So Mentor and I hit the streets to find a way to Cape Verde. We go down to the beach where all the fishermen are. Mentor makes some phone calls, talks to some people. By 2pm, it was clear that I would not be leaving today. I decide not to waste my time, and so head over to The Gambia for a quick border-hop.
The Gambia is the smallest country in Africa – a thin slither of land completely encompassed by Senegal that surrounds the Gambia River like a novelty balloon. It was supposed to take 5 hours in a Sept-Place to get there, but the reality of life in a country where the politicians are far too busy doing GOD KNOWS WHAT to deal with the fact that there are more holes in the MAIN road than there are in the plot of Star Wars Episode I, this wasn’t the case.
Luckily, I had a really nice chap called Lamin sitting next to me. He was from The Gambia so he spoke very good English (The Gambia was one of Britain’s many daft colonial-era follies). We chewed the fat for hours over politics, travel, religion… all my favourite talking stuff. The conversation invariably turned time and time again to institutional corruption and how more than anything else, it is stifling the development of Africa. Hell, our driver found it easier to drive on the dust at the side of the road (less potholes).
We got to the border around 10pm. I got my passport stamped into The Gambia, did a piece to camera, and then headed back to the Sept-Place garage on the Senegalese side (almost sparking a hilarious riot amongst the motorcycle taxi dudes on the border).
Sept-Place taxis wait until they are full before they leave. I had to wait for two hours before we hit the road. I didn’t sleep, I just ran through every song on my iPod. Even if I wanted to sleep, the taxi was so old and beaten up (I’m surprised the driver could see given all the cracks in the windscreen) that every time the driver got to a certain point in third gear, he lost all power and all of us on board would be rudely thrown forwards with a jerk.
As a consequence, I got back to Dakar in a rotten mood. A mood that would not lighten any time soon.
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!