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Saturday, 28 April 2012

Senegal, Part 1 and The Gambia


Senegal, Part 1

Day 1 – 21/4/12

Our original idea was to go from Guinea to Guinea Bissau, however with a coup a few days earlier, we decided to give this country a miss. There was a question as to whether the borders were re-opened. With the coup, we did not bother to get a visa in Freetown.

It was with fear and apprehension we approached the Senegalese crossing – some distance after the border. Their reputation for corruption and aggressive behaviours to get their money is, apparently, legendary. The immigration man was polite and joked that Betros rhymed with boss and Avril was the boss’ boss! No hint of aggression or a bribe.

The customs man was out to lunch, so we had to wait ~ 15 min. Again, he was very professional, considerate and polite. No hint of a bribe – long may this last! Avril reckons it is because Ray has white hair, Ray reckons it is because of his great inter-personal skills. Others say, it is much easier going south to north than the reverse.

We drove on an excellent tar road to Tambacounda (herein after referred to as Tamba) to refuel, purchase fruit & veg (a friendly passer-by assisted Avril with language and purchase decisions – she seems to attract a lot of blokes here) and get SIM cards.

We then drove on good tar to Dar Salam, the entrance of the Niokola Koba National Park and camped “at the gate”.  The good news was the campment had very cold beer, oh and tonic and ananas/pineapple drink, which Avril mixes into a secret cocktail.

The vegetation thinned considerably during the day and was basically thin, low scrub by the end. It is mega hot; our thermometer says + 40oC

Ray driving. 527 km. 11 hrs.  N  130 15’ 38.1’’ W 0130 12’ 09.5’’

Day 2 – 22/4/12

We were up at sparrows to de-camp and be at the gate ready to pick up our (compulsory) guide and enter the park at 07:00. The guide had to sit on the roof rack.

The park roads are very rough and with all the rattle and shaking our large under tray drawer broke yet another latch (the 3rd now) and unknown to us we drove some distance with the draw hanging out. Fortunately we only lost our spare set of wiper blades. We then had to fix the drawer and wash all the kit in the heat of the day. Fortunately we did this at the lodge and the folks there allowed Ray to have a shower at the end of the job.

Zakouma, this park is not; there is an OK variety of game but not large numbers. We saw: Red Duiker; warthog;  jackal; bush buck (lots); Roan Antelope; water buck; our old friend, Cob du Buffon; Oribi and hippopotamus.  The conditions were not ideal for photography but the viewing was nice.

It was super hot, + 42oC and still 41oC at sunset ~ 19:00 hrs.

We camped at Lion Camp, which is very basic. When we arrived there was no water for the bucket showers and the toilet was, well you can imagine. We had a wee chat to the folks there and it was soon remedied.

Day 3 – 23/4/12

Again, we were up early. In part due to the heat and our inability to sleep, but mainly to see the animals.

We drove around for a while doing some further game viewing and then left the park just before midday. We saw a variety of game again, but nothing new on the previous day.

We drove back to Tamba to refuel and get some vital supplies i.e. new sunglasses for Avril.

We then drove to the Senegal border. On the way to the border there was an absolutely massive amount of traffic coming in the opposite direction; buses, mini buses, lorries etc end to end and all packed with people. The driving was very dangerous and we were forced off the road on a number of occasions. We discovered later that this was the end of a 2- week program with a renowned marabout and these were all the pilgrims going home. Seemed like life was not all that important to them or rather their lives to the drivers.

Again we crossed the border without any hassles nor hint of a bribe. The customs bloke wanted to know about binoculars, but this was out of interest, not from a corruption perspective.

The road from Sinanian Doulde to Velingara is badly potholed and from Velingara to the border and onto Basse Santa Su (Bassa) is basically a quite bad dirt track.

The Gambia

Day 1 – 23/4/12

The Gambian authorities have a reputation for corruption, so we approached the border with a little dread. In addition, this was our 1st border since Namibia where we did not have a visa. The guide books said that Commonwealth countries did not need a visa. The police (immigration) were asleep and Ray had to gently and subtly let them know he was waiting. Our passports were stamped with no hassle. No need for a visa – very cheap considering the costs associated with other visas.

Ray then had to roam the border post to find the customs folks. Again, the carnet was signed without any hassle.

We then proceeded to Bassa. Another customs stop, no worries. Then a military stop. The poor bugger was in full combat kit and it was + 40oC, so we dived into the Mitchley (now working again, promoting Peter to Avri’ls very best friend) and gave the soldier a bottle of cold water.

