I got woken up on the cycle path on the morning of Day 261 by the sound of bicycles rolling past. What the rider must have been thinking, I can’t imagine. He would have seen a guy wrapped up in a sleeping bag, curled up beside his strange looking bike. Perhaps he thought I had had a few too many and had fallen off my bike and slept where I lay…
I got up and headed along the cycle path towards Lake Garda.
The intention was to cycle past Lake Garda and head on towards Brecia. The travel fairy had other plans, and I have now been on the shores of Lake Garda for the last four days.
The excitement began with a chance meeting with an Ghanian guy called Pa Pa Yaw. He was sitting despondent on the side of the busy road with his head in his hands and a mountian bike beside him.
I stopped and pulled my bike off the road and sat beside him. He offered a limp handshake as I introduced myself. He seemed glad to hear that I was not Italian.
A quick look at his bike showed that the rear mech (the thing that hangs down on the back wheel) had got caught in the spokes of the wheel, and had been wrenched up backwards. Not too unlike this episode in my own experience. The mech hanger was bent, but with the tools I had, I knew I could fix it.
“Italy no good country! Italians no good people!” Pa Pa Yaw would say over and over as I proceeded to take his bike to bits.
“No Italian stop. Many bike pass, no Italian stop. And, me no document, no work.” From this I figured he was here on a tourist visa. I also figured he was either high or mildly drunk. He asked me at least three times how old I was.
I had the bike fixed and rolling again in about 20 minutes of fiddling. Pa Pa Yaw was happy. Happy at me.
I told him that I was going on to Lake Garda, and seeming to have nothing else to do, Pa Pa Yaw decided on a whim that he would come too. We shared a banana and went on our way, Pa Pa Yaw seeming happy to be on his bike and content with cycling rather than sitting and feeling sorry for himself.
Apart from a quick stop at a supermarket to get pasta for lunch, we cycled direct to the lake.
Once at the lake, we set up my cooker to cook the pasta I had bought. While the water was boiling, Pa Pa Yaw pulled out 0.70 Euro in coins.
“An old lady give me dis outside supermarket” he said contemplatively.
While in the supermarket buying the pasta earlier, Pa Pa Yaw had stayed outside to keep an eye on the bicycles. Apparently, an old Italian woman came up to him and handed him the coins, with no solicitation from Pa Pa Yaw at all.
I poured the tomato sauce on the pasta, and we dug in. Me using a pair of makeshift chopsticks cut from a nearby tree, and Pa Pa Yaw using my fork.
I asked him how he got to Italy from Ghana.
“Seventeen days in the desert. No wata. No food” he said in a loud, thin voice. He had one of those accents that you’d expect from a guy from Africa.
“From Lybia, I come by boot” he continued. He pointed a skinny, calloused finger at a fast-speed passenger boat on the lake, speeding towards its destination.
“No boot like dat! Nooooo. Noooooo way. Slow boot. People died. Up to here the wata was.” He held his hand up to his chin.
“Had to walk in the wata to the boot. Tirty six hours on the boot to Sardegna. Noooooo wata, only what you carry.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I had no reason to doubt him.
How much did it cost to get from Lybia to Italy?
“One tousand five hundred Euros!” he scoffed.
“I will go with you to Switzerland. You can help me cross border. Switzerland good country. Italy baaaad, bad country.”
It was tough work convicing him that there was little I could do to help. He had explained that his brothers lived in Verona.
Finally I convinced him to go back to Verona.
He cycled a little way with me along the lake. After a while, I heard a weak voice.
“I go back now.” He stood over his bike looking down.
I offered a hand, and he shook it weakly.
“Pa Pa Yaw.”
He talked in a serious and meanful tone, as if to make sure that the Italian authorities that denied him his documents heard it and understood.
We went our separate ways. Pa Pa Yaw from Ghana to the east, and me on to the west.