It was great to wake up in a relaxed
and beautiful spot, right by the beach, after a deep sleep and
still surrounded by our friends. The only downer was the car
problem, but Marc kindly went with Neil to get in sorted (à
l’africain). It doesn’t look pretty but as long as it holds that’s
what matters for the time being.
We all headed into St Louis
in the afternoon. It’s a beautiful African city with real charm. We
can’t compare it to many others yet but I should imagine that it is
unique with its position on islands and its brightly coloured
gabled architecture which tells the colonial story.
After getting our heads down and our foot on the accelerator to
get through Mauritania, it is only really today that it has hit us
how far we have come in the last week – geographically and
culturally. Senegal is a world away from Morocco and our first
taste of Black Africa.
We ate with all our lovely friends for one last time as they are
all leaving tomorrow. We will be sad to see them go.
We were indeed very sad to see our
convoy leave in their separate directions this morning and
reflected again on what a miracle that was. We asked the campsite
taxi to take us in to town to try and refill our gas bottle and
find a MasterCard ATM. We failed in the first task but succeeded in
I also managed to walk through a very low, dark doorway, into a
dark, dirty dodgy looking room and come out with a beautifully
fresh, crispy, warm baguette. That is admittedly one aspect of the
French legacy that we are very much enjoying.
We have decided to spend one last day
here at this lovely campsite. Our agenda: nothing. You imagine
that on a trip like this you will have endless hours to dawdle
away. Whilst we fully recognise how fortunate we are to have this
opportunity and readily admit that most of life’s stresses are on
hold we do find our days to be very full and haven’t had much
chance to stop. Tending to the car's many needs, cooking , cleaning,
washing clothes, packing and unpacking our stuff from boxes,
finding food, opening and closing the tent, seems to eat up most of
the time we are not driving or sleeping.
So today we decided to
do nothing (Neil and Catherine style, which is, of course, not
nothing at all but none of the chores which appear on the above
list). Good it was too.
We made the break from Camping Ocean
but only 20km down the road. There we fell upon paradise. Zebrabar,
on the banks of the Senegal River and on the edge of a wildlife
reserve. Beautiful surroundings and lovely facilities. We relaxed
away the afternoon, both delving into books which have been left
untouched for some time.
The huge blessing of today was that we
asked the German owner – Martin – if he could recommend a good
welder as we really aren’t happy with the quality of the original
job considering the road that lies ahead. We thought we may have to
go into Dakar to get it sorted so you can imagine our relief when
he said he had an excellent welder, on site, who would be there the
next day. Fantastic! Moreover, what a great excuse to hang around
in paradise for a bit longer.
It was lovely to wake up here and know
that we had a justifiable reason not to move on. We spoke to the
mechanic/welder – Saer – and it is all agreed that he will do the
work tomorrow. We saw some of the work he was doing today and Neil
was very impressed. I still can’t get my head round that we are
having a complex job done on our car on this beautiful campsite!
Early afternoon we decided to walk into the adjacent village to try
and find some fresh veg. This turned out to be a priceless
experience. The place was dead as it was 2.30pm and siesta time
under trees for everyone. We found a young friendly local whose
response to my questions "when will everything open?" was “après”
(later). That’s African timing for you. However, when he found out
that we were looking for tomatoes and vegetables, he took it upon
himself to give us a personal shopper’s service.
He took us into the heart of the village, which was very clean
and ordered, if very sandy, and into one backyard where about eight
women and children were all sitting and eating around a huge bowl.
They were all smiles and keen to help out, so lots of calling and
shouting ensued amongst the women whilst one "let it all hang out"
in rather an amusing fashion.
From here he took us to another backyard where he woke the lady
under the tree and she got out her bowl of slightly grubby looking
vegetables, with one prize – an enormous pumpkin. I sat on the
floor to do business and was almost instantly surrounded by 15
children (Neil counted) who were all finding the experience funny
We came away with a small range of items and were ten taken into
someone else’s house where we got aubergines and stock cubes.
Satisfied, we also managed to swing by the shop, which was now
open, to buy soft drinks and some sweets for the children.
Certainly beats walking to the corner shop.
The day got even better as we treated ourselves to a tour in a
‘pirogue’ (traditional wooden boat) to see some of the bird-life.
We saw pelicans, herons and cormorants and enjoyed the peace of the
We were about to turn in for an early night when the car of
Spanish guys we’d met in Saint Louis got stuck in the sand about
15m from where we were parked. Recovery number 3. We ended up
helping them out with our shovel, sand ladders, and tow rope and in
exchange they bought us a beer in the bar. A random end to a
Saer - the welder – did a wonderful,
wonderful job. He worked solidly on our car from 9 – 5 and had a
real eye for detail. This was a huge answer to prayer. It also won
the prize for the best mechanic location yet. We lounged around,
dozed in the shade, read, drank coffee, all within eye and ear shot
of our car being fixed.
A nice addition to the day was the
arrival of a few car loads of Brits on the Plymouth – Banjul/Bamako
rally. It has been ages since we’ve bumped into anyone from the UK
and it made a refreshing change. They are all in bangers and
completely carefree/gung-ho but we are heading in the same
direction as us so maybe we’ll see them again.
Today we headed down the coast to Saly.
Just south of Dakar. It was with reluctance that we dragged
ourselves away from the idyll that was Zebrabar. It had been great
to stop. But we knew we needed to begin building momentum once
The journey seemed long, although was rather insignificant
compared to the length of our last driving days. I guess we’d got
too relaxed. We were also overwhelmed by the heat and rather
nervous to be embarking on ‘real Africa’ alone after the
reassurance of our convoy. So all-in-all we arrived at our
destination rather fed-up, tired and grumpy. I was concerned about
my seeming lack of ability to cope with the heat.
