After several weeks in eastern Senegal, in the constant intense heat, we decided enough was enough and it was time to move on.
We longed for the Ocean and to feel the wind in our hair again (figuratively speaking in my case).
The outline plan was to enter The Gambia from the eastern end of the country and travel westerly until we arrived at the west coast that is the area frequented by the tourist trade.
The Gambia is basically a long tube that is surrounded on all sides by Senegal and the Gambia is around 40km wide at its widest and around 300km long Roughly speaking) with one major (ish) road to the south of the river and the same to the north.
We have been back up river for a couple of days and its mainly scrub land with an odd village here and there sustaining life the best they can.
After the blistering heat of the Senegal jungle, we looked forward to our visit to The Gambia, I envisaged spoiling ourselves by checking into a luxury hotel, lying next to a swimming pool and ordering a large fluorescent cocktail, complete with as many e-numbers you could shake a stick at, umbrellas on cocktail sticks and of course, lots and lots of Ice to beat away the thought of the intense heat we had endured.
Life is never what you expect is it?
We went to the most easterly border of The Gambia to make our entrance.This would have given us a pleasant drive to the coast on either the North or South side of the river of a few hundred kilometers which would have taken a few days to complete.
Unfortunately, Covid once again reared its ugly head and as there was no testing facility in the area to the east of The Gambia and so we were forced to drive parallel to the Gambia heading westward in Senegal until we arrived at the town of Villingara and well on the way towards the coast. Still here no test available so another drive west to a hospital in a town called Kolda were we were shown to a seat and told to wait. After 2 hours I enquired as to when we might be seen and was told the person in charge had gone home and to return at 08.00 hours the next day. Again, the next day we waited 2 hours and then another enquiry to be told that they didn’t do testing at this hospital and we had to drive further west to Ziguinchor almost parallel to the Gambia coast!
Welcome to Africa.
We visited three hospitals but the same experience at each.
Filthy dirty places with no sealed roads, goats, dogs and cats walking around the places, rubbish piled up in corners and an odd scrap car to boot.
It was quite shocking to see.
We had a peak in a bedded ward and the beds were ancient, the windows none existent, just broken shutters to protect against the squalor outside. Filthy floors, staff in filthy clothing.
We were just grateful we only had to endure a swab up the nose.
I have to say, despite the conditions, this part was very well done and we got our results a few hours later and we left Senegal and tried to enter The Gambia.
On arriving at the Gambian border we were grilled as to what our business was and why we wanted to visit?
After much negotiation we had our entry paper work extended from 3 days to 1 week?
They searched our vehicle for drugs and made us feel very guilty of crimes we had not committed.
We are still lost as to why this was the case?
The only saving grace was the temperature dropped to a manageable 35ish degrees by day and as low as 28 at night – Bliss!
Once over the border we headed for the south west corner of The Gambia as it was the most remote and would give us chance to take stock!
That evening we chanced upon a Camperment owned by an English guy, George and his much younger Gambian wife, Anna.
My mind reached a swift conclusion to the marriage arrangement of George and his young wife Anna, but boy, I couldn’t of been more wrong.
George, 74 years old and an ex Falkland’s war veteran. He had been shot twice whilst in service (Navy) and lost a lung to the war effort.
George smoked around 60 cigarettes a day and had his oxygen machine on hand at all times.
He slept on a couch outside or in the bush and often got bitten or stung by something nasty but he said he wasn’t scared as he hadn’t died yet!
Georges wife Anna, was 44 years old. Well educated and looked after George on hand and foot.
This was a relationship that was as solid as a rock and two of the nicest people you could meet.
On the camperment they had a few rooms for travelling locals and any odd tourist that ventured down this way and just enough space to park our truck.
Also living in the area were a small number of expat brits, all living in this remote area for their own reasons but all would admit they left the UK as they no longer fitted in back home.
These guys and girls would congregate at GeorgeAnnas camperment as it was called from late morning until late at night and alcohol featured heavily in these visits.
I tried several times to ascertain how this was funded by the expats but never really got a straight answer?
I asked George how he coped with the constant lure of getting sucked into a drinking culture and his response was instant and heart felt.
He said, I never have a drink early. I wait until 4pm before I start and that keeps me safe?
A more honest answer you could not get anywhere I would suggest.
George is a great character with lots of war stories to tell and tales of a fully lived life and a good guy to boot.
He and Anna had set up a charity to build a maternity room in their local area as death during birth was common for both mother and baby as there was no one with midwife skills and certainly no hospital for many miles.
They were also working to rescue child (sex) slaves being exported to Mauritania. It’s quite common here in the Gambia and also in Senegal. In fact slavery is common place through-out Africa to this day.
George was also well connected with the local police and immigration officers and after a quick chat in an unkempt office of the head of immigration for the south of The Gambia. His uniform must have been 3 sizes too big for this frail gentleman but that didn’t stop the business deal being done and after handing over of a few Dalasi (local currency) we had papers to last us another month thanks to Georges influence.
