The first-ever West Africa en Vélo will arrive to Cape Coast tomorrow with many people jetting home in time for holiday festivities with family. Our tour story teller Sophie shares a final look back on their adventure.
Not all souvenirs are ones we buy in local currencies. Some are earned, through blood, sweat, or tears. On TDA West Africa, the best souvenirs we will bring home cannot be purchased in a market or at a roadside stall. They come from long days on the road, earned between moments of perfect clarity and intense struggle – keepsakes that will remind us of a time when adventure was a way of life.
One of my favorite souvenirs comes from opening your bag of tent stakes. Every night, you dig your tent stakes deep into the dirt, clay, or gravel – whatever form the earth may take. And every morning, you pull out each stake, hurrying to pack before coffee is served. After weeks on the road, tipping the bag of tent stakes upside down will result in week’s worth of dirt. Customs might not love the dead bugs that have smuggled themselves home with you, but it is a nice reminder of how far you’ve come. Our campsites took us high into the Atlas Mountains at the foot of the Tinmel Mosque, built in the 13th c. We fell asleep to the rushing sound of water at the foot of a waterfall and along countless rivers in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. Pitching our tents in the middle of soccer fields or on school grounds often meant eating dinner while enjoying the local soccer match. No matter where it was, it was home for the night.
We have collected scars from bundu bashing (bush whacking) down jungle tracks in Guinea, tumbling over the handlebars onto a gravel shoulder, and encountering vicious vines on our way to a rendezvous with the shovel. These are the physical evidence that these countries have touched us. Not only in the interactions we have everyday with those we bike past, but the land that our tires roll over or the rocks that cushion our fall as we spill gracefully from our bikes. These physical markings are constant reminders of the time we spent in turmoil, rolling over mountains and dirt roads, fighting towards the next moment of adventure.
And lastly, the tan lines that will last only for a few months. These are the golden, intense reminders of the hours spent in the saddle, pedaling thousands of kilometers through dust, dirt, and sand with the sun shining down. As the environment changed, the UV rays did not. Kilometers spent battling headwinds in Western Sahara or soft sand in Senegal was still time spent pedaling under the same sun. Though wearing anything but a cycling kit may entice some odd looks or pointed remarks, we know that these marks don’t come from a relaxing day at the beach.
Though most riders picked up gifts along the way, there are souvenirs that you can’t choose to buy. You don’t intend for them to hang on the wall, showcasing to your friends where you’ve been. They belong to you, and you alone. They are a part of your story and a part of what goes home with you.