Ziguinchor, Senegal * November 2, 2008
Once in a while, the reality of it smacks you upside the helmet with concussive force. It’s as if your stream of consciousness had detoured down some cerebral cul de sac, and had forgotten where it was. You’re lost in some foggy mental meandering, neither here not there, almost a suspended animation to your ordinary thought processes.
Suddenly, you remember. It’s not unlike waking abruptly from a dream. My God, you think, I’m in Africa … motorcycling through Africa! The effect can be as stunning as a strong déjà vu, except it’s sort of a bass-ackwards déjà vu.
For an instant, all the exotic sights and sounds and smells of Africa are new once more. Even the name, Africa, is again as big and faraway and mysterious as it was months earlier, when planning the ride and contemplating what Africa would be like.
I’ve been having a few of these pleasantly epiphanous moments lately, and had another on the road to Ziguinchor in southeastern Senegal, in a conflicted region called the Casamance. The terrain had changed to a lush littoral lowland. The landscape was Jurassic. Towering palm trees sprouted from low swamps, blankets of reeds were an electric green, and you could half expect to spot a Brontosaurus stomping about in the distance.
The air was humid in the withering tropical heat. Colorful birds of turquoise and orange and yellow dive-bombed the road, and cruised above the grassy and placid water for prey. Up ahead I could see a small village.
As I approached, I saw thatch and clay huts and men sitting idly on wooden benches. Women with baskets on their heads walked along the road, their long dresses a rainbow of bold colors. A group of barefoot children leapt up and waved and hollered, their smiles as bright as the mid-afternoon sun. A kid goat skittered out into the road, heard my motorcycle, and made a hasty retreat. A bus, as colorful as it was dilapidated, was packed with passengers, some hanging out the back and several on the roof.
Geoff was stopped in the middle of the village, and asked if I was all right. In fact, I’d stopped because a bee had gotten into my faceshield and stung me on the temple. Then Peter Cullen pulled up behind. To our left, a wedding celebration was in full swing on the dirt just off the pavement. Someone had a boombox and people were dancing and laughing and swaying and clapping beneath a tattered and torn fabric awning, motioning for the motorcyclists to join them.
I marveled for a while at this community celebration and we pulled away. Ziguinchor, a city of more than 200,000 on the Casamance River and our destination for the evening, was 30 miles to the southwest. The road was narrow and an unpopulated and lined by foliage, indistinguishable from a rural road in Kentucky or upstate New York.
I fell into a rhythm with the road and the motorbike. I managed to forget where I was, who I was, and what I was doing, as if hypnotized.
Then I spotted a military vehicle approaching me full of armed soldiers in camouflage uniforms. A large machine gun was mounted quite menacingly atop the cab. A soldier snapped off a salute. I awoke from my fugue to realize … Africa! Sonofabitch, I am -- I’m riding a motorcycle through Africa!
It was all so beautiful and glorious and bracing and amazing it could break your heart.
Video: Dance Fever
A lively wedding celebration was under way in a tiny town in southwestern Senegal. Geoff and Peter bob to the beat before we motor ahead.
Perhaps one’s mind goes blank for a respite from ceaseless adventure. The last several days have been jam-packed with a white-knuckle escape from Dakar, spine-rattling rough roads, border and water and ferry crossings, and jungle heat of up to 110 F that left me perspiring constantly and heavily for hours on end. It’s all more fun than mortal man deserves, and yet it invites reflection, re-engineering one’s perspective, and coming to grips with a world far unlike the West.
The escape from Dakar was unexpected. I’d spent the morning at a café called La Palmarie with wireless Internet, and returned to Calypso shortly after noon to find Geoff’s motorbike packed on the street and ready to roll. We going somewhere? I asked. I’d figured on spending a third night in Dakar while Migo sorted through his tire problems with DHL.
“Migo got his tire,” Geoff said. “So we thought we’d run out to Lac Rose. Dude, I’ve been here seven days. It’s enough.”
“Huh,” I said. “Not what I was planning on, fellas.” I looked at Migo. When debating what to do, three riders can always take a vote. Consensus prevails. “You wanna take off?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I hate big cities. And the tire is all squared away. After all that time wasted yesterday when they thought they didn’t have it, it was there all the time. I showed up, they punched something in the computer, and a guy comes around the corner with it.”
I briefly considered letting them take off and catching up with them after a third night in Dakar, but why? It was a great big insane city that would no doubt keep me highly entertained, but a night at Lac Rose, the terminus of the Paris-Dakar race about 30 miles northeast of the Dakar city center, was equally appealing.
