One of the challenges here is that it’s often hard to get outside to exercise in Ouaga – the daily work hours, the heat, the traffic, the limited daylight, all seem to conspire to prevent me from getting out on a ride. But when I do manage it, the time is well spent. Thanks to a visiting English teacher, who used to race, we’ve put together a Sunday morning cycling group. The group includes people from the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and the United States. No one, except a couple of people, is super-fast or competitive. We pick a different direction each week and head out for a couple of hours.
Today, we rode north out of Ouaga and picked up a trail that runs along a railway line. It’s hot and the red dust of Burkina quickly covers every bit of exposed skin. It’s mostly flat with a few short ups and downs. But you’re away from the motos and cars and noise. There’s not much sound except for the hum of your tires on the dirt and birds calling to each other. Herds of goats, sheep and cows dot the landscape, but mostly you are alone.
Periodically the trail ducks through a little village of stone and wood huts and the inevitable gang of small children stop what they’re doing to stare at the “nasara” (the Mossi word for white people). We do our part, smiling and waving and shouting “bonjour!” to each and every one of them. Now and then someone will yell “Allez!” from the comfort of their shaded porch as the crazy foreigners ride by.
One morning, coming back from a ride, as we were stopped at a traffic light, a man on a moto looked at me and smiled. “Lance Armstrong?” he asked, laughing a little. I laughed along with him and said “I wish!” Riding away, though, I was more surprised than I probably should have been at him even knowing who Lance Armstrong is.
But they know cycling and bike racing here in Burkina. Every year, there’s a multi-day stage race, the Tour de Faso, that runs through the country in October. This year saw several European and African teams – and even Eddy Merckx presided over one of the stage finishes in Ouaga.