We stayed in Dakar for a few days to get the visas sorted out for Ivory Coast and Mali. Dakar was a bit of a surprise for us, and of course it was not the nice surprise one gets when they discover things were nicer than expected. As I had mentioned in the last blog, we started badly in Dakar with the hotel and we were desperate to see the good side of this city I had actually heard of before we started to plan this trip. I think most people have heard of the Dakar Rally before, I sure had. I had a vision of an international style city with wide roads and busy shops and of course with rally cars everywhere. The reality was about as far from my vision as it could get. Apart from a main boulevard along the coast, the streets were like most West African streets being narrow, busy and full of rubbish and people. We had our first accident on those streets and of course it was with a taxi.
We were waiting and waiting at an uncontrolled intersection.. well it was actually a roundabout but I had never seen a roundabout operate like this one. We were inching along in the traffic wondering what the problem was as I could see the road a few hundred meters ahead was not so busy. We soon saw the problem. The main road was in front and to the left, but the road on the left was blocked and the cars were inching across the roundabout and blocking it for people (like probably only me) from going straight through. From the time we had arrived on the African continent I had employed the ‘might is right’ technique for getting through intersections meaning I have a bigger car than you so let me go first and it worked really well up to that point. I inched out into the traffic that was moving about walking pace and was promptly cut off. Hmmm, I kept going getting further and further in to the roundabout that was a normal 2 lane roundabout with cars 4 and sometimes 5 deep, plus motorbikes... Directly in front of me were 2 taxis and I wanted to get into the 6 inch gap between them, and pass through to the now clear road ahead of us. A few more inches… Christine said look out, we are getting close to this guy and I am sure I would have said something like ‘well he’s going to wait for me now..’ and kept inching forward. At this stage I have to say I expect to get this car all the way around the world by road without so much as a scratch anywhere, but I have always been a bit of a dreamer and as I got closer and closer I could see this vision coming to an end here in Dakar. A few more inches… I could now see the driver in the taxi to my left, the one that was attempting to get between me and the clear road ahead. As we have a dark window tint, he couldn’t see us. A few more inches… It was a game of chicken that this driver didn’t expect to be playing with a near new Toyota 4x4 with Euro plates and I think I should have known better too but here we were in a hot and dusty traffic jam and all he had to do was wait 3 seconds while I slipped through and he would be no worse off for his kindness. A few more inches…. ‘He’s not stopping’ Said Christine now pretty much looking down on his car. Even though we were pretty much stationary, she grabbed at the arm rest and center pocket to brace herself for the inevitable contact and sure enough, bump… he hit us and we were wedged together now causing further traffic problems…
The taxi driver was quick to open his door, but rather casually walked to the front of his absolutely shitty taxi and said with arms outstretched ‘look at my car’ as if to say the small impact we had just had was responsible for the numerous dents and scratches from bumper to bumper of his car. We now had the window open and was telling him to back up so we could carry on, or at least clear this intersection. What we had managed to achieve was to now block any further cars from coming from the left and cars behind us were now weaving past us and to freedom. All the while the driver was no doubt thinking of the new car he could get with all the money he would extract from these crazy Europeans that dared drive on his road and touch his car. He was making for the passenger side of our car and was walking around. In front, and to the right, the road was now clear… I turned the steering to the right and hey presto, we were untangled. Although I never looked at his car and any damage he might have caused himself by hitting us, he has only hit our rather thick and solid steel wheel rim and when I turned the steering to the right his car rolled backwards into the car behind him. He hadn’t pulled on the hand brake and had to run back to this car to stop it moving. Hehe.. I just drove off and disappeared into the Dakar traffic never to be seen by him again. I was relieved to see no damage at all to our car other than a smudge of Dakar taxi yellow on the wheel rim that I wear with pride. Remember, when you get out of your car, always put the handbrake on.
