Today was a half day for the Filipino crew – it’s a public holiday in the Philippines, so they got to let their hair down and skull a few beers. By the time I joined in, the party was already in full swing with Nickelback (of all people) blearing on the stereo. So I ended up sitting off drink a few beers with Crazy George and Chivas Regal the Cook, while Andrey and Emerson danced like maniacs to some really naff adult-orientated rock.
After some rather boisterous shenanigans and tomfoolery, I opted for the quiet life and ended up sitting upstairs with the Icelandics – Albert the Supercargo and Joey the Crane Operator – enjoying a few beers and tales of life on the ocean. All in all, a very enjoyable night, but I wasn’t looking forward to the hangover the next day.
The least Easterly Easter of my life – no chocolate eggs, in fact no chocolate at all! To be honest with you, I spent most of the day in my cabin nursing my hangover and wishing that I had seasickness pills that actually WORKED!!
That night, I went up on the bridge for a couple of hours and had a good chat with the captain about football (he’s a Tottenham fan, believe it or not), the economic collapse and how the USA seems to be conspiring to make the whole world look incredibly dull.
Oh my word, I feel ROTTEN! Spent a good part of today in bed, did a little editing, but it’s hard to concentrate when you feel two seconds away from barfing all the time. This evening I sat with the Icelandics again (Albert’s cabin being conveniently situated next to mine) and we chatted about the collapse of Icesave, catching puffins and where best to get a thermal bath.
However, I’m more concerned that apart from brief respites in Reykjavik and the Faroe Islands, I’m going to be at sea for another WHOLE WEEK. Hopefully I’ll find some kick-ass seasickness pills in Iceland and be able to whether it. A jolly sailor I is not.
This isn’t even funny anymore. The sea isn’t even that rough – the Gulf Stream in a little yacht was much, much worse. And yet I’ve been sick three times today, with varying degrees of BLURGH. I’ve polished off those herbal remedy ginger pill NONSENSE (it’s not like I can overdose on the stuff). I would have been better off with a pack of McVities Ginger Nuts.
Even before I started reading Dr Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in the Guardian, I had a sneaking suspicion that ‘herbal remedies’ were a bullshit marketing term for ‘non-functioning wannabe medicine for middle aged women with too many cats’ and now I have – albeit very subjective and anecdotal – proof. Well that’s as much proof as they use to sell this crap, which is ‘hey it worked for me’. ‘Me’ obviously was not on a week-long slog across the North Atlantic in a cargo boat. Doesn’t work. My advice? Stick with them there proper medicines – ‘natural’ is overrated – after all, Uranium is ‘natural’, but I wouldn’t advise putting it on your burger.
Andrey the Chief Engineer gave me a tour of the Engine Room today – you wouldn’t believe the size of the Engine (and Andrey assures me it’s ‘small’ for a cargo ship), but then I guess this boat is a little bigger than your average Nissan Micra. That night I watched Gladiator with the Filipinos and decided that all children should be banned from Hollywood films forever, with the possible exception of Stand By Me and The Goonies.
Had a good chat with Chivas Regal, the cook, today – remarkable chap, last year the boat he was on from Kenya to Romania was captured by Somalian Pirates and held (at gunpoint) for one month. He was forced to cook not only for the terrified crew, but also for the pirates themselves as they sailed from port to port apparently to prevent other rival pirates taking the vessel. I asked him if he would sail that route again; he shrugged and said “yeah – the weather is better than here”. What a legend.
Almost as soon as we had finished chatting, the Captain popped down and informed us that he had heard on the radio that another three ships have just been captured by Somalian Pirates. The Captain reckons that the shipping companies are just going to have to run convoys like in the war, but whether the ship charterers would be prepared to lose days waiting to put them together is another matter.
I’m planning to take a boat from Djibouti over to Yemen in a couple of months time – I better make sure it is small and not worth the hassle of pirating(!)…in other news, we should be getting into port tonight at around 2am.
