Monthly Archives: February 2014

Into Guinea-Bissau

Wednesday 26 Feb Sukuta Campsite, Banjul, The Gambia
I breakfast with one of the yoghurts that I bought yesterday. Nothing special, except that I paid (noticed long after I had left the shop) almost 6 euros per yoghurt! French import bio. I have a nice walk with Thimba to Serekunda, a village some 3 km, away. Look for – and find – a wormclamp to fit the tube of my compressor. Also looked for a coiffeur  but couldn’t find one.
I keep adjusting my itinerary. That’s good and flexible, the way it should be. Adapt to the circumstances, see what the new day brings you, and act from there. It’s gradually becoming a way of living.

Thursday 27 Feb, leaving Banjul
It’s an easy drive to Ziguinchor, passing the Gambian-Senegalese border. No hassle at the border. I stay at the Auberge Casafrique, in a room (second time on my trip). Thimba again very much likes the tiled floor. There’s no electricity, no towels, but a great garden to relax. Thimba immediately occupies a bed and relaxes for the rest of the afternoon. In the meantime I go visa-hunting: the Guinea-Bissau consulate is only a 5 minutes walk away. I meet the consul at the door, and I leave after 10 minutes with a Bissau visa in my passport! Why can’t they all be like that. I compliment the consul for having the fastest visa process of all African countries. He smiles.
There’s a coiffeur just around the corner. I show him my passport photo to give him some idea of how I want my hair to be cut. Pas de problème! We have a nice talk about traveling, Senegal, world politics, football (always) and Celine Dion, which he plays very loudly over the speakers. I resemble a Zen Budhist monk when he’s finished, but I’m satisfied with his work. although he charges me extra because he had to cut “a lot of hair”.

the result after 10 minutes Céline Dion

the result after 10 minutes Céline Dion


When I return to  my room, Thimba has left an undefinable stain on “her” bed. Oh well, shit happens.








Friday 28 Feb, into Guineau-Bissau
It’s only 130 km. from Ziguinchor in Senegal to Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau. But it takes me 6 hours because of bad, potholed, roads, and the many, many checkpoints. They now have ropes across the road which they won’t lower until they are completely satisfied. And they become more and more creative and seem to be on drugs, judging from their red eyes. There must have been at least 15 checkpoints on the 70 km road in Guinea-Bissau, and they all want one thing: money. Further north it was perhaps a slight hint for a petit cadeau but they sort of skip the initial formalities here, don’t even check my documents any more, but approach the car and immediately shout: “Money, Money!”. I give them a smile, talk about football (thank god I’m from Holland, and know a few names like VanPersie), try to keep up my smile, slap them amicably on the shoulder, and leave without paying a bribe. And I must admit: it feels good every time it works!
One checkpoint gets really nasty, however. The “red-eyed team”: you never know how they will react when they’re on drugs!. It’s five of them, and it’s as if they’re ticking the boxes: what can we find wrong? Have I got a fire extinguisher (I show them), Do my lights work (they do), what’s in that box? (my toothbrush, shampoo, etc). “I want your shampoo”, says one. I point at my crew cut and explain that I need that myself (not very convincing, but it works). A triangle. Ouch, that’s in the alu box on top of the roof rack, but I’m more than happy to climb on it, open the box and show it to them. “You need two triangles!”, another one says. I put my triangle back in the alu box, pull it out again, and say: “And here’s the second one!”. I get a thumbs up. They are really impressed; everything is there and works. We say goodbye in a cheerful way, and I’m glad to be past this one!
I have a good address in Bissau to stay (thanks Stesi!), a German restaurant cum camping. Safe, clean, good wifi, friendly people. I can’t camp, however, because the owner has a couple of mean dogs running around the place. So I go for Thimba’s safety and my own comfort and take a room with a veranda and my own garden where Thimba can run around. Airco, tv, What luxury after two months! I’m going to stay for a few days!

Thimba in her garden with pigs in the background

Thimba in her garden with pigs in the background

Roughing a bit in Bissau!