Plus, Geoff understood that Paris-Dakar stickers for our motorbikes could be found at Lac Rose. That sealed it. “All right, I’ll run out to Lac Rose,” I said. “But first I need to get insurance.”
I’d been lucky a few days earlier when an unwitting police officer accepted as legitimate my American insurance card, worthless in Senegal. The next time, a sharper-eyed officer might wrench up my ride with a 50 Euro fine and a demand that I procure insurance before I could proceed down the road.
Jean-Hugue, the owner of Calypso, was chatting with Geoff on the sidewalk. I asked if he knew a place nearby where I could buy liability insurance. Just a few blocks away, the Frenchman replied, at the Place du Independence, you’ll find AXA Insurance. He thought for a minute. C’mon, he said, I’ll take you.
He retreated into Calypso and returned with his motorbike helmet and I thought, Oh no … not on his bike!
I hate riding on the back of someone else’s bike. In fact, I’ve only done it once, and that was enough. At the moment, my own helmet was in my hotel room. I was wearing shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt.
Then again, I told myself, Jean-Hugue has run the Paris-Dakar race four times. The guy can obviously RIDE. What the hell, I’ll go as I am – Africa style. Jean-Hugue had a brand new Yamaha Tenere. He just got it the other day. Off we went, accelerating fast, squirting between the smallest openings in the dense traffic, braking hard, Jean-Hugue honking his horn and waving to people who recognized him.
Then, with the large AXA Insurance building in sight, Jean-Hugue was looking to his left and somehow missed the motorist on the right who slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting us. The car’s tires barked on the hot macadam. Jean-Hugue hit his brakes, too, jamming me into his back, and he and the motorist exchanged dirty looks. Ah, right. This is why I don’t like riding on the back.
At AXA, I bought a month of insurance for Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso and some other countries for just 6300 CFA, or about $13.50 USD. Jean-Hugue insures his businesses with AXA, and secured for me a discount. I thanked him for his assistance, and rode back Africa-style, more of out of politeness than haste to start packing.
Geoff and Migo were seated for lunch next door to Calypso. ”Well boys, I got insurance, and you won’t believe what I paid,” I said. Migo had paid more than $40 USD, and Geoff was forced to fork over nearly $90 USD in the den of thieves that is Rosso for a month of liability. “Just 6300 CFA …about $13! Jean-Hugue got me a discount.”
“Bloody hell!” Geoff groaned. “They got me for 70 Euro in Rosso! That freaking hellhole cost me a ton of money.”
Video: Escape from Dakar
Negotiating a large African city like Dakar requires dodging vendors wandering through the snotted-up traffic.
An hour later, we made our escape from Dakar. Traffic, as during our entry, was lunatic and thick as African flies. Just one block from the hotel, I nearly collided head-on with a scooter dude who imprudently took a corner, aiming straight at me. We missed each other by inches.
In a twisted way, I enjoy riding aggressively in dense urban traffic at the end of the day, when my motorcycling instincts are functioning at high RPM. Starting out cold is more difficult. Migo, however, seems untroubled by starting out cold. He tore off through Dakar’s traffic, with Geoff in pursuit. After my near head-on crash, I let them go.
Later, Geoff would tell me, “Migo says it’s like a sport. We get into it with each other. He goes through one side of the traffic and gets ahead and looks back at me with this big grin. Then I’ll get through the other side and look back at him, ‘Ha, got you motherfucker!’” Geoff is sanguine about the prospect of a crash. “I’ll probably crack it at some point,” he said.
To reach Lac Rose, we detoured off the main road towards the northern coast of the Cap Verte Peninsula. The towns were poor and broken and the road in places had deteriorated into a piste with patches of soft sand. The lake itself, a colorful pink due to its high salt and mineral content, was encircled by a three-mile piste with several campsites. We rode off to explore.
Geoff took his fifth spill of the ride, trying to turn around on a berm after choosing a line that ended at a barbed wire fence. Migo and I went instantly for our cameras as Geoff stood about cursing. “I heard Migo yell ‘Wait!’ and I thought he was going to come over to help me,” Geoff said later. “Instead he pulls out his camera … bastard!” My own picture of the spill shows Migo helpfully taking a photograph while Geoff hoists his fallen bike by himself.