Here’s a little video of my time on board the good ship Reykjafoss:
I got to the fisherman’s beach just after midnight – there she was, the Mustapha Sy – a wooden long boat just two metres wide that the Vikings may have once used. It was out in the water, and before I knew it I was being scooped up on the shoulders of one of the fisherman and waded out to sea.
Plonked on board, I took a seasickness pill and tried to count how many fishermen it takes to drive a 50ft long hunk of wood over the ocean – ten, apparently, but this is Africa and I’ve become accustomed to these things.
The ‘pirogue’ had no steering wheel (just a rudder) no radio and nowhere to sleep that didn’t involve you being squished between several other people in the style of a tent in Tawd Vale Scout Camp circa 1988. There was no chance of keeping myself or any of my things dry, and OH MY WORD, if there was a storm, we would be more stuffed than a skip full of Garfield toys.
At around 3.30am, I couldn’t take the rocking, the stuffiness, the smell of fish and feet anymore, so I left the tent and proceeded to recall in graphic detail what I had for dinner that night off the side of the boat. Let me feel the wind for heaven’s sake. So I re-organised myself on deck (between the wooden bins, within which, go the fish) and spent the rest of the night getting me, my coat and my sleeping bag as wet as nature would allow.
The day passed slowly – the fishermen spoke no words of English and my French is as useless as their soldiers, so I contented myself with reading and getting sunburnt out on deck. The relentless swaying of the boat met with no more resistance from my guts, which was good. I did however have to wee into a bucket, as whizzing off the side would result in almost certain watery death. Luckily for me…my intensive Glastonbury Festival training allows me to go for days on end without having to discharge Corporal Brown.
Lunch consisted of a wet baguette (I was going to ask for some marmalade, but then I thought better of it. In any case, I don’t know if the French have a word for marmalade, maybe I should ask George W. Bush). Dinner was a rice and fish free-for-all in which a huge bowl of food is summoned up somehow and everyone dives in with their right hands (not their left, obviously, that would be unhygienic).
Well, at least I finally got to use the spork that my brother Alex foistered upon me all those months ago.
We would be at sea for at least another day, but at least we met with no inclement weather or freak waves. Which was good, as I saw a good number of shark fins today distributed between the hoards of flying fish (arguably up there with Duck-Billed Platypodes as the coolest creatures in the history of evolution). I’d say it was plain sailing. That’s if we had a sail.
That night, I slept once again between the wooden bins that normally hold the fish. Every hour or so, a large wave would make the effort to wake me up like a bucket of water to the face, but apart from that, grumpy old Poseidon behaved uncharacteristically favourably to his old nemesis Odysseus here.
As I kid, I was always HACKED off that the BBC in their infinite wisdom altered the name of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (nothing new there, they re-branded Top Cat as Boss Cat, which meant it MADE NO SENSE AT ALL – especially as Benny called him ‘TC’ all the time) as if the word ‘Ninja’ would provoke us young impressionables to dress up in black and prance around the rooftops of Japan in the middle ages, silently assassinating any of those damn Samurai pigdogs who got in our way.
Anyway, the highlight of today was seeing a small bale of real-life giant turtles swimming by. We circled round to get a better look, and then I was gripped by a reasonable terror that the fishermen would, for the entertainment and delight of their charterer here, pick one up out of the sea and cook him up for din-dins. Now if I’m hungry, I would quite happily devour a bald eagle set on a relish of baby pandas, but you see, me and turtles have an affinity. How on earth could I, in good faith, devour Leonardo, Donatello (I was always Donatello) or Raphael. Okay, so Michelangelo was always a bit annoying, but there’s no way I could eat him…it would be like stealing Garfield’s lasagne, kicking a Hobbit or hunting Fantastic Mr Fox.
And, do you know what Mr. BBC? Even if they had been called Ninjas, I still wouldn’t have eaten them. Okay? In fact, it would have put me off – calling them Ninjas makes it sound like they’d put up more of a fight.
Anyway, I put the fisherman off the idea of plucking one out of the sea and we pressed on towards Cape Verde. The sea picked up a bit and those buckets of water became so ubiquitous that I was forced under the tent. Squished in with all the fishermen, I didn’t get much sleep, but in just a few hours we would reach our destination.
