February 18th: After yesterdays little adventure we realised that we had sprung an oil leak. After getting a local mechanic
to take a look he told us that our seals were stuffed, great. He told us that he could do the job but that he'd have to remove the car engine and take it to his garage. We weren't too keen so decided that it would be best to make our way to Dakar
where we would try find a legitimate Nissan garage. After tinkering a bit ourselves we headed off towards the Senegalese border. The temperature started sky rocketing and we hit 46 degrees at around the same time we arrived at the piste that would take us to the Diama crossing.
We had been told the whole way through Mauritania that this route was preferable, mainly because taking the Rosso route means that you often have to spend hours just waiting for a ferry to pick you up. It was actually a really decent route (once we found it). It goes through a national park where you can see a lot of bird life and we saw our second wild animal on this trip, a warthog. The worst thing that occured on the road (besides the oil leak getting a bit worse) was the corrugation through the national park section, and even that didn't last too long.
We got to the border post quite late in the afternoon and after a bit of simple administration, and some 10 Euro palm greasings, we were through. It was really a very easy and pleasant crossing.
It cost us 55 Euros in total and took roughly 30 minutes to be completed. We were also the only people there.
Once on the Senegalese side the customs official was a bit shirty and wanted to search the car, and also insisted that the kite boards should be on the carnet, but once you've been this far you begin to realise the best thing is just to look at them blankly and say "I don't understand? What?" over and over again, eventually they give up.
A nice lady with a shop just behind the customs also managed to hook us up with enough car insurance for us to reach Nigeria. She honestly seems to be the border crossing mama mogul. Her little shop is cool, she speaks relatively good english and has a smart setup where she organises car insurance, money changing (not brilliant exchange at roughly 600 Cfas - 1 Euro but helpful when you need to pay the customs man), as well as a good supply of ice cold cool drinks.
After having a drink with her, we were off to St Louis which was a quick 20 minute drive down the road. Once there we got completely lost trying to find the "well signposted Le Ocean camping site" as referred by the lonely planet. Eventually we found our way onto the first island after crossing the steel bridge designed by the same architect that created the Eiffel Tower.
Once on that Island we got lost again. It didn't take too long before we found the bridge to the second island, where we got lost. We then crossed back over to the first island, drove down to the bottom pinnacle, looked over at the second island with the fish market and figured we needed to be there somewhere.
We went back, crossed back over to the second island, followed a taxi who took a shortcut around the first turning circle, and, as we came around the hairpin, a cop flagged us down! He obviously waits there often, anxiously anticipating the next tourist who he'll extort money from. The first thing he said was "infraction!" and then asked for the drivers licence (a tip for future travellers, always make copies to give authorities, and if they ask never hand over your documents or they just keep them and have a serious bargaining chip.) He was obviously after a kick back and told us that he was fining us 15 Euros and that we must go to the police station to get our licence back. The shits count on the fact that tourists don't want the hassle of trying to find the station, what one should do is just say yes fine I'll go to the station, usually when they realise there isn't any swindling opportunity to be found they let you go with a warning.
On this occasion though we didn't realise this so we paid and went on our way. Down the road, past the fish market, and a further 1km on we saw our first "Le Ocean" sign - post which said, "Le Ocean - 200metres", we drove 200 metres, then a further kilometre and still couldn't find it. We turned around, and on the way back we saw the Le Ocean sign, it was facing the wrong bloody way! The campsite is right on the beach, and is simple but decent. The hotel that you drive through to reach it had wifi as well, just beware of the sand fleas, and another variety of nocturnal letch, the local camp hooker.
19th February: Parked off for most of the day except for the mission walk that Pat and I took to the centre island to draw
money. Barclays blocked his card (again) and after a profusion of curses and street pacing (little kids came begging for
'coudous' and nearly lost their hands) we managed to draw some cash and head back to the campsite.
We had to pass by the fish market on the way. Things were just chaotic as the locals tried to get their choice of fish over the competition of the rows of fish packing business trucks. There was a stream of bloodied water that we had to try avoid,
and, because the wind was howling it kept flying up and drenching me and our freshly brought bread. I was cursing like a trojan, and fighting tooth and nail to keep it from being tainted, but there was only so much one could do. I still ate it happily when we got back.
20th February: We packed up early and headed out to the Zebrabar. It's 20kms out of St Louis and is a real 1st world
oasis in this 3rd world country.
It is situated in a National park, and surrounded by a lagoon on the one side, and a low running river on the other.
We set up camp and immediately headed to the tranquil restaurant/bar and started drinking.
In the evening we felt really lazy and relaxed (and maybe a bit light headed) so decided to eat at the restaurant. The food
cost 5000 Cfas per person and was quite enjoyable even though it was a bit on the meager side (can always make up
for that with bread). The cost of camping is 2500 Cfas per person per night and is completely reasonable.
