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When I left off, we had just put the clients on the bikes.

After tooling around the campement and getting comfortable on the bikes, we rode through a few sandy streets before arriving at a small shawarma shack. After an unexpectedly delicious lunch of chicken sandwiches, we were ready for the salt flats south of Fatick.

This first stretch of road is immaculate tarmac framed by salt flats and distant palm trees. It is a beautiful ride and a great introduction to the trip. Traffic is light, and while you do need to watch out for the errant cow, you can mostly enjoy the scenery.

Several causeways indicated our arrival in the Sine-Saloum delta, a few hundred thousand hectares of mangroves and intersecting waterways. We had to cross one of these waterways on a boat.

All seven of us fit on board along with the bikes and a few additional local passengers

After the water crossing, we blasted towards Keur Saloum and arrived in time for sunset beers on the jetty.

One day in the books. No one fell off a bike and we finished the day drinking beers with this view. Not bad.

The following day, we headed south towards the Gambia. Before we got to the border we stopped off at the Fathala wildlife reserve. Matt and I cruised over to the Gambian border in order to make friends with the Gambian police and customs officers while the rest of the group went on a lion walk and a game drive.

Picture taken by Ben, one of the clients on the trip

We met up with the rest of the group afterwards for a pizza lunch. An ostrich wandered around the car park several meters away.

It was a short ride to the border from Fathala. Checking out of Senegal was easy enough, and our “friends” at the Gambian border didn’t hold us up on that side. We were then on our way to the ferry at Bara, where the Gambian river meets the Atlantic.

Front row seats for the Gambia River crossing to Banjul. The ferry was laden with trucks, livestock, vendors selling cashews and bissap, walk on passengers, and our jakarta crew.

Arriving on the other side, we skipped out of the port and headed down the riverside road that leads to the main highway to Serrekunda.

In the Gambia, we stayed at a funny resort-type place right on the beach. There was bingo and karaoke and plenty of cold Julbrews, Gambia’s national beer. It was well situated, not too far from the Senegambia strip and its bars and restaurants, but far enough from its madness. The view wasn’t bad, either:

Picture taken by Ben

Our arrival in the Gambia corresponded with Matt’s 44th birthday. Let’s just say it was a festive 36 hours. After the birthday extravaganza and some beach and pool time, we were ready to get back on the road. The next stop was Abené, in the Casamance, which meant we needed to cross back into Senegal.

I was somewhat hungover but looking forward to what was one of the highlights of our trip when we did it back in February: heading south on an oceanside road, crossing through fishing villages and the Tanji bird reserve and then crossing the border in a dugout canoe.

Cruising through Kartong, the last stop in the Gambia

After we checked out of the Gambia, we met up with our old friends Lamine and Aicha. Lamine manages the canoe crossing and Aicha runs a small shop and bar on the side of the river, a great place to have a beer while waiting for your turn to cross.

Drone view of the river crossing taken by Oumou the drone (RIP) back in February 2017

Once on the other side, we would have about 10 kilometers through the jungle on narrow sand paths. This is without a doubt the trickiest bit of riding on the trip, but it’s also a lot of fun.

There was an almost seamless transition between the jungle and the village of Abené. A few houses popped up and suddenly we were on the main drag through town, with relaxed maquis, reggae bars, and women selling locally made fruit preserves and chili sauce. We bisected the town and returned to the sand paths that lead to the Little Baobab.

At the Little Baobab, we were warmly greeted by Khady and family before being treated to a delicious lunch of yassa and rice.

Photos by Ben

After lunch, we cruised up to the “official” border crossing in order to get stamps in our passports. Matt and I then proceeded to Senegalese customs to get new laissez-passers for our Malian bikes while the group went back to Abené to explore.

Me in the roots of Abené’s Bantom Wora tree in February.

Ben took this picture of a sunset beer on the beach.

For dinner, Khady and the girls served us a platter of grilled monkfish with chips and salad. It was heavenly. Matt and I both turned in early while the group went down to Freedom Sound to check out the Wednesday night jam session with local musicians.

After a delicious breakfast, Matt and I set out for Kafountine to begin preparations for an ambitious bush camp followed by a trip through the mangroves. Meanwhile, the group had the morning to relax and wander Abené.

Matt had lined up a 50 kilometer boat trip through the waterways of the Casamance. The plan was to take an afternoon beach ride on the bikes and then hop on a boat. That evening we would camp on the beach in a grove of baobabs. The following day we would cruise through the mangroves until we got to the Casamance River and the island of Carabane. There was a certain amount of risk that Aliou the boatman’s motor would shit the bed and we would be stranded on a sand bank somewhere.

