Transport blues

Trip Start Mar 15, 2005
Trip End Apr 01, 2007

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Flag of Senegal  ,
Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hello again!

I've decided to give a description of my last 48 hours in Senegal to demonstrate the extent to which transport in this country makes you want to pull your hair out.

I spent the 4th of July in Kedougou with friends (happy late 4th everyone!) and ended up getting stranded there on medical hold for several days after the party because of some pain in my lower back. I thought all was well on the 7th and so headed home to Kolda. The ride is only about 500 km/300 miles, yet it took me over 15 hours to get back to my hut. That night the back pain returned worse than before and so I called our medical staff in Dakar and was told I should start to pack my things because I needed to come north for medical treatment. Jumping ahead to alleviate any worry ..I'm fine; I made it to Dakar and have some medical appointments today. Possibly a kidney infection, or stones..but I feel much better.

What I want to write about is the 28 or so hours it took me to get here.
I went to the garage in Kolda on Monday around noon. In Senegal all transport by vehicle is arranged at the garage, which is usually a shaded structure with dozens of women and children selling things like bissap juice, cold water, mangos, bananas, hard-boiled eggs with pepper, bean sandwiches, and various rice dishes that I avoid. The cars each have a designated spot to park depending on their destination and there are ticket sellers who jump on you as soon as you arrive like a pack of wolves trying to sell you tickets to places you aren't going. In short: chaos.
That morning I had to run to the bank to get some money to cover my time in Dakar and travel expenses so I couldn't leave town bright and early like I normally do. At noon, the car that would take me to Tamba (where I was intending to spend the night) hadn't shown up yet. Tamba is about 220 km from Kolda and usually takes between 3-5 hours. Around two the vehicle arrived. Unfortunately my waiting had just begun. Another fantastically frustrating aspect of the transportation system here is that a car doesn't leave until it is full. I purchased the third spot in the 7 spot station wagon. I waited another four hours for clients to trickle in and fill the remaining four spots. Just after 6 pm we left Kolda. I was tired, dehydrated, my kidneys hurt. The road is terrible between Kolda and Tamba. Pot holes two feet deep, missing sections of name it. My driver decided that we were late, and so to try and cut some time off of our trip increased his speed. The first flat tire scared me because it was the left back wheel just below my seat. It was dark by that time, and putting on the spare took about forty minutes. The other six passengers and I took the opportunity to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves in the bushes (where I feel I had a very close call with either a scorpion or a snake..though i couldn't see it to be properly terrified). Tire fixed, we were on our way.
Twenty minutes later the second flat tire put us in a real jam. We were about 56 km from Tamba, stranded. Traffic after dark here is significantly reduced because who would be crazy enough to drive a road with two-foot pot holes after dark? Several large trucks, and even a couple buses passed us, yet the most help we got was a honk for support. (The honks could have been taunting..but I was trying to think positive)
The driver and the young man sitting next to me disappeared. The five other men and I got out of the car and sat down on the pavement to wait. I wasn't sure for, or dehydration induced coma. It was just after midnight. We sat/layed on the tar for another two hours. The Mauritanian guy that was sitting behind me was kind enough to give me his ball cap for a pillow. Finally the driver and other passenger arrived on the back of a minibus that didn't stop to let them off, just slowed enough for them to toss the new tire and themselves into the dirt. Apparently they had walked several miles down the road until they caught a ride to the nearest town to buy the tire. The tire was changed and we were off. Two complete police searches of every bag and nook and cranny inside the vehicle slowed us down even more, but..
At about 330 we arrived in the Tamba garage. I was exhausted, but decided that a trip to the Tamba regional house would be pointless since I would need to be back at the garage around five thirty to get the first vehicle to Dakar. So, I bought my third mango of the day and sat myself down beside the portable Nescafe vendor. I had to make small talk with various travelers to keep myself awake.
At six my car to Dakar left the Tamba garage. (Not before the driver had time to ask me to be his wife, citing his employment and physical prowess as evidence of his worth..i politely declined) I was able to drift off despite the horrific condition of the road, but not for long. I was awakened at 8 by the sound of everyone getting out of the car. I was groggy and had no clue what was going on. The car started moving again with me as the only passenger. Had I been a little more awake I probably would have been extremely worried, however the driver saw my confusion and told me something was wrong with the car so he was driving to the mechanic. He also decided that in my sleepy state I would perhaps be more vulnerable to his charms and proceeded to propose several more times.
The mechanic's place was only a few streets away and when we got there I was informed the mechanic was out, but that we'd be waiting for him so I should get some breakfast. We waited for two hours. Some parts were taken out of the car..most of them got replaced (I think).
10 AM we left the mechanic and continued north. Noon we were stopped again. The brakes were failing. Another 40 minute wait to have some kid with a hammer come bang the hell out of the metal near each tire. I'm fairly certain he had no idea what he was doing, but our driver seemed satisfied enough to continue.
2pm we arrived in Koalack. Again I was confused by our turn from the main road to the garage. I was informed that the driver was refusing to go on because he didn't trust the good wacking the brakes had been given two hours earlier. We all had to get out and find a new car. Thankfully there was not much of a wait this time. Slight arguments about having to pay for baggage occurred, but the transition happened smoothly. The last leg of the ride delivered me to Dakar just past four o'clock.
Ravenously hungry, exhausted, dirty.
But I survived. I don't look forward to the trip back home, but am trying to drown out the thought of it with good food and rest. I am hoping to cross paths on my birthday with a good friend of mine in Tamba on my way back through.
For the next several days I will be resting and getting healthy here in Dakar.
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