The morning sun burns a yellow red through the palm trees and the humid air is quickly warming up around me. We patiently pack up camp and walk the bikes back through the dense grass to the paved road. Ethan had told me to make sure my passport was easy to get to, we’d be passing through a checkpoint soon. Sure enough, the roadblock was ahead. The road, normally a wide open affair, was slowed to a stop. The street was busy with this morning’s market, sold through stopped car windows.
We made our way past line of stopped taxi to the uniformed guards. The big man in charge motioned us over. Où allez-vous? Siguiri. D’où venez vous? Conakry. Taking a look at us and our bicycles. Mais enfin, qu’est-ce que tu fais? Ethan replied, Corps de la Paix. Ahh, Corps de la Paix! Traverser! Insisting that we take a water bag each from one of the waiting children, he waved us through. Bonne chance!
Riding into the nearby town, Ethan pulled the bike off the road beside a lady standing behind a large pot. Eyes from all over town were generally in our direction. A few children stood a safe distance away and gawked. Ethan brought my attention back to the bikes. He was loading up water bags, and I joined in the process, refilling my bottle and rehydrating my empty belly. Securing his load, he passed me a hard boiled egg. Devouring the egg, we returned to the road to continue our morning ride.
As the sun got higher and higher in the sky, we eased our way down the road. Ethan set a steady pace, as we settled into greeting everyone we met. I was glad to have him out front to do the talking, so I could sneak by with a polite, silent wave. As we rode, I got more comfortable with the ride. The other vehicles seems to give us plenty of space, and the road was in pretty good shape. Nonetheless, the sun continued to bake and I started getting warmer and warmer in the noonday sun.
At the bottom of a large hill I felt exhausted. I really need to take a break, but Ethan is just trucking up the hill. Something from my bag was rubbing against my wheel, so I stopped the bike. Ethan will figure it out. Turning to look at my saddlebag, I noticed that the sandals I had brought along from America were nowhere to be found. I had tucked them under the saddlebags, thinking that the weight would be enough to hold them in place. Feeling the rage build within me, I unleashed a terrific roar, as some passing children stopped to stare at this monstrosity.
Frustrated with the heat, my inability to express my needs to Ethan, and losing the sandals, I stewed in the road. The kids were trying to help me out, but I wanted none of there help or attention. As I continued to curse, Ethan returned to figure out what was wrong. I bitched about my situation, and he suggested that we take a break. Following him up the road again, I was thankful when he pulled over towards a friendly face that was hailing us to join him.
Smoldering in my frustration, I silently joined Ethan and our new friend in the shade. A young Rasta man, who spoke some english, we relaxed while drinking a water bag. After a little while, my anger passed, and I was thankful for the shade and the pleasant company. While Ethan went through his standard ‘who we are’ conversation, I pulled out the dulcimer to share my music. Sitting on the poarch of a hut in rural Guinea, I started playing my songs.
Starting with some background music, I settled into playing. Soon I started singing my songs, and had a wonderful realization. Usually when I sing, I’m concerned with making sure I sing the right words, getting the lyrics right. But here in Africa, I realized how it really doesn’t matter what I sing. Sing with passion, sing with joy, sing with pain, sing to share myself. The words don’t matter, the emotions behind them do.
Completely relaxed, and over my self-centered spell (for now), I realized that the Rasta man had a pair of sandals for sale here on the porch. I looked them over, they looked like they would fit and asked the price. Demill, or 10,000. Pulling out a bill and handing it to him, I had a replacement to my lost pair! The sandal is the standard Guinean shoe, and I had gotten my new set for the equivalent of one US dollar.
After rearranging some things on my bike, we were back on our way after saying our farewells. As we reached the road, our friend called out to us. Turning to look, I had left my dulcimer behind! Turning around, I went back to retrieve it. Meeting our friend, he asked in a quiet voice, ‘Hey man, give me a demill.’ I gratefully pulled out two for him. Thanking him, I returned to the road, as Ethan turned around to give him another demill. Refreshed from our break, we got back to our journey.
The dense jungle that we had woken up in was rapidly changing to more open grassland. The fires were burning around us in places, thinning the forest even more. We began to climb our first real mountain pass, as I gazed out at the distance palm trees.
