A small piece of home: Niger

Patrick Martin Schröder is riding one of our bamboo bikes a my Densu and has set off for an adventurous journey through West Africa. A total of 5,000 km distance, sometimes excellent roads, sometimes mogul fields, sometimes in nowhere running streets and sometimes chaotic urban streets.

He has been touring the world for already 10 years. Gets to know people, cultures and nature but there is always something new, never seen or never experienced. Great that Patrick shares his experiences with us.

This is the fifth tour report about his ride in Niger. The previous entry about Benin can be found here.

And now Patrick tells by himself:

Patricks' travel rout through West Africa.

“Niger. Not to be confused with Nigeria, the english-speaking country renowned for super-rich unknown relatives that list you in their will, but Niger, a seldomly visited place seemingly forgotten by the international press. Steppe, desert and the Aiir mountains are home to a far larger diversity than I would have expected.

My visit here should be somewhat different to the other destinations in West Africa. Not exactly planned like this, but enjoyable non-the less. I did cycle a bit less than expected and spend more time in the capital city, Niamey. But I should probably start at the beginning.

At the border, I was invited into the country by very polite and curious policemen. I decided to take a look around, trying to find a bus towards Niamey. While I researched Niger, it appeared again and again as a rather unsafe area. Boko Haram rebels that head into the country from Nigeria, the south.

Al Quaeda im Magred that head into the country from Algeria, the north. And the risk of remaining land mines. None of those raised my confidence about cycling that border section towards the capital, especially considering that it's a fairly empty stretch of road. So, public transport it is!

Crazy traffic in Niamey.

Afterwards I realized that it was probably a bad call, since riding my bike would have been nearly as fast. While I did find a bus, I did not take into consideration the number of potholes on the road.

The bus swerved wildly left and right, on every bump people are lifted from their seats... I had more bruises from that ride than from the entire rest of the trip combined. I did count the pieces of luggage that flew from the overhead compartments: Thirteen times people have been hit by them, including me. Add to that the engine issues that forced another three-hour break and the military checkpoints, and we get to a breakneck speed that I could have easily done on my bike.

That way, I arrived in Niamey well after dark, obviously not the best time to ride alone through a city for the first time. Luckily, I had a catholic mission marked on my map and they offered to host me for the night. A bed, a mosquito net and a shower was all I needed before finally getting some well-deserved rest.

The next day I hunted for a cheap camping spot in the inner courtyart of a guesthouse, some food and a first view of the city.

The National Museum of Niger in Niamey.

Once I did find the time, I made my way to the national museum, which of course closed at noon for a break, but at least I bumped into two fellow foreigners: Expats that work for Save-The-Children, a dutch and a spanish, who recommended a restaurant that I should try out. Presumably there is western food, something rather rare for that region.

The restaurant... is a story in itself. Somewhat unrealistic in the western world, but in West Africa it seems to be business-as-usual: Hidden restaurants, shops or guesthouses. Devoid of advertising, sign posts or names; just word of mouth propaganda seems to be enough.

I tried finding it, riding up and down the small dirt road that I got as an address, somewhat confused because I couldn't find anything. What I did saw were four expensive cars with security guards next to them, I thought "maybe they can help" and headed over. "Yes indeed sir, this is the place you are looking for" I was told while they guided me towards a huge, blue steel gate.

Behind it a beautiful courtyard opened up to me, with soft music playing, passive lighting, a garden, a bar, and a lot of expats and UN workers. The hostess, an Indian woman married to a German, greeted me in German, the waiters spoke English, the drinks came with ice and a slice of citrus, the printed menu went on from Pizza over to Aubergingratin to Tiramisu. 

I was, to put it mildly, a bit shocked. Prices, food and service like in the first world, all hidden away in a tiny alley in Niamey, Niger. Sahel zone, pretty much the middle of nowhere.

Lets just say that I went there every evening. A small piece of home, before I head out again into the heat and empty roads on my way to Burkina Faso. While it's not far to the border, I did decide to start at the evening, riding through to night to avoid the sun.”

Côté Jardin, the restaurant without advertising.

Patrick has a suitcase full of extraordinary experiences for us, from which, like Mary Poppins, he conjures up one by one. We are looking forward to the next journey stage, because Patrick will tell us about his experiences in Burkina Faso, literally "the land of the honorable people", where he will encounter both. Honorable people and their opposites.


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