Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Long Road to Gambia

Our taxi man buddy Cheikhou Ndiaye was waiting to drive us to Gambia as agreed upon. Well we got to the edge of town and he wanted us to pay the full fare upfront. Shockingly we let that happen.

Well we continued driving a bit further and then stopped again. Our guy got out of the car and a new guy got in, with some mumbling from Cheikhou about him being his “friend”. Great. Let’s all be friends.

The drive was pretty cool. We saw lots of life happening, I’ll tell you that. One of the things we liked about Cheikhou was he could speak a little English. New guy=no English, which meant we didn’t get a lot of background info on what we were seeing. Oh well, it was cool.

One advantage of being in the car was I was much more comfortable with taking a lot of pictures of everyday life.

Renting a taxi cross country was the king's way to travel around here. Many people rode these colorful bus things around. They really pack them in, then a few more will hang off the back.

Kids would just walk around with these plastic buckets and beg money from cars whenever traffic slowed enough for them to approach.

The road was really brutal. We were in the car like 7 hours, and I'd say less than an hour of the trip was on properly paved roads. We were constantly dodging potholes and taking detours. The guy refused to turn the vents on in the car or anything. Finally I turned them on and he mumbled something. When we got back in the car after a stop for gas, the air was turned back off. Message received. It really got interesting when the dust started to get kicked up. The driver would roll up the window just long enough for the dust to dissipate then back down they went.

When we drove through towns traffic came to a grind, but at least there was a lot of people watching to be done.

When we reached the Gambia border in the little town of Karang our silent driver handed us our baggage and drove off, leaving us with the small crowd of hustlers that had already gathered. It’s a wonder my wallet hasn’t been stolen yet. If you wanted to, you could just run from Senegal into Gambia. I don’t think I saw any signage letting you know you were crossing a border. We saw a guy waving at us from what turned out to be Senegal immigration, but we easily could have just kept walking if we hadn’t seen each other. Leaving Senegal involved a guy writing our passport information into a guestbook looking binder thing. When he asked me my occupation I said bookseller, and he thought I was saying boxer, which I thought was pretty hilarious. He had to mime a couple shadow boxing moves before I could even tell he had things wrong.

Entering Gambia involved another official scribbling into a book. This office was notable because right smack dab in the center of the small building was like fenced in and resembled a holding cell. There were two rough looking dudes in there in the process of being held. Bummer.

The Gambia. Annoyingly the T in The Gambia is always supposed to be capitalized, grammar be dammed. I'm not going to do that here because I don't want to, but it's a Thing. Contrary to Frenchie Senegal, Gambia is a former British colony so sweet sweet English flows like honey. Although when you've heard "give me some money!" about 300 times you sometimes wish for the days when there was a language barrier. The River Gambia goes pretty deep into the continent, and Gambia was a prominent site in the slave trade as a result. In the miniseries Roots the main character Kunta Kinte is captured in Gambia. It is the smallest country on the African continent, and also sort of rhymes with "wham bam thank you Mambia".

We had to deal with yet another taxi man on the Gambia side, and I encountered another amusing little hustle. A really polite boy came to the window and asked if his brother could ride with us. He looked fine so we said ok. When he tried to get in the driver said he had to pay, and then they both looked at me as if I was going to be paying more for the privilege of riding with this stranger. Nope. I have to assume that this was a hustle to increase our cab fare.

When we reached the town of Barra we had to take a ferry to cross the river. Gambia pretty much is a river, and so doing any substantial traveling in the country involves a boat eventually. The ferry people were super nice, and let us in the gate while most people had to wait for the ferry outside. We chatted with several of the workers, most notable being Mustapha Fatty. He really went out of his way to help us, even arranging a cheap cab with his friend for us on the other side of the river.

Us with Sheikh the port security guy. They invariably ask if we're married and often express shock when we say no. One also expressed an uncomfortable level of admiration for Evan's shoes.

Watching the loading process was entertainment in itself.

One moment I was wondering how common the last name "Fatty" is around here, and the next I saw it painted on the side of fishing boat.

There were lots of ladies selling refreshments on the journey. Evan bought a coconut to drink.

The money here can be really gross. Someone handed me this thing and it was like being handed a used handkerchief.

We made it to the Kombo Beach Hotel and were pretty surprised to see that 95% of the guests were older European people.

The clientele combined with the buffet and horrid entertainment brought to mind a cruise ship.

It's funny how Africa can tire you out without you really having done anything.

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