A New Country

Trip Start Mar 05, 2006
Trip End Mar 12, 2006

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Flag of Gambia  ,
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

If you ever find yourself in the town of Karang, Senegal surrounded by young men who would like to take you across the border on their scooters, don't take them up on their offers. We walked about 500 feet and were shortly being yelled at by two Senegalese policemen as we tried to walk right past customs. Opps. They were very friendly, asked for our passports, told us how to cross back into Senegal in a few days, and told us it was a kilometer and a half to the Gambian side of the border. This time, we were only too happy to hail a couple scooters to get across for the greatly bargained down price of 250 CFA each.

Riding scooters whilst wearing backpacks is not significantly more difficult than riding scooters without backpacks, however, these scooters lacked the sturdiness of their Vietnamese counterparts, and it's been a few years. I passed the short ride imagining how wasted I'd be if I fell off and how far away good medical attention probably was.

Fortunately, a medical emergency between Senegal and the Gambia was not to be and shortly we arrived at the Gambian border where we were surrounded once again, this time by money changing women speaking excellent English. Unlike the N'dangane touts, these women know they they're doing. Donna and I were instantly surrounded and separated, unable to communicate over the sounds of the women talking. We did need Dalasi (Gambian currency) though, so we quickly changed $10 at a fair exchange to get the women off our case.

We walked to Gambian immigration where a nice official took us to a back office. We chatted. He asked if I was married. Donna said I was too young. I gave him my address. He said he'd send me a letter on Tuesday. I'd laugh so hard if he actually did.

We went outside and found a bunch of men playing cards near a Peugot taxi that was rapidly filling for Barra. Would have liked to known what the game was, they were making a racket, but gender lines...The Peugot was stripped clean inside leaving a rusty metal interior and roof and doors of rust as well. We were amazed it ran, but down the road we went!

Donna had read that Gambian roads were worse than Senegal roads so much so that you would travel in Senegal to get between points in the Gambia. This truth quickly became apparent. Huge potholes forced us to drive half on, half off on the dusty shoulder for much of the way. I will say this for the car, though, it had good shocks.

Arriving in Barra we were given directions to the ferry terminal. People put money through a hole in the wall and tickets were passed back out. There was no queue and people were pushing and shoving mercilessly. After a bit of watching, I determined the fare was 5D, pushed my way to the front, and got two tickets. Unsure how to get to the ferry, we followed the rush of nearly running people. Rounding a corner, we realized why: the ferry was there, loaded, and ready to leave. We ran along with everyone else and just made it. By the time we were onboard and had a chance to turn around, we were leaving, headed for the capital of Banjul.

The river was clam, it was sunny, a very pleasant 30 minute ferry ride. Vendors walked around selling all sorts of knick-knacks, or at least trying to, no one was buying much. In Banjul we met a taxi driver who wanted 250D to take us to Fajara. We only had 170. He came down to 200, 175, we said we just couldn't pay it (which was true!) and he came down to 150 with the condition of his sister getting a ride out with us, too. Sure.

The first hotel we checked out had one dumpy, over-priced room that I argued for taking simply because I was so tired, but we pressed on to the Safari Garden Hotel, a fortunate choice. Prices seem to have sky rocketed in the Gambia since LP's latest guide in 2002, but the place was nice, rooms wrapped around a central courtyard with a pool, so we went for it. It was six and we had made it all the way to the Gambia in one day.
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