Perhaps I should have mentioned this before – Val, the guy who was ‘helping’ me last week is now demanding that I pay him €600 for his ‘services’. These ‘services’ included not getting me my passport back, not getting the pirogue to the dock and not finding me a yacht to come and pick me up. He just flapped around for a few days, spent a lot of my money on phone calls, took a lot of taxis (which muggings here paid for) to godknowswhere and generally swanned about doing nothing constructive or even mildly helpful. Which could be a metaphor for this entire island, I don’t know.
Anyway, he wants his money and has spent the last week basically stalking me trying to get it. Of course, I have no intention of giving him such a vast amount of money for doing nothing. Even the magic money trees that we Europeans grow in our back gardens have their limits. The average wage here is €1000. FOR THE YEAR.
Anyway, the hilarious thing is that Val is wanted by the police. He ripped off a fellow Brit to the tune of one-and-a-half grand and the angry Brit (David) wants his money back. The upshot of which is that if I hang around Café Sophia, Val is rather reluctant to cause me any problems, lest make a scene. But I’m watching my back, for Val and other reasons that I will divulge later.
Today was exceedingly pleasant. I spent my entire time at Frazer’s café reading and drinking Twinning’s English Breakfast. Like a drunk who has fallen off the wagon, I found myself gorging on (my until-recently, denied delight) interesting stuff to read. National Geographic was thoroughly abused from cover to cover, as was last week’s Telegraph, a copy of Vanity Fair and, just to cheer me up, Neville Shute’s epic smile-a-thon ‘On The Beach’.
I can’t thank Frazer enough. If you ever have the misfortune to be stuck for six weeks in Praia, please patronise the Cape Café. It’s the best thing here by a mile.
Anyway, things in Cape Verde are FINALLY drawing to a close. Woo and yay! Yuri and I enjoyed a final couple of games of chess, and I retired early – I have a big day tomorrow.
Day 191: Prospero, Burn Your Books
I checked out of the Hotel Atlantico, the place where I’d been hanging my hat for the last month. The first person that I ran into was Val, who was demanding money or else he would burn the papers that would otherwise allow me to get my passport back. I’m a great liar, unfortunately for Val, he is not. He knew damn well that I didn’t need any papers to get my passport back, I just needed the captain of a boat. And I had one coming.
Milan texted me that he was on his way and I spent much of the day looking out over the harbour for his arrival. When he did arrive, it was battlestations – we had to get everything sorted before everything shut for the weekend. And so I met Milan, a German national who was born in Slovenia, and his friend Sebastian, a Frenchie and a fellow ginge.
We headed to the passport office and they made the necessary phone call. The guy who made it – a Mr. Samedo – had been my sworn nemesis for the duration of my incarceration on this bloody island, so it was with great delight that I waved him goodbye, a face I hope to never see again.
Then it was down to the port to sign out and retrieve the holy grail – my passport. The port official opened the metal cabinet and my eyes lit up as I spied the golden lion and unicorn that adorns the cover. My passport.
He handed it over and I felt as if I had just been given back my legs.
After we were sorted there, and after the infuriatingly Vogon-esque authorities had denied our request to take the fishermen’s engine, GPS and fuel back with us; I headed over to Café Sophia for one final, final, final game of chess with Yuri while Milan and Sebastian stocked up on supplies. I then grabbed a drink with Tomic the Polish Guy, and Debbie from Connecticut and Maggie from Zimbabwe. When Milan and Sebastian returned, we loaded up the boot of a taxi and headed out for some chicken and chips.
Saying goodbye to Yuri was surprisingly emotional. We had formed a real bond over the weeks and his cheerful, happy-go-lucky attitude had really rubbed off on me in a positive way. He asked me who was going to help him with his text messages now. I sincerely hope that I get to see him again some day. Preferably in Switzerland.
