Updated On: July 25, 2006
Route: Banjul-PN Niokolo-Koba-View Route
Miles Traveled : 833 miles
Cumulative Distance:10,721 miles
Current Weather: Cool on beach/hot inland
Wildlife: Vervet/ red colobus monkeys, croc, nile monitor lizard, butterfiles everywhere.
Activities: Bush camping with new friends along deserted beach at Batokunku.

 
  Sukuta, The Gambi - July 14, 2006
(Jim Writes): Another border crossing day. After a hardy breakfast with our new friends, we took some photos with Ibrahim and his family and hit the road. Destination: Sukuta, The Gambia. When we arrived at the Senegalese border post we were mobbed by about a dozen women trying to get us to exchange money. When we entered the police office we found a smiling officer who without delay, scribed our passport info into his big black book, stamped our passport, and sent us on our way. OK. That was a bit too easy. Clearly there must be a catch. We entered the customs office expecting for the gag to be up. Perhaps they were in cahoots. The police soften us up and the customs officer goes in for the kill. We entered the customs office expecting the worst. What we found was a man dozing off behind a desk. When he woke up he seemed a bit confused, however after a brief carnet tutorial he stamped our documents and wished us safe travels.
We walked out almost in shock and pushed our way through the crowd of moneychangers to the truck.

When we arrived at The Gambia border we were met by a customs official who greeted us in English. English? Oh yes, that’s right. They speak English in the Gambia. This was the first time we’d encountered an English speaking country in several months and my mind was so hardwired to French that it took the better part of 5 minutes to stop responding to their questions in French. After briefly exchanging pleasantries, a customs official glanced over at our vehicle and promptly informed us that it’s illegal to take a right hand drive vehicle into The Gambia and therefore we would not be able to cross the border with our truck. This struck us as a bit odd considering The Gambia is a former British Colony, hence the English, and we were driving a British vehicle yet we couldn’t enter as tourist. We served up an enthusiastic rebuttal, stating that we were simply tourists, eager to visit their country and we promised to have our right hand drive out of The Gambia and headed back to England within a couple of weeks. But it’s illegal the officer countered. Yes, but we’re just tourists and we’ll be gone before you know it. He paused and then said that he’d go talk to his boss. Several minutes pass and he returns with his boss. We make the same argument all over again. The boss paused and then said that he’d go talk to his boss. Several minutes pass and then they all come back and say that they will make an exception so that we can bring our truck in. Again, it was a bit of a surprise as we fully expected a bribe in exchange for their approval. Next, we were directed past a jail to the police office where we promptly had our passports stamped and were on our way. With our carnet and passports stamped we headed outside and after a brief, half hearted search of our vehicle by customs, we were on our way.

A quick stop at the weigh station to buy our ferry tickets and then it was off to the ferry terminal. Once at the terminal we waited about a hour for the ferry. Boarding was a truly African experience as they crammed us on along with goats, chickens, passengers, vendors, and an assortment of vehicles. Once onboard the crossing was rough and we were happy to be in the middle of the boat as I was sure stuff was falling off the bow and stern as the boat rolled about in the waves. Nevertheless, we arrived unscathed and after settling in at Camping Sukuta, we headed out for dinner and a bit of exploring.

 
 
     
 
 

Sukuta, The Gambia - July 15-16, 2006
(Sheri Writes): When we arrived yesterday at Camping Sukuta, we mentioned to the campsite’s German manager that we were hearing a popping noise coming from underneath the front end of the truck (the same noise we’d been hearing since we left Cromford, England). He said he knew of a good mechanic and would give him a call to see if we could stop by. This morning, just as we are returning from our run, he stops by and said that we needed to hurry up because we had a 10am appointment with the mechanic.

We arrived at 10:15 thinking we’d be there for about half an hour, while the mechanic took a quick look at Betty. After all, Eric brought his truck by a couple of days earlier with the same noise and it turned out to be a loose bolt. A couple of turns of the wrench we thought and we’d be on our way. 7 long, hot, miserable hours later we were still there. Held hostage in the most miserable trailer park like compound watching as flies fed on the proprietor’s open, bleeding, sores. Why you ask? Because this is Africa and fixing a loose bolt (yes, indeed it was a loose bolt. The same loose bolt that the same mechanic fixed on Eric’s identical Land Cruiser a couple of days before) requires using a hammer and a significant amount of banging to take the entire front end of the truck apart, breaks, wheel bearings, steering knuckle, axle and all. Now, I’m no expert, but if you’d just fixed an identical vehicle making the same noise a couple of days before, wouldn’t you start by checking the bolt in question to see if it corrected the problem???

In any case, removing the entire front end of the truck did unearth another issue, a slightly worn steering bearing. It had a good bit of life left in it, but given how cheap labor is and given that the entire front end was already dismantled we thought why not. Go ahead and replace it. Now, whether this was a good idea is yet to be determined as finding replacement bearings was also a truly African experience. Basically, we took the spoiled bearings to a guy in a tiny roadside shop. Instead of matching the Toyota part number, which was clearly displayed on the side if the part, he held the bearings up to the light and studied them for a minute. He then began rummaging around in the back until he found a set of bearings that seemed, to the necked eye, to be a good match.