After spending some time in the city, we headed to Lake Rose that’s a little to the north of the city. It’s a salt lake that is 10 times salter than the sea. We stayed at a wonderful campground with Kevin, Stephanie and Pim. It was great. The campground was an addition to what was really a small resort and it had a lovely pool and a restaurant and bar. It is owned and run by a French man and his family and it was a welcome break from the road and we had a great time with our new Dutch friends and shared dinners and drinks with them for a few nights. The salt lake was really great. We had never been in a salt lake before and it was really a strange feeling. I felt like I was wearing an inflatable suit and even my legs wouldn’t sink at all. Around the lake there are several small-time salt works where the workers take small flat bottom boats out and then they get into the water and dig the salt from the bottom of the lake into the boat. Its bought back to shore and piled up to dry, then bagged and taken away. The workers spend quite some time in the water. We had to get out after only 10 minutes as our skin was stinging and the salt was working its way into parts of our bodies that we would rather not have salt in, if you know what I mean... We later heard the workers use shea butter on their skin to add back the moisture lost to the salt.
We said our goodbyes to our travelling friends and we headed off to The Gambia. Gambia is a small ‘micro state’ that’s based around The Gambia river where it widens and heads to the sea. It’s an old British colony and our first English speaking country since we actually left England. Legend has it, the British sailed up the river and fired cannon balls off to either side. They claimed the land up to where the balls landed as British Territory and The Gambia was born. This is a country that has been in the news lately after having its first presidential election for a while and it now has a new president but the old one wouldn’t initially. It was funny to see the place after seeing it on the TV. They really do know how to make a non-story into something that the world might be interested in and the reality is the entire thing was pretty low key. I had heard that troops from Senegal were converging on the place and there was no stability but as Senegal surrounds the country, there are always troops at the border and according to the many locals I spoke to, it was more media hype than anything else.
On arrival, we passed the immigration office without problems and headed to the ferry to cross the Gambia river. It was interesting to be able to chat with the locals in English and I had a very long talk with one guy who followed the car along the queue all the way to the ferry. He was at least 6ft tall and maybe in his mid-20’s. He posed an interesting question. He wanted us to adopt him! He had earlier asked if we had children and upon learning we didn’t, he said that he could be our son. He sincerely said he would be a good son for us and would be no trouble. He would work hard and be very quiet in the car for the remainder of our trip back to New Zealand. I found myself saying ‘Oh, thank you but we are OK for children right at the moment’. I guess for him it was a serious question and later I felt guilty for taking it so lightly. I guess the French talking tourists may get a lot more of this and to shake your head and say we don’t understand could actually be a benefit.
We stayed at another very nice campground run by a German couple for a few days and after getting some shopping and supplies we headed off. Out of the city we could see that although this was a small country, it had been run very badly by the last president who had used it as a personal money making venture for the past 22 years. The roads were bad and the infrastructure was all in a poor state. It was also a country that proved hard to leave! We spent a day driving up the river and we had planned to go back into Senegal via one of the smaller border crossings. We entered the route into the TomTom and off we went. Well, the road we were following was on the mapping software but in reality, it didn’t exist at all. We ended up doing a few large circles and ended up in a field that looked like it was a grain field during the rains. A local came out but this chap, like a lot of the out of towners didn’t speak English. We managed to get him to understand we were looking for the border or frontier as they put it and he sent us in the right direction and after 30 minutes or so of off road and dirt track travel we arrived at an old rusted sign that indicated the border. Oops, looks like we have left the country without going through a border control and we didn’t get our passports stamped out.. Never mind, we headed to the closest town in Senegal and to the police and immigration post to get things sorted out.
We ended up in a really small town that had a police station and a few shops and that was it. The police officer/immigration guy was sure surprised to see us and after he got rid of the odd chicken and some people that were sitting in his office chatting, we think he thought he could finally be a real immigration officer and look at real passports from real travelers rather than the locals who will travel between towns that just happen to be in different countries. He would just wave them on and not look at any documents or paperwork, but this wouldn’t be the case with us at all. After an hour or so and many phone calls to his boss, we were told NO, you cannot pass into Senegal as you need to obtain a visa first. I could see this coming as I listened to him talk to his boss a few times and although I could only understand bits of the French he was speaking, I got the drift of it. New Zealand has a waver for this requirement but he was not going to go against his boss, so we headed back to The Gambia.. just lucky we hadn’t been stamped out or we could have ended up in a pickle for sure. We camped the night and went in for round 2 the next morning, this time at a larger crossing that was on a sealed road. The immigration officer still had a chicken but he also had a goat so we think he was much more senior. This time we had exited The Gambia correctly, but guess what… we were again denied entry to Senegal for the same reason. I went back to the car and thought about what we could do. I decided to call his bluff and went back and explained to him that I needed to call my embassy so they could help me make the crossing. I explained that I would need to tell them exactly where I am and I would also need his name and the name of his boss so our people could help. I was very polite and not threatening in any way. He rushed back to the office, not knowing I had no cell phone coverage and the ability to even make the call and called his boss. The only word I understood from the brief chat was attaché which is what they call the ambassador. He put the phone down and with a big smile said ‘no need to make your call, I have the approval to make a discretionary visa for you and your wife’. It took 3 minutes and we were back in Senegal and heading to Mali.