After dinner, the representatives of the three most kick-ass nations in Europe (that’s Milan, Sebastian and I) headed out to Kappa, the nightclub near the city ‘beach’. There, I said my goodbyes to Maggie, Debbie, Callie and Frazer – I hope their respective yachts come and rescue them some day. Then it was down to the port, into a dingy and over to the Fleumel – I was escaping my own personal Dunkirk.
Prospero burn your books, for nevermore will I return to this accurs’d isle. No more Café Sophia, no more outrageously expensive phonecalls or overpriced food, no more dark and unsettling beaches of volcanic sand, no more looking over my shoulder, no more big fat lies garnished with a sinister smile… freedom.
It was time to feel the rain again.
Day 192: The Slow Show
Milan and Sebastian are two of the greatest blokes I’ve ever met. To take all this time out of their lives, leave their girlfriends at home on Maio and to come and rescue me is really the stuff of legend. It’s 400 miles from Praia to Dakar. That’s an 800-mile round trip to help a ginger in need. Cape Verde shook it to the limit, but my faith in humanity is still unbreakable.
However, our great escape didn’t go exactly according to plan.
We were supposed to leave last night, but upon waking up, I discovered that we hadn’t actually moved – we were still in the port. One thing I didn’t know – the electrics were down on the boat after Milan crashed it on some rocks last month. This meant no engine, no radio, and – worst of all – no cold beer.
We were completely reliant on the wind. And the wind was not playing ball. It was 12-noon before we set off into the blue and by nightfall, the island of Praia was still in view. This was going to be one long getaway.
Day 193: Three Men In A Boat
There was a little wind today and we bobbed along at a blistering two-and-a-half knots. Milan and Sebastian are hilarious. Neither speak English very well, but then Milan does not speak French and Sebastian does not speak German, so English was what we all had to converse in.
Milan has been living on the Cape Verdean island of Maio for the last few years. His story is not a happy one – but he’s one of the most cheerful guys you could ever hope to meet. He was the owner of a large real estate company in Germany, with a nice car and a nice house and all the trimmings. Then, one day, he left for work, kissed his wife goodbye to his wife and never saw her again. She was killed a few hours later in a car accident. Milan took a couple of months off work and decided to make a clean break of it; sell everything – his business, his house, his car and go and sail the world. He somehow wound up on Maio, liked the place, and stayed.
Sebastian grew up not in France, but in Cote D’Ivoire and lived there for almost two decades. His reasons for coming to Cape Verde are that he came, liked what he saw and stayed. He’s not a sailor – in fact this would be his first jaunt with Milan off Cape Verde. But he was a good cook – he refused any help in the kitchen and ribbed me about the one and only time he visited England – he went to Bristol to see AC/DC and stayed with an English family who fed him – get this – boiled beef and jellied mint.
What were they THINKING?! They must have known the low opinion our Gaulish cousins have of our British cuisine, talk about enforcing the stereotype. Thanks a bunch, nameless family from Bristol – I spent the afternoon running through all the great British tucker that I like to eat – our bloody brilliant breakfasts (the best in the world, I assure you), our curries (better than India! Seriously!), our delicious fish and chips and our world-beating Roast (not boiled!) Meals on a Sunday – with Yorkshire puds and everything. Yum.
But it was no good. Sebastian grew up with the impression that the British can’t cook to save their crooked teeth, and during our one and only chance to set the record straight, we feed him stuff that I wouldn’t feed my dog. Even if there was a war on, there is no excuse for that kind of diplomatic faux-pas.
Wow! I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like this before. There was not one iota of a smidgin of a skerrick of a sub-atomic particle of a whisper of a wind. The sea was as flat as it could be – more like a lake than the second biggest ocean in the world. There were no waves at all – just a swell bobbing us up and down, but that was little more than moving sand-dunes.
In fact, it occurred to me that the sea is not that different from the desert. Nothing to drink, the sun bearing down on you, no shade, no trees, no escape. Just a vast undulating landscape. Food can be found, but you need specialised equipment to catch it.