I can’t get enough monkfish when I am in Casamance. The brochettes at Chez Kathy are particularly special, with Kathy’s house citron marinade. You don’t need to tell me what a monkfish looks like. I know. It’s too tasty, though.

After lunch, we rode to the port of Kafountine, cruising past mountains of smoked and dried fish on our way to the beach south of the village.

Getting ready for a beach ride

Things went a bit sideways on the beach ride. Up to this point, the trip was lacking in close calls I suppose. One bike sucked up a bit of saltwater and stalled. As Matt brought that bike back to life, the rest of the group rode several kilometers down the beach, where they found a bloated, decomposing dolphin – not exactly the most auspicious sight to come across. I eventually caught up to the rest of the group to signal that we needed to turn back (the tide was coming up) and then a second bike went down. Matt revived the first, but the second refused to start, and he ended up dragging it half way down the beach.

Eventually, we all made it to Aliou’s boat. We got the bikes on and then cracked open a few beers once the motor started successfully.

We dipped into the mangroves before heading back out towards the ocean. Before we hit the Atlantic, we stopped off at a grove of baobabs that Matt had previously scouted some weeks previous. This would be our first bush camp of the trip.

We set up the tents and dipped into the beers while I concocted a poor man’s beef bourguignon. After an entertaining storytime session around the fire, we passed out to the sound of waves lapping the shore and Bob’s epic snoring.

Aliou and his co-pilot, Paul, stayed up all night drinking wine and fishing for catfish. I woke up at different points in the night and heard them cackling down at the beach.

Bob whipped up a delicious breakfast scramble with local chorizo and bacon that we found in a Kafountine mini market.

After breakfast, we loaded up the boat and began the 50 kilometer journey through the mangroves to the Casamance River and the island of Carabane.

Let me tell you something, if you are into birds, this is your trip.

Photo taken by Bob

Some of the mangroves narrowed to just a few meters wide. The tide was going out as we approached the Casamance River, but we only got stuck once. The motor also stalled, but Aliou was able to get it going long before we ran out of beer.

Approaching the island of Carabane, 57 square kilometers that feel like they’ve been plucked out of the Caribbean. There are no cars on the island and only a handful of guesthouses and maquis.

We stayed at Chez Hellena, a simple family-run guesthouse right on the beach. As soon as we arrived, Hellena served us enormous gambas followed by a capitain yassa with rice, all washed down with cold gazelles.

In the evening, we found a family-run maquis around the corner from Chez Hellena. Family-run is a theme on this island. Most businesses are run straight out of the house. I was able to score some cachaça from Bissau at Chez Irene.

Back at Chez Hellena we were once again treated to a meal fit for royalty. Hellena’s nieces and nephews danced around the sandy bar as Hellena sat playing cards with another guest. The Casamance River mingled with the Atlantic a few meters away. I was really growing fond of this place.

In the morning, we said goodbye to Hellena and her sweet family and hopped back on the boat. We were heading to Elinkin, back on the mainland.

Arriving in Elinkin

After the bikes got a bit of a washing, it was time to get back on the road. Thankfully, all of jakartas started without issue. We had a beautiful ride through southern Casamance in store.

By lunch time we were in Ziguinchor, the last stop on the trip. We went straight to le Perroquet, an auberge situated directly on the river.

It’s hard to beat having a sundowner on the sandy patio of the Perroquet while fishermen prepare their boats and you decide between the gambas sauteed with garlic or the monkfish filet for dinner.

Moonrise over the Casamance River

We had a few celebratory drinks on the patio of the Perroquet and then a delicious chicken yassa lunch. Afterwards, we had a wander around town with the jakartas, ending up at a small maquis called “One Foot in the Water,” which was being run by a friendly dude from Bissau.

In the evening, another glorious meal at the Perroquet followed by a stop at one of Ziguinchor’s only nightclubs, which was amusing until we ran out of steam. We ended the night lounging on the patio of the Perroquet as the moon loomed over the river.

The following day, Matt drove the bikes back to Abené with the crew from the Little Baobab, and I took the group to the port of Ziguinchor, where they would catch the ferry back to Dakar.

All things considered, the trip went incredibly well. We had a great group. We didn’t get stranded on a sand bar in the mangroves. No one crashed into a cow or a donkey cart. Every day brought a different scene with a new cast of characters. And some of my favorite aspects of West Africa – the ease at which you can have casual interactions, the joie de vivre, the hospitality and openness towards strangers – truly left their mark.

