Published: February 4th 2012January 6th 2012
I have had a few near-misses since arriving in Senegal. Every time I get in a vehicle, I consider it a near-miss. The act alone of getting in a vehicle in this country scares me, which is why I am content to be living where I am living, relying primarily on bicycle, and sometimes going months without climbing in a sept place, taxi, or bus. But biking is not without its own danger. And birding by bike, let no one tell you differently, can be an extreme sport.
I was traveling with a friend from my village to Kedougou, either a 12k or 17k trek, depending on who you ask (I think 12). My binoculars were, as usual, at their ready, strewn diagonally across my chest. We were facing a head wind, biking uphill in the heat of the day, and not having an all-too-easy go of it. Still slowly but surely, we were making our way. I would stop occasionally to take in some water or perhaps investigate the silhouette of a raptor on a snag in the distance. Near the top of one hill, I spotted the red of two Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and made a quick stop. My friend, biking behind me, had soon caught up and was shouting, “Moto!” With the wind as it was, I did not hear it coming. Though the road is plenty big, big enough for two full-sized vehicles to pass each other with ease, because of the poor condition of the road, everyone travels in the same, moto-sized lane to avoid the washboarded areas of the road and the potholes. Motos are not known to give you space when passing. Space would mean putting themselves at risk on the rough section of the road,and they are usually going way too fast. It is not uncommon that before you know it, you are being passed, frighteningly close, at unnecessarily high speeds by a moto. It is also not uncommon for the passing moto, to give out a startling beep of their horn just as they pass you. This, in itself, has more than once nearly made me topple my bike.
“Moto!” My friend shouts. He sees it coming and moves to the left to let him pass on the right. I instinctively, move to the right. It is too much to assume that people will give you space and pass you on the left. It is also too much to assume that they will give you space at all. The moto wobbled by me as I felt metal brush up against my leg and a rooster hit my back. They barely make it past me without running me down. There are two people on the bike, the passenger is holding a live rooster upside-down by the legs. It seems his full attention is being placed on not dropping it. I apologize, seems the appropriate route, and they are friendly in return. As they take off, I take a brief sigh of relief, then bring field glasses to my eyes for a long look at the bee-eaters. The same way a pretty woman may knowingly turn heads and cause an accident, I like to think the bee-eaters wittingly watched the whole thing unfold.