At the far end of the piste was a tiny place called Bonaba Café, where we stopped to relieve the man of his last three, and warm, beers. To get to Bonaba and out required a modest water crossing, which is always great fun on a dual-sport bike. It was also the first water crossing we had done. Migo went first, slowly, barely kicking up water. I went second and harder, spraying a large V and taking a mouthful of salt water and soaking my boots and riding pants.
Video: Not Quite Paris-Dakar...
...but we did have some fun with a modest water fording at Lac Rose, Senegal, terminus of the fabled Paris-Dakar race.
My lower half was still soaking wet by the time we made it back to the tiny center of Lac Rose, anchored by a campsite on one side and a dozens of souvenir sellers on the other. Immediately, we were surrounded by the merchants. “My friend, my friend! Where you from? Come visit my shop!”
Thanks bucko, but I’m not in the market for an African mask to fasten up to my fender. What we did want were stickers for the Paris-Dakar race, or Dakar city, or Lac Rose. “Autocollant,” we would say, pointing to the stickers already on our bikes. “Pour Paris-Dakar.” No stickers were available at the souvenir stands, but a few of the men promised to return with Paris-Dakar stickers tomorrow morning.
The evening was beautiful and relaxing. I took a bungalow for about $16 USD, happily unloading my bike right in front of the door, while Geoff and Migo opted for their tents. The pesky merchants left us in peace. At the campsite bar and restaurant, a bright and friendly staffer asked me about the American election and Barack Obama. Like virtually everyone in Africa – if not every native African, period – he is rooting for Obama.
“I have a cadeaux for you … just a minute,” I said. I went to my bungalow and returned with an Obama sticker, and the man’s face lit up like the Macy’s Christmas tree. He was absolutely, perhaps inordinately, delighted, and I told Geoff later the Obama stickers were turning out to be one of the best things I brought on the ride. He scoffed. He thinks McCain will prevail.
Will Obama win? the man, named Satah, wanted to know. “Inshallah,” I replied. God willing. But don’t take it for granted, I said. Yes, Obama leads in the polls, but the American people are prone to do stupid things, like elect a risk-taking Republican with the monumentally poor judgment to select as his running mate a hockey mom wholly unqualified to assume the most powerful and important job in the world.
We had a chicken dinner. Toads hopped around the open-air restaurant patio. Mosquitos buzzed about, but the Ultrathon repellent I’ve been using seems to be effective. (Migo, on the other hand, was bitten heavily, troubling as he opted against taking a malarial prophylactic). Five cats paid a visit to our table, looking for a handout; one boldly perched himself at the edge of our table and snatched a large piece of my chicken as deftly as a Rosso thief. Migo retired early, and so did the bartender, unplugging and taking with him for security the small, cheap TV atop the outdoor bar.
Geoff and I remained, talking motorbikes and adventures and sipping the last of our Flag beers. The refrigerator, we knew, had more beer. But it was locked in two places. But the bartender had left the keys hanging in a padlock, I discovered upon close inspection. We helped ourselves to a few more Flags, and Geoff left a 5000 CFA bill inside, and when the aged campsite guardian wandered through, Geoff unlocked the fridge, explained our transaction, and we all had a good laugh.
The next morning before 9 a.m., sure enough, one merchant was back with stickers for us to buy … three old, weathered B.F. Goodrich tire stickers that he seemed to have peeled from a window or wall. Thanks bub, but I’d rather have the Africa mask.
Stickerless, we motored away and an hour later found Peter Cullen at a place called Hotel Rex in Thies, a smallish, leafy city about 40 miles from Dakar center. Peter had stayed in Thies before, and I could see why he was so fond of this charming place. As Peter wrote in his blog: https://travelblog.co.uk/2008/?p=0&bid=peter.cullen
“The streets are alive. Western music blares from the tiny stalls and shops … everybody is jostling along the street. Everybody is talking, loudly. Bikes and mopeds head against the flow of traffic in the one-way system. It's great. I am nearly the only white face in town. After the sophistication of St. Louis, I feel I am finally in West Africa.”
Migo decided to stay in Thies. He had in mind to visit a small village outside Thies on behalf of the charity he’s supporting, www.betterplace.org. I offer to accompany him, but Migo says the organizer of the project was not keen, for some unknown reason, on Westerners on adventure motorbikes paying a visit. He will go alone. He’ll catch up with Peter, Geoff and me down the road.
