Tuesday, December 2, 2008 - Banjul - added by Roxy

The Gambia was wonderful. Once through the exceptionally pleasant border post of Amdalai (including the chief of police there arranging a visa for us when we arrived to find our information was wrong, and not only did we need a visa to get in, but it had to be arranged in Dakar... and he did it with no fuss and at no extra cost! After our experience with the Senegalese border officials you can imagine our elation!) we headed south to Barra where we caught the ferry across the Gambia River to Banjul. Getting Songololo onto the ferry was as chaotic as we've come to expect. We arrived at the port, started queuing up to get onto the ferry and were immediately accosted by about 20 guys jumping all over Songololo offering various unneeded services. During this frenzied exchange we found the ferry ticket office was actually 4km back the way we had just come, nowhere near the port! Naturally proceeded a further inundation of offers for them to 'guide' us to the ticket office. No amount of refusals would suffice, and eventually the only way to proceed was to drive off with several would-be guides clinging on to Songololo's various appendages! We hoped they would soon jump off, while perhaps the more insistent would eventually fall off! En-route to the ticket office, we naturally thought to change some Euros into Dalasi, the Gambian currency, so we could buy the ticket. And in what is fast becoming a theme in the African logic we have experienced thus far, when we went to buy the ticket were told that since we were foreign we had to pay in a foreign currency... any foreign currency would do so long as it wasn't Dalasi! Details of quite why this is so remain a bit sketchy! Finally we managed to get onto the ferry, along with the other trucks, cars, bicycles, school kids, peanut sellers, watch/sunglasses salesman, goats, cows, chickens etc, and set off at a whopping 4km an hour for Banjul.

A bloody good long while later we arrived in the relaxed but scruffy and dusty capital of Gambia, Banjul. Its infrastructure could certainly do with a bit of attention as everything is covered in a thick layer of orange dust and seems to be falling apart; however, that aside, the hive of (amazingly slow) activity and chilled out, friendly people make it an alluring and attractive city. Some people were not quite as chilled out and friendly as others though, but I think we may have had a hand in this! We were doing our best to get out of Banjul, which isn't that easy when there are no road signs and most of the main roads aren't paved (making us think that they aren't actually main roads - you know what I mean? All very confusing.) Anyway, we finally seemed to have a hold on our position and were heading for the outskirts when Steve says "Oh, that must be Arch 22 ahead", pointing at an arch which vaguely resembles a scaled-down version of the Arc de Triomphe, built to commemorate the coup d'etat which put the current President in power. The arch spans the main road out of Banjul city centre, and just beyond we could see a traffic circle with an exit in the direction we were looking for. Driving under the arch we suddenly found the way onto the circle was blocked off with a chain-link fence. Puzzled at the obscurity of this obstruction, we were suddenly faced with another obstruction... an irate policeman. We were not allowed to drive under the arch! We wondered why, but not too loudly because you don't really enter into debates with armed police in Africa, and turned around so we could spend more time lost in Banjul! Later we found out only the President is allowed to drive under Arch 22! Well... only the President and Songololo that is!

Finally we arrived at the well-signposted Sukuta Camping... well-signposted because someone has very cleverly/desperately spraypainted signs for Sukuta Camping on rocks on the side of the road all the way from Morocco! If you don't know by the time you get to Gambia that there is a campsite called Sukuta nearby then where have you been!? We'd decided that after 2 months on the road we were going to treat ourselves in Gambia, and have a break from continually being on the move which becomes quite hard work. So whilst we camped at Sukuta in the evenings, during the day we pretended to be guests at a rather exclusive beach resort nearby! We took full advantage of the wonderful facilities on offer, from the stunning bar in the pool to the water polo games that Steve so enthusiastically took part in.

By the end of the week, we knew most of the staff at the hotel (who called Steve "Big Boy" and me "Boss Lady"), had accumulated a great group of friends and had enjoyed some wonderful nights on the town. One evening in particular stands out because it was our first night out partying since leaving London, and we were rewarded with the worst hangovers that we have had in ages! We'd spent the afternoon drinking very odd cocktails at the pool, before moving on for a rather hazy meal at a restaurant nearby, only to then find ourselves in a karaoke bar!

It is fair to say that we had probably had one too many when Steve and I decided that we'd nominate ourselves to sing Africa by Toto to the jam packed club! When our names were called out reality kicked in and we knew that we had made a mistake. Steve kicked the song off a bar early, then said "Shit!" loudly before remembering that he had a microphone in front of his mouth and was standing in front of about 150 horrified Peace Corps workers! Not the greatest start, but it was too late to back out, so I squawked my heart out while Steve sang along (quite well actually) but still periodically getting the words/tune wrong! Thank goodness our new Norwegian and Dutch friends had mercy on us, coming up to the front to help us belt out the rest of the song with what little honour we had left. It was mortifying!

So for the most part, Gambia was spent lounging on sun-drenched beaches recharging the batteries. It was great! But soon it was time to move again, and we turned east, following the river inland on our way to Mali.


1 .
But surely by now you have both realised that you cannot sing, I remember this from before you left, signing in your lounge, falling of couches and waking up with sore ears :). Sounds like you guys are having a jol. Keep trucking.
Thorks - 28 Dec 2008, 16:02

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