listen to africa

an audio adventure through africa


The journey so far

We started our journey in the UK on the 5th March 2009. Exhausted from all the preparations, we were uniquely unfit, had done no training at all (in Bex’s case, no exercise since about 2002) and had never sat on our new bikes before. The start of a 24,000-kilometre expedition through 30-odd African countries? No, the first day was just a terrifying struggle to cycle the 37 kilometres from Steyning to Bognor Regis. We made it, and the next day we made it to Portsmouth and onto the ferry, and the day after that we woke up in France. We still suspect those first two days will be among the hardest of this trip (we may have to lie and say things like “Sahara” instead of “Bognor” if we’re ever asked).

Bex outside a brasserie in Dinan, France

Bex outside a brasserie in Dinan, France

France. Fine food, good roads, plush camp sites and generous tailwinds helped us amble along happily and very slowly (I’m sure the two states are related) through Brittany and down the Atlantic coast and across southern France to the Mediterranean, carefully avoiding mountains all the way. Gradually our bodies remembered how to turn the pedals in perpetual small circles and our minds adjusted to the demands and pleasures of being back in the saddle. We left France carrying about 14 kilos less (body) weight than we started with, and with only one baguette-related injury.

The Ferry to Tangier

The Ferry to Tangier

The ferry from Sete (France) to Tangier (Morocco) was where, in our minds, the journey – and certainly the sound recording side of it – really began. Tangier greeted us with a sensory feast of noise, colour, smell and capricious traffic: we were in Africa! We pedalled into a Morocco that seems to be changing fast, leading to the intertwining of tradition and modernity in hundreds of small and often improbable ways.

Huw, on the road to Immessouane. © Listen to Africa

Huw, on the road to Immessouane. © Listen to Africa

From Tangier to Agadir we cycled exactly one thousand kilometres, following the coastal road over the edge of the unavoidable and very beautiful Atlas mountains, which separate the populous side of Morocco from the desert. The landscape grew more arid and more stunning by the day, and the people and weather both got warmer. From Agadir, we pedalled south, into the Sahara.

Bex cycling through sand being blown across the road

Bex cycling through sand being blown across the road

Western Sahara welcomed us with dust storms and drizzle, boulders and fossils, lunar landscapes and more stars than either of us had seen in a long time. In Laayoune, the capital, we accidentally took three weeks off, gatecrashed a wedding and started to understand the strange undercurrents in this Moroccan-occupied, UN-observed territory, whose people want self-determination (and whose phosphates Morocco wants). From there, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer and cycled towards the Mauritanian border, through a desert marked with land mine warnings.

Shipwreck at Cap Blanc. © Listen to Africa

Shipwreck at Cap Blanc. © Listen to Africa

Into Mauritania‘s northernmost outpost, the peninsula city of Nouadhibou which, after the desert, seemed alive with music, chaos and colour: we’d arrived in West Africa! We accidentally took another two weeks off, lazing, pottering, meeting people, searching for Mediterranean monk seals and cooking camel bolognaise.

From Nouadhibou, we took an overnight ride in the iron ore carriage of the world’s longest train, from the coast to Mauritania’s interior. The bikes were trashed by the train ride and we were floored by the 50-degree plus heat so, after one day’s cycling to the shady bliss of an oasis, we admitted defeat and hitch hiked to to Mauritania’s capital, Nouakchott – a vast city, haphazardly invented 50-odd years ago. South of Nouakchott, we cycled into the Sahel, with its stumpy trees, grass-blanketed dunes, scorpions and longhorn cattle, towards the Senegal border.

Women in St Louis, Senegal. © Listen to Africa

Women in St Louis, Senegal. © Listen to Africa

We crossed the Senegal River into Senegal and sub-Saharan Africa, narrowly avoiding being pickpocketed three times in 200 metres, and pedalling away from the border crossing faster than we’d cycled for quite some time. After a month’s holiday from the bikes in St Louis, Mbodiene, Dakar and the Bandia Reserve, we eventually meandered through northern Senegal‘s rainy season, with bright green peanut and millet fields, with its birds, butterflies, frogs and, of course, mosquitoes all seeming very alive after the Sahara’s silence.

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