We had no specialised equipment. Just a plastic line in the water with a fake fish strapped to the end of it which didn’t interest the fish a sot. That’s not to say we didn’t have any aquatic activity. A giant Manta Ray turned up during the course of the proceedings, accompanied (some might say showing off) by a handful of brightly coloured pilot fish, the arguably smartest fish of Neptune’s realm – they stay out of trouble by hanging with the bigger kids.
Ray Charles, as I christened the ray, hung about for a couple of hours, gracefully flapping its wide delta wings and reminding me of Starfox, one of the best games on the Super Nintendo, which in turn reminded me of Super Mario Kart. How I wish I had brought my Gameboy! How I yearn to crash over the line of the Rainbow Road, coming first by the skin of Toad’s teeth (Toad is always the best, like Blanca in Street Fighter II). After finishing ‘On The Beach’ (hate to spoil the ending but THEY ALL DIE), Milan’s portable electronic chess game became more addictive than crack, especially since it was diabolically easy to beat, even on the hardest level.
Note to designers of electronic chess games: don’t be so eager to Castle. It’s a fun move, but if you’re going to leave your poor little king imprisoned in the corner behind your pawns, I will eat him for breakfast.
One other, more attractive, aspect that the sea shares with the desert is the plethora of stars that pepper the night sky. You have never seen so many. From this latitude (about 15 degrees North), you can see both the North Star and the Southern Cross WHICH ROCKS MY WORLD. Orion has gone off hunting for the summer leaving Scorpius as the most startling constellation in the heavens. One of the few star groups that actually looks like what it’s called, the great Scorpion balanced on his curving tail marked the passage south. We needed to keep the wee beastie to the right side of the boat if we were to reach Dakar.
Whenever that shall be…
Day 195: Are We There Yet?
We did pick up a little bit of wind last night, but today was another long trudge. In the afternoon, we picked up a little speed (along with some dolphins) but by the evening that dropped off (along with the dolphins). We hoped to be in Dakar tonight. We were still 300 miles away.
Excitement was to be had just as the sun was going down when we spotted not one, not two but FIVE blue whales coming to have a mosey at our boat. And what a fine boat it is – the Fleumel, named after Milan’s daughter’s nickname, is an all metal affair (quite a rarity in the world of sailing) with a keel (the bit that pokes out of the bottom) you can pull up for shallow water. This has led Milan to believe (after watching Fitzcarraldo) that he can sail it up the Amazon. I’m willing to take that bet and go one further – in the next few years, I intended to produce a television show which involve travelling along the Amazon, so if he’s up for it, so am I.
But what a commotion was caused by cetacean friends! Milan jumped up and started banging a stick on the metal rail as hard and as fast as he could.
We don’t want them to mate with us!!
After seeing the size of these leviathans, I was willing to agree. Fleumel wouldn’t stand a chance. It would be like Pavarotti trying to mate with a hamster. But it was okay, they seemed to be a family and were just passing by, fellow travellers on the same wibbly-wobbly road of bizarre and improbable blue.
Looking at the admiralty charts, we were now floating four kilometres above from the ocean floor. Crikey – it’s a long way down.
Day 196: So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish
I have never seen so many. Our mammalian cousins from yesterday had returned and this time they had brought re-enforcements. I slipped off my shoes and socks and dangled my legs off the prow of the ship as dozens of the playful tykes danced about in the water below. I agree with Douglas Adams – these guys are SMART. Very smart. While we were coming back out of the trees, their great matriarch thought it would be a good idea to return to the water. While we strive all day working, fighting, checking our emails, watching X-Factor, doing each other over, worrying about paying the mortgage and building remarkably ugly buildings, they just spend all day splashing about in the water having a good time.
They are big enough to have no real predators, and travel in large numbers just in case any sharks are on the prowl. They can communicate, chat about stuff and if they’re hungry, they just open their mouths. Brilliant!
And we still think opposable thumbs are pretty neat. Gah!
Anyway, the dolphins stayed with us for a number of hours, jumping in and out of the water, some doing tricks, not for a fishy SeaWorld treat, but just for the hell of it. It was great. As for the wind, today it was on our side and we covered some distance. Hopefully we’ll be in Dakar on Friday.