I gave the DR a good beating. Not because it deserved it, but because this rough and potholed and corrugated and slightly sandy road, from the alarmingly dumpy Senegalese city of Kaolack south to The Gambia, is what the DR was built for. This road was why I had fortified the DR with stiff aftermarket Eibach front and rear springs and a SuperBrace fork brace.
I bought the Eibach springs from Jesse Kientz, owner a small part distributorship in Oregon who specializes in the Suzuki DR. Jesse is highly regarded in the DR community for his knowledge and helpfulness. Months earlier on the phone, I’d told Jesse that I’d be riding punishing roads in Africa, running an eight-gallon Aqualine Safari fuel tank (heavy when full of gasoline) and toting a lot of gear.
“Well,” Jesse told me in his laconic drawl, “the stiffest front springs are what we sell for our 300-pound riders.” I said, “I’ll take ‘em.”
Now the springs were being put to the test. The road was at one time paved, but now it was basically dirt, with patches of bitumen that only roughened the ride. Allegedly it was under repair, but no work was evident.
I rode the DR hard, mostly third gear around 40 mph, up to 50 mph, slaloming between concave depressions, a few times bottoming out the front forks in deep potholes, and skimming at speed atop corrugations to minimize the feedback. Vwooom! Vwooom! Vwooom! The bike bounced back and forth and up and down, and when I wanted more throttle, the rejetted carburetor, FMF Q2 pipe, and 14-tooth sprocket were more than happy to oblige.
Traffic was fairly light, but any passing vehicle would kick up a cloud of dust. I’d have to slow for a while until visibility of the terrain ahead was restored. Light or not, African traffic would as always pose a hazard.
I approached a corner that bent to the left. In the middle on the left side was parked a van. I couldn’t see what was around that leftwards bend. The road was fairly narrow. Some intuition told me to hit the brakes and sidle over to the right. I remembered the mantra from my near-crash on a corner on a dirt road in Honduras: Here comes the school bus.
A pick-up truck ripped around the corner at speed, oblivious to whether or not another motorist might be cornering in the opposite direction. It was a head-on collision waiting to happen. I could see the face of the driver with surreal clarity – barely above the steering wheel, pineapple-shaped head, protuberant ears, and almond-shaped eyes in a catatonic, straight-ahead gaze. The cloud of dust he left in his wake was large. The margin between us, even with me far to the right, was a matter of feet.
The harder I ran, the more I appreciated the DR. “Damn,” I thought to myself. “This bike is sooooooo much better off-road than the KLR!” The Suzuki DR easily bested the Kawasaki 650 I’d ridden through South America by every measure – maneuverability, stability, thrust, and lighter weight. And still I was running Avon Gripster road tires I had installed back in Wyoming, toting my knobby (and heavy) Continental TKC 80s on the back.
My grin was large. By far, it was the most riding fun that I had had so far in Africa. It occurred to me a few times that I was running at S.T.F.F.C., speed too fast for conditions, especially without knobbies, but I felt strong and so did the bike and it was all … well, it was all just too much fun.
Then it ended. Geoff was ahead, off his bike on a clean tarmac road. He was jumping up and down, thrusting both arms in the air in celebratory manner. He was glad to be back on pavement … after all, his around-the-world ride is long. No bike could take this degree of punishment across five continents.
Me, I was sorry to see it end. But it didn’t end for long. We ran a few miles of tarmac, and the road was dirt once more. But it was a different dirt, with deeper and denser potholes that could not be run at appreciable speed. You’d have to pick your way through, standing on the pegs, eyes scanning the terrain for the flattest and least disruptive passage, a plateau between the canyons, and still once in a while you would slam an Alaska-sized pothole at speed.
A few enterprising men and boys were on the road, shoveling and sand and dirt into the potholes. I’d seen the same cottage industry in Brazil, north of Fortaleza, where the potholes were even deeper and denser than here – where the road, in fact, was a mutant thing that shaped the personality of towns along it and could be negotiated at no more than 5 mph by four-wheeled vehicles. Now I stopped and gave some of these Senegalese volunteers a few coins for their efforts.
Peter was in the lead, and Geoff and I both saw it – a roundish piece of metal fall from his BMW 650 Dakar, rolling across the road into a ditch. Geoff and I stopped, while Peter, oblivious, pottered ahead. We pulled over. I motioned for Geoff to catch Peter, in case it was something important to the safe operation of his motorbike.
I poked around in the ditch. It was like looking for a golf ball in the rough or out of bonds, something which I, unfortunately, have extensive experience doing. My golf training paid off, however, as I found what turned out to be the broad metal footprint to Peter’s sidestand, a non-essential part.