This is a trip we want to do many more times. Hopefully not just with dudes (no offense to those on the trip).

If you are at all interested in joining us for one of these, check out scootwestafrica.com.

Our next trip is scheduled for February 4th. It will be a 2 week trip that includes Carnival in Bissau! For more info, check out the full itinerary here.

You can also join our email list to find out about upcoming trips:


Earlier this year, Matt and I went on a scooter safari around West Africa. We knew we would enjoy the trip, but we needed to see if the logistics would be manageable with clients.

Four thousand kilometers later, we knew we had something. Now we just needed to find people crazy enough to travel with us. That’s a bit dramatic. Matt has been in tourism in Africa for nearly 20 years. I have been bouncing around West Africa for seven. We are riding 110 cc motorbikes on roads that are mostly free of traffic outside of cows and kids walking to school. And we found a route that has a little bit of everything – beaches, villages, rivers, mangroves, reggae bars, maquis under a tree, even a bush camp in a grove of baobab trees on a beach. It is damn fun.

But marketing is not our strong suit, and selling trips to West Africa – a region that lacks the tourist infrastructure and PR machine that you find in other parts of the continent – is not easy to begin with. That’s why we were a bit shocked when we sold our first trip with minimal promotion. How’d we do that? Luck, mostly.

Our first client was a friend of ours from Bamako. Our second client found out about the trips through one of my roommates here. He in turn recruited three of his friends from back home in the states (this trip is a great occasion to take a group trip with friends by the way). Five turned out to be the perfect number for our first trip.

Matt left several weeks early to secure the bikes, sort out bookings and devise a route through the mangroves with Aliou the boatman. The story of the paperwork for the bikes is one for another day. Without getting into it, the saga follows an Ivorian friend’s adage about West Africa: “anything is possible, but nothing is certain.”

My plan was to arrive a day before the clients in Dakar. I had my bike and a significant amount of baggage so the plan was to put everything on a bus, but bus companies wanted an outrageous price to transport the jakarta despite the fact that it was matriculated and had all of the necessary paperwork.

So we moved on to Plan B, a truck. Senegalese trucks regularly transport containers from the port in Dakar to Bamako, and then they return to Senegal empty. Well, some of them do.

We negotiated with an interlocutor who managed the drivers at a truck stop just outside of Kati, the gateway to Bamako. After agreeing on a price, I was told to show up on Wednesday for a late afternoon departure.

I arrived around two in the afternoon. The fixer was nowhere to be found, and I had no idea who the driver was or which truck we were taking, so I settled into the soap opera that was playing on the small tv on the terrace behind the nameless gas station. Eventually the fixer showed up, repeatedly promising an imminent departure. That seemed unlikely given that the truck and the driver were both in the wind.

After the sun went down, I started preparing a back-up plan involving a friend that does private car rentals with a pick-up truck. It would be a lot more expensive, but the truck situation did not look promising.

I was ready to head home at ten o clock, but then a truck creeped into the station and the fixer came running. “It’s here !! It’s here!”

The truck was not empty. It had a forty foot container strapped to it that was filled with cabbages. This was a major disappointment. The truck option appealed for two reasons: price and speed. The truck that sat before me was slower than a jakarta.

We strapped down my jakarta inside the container, and I hopped into the cab. Malick Lo was the driver, a 15 year veteran of the roads between Senegal and Mali. He didn’t speak any Bambara and had about 3 words of French under his belt. It looked like I would be learning some Wolof on this trip. His apprentice was Yaya Diallo, a young Fulani kid who only said the words “manger” and “police” to me throughout the whole trip.

Malick had also negotiated another passenger, Mamadou, who worked in Algeria and was heading back to Casamance to visit his family. I enjoyed Mamadou’s company, but the trip would have been a lot more pleasant if I was the only passenger. Mamadou and I shared Malick’s bed, the thin space behind the driver and passenger seats. We had a head to toe arrangement that got more complicated as the trip went on.

On the first night, we drove for about two hours and then pulled over in a small village. I arranged my bedroll and mosquito net inside the container, but as close to the open doors as possible. Yaya sprawled out towards the back of the container, where the fumes from the cabbages were probably toxic. Mamadou slept on the ledge on the back of the truck on a cot that was near the end of its life, and Malick slept inside the cab.

The following day, we crossed the border and made it to Saraya. We were not making good time, and we hadn’t even crossed the Niokolo Koba Park, the worst stretch of road on the trip.