21st February: Today Sarah and I left Pat (who was apparently feeling a bit timid) and went to St Louis for supplies. We
ran up quite a bar tab yesterday, so we thought it might be more prudent to organise our own beers and cooldrinks.
We attempted the open market on the 2nd island but found that often the concentration of flies per table overpowered that of product, which left little to be desired.
We then returned to the 1st island, and, after walking around for about an hour, being harassed by shirt salesmen, a number of "PR" persons from various shops, local "artists" with very generic wares and what I now call "cuddle hunters" (little buggers who want coudous, but really its just code for cash), we found the most brilliant 'Super - U Alimentation Generales'. We must have walked around the place about six times and not seen it, but honestly it is well positioned right next to the main road on the island. After we had brought our tinned goods and veggies I directed Sarah to the bulk buy "liquids" store which I had seen two days prior (how fortunate, and very observant of me). The place is a gold mine of loveliness for parched throats! It was there that we brought a crate of 16 Gazelles (660mls) for 9000Cfas (3000 crate deposit, so really all the beers only cost 6000Cfas). Considering that you pay 1500 Cfas for one anywhere else it is a real score. Footnote - we also brought 12 cokes for 3000Cfas.
After returning to the Zebrabar we met a fellow Dutch traveller named Johan and began making plans to travel in convoy with him to and through Mali, and thereafter see where the roads take us. Somehow we got lazy again and decided to eat at the restaurant.
22nd February: Today was a very lazy day at the Zebrabar. I ate, drank, swam, slept in the Hammock and pretty much
vegged all day. Pat did manage to catch some wind and go on the lagoon for a bit of kite surfing. We also realized that
because it was a Friday that we would have to finish the remaining 12 beers between us in order to be able to return
the crate of empties tomorrow. Fortunately Sarah wasn't drinking so it made the task a bit more interesting.
23rd February: Pat and I headed into town today to return the empties, draw some money, and pick up a few small things
like sugar (the phallic block has been taunting us since Dakhla and has barely diminished in size at all. Trying to have
coffee in the morning has become a real chore, what with the twenty minutes of grinding each time.) We finished shopping at around 10am and then spent the next two hours trying to cover the 100 metres between us and the city exit.
The unfortunate thing was that they were doing work on the sole bridge to the mainland and inevitably everything became very blocked up and congested. The only two lane, one way, single exit from the island quickly became a four lane, du-way, with exits in every direction. Finally we were headed out of town, and, guess what? on the outskirts of town theres a friggin road block!
The cop waved us down and Pat pulled over without indicating. I could see the greedy peepers checking the lights and just knew what was coming. As soon as he got to the window the first word out of his mouth was "infraction". Being
somewhat wisened by previous experiences we just flashed our licence but didn't let it go. When he insisted that we had "infracted" we just stared at him blankly and said "but we don't understand, what?" and then he said we must go to the
station and pay the fine, so we said "ok". The realisation struck him like an unfortunate "klap" to the groin and he became
somewhat bewildered. He then asked us to "look" at the tropical lizard on our dash, but we were having none of that and
just flashed the gecko at him before politely letting him know that he was not going out the window. Eventually the army
official on the other side of the road told him off and he let us go with a "warning".
24th February: We attempted to leave early for Dakar, but when we started the car we quickly learnt that the fuel we had put
in yesterday was not diesel, but petrol instead! We had to drain the whole tank, flush the engine, and fortunately, because
the car has two tanks, the second was still purely diesel which we pushed through the system. All the while the owners wife
was bitching at us that the petrol fumes were disturbing her and her two friends who were in the process of doing a weird
local native dance/exercise/giration thingy. We managed to get everything sorted out around midday though and left her
winging in a puff of exhaust smoke. Once in Dakar we managed to book ourselves into a mid-price range hotel which
appears to have a side function as an upmarket brothel for French tourists. It's in-house restaurant was absolutely brilliant
25th February: Fell asleep last night to the sound of headboards beating cement walls. Actually the repetitiveness, and
intensity of it does become quite soothing after about two hours. Pat and Sarah went to the Nissan garage this morning
to get the car sorted out. I stayed behind...When they got back I drank many beers... More headboards and cement walls (sounds like a good song title) in the evening.
26th February: Today we sat, and then sat some more, and then even more again, while the work was being done on the
car. Eventually the work was completed at 4:30pm. What a relief it was to see the car again. We were in her like a flash
and off out of Dakar. We drove for about an hour to reach Lac Rose (where the Paris - Dakar used to end). There we met
up with Johan and camped for the night.
27th February: So far, travelling through Africa, we have only seen the best it has to offer, and been horribly lulled into a false sense of comfort and security. Today Africa did a giant, metaphoric, dump on our chests. I started travelling with Johan in his car, which for this day was the only high point.
