Adventure Travel

How Far Would You Go to Return Some Books?

The Hans-Peter Library …

After my incident at the border, I could only spend one day in Niamey after more than a month riding the hot dusty roads from Accra to Tomboctou around West Africa.

Back in Niamey it felt like the closest thing to a return home I had experienced. I had spent a week in Niamey a month earlier, developing a kind of routine hanging out at the Grand Hotel du Niger pool and rooftop observation deck which offered a bird’s eye view of the surrounding town and the languid, muddy Niger River. It was a relief after the border dramatics. I had left Niamey with Hiro in times that were more like a dream that nearly ended in a nightmare.

I had been to Accra, Bamako, Mopti, Sangha-Bananin and Tomboctou.  I felt relieved to be back in this familiar town of Niamey.  Niamey was a small provincial city of about 120,000.  With the population explosion throughout Africa since then, it now has more than 1.3 million and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world – of which many are in Africa.

It was relaxing to return to the familiar hostel and to take a long and leisurely shower in the tropical outdoor shower under the stars.  My plans were a simple meal, a beer at the Grand Hotel, a night-time swim in the pool, then back to the hostel for a good night’s rest. It felt positively civilized.

I was obliged to leave for Ouagadougou in Upper Volta (now Burkina-Faso) the following morning.  It was my second deportation from Niger a relatively friendly and calm departure, a rather dubious personal record.  

My next planned rest and restoration pitstop would be returning to Savalou and my friend Hans-Peter Richter to return some of his books that I had borrowed for my reading in the last month. Savalou also offered the luxury of crisp clean white hospital sheets and a proper bed.  Such luxuries might have been the norm in the US, but rare occasions so far in my walk across Africa.

I caught a ride towards Ougadougou and made it as far as Fada n’Gourma for the night.  It was halfway and well out of Niger. The next day I was able to reach Ougadougou, the capital of Haute Volta (Burkina Faso).  There I got a new visa for Dahomey (Benin) for my route through to Nigeria.  I was not going to make that mistake again.  I was able to spend a few hours exploring the Capital before a night at a hostel.  Early the next morning I caught a ride to Tenkodogo on the most direct route through the corner of Ghana back to Savalou in Dahomey.

But the next morning in Tenkodogo, I met a local girl who had a nice car.  She had been visiting friends in Tenkodogo. She was heading home to Ouagadougou.  She told me her uncle owned a motel in Ougadougou where I could stay for a couple of days if I liked.  That way she could take me around the city to show me more of the town.  I said, “Bien sur!! And we were off. When you are wandering and off the clock, there is always time for exploration.  Keep your eyes open!  I always looked people in the eye, was interested in what they said no matter their station in life.  Compassion and humility earn you a lot of friends anywhere else in the world.  When you are traveling alone, you need a lot of friends and support. 

Your perception of the world is made of your memories.  The more varied your memories, the more you can see things without forcing them to comply with a limited experience.  That’s what travel is all about.  Becoming open.

We had a glorious couple of days wining and dining in Ougadougou, me with a personal local guide and her welcoming family.  It was part of the city I would otherwise never have seen, a refreshing detour that lifted my spirits and confidence. Then I was back on my way to Bawku for a night and then on to reconnect with Hans-Peter in Savalou.

Hans-Peter welcomed me warmly.  We spent an afternoon and evening together.  I told him of my adventures over the past month:  Grande Popo, the shaman, Accra, the Yapei Queen on Lake Volta, Bamako, Mopti, back with Hiro in Sangha and Bananin (Bandiagara Escarpment)… the Dogon festival and dancers, then Tomboctou, Gao and Niamey – there was plenty to report.

Hans-Peter had a busy month treating his patients.  He was happy I returned his books and kind enough to loan me a few more knowing that it was unlikely we would see each other anytime soon.

The next morning, after another spectacular shower, I was off to Cotenou.  In the heat and humidity of tropical Africa, a decent shower cannot be undervalued. They were rare and rejuvenating. For this trip, I chose hitchhiking rather than the train.  I reached Cotenou by mid-afternoon, faster than the train. 

That night I enjoyed a comfortable evening sleeping on the beach under the stars with fresh breezes coming off the Atlantic.  I marveled at how far I had travelled and the wonders I had seen so far – looking up at the sparkling universe with the Milky-way shining brightly in the dark African sky as I dozed off to the sound of waves.  I was halfway around the world with a lot of exploring to do.

Early the next morning, I headed to Lagos and was lucky to catch a ride in large Mercedes carrying the Nigerian Ambassador to the Central African Republic en route to his home in Lagos!  I was back on track to get across Africa and on my way to India and Japan.

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