Much has been said about Mali and it has had some bad press lately with some pretty bad attacks on hotels where westerners stay and there was a fresh kidnapping not too long ago. The extremists in the north have had a hostage in captivity now for 6 years! This has had a real effect on the locals in the capital city Bamako. Before all this, Bamako was a real international city and would have been the first we would have visited since we arrived in Africa but the attacks in 2015 changed all that and now the only tourists that come to the place are the odd intrepid backpacker and the overlanders, because Bamako is still the best place to get the travel visa for Nigeria. It’s not fair on the locals of the capital because it’s a long way from most of the trouble and generally the people in the south of Mali, where the capital is, are very moderate and from different ethnic groups altogether. This is a real example of the problems faced when borders are drawn on a map without thought for the people living there. The trip to the capital from the Senegal border was a breeze with some of the best roads we have seen so far. While we were waiting for our visas we stayed at a hotel/hostel called The Sleeping Camel. It’s an interesting place that was once the Moroccan embassy and it’s next to the German and Senegal embassies so there are about 30 heavily armed police and military within 20 meters of the place all day and night. We feel very safe all be it within a compound more like a prison than a campground. The yard has enough room for 3 or 4 overlanders to park and camp, but with the temperatures hitting 38 to 41 every day and a minimum of around 35 at night, we ended up taking a room with air conditioning for most of our time there. It was mainly so Luxy could sleep all day in comfort though. Most of the other guests are UN police and military, aid workers and the people who remove land mines and they are there at breakfast and dinner with the full uniform on including all their guns. The place is owned by an Australian and an American, so I have been able to watch as much rugby as I liked! It’s a lot of fun! They have had bands and parties, they have quiz nights and generally try to forget the fact that the city is under military rule and in a state of emergency. Before the attacks in 2015, the hotel was very busy being one of the most popular places for westerners to meet and stay. The remaining hostage that has been held for 6 years now was on a trip that left from The Sleeping Camel so its famous for more than one thing here.
We have started to meet some more overlanders too. As The Sleeping Camel is the only overland camping area within the city we all end up here at some stage. We have met James and Patrick who are heading to Capetown on motorbikes. They are not travelling together but were here at the same time. We also really enjoyed meeting Mike and Sue from Canada who are travelling around Africa in a converted Land Rover army ambulance. They are an inspiration as they are both in their 70’s and have already been around South America 10 years ago. But the most amazing people we met were a couple from Japan who are driving around Africa in a 660cc Mazda van that was designed and built for city postal delivery work. Think a Nissan Cube only smaller…
The third passenger is also doing very well. Luxy has started to travel much better and will now walk around the back seat and sometimes we get to have her on our laps while we drive on the smoother roads. She is however feeling the heat and is pretty much laying around for 20 hours a day preferring to wake us at 4am when the temperature is down to the mid 30’s and she feels like running around again. She was completely comfortable with her harness on until she lost it somewhere at the Sleeping Camel… She has started to follow us when we walk around at wild camps, sometimes for 100’s of meters and she will mostly come when we call her. We will next look to getting her used to walking on the leash and being carried around amongst other people. We eventually expect to be able to take her with us sightseeing in a small backpack when she is sick of walking herself. Sounds like a hard job but the training is extremely intensive as she spends nearly every waking moment with us so we really do expect to be able to achieve this.
Still a long way to go.
it's Our Epic Trip...
David & Christine are from New Zealand and are embarking on a trip around the world the slow way, on foot and by personal vehicle. This could get interesting!