Day 3: Fresh cool morning. City day today. Incredible how friendly people have been to us, Peace pilgrims on bikes. We’re able to be seen and see the world around us. Welcomed into the community. Tough hot riding, but totally worth it. Looking forward to another day.
Waking up under the palm trees, I felt comfortable with our camping experience. We were back on the bike tour! We took our time packing up camp, eventually rolling back out to the road. Reflecting on the journey, today was going to have challenges and obstacles, but we’d overcome them. The key was to be mindful of the lessons learned along the way.
We continued our climb in Kindia, the mountain city. The most fertile region that we passed through, the roadside was large pineapple plantations surrounded by banana and orange trees. Many roadside vendors offered lower and lower prices for the fruit. Traffic got dense as we approached one of the larger Guinean cities.
We came to an unusual sight on the paved road, an intersection. Ethan had been through here on the taxi rides back and forth to Conakry, so he led us uphill on the bypass around the outside of town. Coming to one of the largest roadside food markets, we pulled our bikes into an unopened gas station. Crates contained the awaiting fuel pumps. Moving a nearby bench to a shady place behind a wall, we stretched and watched the street for a moment.
Looking out across the city, a large volcanic mountain was framed by the smokey horizon. I pulled out my sketchbook to capture the incredible sight, while Ethan walked down to the food vendors to find our lunch. Happy to be in the shade, I sketched anticipating lunch. Ethan returned and we passed a delicious spaghetti, beans and hard boiled egg sandwich between us. Incredible satisfied, Ethan deliberated on going back for a second.
As we had been sitting there for a while, a curious local had approached, and was now engaged in conversation with Ethan. I continued to work on my sketch, thankful for the full belly and the shade. Our new friend insisted on getting some selfies with us, so hugged together on the bench, we smiled for the camera. Some sidewalk vendors approached carrying racks of sunglasses and assorted fashion accessories. I pointed out a simple one blade / can opener knife, and Ethan agreed that it would be a nice addition to our gear.
After our long break, we finally returned to the bikes. Many shops decorated the side of the road with stacks of energy drinks inside. I still didn’t have a water bottle that fit my cage, and I thirsty wished I could get one of these bottles. Still unable to express my needs, I awaited an opportunity to ask Ethan for a drink.
Turning back onto the main road on the other side of Kindia, we soon came to a checkpoint. An older gentleman questioned Ethan. Similar to previous stops, once Ethan got to the point in the story about being with the Corps De La Paix, we were clear to go through. The old man continued to joke around with us, shaking our hands and welcoming us to Guinea.
The road took nice turn downhill as we continued onward. The steep hills were covered with luscious jungle. The weaving road would come to large clearings, where we could see out into the rolling countryside below. Feeling great, we blasted down the mountain. Seeing a shop with large water bottles, I hollered to Ethan to stop. He complied, and I now had a huge one litter bottle for my cage. Very relieved to be able to drink while we rode, my spirits soared.
At the bottom of the grade, we rode across a new large bridge. Seeing the opportunity for a break, Ethan turned us around, and we crossed back over the adjacent old narrow, one lane bridge. A worn path led us down to the water side, where several other guys were washing clothes or themselves in the slow moving water. Still feeling uncertain about the water, I patiently waited while Ethan washed. Feeling the need to relieve my bowels, I carefully walked into the brush to find a spot. Relieved, I walked back out to river, but in my infinite disgust, I felt my toes become coated in a slimy brown gunk.
Without too much investigation, I knew that it was human shit. After my disgust had passed, I realized that this was today’s lesson. Instead of being upset, it was just an opportunity to wash my feet. Thankful I had been wearing my sandals instead of my sneakers, I walked into the water and rubbed my feet through the muck. Satisfied I returned to the sun to dry off, accepting the reality of hygiene and sanitation around me.
As we relaxed, another watering hole visitor took notice of us and came over to pay us a visit. Ethan talked, while I played a little dulcimer music. Our new friend was impressed, so I gave him a couple of my stickers as souvenirs as a parting gift. Always amazed at how quickly Ethan can load up and return to the road, I once again was the slow one trying to secure my bags and get redressed.
On the road in the early afternoon, I took the lead for the first time in Guinea. Feeling strong, I pushed ahead, with Ethan steadily following behind. We approached another military checkpoint, and I slowed down. One of the guards was busy with another car, and the other appeared to be giving me the wave through. Thinking we were alright to continue, I just kept biking. The first guard was not satisfied however, and started blowing his whistle like a madman. Realizing that I was in violation, I turned around just as Ethan was arriving.