Day 197: Back In The Doldrums
Just when we thought we were making good time, we go and get stuck in the Doldrums. Not the real Doldrums – they are a few hundred miles south of us, but the Cape Verde Doldrums. Cape Verde’s last laugh. Milan had checked the long range forecast before we left and it promised a steady, northerly wind all the way to Africa. Somebody presumably forgot to tell the God of the North wind about this arrangement – where’s Black Elk when you need him?
The time had come to get the cards out and teach Sebastian the best card game in the world – S–thead. If you’ve never heard of it, you’ve never been backpacking. Like a gypsy curse or a Masonic handshake, the rules of S–thead have been passed down through generations of footloose long-haired types waiting in foreign train stations, bus shelters and the like.
Like Super Mario Kart, to win S–thead takes a bit of talent, a good memory and a fair dollop of blind luck. The genius is that the blind luck part comes at the very end of the game, which can make all of your previous cunning stunts amount to nada. It’s a great game and very soon Sebastian was hooked. Which was good, as we were both tired of beating the electronic chess game.
That evening, Sebastian made sweet popcorn for us all. He used butter in the pan so it was salty sweet, but it was still more super than Superman shouting Superlatives whilst playing Super Mario on his Super Nintendo. Milan and Sebasian had a couple of beers, but I opted not to join them, on the grounds that the beer was warm (we had no refrigeration) and it would probably make me call Hughie off the side.
Wawaweewa. Friday! Are we still at sea? It would appear so. No sign of Dakar yet, but the GPS was insisting it was less than 100 miles away.
I was particularly worried that Mandy and her over-active imagination would be concerned that I had been attacked by a giant squid, swallowed by a whale, consumed by the ghastly Kraken or frantically lopping the heads off the great Hydra only for more to grow in their place. No such excitement, I’m sorry to report. The day sluggishly went by as we yakked and played cards.
That night, there was a CRACKIN’ thunderstorm over yonder, flashes in the distant clouds every couple of seconds. I hoped Senegal hadn’t descended into war, but with no radio and absolutely no human contact for a week, who’s to say what was going on in the real world?
The storm encouraged the wind to buck its act up, and we had a night of good sailing. Milan stayed up all night battling to keep us going in the right direction (no electrics = no autohelm). The wind, being fickle, decided to start blowing from the south, usurping my usual sleeping position on deck. With the Fleumel now tilted over to the left (sorry, port), any attempt to sleep on the right (sorry, starboard) of the boat would be met with crashing to the floor-style doom and inevitable injury. I tried to secure myself with a rope (sorry, a sheet), but it was no good. I had to sleep below deck in the front (sorry, the bow), with the smell of the toilet (sorry, the head) and the unused fuel grumpily swashing about, it was enough to turn me green. Sebastian graciously gave up his bed (sorry, his berth) for me – I warned him that sleeping out on deck was all but impossible, but he didn’t listen.
After ten minutes he was back. He opted for my vacated forward berth.
Day 199: The Return of the Ging
So now we were coming up to our goal – Dakar. In the early morning, we could see it grey on the horizon – two hills, one with a half-built statue sticking out of the top like a nipple. We were nearly there. Within a few hours, we had phone contact, but British SIM cards don’t work in Senegal. Sebastian came to my rescue and allowed me to text the Mandster to let her know that her favourite ginge was still going strong.
The approach to Dakar seemed to take an eternity. Milan was shattered so I took the helm for the first time in the week. We sailed past the statue, past the sunken ships and the lighthouse. It wasn’t until we had passed the island that I realised it wasn’t Goree… we still had a long way to go.
Eventually, several hours later, Milan cruised us (just using the wind, the crafty bugger) into the ‘marina’. We were greeted by two guys in a shuttle boat eager to take us ashore. I jumped in with them and they took me over to the broken down wooden jetty. I clambered up onto the decaying wood, stood tall and punched the air with my fist.
I had made it.