We then needed to find the Immigration office to get a Tourist Stamp. At the 1st police road block we asked directions. One of the officers jumped into a vehicle and led us there. The stamp was applied without any hint of a bribe.

Long may our experiences with officialdom be this nice. We wonder what the folks in the blogs did wrong?? Still, our turn maybe waiting!

We then went in search of the Medical Research Centre, recommended by the French couple in Labe (we owe them a beer!). At the MRC the security folks were not really allowed to do all that much, and the guest house managers initial response was no. But Ray chatted to a chap, Malik, leaving the centre, and he took it upon himself to assist us. So we went in search of the next accommodation option, but the ferry needed to get there was broken, so Malik “begged” the manager of the guest house to let us stay. We got a positive response – fantastic! We went out with Malik for a chicken dinner.

To put this in perspective, we were preoccupied all day with the temperature, our measurement of the maximum, in the shade, was 44.5oC. We were very, very (let’s also add a few more very) keen to get a place with a/c and get a decent night’s sleep. We drank a huge amount of water in the day (it seemed impossible to quench ones thirst. Well, anyway, not before 17:00 hrs when beer is allowed under SOPs). We relented at some points and turned on the vehicle a/c.

 Avril driving. 251 km. ~ 5 hours from the park to the MRC accommodation including 2 border crossings.  N  130 18’ 46.4’’ W 0140 13’ 28.9’’

 Day 2 – 24/4/12

A wonderful night’s sleep with the a/c!!! We went into town to change some money and tried to sort out our Senegal SIM card, which was not working in The Gambia. Seems like the Senegal card will not work here (mmmmm…., not so friendly with the neighbours) so after some frustration, we purchased a Gambian SIM. The bank could not change our forex, so the nice man at the bank took Ray to another shop to change some funds – unfortunately all in large denominations.

In the market, Ray hopped out of the vehicle to purchase a couple of bread sticks. A motorised tricycle with a large container on the rear, loaded with bread had followed us through the market and stopped at a road side stall. The trike driver would not go the final 3 m to unload his bread until a couple of donkey carts had cleared out of the way. The driver made it very clear they needed to shift “NOW”. After the bread was off- loaded, Ray selected a couple of bread sticks and handed over a large denomination note. A lady standing near by, also waiting for bread, calmly took the 100 note and gave Ray a 50 and a 50 to the bread vendor. But, a 50 was still too high, so other folks in the area clubbed in to break the note. All this done proactively and just as a matter of course.

Note: after 22 countries and > 36,000 km, we are yet to find an African vendor who has change. Even after you have just given them some small money but then decided on another purchase, they will not have change.

We then set off for Georgetown (which has a new longer name). When we got there we were immediately surrounded & harassed by “bumsters”. These young lads are on the look out for tourists and will demand money for any minor task e.g. giving directions. This is the reverse (not so pleasant side) of the normally nice experiences typical of our journey. Unfortunately, only one thing works with these lads, immediate and forceful rejection, which of course makes us feel bad. But, that is what they prey on.

Georgetown was a waste of time. The guide book helpfully suggested you spend a couple of hours watching people get off & on the ferry. In error we went to the opposite bank of the Gambia River and had to wait for the ferry to fill up on the opposite bank before it would make its return trip to collect us. We can assure you that even 15 minutes people watching was way too long - get a life.

After Georgetown we went in search of The Gambia River National Park (RGNP). Asking local folks, we tried to bracket the turn off from the main road but to no avail. We then tried a couple of different side tracks, but they did not lead to the NP. Finally, in a very remote location, we noticed a couple of young English ladies at a stable near the road and they directed us in the right direction. So, after 4 hours searching, we finally arrived at RGNP. Mathew greeted us and gave us a bit of an intro to the park. He suggested we return the next day for a morning cruise.

We then returned to Jen & Laura, the English roses we had seen before. They volunteer at the Horse & Donkey Shelter. They kindly invited us to stay, gave us some nice digs and showed us around the facilities. They warned it would be a noisy night.

Ray did some anti pasta to go with pre-dinner drinks and Avril cooked up some spaghetti. The company was wonderful. Super nice people.

During the day we passed a large number of police, army, customs and immigration road blocks. The blogs had suggested that we would be asked for a bribe or wrongly accused of some road infringement. This was not our experience. We were not asked for any money. We were not stopped at all at a number of the blocks and most of the officials were pleasant.

