October 29, 2018
October 29, 2018
West Africa En Vélo’s Rest Day In A ‘Lonely Place’
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well… And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
The Marrakesh Express better known to us as West Africa on Vélo from Casablanca, Morocco to Accra, Ghana has reached Boujdour, somewhere I assume the popular travel writer Pico Iyer would call a ‘Lonely Place’. Many years ago he wrote a book called Falling Off The Map: Some Lonely Places Of The World. I personally have developed an attraction to such places and Boujdour is one such town. What makes a place a ‘Lonely Place’?
I will give you an example. Yesterday, after two long days of cycling into strong head and side winds, our 140km day turned out to be relatively easy because, of course, we had a tail wind. So when I arrived in Boujdour, before heading to camp, I decided to have a cold drink. When I sat down I saw a sign for a restaurant called Fruits de Mer, and decided to check it out later for dinner.
Alas, when I arrived for dinner it turned out that the Fruits de Mer had ceased existence in some distant past and it was now a local coffee shop where a couple dozen men were watching a soccer game. So I ventured off in search of a restaurant where I could eat some fish, Boujdour being situated on the ocean. After a half an hour walk my search parameters expanded to include any kind of restaurant that might have Moroccan food and after another 20 minutes my search simply focused on finding some local fresh food. In my wanderings I came across many coffee shops. In all of them, the same picture appeared as in the former Fruits de Mer – men watching television.
So ‘Lonely Places’ are not places where there are no people. They are more like places where the modern world has not yet decided that there should be fancy restaurants, Starbuck coffee shops and tourists looking for ‘authentic’ experiences. Boujdour, in fact, is so ‘lonely’ that even though it is a fair sized town on the main Atlantic route to Mauritania, Senegal and rest of West Africa, it is not even mentioned in Morocco’s Lonely Planet book. It is so ‘lonely’ that I have yet to see a Trip Advisor ranked establishment not to mention their omnipresent logo. What is one to do if you wanted to stay in one of the hotels on the main street? There is no one who has ranked the hotels for you in terms of price, cleanliness or hospitality. What an ordeal it has been for some of our riders who chose not to stay at the campsite.
Mind you, it is not just Boujdour that is so ‘lonely’ on this section of the West Africa en Vélo. We have been cycling, and will continue cycling, on terrain that many would never consider worth visiting. That, of course, is not always the case. The famous aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery the writer of such as wonderful books as The Little Prince and Wind, Sand & Stars, did come to the region and wrote about the place.
The Little Prince was composed by Saint-Exupery while flying the desert route, rescuing pilots who had crashed delivering mail from Europe to Dakar. “This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world. It is the same as that on the preceding page, but I have drawn it again to impress it on your memory. It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared. Look at it carefully so that you will be sure to recognize it in case you travel some day to the African desert. And, if you should come upon this spot, please do not hurry on. Wait for a time, exactly under the star. Then, if a little man appears who laughs, who has golden hair and who refuses to answer questions, you will know who he is. If this should happen, please comfort me. Send me word that he has come back.”
So why would one go to see and experience such ‘lonely places’? I will leave the Little Prince to answer – “People where you live grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…” Antoine de Saint-Exupery himself put it this way – “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral“.