...back to this life
everything has been happening. is happening. that plane ticket i bought on a cold, rainy day in september way back in chile no less has finally served its purpose. it’s africa. no longer a place i’m going. i’m here.
and what an introduction with marrakech, morocco because when the sun sinks low in the sky, this place just starts to get going and everything you thought might only be happening when the national geographic cameras were rolling is actually happening and it’s all around you and there are sweet beards everywhere and women who could be prostitutes and women who are head to toe in arabic robes and it all somehow mixes and shakes up and there’s a guy tooting his flute and that cobra is in a trance to dance and then starts striking at nothing and i’m thinking yes man!,
and here’s a little band beating on drums and tambourines and whacking those guitar strings and smoke’s all over from those poor dead animals being cremated for the carnivores and then those delicious vegetables being grilled in tarjines and the couscous is always cousing and the tea is piping hot and tangy with ginger and there’s a guy with a wheelbarrow full of bread and it’s warm so i buy a piece and fresh orange juice everywhere and dozens of varieties of dates and figs to choose from and mounds of cinnamon and cumin and curry and mint and turmeric
and mariah carey blasting from some speakers over there and good god all the sounds i hear and the languages that mean nothing to me and those shoes that curl up at the toes and everybody is just in this rhythm and everyone’s moving and clapping and jumping and hooting and hollering and it’s just a tuesday night and you bump into and out of people and you don’t apologize because you’re just going and flowing and that guy on the clarinet is just blowing and a monkey runs by you and that lady just looked at my palm and told me bad news: i’m destined to die young because of this short line and i imagine unwrapping her scarves that hide everything but her eyes and planting a fat wet kiss right on her lips because that just might be the best news i’ve heard all day, but i don’t and then i see this tower off in the distance and slowly, from below, the lights on it illuminate and this guy on a microphone just starts chanting and saying who knows what and people migrate to it because it’s time to pray
and things here stop for prayer (rather than praying for things to stop) and it’s five times a day and every time i hear that sound bellowing from those towers i start to think of the too many things in life i take for granted and never give the thanks for i should and so i start praying myself and as to what god is where and who and why and when....well, let’s just let them folks with the bullets and guns straighten all that out for us.
i buy the darkest bread i can find and some real tart yogurt without any sugar or yellow number 5 or phenylalanine and some tomatoes and dates
and bananas and even some chocolate with almonds and i have the best dinner money can buy, and before i eat it i stop and give thanks and i try to really mean it and say something different each meal so it doesn’t just become like a habit or something i feel i must do, i want it to be something i want to do, something i look forward to doing and i don’t want it to be something where i have to bow my head or close my eyes to do because i question the necessity of those things so we might even be getting ready to eat a meal, you and i,
and we might even be talking and you’ll never know that my other self (you have one too!) is in a different place offering thanks for all i’ve been given and all i have and all that is yet to come, but that’s okay because i don’t pray so that other people will see me do it and so it all works and you’re none-the-wiser and i’m just a big old fool anyhow and so i do what i do and we dig in and it’s all delicious and i’ve got yogurt in my beard and then i realize how despite all these delusions, that it’s just me that is here and i’m alone again and at first i revel in the freedom but scales can tip and turn oscillating on that little fulcrum and so then i start getting that hollowness in my stomach where i start wondering if i’m living this life right but i move on as i must and eventually fall asleep so deeply that not even the muffler-lacking motorcycles speeding through the 4 foot wide alleys right outside my room phase me.
and the roosters crow and it’s been too long since i’ve heard them yelp and i’m up and in sandals and shorts and that sun just beats down and i say, “yes!” and i sip the mint tea and eat some fresh bread with honey and i watch people’s lives and think about my own and i already miss my family and friends and wish i’d had all the conversations i dreamed of having, that i did have, back on those lonely patagonian roads (how well they went in my head!), but the timing was never right or i was a coward and of course it was the latter, but it’s okay and i get my bike all back together in one piece and whisper in its handlebar that it’s time and i take it for a test spin and it’s then that i realize that the time is now, it’s time to move, it’s time to go, it’s time to return to this life...and i pedal as fast as i can and weave between the donkeys and old men with canes and slam on my brakes for that motorcycle that didn’t see me and everyone yells “bonjour” and i repeat it back and then i hear more sounds and i don’t understand a single one so i just say yes and smile and go!
