Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Travel broadens the mind (and loosens the wallet...)

Tomorrow our honeymoon starts officially in Dakar, Senegal, at Haddy’s Aunt and Uncle’s place and we have to catch the early morning ferry at 7.00am to take us from Banjul to Barra and then walk over the border where we’ll either be getting a bus (if we’re lucky) or a taxi to Dakar.
It’s a five hour journey by road so I’m not exactly looking forward to it.

After a maximum of three hours sleep we’re up again, showered, dressed and ringing ‘Tufa to take us to Banjul…
God I’m tired...
So there we are, happily driving down the dual carriageway heading toward Banjul when we’re stopped at an army checkpoint and we all have to vacate the vehicle…
Oh, look… A suitcase… It must be full of… clothes ?
Sorry to disappoint you guys, but it wasn’t us you were after.
As Haddy is going through the case with the guy in charge, the other one asks me why we are on the road at that time in the morning ?
I just tell him it’s the start of our honeymoon and we got married two days ago which causes him to grin and ask where we are going, so I tell him Senegal… We’re going to stay with Haddy’s Aunt Rose and her Uncle.
He smiles, and says that is a good thing as I am acting like a proper Gambian man by visiting family…
Then he calls to the other one who is still going through the case and they apologise for stopping us and hope we understand, and then say we can go.
As we get back in the car I ask the friendly one what they have been searching for ?
Drugs or money.
It’s always drugs or money, or illegals or guns, or a variation of the four and apparently early morning is a good time to do a stop and search…
More people are caught.
I wish him luck and goodbye, and we’re off again.
It’s taken just under twenty minutes so there’s going to be a queue for the ferry and we’re going to be stuck in it, and that’s only if they have tickets left ?
As soon as we arrive at the docks ‘Tufa barges into the queue for tickets and returns ten minutes later with two…
Nice one, ‘Tuf’.

Now… I was under the impression that Moslems prided themselves on being polite…
I dunno where I got that idea from ?
If you take a ferry ride from Banjul to Barra, then you are going to find and experience the exact opposite…
In fact, I’d like to warn any reader thinking that they might like to take that journey one day…
Get your elbows sharpened by a professional before you even attempt it.
Never wear sandals. Stick to boots and preferably those with steel toe-caps…
That’s a word or two to the wise.
There will be those who think I’m exaggerating ?
But they are idiots, so we’ll discount them immediately and just concentrate on those with a small modicum of common sense.
Look… You don’t believe me ?
Do what you like. It’s immaterial to me but don’t say I didn’t try to warn you…

Getting on was bad enough.
Staying on was cramped and uncomfortable…
But getting off ?
That’s when you need a few things that you’ll probably have forgotten to bring otherwise…
Like a cattle prod or a Taser ?
I mean I’ve been in queue’s trying to get off or out of places and things, but even I was not prepared for this…
All stampede together and the Devil take the hindmost.
Absolute mayhem !
A moving juggernaut of people stepping, pushing and trampling on anyone who might be impeding their progress or who might actually be in front of them.
Bloody Hell !
That was an eye opener… And there’s me, the obvious foreigner trying to remain polite…
That lasted until the gouging bastard who collected the tickets told us we had to pay for the suitcase…
(We’d already checked that we didn’t)
But it made no difference to that thieving bastard… He was going to gouge us because I was white and so obviously had money…
It wouldn't be so bad if he'd gone for everybody else who carried one but he didn't...
Just us.
I don’t know what Haddy called him, but I hope it insulted his parentage right back to the dog that bore him ?
We paid the thieving cunt just so we could get off but it really fucking rankled.
People talk about the corruption in Africa, but it’s so ingrained into the psyche that any and every chance is taken to do it.
Trouble is, most of the people you meet are scrupulously honest and pride themselves on it, but where you have someone in a position of lowly authority that's where you find that the main chance is going to be taken... and we were.
One day an honest man will step up and unfortunately will probably be silenced by the mob that will hound him for even suggesting that the practice is stopped…
Either that, or he’ll be ‘silenced’.
Make of that what you will…
I really don’t think I’ve got to draw you a picture ?

Finally, we’re off to the taxi rank to get us to the border crossing which we make in good time, passports stamped on both sides and we’re in Senegal where we’ve managed to miss all the buses, so it’s a taxi ride to Dakar…
Seven of us plus luggage crammed into what we Brit’s once called a station wagon along with the dust and the flies for the next five hours.
Let me say this for the record…
When I was younger I did some crazy things when trying to get from A to B when travelling, but this was the craziest of all…
Never again.
Never, ever again.
If we have to do the return trip the same way then we pay for an invisible man to share our seating and pay for three instead of two but I will NEVER travel like that again.
So let it be written, so let it be done.

We are only stopped once on the journey at a police checkpoint to make sure everything is as it should be ?
The poor guy who’s moving a television hasn’t got the right documentation or maybe he hasn’t paid the duty ?
Either way, it’s a forty minute stop which is a relief (in more ways than one) to all the other travellers and not just me.
It gives us a chance to shake off the muscle cramps and stretch out legs at least, and sample the soft drinks of Senegal which as far as Fanta is concerned, is uniformly foul.
It certainly doesn’t taste like Fanta does in the U.K. or even in The Gambia.
It’s just soda water with E-numbers in it and no fruit taste whatsoever.
It’s horrible.
Finally we get to Dakar, which is probably as big as London from N.W. whatever to S.E whatever… Dakar is BIG.
Now we have to get a taxi to Aunt Rose’s which we accomplish in about fifteen minutes plus a journey time of maybe another twenty five ?
And we’re there…
Finally we’re there.
It’s totally different to The Gambia.
The architecture is more Arabic or maybe I should call it French Colonial ?
Anybody wanting to make a film about Beirut or Algeria or the middle east of twenty years ago, could film here without too much trouble.
As soon as we’ve unpacked our suitcases we are presented with plates of garlic- cooked lamb with fries and salad followed by watermelon that doesn’t taste like watery pulp, and bananas.
Truth to tell, all we both want to do is sleep.
Either the innocent or the damned isn’t going to matter one iota right now, so as soon as is polite, we make our excuses and…

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