Monday, December 13, 2010

Mission Antwerp-Dakar accomplished

The morning ride to the border is wonderful, displaying the avian fauna of the Senegal River wetlands in all its beauty, and the road is a piece of cake, but the border crossing isn’t. Mauritania is all right, but our first impression of Senegal could have been better: toll at the bridge, unofficial customs fee, utterly slow officials, and the incomprehensible need to reregister the bikes within 24 hours at the customs office in the port of Dakar, some 300 kms further south. Nothing compared to the difficulties our French friends have to endure without a carnet de passage en douane. We are very happy to arrive at a nice beach hotel in Saint-Louis late afternoon…  We spend a couple of days with our French and Mauritanian friends, enjoying the pool, beach and Papayer night club. Our heart goes out to our beloved ones at home, shivering in November’s rain and cold…

The French are going back, so it’s the two of us again, heading south. Just outside Saint-Louis, we stumble upon the (apparently infamous) police post that succeeds in ripping off every unexpecting tourist for not using the indicator light when pulling over. It doesn't make a good impression of this country, plagued by corruption and bad governance as it is. Dakar is the city to be avoided, as we are told, because of its touts, hustlers and pickpockets. We will try to avoid the worst by finding a nice place to sleep and leave the luggage near Lac Rose, the all famous arrival of the early Paris-Dakar, and then ride into town. Potholed roads or just dirt tracks, heavy traffic, chaos, people and animals everywhere, but no sign of aggression yet. We follow the GPS all the way to the port, park the bikes, go into the customs office, are being helped around and an hour later, we cannot help to feel that this city isn’t all that bad. There is a lot of genuine interest in our bikes and our journey, and even the youngsters at the port are rather polite. Back at the camp site, we decide to take the test and move into town, tomorrow.

The following day, I definitely have to tour the lake and as Isabel doesn’t feel perfectly fit, I leave on my own. The southern shore is gravelled and provides me with a nice view on the weird pink color of the lake and the dunes between the lake and the ocean. I’m in doubt whether to try the northern way back, because I have seen where it goes: sand dunes several meters high… I’m glad to find a small track leading into the fields around the lake. Soon, I have no choice but to continue, and I rush over the dunes, through a village, towards the beach. This will probably be the first and the last time I’m taking the bike this far… The easiest way to get out of here, is to start riding along the waterfront and wait for a lower dune to cross it. I have never felt this before: high speed, drifting through the sand, pulling the bike backwards… it almost feels like I am surfing on the ocean’s waves. I manage to get over the first dunes, a very steep downhill, but then get off track and end somewhere in a swamp around a side lake. It takes me a while to get back uphill in the dunes and on the track. The Tenere gets overheated and I have to give her a break. I get a little help from a French 4WD driver and he advises me to lower the rear tire pressure. I wish I hadn’t followed his advice: I’m no longer able to cross any of the tracks made by the hotel-owned safari trucks: the rear wheel stays behind and the front goes completely loose! I need another hour or so and the help of a souvenir-seller to cover the last 2 kms to the campsite. But I made it. I toured Lac Rose on a XT660Z Tenere with Heidenau K60 tires! It cost me another twisted steering bar and sand all over the bike, though.

With a little help from a friendly man, we find a basic and affordable room in Dakar. Again, we are surprised by how far away our experience is from what we were told. We have been here for a couple of days now and the only bad experience is that after dark, some T-shirt sellers have tried to pickpocket us while we were taking a short walk on a side street. With a firm voice and hand movement, it was not so difficult to get rid of them. All other street sellers have been polite, friendly and readily accept a “no”. People at petrol stations (cleaning the bikes and air filters), shops, markets and on the streets in all kinds of neighborhoods, posh and poor alike, have been just as everywhere else on this planet. We have given Dakar a definite “go through”. It’s just a pity that we did not really have the chance to get under its skin at night. And they should definitely do something about the daily power cuts.

So, that’s where we are now. It’s already been a fantastic journey, but as the local Yamaha importer told us: from Dakar on, there are no 17’’ rear tires anymore, reflecting the relative distance to the Developed World. We are planning to visit The Gambia and then go East towards Mali, another country on the Black List. In Bamako, the bikes will need to be serviced; at least another oil + filter change (over 10k kms!). The rear tires are approaching the Autumn of their all too short lives, and Isabel’s chain set is showing wear signs. The Yamaha guy warned us not to grease it anymore, as long as we don’t meet water. In the dust, it survives longer without than with a fancy European chain spray… TIA, this is Africa!

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