Just after writing my Impressions of Africa blog I got a real taste of what Africa is really like.
I was scheduled to fly out today on my way to my next adventure in Sri Lanka. However, as I was handing out toothbrushes to school children I found out my flights from Banjul to Dakar and Dakar to Lagos have been cancelled. Apparently, Air Nigeria is facing some sort of fiscal crisis so they cancelled all their flights. Makes total sense right??
There was really no way to get me to Lagos and there are only a limited number of flights and destinations from Banjul. So it was decided, in consultation with my colleagues in the Gambia, that my best option would be to go over land from Banjul to Dakar. This meant I would need to take the Banjul/Barra ferry and then take a 5 hour taxi ride from the border of the Gambia/Senegal to Dakar. I was overjoyed about this as I am sure you can imagine.
What this also meant is that I had to pack fast since driving in Senegal in the dark as a single, white female is not the best of options. I also didn’t get to go to the monkey park or shopping as was the original afternoon plan. Major bummer there. I was unable to even say goodbye to all of our students since I left before most of them returned home from their various placements and projects. Definitely not the way I like to go out.
So within 2 hours I had repacked all of my things, said goodbye to who I could, ate some lunch, and headed to the Banjul ferry. I was accompanied by Malnyh, one of the staff from Happy Camp, since I don’t speak Wolof, my bags are heavy, and it is much safer for me to travel with someone than alone. We got to the ferry and this is where the chaos began.
The ferry was crazy. We literally had to push our way through the gate in order to get in line for the ferry. Then the ferry is basically a barge that both cars and people get on. There is no means of counting how many people are getting on or controlling for the chaos. People were even jumping onto the ferry as it pulled away from the dock and were being allowed to do so. See some of my photos below.
We actually were pretty lucky with the ferry. People can wait for hours to get onto the ferry and then the ferry could take hours to get across. This has to do with the various ferries breaking down among other things. We only had to wait about 45 minutes to get on the ferry and then the ferry took less than 1 hour to get to Barra, the northern side of the Gambia. From there we hopped into a taxi to the border of Senegal.
I will say that one of the perks of this is that I have gotten to see another country and get another stamp in my passport. :)
One with the story! At the border we waited for my driver which was basically a hired taxi driver that would take me the 5 hours to Dakar. 5 hours in a car with a total stranger who barely speaks English and when I speak no French or Wolof – oh so much fun! Luckily the car was comfortable enough and the driver was really nice. He did look out for me and even got me a pop (soda for those who don’t speak Michiganese). The ride started off well enough on a nice paved road and I enjoyed seeing the Senegalese country side.
However, that is where the fun ended. About 45 minutes into the 5 hour ride the paved road disappeared and we then spent the next 2-2.5 hours on dirt/sand roads with more craters than flat spots. The drivers in both directions played dodge the craters. They were craters and not potholes! See my video for more on this.
There went any chance of my sleeping on the ride or doing anything but hanging on for dear life. For some reason, the people in the Gambia failed to mention the fun-filled ride I would get to take!
After awhile we did end up on paved roads, the closer we got to Dakar, so I was able to take a short nap while the road was smooth. There were a few scary moments when people tried to jump into the car when we stopped places thinking it was a really taxi. This scared me some since I am by myself, in a country where I speak none of the languages, I already stand out, and all my belongings are in the car. Luckily, the driver did look out for me and pushed them away or rolled up the windows so they couldn’t touch the locks I had engaged in the car. He was under threat from our Gambian in-country director to look out for me or else though! So he would have heard about it from her if something had happened but there were a few scary moments for sure.
I was able to meet up with the person who arranges the tours for our students in Dakar and he had booked me into a local hotel and got me all checked in. I also forgot to mention that I had no CFA or Senegalese Francs yet and only had American dollars or Gambian dalais, which wouldn’t get me far. I checked in for the night, got some fresh water, and knew due to the flight schedules I would now be getting to Sri Lanka a day late. All of that could be worked out the next day.