles (horses and carts!)

I was invited in for tea by some agriculture company workers. They had a little bag of charcoal and a small metal tea pot. They showed me the sorts of things they grew… bananas, carrots, fish.

I had lunch at a petrol station. There were a few seats and a table at the back, where people waited for repairs, washing, a great place to have lunch, in the shade, lots of people coming and going. The security guard seemed concerned for me and gave me his name and number if I needed anything! Thanks Mamadow from Rufisque!

I emerged from the never ending Dakar suburbs. The guide book said they were not safe, they seemed fine to me! Much more pleasant than downtown Dakar where I’d cycled the day before. In Dakar I managed to get myself mixed up in a protest. About 150 people all marching down the road towards me, banging on cars and buses, chanting, blowing horns, and followed by some very mean looking riot police! Turned out that I had nothing to worry about, just some regular protests by university students against rising tuition fees! Some things are universal!

I realised yesterday that I needed a long sleeved shirt to cover up from in the sun. I bought a t shirt from a shop in Sebikhoutane. The owner was a bit confused when i asked him to cut it down the front like a shirt… But it’s now great for wearing over other things and keeping cool on the bike.

I spent last night with a lovely family who invited me in who lived behind the clothes shop. I had dinner with them. Learnt about drinking water from bags, eating a strange cous cous and milk concoction from a bag scooped from a freezer (very nice) and learnt to eat macaroni and beef with my hands! I think I had three dinners yesterday evening, they seemed very keen on feeding me… I think perhaps that it was actually 4 now I think about it(rice and spicy sauce, macaroni and beef, chicken and chips, and cous cous and beef…)

I left this morning and cycled to Thies. Its a great town, really chilled out. I’m sat in a place called Big Faim (hungry in French) where I’ve just had a huge burger and fries!

I’ll leave in a bit and see where I end up. Am very tempted to get a room here in town though… I’ll think about it!

So far Senegal has been amazing, the people are so friendly, if a little confused about what I’m doing here on a bicycle.

Sheffield to Dakar

I’m now in Dakar, the starting point of my journey. I’m sat on the roof of the hotel, nice a cool now that it’s dusk.

I flew from Heathrow after a night spent on the terminal floor. I was able to fly with my bicycle in a big plastic bag. Air France made me sign a waiver form for it’s safety!

The plane was delayed for 1 hour taking off (security problems with a piece of luggage that had to be removed). When we arrived, at about 21:30, the airport seemed overwhelmed. I queued for about 2 hours to get a visa. It was taking about 10 minutes per person, with 5 people working for a full 777 jet!

I collected my luggage, it all looked fine, but the bike bag looked a bit battered. This was a hassle, there were so many people offering assistance/help, some official for a job, some official soliciting bribes, and some unofficial. I managed to fend them all off.

The taxi driver was waiting outside for me, organised by the hotel. This is definitely the way to do it. I would not want to try and negotiate for a ride with all my baggage and all the hassle.

Made it to the hotel by about midnight. Nice place but turned out I’d not been specific enough about the room and was paying more than I wanted to.

Looked over the bike, I had to remove the front forks for the plane because it’s so tall, I’d forgotten to take out the top headset bearing cartridge, it had fallen out but very luckilly was just loose in the bag. I will pack that part better next time. The rear rack has taken some damage, the extension on the back is slightly bent along with one of the rack stays, but only slightly. It must have taken some force though to damage it like it did. Good thing it didnt buckle!

Am staying a second night in Dakar, but in a cheaper room in the same place.

Dakar seems nice, I’ve walked around the suburb I’m staying in, got some food, petrol for the stove, cash from the ATM. I’ll go out for dinner later at a place I spotted earlier. I’m not a great fan of cities, I much prefer rural areas.

Tomorrow I leave, heading east for Thies. I think it will take a couple of days. The aim is to get well clear of the city and find somewhere to stay. I’m excited!