Back on dry land. Back, back, back to Africa.
THANK YOU, MILAN…THANK YOU!!!
We sorted ourselves out with a beer at the marina bar before heading out to the city centre for a well-deserved slap up meal. There, I met Mentor and I got my stuff back… my clothes, my chargers, my laptop!! Woopeeeee!
Later, we were joined by an American guy named Jared, who was my couchsurf contact for the night. I utterly devoured my pizza, along with a skinful of ice-cold beer. Milan and Sebastian retired to the Fleumel for the night, and I headed out with Jared to meet with Mbeye (the captain of the fishing boat) to discuss how the hell we were going to get his damn boat back. Predictably, the Micau still hasn’t left.
It was good to see Mbeye – he asked if he would ever see me again – I said I’ll be back next year. I’ve said that to a lot of people, but to Mbeye, I would like to keep the promise. God knows, I owe him a slap-up meal.
It was great of Jared to come with me, late as it was – Jared is a good old fashioned Peace-Corp volunteer of rural Californian stock. He’s living with a Senegalese family in Dakar. It’s pretty basic – I had to stand over the squat toilet to use the cold shower with just a pocket torch for light – but it was heaven compared to bobbing up and down all night in the salty brine and at least I was clean.
I slept like an angel.
Day 200: The Gambian Gamble
Despite our late night, Jared and I rose with the lark. Jared had (wonderfully) donated his bed to his nibs here while he made do with the couch (undermining the whole idea of couchsurfing, but I wasn’t going to complain. The sassy young chick who cleans Jared’s house is called (in the local parlance) the ‘house virgin’, which is at once hilarious and also slightly sinister, but this is a sternly paternal society where you can have up to four wives, so don’t expect equal rights any time soon.
I said my thank-you’s and goodbye’s to Jared and then I headed over to the marina to see Milan and Sebastian. We sat and chatted for a while and then it was time, finally, to HIT THE ROAD.
It’s been EIGHT WEEKS since I arrived in Senegal from Mauritania. All of my Visas for West Africa have now expired and I have to get new ones. Bah!
I gave Milan a tremendously grateful hug, wished him well on his endeavours, and headed to the shared taxi stand. The Gambia was calling.
The road was good until Kaolack and then it became the nightmare I knew it was (having experienced the damn thing twice on my previous attempt to enter The Gambia). This time, I wasn’t taking any chances. I would be crossing the border and heading straight for the capital, Banjul. So we bounded over the multitude of potholes and drove on the mud at the side of the road (less bumpy) and wondered why on Earth the Senegalese government has allowed the North Koreans(!) to pay for a big pointless statue in Dakar when the main transport artery for millions of people has more holes in it than Blackburn, Lancashire.
At least now I know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
I’d love to turn you on.
The border was painless – no visa required for The Gambia. My biggest worry was that the Senegalese border guys would spot the Cape Verde exit stamp – I didn’t get a Senegal exit stamp when I left and didn’t report in when I arrived on the Fleumel (naughty I know, but I’m mad and therefore this cannot be used as evidence). As a precaution, I forged the Cape Verde stamp (with a biro – cunning!) so it read 10.07.08. Unfortunately, this passport was issued on 08.10.08, so unless I’m The Doctor, there is a slight continuity error there, but (luckily) nobody noticed.
After crossing the border (and being WARMLY welcomed into the country – Cape Verde, take note), I decided to celebrate 200 days on the road without getting the squits, by treating myself to a prawn salad cooked by the side of the road. To a backpacker, eating a prawn salad in a developing country is the gastronomic equivalent of crossing the streams.
But to hell with it, I have decided that I shall not get ill on this journey and by jingo, I’m determined to see that decision followed through. Unlike my farts.
I checked my vision and my pulse then jumped into a bush taxi and headed to Barra, across the great river Gambia from Banjul. On the way, I met lots of excessively friendly checkpoint guards (who were even friendlier when they discovered my place of birth) and I instantly decided that I liked The Gambia. It also helped that everyone spoke English, cos I’m a lazy sod and it suits me to converse without having to consult the language section in the back of my Lonely Planet.
