The Gambia

THE GAMBIA 2011

EASTERN THE GAMBIA

By 3pm we reached the border and 3 hours later we were through. Our friendly police officer signed the carnet although he was not allowed to do so. This had to be done by the customs guy who wanted to know how much we paid him. “Nothing mate,” I told him. Another 3km in no man’s land finally got us to The Gambia and in 10 minutes we were through. However, we did have to pay $1.50 AUD or 1 Euro overtime because we were there after 4pm! We demanded an official receipt and received one. (That will be a good one for the scrap book.) Because we arrived in JanJang Bureh, we needed to cross the Gambia River on the ferry. The weight limit was 4 tonnes and we weighed 7 tonnes. The ferry was on an acute angle and one of the crew asked if we were over 4 tonnes. “No mate, would I lie to you?” It was just on dark when we arrived at our campsite with 30 tour guides all wanting us to show JanJang Bureh! I asked them nicely just to piss off. It had been a long day that didn’t go quite as planned but as they say, THIS IS AFRICA. After a very nice night with the owners and managers of the campement, we made our way back to the ferry to cross the Gambia River again. Our initial plan was to drive the North Route along the Gambia River, but last night we were told the south road was brand new with no pot holes and it would save us a long wait in Farafenni to cross the river. Ballast Nedam (Dutch) built the road and yes it was like a freeway. What a change after days of bad roads full of potholes; or no roads at all. As we travelled towards the coast and then headed south into Senegal and the Casamance, the landscape became lush and tropical. Crossing the border back into Senegal (Casamance) took a little time with lots of army around on the Senegal side.

WESTERN THE GAMBIA

We left Gunjur mid-Morning for the drive to Banjul and we followed the coast via a surprisingly good road. Banjul used to be called Bathurst and is the capital of The Gambia. We realized that we had arrived in a tourist area when we passed the Sheraton Hotel, and many other 5 star resorts all next to each other on the beach front. Banjul does not look like a capital city nor has it the feeling of a capital city; it feels like a village. Before looking for our campsite we drove around the area and were surprised to see the large numbers of bumsters on the beach with European woman (sex tourism!) A 20-year-old guy and a 65-year-old woman. Our planned campsite in the car park of the Bilijo Beach Hotel did not eventuate because the hotel was closed for renovations. Bugger! The popular beaches at Cape Point, Kotu and Kololi were only for hotel guests and day trippers; the security was tight and bush camping was not allowed. So, the only other choice we had was Sukuta Campground 1.5km away from the beach. Yes, you read this right, campground! This was the first campground since we left Morocco. It is run by a German couple and the facilities are super clean. We were told that this is the only proper camping ground in West Africa and we will not see anything like it again until we enter Morocco, approximately 2800km north of here. The rest of the day we lazed the time away. We had a relaxed morning because we didn’t want to be on the ferry during peak hour. We drove through the city of Banjul, which is on St Mary’s island where the Gambia River enters the Atlantic Ocean. The island is connected to the mainland by passenger and vehicle ferries to the north and by bridges to the south. The everyday activity around Banjul’s intercontinental port is as frenetic as you could imagine. The city market was abuzz with stallholders and browsers haggling over fruit, fish and textiles. The town has a lot of European tourists and we found there was an opportunity for plenty of retail therapy, but that is not our kind of holiday. The markets and the shops are in Russell Street, which is easy to navigate when compared to most other large West African markets. For many locals, the trip here to buy spices, bonga fish, mangoes or bitter tomatoes is a daily ritual. At night, the town shuts down completely, except for the tourist areas around Kololi Beach. Like most African beaches they are places of work, used by fishermen, boat-builders and river-ferry operators. For the deserted beaches, head out of town away from the villages or to the hotel strip where we even saw garbage bins on the beach.

NORTHERN THE GAMBIA 

It was late morning when we left Banjul and started to look for the ferry to take us across the Gambia. Signs are a no no in Africa so again we found ourselves lost. Eventually we found it and then we had to join a very long queue. Things were hectic with people bustling to get on board, and as we arrived, the ferry was just leaving. It was so full, we were pleased that we were not on it. We were told that the next ferry would be in ten minutes. Twenty minutes later – no ferry, forty minutes later – no ferry, one hour later – no bloody ferry! One hour and 30 minutes later an empty ferry arrived but by this time over 100 cars, 20 large trucks and around 1000-foot passengers had accumulated on the docks. I said to Clary that we must get on. Even if we must pay a bribe like many others already have. But with our truck fourth in line, I felt comfortable. As the boat moored, the 1000-foot passengers started moving forward with police and security having a hell of a time getting them under control. Then the car in front of us was allowed to move on (he had obviously paid). As I moved forward I was stopped to let another car go first. “Mate me no understand,” I called out. There was a lot of yelling screaming and whistling, but I just drove on. As the other cars all moved on and all the donkeys and the foot passengers followed, it became mayhem and too difficult to get those who did not pay bribes to get off. Lucky us. The ferry was for 200-foot passengers, 10 cars and 1 truck. It was obvious to me that it was loaded well over its capacity.

I counted 17 cars, 2 trucks and at a guess, 500 to 600 people and animals not to mention the extra cargo and once we got to the junction of the river mouth and the Atlantic Ocean the ferry started to cop some waves with water coming in from the front. Everyone seemed to be quite calm, so I supposed this was normal. Anyway, we made it, but it did cross my mind that this is the type of ferry that capsizes, and many people drown. Anyway, both Clary and I are good swimmers. One hour later we had completed the 5km crossing and then the same mayhem erupted all over again as everyone wanted to be the first off, the ferry. TIA (This Is Africa). Lots of excitement!! Our plan was to stop at a resort run by a Belgium guy and highly recommended but unfortunately for us, it was not to be. 10000CFA to camp in the car park with no electricity, no toilet, no power and we had to eat in the restaurant (only choice) where a pizza cost 9000CFA! We were sitting at a table looking at the menu when I noticed that the swimming pool was empty. Up until this point, we had been staying for free or for around 2000CFA everywhere else. We decided this was too much, so we moved on. We drove the horrendous N4 highway; in fact, we drove ninety percent of the time next to the highway on the gravel because it was impossible to avoid the giant potholes on the highway itself! We arrived in Kaolac, a very unimpressive town, but it did have a very impressive Auberge Le Relais. This place had a stunning waterfront setting, pool and a good restaurant. We camped for free and had one of the best meals of the trip. We were so pleased that we had decided to drive on to Kaolac.