That’s how it all works here but when the police get paid around 2000 Dalasi a month (around 30 pounds), you soon realise why bribery is a normal part of life.
During our stay with George and Anna we had many interesting and enlightening conversations and they were both that only the Africans can help Africa. A view widely shared amongst educated Africans.
Her take as is the take of many others is that the large charities inform the world press of any disasters that happen in Africa (and they do), the charities lay on aircraft tickets, hotels, cars and food and entertainment (use your imagination) for the journalists and so the journalists can report to the world of these austerities and in turn that raises money that feeds the charities and their ‘management` and so the wheel keeps turning.
We also ascertain from many conversations that many Africans are ashamed of their countrymen trying to get to Europe and the issues this causes back in the villages from where they come.
The fighting and falling out in the villages is rife and only the traffickers are the winners.
Most educated Africans realise the potential of Africa and the wealth it could provide. Its a continent rich in resources and although many have been abused by the mainly European nations in the past, it is now a race between the Africans and the Chinese to realise the full potential of this continent.
My fear is I know who the benefactors will be.
Anna also told us of the many teachers that are employed in outlying areas that can barely read and write and how they teach with few if any aids such as books or pencils. This is not just in The Gambia, it is on the most of the African continent.
School is a luxury and isn’t for everyone.
After several enlightening days with George and Anna we headed north to the more populated and the tourist areas to see how this was and get that cocktail!
I have to say its quite enlightening to speak English again and it makes life much easier for getting a few jobs done on the truck.
The tourist areas are a world away from what we have become used to and are understandably extremely quiet although there are still a few tourists around, mainly of an older age, both male and Female enjoying the company of friends of the opposite sex and half their age?
The people of The Gambia are it has to be said, extremely friendly and we are constantly stopped whilst enquiries are made as to our names and country of origin and during one such exchange, the young man said – British, you are nice people, you are our friends, You colonized us.
I didn’t have an answer for that one?
Although many roads here in the Gambia are sealed, there are still many sand roads as the rest of Africa.
The standard of driving is appalling but the biggest hazard whilst driving is the pollution caused by just about every vehicle blowing out black smoke.
The garage doing some of our repairs tells us he struggles to get work as maintenance is not something the Gambians see as a good investment, especially when it comes to their vehicles.
The usual sequence is the air filter gets blocked by all the sand so they remove it and the sand gets into the engine, wears the pistons and that means black smoke and lots of it.
After a quick blast on the motorbike, a shower is needed before I am allowed back in our truck. Charlotte stands at the entrance with a rolling pin in one hand and a towel and soap in the other.
It’s a filthy place to ride a bike.
The Gambian´s have developed their own spelling and words for various items and my favorite is their term for the conmen that feed off the tourists, using any trick to try and suck a few Dalasi from us. Their term is Bumsters and it’s a term used widely amongst the Gambian population.
Are their many Bumsters in that area, is a common enquiry.
We tourists are referred to as Toubab.
Again whilst walking, driving or riding our Motorcycle we will often hear the shout of ‘Hay, Toubab`.
This is not a derogatory term and is said to stem from the local Gambian children asking the British army officers for Two bob? Anyway, what ever the origin, its actually quite funny and when you look at the person shouting Toubab, you are usually met with a huge white smile that is completely genuine and a real desire to know who you are.
As regards the fluorescent cocktail, it never did happen but as we sit and while away the time whilst repairs are completed, I still wonder if today will be the day I get my Fluorescent cocktail and a sit by the pool.
What ever, we still great every sun down with the African orange hue that appears as the sun drops below the horizon and as the silence falls and the bugs come out, we listen to the strange animal and bird sounds we hear around us and wonder what they are telling each other.
The magic is palpable.
Soon we will be done in The Gambia and we are off south to Guinea Bissau via Senegal which for now is the furthest south we can get due to border closures for you know what.
It is also in late June as I write this and soon the rains will start that make remote travelling impossible as roads get washed out and flash floods are common place which gives us a whole new set of challenges to overcome. We have already started on the Malaria tablets as we have had a few down pours already.
Lets see what happens next on this wonderful journey we are so privileged to be making?
A few African facts.
The African continent could easily house the whole of China and India on its surface area.
The USA would fit easily into the north of Africa.
The population of The Gambia is just 2 million and if you think of London being around 10 million, that puts it into prospective.
Africa has around 1.2 billion people living across the continent against a world population of around 7.7 billion.
Lastly, I am pleased to say Channel 5 have been in touch and are arranging to film us out here for the next series of Million-pound mega motorhomes.
Of everyone featured in the first series, we are the only ones to be in the next series!
No idea what that means, but we will be hiding behind the sofa and squinting over the top to watch ourselves on national TV and asking each other – Does my bum look big in this?
Thank you for reading our blog
David and Charlotte.