The questioning was especially tense, with me understanding very little of the rapid french. Ethan seem undisturbed as he patiently told and repeated our story. Unsatisfied, the officer requested our documents, scrutinizing them, then asking for more documentation. He didn’t seem to like that Ethan only had his Peace Corps ID, instead of his full US Passport. He also didn’t like that Ethan didn’t have his Yellow Fever documentation. But I seemed to pass, even though I didn’t speak a single useful word.
As we continued to stand there, several of the other guards walked over. They greeted us with smiles, and hearing our story, convinced the first guard that we were in fact okay. They really got a good laugh upon hearing that my name my Samba, and made Ethan type down their phone number encase something happened to us. Finally getting the go ahead, we returned to the road, though I was somewhat shaken by the encounter. Being questioned, in a language you don’t understand, by armed men, in a country far far from your home is stressful to say the least. Nonetheless, I was ever so grateful to have Ethan here to calmly work through these events. And I was even more aware of the privilege I carried with me, a US passport to go along with my white skin.
Still in the mountainous part of the country, we slowly climbed another hill. A young rider hopped on his bike as we rode through town, and joined our convoy. Once again I was impressed at his determination, riding a single speed with a loose chain up the mountain right along with us. Upon closer inspection of his bike, I realized that one of his pedals had fallen off, and that he was riding on just the pedal axle. Man, if the bike snobs back in Corvallis could see the quality of bikes here. It’s truly about the rider, not the ride.
The climbing continued for quite some time, as the sun continued to bake. Our friend eventually parted ways, reaching his destination I suppose. We rode on, until finally what seemed like the top. Quite tired, we pulled over to take a rest. ‘Whoa, there’s a big snake over there’ Ethan exclaimed. The snake appeared to be dead, but we gave it plenty of room anyways, opting for a spot further up the road.
Spreading my tarp out over some tall grass, we relaxed in partial shade, munching down large quantities of our snacks. Always grateful to be eating, I reflected on how far we’d come. Well really, I had no idea. I vaguely knew where we were going, but had little clue of the various towns along the way. We had no map, only Ethan’s memory of the trip from riding in taxis. In many way though, it made it easier to just stay in the moment, having no concept of the future.
Re-energized we returned to the road, making some more afternoon miles. The road took a general turn down again, as we eventually came to another large river. Pulling into the town of Kolente, a large market greeted us. We parked the bikes, and Ethan went shopping while I stood by our gear. Nearby a young girl was terrified by the horrible tu baboos that had just arrived. Her mother was comforting / laughing at her, as other children stared on. Her mother beckoned me over. Pulling out the candy, I carefully approached and gave her a piece, hoping to ease her terror. Still uncertain of me, I chose to pick my battles and return to the bike.
Looking around it seemed like someone was staring at my from almost every direction. Knowing when I’ve got a stage, I unstrapped my dulcimer and sat down on a nearby bench. Immediately children started to gather. Warming up, I focused on my music, as the number of children grew. Packed tighter and tighter around me, I looked up at all the curios faces around me. The looks were everything from disbelief to amusement or absolute joy. Smiling my brightest smile, I looked around the crowd from face to face. Many children responded with huge smiles of their own. Some of them would begin giggling, after looking at this incredible creature eye to eye.
I sang them some songs, and some of the kids clapped or danced along. Others continued to only stare. Nonetheless, I’m sure that moment was as memorial for them as it was to me. Ethan eventually returned, and seeing my crowd, informed me that he would be over there. Confident in myself, I continued my show, without worrying about the brief separation from my lifeline. Working through some more of my material, I felt so alive to be playing my music for the children of Guinea. What an incredible dream come true.
Having enjoyed myself, I realized when the energy was starting to wane. Putting away the dulcimer, I pulled out my next trick, my stickers. Introducing them in English, which no one seemed to understand, I took the next step of holding one out to the most curious and friendly face. My message was across, and suddenly dozens of hands were reaching from all directions. I tried to explain that they needed to share, or to only take one, but the words were lost in the commotion. No matter how many stickers I had, the hands would continue to take them. Briefly I felt the power behind those many hands, as I tried to hold my own against their might. With the stickers gone, I held up my empty hands, and thanked them for being a great audience.
Returning to my bike, I looked around the market for Ethan. Eventually I spotted him across the way, and walked my bike over. He had ordered us a large rice dinner, and we sat in the shade to eat every grain. As we sat there longer and longer, I was wondering why we didn’t start riding again. ‘I think she’s going to let us stay at her place’ Ethan finally explained. So once the rice shop was finally packed up for the evening, we pushed our bikes behind the queen of the town’s gossip that night, the rice lady who hosted the exotic bicycle riding white people. As we walked through the street, I saw many familiar faces smiling back at us, waving with their new Flatland’r Jr. stickers.