The Africa Tour
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2.Stage (March/April 1990): Tamanrasset (Algeria) - Lome (Togo)
250 kms250 kms lie ahead of me to the border of the Niger. The sun burns down onto the sandy plain, blurring my vision with a hazy veil. It is 50°C in the shade, of which there is none. I am pulling rather than pushing my bike through the soft sand. When I finally reach the only tree in sight, I collapse in the semi shade it's dry branches have to offer, completely exhausted and not very optimistic. Where are those 5 to 10 trucks that were said to come this way daily? The track is wide because everybody chooses his own way through this scorching hell and I'm sure I've missed the next route mark, a cement pillar I should have passed a long time ago. In the far distance I hear the sound of an engine now. A truck! A truck beyond my range of vision and unreachable to me! My despair grows when I am reminded of my water supplies that have long since dried up.
But at long last a truck does come my way, I load my bike and catch a ride with two Algerian truck drivers to Arlit , in the Republic of Niger. I learn the hard way that crossing the desert by truck is not at all less strenuous than by bike. It takes us a week to put the 400 kms behind us, and soon my hands are raw from countless efforts of maneuvering the truck out of soft sand by digging and laying sheets of corrugated iron. We escape the extreme midday sun, hiding out under the truck, resting and drinking tea, and resume our journey in the evenings just before sunset. We loose our track once, but luckily, find our way back just in time before dark, with the help of compass and a map.
Temperatures remain unchanged though. In Agadez I spend a few days with the nomadic Tuaregs that roam the southern Sahara, where evening meals are shared under the open sky, from one communal pot. The custom of eating by hand makes it an interesting experience but my system is not fond of these foreign ways. I end up booking myself into a hotel room for a few days, recovering from the consequences.
But, as if to compensate me for the inconvenience, the "grand frere" offers me a mystical piece of paper that will, allegedly, protect me from bandits and other unpleasant surprises along my way. He copies mysterious phrases out of an ancient book of the Koran and hands it to me for only a few francs. And as it so happens I am given the opportunity to put it to the test at the next roadblock just outside Agadez. I am being held up by an officer who prohibits my thoroughfare, due to a high risk of attacks along the route. When I produce my newly purchased lucky charm, however, he shows me his; and is even willing to reconsider the risk issue, for a small price of course. I choose to wait. And with the change of staff the next morning, the risk of attacks disappears all together. With every kilometer I put behind me, the arid bush of the Niger gradually gives way to the humid marshlands and forests of Benin. The change of climate, however, brings along with it the dreaded mosquitoes. I don't sleep out in the open any longer, not only because of the heavy thunderstorms at this time of the year; but I am also loathed to share my tent with lions, elephants or snakes. But luckily I find lodgings in almost every village with European development workers or catholic missionaries, the latter even providing me with blessings for the road ahead. This is paradise! The streets are lined with
mango -and banana trees and in the "supermarkets" I even find a few European products. If only there wasn't the constant headwind from the coast.
A "must-see" in Abomey, the former Capital of Benin, is the royal palace. One of the kings had 4000 wives, quite an achievement at a life expectancy of 30 years. And then I finally reach the sea, a coast lined with picture perfect palm tree beaches.
I make a little detour to Togo, the Capital of Lomé, mainly out of culinary interests. Next to supermarkets and bicycle shops Lome even boasts a Bavarian restaurant, which has been serving traditional German specialties and Bavarian beer since the visit of F.J.Strauss many years back. So: "Prost!"
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