Senegal/Gambia - Banjul to Kidira

February 07, 2004

Banjul at Night

Banjul at night can be quite scary. Not because Banjul is especially dangerous, but because they hardly have any streetlights, and most of the shops close at 5pm. Consequently you stumble around in the dark looking for something to eat, and only find vimto. Yes, that's right, vimto, that great soft drink from the north of England is very popular here in The Gambia. In fact, they bottle it in Banjul. Despite the vimto, one night in Banjul was enough, and I have relocated myself to the tourist area on the coast.

Here I am, recovering from my upset stomach and mosquito bites, deciding what to do next, and they have vimto in the toursit area too, so all is not lost.

Gambians seem very friendly. People have chatted to me, and then gone off without trying to extract money, which is a bit of a novelty. That is not to say there are no tourist touts - 'The Touts of The Gambia' are many, not few.

My hotel seems to have a problem with the water, but everywhere else is either full, or very expensive. What gives? Senegal got knocked out of the Africa Football Cup today, nobody is very happy about that, except perhaps for some Tunisians, as they are the ones that knocked them out. The staff in my hotel are blaming the referee. Some things are the same the world over. They have special 'tourist taxis' here, but I can't see what is 'special' about them, except they are green, and cost more then the normal ones. The drivers have supposedly had training in 'dealing with tourists'. I can't imagine what that training course is like.

My bag is broken, and all my clothes are filthy, yet I am not spurred into action to do anything about either of those things.

This is a very rambling kind of entry don't you think?

monkey on path
There is a monkey on this path, but you can't see it very well!
Photo - Paul Beaton

February 08, 2004

Hanging with the Monkeys

A new day has dawned, and I found a hotel that actually has water. My first choice of hotel was full because in fact the VSO volounteers for The Gambia have all just arrived, and booked the place out. Typical do-gooder behaviour..

I also managed to give my laundry to the hotel to wash (not the actual building, but rather a person, obviously), and found myself explaining why it was so filthy - 'I've been in Mauritania', I said. They seemed to think that was a good enough reason.
'Lot's of dust and sand'.
'Yes, that's it.'
I confess to feeling slightly guilty, as I watched the woman walk off with my clothes and a giant block of yellow soap.

The waiter where I ate lunch was from Ghana, and he was very nice and friendly and came and talked to me when he wasn't busy, but was still professional enough not to neglect any of the other customers. That's what I like to see in a waiter.

My new hotel room is a bit pricier, but get this, it has a TV! Not only that, but I am in The Gambia, so no having to put up with dubbed French. They have 'The Showtime Arabia Network' - well, 3 channels of it, including the Paramount Comedy Channel, and it's subtitled not dubbed. Yes!

I do however feel that I ought to come clean right away, and admit that I watched a full episode of 'Becker' starring Ted Danson. I'm sorry..

I went to the nature reserve yesterday. It's even walking distance from the tourist area. It's really lovely, and I didn't see a single other person. There are a few miles of trails, and it costs less than a quid to get in.

I saw loads of birds and lizards, and two different kinds of monkeys - big ones and small ones (not the scientific definition). It was great, I sat in the forest and watched them play in the trees. There are some people out there who would say I would feel quite at home hanging out with monkeys, and maybe they are right...

February 09, 2004

I B Chillin

How do you like my hip title for this entry? It means 'I am laid back and relaxed', as in 'I be chilling'. You need to say it with a sort of reggae accent. If you're 'down with it', you'll know what I mean.

Anyway, I digress - The point is that I am having a nice time relaxing and using the tourist facilites that have sprung up to provide for the influx of package holidaymakers. However, The Touts of the Gambia, although fewer in number than The Touts of Senegal, are much more inventive and persistent than their colleagues across the border.

As I walked past the Fire Station today, a fireman who was stood outside stopped me to chat. Normally people in uniform are a good bet to talk to, because they are bored, and they already have a job, so are not usually tourist hustlers.
'I am a Fireman', he said.
'Very nice', I replied.
'This is the Fire Station'
'So I see, Do you have many fires?'
'Come, I'll show you around, there are 50 men inside'.
Now, it is just possible he was waiting for passing tourists, so he could show them his Fire Station because he has pride in his job. But I didn't give him the benefit of the doubt, and assumed he would ask for money at the end. Not being desparate to see the Fire Station (it looked pretty small from the outside), I declined his offer and continued.

The next guy that stopped me said, 'How can I get in contact with you, if we need to discuss important things?'.
I replied that I didn't think it was likely we would actually have important things to discuss. He then said, 'So, you don't want to take any diamonds home with you, then?'. I admit to being stumped for a second. I said 'No Thanks', and wandered off.

The other thing I noticed today on my travels, was that the British Embassy is on the beach, not in the town. So, in fact is the Cuban Embassy, The Embassy of Guinea, and the VSO head office. I found myself wondering what the Cuban Ambassador to The Gambia actually does?
My guess, is that there are lots of barbecues involved...

February 10, 2004

Going to Mali

Well, the time has come to leave the comfort of my TV, fan, tourist restaurants, beach, and nature reserves. My stomach seems to have settled down. My mosquito bites have stopped itching. I don't have malaria yet that I'm aware of. Therefore, barring disasters, I will set off tomorrow for Bamako, capital of Mali.

