On leaving Mauritania and entering Senegal there is one big decision to make. Rosso Or Diamma? Rosso is the main border crossing, crossing the Senegalese river on a four times daily ferry, connected with good roads and highly dubious border officials. We had heard rumours of hundreds of euros changing hands before being allowed into Senegal – when the crossing should be entirely free, as there are no visas for Senegal. Diamma is a sleepy little border crossing that you enter through a national park with roads requiring 4 wheel drive, however the border officials are much less corrupt. Notice the term, much less… It was an obvious choice and as Stanley had proved himself so far, we drove off to Diamma. It was remarkably straightforward, with only a few bribes required, one for stamping the passports, one for the vehicle check. We knew there would be some required, however, we hadn’t quite enough money, so we told the border official and he let us off with paying £2 instead of £4. Very kind. The Senegalese side was much more official and easy, except for refusing to stamp the carnet – this is the only border post that refuses to stamp the carnet and they say it is only possible in Dakar within 48 hours of entry. It’s a real shame for Senegal as it completely restricts the movements of their tourists and meant we were unable to stay in the north.
We headed off for a chill out at Zebrabar – a well known overlander spot in Saint Louis, housed within a beautiful bird national park. We met a couple of other overlanders, and would have loved to stay a few more days. Saint Louis is the old colonial capital of Senegal and a real treat of a town, with a large bridge constructed by Eiffel, of the tower fame, crossing the mouth of the river, connecting the small islands.
We headed off to Dakar, to sort out our Carnet de Passage – it still needed its custom stamp so Stanley could be officially brought into Senegal. We gave ourselves twice as much as time as was required to get there and find the port (I have a similar opinion to African ports as I do to African boats) but were somewhat delayed. The first by a very officious policeman who wanted to see all the paperwork and was overjoyed to discover our left brake light had come loose. Bugger. He had my driving licence and wouldn’t return it until we drove the 9km to the police station and paid 10000 CFA – approx 15 euro. We set off but on arriving at the police station, they had run out of tickets… We had to go back the same direction to the next police station 20km down the road. We headed off and when we saw our police officer we told him they’d told us they couldn’t give us a ticket and he had to give us the license back. He took 10,000 CFA for his trouble – no paperwork. It’s a good job being a Senegalese policeman. We drove on and just as we hit the outskirts of Dakar another car pointed out we had a slow puncture. We pulled off and set about fixing it, fighting lots of well meaning help from the locals (how could a white man know how to change a tyre?), but someone still took the opportunity to try to sell me some necklaces. Covered in oil and dust, it possibly wasn’t the best time. With time getting a bit tight and still the centre of Dakar to traverse, police blocks looking for an easy buck or two to dodge and two hours until our 48 hours ran out, we got stuck in traffic. And then we saw it. The most wonderful sign of all- route de payage. Pay 1 euro and the most beautiful road in the world is all yours! Sold! We found the port and the customs, and after being told repeatedly we were in the wrong place, we were eventually introduced to the custom officer – stamped in minutes for free.
We stayed in Kayar and Dakar a couple of nights, and went for some posh meals, and stayed in luxury – studio flat with a bathroom with hot water, if you went down and asked them to turn the water on. We also took the opportunity to pick up our Malian visas (don’t tell my Mum). On Les Mamelles (the breasts or hills) of Dakar, stands a lighthouse and on the other is a statue, the African Renaissance Monument, designed by a North Korean artist of a very soviet appearing family, which reportedly cost 50 million dollars... this was definitely worth a look so we popped along. Next on the list was Lac Rose – a lake with such a high salt content it looks pink in the right light. Maybe, with the eye of faith. Even if you can convince yourself it is pink, I wonder how long it will remain that way with the amount of salt being pulled out of it. On the plus side, the pink lake did have a huge flock of flamingos – obviously attracted to the pink. Quite beautiful. We headed off, very salty, to the Sine Saloum Delta, a truly gorgeous stretch of coastline where we stayed, the only guests in a campsite in Palmarin, with the beach to ourselves as well as visiting a small island village made entirely of shells, including the graveyard.
Whilst in Senegal, there had been much talk as to whether or not it was worth going to the Gambia. Other overlanders had been telling us horror stories regarding the police there – constantly looking for problems and bribes. After much umming and ahhing we decided, we’re only here once and went for it. After hours on the roads in Senegal, which will one day be excellent but currently jarred the hell out of both us and Stanley, we went through the easiest border crossing so far. For a start they speak English – something I for one was really struggling to grasp. One police man even said “We speak English here. Where are you from?”… England… Pardon Monsieur. Also, the roads are perfect and the police were extremely polite and helpful. We crossed over the Gambia river on a ferry (so my no boats rule lasted less than an hour in the Gambia) and drove to Banjul, the capital. The problem with the Gambia is the check points. It’s not that they’re hard or they are looking for bribes. There are just a lot of them. Probably twenty-five on the 100km road to Banjul. We arrived exhausted and stayed in the Gambia for a couple of nights in a lovely German run campsite.
The Gambia is an odd fish. It is very West African, the people friendly and helpful but it has the strange mix of budget travel. Sitting on beaches which 60km up the coast we had been the only people sitting on for days, here in Gambia were packed with tattoo ridden Brits, flip flop sellers, horse rides, massages and people selling a lot more than that. A very odd experience.
We returned to Senegal and at the first town got James driving licence taken off him for having luggage on the back seats… Well, they’d already checked the fire extinguisher was in date so what else did they have to fine us for. The bloke was quite hard so we paid a small cut of what he wanted and got the license back. We are starting to sour to Senegal.
Tomorrow, we shall head for Guinea Bissau an extremely poor country just south of Senegal, which is basically an Archipelago, full of tiny islands and estuaries. What better place for a Landcruiser?
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30