Monday, May 2, 2011

First Day on the Road

Not a bad sleep. Skip the ladle-and-dirty-water-in-a-pail shower
(henceforth referred to as a bucket shower). After inquiring about
the safety of consuming the local breakfast in a bun (more about food
later), I dive in. It is delicious.
We assemble the bikes (supplied by The Bicycle Café in Canmore, AB),
arrange money business, play with the local kids, snap some shots and
pack up the pickup truck.  Finally, well behind schedule, we
say goodbye to Paul and Larry and head off on our adventure.
CAUSE employee, Oumar Kamara strikes out with us on a new road bike
that was purchased in SL for the occasion.
Essa is the driver, a short young man of few words. Augusta Nuwoma is a Sierra Leonean university student and part-time CAUSE employee, in whose trust we leave our passports and valuables while we are riding.
Oumar (a prince of a man - humble, soft-spoken, eager to serve) quickly
finds that his bike is cheap and poorly set up and he can't keep up.
So, he and his bike go in the pickup and we head off again.
We are quite the sight: three white guys riding bikes on the dirt
roads linking tiny villages that dot Sierra Leone.  Along the way,
we get high-fives, and thumbs-up to the ubiquitous, "Opotoo!
Opotoo!..." from countless children along the way.  Reckoning it to be
some local greeting, we start yelling it back to them: "Opotooo!" 
Then we asked Omar. Apparently, it means "White man!"  
I'm still not sure if the intended meaning is "SacrĂ© bleu, there goes a white man!" or
"Yikes, look how white those white men are!" or "Ha ha, look at the
silly looking Whiteys!"
We are advised that one reasonable response from us could be
"Aoonabee" or "black man!"  We haven't got beaten up or cursed at for
that one... that we know of.
The roads are pretty hard going:  Dirt, and ranging from "shake-your-fillings-loose" washboard surface to 2-inch deep sand that is reminiscent of deep Montreal snow - very difficult to steer in. Some is not bad, just generally bumpy, but the potholes can be big.
There are still checkpoints along the road left over from the war,
where stern-faced officials in uniform stop you for questioning.
invariably though, these guys end up being fun-loving pussycats who
enjoy a good joke, some conversation, and a photo op.
Ross has one game he plays with all the children he meets.  It's the
old, "Give me five!"  He then pull his hand away at the last moment and
say, "Oh, too slow."  On to the next little kid, same gag, etc., until
eventually one of them gets him. He makes a huge face, lets out
a yelp of pain, and the kids scream with delight at this goofy mammoth
(6' 4") Opotoo.
I manage to take a little spill this afternoon.  We are just heading
off from a nice little cantina (or something) where we are talking to
the locals and eating mango.  While pulling a u-turn on the road, I
catch some of that deep sand and down I go, unable to react fast
enough to unclip.  I cut my leg and bruise the butt of my hand. Augusta rinses and disinfects my wounds.
Today ends up being a fairly big one (65 km on bad roads). We arrive
at Port Loco in the rain and yuk it up with the local police, who are
quite cheery these days, not having a war on their hands any more.  In
fact, they personally drive us riders partway to our destination in
their air-conditioned pickup.  Then, with The Old Guys' involuntarily
napping in the CAUSE pickup, we drive another 40 km to Kambia.
Here, we stay in a nice little mini-village with individual cabins for
each of us.  Star Beer, the official beer of SL, is the celebratory
beverage of choice, then a bucket of clean (the bathroom
lighting was dim) bucket shower.  Supper is a delicious groundnut stew
and rice - SO GOOD!  Then Ross & Bernie retire early and I write this
saga of our first day on the road.


  1. Thanks for that update, I was smiling as I read it, sounds like quite the journey you're on.

  2. go rockstarr go!!! living on a prayer!

  3. Great accomplishment Jon (and the other old guys) Good work.... just one of those little faces that was born safetly makes it all worth while.