When you say the word roadtrip, most people start visualizing images of never-ending North American highways, identical Burger Kings, and soulless roadside motels.
But the kind of roadtrip I have taken over the past few months through West Africa has been a world apart from its Yankee cousin.
It’s taken me through four countries, one occupied territory, a no-man’s land full of landmines, past countless herds of camels and cows and sheeps, through 30 hours of pure Saharan desert scenery, past more than 20 police checkpoints, into lush tropical greenery and a world of white sand beaches.
I started my trip in Morocco back in January and have over the past three months made my way through Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau on a quiet, leisurely pace.
My modes of transport have consisted of shared Mercedes Benz bush taxis, colorful ramshackle minibuses, converted Chevy “Sept-Place” cars on the verge of a breakdown, a horse-drawn cart, a pirogue (a shaky little fisherman’s boat), big ferries, comfy buses, motorbikes and my own two feet.
At times I’ve been feeling totally out of place, surrounded only by men wearing a boubou, the Mauritanian version of a Moroccan jilaba…
Other times I’ve felt right at home.
It’s been quite the adventure, and I’m sorry I haven’t kept you updated all that well. Every day here in West Africa seems to be so full of adventure that each would warrant its own blog post, but that’s exactly why it’s hard to find the time to sit by the computer on a regular basis. Not a week goes by that I don’t feel a little guilty for not writing more, especially as my head is full of topics I’d love to discuss with you.
One of them is how Africa surely has the best children in the world. Never in my travels of 50+ countries have I encountered such happy, smiling, positive kids, without fail. I haven’t met a single teenager with attitude problems in West Africa nor a toddler throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the street.
Instead, I’ve met lovely boys like Makhtar, who smiled so radiantly on the beach in St. Louis, Senegal, that I just had to go say hello. I was so happy to learn his name, as it’s also the name of my favorite little boy in Mauritania.
And I’ve met beautiful girls like Jatou, who was my neighbor in Guinea-Bissau’s capital of Bissau for four days.
And I met tens of smiling kids in the rural village of Bouyouye in Casamance, Senegal.
How can you not feel overwhelming happiness when you look at these joyous faces? These guys and gals were my neighbors for a week in Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott.
So again, I’m sorry for not including you in my everyday African life a little better. You certainly would have deserved it. But actually rather than a day-by-day count of my travels, I see this blog as being a place where I can share some particular snippets from the road and some observations I’ve made along the way. At least I say that to make myself feel better about it.
If you have any particular questions about the logistics of traveling long-term, please don’t hesitate to ask. Just because it’s not in the blog, it doesn’t mean it’s a topic I am avoiding as I’d definitely love to help out with any info I may have. It’s just difficult to cover it all – especially while trying to also live in the moment, getting to know new cultures, learning new languages, and working as a professional journalist all along.
Despite my lack of details, I hope this blog will still inspire some of you to take more unconventional roadtrips in the future. During my trans-Saharan trip I barely ran into any other travelers though there are certainly plenty of wonders to be discovered in this part of the world (and on six other continents!).
So please don’t be afraid to venture beyond those well-known vacation destinations, or to look for paths less beaten in those popular countries. At least for me this is the most rewarding way to travel, though it’s certainly not always easy or relaxing. In fact, after three months in West Africa, I’m ready for a vacation!