Bright and early we arrive at the border of Mauritania at Rosso, only to find our 2 guys waiting for us. We are trapped. One plays good cop, the other bad cop. The first con is trying to charge us in the old currency thereby adding an extra “0” to the price. Every price had to be bartered down from exorbitant to half (still a total rip off). It is with relief that we board the ferry to cross to Senegal, but they refuse to give us our carnet & passports and we are passed through the system to another extortionist on that side. Our first drama is that we have no visas in our passports, as I was under the impression, we could get them free at the border. That is not so, so we have to go and grovel to the top policeman, who allows us to get stamped in. More stamps & paperwork – still without touching our papers. Of course, the final demand comes for more money, even though we did not employ the guy. We planned to pay, but not what he demanded – it was an ugly scene. (Our advice -Stick to the Diama border if you can – sadly for us it was closed. We met a couple who tried in their 4x4 and had to later cross at Rosso.)
Naturally it takes a few days for me to warm to Senegal, but the roads are great, there are few police stops, & the villages are pulsing with life. We head to the old seaside town of St Louis. Once in the city we hunt for an ATM that will actually spit out money. Once found we park GR2 (happily in a row of other cars on a side street) and head out to get a Sim & food. On our return we find GR2 has been wheel clamped (naturally none of the local vehicles have) – yet another grab for tourist dollars! ($2) Oh well, we carry on to the island over a bridge designed by the great Eiffel himself and find a spot to stop for lunch. Great views of the fishing village and as there is some sort of festival on and we catch a long boat race. Carry on through the chaotic town – children, goats, you name it everywhere. Down the peninsula to find a camp spot. Decide not to free camp but use an official spot at Hotel Dior. Perfect – it has an awesome pool – great after another hot sweaty day.
Today we move on to the huge city of Dakar. Lots of crazy driving in crazy traffic. We are quite relieved to pull on to the toll motorway that takes us nearly to the heart of the city. Then back to even more traffic to find a spot for the night. We have reference points near the beach, but find a better spot at Restaurant Le Ngor – a very classy place right on the water with a huge carpark. Dinner out in in a gorgeous setting.
In the morning we head to the Embassy of Cote d’Ivoire to collect our visas. We have applied and paid online so it should be pretty simple right! We are early, but this morning the Ambassador has arrived in a cavalcade. More of that latter. We head in to the office, the lady looks through our papers, sniffs a lot and says “NO”. Just like that we are sent out. The front office guy says to wait and when the Ambassador walks out again (with us all dutifully standing) he tells him about us. All graciousness he says we can have a visa. So, we wait, and wait. The inside lady is not happy, but eventually coughs up our visas – which we have to pay an extra E70 each for – but they are dated incorrectly. They don’t start until November. She is even more cranky, but by the end of the day we have them. Phew! – 6 hours. Well by now we only want to get out of the city – it is Friday afternoon and traffic is chaotic. Thank goodness we don’t need to go to another Embassy here – we have started ditching countries from our itinerary to avoid more borders and visa dramas. We had already ditched Sierra Leone & Liberia, and now we will ditch Guinea-Bisseau & Guinea. Another reason to ditch Guinea is that the wet season is still lingering and we have seen pictures of main roads there flooded!
John has located Terre d’Afrique, another Hotel camping area down the coast, so we head there. As we get closer, we see huge puddles in the villages, which get worse as we approach our spot. GR2 makes it easily, but we have a wet soggy spot to camp on – but to make up for it our best swimming pool yet, all to ourselves. Not another tourist in sight. Sunset over the water is magic.
A slow start today. Time to finally post a very overdue blog and float in the pool. We are further delayed by another storm & torrential downpour, making the puddles even bigger when we leave. Finally, back on the main road we see Reserva de Bandir & decide to pop in. John has read the reviews which say it is free to go in to the restaurant to see the monkeys & crocodiles, so rather than paying the park fees we head in there. A lovely few hours watching the monkeys play & devouring a pizza (us devouring - we do need to keep chasing away those thieving monkeys.) Finally, back on the road we head to the big smokes at Mdor & then Koalak. We want to check with the Duoane to see if we can re-enter Senegal if we go to The Gambia. As it is Saturday they are closed and the city is packed with noisy, party going locals. We head out of town & high tail it to Sokone where there is a place called Fadidi Compartment set right on the river. But it gets dark as we arrive – something we try to avoid. Thankfully a local guy on a motorbike leads us – it is a couple of kms down a sandy track lined with big trees – lots of ducking & diving later we arrive. Phew.