and so the next morning there i am in that 4 foot alley, bike against a wall, hooking up my trailer, and i mean i could be anywhere right now. bolivia. boston. doesn’t matter because the constant in this equation is always me. and my bike. and i take comfort in those constants and slide my flag stick full of flags down into my trailer and say goodbye to whomever will listen and everything beneath me begins to slowly roll away and so it goes once again. this life where i move and never stop...and everything and everyone i see....i leave it all behind.
and i didn’t even know where i’d go because i’m still not exactly sure where it is i’m actually going (both a liberating and frustrating feeling), but a guy i met told me of a cool place on the coast and so i aimed my bike and headed that way and i guess i’ll just see what happens in the inbetweens.
and what happened and is happening is that every time i stop for a break, i am hounded by people, no matter how middle of nowhere i try to get. the kids are the worst. yeah, i’m getting bullied by ten year olds. they want my food. they want my money. they want my bike. they want the book that i’m reading. and they grab for it. not violently, but definitely with a vague notion of intent. and with no capabilities in french and with my arabic a bit rusty to say the least, what can i do? i mean it’s like i’m back in the third grade with that feeling in my stomach that comes when those two good-for-nothing fifth graders are walking towards me and they want my oreos, but no way (especially since they’re double stuff) and so i run fast and take my lunch near a teacher and they may be pounding their fists into open palms now but i’ve got white hydrogenated sugary vegetable fat on my tongue and i'm sticking it out for them to see. but, anyway, with these kids....i don’t get angry,
because anger is just a waste of time, but it does wear me down. trying to reason with them that, a) i don’t speak french or arabic, b) no, they cannot have my bike, c) i need the little food i have. the one time i did share food, the result was an additional badgering for more. and then there was that one day, on a stiff climb where i was inching along at a brisk 4 miles per hour, and a small girl jogged (ok, walked) up to me and we exchanged hellos and then she yanked something right off my trailer and sprinted down hill with it. i couldn’t believe it and was about to give chase until, however, i realized that unfortunately for her, all she managed to steal was my bag full of garbage. and then the goldblessed next set of kids i came upon concluded that i would make a fine moving target for them to hone their stone throwing skills. luckily, no future quarterbacks in the lot of them. but this doesn’t make for fun and enjoyable cycling...but that's fine because it is what it is and i am what i am and they are who they are and we are all here in it together. i just hope that little girl doesn't dig too deep. i mean, what with the used toilet paper and all that....surprise you little thief!! that'll learn ya!
but i know i know, i can’t let these things drown out all the kindness i have been the recipient of, and it has been overflowing. like my first day out some guys scoring me a moroccan flag for my trailer.
or being invited into that family’s home. or the guy who gave me tomatoes. or that girl that took the time to draw me a map when my looks of confusion and consternation superseded the bulwarks of languages. or the people that clap for me. or...for the kindest gesture of all...for those most blessed of people who just ignore me. to them, i take a knee for letting me be.
and, though i’d hoped otherwise, the hardest part of this bicycle trip is still finding a place to lay my head for the night. somewhere where i can just disappear for 12 hours. late one night, i’d been asleep for a while. out in the desert well hidden (i thought) behind the shrubs. i’d slogged my way through the loose sand just to get there. figured i was money.
should be money, right honey?
and then, i’m suddenly awake. to see four guys not two meters from my tent. they are walking, strangely silently, in a single file line. and the thing is, they walk right by me. my pulse is racing, and i’m thinking, is it possible they didn’t see me, my tent, my bike, my trailer...? well, it is dark, no moon yet.... but then the single file line becomes a blob. and they all 180 and come right back towards me. here we go. but i’m strangely relaxed. one guy has a flashlight. he shines it right at me. i tell them, oxymoronically in french, that i don’t understand french or arabic. indicate that i am just sleeping here for the night. that when the sun comes up, i’m out. they seem to understand. and 75% of them are ready to continue going wherever it is they are going. but that last guy is still there. looking over my bike. my tent. all these cursed things that i have (god to be able to live with no possessions! imagine it! is it possible?). his speech is indecipherable, but his tone and body language radiate (though perhaps misinterpreted) a want to harass me. and it doesn’t take a genius to realize that these boys got the numbers on me. two to hold me down. two to grab all my stuff. done. and if that were to have happened, life would have gone on as it does. and i would have figured out something as i do. but i surely didn’t want to be in that situation. and so, for whatever reason it was, those other three guys took the one by the shoulder and they all 180’ed again and headed off into the desert night, thankfully never to return again.