Roughing it (a bit) in Bissau


Central Gambia’s Tendaba Camp and Banjul

Tendaba Camp

On the South Bank of the Gambian River, some 45 km. from Farafenni, is Tendaba Camp. A hunting camp in the 1970s it is now a regular tourist feature on the upriver schedules of boat and bus tours from the coast. Lonely Planet recommends taking one of the VIP rooms because of the view of the river. Well, I’ve got my own mobile VIP room, park the car almost in the river near a picture-postcard Baobab tree, and pay 8 euros (including breakfast). Oh, I just love these days!

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VIP spot at the Gambian River


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sunset under the Baobab tree

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sunset Gambian River

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sunset Gambian River

“Gè komt hier zeker nie vur d’n urste keer?”. A bare-chested man in shorts and flip-flops and ditto (well almost) wife, with an unmistakable Noord-Brabant accent greets me. They are from Volkel, only 10 km. from where I was born and bred. What a small world.

In the evening there’s a fire and live djembé music. Lots of local people joining in the singing in the Mandinga language and lots of European tourists clapping their hands frantically trying to keep up with the rhythm . But – as the djembé player explains when I ask him – they also sing in the Fulah, the Peul and the Wolof languages. Who could ask for more? And could he please travel with me to South Africa, please! He’ll be no trouble at all and find a place on the roof rack. Easy. No problem!

Next morning on the South Road to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, I pull in at what looks like a fuel station. I ask the young man to give me 1.000 Dalasi (18 euros) worth of diesel, at a price of 55 cents a litre. He starts pumping the fuel in a 12 litre canister and then uses a cut-off Coke bottle to fill my tank. The bottle falls down, spilling diesel. He asks me to hold the bottle while he pours. He apologizes for the mess and my smelly hands. When I open the back door and wash my hands from the tap on the door he looks at me in astonishment. “It’s sheer magic, isn’t it?”, I say.

At noon I arrive at the Sukuta campsite/lodge near Banjul. Beautiful spot, clean, a bit of a German enclave, restaurant, wifi, shady. Nothing more to desire for the day. Or two.


Into The Gambia

From Senegal to Central Gambia
The route from Mbour in Senegal leads through flat, dry savannah  with Baobab trees, and small villages with round huts. The road is well paved, even beyond the waypoint on my GPS where it

Senegal and The Gambia

Senegal and The Gambia

says: “Potholes”. Lots of cows and goats crossing unexpectedly, and the odd couple of monkeys. Judging from the fresh blood and carcasses not all of them make it to the other side. A group of vultures are having a recently hit cow for lunch. Eat and be eaten.
But this is the infamous Cross Gambia Highway, and the potholes become so enormous that the going is very slow. There’s hardly any tarmac left, new bypasses are created but they are not much better. I am overtaken by a group of 8 Dutch cars (!), on their way to Banjul to auction them for charity. They have driven here in only three weeks, and are in a hurry to catch the plane back to Holland.
I reach the Senegalese-Gambian border at 12.30. Exiting Senegal is pretty easy. Entering The Gambia looks hassle-free at first. Get a passavant for 7 days (a couple of euros), stamp passport, have a chat, talk some more, and with a “Have a nice day!” I get my passport back and continue to Farafenni (about 5 km.). I look for Eddy’s Hotel (the only one), and just as I’m about to

Eddy's Hotel, Farafenni, Central Gambia

Eddy’s Hotel, Farafenni, Central Gambia

drive into their secured parking a pick-up with a customs officer blocks my way, angrily shouting and waving his arms. It seems that I did not wait for my car to be inspected. Well, how should I know if they don’t tell me? But of course I apologize, say it’s all a misunderstanding, and drive back with him to the border post, where the car is inspected top to bottom, all boxes removed from the car and opened. When one of them has a look in the fridge, he says “Give me a drink!”. When I don’t react he wants to see my import license for the dog food. “I don’t need that”, I answer, “but I do have a passport for the dog”. Although I am not nervous, pretend to be in very good mood, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable. Four or five customs officers going through your stuff is pretty intimidating. “I like your iPhone”, says one. “You do, great, so do I!”
They seem to think I’m carrying a lot of spare parts and electronic equipment for personal use, and Lami, the young man from the hotel who is accompanying me, advises me to give them 5.000 cfa (7,50 euro) to end this charade.  Which I do, and we return to Farafenni and Eddy’s Hotel.