I’ve never really minded climbing. It takes more effort, but generally you get into a groove. Shift down to a low gear and slowly make you way up the mountain. Eventually you’ll get to the top, then you get a nice easy ride down on the other side. Compared to fighting the wind, climbs are a rewarding challenge. Every once in a while, you look over and get to see an incredible vista, and you really appreciate how far you’ve come.
As we climbed the grade, we passed a single kid walking alongside the road. He was carrying nothing, and clothed in the standard kids outfit, a Barcelona jersey. As we reached the summit of the hill, we stopped underneath a lone shade tree to catch our breath. The kid that we had passed 15 minutes ago arrived a few minutes later. At first he stood carefully away, but soon he crept closer under the shade. Amazed that he had caught up with us so quickly, I passed him a piece of candy, which produced a huge smile. Ethan gave him one of our water bags, as the three of us enjoyed the shade, glad to be out of the afternoon sun. A few minutes later, communicating only through smiles, we loaded back up and said farewell.
We continued our ride through small villages, going up and down hills. After hearing so many greetings over the last day, I was starting to pick it up. ça va? ça va bien! The roadside sights were also becoming more usual. Cars packed with people, inside and on top, seemed like a normal thing. Packs of kids that hollered when we rode through town, were entertaining instead of intimidating. The constant stares were completely understandable, because really Ethan and I are quite the duo of bicycle superheros rolling through your town.
We stopped in a shady town, and Ethan purchased a loaf of bread, a handful of fresh, small bananas, and some fried dough (the total cost, $1). Munching down the snacks, I was amazed at how far our money went here. I feel wealthy in America, because I can purchase whatever I want at a grocery store, but in Guinea I felt like a real fat cat. Returning to the road, we picked up another cyclist for our adventure. Riding on a worn out single speed, the guy was right on pace with us as we climbed over the hills. Seeing the excitement in his eyes, it was so validating to have a local riding along with us.
We rode into the late afternoon, until deciding to take a break in the shade. We pulled over, and our friend kept on riding. Waving farewell, we were both amazed at the strength and determination of this kid. Taking a break is a choreographed dance of how quickly can you strip off your sweaty clothes, and get horizontal in the shade. Ethan was soon asleep, as I stretched out my tired limbs. Even in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, a group of children wandered past, then circled back to observe us from a distance. Running low on water, we needed to get to the next town, so we loaded up again, and returned to the road.
We arrived in town in the evening as folks were returning from work, and soon everyone knew we were there. Feeling quite famous, I smiled at the kids and awkwardly answered questions as Ethan shopped for supplies. Thankful for his return, we packed our water bags, giving a few away to the curious children around us. We then sat in the shade and passed a large bean and hard boiled egg sandwich back and forth between us. After eating, Ethan continued to talk to seemingly everyone in town. His charisma was impressive, taking the time to talk with every interested party. Returning to the bikes, we waved farewell, and left town looking for a place where we could camp for the night.
Surrounded by fields of pineapples, we pulled over to get a fresh one ourselves from a roadside vendor. Thanking the lady, we were back on the road. Ethan instructed ‘We’ve got to be careful, if the kids see us, they’re surely follow.’ He suddenly whipped the bike down a footpath into some dense vegetation. Following, we made our way away from the road, looking for a discreet place to camp. We came to a large hole dug into the ground, probably 30 feet across, beside a pineapple field. ‘What do you think?’ ‘It’ll do.’ We walked our bikes down into the hole, careful to avoid detection from the last of the nearby field hands.
Settling down for the evening, the sun soon set, as we went through our evening routine. Strip off the riding clothes. Wash your face and hands with a little water and a bandana. Spread out the tarps. I carved the pineapple with my spoon, eating large chunks of the delicious fruit. Pile up the food, and start munching through it. Ethan lit a candle, as he started telling me more about his life and experience here. I worked on my sketch for the day, and showed Ethan when I finished. ‘I remember that place.’ Satisfied, we stared up at the sky full of stars framed by the silhouettes of palm trees, as we drifted off to sleep.