Blog Archive

Monday, January 17, 2011


You see amazing things while you’re on the road in The Gambia. I’ve done my fair share of travelling, either on my bike or in a vehicle. You come to appreciate your legs when walking and biking become your primary modes of transport. While up-country, I once went for a month without once getting into or riding on a motorized vehicle. I’ve ridden my bike over every type of terrain imaginable; dusty and rocky roads where the earth is so red it looks like you’re on Mars, roads made of sand so fine it’s like a beach, paved roads with pot holes the size of craters, and muddy roads so thick and flooded that you can swim in the puddles.

I came to love the moments, in the rainy season, when I rode my bike along the road with the bright red earth below, the luscious green bush on both sides, and the clear blue ski above; such a blast of color and life that it’s hard to take in with just two eyes. Sometimes a bird would break free from the underbrush and fly right beside me. Just for a moment, a split second, the bird and I travel together, eyeing each other as well as the road ahead. A Red-billed Horn Bill once flew just ahead of me for almost two kilometers; simply watching me and flying from puddle to puddle on the road as I made my slow way either through or around them.

It’s hard to think which substrate is better; sand or mud. Sand will kill your momentum and make you tail whip like your driving a car on slick ice. On the other hand, mud flies up off your tires, painting the bike, as well as you, the same color as the road. Despite the relentless heat, the rough roads, the copious insects, and the careening geles, it’s fair to say that I’ve had many a happy moment while riding my bike; so long as I had the wind in my face and the road ahead of me.

Riding in cars is a different story. While in a car I usually read, sleep, or drown out the world with music. I’ve spent many an hour contemplating the world as it flew by outside the window of a gele or set-plaus (seven passenger car). I was once in a car that drove by a farm field that was being cleared by burning. High above flew hundreds of different birds, wheeling and diving to catch all the insects fleeing the flames.

While driving down the coastal road, the gele I was in got stuck behind a large sand truck carrying sand up to Banjul from Kartong. I watched as small amounts of sand fell from the back of the truck and formed wavy clouds on the road. The sand danced along the pavement like mist over water till is dissipated and passed under the gele.

Most of the time, road travel is comical. I admire the decorations on the vehicles; Modonna stickers, prayers, discarded Halloween and Christmas decorations, the red and golden hangings you often see at Chinese restaurants, pictures of Imams and stickers with slogans such as “Allah is one.” The proverbs they paint on the sides of the vehicles offer an ironic view of the lack of literacy in the country; “No heart feelings” and “No justice for the poor.” It makes you want to get a marker and correct them.

I once rode a bush-taxi (van) with an “aparante” (who rides along and shouts the destination of the vehicle, as well as collects the travel fare) clad in flip-flops. This aparante proceeded to loose one of his flip-flops as he was running to catch up with the van after it had picked up a passenger. Everyone shouted for the driver to stop and the aparante went back to retrieve his flip-flop.
One time, in a taxi, I was wedged between two large women in the back and one wanted to get out. The taxi door, however, would not open. The driver tried reaching over to help but to know avail. He then moved to open his own door, but found it to be locked as well. We all seemed to be trapped in the taxi, which would have been funny if it had not been boiling hot. The driver eventually climbed out of his window and managed to get the doors open from the outside.
There’s never a dull moment when you’re on the road in Africa.

No comments:

Post a Comment