It’s all a bit of a blur. It got warmer, stayed dusty and I didn’t get enough sleep!
Day 12 saw us leaving Nouakchott to head south, mostly along the coast. It was the last day in Mauritania and we were refueled from the hotel and good night’s sleep and hankering for some off-road. We did a little exploring of our own, plotting an intercept path through the desert sand trails, east, to an intercept point with the main group heading southwest from Boutilimit. The trail was clear but soon became vague and we turned off it, following a set of power lines Returning to the road, we continued south. This road was in a very bad state, huge craters, some sections where there wasn’t any road at all and made for some pretty dramatic moments as cars going in both directions try to navigate around the obstacles and avoid each other too! Eventually we turned off that road onto a much nicer one and continued toward Senegal. The final leg was alongside a nature reserve, with flocks of flamingoes in the distance, all sorts of birds flying around and a few warthogs in addition to the usual goats and cows! The crossing into Senegal was pretty straightforward and we caught up with our friend there and drove together into St Louis and onto the beautiful campsite at Zebrabar, just south of St Louis.
Day 13 was the first day of savannah driving, from St Louis to Kaye Boubou. Desert sand made way to plains with trees and dusty sandy trails. We set off and had fast (35 to 45 mph), flowing single track trails, curving left and right and left, zipping in between trees, it was great fun! We were on the lookout for a large Boabab tree. We saw lots, and stopped at a biggish looking one but continued the hunt and finally found a giant! Onward, the trails became a bit rougher and I was bottoming out (the back suspension wasn’t able to handle the bumps and meant the car was hitting the bump stops, which is very jarring on car and driver). Slowing down, I began to drop back from the group. They stopped and came back for me and we had a huddle. They wanted to slow down and keep together but I really didn’t want to slow them down so I insisted the head on ahead and I meet them in camp. As the sun set, following the trails was a bit of a chore. I made steady progress along the way, stopping for some dinner in a deserted section, occasionally passing through settlements and herds with their shepherds. At one point, casting for a trail I was crunching through the bush and hit a tree branch that tore through the passenger side steering rack boot. Nothing major, but an annoyance. Took a few more hours, and dead ends, before getting into camp at 4am, a 20-hour, 506km drive!
A little over 2.5 hours later, day 14 began. Ugh, that was a bit tough. Kaye Boubou, it turns out, is this magnificent camp in a grove of Boabab trees, beautiful during the day. Today’s destination was Wassadou, and was supposed to be a mercifully short 270 km drive. I chose to skip the off-road section, driving west on the asphalt. All was going well up to Tambacounda where I needed to turn south but found the way obstructed with burning tires (tires) and rocks on the road. Uh oh!! Well I decided to put my new found nav skills to use and turned north to cut across the protest, only to find they had thought of that too. I ended up making a wide upside down U shape through the outskirts of Tambacounda, at one point stumbling onto the back entrance to an army base with an armed guard who was surprised to see me! Finding my way back to the asphalt, the remaining part south was straightforward and arrived at the campsite. Another beauty, on the river’s edge, with the sounds of nature all around. I met up with the group and we set up camp. The site had a shower! Just before bedtime I headed over and after, in my flip flops, I spotting this twinkling light on the ground. I looked closer and discovered the twinkling was a small creature’s eyes reflecting the light from my torch (flashlight). It was reflecting well, on account of the multiple, large eyes this particular spider had. Casting around I saw the ground twinkling in many places. I was quite unexpired at the prospect of walking though this field of spiders in my flip flops! Gingerly, I made my way back to camp, and told the story which terrified my fellow campers and on that note we turned in to dream of spiders with glowing eyes!
Day 15 was Wassadou to Janjanbureh and today we bid farewell to Senegal and hello to The Gambia. Our group headed out and tackled some more off-road which was through thick jungle-like conditions. We hit the river, stopped for a bit and turned back. On the way we stopped at a village, met with the folks living there and had an impromptu tour. Getting back on the way, we took a shortcut on relatively good dirt roads westward, to avoid Tambacounda and then back on asphalt for a bit before turning north in a town onto a dirt road to the border. The crossing out of Senegal was straightforward but into The Gambia less so. First was passport control. The clerk had to manually write everyone into the arrivals register. Just before my passport, this group arrived and started arguing with the clerk. This went on for some time and we just had to wait it out. After passport came customs where the officers inspected the car. Both steps were fine and I was allowed through to go t the final step, the temporary import of the car. Here’s where things ground to a halt. Two clerks were filling in two forms per vehicle, with more than 100 to process. There was a long, very slow moving line. Something like 1.5 hours later and all was done. Money change next and a ferry ride on a small 3 car ferry across the river. Part of our group got on but then myself and one other car had to wait.The first group had a moment when shortly after pulling away from the jetty, the ferry lost power and started slowly drifting down the river. Someone from shore was quickly taken over to the powerless ferry, jumped on and got the engine running again. Phew! Once we were all across, we picked dirt roads and zoomed off. As the sun was setting, it was a smooth and fluid drive…just wonderful. After sunset the dream turned to a nightmare. The dust becomes an impenetrable wall of fog. The most terrifying moments came when large, fast moving trucks, either approaching from the other side or overtaking us came past. Whoosh and you are enveloped in a blinding cloud. Crawling into camp in the dark, we got set up and had some entertainment from a local drum and dance group before socializing for a bit and hitting the sleeping bag. My night was it quite done…this camp had some company in the form of little monkeys. They decided to have a midnight party and whatever they were eating passed though quickly. I was in their line of fire and girded myself for the morning’s cleanup.
Day 16 was another short sub-300 km drive from Janjanbureh to Tendaba. After the monkey poop cleanup, the first stop was the ferry where there was a little delay while the morning rush crossed over. We had camped outside of the city on the north bank, so stopped in the city while we waited for our group to assemble and toured an old slave house and the surrounding neighborhood, learning a bit about the history of the area.
A short drive later and we stopped at the village where the rally organization funded a village well. We got a wonderful reception from the villagers, with a huge welcoming party, a tour of the fields and the school and some impromptu drumming. Getting underway again we made the easy and mostly asphalt drive west to the campsite, also on the river. No monkeys here, yay! The site was a bit grubby with left over litter from other campers flying around but there was a shower and half working internet. It was comfortable if a bit dull, and we were surrounded by kids all begging for some or other gift.
This was the last night of the rally, the next day, day 17 was the final leg…spoiler, I made it to Banjul, but more on that in my next post. Also no pics, yet, they’re taking too long to upload. I’ll get some added as soon as possible.
Oh, and kudos if you get the title reference…a quick internet search will reveal all.