Every time I think a trip can't be worse than the last ones I get one that proves me wrong, how can it possibly take 18 hours to travel just over 300km? Getting out early was recommended so I got up at 6am, out of the hotel by 7am and at the bus station and on the bus by 7:30. The bus looked a wreck but the first hour was surprisingly comfortable, the second hour was quite bearable, the third hour was tediously boring and in the forth hour I saw someone selling boxes of 100 paracetemol and was seriously tempted. In the fifth hour someone got on the bus and started the engine and soon after midday we actually left the bus station in Dakar.
The days entertainment was provided by the two American girls who got on the bus at about 9am; one of them called a friend or contact in the Gambia and said that they were on the bus and it was just about to leave (which bus touts always tell everyone but sensible people don't believe them), they said that the trip should be about 3 hours so they thought they would be at the ferry about midday! Obviously they started to get other ideas when we were stll sat in Dakar at midday.
A near riot started on the bus and virtually all of the locals stormed off leaving the 5 non-africans sitting there wondering what was happening. I guess they were getting as pissed off as I was and threatening to get their money back and leave. This prompted some agreement when they all got back on and only half an hour later we left. The journey progressed slowly but surely and as comfortable as can be expected after sitting immobile for the best part of 5 hours. Not long before 5pm we reached a semi-major town called Koalack and I checked on the map to see where we were. I managed to find somewhere to buy some Africa Cola as dehydration was looming but getting rid of previous fluids was not possible. When I got back on the bus the Septicette was back on the phone, apparently we were only 10k from the ferry and should be there very soon – I couldn’t resist and had to tell her that in fact we were only half way and had the best part of 200k left to go. One of the Asian guys who was also checking the map confirmed this, she got back on the blower to give her friend the bad news. In the lying Planet it says that the last ferry across the Gambia River at Barra is at 7pm and if you aren’t going to make it it’s best to stop in the last Senegalese town as there is no decent hotel in Barra. However, a Gambian woman assured us that there was a ferry at 9pm and we would make it.
The sun set just before we reached the border, leaving Senegal was a breeze, at the Gambian side the locals all shot straight through but they wanted to interview the foreigners. Somehow the Gambian woman got the yanks through straight away and they nicely abandoned the rest of us. I was taken into the chief’s office alone and the door closed behind. He asked a series of questions about why I wanted to go to Gambia etc and then how much money I had. This is always a tricky one, not enough and they might not let you in, too much and they want a share. I declared my CFA and then he wanted to see it, here we go I thought, bribe impending, but he wrote down the amount and let me go next door to get my passport stamped. Unlike my transatlantic friends I decided to wait for the other two as a taxi for 3 is a much better option than getting one alone. When they came through they were very reluctant to pay for a taxi and wanted to find a minibus, I tried to convince them that time was moving on and missing the ferry wasn’t a great option, besides the taxi fare was only 2 pound each. The eventually agreed and we took a very scary, very dusty, high speed drive to the ferry terminal. We bought 6 tickets (3 for our packs) and when we asked what time the ferry was were told “Any time”, not ‘any time soon’ but literally “any time”.
We sat and chatted, we sat and twiddled our thumbs, we sat and watched other people and vehicles arrive but by 9pm there was no sign of a ferry. At 10pm there was still no ferry but lots of people waiting so we were hopeful, every now and again all of the people sitting on the jetty would get up and make to leave which prompted thoughts that it wasn’t coming. However, each time it turned out that the sole ferry employee had decided to move them back to the road. At 10:30 we thought we saw a light on the water and at last the ferry came, it was packed to the rafters with people and vehicles of all descriptions. When they were all off and we were all on it looked like we might get going quickly, but oh no, this is Africa. A gate to a nearby holding area was opened and a herd of cattle were ushered towards the boat, cue chaos! The cattle were roped together in groups of 4 or 5, they couldn’t keep their hoofing on the metal deck and kept falling over eachother, despite obvious malnutrition they also couldn’t stop the urges to fornicate and fight, their herders only form of control was the big stick – then in the midst of this madness as we were 50 yards from shore one wise cow hatched its plan. It must have kept a low profile and had been missed when they tied them all to the railings, it calmly walked through the parked cars and before the handlers could get to it ducked under the barrier and jumped. By the time they managed to get the ferry to train it's search lights on the river the cow was gone, hopefully to find a better life somewhere along the riverbank.
We finally docked in Banjul just before midnight, fortunately there is a guesthouse opposite the ferry terminal, unfortunately it's a dump and full of very strange characters a bit like the day room of "One Flew Over the Cookoos Nest", Jack Nicholson wasn't there. They had no free rooms but offered us the Balcony with matresses on the floor, how could we refuse? After a mosquito infested night's sleep we went to investigate Banjul and get some money from an ATM. I had planned on staying a couple of days in Banjul while my new friends were heading straight out to the beach town of Bakau to get visas for Guinea-Bissau. I looked at the other "nicer" hotel in Banjul and it wasn't much better than the Cookoos Nest so I decided to join them, especially as there plans were the same as mine up to Guinea.
There are minibusses that form the main transport throughout The Gambia but all of the ones to Bakau were heaving and we had no chance of getting on with our packs. I just wanted to jump in a taxi for a few Dalasi more but again trying to convice Sun the Korean to spend more money was difficult. Eventually he relented and we jumped in a cab.