Cycling out of the Sahara and into the Sahel was, as you might expect, a gradual transformation. You move out of the sand, rocky terrain and into the grassy, scrubby terrain.
The people you see change gradually too. You see people with a North African heritage in the Sahara which moves slowly to a West African heritage as you cycle southwards. Their clothes change as do their characteristics.
Looking back on that period cycling through the Sahel with Dan one photograph summed it up well for me. The photo to the left is of Dan when we were standing on the roof of a cafe in a Nigerien town (I will have to ask Dan to remind me which one it was) looking into the town square below. In the square were some Swiss bikers we had met who were, as normal, tending to their motorbikes while being watched by a crowd of local children.
In the background of the photo is the local mosque with its minaret made out of mud and logs. Dan is looking thin and drawn. We had been in the desert for a few weeks and were suffering from a lack of decent food and water. We were healthy enough but we were expending a great deal of energy and not replacing it as quickly as we used it.
All long distant cyclists I know become obsessive about food, water and when they will next be able to stoke up their energy levels. When we arrived in Niamey, after setting up our tent, the first thing we did was find a bakery where we bought a couple of baguettes each, and some peanut butter from a local roadside trader. Back at our tent, we devoured the baguettes and peanut butter in front of our astonished, car bound fellow travellers. I don't think they really appreciated just how hungry we were and why we gorged ourselves whenever possible.
Cycling in the Sahel was a good experience and a delight as long as the wind was with you and there was plenty of feed about.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family and is now a magazine editor and occasional adventure cyclist.
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