In Saraya, we parked the truck next to a dusty patch of land that served as the neighborhood football pitch. I walked down the street to get some phone credit, and when I was about 200 yards away from the truck, I was hit with an overwhelming stench of rotting vegetables. As I walked back, I realized that they had opened the doors to the container and the smell was coming from the cabbages.

Mamadou and I wandered into the center of town, an intersection that saw a bit of life in the evenings. We found a restaurant where a young girl gave us a massive platter of peanut flavored rice with some grilled meat and vegetables heaped on top. I still don’t know what this rice dish was — it was not sauce arachide, and it wasn’t tchep — and I neglected to write down the name Mamadou used for it. It was as if the rice had been perfumed with roasted peanuts. However that sounds, it was delicious. We returned to the truck where we joined Malick and Yaya for a tea session before passing out. The following day would be the most difficult of the trip.

Gearing up for the park

While they have made significant progress resurfacing the road through the park, there are still about 100 kilometers that require some courage. Mamadou and I were thrown around the inside of the cab as we lurched through the roughest stretch. When we arrived in Tambacounda, Malick pulled into the main market area. Most of the cabbage was unloaded here, an ordeal that would add another couple of hours to the trip. It was Friday, the day I was supposed to arrive in Dakar, 460 kilometers away.

Malick promised to get to Kaolack that evening. We made it to Kaffrine. The following morning, I found Malick sitting on the side of the road at 5AM, which was typically when we set off each day. I didn’t understand most of what he told me, but it was clear that there was a problem involving him, his boss and me arriving anywhere I needed to in my timeframe.

At this point, it was too late for me to get to Dakar, but I still needed to get to Fatick at the very least. I had been irritated with Malick’s series of false promises, but now I was genuinely angry, and I did not hide it from him when I explained that I was going to look for alternate transportation. He did his best to patch things up by finding me another truck within a matter of minutes.

From Kaffrine to Fatick, I found myself on a refrigerated truck carrying charcuterie for a company called “le p’tit cochon” (the little pig). Compared to the cabbage truck, it felt like we were driving at light speed. We arrived in Fatick less than two hours later.

I found Matt at a gas station on the side of the highway. The bikes were getting gassed up and washed. It was Saturday morning. We just needed to get to Dakar for an evening meet up with the group. Suddenly everything was within reach.

We made it to Dakar before sunset, met up with the group and then went for a few drinks at some familiar spots. Matt and I were well behaved and didn’t do anything excessive, like buy several bottles of whisky.

The following morning, we all met up to hop on a minibus we had rented to go to Fatick (there was no way were going to have clients get oriented with the bikes in Dakar traffic). We arrived there a couple hours later. After taking some time to get comfortable on the bikes, we were ready to hit the road.

Group shot with Maimouna, the daughter of the owner of the campement where we kept the bikes overnight.

And just like that, the trip was on. Click here to see how it went.


Bintou and Andre do America

This post is going to be thin on words. I’m in the hole at least 3 blog posts, and I have a lot I want to say about scooter trips, including an upcoming February trip to Bissau. So “Bintou and Dre do America” is going to be very visual. And by visual I mean a boatload of pictures of Andre.

Flashback to October. Bintou had her visa, Andre had his passport and everyone had a plane ticket. Now we could focus on the 24-hour, multi-flight itinerary from Bamako to Cleveland via Paris and Atlanta. All things considered, Andre put on an award-winning performance on the plane.

Bintou and I were dreading the 9 hour flight from Paris to Atlanta, but Andre must have blown off enough just enough steam in Charles de Gaulle. While he occasionally yanked the weave of the woman sitting in front of us, he spent most of the flight sleeping or watching a singing beaver that Bintou has on her tablet. We never even had to consider the thought of dosing him with bourbon or children’s Benadryl (we would never do that).

At the end of all that flying, Andre was not impressed with this thing called a car seat that he had never before seen in his life. He cried all the way to grand-mere’s apartment, and then he cried a lot more inside the apartment, and suddenly this whole trip to America idea seemed quite foolish. But eventually he stopped crying and realized that things weren’t so bad. After that initial meltdown, he hardly shed a tear for the rest of our 3-week trip.

We had a great visit with family and friends in Ohio, and we even made it to South Bend to see some good friends from Mali. My mom was incredibly generous, letting us take over her apartment and use her car. On the tail end of the trip, we had two days in New York City to visit friends and blow Bintou’s mind.

