After my day relaxing at the beach, we left the Atlantic Ocean behind for now and got on the long road to Basse. It was a long drive and with several stops for errands and a lunch eaten sitting at the road side, we didn’t get into town until later in the evening. Once I settled into my room in a place that is usually used by workers for the phone company Gamtel, we went into town to have dinner and watch the soccer game.
If you are picturing your typical sports bar, you are way off base. We were at a tiny restaurant that looked a bit like the inside of a garage and had lots of chairs and plastic tables squeezed into it. Tons of guys were sitting in rows watching the game. We had our food and watched for a bit, but then had to leave during the overtime period to give an interview at 107.1 Unique FM. This station is heard all over the area and Pa Modou and I talked about Love4Gambia and the run. It was fun!
It was 10:00 p.m. when we finished, so I got back to my room a bit late. I was tired from a long day and just prepared some of my stuff before heading into bed. The alarm rang bright and early the next day and the guys came to pick me up. We threw my stuff in the car and were on our way to Koina to officially kick off the run!
But first, we headed into the centre of Basse to pick up some breakfast and to get my Starbucks coffee. No, there is no Starbucks franchise in the Gambia, but I brought some coffee and a small Bodum, so I can have my daily fix. We drove up to a stand by the road and ordered some sandwiches (kind of like a Gambian drive-through) and then carried on to pick up some milk for the coffee and bottled water. Next we picked up the sandwiches and we were headed for Koina. Pa Modou drove quickly, honking at donkeys, goats, cows, cyclists, motorbikes and everyone else impeding our speedy progress along the South Bank Road. Once in Koina we drove a bit past the village itself until we were close to the Senegalese border.
Water bottles got filled with Gatorade and my hydration pack was filled with water. Then we took some photos to commemorate the occasion, did a team huddle and then, to shouts of “To Banjul”, we set off. I was about to get to know the South Bank Road close up and personally! Kebba, Pa Moudou and Spider were by my side as we took the first few steps. Then Pa headed back to the car to drive along side us.
I realized immediately that I hadn’t threaded the hose for my hydration pack through all the loops on the shoulder strap so it kept flying over my shoulder and bouncing on my back. A bit annoying and not very practical. So I turned to fish it back towards the front of my body. As I did, I caught my toes on a root and before I knew it the ground was coming at me fast. I did a face plant and instantly tasted the red sand of the road and some blood in my mouth. Way to go – we were barely 300 meters into the run and here I was literally close up and personal with the road!
When I picked myself up, I saw the worried faces of the guys. I flashed a smile and after doing a simultaneous assessment of my body, gave them the thumbs up and said I was ok. My hand, knee and chin were bleeding and I was covered in dirt. After cleaning up a bit with some wet wipes, I realized the gash in my knee was pretty deep. I also realized that in my late night preparation for today’s first stage, I had forgotten the first aid kit in my room. I needed to keep the wound covered and relatively clean, so I stuffed clean wet wipes on it and we kept those in place with Kebba’s knee brace. And the journey continued….
We soon came to the first village and Pa Modou leaned on the horn to get everyone’s attention, so that people would come out and cheer us on. We got a few questioning looks and waves. People weren’t quite sure what to make of us! We carried on and I settled into a rhythm. After a while, Kebba went to drive the car and Pa Modou joined Spider and I in the running. 15 kilometers into the run, we arrived at a health clinic in a village. We stopped in to have my cuts and scrapes properly cleaned and bandaged. The knee had been burning the whole time while we ran, but the alcohol being rubbed into the wound gave the word “burn” a whole new meaning. Next came a purple disinfectant, which the clinic attendant painted on with great care. I told him he was an artist and called him Van Gough, which got a laugh out of this serious looking man. I now have a purple chin, two purple knees and purple palms. Once I was bandaged up and wearing my purple war paint, we got back on the road.
I was starting to feel hot. The little thermometer attached to my hydration pack indicated it was 35 degrees. This did not include the humidex and all I can say is thank goodness it was a bit overcast. Then honking concerts in each village continued and often I was greeted by shouts of “toubab, toubab!”, which is the word for a white person. In fact, by now I pretty much feel like this is my name, as people are using it all the time, as in “How are you, toubab?” or in the case of the soccer playing kids who invited me to join their game when I was out for a little warm up jog upon our arrival in Basse yesterday: “Hey Toubab, we play! Come, come!”
In one of the villages, a big group of kids started following us, lured by candy, and ran with me for a bit, shouting and laughing. In another village, a lot of people were milling about on the road. The guys often stopped to tell people what we were doing and why I was running. People were very appreciative and one lady even went as far as to bow and to take my hand into both of hers. This is the greatest sign of respect a Gambian woman can bestow of a person and I felt very touched by her gesture. A whole bunch of kids were standing around us, too, and when I chatted with one little boy and then gave him a fist pump, countless little fists were extended towards me and there was laughter and smiles all around.
At that point, I really needed the boost and rush of energy I got from these kids. I was so hot that I felt like one of those cartoon characters who has steam coming out of their ears. My head was about to explode and my stomach felt a bit nauseous, too. The heat was most definitely to blame, although the roasted meat and onion sandwich for breakfast combined with litres of water and Gatorade mixed together with every step I took also didn’t help. I took a walking break and grabbed a cold bag of water to hold against my neck and forehead. Once my core temperature had cooled down a bit, I continued running. The guys had taken a break for a few kilometres, but now Kebba joined me again and we brought the last few kilometres in together.
Placed absolutely perfectly where I finished was a little shelter where we could sit in the shade, stretch and eat some mangoes. I put my feet up against a post to reverse the blood flow and Spider poured some cold water down my legs. That felt absolutely amazing! We hung out there for a bit to relax and as this was not far from a little settlement, the guys tried to buy a live chicken of one of the villagers for tonight’s dinner. As word reached the settlement, a guy arrived on a bike, carrying the squawking chicken by its legs. The guys inspected the chicken, which protested loudly, and plugged a couple of feathers. I asked what they could tell from those and they informed me that they meant nothing but were great for cleaning your ears. Gambian Q-tips! After much negotiation, the sale fell through, as we couldn’t agree on a price. So, the chicken lived to see another day. We then packed up and drove back to Basse, where I had a shower, tended to my knee and then met the guys for lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent writing this blog. It is now 7:00 pm and the guys will soon be here to pick me up for dinner. Then it’s off to bed to run again tomorrow.