Once back at the trailer park, Betty was lovingly reassembled (with all the force a hammer can dole out) and we should have had that chapter of our lives behind us. And indeed we would have if we’d not scheduled a second visit to come back and have the hand break tightened.

 
 
 
 
 

Batokunku, The Gambia - July 17-24, 2006
(Sheri Writes): The past few days have been brutally hot and rainy and we (Jim in particular) have come to dread sleeping in the tent as it’s always much hotter than outside and we almost literally sweat ourselves dry at night. Not eager to put up with another night of suffering, we set out to take care of a number of to do’s including most importantly finding a 12-volt fan. We assumed this would be easy as very few people have a/c and we thought such fans would be very popular. We searched high and low only to hear over and over again “we’re sold out” and the only place in town that had one wanted way too much money.

Later that morning we found a large tire shop to patch the tire and insert a tube. We’ve decided to do this in case we need this tire before we are able to replace it, as we’ve had absolutely no luck finding a matching tire since we put a gash in our rear tire while trying to get out of the mud back in St. Louis). In any case, while we were at the tire shop, a Spanish guy, Tony, pulled up in his TLC Troopie. We struck up a conversation and he introduced us to his friend Fontu, a easy going, friendly Gambian from a small village named Batokunku, a few kilometers south of Serekunda. As it turns out, Tony had done a similar overland trip two years ago and, longing to return to Africa, had recently returned to The Gambia to live with Fontu and some other friends in Batokunku. Tony was just getting settled and planned to open a campsite along a pristine stretch of deserted beach. We seemed to immediately hit it off and before we parted ways, Tony invited us to come and camp with him along the beach. We couldn’t pass up such an offer and were eager to talk more with him about his prior trip, so we got directions from him and told him we’d try to be there before dark.

Shortly before dark we made our way to Batokunku in search Tony’s camping spot along the beach. Finding Tony proved harder than we’d expected and after several water logged dirt roads led us to dead ends, we were about to give up. As we turned the truck around to head back to the main road, we were stopped by a local man, covered in paint, who was signaling for us to stop. We did and he came running up and asked, without missing a beat, if we were looking for the “long white man.” We pondered his question briefly. Tony was kind of tall and he was definitely white, so we thought that perhaps it was the same person. We said yes and he climbed onto our sideboards and pointed down the road agreeing to take us to the long white man. Clinging to the roof rack, he belted out directions, which lead us down another muddy, wet dirt road and eventually onto the beach. “Go, Go, Go!” He yelled. “You have four wheel drive. You will need to use it. Go, Go!” Down the beach we sped until we reached Tony’s truck and a small green rooftop tent that had been setup under a thatched shelter along the beach. Just to the left of his tent was a small thatched hut and a larger covered area, which we found out later was Fontu’s restaurant. A tiny, hidden oasis, only known by locals, which he’d started eight years ago with hardly a penny to his name and only 4 soft drinks which he kept cool by storing them in a small pond behind the hut.

It was paradise and we were grateful for the friendly paint covered man from Batokunku, who’d helped us to find the long white man from Spain. The balance of the evening was spent hanging out with Tony, Fontu, Kalifa and some of their other friends. We discussed a variety of topics including Tony’s plans for his campsite, which would be located just up the beach from the restaurant. It was an enjoyable, relaxing evening in which we shared a few beers, enjoyed good conversation, and savored the cool ocean breeze. It was paradise! And oh, yes, one additional thing to note, before going to bed, Tony stopped by our tent to bestow upon us perhaps the greatest gift we’ve ever received! A small 12-volt fan which he still had from his overland trip. To say we were thankful would be a gross understatement. We were ecstatic!!!

The week that followed was one of the best we’ve had so far. Camping on the beach was wonderful and we truly enjoyed the time we spent with Tony, Fontu, Kalifa, and all of their friends. Everyone was so kind and went out of their way to make us feel like we were welcome in Batokunku. Each morning, on his way up the beach to the restaurant, Kalifa would stop by our tent to say hello. He would always great us with a warm smile and would go out of his way to make sure we felt welcome. On most mornings, Badou Gaye, the man who’d helped us to find Tony’s camping spot, would also come by to say hello and chat. One morning he brought his two year old adorable daughter. Having never seen toubabs before, she was absolutely terrified of us and trembled and sobbed the entire time. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she buried her face in her father’s chest and wouldn’t lift it to look at us. She was wearing an adorable little dress and Jim and I mentioned how much we liked it. The next morning he showed up with a similar outfit that his wife had made for us overnight and presented it to us as a gift. It was a kind gesture that symbolized the warm hospitality that we received from everyone in Batokunku.