Avril driving. 209 km. 8 hrs . N  130 39’ 52.0’’ W 0140 57’ 30.9’’



Day 3 – 25/4/12

We sweltered through the night, but the animal noises were not as bad as we were warned about. After a fruit breakfast we drove back to the RGNP. We had a very nice (but expensive) 3 hour trip on the Gambia River, cruising around the National Park islands. We were fortunate to get a good look at some small chimps playing near the water, hippos, red Colobus and Vervet monkeys. The weather on the water was a lot cooler than the area further away.

After the cruise we drove to Sakuta camp ground ~ 25 km south west of Banjul. The road was good to Soma and then deteriorated to ok (ish) gravel for ~ 100 km  before going back to new tar.

The number of road blocks: military & police & customs & immigration is quite farcical. At some points there are a number of road blocks one after the other. Still, we took the time to chat to the officials and we not once asked for a serious bribe, of course they always want pens etc.

We had some minor difficulty in locating the camp ground so a kind, local chap who was driving by, went out of his way to take us there.

Ray driving. 263 km. 5 hrs . N  130 25’ 09.7’’ W 0160 42’ 56.6’’

Day 4 – 26/4/12

After a chilly night (but not whinging): < 20oC, we had porridge for breakfast. Then we set off to get our Mauritanian visas. We were fortunate to get them in a few hours. However, there was some confusion on the money side. The official letter on the notice board said the cost was Mauritanian Ouguiyas 30,000 (~ Euro 90 each – ouch!!) but when we got our receipt it was for only Mauritanian Ouguiyas 15,000. Avril wanted to know what the difference was about, so we went back to enquire – with no real satisfactory response ??!!

The area we are in is a haven for British package holiday makers, with all the trappings that go with that; including some clean and western food – very nice.

Otherwise we lazed all day. It was not really possible to get to the beach as all the resorts take the beach frontage.

Day 5 – 27/4/12

We rose super early to try and get an early ferry. The blogs had spoken of + 8 hrs wait. We got to the ferry terminal at 07:00 and already the 1st ferry was full. You needed a ticket to enter the queue and we had to be advised where to get a ticket. Of course for such information you pay – but we did get the # 4 spot on the next ferry so figured it was worth it. In the process we nearly caused a fight, one of the waiting mini bus drivers got very agro that we had been allowed through. TIA!!! We waited for the next ferry to dock, unloading took a long time; initially a huge number of people streamed out, it must have been much more than the legal number. Then came the cars and lorries, then the larger men hauled carts and finally a herd of goats. Avril asked one of her male escorts how much the goats paid and it turned out they pay the same as a person.

Then the ferry had to be cleaned – which we appreciated, but not the time it took. Then the frenetic loading took place. People who have waited patiently for hours suddenly become combat-ready and fierce warriors to gain an extra mm at the front of the ferry.

At 09:15 we were on our way and the trip took ~ 50 min.

We passed Gambia Immigration & Customs quickly and with no hint of any additional payments.

The Gambia Summary

The country was OK. We really appreciated the little bit of familiar western environment in the British tourist area. It was great to meet the girls at the Horse & Donkey refuge. The roads in general are OK. The people in the main were very friendly and helpful. There were no security issues.

The negative was the enormous number of road blocks - they really did become a drag. The weather away from the coast was very hot. We found it a bit expensive – but maybe we are cheap.

Senegal, part 2.

Immigration and customs were completed quickly and efficiently – no hint of a bribe. So fast, Avril thought we had only done one border.

We had our first interaction with a cop trying to extract something. We passed the road block with Ray (in the left hand passenger seat) on the phone. The cop thought he had us on that one, until we pointed out Ray was not driving. Then he tried speeding (with- out radar or such). Ray showed him a recent moving average on the GPS (we are not sure what it was) and this was < 31 km/hr. The poor bloke was buggered.

We then drove to Toubakouta one of the tourist centers for the Satoum river delta. With the “assistance” of a bumpster we found a place to camp the night; Campment Coquillages, very clean and CFA 6,000 (=$ 12.00).

In the evening we went for a “cruise” to see the mangroves and islands the area is famous for, including the ancient baobab and another with lots of birds.

Avril driving. ~ 80 km.  N  130 47’ 13.5’’ W 0160 28’ 34.7’’

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