Once we had fuelled up in Thiers we were off towards the border post with high hopes. Our hopes remained so for about an hour, thereafter they were gradually, and painfully slowly, chewed up by the roads and spat back in our faces. An hour after leaving Thiers the roads began to deteriorate, and the further we got from the coast the worse they got.
After five hours of driving we hit a small town called Khaffrine where we considered stopping.
The one hotel (Hotel Khaffrine) was really shabby, quiet and horribly over priced (they wanted 5000 CFAS per person camping!) so we decided to push on for 20kms and if we didn't find anything we'd turn back.
Well, as we should have realised ages ago, things never quite go as planned in Africa. Five minutes after Khaffrine the road turned into something out of the darkest depths of an overlanders imagination. I now understand where the "you know you're drunk in Africa when you miss all the potholes" joke first originated. We were't drunk, and we were likewise completely incapable of missing the potholes.
After a further 10 minutes of driving it was no longer a matter of avoiding the potholes, but rather, about which potholes it would be better to drive through. It was utterly impossible to miss them, and the road just turned into one giant, fear inducing, gut wrenching, bowel loosening, hell on "tar".
There was a dirt piste that ran parallel to the road and we even attempted that, and, it was honestly probably quite a bit better. I also felt quite indignant because whenever we were gunning it at 20km/h down the piste, we would look back over to the "tar" and see bush taxis' and mercedes gunning it down the "tar" at speeds exceeding 80kms/h. The locals obviously gave up years ago and now just motor over the potholes.
We drove through 'hell on hot tar' for an hour, Johans' leg seized up, and I took over. We drove for a further hour and around half past six encountered a campement sign on the side of the road. In 2 hours we had covered just over 50 kms so we didn't think twice before driving straight there.
It was like the gates to purgatory had just opened up before me! There was a restaurant, with cold beers, a piscine, and a "masseuse". The "masseuse" told me that after supper she would be more than happy to give me a massage, amongst other things, which I quickly realised when she grabbed my hand and forced me to feel her chest! That was the moment that Johan taught me how to say, I have no money in french, it's like deet for mosquitoes and they seem instantly put off. Anyway, supper was great, we were fed warthog and it honestly has quite an unexpected gamey taste to it. The rest of the evening was spent in the piscine before we retired to bed. Johan and I were rudely awakened again in the night when the very forceful "masseuse" barged into our room and propositioned us again. I have quickly learnt to point at Johan and say he speaks French. Everyone then focuses on him and it saves me a lot of trouble.
February 28th: Got up very early and left. I don't think anybody slept much due to the heat and the mozzies, and the fact
that at around midnight they turn off the generators, thereby halting the fans, and setting us up like roasting pigs on golden
platters for the mozzies to chew on.
Today we were going to attempt to make it 120kms on "hell on hot tar" to Tambacounda.
Then from Tambacounda see if we had the strength of will to push through to the Niokolo Komo national park.
The 120kms was just as bad as yesterdays 50kms and after leaving the campsite at around 8AM we only arrived in Tombacounda at 3PM. The place was hot, dusty and very busy. We decided on the spot that we would rather push on to the national park.
The roads seemed to transform before us, from brutal and dented, to flat and heavenly. After driving for 40kms on the road
we saw a sign pointing us to a camp Wassadou and decided to check it out just in case. We drove 3kms offroad to
get there, and when we arrived found the place to be a spectacularly unexpected paradise.
There were palm trees in abundance, casting cooling shade everywhere, and the first thing the manager did was seat us down on the high cliff banks of the Gambian river and bring us some gazelles (beer). While we sat there recuperating and enjoying the beers a whole herd of Hippopotami came and wallowed in the water below us, monkeys swung in the trees, and parrots could be heard squawking all around us. There was even the echoing, majestic cry of a fish eagle from time to time.
Unfortunately they didn't allow camping on the premises and insisted that we'd have to take one of their chalets at 5000Cfas per person, as well as supper at a further 6000Cfas. At 11000 Cfas per person we knew we couldn't afford to stay there, so preparing to leave we decided to try a bit of negotiating and managed to get them to drop the price to just over 8000Cfas per person. This price was more appropriate for us and we agreed quickly. Supper was a really tasty rice and meatball dish with a goat cream ice cream desert, and the chalets were comfortable and airy and provided mozzie nets and fans.
February 29th: We all awoke to the sound of hippos right outside our chalets.
The morning was cool and crisp and we all felt refreshed and invigorated, making it much easier to get going. The 20kms to the park were exceptionally easy, however, when we got there and tried to pay to enter, we were informed that it cost 2000 Cfas per person per day, an additional once off payment of 5000Cfas per car, and that it was compulsory to take a guide at 19000Cfas for two days. For our two day visit we would have to pay a total of 45000Cfas! This was too rich for our blood and decided that the park wasn't such a good idea.