Our days were lazy and relaxing. We’d run on the beach, hit the village well to replenish our water supply (always a social experience), head into Serekunda to hit the internet café, track monkeys in Abuko Reserve and we even returned to the trailer park to have our parking break fixed. We also joined Tony, Fontu and some other friends on a test run of a friend’s new 80 passenger boat, which we took up the Gambia River to explore Tendaba and Kiang West National Park. Back on the beach, we capped off every day by having drinks as we watched the sunset over the ocean. On a couple of occasions Sharon and Alan, two Brits from Yorkshire who’d recently sold their pub in England to relocate to The Gambia joined us and we fantasized about Sunday roasts and English fry-ups. And to top it all off, Fontu would cook fantastic local dishes for us to enjoy. We’d end the day by drifting off to sleep to the sound of the waves lapping just outside our tent.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Dar Salaam, Senegal - July 23-24, 2006
(Sheri Writes): Alas, all good things must come to an end. It was a terribly difficult decision, made harder when Fontu invited us to stay for another month to spend time getting to know his family and attend some upcoming events in the village. We had enjoyed the cool ocean breeze, Tony and Fontu’s company, and the very friendly village. We knew that if we didn’t tear ourselves away, we would never leave. I don’t think Betty wanted to leave either because she got stuck in the soft beach sand as we pulled away. Maybe that was her way of casting a vote. As we drove down the beach and turned towards Mali, the debate continued. Driving east towards to border, we almost turned back, but managed to resist the strong urge by reminding ourselves of how much more ground there is to cover and how many more beautiful places there are to see. We can always return one day. Hopefully we will as I know Batokunku will welcome us with open arms.

Back on the road we headed for Basse Sante Su. We opted for the southern route that follows the Gambia River east to the border. The road lived up to it’s poor reputation and turned out to be a brutal 10 hour drive along the worst stretch of once paved road we’ve ever experienced. In terrible disrepair, the road is now a badly decaying mix of asphalt and deep man eating potholes. Far worse than any unpaved track we’ve seen, everyone has given up on driving it and now there’s a makeshift dirt track that runs down the side.

Adding to the excitement as we crawled along were the never-ending police and military check points. 16 in all, they seemed to come one after another. Generally, nothing more than a benign hassle, we none-the-less had our vehicle searched, were told over and over that our right hand drive was illegal, and were subjected to some, let’s just say unnecessary questions. My favorite moment came when a soldier stopped us at a military check, pointed to the shovel mounted just above the driver’s door, and asked us what that was for. Hmm, well, let’s see…. Have you looked at the road we’re on???

After the long day, we were happy to arrive in Basse and found the campsite Traditions with ease. We were not pleased with the campsite as it was one of the worst we have seen. The place was very rundown and the manager was quite annoying. It didn’t help that he tried to charge us an exorbitant amount to camp there and came down only when we told him we would have to leave because we didn’t have anymore cash with us.

Early the next morning we headed for the Senagalese border, only a few kilometers away. We got through the formalities with ease and were soon back in Senegal, if only for a night or two. The last thing that we wanted to see in Senegal was Nikola Koba National Park. We were given directions by a man at the Senegalese border that, in the end, turned out to be incorrect and landed us at the Guinea border rather than the park. A little frustrated, we turned back and took the long way around to the park’s entrance. When we arrived at the park entrance we were told that in addition to the entry fee, we’d have to hire a guide for 6,000 CFA per day plus food and lodging. This seemed a little over the top. We protested with no luck. “It’s a big park. You could get lost in there without a guide.” Judging by some of the guides we’ve seen thus far, we could get lost inside the part with a guide. In any case, given it’s the wet season and game view isn’t supposed to be very good, we decided it was more expensive than it was worth. We’ll wait for East Africa.

Having decided not to enter the park we decided the next best thing was to stay at Wassadou Campement, just on the edge of the park highly recommended by Southing. Supposedly it was on a hippo filled river in the middle of the bush. When we arrived we were the only guest. We inquired about camping and they said it wasn’t possible but for 8,000 CFA we could stay in a thatched hut. OK, a little steep for a thatched hut but then again it was in the bush on a hippo filled river. Check that, it’s the wet season so all of the hippos were gone. Nevertheless, we decided to stay and the manger asked if we’d be having dinner. We asked how much and he said 6,000 CFA/person. We politely declined to which he replied “then what will you do about dinner?” No problem we said. We’ll be fine. He said that would be OK and then handed us our room key and off we went.

The balance of the afternoon was spent lazy by the river, relaxing and listening to a symphony of birds in the nearby trees. At 6:30 pm, as it was getting dark and as a storm was starting to roll in, the manager informed us that he talked to the owner and we weren’t welcome to stay there if we weren’t going to have dinner. And, if we didn’t want to have dinner, we were “welcome to stay at an Africa hotel down the road”. Needless to say, we were irate. The timing couldn’t have been worse as we were left with little time to find other lodging options. Jim and I stormed off, threw the keys at the manager and said a few choice words. We found a campsite down the road which was ok, good enough to rest our heads for the night. We quickly made dinner and enjoyed a spectacular lightening show in the distance. Tomorrow we’re off to Mali.

*Sadly, as we were writing this journal entry, Tony contacted us to let us know that Kalifa, our wonderful new friend in The Gambia, passed away. Tony explained that the other morning, as he often does, he went for a swim just along the beach where we were camping and drowned. They think he had a cramp and panicked. This came as a terrible shock to us as he was such a wonderful person and we’d grown quite fond of him during our stay in Batokunku. He will be sorely missed.