This is how it all began: my cycling life.
I started to cycle out of the door from the Netherlands to where my bicycle broke down, Cameroon. I was a novice to cycling, never stealth camped nor used a map to find a route before.
The route I took is the trodden one, and probably the least interesting. I was rather cycling fast and cycling was my main occupation. I would do this Africa trip very different after 5 years of cycling, but this is how it was back then. I hope you enjoy the images.
Each country is supported by one photo, in alphabetical following.
When I found a place to have breakfast this boy came to hide. While other children walked past in their crisp school uniform this boy fell asleep. It’s a simple composition with a matte effect, of a boy’s probably unfortunate life situation.
Slightly more South than the Netherlands… The trip just started and upon seeing this you know spring is in full swing! With a friend I met on my very first long journey, a Bangladeshi, we were searching for a typical Bangladesh river fish. It took us hours but we found it. This was on our (wrong) way towards the Indian section in Brussels.
Just before my bicycle broke down I cycled over this river. I was not allowed to make photographs from the bridge but I thought a river photo innocent. This was not what one of the fisherman thought. Angrily he came over to me, a big black Muslim who was literally looking down on me, trying to get a hold of my bicycle and intending to trow it off that same bridge! I got angry and tried pushing him away while the bicycle was surprisingly heavy to lift up and trow over the railing. Luckily, police guards came over to my rescue (or so I hoped). It turned out that the dispute only lenghtened itself. Me being unwilling to hand over my passport nor show him the photo’s I took. The angry Muslim kept being angry. The police guard trying to settle it all. Then, suddenly, a poacher came by with a large pyhton snake, and all was forgotten. We all bended over the killed snake in awe, almost as if we were friends.
Pleasant with its cheese and remarkable few bakeries where I could have gotten fresh bread. I stayed on camping’s all the time as I was still a novice in wild camping. This was a view near one of the camping’s. With the document I carried from Focus on Education I often got discount or free stays.
Gambia was a joke! Walking on the beach was unpleasant due to the ‘bumsters’, searching for sexual adventures. I did walk on the beach together with my parents, who came over. We changed our perspective and we had big fun with the diverse people trying to get in touch with us. Gambia was still a joke, and a lovely one. These man catching fish in huge nets were working hard, my dad pulled the line for a while too. I liked The Gambia but more for the work that I was doing then for cycling.
I did not have peak moments in Guinea-Bissau, but right before the border with Guinea Conakry I was elated by this kitten. As soon as I cuddled and played with it, a group of children came over and we had a great time together, playing with the cat. But notice the expression of the cat… it’s not happy. And that’s not strange as those children were rough with an animal as silly as a baby cat!
A fresh born calf. That was the only animal of any size I’ve seen in ‘wild’ Africa… Nonetheless I was completely amorous with him, a pity he never had seen humans on bicycles and so the calf hurried out of there, back to his mom, as quick as he could.
Guinea Conakry II
I was cycling with two Irish brothers and French guy. We formed a magical little platonic family and the French warned us not to cycle from Liberia straight into Ivory Coast as rebels were active. So I got myself a second expensive (€100) visa for Guinea (one the border officials -4 different people- never checked as they all checked the first expired visa) and we entered a corner of Guinea. We had a magical ride through real, almost the last existent dense forest in West Africa where we climbed a hill overlooking Liberia, Ivory Coast and Guinea
Early morning cycling on the beach, as there was no other path known to me, just after crossing the border. That was a hassle: first, a border guard with gun shot into the air to get my attention. Second, there was no stamp available. Third, pushing bicycle back and forth between the two borders. Forth, to find out the Ghana border patrol wanted to be paid bribes for not having a stamp. No way!
Another very comfortable country to be in, I liked the people, who are very relaxed. Yet I find it often difficult to ask their photograph to be taken. It’s all so graceless: I step of the bicycle sweaty and stinky, barge in a coffee shop, drink two tea like I am all dried up and ‘oh, by the way, can I make a photo of you?’ Countries like India are the opposite, where I sometimes have to reject people’s photo’s to be taken… I had my eyes on the girl in the background. Girls in Ivory Coast have their heads shaven remarkable often, and I think this only enhance their beauty. I found her so pretty that I asked her for a photograph. Unfortunately, she turned out to be very shy and all I got was a pose way too stiff. The guy, on the other hand, was a natural poser. This way I got both while the girl stood comfortable and natural again.
An exciting photograph is one where something’s happening. Can I say something is happening here? The hand holds a mini crocodile which is for sale. If we want to carry a crocodile on our bicycles? What I like in this picture is the minimal action along with the Rastafarian colors in the back ground.
I made quite a lot of photo’s in Morocco, this one is like a window into the Sahara. Endless land, only one road and very few villages. This photo invites you into a magical unknown fairy tale. Not seeing where the road leads to is utterly dramatic: over the hill or around it. A classic example of a road you nééd to follow. Cycling is addictive indeed!
Universal! I was here with a friend who wanted to get out of Mauritania as soon as possible while upon arriving at an oases I wished I could stay here at least a week. The local people I met, the men in their beautiful bright blue boubou kaftan’s, and this little girl. She sat quickly down on a chair after I’d asked her father this was a school. There were many mini chairs standing but no children and no teacher. A teacher would only come in winter season, that is, if any tourist was willing to teach. So the father gathered all his kids and they all took place on the chairs. This girl took her doll with her and suddenly the class was ready, including a plastic white baby.
I was trying to make a photo of a river when a man out of the bush came to me. He overpowered me by standing too close, towering over little Cindy. He asked me what I was doing, and I felt recalcitrant to answer him. He came even closer than he already was, and for a moment I got a bit worried. It turned out he wanted to be in the photo, and not something like a river! By the way, the people of Nigeria might look impressive and fearful, yet they are one of the most friendly, funny and relaxed people of all West Africa I have come upon.
I was not really fond of Senegal, and thus I didn’t make much photo’s. I remember this photo is connected to a good feeling. I was on a long stretch of road where was no one to be seen. For the first time since the Sahara it was pure bliss to be alone and not being screamed ‘toubab’ to. These birds stand for how I felt; at ease, content yet on my guard.
A very powerful portrait of a very strong woman, no doubt. She must have experienced the war, yet her expression speaks, maybe because of the brutal war. I can read sadness, proud and a big hurt. Previous to this shot, she was laughing hard with her friends, and here she managed to keep serious. Funny detail, I came upon a group of women, where she was part of, dripping blood and in desperate need of food. I just had fallen hard and didn’t want to bother with dressing the wounds yet. The women were anxious and I remember that I wondered about that, women who had lived through a horrible war!
I have been to Spain quite a few times and never did I find it this beautiful and pleasant. I was most impressed with the Extremadura state. Cycling is a very different perspective to any other sort of traveling (but for walking).
Togo was cycled through in a day, was it not if I’d to arrange a visa for Benin. Meanwhile I needed to replace spokes, wash all my laundry and take advantage of being in a city where I could eat well. Time for strolling around and making photo’s was not on my to-do-list.
Not the obvious photo but the Sahara is so full of beauty that another fantastic feature often is ignored: fresh fish! And let’s be real, after a day in the desert, after at least 130 kilometer day after day, after escorted by a different protector daily whose job it was to put us (a cycle partner and me) off at a gas station (no camping permitted!) this plate of food is HEAVENLY! Way better than my own cooked meal! And isn’t it just a beautiful pile of food!?