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Letter to Pilgrim


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Well, Pilgrim, my Native friends are convinced that everything is for a reason; that Creator has a plan and that everything means something. “His eye is on the sparrow” sort of thing.


Some weeks ago I was visiting a friend in Ziguinchor. In an bathtub old outdoors in the family compound was a tortoise: a Bell's Hinge-Back Tortoise, to be precise. Luc, who runs the reptile farm north of Kartung in The Gambia, is convinced they are threatened and is working to educate people not to eat them as well as trying to breed them. (With each other, not him!) (Yeah, yeah. I know. He's French, etc.)


Anyhow, I figured that a good thing to do would be to get the tortoise to Luc's refuge or the poor animal would end up as lunch. I took it home with me on the back of the bike and let it wander in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. I phoned Luc and told him about it. He was interested and wanted the animal.


I'm not going into The Gambia again until I get clearance. Being a guest at Mile Two Prison is not my idea of a good time. I asked Luc if I could send the turtle across the river to Kartong and he said he'd send a man to collect the critter.


Kartong Village is on the Gambian side. There's nothing on the Senegalese side except mangroves, mud, a gazillion fiddler crabs, and, a couple hundred meters inland, sand. And more sand. Deep stuff. A couple of kilometers of it. The locals are gradually building a road paved with oyster shells across this duneland but it is far from complete and still a real challenge on the bike. I drop the tire pressures to 12 in front and 15 rear, stand on the pegs and lean way the hell back, and try to fight my self-preservation instincts by keeping the throttle cranked with constant power. The closest thing I can compare it to is skiing in deep powder. Weight back, keep the front floating and make sweeping, gradual turns. The bike moves under me instead of me moving on top of the bike as in road riding.


I'm getting much better at it. That is to say, I only fell twice on the way there and once on the way back. Relatively slow-speed falls. Bent rear brake lever, which is no big deal. It's steel and I can bend it back.


So, I get to the river and put the tortoise in the water to cool off. She's doing fine. Curious and imperturbable. The boatman is paddling his dugout across with three men and three bicycles. When they arrive the men pile out and wade ashore with their bicycles. They are Fulas and are smuggling the bikes into Senegal to sell. There is no border crossing or checkpoint here.


I explain to the boatman what I need. “I'm too busy!” he says. “I am working!” I ask him to just take the tortoise to the other side and that I will pay him. “I'm not going there!” he says. Then he paddles away and heads straight for the other side. “Thank you very much for your kindness,” I shout. “Allah will repay you!” This stops him. He pauses in his paddling and shouts back something unintelligible. “You are a bad Muslim!” I shout. “And what's more, you are a liar!”

He yells something back at me but continues to the other shore.


The hell with it! I put the turtle back in her cardboard carton and head towards home. I am two-thirds of the way through the sandbox when I chicken out on the throttle, the front wheel catches, and down I go. While I'm working at righting the bike my phone rings. (These are the days of lasers in the jungle, Lasers in the jungle somewhere...) It is Luc. From across the river his man has seen me leave. I explain about the ferryman. Luc says he will send his assistant across the river to get the tortoise. I right the bike, head back to the river without mishap. As I arrive the dugout is coming across again with three passengers and a 50-kilo bag of rice. Luc's man greets me, collects the tortoise and prepares to leave. One of the passengers comes up and says, “Aren't you the doctor?” I allow as I am.

It turns out he is on the local hospital committee. I'd thought he looked familiar. He asks me about the tortoise and I tell him the story. It turns out he is not just on the hospital committee but runs a school plus he is the head of the local Society for the Preservation of Nature. There are two lakes in the area with more than 400 bird species and many animals. The locals go there and hunt the animals and birds when they come to drink at the lakes. For years he has been trying to get the people to stop their hunting and protect the forests.


We talk for quite some time and I ask him if I can be of help in his projects. He is very interested and so am I. We exchange telephone numbers.


Ah, the power of “coincidence”! If it hadn't been for the recalcitrant boatman I wouldn't have met this man. If the bike hadn't gone down I wouldn't have heard Luc's telephone call and returned to the river. As my son, Ben, used to say when he was little, “It gives you think!”

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Mr Olson


You were looking for a new adventure for us.


Doc could be our guide.







I do that all the time....


Jan....your interest is noted.


We will keep you in the loop.



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Mr Olson


You were looking for a new adventure for us.


Doc could be our guide. :lurk:


Well, he certainly could be! Although honestly, I'm much more comfortable reading about that part of the world than actively participating.


I think I like my adventures a little less hazardous to one's physical and mental health and yet its these very features which makes Doc's communications all the more fascinating.

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Any time, you guys!!

You'd have to make arrangements to ship bikes here, though. No rentals anywhere near here.


Now,getting bikes in Europe and riding down....that's a nice plan!

Morocco, Western Sahara (nice people), Mauretania, Senegal, Gambia, Senegal (Casamance). Then, when you get here we head for Mali!

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