In Ziguinchor, we checked our bikes for loose bolts. I found one, an allen head fastener to my ProMoto Billet rear rack. Both Peter and Geoff tightened up several loose bolts. On terrain this rough, Loctite is your best friend.
Geoff lost something this day, too – 20 Euro. His 10-day clearance to ride through Senegal had expired, and a cop nailed him at a police checkpoint. What with being robbed of 140 Euro at gunpoint by the cop in Rosso and overpaying $90 USD for insurance and now this, Geoff was doing his part to support the local economy.
We poked along the badly potholed dirt road to the Senegal-Gambia border, only to be stymied in a 2½ hour standstill.
Later, Peter would say, only half tongue in cheek: “It would probably be a good idea to not start any border crossing any later than 11 a.m.” The chase-your-tail tedium we endured to cross into The Gambia from Senegal was arguably the worst so far, perhaps because of the sweltering heat.
My tankbag thermometer read as high as 110 F in mid-afternoon, and at 5 p.m. the heat had barely diminished. I was perspiring profusely. Sweat poured into my eyes, stinging as acutely as the bee that had gotten me earlier in the day. I was nearly out of water and could feel the dizziness and irritability of dehydration taking effect.
We labored through the process of immigration and customs on the Senegal side, then headed into The Gambia. Promptly a Gambian official directed us to return to Senegal to procure an additional piece of paper from the local Senegalese Chamber of Commerce. In triplicate, we filled out this evidently useless waste of wood products with the sort of goods we were carrying (dirty socks), our country of origin, name, name of employer, number of passengers, and number of pieces of luggage.
Yet this piece of paper proved critical to our passage through the sliver of land that is The Gambia, only 15 miles or so wide on our route through its center. By the time we were through The Gambia and back into Senegal, it had been stamped five times.
Back at Gambia customs, the young officers seemed to take a dim view of us adventure motorcyclists. They deliberated and made a phone call on whether they should stamp our passports, as we would be in the country just one day, though it seemed to me that was a routine question addressed many times a day. Perhaps there was an ulterior motive to that phone call, like, Hey boss, is it OK with you if we fleece these clowns?
The Gambia is an English-speaking country, one of the few in Africa, but this was both a blessing and a curse. We could communicate perfectly … and that seemed to make the officers all the more demanding. Our bikes were parked in front of the customs office, with ample space all around. Yet we were directed to move them behind the building, concealed from public view.
It seemed sketchy. It was getting dark. The men wanted to inspect our luggage – the first time I’ve ever encountered such a demand, except for once in Mexico. “Please, you must understand,” an un-uniformed man told us. “We need to be sure you are not carrying drugs or guns, and if you have anything of value to declare.” Geoff laughed, and asked the guy who, exactly, this un-uniformed guy was. I suggested to Geoff he keep it in check. Um, remember Rosso?
They went through some of Geoff’s bags, then mine, then Peter’s … but only the bags easily accessible. In my case, that meant they took a close look at a plastic bag full of dirty laundry and a sleeping bag and my sneakers from my soft panniers. They only pointed to my lockable top box beneath my spare tires, which would have taken five minutes to access, and asked what was inside.
I carry my IBM ThinkPad in there. Would I have to declare it, did it have sufficient value? I told them the box held a toiletries bag and clothing and that was it. Throughout this, they were condescending and patronizing.
The putative inspection took more than a half an hour. Next our passports were to be stamped. Peter’s and Geoff’s were approved, and it was my turn. The officer looked through my passport, looked at me, looked again through the passport, and said the dreaded words, ”You need a visa.”
Did I? In all the excitement, I hadn’t looked too closely into the matter. Back in Dakar, Geoff had stopped into The Gambia embassy and inquired whether he would need a visa. Brits did not. Now, the officer told me, I as an American did.
He was a short, squat, ill-mannered and venal young man, looking for an argument and an excuse for extortion. I lied that I had stopped at the Gambian embassy in Dakar and was told no visa was required. He twisted my words around to suggest that I was being argumentative, which I was not. As always at borders and with officials, I kept my tone of voice even and my demeanor patient and accommodating.
“You tell me I am wrong?” the man demanded to know. “I tell you this, and you tell me it is not so?”
I stood in silence, letting him make the next move. But he did not. Finally, I said, “So what do we need to do?” It was nearly 7 p.m. and dark. I was exhausted, thirsty and soaked with sweat. Thoughts of camping out behind the customs building occurred to me.