We drove a further 20kms on the main road (which actually takes you right through the park centre) and on the way saw
a variety of birds, a monitor lizard, some warthogs, a pond full of crocodiles and a bush - buck. As it turns out you don't really
need a guide to see the wildlife. After that we decided to return to Tambacounda and from there would head southward and
find a nice bush - camp along the Gambian river. About 20kms past Wougadougou we found a dirt road and turned off.
The next two to three hours was spent driving through really backwood villages, arriving at the bush, and trying to maneuver
the cars through the trees to reach the river. At one point we got within 3km of our intended target before running out of
space and being forced to turn back. The day was becoming unbearably hot and we couldn't find a suitably shaded spot to
set up camp so decided it would be better to drive back to Tambacounda, take the Southern road all the way to the river,
and then set up camp.
Well, as things turned out, we went all the way there, crossed a bridge over the Gambian river, and on the other side saw a sign saying "Hostellerie de Gouloumbou"! Really all we saw was the underlined word below that which said "piscine". We made a b-line for it. Once there we were informed that they don't really do camping, but that we could at 2500 Cfas per person. We weren't immediately sold on the place, but once we walked through the fan cooled restaurant, and the porch opened up to a sparkling blue pool, there were no more questions left to ask, our minds were made up. The rest of the day was spent in the pool drinking beer.
March 1st: Spent all day in the pool drinking beers. We found out that this place is really a type of hunters commune/lodge,
and at around 5pm all the men came back en masse, singing from the hunt. Immediately everybody around us went charging
off, so Pat and Johan followed to see what all the ruccas was about. They had killed two warthogs! When the manager saw
us looking he graciuosly offered us the beasts flank (brilliant PR), which we happily accepted. We now have enough warthog
for a weeks worth of free meals, brilliant!
March 2nd: We were hard pressed when deciding wether we would leave today and begin the final stretch to the border. In the end the thought of leaving the pool behind scared us too much... Spent the rest of the day in the pool drinking beers...For 5000 Cfas each we ate at the restaurant. When we were negotiating the meal we asked wether we could have the recently shot beasty from the hunt. Our initial thought was that we were going to get some warthog, but when the meat arrived we realised that the message had got confused in translation. What really came out was lead riddled franklin. Tasty, but you had to be careful not to chip a tooth. Johan and I also realised that we had lost our touch with the 'ladies' because despite the fact that every other male there was either well over 60, or sporting the most fantastic beer boeps I have ever seen, we never got
propositioned once! Whereas these guys had company for breakfast, their midday siesta, and throughout the evening! I will
admit that our egos were getting some serious deflation through lack of hooker interest (not that we were interested or anything).
March 3rd: Today I will dub "The Great Dutch Assurance Saga!" I say this because Johan, whos' assurance ran out on the 27th of February, was caught in a roadblock on the outskirts of Tambacounda on our way to the border! I will admit that not once during this trip has anyone ever asked to check our assurance, but strangely, as soon as it does, the cops little assurance expiry radar picks up and hones in on it. Suffice to stay we had to return to the police station in Tambacounda to get it sorted out. We arrived there at 12pm and sat. And sat. And sat. And sat........I urinated on the police station wall, then sat. And sat. And sat. At 3pm they told us the big cheese was out at lunch and would be back in 15 minutes, so we sat.And sat.And sat...at 4pm the big cheese returned, he let us go sort out the assurance because up until now the police had held onto all our papers. We sorted it out, returned, and were told by the big cheese that the even bigger cheese would be there in 5 minutes and then we could go. So, guess what, we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Just before 6pm the bigger cheese came with some of his cheesy friends. By this time Patrick and Sarah had headed off on the road to the border to find us a campsite. So we sat a little bit longer, and then 15 minutes later they decided they would fine Johan 24000 Cfas. Cool all done! Hahahahahaha! Never! We stupidly asked for a receipt so that we could make sure everything was official and nothing was going into deep cheesy pockets. Well, we spent another 20 minutes waiting while the official filled out receipts in 500 Cfa denominations!!!!! Thats 48 bloody receipts! We finally got out of their just after 7pm and quickly made our way down the gradually darkening trail to Bala where we found yet another very nice hunting lodge called "Hotel le Bala des la Baobab". We drank a lot of beers, and apparently got our man groove back because while we were sitting at the piscine watching bats swoop down and drink the water, some 'ladies of the night' came and propositioned us. When I pointed at Johan and said "he speaks French" they began to bother him. However, when he said we weren't interested the first thing they asked was wether he would be sleeping with me this night! erg...Man groove indeed...