I went to another nature reserve today, and I saw more monkeys and also a deer, which I don't think has any rightful place in a jungle. I mean, deers go with forests not jungles, and this place was definitely a jungle, as I could hear appropriate jungle soundtrack noises. Also present were lots of coloured birds, and some lizards. I have no objection to them being in the jungle. I also THOUGHT I saw a grey squirrel, but there's NO WAY that should be in a jungle, so I'm striking it from my 'animals spotted' list. The list is only in my head - before anybody asks..

The other thing I noticed today besides animals, was that 'Uncle Sam Security', seems to be responsible for protecting everything in The Gambia. They have an eagle logo and their signs are displayed prominently wherever a building needs protecting. I was wondering if Mr. Bush had his finger in some pies over here. He's very good at security, so maybe he's started some subsiduaries. I do think 'Uncle Sam Security', is giving the game away though, and it would be better called 'Generic Security Company'.

By the way, it's going to take 4 days to get Bamako - 3 buses and a train, and I have to pass through Senegal again, so TWO border crossings. Thankfully, not on the same day. The train is supposedly full of thieves as well. Does anyone have any idea why I would want to do this? I can't think of one right now.

I don't know how much internet there is on the way, so as someone famous once said - 'I'm going now. I maybe some time..'
HOLD ON, that guy DIED, didn't he? Why am I saying that?

February 12, 2004

Halfway There

'Woah ooh oh, we're halfway there - woah ooh oh, living on a prayer'.

That's what Bon Jovi said in their seminal eighties hit, and that's what I'm saying too. I am halfway to Bamako, and not living on a prayer, but rather living on biscuits and bananas.

I am in Tambacounda, and I'm going to stay here tomorrow as well, for a rest, and to go to the bank. My stomach is troubling me again, and personally I blame the Gambian bus company for the torturous journey I went through yesterday. I think that particular journey is enough to give anyone the shits.

Photo - Joao Pedro Leitao

12 hours on that rusty tin can, and it was rammed. It only went at about 20mph the whole way, and the old hag sitting next to me - don't even get me started on that old hag. She sat there sprawled all over the seat, taking up WAY more than her share of the room, and was constantly edging me off the seat. Then she had the AUDACITY to complain that I was squashing her. I gave her a piece of my mind, let me tell you. Well, actually, I suppose I mimed a piece of my mind because she didn't speak English, but I mimed to her in no uncertain terms that it was her fault. She mimed back a denial of responsibilty. Other passengers thought it was funny. I sulked.

The bus was further delayed by army checkpoints where we all had to get off the bus and show our ID. At the halfway point, we stopped to fix the bus, and ram even more passengers into the last space in the aisle. It was carnage, and a small riot ensued.

When I finally arrived at about 10pm, the whole of Basse Santu Su had no power. The Gambia seems to be not very good at keeping the electricity going. I wandered about in the pitch black with my torch, and was saved by a very kind man, who lead me to the hotel, and didn't even want any money for guiding me. I was extremely grateful indeed. The hotel, luckily had a generator, but unluckily they switched it off at 11pm, so that was when I went to bed.

As I drifted off to sleep, I imagined the old hag being made to ride the bus for an entire week solid, as a punishment for her poor behaviour.

February 13, 2004

Last Country

Today's task in Tambacounda was to get money on my visa card. Needless to say I failed, and had to cash a travellers cheque. I've been trying to save the travellers cheques, just in case I can't pay for my flight with a visa card. In Mali, there is only one cashpoint in the whole country, and it occured to me that maybe travel agencies there don't take visa cards. Anyway, time will tell no doubt, and I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

I have decided that Mali is to be the last country on this trip, as I am currently uninclined to travel any more long distances! Mali is quite big enough by itself, and I will spend 2-3 weeks there, and fly out of Bamako hopefully.

After the rotten bus journey to Basse Sante Su, getting here was much more pleasant. Hardcore travellers may say that I cheated, as rather than getting 3 poxy cramped delay-ridden bush taxis to get to Velingra, the main town in Senegal, I walked up to a taxi driver in Basse Sante Su, and gave him about 12 quid to take me the whole way!

This worked out pretty well, and he stopped at his house to get his paperwork for crossing the border, and off we went. Crossing into Senegal was as easy and friendly as on the way in, and a few hours later I had arrived at Velingra.

A pig in Tambacounda
Photo - Joao Pedro Leitao

From there, just 2 hours in the back of a bush taxi, and Voila! I arrived. So, today I did nothing after the bank, except to mentally and physically prepare myself for the next two days voyage (that means I had a quick sleep).

I would also like to point out that every word in this blog entry carries exceptional value, as the cost of internet in this out of the way Tambacounda Town has skyrocketed to 2 quid an hour, compared to about 30p - 50p in the big cities. So I suggest you read it again to get the full value...

next >> Kidira - Bamako

The Trip to Africa The Route
Tangier - Casablanca Casablanca - Sidi Ifni Sidi Ifni - Dakhla
Nouadibhou - Atar Atar - Rosso
Rosso - Banjul Banjul - Kidira
Kidira - Bamako