He might have been willing to help me, he said, but I was being uncooperative. A visa would cost 40 Euro. But this is too much, he said, and offered me a visa for 20 Euro --- contradicting himself on whether he would help me. The 20 Euro bill, as far as I could tell, went straight into his pocket. I didn’t bother asking for a receipt, a ploy Geoff has been using with success to derail extortion attempt. I just wanted to be away from this disagreeable choad.
Later, I would read in the Rough Guide: “If you’re simply traversing [The Gambia], from northern to southern Senegal or vice versa, visas aren’t required of any nationality.” Bribe No. 1, paid in full.
Our border passages were smoother the next morning from Farafenni, though the dirt road was even worse with potholes in The Gambia, noticeably poorer than its neighbor Senegal.
Video: Give ME Money!
Farafenni itself was a small and poor yet animated town of a few thousand people. They lined the dirt streets, women selling peanuts and couscous and men idling about tiny shacks and shops. The best restaurant in town was called Sunn Yai. The eatery was hot and stuffy with no outdoor seating, but the fried chicken and French fries plate was amazingly delicious. Two nights later, Peter would say, “I’m still thinking about that chicken in Farafenni. It was absolutely brilliant!”
By the next morning, we were rested, showered, and nourished by a breakfast of omelette sandwiches in Soma, served on old newspaper advertising inserts. We enjoyed a 10-minute ferry ride across the Gambia River with our motorbikes. Passports and motorbike documentation were efficiently and graciously stamped, with good wishes for our travels and no outrageous demands for money.
Geoff squashed one lame attempt by a Gambian official to secure a small yet illegitimate payment by demanding a receipt. “See that?” he chortled. “This asking for a receipt thing is working pretty well.”
I waited with the bikes for security as Geoff and Peter and Peter headed into Senegal customs, nearly the final step in the hour-long process. A man in his early 30s approached me. He was a teacher at the local Gambian elementary school. His teeth were white and clean, a rarity in these parts, and his personality warm and intelligent. It was Sunday and school was closed, but a dozen or so children kept close to their teacher.
“If you could, I would like you and your friends to come to my school and speak with our children,” the man told me. “But it is Sunday. You are going to Senegal.”
“Yes, to Ziguinchor,” I said. “I’m afraid we can’t stay here until Monday.” He understood.
I enjoyed speaking with him. His name was Babacar Sallah Hamat. We spoke about motorcycling, his school, America, and Barack Obama – the closer the American election draws, the more people raise the topic of Obama with me. The children were poor and in need of a bath and begged me for coins, but I had already distributed all my coins to youngsters a half-hour earlier. The kids appeared relatively well nourished, but still this area is dirt-poor. We saw nothing resembling a modern building in our brief passage through The Gambia.
This man had asked me for nothing, unlike so many on this ride. I offered him 20 Euro to put towards the school. He gratefully accepted, and the children were appreciative, too. By now the group surrounding me had swollen to nearly 20 youngsters and adults. (Babacar gave me his address: Babacar Sallah Hamat | Missera Village | Missera Lower Basic School | Jarra West District | Lower River Region | The Gambia | West Africa).
There was a hopeful joy in the children, yet a sadness, too, a sort of resignation that faces so young should not reflect. You can see it in the photo. I had looked closely into their longing brown eyes after my small gift, and after I bid the group adieu and walked off for a final documentation check, I was choking back tears.
Africa was having its effect. Immersion in the Third World changes your perspective and your priorities, as does the 24/7 concentration required to successfully execute a Third World motorbike adventure. You start out as one person and end up another.
On my first night back in the U.S. after eight months of motorcycling Latin America, I sat at a Bennigan’s in Miami. In front of me were the cold draft beer and spicy chicken wings and good old American baseball game on TV that I had dreamed of for months. I felt like throwing up.
Around me, nicely attired Americans were chattering away among themselves or on cell phones. I felt as if I had nothing in common with them. I felt nauseated by the excesses of the United States. Everything was shockingly bright and shiny and ostentatious, at least in comparison to the earthy places I had been. I had grown accustomed to journeying through areas in which privation was not the exception, but the rule.
I wrote that night in my journal, “I found myself a stranger – not just a stranger in my own country, but a stranger to the self I used to be.”
It will be the same, I know, when this Africa ride ends. The shadow of a stranger had appeared.