and so i ride on. and i will ride on.
but for how much further on this continent, i am unsure. it is impossible to cross into algeria. the border is closed (and has been for years) because of political disputes. to proceed east in africa, the direction these tires must more or less continue to spin to possibly circumbikeulate this globe, i face three major hurdles:
the darfur humanitarian crisis. diplomatic relations between chad and sudan might make this border crossing extremely sketchy, if not an impossibility, especially since my passport says “united states of america.”
central african republic. though it doesn’t get the media attention darfur does (which doesn’t get the attention potential impregnators of anna nicole smith get), a friend of a friend who lives there says the only way she can safely travel within the country is via international medical convoys. she strongly advised me against bike travel through this country (even priests have been shot at). in certain places, no worries. but a west to east traverse, not smart at all. especially alone. she said it was all but a guarantee that i would be robbed. more than likely by the “military.”
congo (zaire). for years, plagued by civil wars and peace accords that seemingly fall apart before final versions are drafted, the congo definitely has its safe places. but on a bike, when you want a continuous journey with no hopscotching on planes or buses or trains, you gotta go through everywhere. this ain’t your land in safe part of country x, get whisked away by a big bus, take your safari and your photos, and then fly away home sort of trip.
in addition, visas have to be arranged in advance and are costly (up to $150 for the application fee for a one month visa, not including the necessary bribes or hotel fare during the 1 day - 3 week visa processing time). and then i still might be refused (application fee being non-refundable of course) because some countries require an onward plane ticket or an official letter of invitation or acceptable proof of funds, etc. do i want to hassle with this? fool around with these logistics and waiting and hoping and possibly having to face the possibility that, nope, i can’t get the visa i need? and then what? there i am in some dusty town and i can’t go on? so then what? put ‘er in reverse?
now cyclists have traversed africa. no doubt. the north to south cairo to cape town route being the most common. but i’m nowhere near cairo. and yes, sure sure, some people have crossed from west to east. no doubt. but the crossing over the dodgy areas is done not on the bicycle but rather via the friendly skies. something i don’t have the cheese for. especially if i decide that i want to get around this globe on these three wheels. unfortunately, practicality and dot matrix atm balances rear their ugly heads...i ain’t gotta rush or nothing, but i do gotta keep moving, more or less and mainly east.
but....BUT....am i just falling prey to the hype? maybe it can be done.....maybe it won’t be too bad.....maybe i’ll be fine.....
but then there are those 19 europeans who were recently taken hostage (and some of them actually just released) in ethiopia. and ethiopia is “supposedly” safe.
and then i was stopped by the cops the other day. in the desert. had to turn over my passport. the one guy spoke english. told me they wanted my itinerary. for my safety. because of “the terrorism....the al qaeda.” had i heard of the group of russian tourists in algeria who were recently murdered? i told him no, but that i had seen al roker going down a waterslide during our national news morning program. and that after al’s adventure, i learned how to decrease my closet clutter. the cop told me to be careful and to keep an eye out (whatever that meant). after all, there had recently been a bombing at an internet cafe up north in morocco. i think news coverage of this was preempteed by a report on whether the color tangerine and lime were making a come back this spring.
speaking of news, yes, i did it. ok. it's off my chest. god i feel so clean right now. in addition, ann curry is hot.
and so i ride on. hell's bells, these things will never happen to me. i try to convince myself.
but man, dang it all, i’ll come clean right here and right now and i’ve said it before and i'll say it again: i just want to ride! to go! to move! to be free! to be able to look at my maps and dream about anywhere....not to look at my maps mandating me to go there because it’s the only place i can apply for my next hopeful visa. i don’t want my trip dictated like that. just the thought of that drives me nuts. to be forced to connect the previously determined dots.
so i’m thinking more and more about spending a couple months here in morocco and then hopping a ferry into spain. and sticking to the back roads through the mountains and then up into the pyrenees and the alps and wouldn’t it be great to ride through romania? and all the while, heading east.
nothing has been decided for sure. and as always, i’m leaving my options as wide open as these african roads that undoubtedly cajole and coax.
in the interim, i will ride morocco. turning left here, going straight there, just moving and spinning and rolling all over. and when my visa here runs out. i will see where i am. and choose where next to go.