An early start today – we are tackling another border. This time: The Gambia. Our easiest border so far, and yes, we can return to Senegal & get our passports stamped for re-entry. We exit and head in to get our Gambia visas. More money, but at least they speak English. A total of 2 hours and we are off. We head to the ferry to cross the massive Gambia River, and this is where we stop. There is only one ferry running so we join the queue and wait. It is another hot sweaty day & the street is crawling with people. The ladies are in their gorgeous Sunday best and there are children everywhere. As you can imagine there is no real organisation happening. If you pay more, or are an official you get to jump the queue and as the ferry only takes 15 cars & 2 big trucks at a time, we end up waiting all day. They have assured us we will get over today but as it will be dark soon, we ask if we can sleep on the wharf. All set we move there later that night. The last ferry leaves at 10ish and then it is a surprisingly quiet night.
The first ferry is not until after 7, but vehicles start entering the port area much earlier. We race to join the queue. Disembarkation is one mass of people and a few vehicles. Then the push & shove to get on. Thank goodness John can be every bit as aggressive or we wouldn’t have got on. And can you believe that there were nearly 1,000 people squashed in to every imaginable space on the ferry!
Finally, we are in Banjul – the very tiny capitol city as it on an island. Only scruffy roads, tired colonial buildings and corrugated buildings. Then on to motorway !!! to the rest of the sprawling city with crowds of people, congested traffic and tangles of buildings. First job to find a workshop. Done & booked in tomorrow. Then ATM: Done. Then city for Go-pro: No joy there. Finally head out via another route and pass Abuko Nature Reserve. Decide to stop and explore (despite lukewarm reviews) as we are passing. Meander around. The track is practically overgrown, it is hot & sticky after a torrential downpour this morning, and we are starting to regret coming when we finally start spying monkeys. Then at the centre we find the Baboon rehabilitation area and some hyenas. They are keen for us to pat a hyena, but he looks pretty mean. Finally, out we head towards the coast & camp near Birds Nest Gardens (a closed restaurant). A wonderful peaceful night.
Workshop all day followed by a night at the beach. A magic spot suggested by the boss here. Solomon, who owns the beach bar, is very welcoming. For the cost of a few beers we are more than welcome to stay. Swimming & sunset watching is awesome. Workshop again nearly all day as they don’t work very fast. By mid-afternoon we head out of town to follow the Gambia River east. It would be lovely to camp beside the river and we find the Bintang Balong Lodge in a magic setting on the river front. We eat their buffet and so camp free in the carpark. There we meet 2 girls from the Canary Islands who met a few unpleasant road blocks further east, but fortunately we see no sign of them. Just numerous police & military stops before we head across the new bridge over the river. Only a few vehicles are allowed to cross at a time & there is a ferry for overweight trucks. We have decided to exit Gambia from the border we entered to make sure the visa situation is OK. Hmmm well. The same guy tells us to return to Gambia for visas, but with a bit of persistence they finally relent and stamp us in. As the whole process takes longer than expected we return to Fadidi Compartment for the night. We have a lot of driving to head to the border for Mali. A bit far in one day, especially as we get our first puncture on the trip. So, in Tambacouda we find Hotel Le Oasis hotel, with a pool, for the night. Our final day driving through Senegal takes us for about 100km through the lovely Parc National de Niokolo-Koba. Lots of lush bush & troops of monkeys. The road is magic throughout the park, but deteriorates considerably as we head to the border. Potholes deep enough to bury small cars and broken-down trucks litter the side of the road. Unfortunately, we get another puncture, and are forced to stop in the incredibly scruffy town of Kedougou to get them both fixed. We will be much later to the border than we had hoped….. Oh well, it supposed to be an easy one!
Mali coming soon.