On the ferry over the water, I met a fellow scouser named Richie and a wry Cumbrian named Tony (as in TONY!!). Richie’s actually from Runcorn, but his mum and dad are from Tokky so I didn’t give him too much of a hard time for being a plazzy scouser. At least he sounded the part.
Richie and TONY!! are here to study animals as part of their university course – Richie’s studies snakes and TONY!! goes for, erm, memory fails me, was it Frogs? Or monkeys? Something like that, feel free to correct me guys.
I was planning to stay in Banjul for the night, but they convinced me to come with them for THE BEST PIZZA IN THE WORLD in Kololi near the sea. I was planning to get up early tomorrow and get myself a visa for Guinea-Bissau, but Kololi was on the way south, and I could probably get a visa from Ziguinchor in the (dangerous!) Casamance province of Senegal… but I didn’t know how long it would take to get there, didn’t know how long it would take to issue a visa (maybe up to two days) and, well, it’s the Casamance and therefore DANGEROUSGRAHAMCHECKTHEFCOWEBSITEOHMY!!
Ah, to hell with it, I thought, what matter is personal safety when there is delicious pizza to be had?
So I accompanied the guys to their hotel and we went out and hit the town. Nice place – the Atlantic resort area – relaxed, cheap accommodation and food, plenty of restaurants and nightclubs – a good place to get away for a couple of weeks. I only had one night, so I ate a HUGE calzone all to myself and drank enough to make a hippo sleep in the gutter. I’m sure Richie and TONY!! were suitably impressed.
Any country that gives itself a definite article (Ukraine lost all my respect when they dropped the ‘The’) is tippy-toppy-tip-top, but in short, The Gambia was mega-mega-double-groovycool.
Day 201: A Big Black Cloud Come
Today was brilliant – a classic slice of Odyssey Pie. I started the day (after about 2 hours sleep) with a crankin’ hangover in The Gambia. Then I took a shared taxi down to the southern border, which brought me into the Casamance province of Senegal. A beautiful, beautiful place – seriously green and lush and lovely. From there, I headed to Ziguinchor, or Zig, and made plans to stay for the night while I waited for my Guinea-Bissau visa. But good news – The Guinea-Bissau embassy in Zig gives you the visa straight away!
So I headed down (another bush taxi) into Guinea-Bissau – a Portuguese speaking country and the first of the four Guineas I have to visit on this journey (the others being Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Papua New Guinea). Them colonists loved their Guineas. I crossed the border and got to the town of São Domingos. A nice lake and a few roadside shacks was all that awaited me. Oh yeah, Guinea-Bissau is another country that’s on the FCO’s dangerous list – the President was assassinated last March and the leading opposition candidate and his wife were murdered last month. Welcome to Africa, kids!
So… not wanting to give the locals any ideas, I threw a couple of stones in the lake and headed back to Zig. By the time I got there, West Africa had remembered that it was supposed to be rainy season and started raining heavily. I desperately needed to grab a couple of MiniDV tapes for my camcorder, which I subsequently found with the help of a friendly guy from the Bush Taxi Station. Then it was a short wait while my sept-place filled up (and for one, just contained SEVEN people, amazingly) and then it was on to Tambacounda, the crossroads of Senegal.
Now I’ve been expressly told not to travel at night, especially through Casamance. But I figured I’d be out of the region before it got dark.
I figured wrong. The road was very good – all sealed and tarmacadamed, but Bush Taxi only took us as far as Kolda, and from there I was on my own. The next taxi to Tambacounda didn’t leave for AGES and by then it was darker than Vader’s Jockstrap. But the taxi did eventually leave (I had to buy a few seats to get it to go) and we arrived in Tamba before midnight. Then I took YET ANOTHER (are you getting bored yet?) Bush Taxi to the Malian border at Kidira.
In short, in less than 24 hours I got from The Gambia to Guinea-Bissau to Mali via Senegal. Four Countries in One Day. In West Africa. Whoosh!