scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


After changing from guilt-induced and reluctant journalling to near fanaticism I have now lost my journal. I took a bus from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to Kumasi, Ghana. We arrived in the middle of the night. I got off, but my journal stayed tucked neatly in the crevace between the seats. The bus continued to Accra. I've tried calling. Somebody at some point actually laughed at me.

I've been writing a lot lately. Some of this has made it onto this blog. Some has made its way to some of you in the form of email letters. But much of it stayed right there, hidden like wide eyed and fearful smiles, in the pages of that leatherbound journal.

And now who knows where it is. I try to imagine what the reader is thinking right now... for who could resist a peak really? Not I. It could be they think I'm crazy, vain, stupid, confused. They would be right.

At any rate, it is a major loss to me. And irreplaceable. But I let it go. I cast it out on the waters and it becomes soggy and sinks to the bottom with the old car tires and beer cans and the mud coloured fish with their buggy eyes. Surprised.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thoughts from Ougadougou

Really, Ougadougou has got to be the coolest city name ever. It really sounds like Africa (what do I mean when I say that?)

I have been reflecting lately on the the different stages of feeling that I've been through on my trip so far. At this point I've been in Africa over two months. I've seen seven different countries, travelled thousands of kilometres. Been to the desert and the sea. Travelled by car, bus, truck, boat, motorcycle and foot. It hasn't always been easy, but it has almost always been good. And this seems to be my preference anyway. For things to be good rather than easy.

But the most important passings I've made so far in Africa have not been through physical landscapes, but the frontiers of my heart and my mind. It's like there are little hands inside my body, inside my head, feeling constantly for the boundaries of mind and soul, mapping them out with little strokes, testing the strength of the perimeter and pushing where they feel some give.

Lonliness has been one of these regions of exploration.
The last few years have been some of the most rewarding and exciting of my life. But they've undoubtedly been the saddest as well. I am typically a very social person. I have always had a lot of friends. At the same time I have found, in the last couple of years especially, real solace in solitude. I enjoy being alone. I especially enjoy it when I'm travelling, as I have some confidence, at this point, in my ability to handle the new and the bizarre without freaking out or making a scene. I'm petrified of making scenes as a traveller. Of course, all the cultural sensitivity in the world doesn't change the colour of my skin, and in many of the places where I've been in the last months this alone is enough to cause a real stir. Some of these places, I think, see few whiteys. The kids yell at you when you walk by. Toubab! Blanco! Le Blanc! Depends which country you're in. It is said sometimes with malintent. Sometimes without. It's easy to know which is which.
But I've met many people and made some friends along the way. I've stayed many nights in the homes of those I've connected with through the couchsurfing and hospitality club networks. But I've spent as many nights in the homes of those I've simply met along the way. Sometimes I enjoy this and sometimes I don't.

I began the journey in Morocco, with lots of fear and no lonliness. This lasted until I guess a few weeks ago when I first started to realize that I did, in fact, want to share these experiences with someone. My inability to capture the truth and beauty or the extreme discomfort of moments is a constant frustration to me. In the right circumstance I can write something which, i think, translates a bit of the feeling of a particular experience, but the limits of my skills and equipment in the realm of photography means that the visual interpretation of my time in Africa cannot possibly live up to the experiences themselves. And this is a pity. I really wish you all could see these things. The red dirt roads tunnelling holes through green walls of trees. The broad and sultry mango trees with their cool leaves and their fruit hanging thick, ready to drop from the sky like gifts from god. The site of a truck loaded with twice its own volume of straw, or wood, or sacks of grain, or people or flipflops and padlocks. The smooth brown walls of the mud mosques in the Dogon. The stars in the desert. Too many things. I'm not a photographer. It's a pity we can't all stand and look at these things together. Tant pis pour nous.

So I've switched things up a bit. I'm not as fearful, and I'm more lonely. I guess it's an even trade. I worry about the lack of fear though, and worry that it's accompanied by other things less desirable. Like callousness. I had a large argument with a man today, explaining that I didn't want to buy a small motorcycle made from old beer cans. I was less nice than I usually am.

And I'm bad at budgeting time. I have to post this quick like before my credit runs out.

tomorrow to Ghana. ciao my friends.


more photos

you will have to flop your head to the side to view some of these. sorry kids.

1. Returning from the Bijagos to Bissau I decided to take once-weekly big boat rather than chance it in a littl one again. The loading of the boat is an unbelievable mess with people, animals, cargo and enough "dried" fish to feed the subcontinent. People crowd on the pier, throwing money, tins of food and cookies, sachets of water, straw mats back and forth. This guy, who must work for the boat company, apparently was in charge of making the departure "safe" or at least punctual (impossibility). Without warning he started beating everyone within reach with his short little club. Amazing how little effect this had. He was fighting a losing battle.

2. Bissau. The capital of Guinea-Bissau is in an unbelievable state. The country, according to the locals, is run completely by the mafia. The best evidence of this is that nothing, actually, seems to be "running". As far as I can tell there are no public services at all. If you're waiting for a bus, or for a truck to cart off your garbage you're going to be waiting a long time... There is sporadic electricity and the streets are completley unlit. At night it looks deserted, completely black. So strange to walk down streets in the busy central district and not be able to find a light. As far as I could tell, the country has no running water. My host had a beautiful bathtub with shiny chrome shower head and a polished ceramic toilet. But nothing works, and you stand in the beautiful bathtub and wash with a bucket of water drawn from the well in the backyard. The streets, even in the downtown core, are lined with cars long abandoned and stripped of anything strippable. Many of them still carry bulletholes from the last war. But I loved the city! I spent an amazing five hours just jamming on the street with a group of Cape Verdian men. I was glad for my education in the ways of Cesaria Evora! They fed me green mango mixed with peppers and cold beers and I sang them songs about the heartland. It's a beautiful city in it's way, and I loved my time there.

3. Travel in West Africa, but especially the Guineas, is an extreme exercise in patience. I spent 36 hours at this gare routiere waiting for a car to Labe. Guinea had to be the worst though, as the country experienced, overnight, a 60 per cent increase in fuel costs while I was there. Prices for passengers went up immediately and nobody could afford to travel. Because cars leave when they're full this meant extra long waits. As well, to make up for lost revenue, the drivers would pack even more (is this possible?) people into already full spaces. Longer waits. Fuller cars. If Guinea wasn't so unbelievably wonderful in every other way I would've said good riddance and lit a shuck for Mali. But that country, especially the Fouta Djalon region, turned out to be a highlight and somewhere I hope to return. Hopefully with my own transport...

4. Bonne Chance... every little bit helps. 14 people in this car, for 12 hours.

5. The sun setting on Africa. Travelling at night is much preferred to travelling during the day, though it is probably more dangerous. The more exhausted you are the better, and the night air is a mercy.

photos at last!

After a long absence (involuntary) the blog is back with some photooos. Not quite sure how these will come out, but we'll give it a try quoi.

1.My hostess for a full week in Dakar, Virginie. This pic was taken on the Isle de Madelaine, a tiny little scrub of rock and bird poop with a gorgeous natural pool, interesting rock formations and some squat baobob trees.

2. This is Dakar from the big boat which goes to Ziguinchour in Senegal's separatist Cassamance region. The 15 hour trip was enjoyable, though next time I will spring the extra 3000 CFA for a bed.

3. First haircut in... a long time, performed with a leatherman. My hair is in a real state at this point, but getting it cut here is out of the question. "White hair" is the dark side of the moon.

4. Lost at Sea! Failed attempt to hail a boat for some help.

5. A turban is one of the most practical thing for an overland/overwater traveller.