Andre in his new bathrobe

Loving life on the shores of Lake Erie

We put the mattress on the floor and turned the whole living room into a bed

I promise it was empty

On the hay ride in rural Ohio with my sister

Andre had never before seen fresh broccoli

In Bamako, we get the frozen florets

Dancing at the Cleveland Zoo

Bintou and I probably deserve to get locked up for child abuse for everything we put Andre through around Halloween

He was a good sport, though

Andre and his “cousin” Lailah, the daughter of Ben and Amy, two good friends of mine who came to Cleveland to spend a weekend with us.

Amy took this great photo of Andre with Lailah and Judah. Andre hit the wall with his elephant costume around this time.

Visiting some real elephants

Getting ready for the cold

Helping grand-mere sweep hay

Had to do it

Reluctant kiss for mama

Andre’s first birthday party at grand-pere’s house

Visiting my uncle in New York City

Andre getting ready to prepare dinner

Just putting a skull together at the Natural History Museum

Those were my pajamas when I was Andre’s age. My mom is a serious pack rat, but it paid off 30 years later.

Star Wars pinball machine

I don’t know which costume Andre despised more, the elephant or the rasta.

Furtive phone call in the car

Yep, we did that in Times Square

In Brooklyn

He did not want to leave the ice skating rink at Bryant Park

Putting Andre in a bubble in Central Park

Andre and Bintou on the train

Andre in his toucan shirt that was also once mine

On the drive to Indiana

And that’s my hat!

Andre clapping and dancing on his birthday

I was seriously anxious before our trip. I was worried Bintou would be homesick and that Andre would struggle to adjust as well. I was worried about the divisive politics and the empowerment of racists and bigots since Trump’s election. I was worried about the weather being too cold. But other than one woman in a grocery store in Ohio who glared at us as if our family’s existence was a sin, the trip couldn’t have gone much better. We are incredibly grateful for all of our friends and family that spent time with us and spoiled Andre to no end. If all goes well, we will be back for a visit next year, when the weather’s a bit warmer.

Up next: our first scooter trip with clients and our next open group trip to Bissau for Carnival! If you want a heads up on the details for our upcoming trips, sign up to our email list with this form:

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Off to Senegal

Stay tuned for Bintou and Andre do America posts. But for now, I am hitting the road for an 8-day jakarta safari.

I will be updating from instagram at @philinthe_ and @scootwestafrica. A bientot!


Where I will be for the rest of 2017

Andre became a US citizen earlier this year. A single parent – a US citizen – can confer citizenship even if the child is born abroad.

Bintou’s path to citizenship is a lot more complicated. In fact, it’s not even something we can do from Bamako. We would have to travel to Dakar. For now, we decided to go for something that was ostensibly easier to obtain, a tourist visa. It turns out that few things make consular officers more skeptical than a non-American citizen applying for a tourist visa while in a relationship with an American citizen.

It’s a visa application that is routinely rejected. The assumption is that once in the US, Bintou will try to change her status and, with her foot already in the door, she will be able to skirt around the exhaustive immigration process that should have happened in Dakar. In other words, the US government does not believe we will return to Bamako.

The online application and in-person interview were straightforward. The interview itself lasted about 5 minutes, during which time I was not allowed in the embassy and was held in the small building where bags are scanned. Along with the application, we brought a mountain of supporting documents, including those tying me to a business and Bintou to her school. Already presumed to be guilty of cheating the US immigration process, we needed to make the case that our lives were in Bamako and we really just wanted to visit my family and friends before returning back.

After a two day wait, we returned to the embassy to pick up Bintou’s passport. I was once again held in the bag check area. Bintou’s anxiety was through the roof, and mine wasn’t much better. Of course, it was not the end of the world if Bintou got denied. Life would go on in Bamako, where we are happy to live. But it would mean that my family, including grandparents who are physically unable to make the trip to Mali, would not get to meet my wife and son.

After about 20 minutes, Bintou strolled out with a blank expression on her face. She handed me her passport. I tore through the pages and landed on a 5 year multi-entry tourist visa for the US. Well done, cherie.

So off we go. Here is the plan:

10/10 – Cleveland
10/27 – South Bend
10/30 – Cleveland
11/1 – NYC
11/4 – Bamako

Not long after we return to Bamako, Matt and I will be heading to Senegal to begin our jakarta trips. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look here: Raise your hand if you want to drive a Chinese scooter down the coast of West Africa.

The website is also live at scootwestafrica.com. See you in Casamance? If all goes well, New Year’s on the beach in Abené. An ka taa! (“let’s go” in Bamanankan).