However, the day picked up as we found our campsite, a stone’s
throw away from the stunning coast line – Senegal’s Petite Cote. We
rushed into our swimmers and had time for a quick dip, which we
badly needed. A friendly Spanish couple – fellow campers – took us
up the beach to the centre of town, which was very European and
serves as a popular tourist destination for the French. There we
found a supermarket, the first in a while. We looked around and
resisted nearly all the ridiculously overpriced French produce. We
did treat ourselves to some food out though – pizza and chicken and
chips. Not very cultured but oh! how good the cheese and meat
We briefly toyed with the idea of
staying here but decided quickly that we needed to keep up the
momentum so we got up in the dark, ready to set of as the sun rose,
bracing ourselves for another difficult driving day. Fortunately,
it all turned out to be much better than we expected.
day was cooler, or whether we coped with it better, the temperature
seemed much more manageable, despite the fact that we drove from
7.45am – 5.30pm and covered 450km.
Another encouraging thing was that the road, which was
reportedly very bad for 100km, was only bad for 40km, after which
it was brand new. During this tricky stretch we had our first taste
of very nasty African potholes but afterwards we quickly picked up
speed and enjoyed the drive through the beautiful Aftrican bush
dotted with baobab trees and mud-hut villages. We had left the
coast until Ghana and enjoyed the increasingly green landscape.
The day was also broken up by some encouraging and amusing
events. Firstly, and most notably, we passed the cyclists, whose
support vehicle we had bumped into a week ago in St Louis. What a
blessing! Firstly to speak to English Speakers – they are all Irish
except one South African – and then to discover that they are all
cycling for Ambassadors in Sport, a Christian Charity that we know
well and have friends working for in Cape Town. We do hope to cross
their paths again at some point. If you want to see what they are
doing, their website is
www.cycleforhope.org. They are cycling 120km a day for 6
months. Now that puts our challenge into perspective!
A further amusing anecdote was when we pulled over for what we
thought was a police stop but was, in fact, a policeman wanting a
life to get his lunch. Having pulled over, we couldn’t really say
no so we moved our junk out the way and gave him a slightly cramped
seat. It turns out he wanted dropping about 500m round the corner
so it was short-lived but at least we can say that we have taken
our first hitch-hiker and the fact that it was a, reputedly very
difficult, Senegalese gendarme makes for an amusing memory.
The day, which was negating all our anxieties one by one, turned
magical when we rocked up at our destination in the Niokolo Koba
national park. With no expectations, we were blown away by this
stunning spot on the banks of the Gambia River with birds and
monkeys everywhere. It is designed as an expensive and plush hotel
but they accept campers if you buy a meal in the restaurant. Fair
deal we thought. So with our car parked by the river, under
enormous trees, we slept to the sound of wildlife and woke to the
sun rising over the water.
One thing is for certain – we are extremely glad that
circumstances caused us to divert our route into Senegal as it
would have been real shame to miss out on its welcome and beauty.
We have finally been
given the apt expression for a phenomenon we have been seeing since
we arrived in Africa. It is the term you use when a vehicle appears
to be coming at you diagonally when in fact it is going forward. It
is the result of vehicles being in accidents, distorting their
chassis and then getting back on the road. (Our poor, smashed,
white Land Rover would have ‘crabbed’ beautifully and fitted right
in here). After the first disconcerting moment when you think that
a vehicle is going to cross the road and hit you head on, it is
really quite amusing. The other phenomenon is ‘leaning’, which most
large vehicles seem to do – precariously. When you see a vehicle
crabbing and leaning whilst carrying twenty passengers and an
enormous, unsecured roof load, then you know you are in Africa.
Another thing we have observed, which is becoming more and more
evident as we get further into Africa, is the 1.30pm – 4.00pm ‘go
slow’ time of day. Or perhaps ‘go slower’ is more appropriate or,
to be specific, ‘come to a complete grinding halt and drape
yourself on the nearest available horizontal surface under the
nearest available tree’.
It is completely understandable as the heat seems to accumulate
unbearably at this time of day and completely zaps your energy. It
is also often to our advantage as we have discovered that any
police stops you pass at this time of day will invariably wave you
on from their position in the shade.
Otherwise, we enjoyed a more relaxed start in our paradise spot
in the knowledge that we only had 150km to drive, through the
national park, to our next stop near Mako. The park is West
Africa’s biggest but unfortunately doesn’t have many animals left
so we didn’t bother to pay for entry. En route we had to dodge some
beautiful birds, a couple of warthogs, a large snake and at least
two species of monkey.
We arrived in time to drive on to the nearest larger town –
Kedougou – to do some jobs. It was chilled, friendly and completely
hassle free. We bought fresh groceries from street stalls and
managed to find some good quality engine oil in a random backstreet
shack, with the help of a resident French guy.
The battle with demon mosquitoes has begun in earnest.
We enjoyed the pool and the river views and had a very relaxing
day. We got slightly frustrated by the atmosphere of the place as a
large group of hunters turned up and we had the distinct feeling
that we were the second-class citizens and were slightly in the
way. Having been told off for hanging up our washing, frowned at
for wanting to buy a baguette, having a misunderstanding about our
overpriced washing that wasn’t dry when we left, we decided not to
hang around any longer and to head off towards Bamako tomorrow.