Crossing The Gambia River the easy way
Next morning, trying the only ATM in the whole province, the machine swallows my VISA card and then dies on me. Nothing, no blink, no sound, nothing!! Oh, horror! Luckily the bank is open and an employee manages to get my card back. He tells me to come back some time tomorrow and try again. And confirms with some pleasure that it’s the only ATM within a 100 km. Thank you, so much.
5 km. piste to the ferry. Stopped by a police checkpoint. Where’s my ticket for the ferry?, he wants to know. I tell him I thought I could buy it here. No. He wants me to drive back to the last village and get it there.  So I drive back, buy a ticket, back to the ferry, and join the queue. Very relaxed atmosphere, lots of vendors selling soft drinks, cold water, Viagra, fruit, and condoms in different tastes and sizes.
The main river crossing is from Barra to Banjul, and can be real nightmare. I heard from another overlander last week that he had to wait for 6 hours and was then told to try his luck again next day. This crossing is very relaxed, no hassle, cheap (3 euros), and absolutely enjoyable!

some fellow overlanders and too many sleeping policemen

Fellow overlanders
On my last day at the Zebrabar Campsite I met three German students going all the way to Cape Town as part of their Masters thesis at the University of Karlsruhe. O.k., why not? They’re researching young African entrepreneurs, trying to find out what works and what doesn’t. Since they are mainly staying in the bigger towns and capitals (where the start-ups are), and they want to reach South Africa in about 4 months, I’m bound to meet them again!

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Max, Philipp and Martin (on the roof) from Karslsruhe Uni on their way to Cape Town


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If you want, you can stay in a sawn-off truck at the Zebrabar

On the same day a biker arrived on a BMW motorcycle. From South Korea! He travelled all the way through Mongolia and the Stans, wanted to stay in Senegal and The gambia for some time, and then ship the bike  to Europe from Dakar. We drank a cup of coffee together on the morning of my departure. Now that he had heard of my plans (and those of the German students) he is considering going to Cape Town. He says that people in South Korea think it’s impossible to travel all the way down the west coast. DH Kim gave me a South Korean coin, to guard me during my trip. Travel safe, DH!

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DH from South Korea

The Douane in Dakar Port
A bit of a broken night, because Thimba had thrown up in the middle of the night, so I had to get up and clean the car. Because I have only been given a passavant (a permit to drive in Senegal) for a couple of days, I have to go to Dakar Port to have my Carnet de Passage (CDP) stamped. I arrive there early in the morning, enjoying the chaotic traffic of Dakar (I really do, and I even think I’m good at it). I park right in front of the building and leave Thimba in the car. A young man, Ulli, guides me through the whole process, which takes one and half hour and three desks. Registering the CDP itself took only 5 minutes. He’s very helpful and walks in and out of offices to speed things up. Even wants to guide me out of the port, but I can manage. We say goodbye, there’s no hint for a bribe or anything. I take the péage (yes!) out of the city, but that’s only for about 10 km. After that the going is very slow with heavy traffic and many “sleeping policemen”,

sleeping policeman

sleeping policeman

steep enough to catapult you when you drive to fast. After Mbour (only 125 km.) I see a sign “Ferme Saly Campsite”, so turn off and find a wonderfully secluded spot. The owner, a Frenchman called Jean-Paul, is a 70-ish, round-bellied experienced traveller who has lived there for over 40 years. He was in Delhi when Ghandi was murdered, got bombed in Palestine by the Israelis as a retaliation after the terrorist attack on the Olympic village in Munich, and spent his first days in an Amsterdam jail for taking part in the late 60-ies Provo riots. We have dinner together and I enjoy the stories of a well seasoned traveller.