So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

The time has come to part ways with my trusty ride. The car was amazing, handling the rough roads and dust very well. Everything worked flawlessly, the electric windows, central locking, air conditioning, radio, etc and mechanically everything was solid, no leaks developed, the car just kept going. I changed the air filter after the dust of the Sahara and savannah and it is due for an oil change plus a little bit of maintenance to replace the torn boot and it will go on and on.

An employee at the hotel did an amazing job washing the car, it was gleaming as if nothing had happened.

By the way, if you are ever in The Gambia, check out Leo’s Hotel and Restaurant. The owners are gracious and accommodating, the staff attentive, friendly and helpful and the location spectacular!

And so it was on another glorious warm sunny day, that I drove along the main road, past the finish line from Sunday, to a petrol station for one last fill-up before making my way to Bakoteh and the SOS Children’s Village and my pre-arranged handover. Pulling into the compound, I was greeted by a friendly security guard who was expecting me and led me to a parking spot underneath some beautiful trees outside the offices. I met with Mariatou Sallah, National Director and the rest of the SOS team. We chatted about the rally experiences before heading to the vehicle and unpacking everything.

Everyone pitched in, helping to remove all the supplies, parts, recovery gear, fuel and water cans, etc and grabbing screwdrivers, unscrewing the seemingly hundreds of screws securing the drawers and shelves, returning the 4Runner to its natural state! The process took a few good natured hours and once done, we organized everything together and lined up the car for a final parting photo.

It’s a wonderful sense of closure, the 4Runner will go on to a village to the west and will have a productive future.

And me? I fly out of Banjul later today, via the UK, and get back home tomorrow. The memories of this experience will be with me forever, the great joy and energy of people I’ve met, the amazing scenery and vast open spaces, the demanding drives and the stark contrast of beauty with extreme poverty and chaos and people struggling to make a living and survive. I have tons of photos and videos and a lot of notes. Over the coming weeks I’ll be sorting through it all and plan one final retrospective post, but it might take a month or two. Thank you to everyone who has been following my adventure and for your kind words of support and encouragement. I’m looking forward to boring everyone senseless with “photo/home video nights” and long stories for a good while to come!

Signing off from The Gambia, so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

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They Think It’s All Over…It Is Now

And so we come to the finish line…and a total of 6,552 miles / 10,483 kilometers since picking the car up in Felixstowe, UK to Banjul, The Gambia!

Some teams began assembling in Banjul the day before, choosing the skip the camp at Tendaba. Our finish line was a football (soccer) field in the Senegambia suburb of Banjul. We arrived in a convoy of 3 and parked up, awaiting the noon start to the official finish ceremony.

Sporting a certain scruffiness after a week of camping, I inched the 4Runner closer to line, recording this little vid. First I get my certificate, then a quick chat with the rally founder and then my moment in the limelight. Unaccustomed to these occasions and not having paid close attention to the prior cars, I was coaxed from my car to pose for some pics and you can see a few of my fellow 4×4 touring participants from our convoy.

Oh, and the Tesla Model X was behind me, and parked up next to me after…more on that and few other insider insights later.

It was a fun and energetic finish, in glorious warm Gambian sunshine. Lots of people came up to me asking if the car or any of the tools and equipment were for sale. In due course I headed southward to my hotel. But this isn’t quite the end, the best part was yet to come. Monday the car gets handed over to its new owners…more in the next post.

Days 12 to 16 – Heat, Dust and Dreams

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.

Days 8 to 11 – Are We There Yet?

Wow time is flying, no let up in pace…from camping, to border crossing, to dunes and sand and a near 19 hour driving session.

Let’s recap, day 8 was Laayoune to Dakhla. There wasn’t much to see, pretty samey landscape with a couple of ship wrecks (you can just about make one of them out from this view point) and a Spanish speaking beach dweller who’s home turned into a car park / parking lot for rally participants. We camped in the sands outside of the city itself…it was quite windy, had to tie the tent to the car!

Day 9 was Dakhla to Boa Lanouar, which involved crossing the border into Mauritania. The exit from Morocco was relatively quick, if a little convoluted, with multiple stages. Then came true no-man’s land, the space between Morocco and Mauritania. There is some paved road but the last part is brutally choppy, broken, not marked, like a mountain side really of large rocks and bumps…even in a lifted 4×4 it was uncomfortable…can’t imagine what it was like for an Audi I saw going the other way. Entry into Mauritania was smooth, pre-arranged, we actually got out visas at the camp site, a mile or so away from the road in the dunes, complete with army guards. I had been in a little convoy of 3, with an Opel and VW camper van. The van got stuck in the sand right at the entrance to the site and I was able to give them a little tow to get them pulled out. It was also my intro to Sahara dust. Not the sand you see dunes made out of, the fine dust that coats everything. You can’t avoid it. You feel it when chew, just an ever present grittiness. I joined up with a group of 5 other 4×4 teams in the evening, ready for the big desert adventure…

Day 10 was the epic first day of what was supposed to be a two-day Sahara driving experience. 530 km from Boa Lanouar to Atar, with not a paved road in sight. A few kilometers in, one team suffered a mechanical failure, discovered when they got stuck in sand and only 2 wheels were turning. Closer inspection revealed a gap where a drive shaft to the rear wheels should be. Shortly after another group came through, carrying a driveshaft! They had found it. It wasn’t repairable, so the team opted to return. We carried on as 5, though rocky and sandy conditions, some firm, some so soft it was easy to get bogged down. We had a variety of issues, one team’s fuel leaked due to the bumpiness, several of us, including me, got stuck. In my case, it was self inflicted, another car got stuck ahead of me and as I was reversing, I drove over a bump and beached myself. It took two winch attempts, airing down, filling in holes and a tow to finally get me free! We pressed forward, aware that we were not going to make it by nightfall. We had been briefed on no account to drive at night, so this was not a pleasant prospect. A few more stops and night fell, we were still a long way from the camp site. As a team we decided to press on, and after a further stuck moment, we split, with a team striking north to a village while me and three others continued on the rally route. After several hair-raising hours of night sand / rocky trail driving we made it to a lovely smooth tarmac road. We drove through Atar and on south to the camp site entrance. Thinking we were just about there, and after several miles of hard rocky trails, we were within 2kms of the camp, but no track could be found. I set off on a series of exploratory drives down these narrow sandy paths…came close to driving off a dune which would not have been fun! After three dead ends and about to give up, I tried one last trail and…success. To the surprise of three camels trying to sleep their slumber ruined by 4 tired 4×4 teams as we zoomed into the camp and set up tents. An epic 18h46m drive covering 526kms had come to and end at around 3am.

And so we get to today, day 11. It was supposed to be Atar to Boutilimit, but after the brief 3-hour nap and brutally windy and sand filled night, we decided instead to seek refuge in the capital city, Nouakchott, the comforts of a hotel with a shower and WiFi! It was a simple, tarmac drive, with a brief detour to Atar to fill up.

Tomorrow we regroup and rejoin with our group member who had the driveshaft failure and the rest of the group and we cross into Senegal!

Days 4 to 7 – Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

In Layoune, well about 15 miles away at the stormy Atlantic coast, about to get back underway. Pace is relentless! No working local sim and wifi until now.

Monday was the first day in Morocco, the border was eye opening. Got to Midelt (technical end of stage one) and managed to get a room at the team hotel.

It was pretty cold, sleeted a little.

Tuesday was foggy to start and a little headache, possibly altitude related. After climbing some more (Atlas mountains), emerged from the fog into brilliant daylight.

We camped on a big movie set, lots of props.

Wednesday saw spectacular wide spaces, mountains with some sand starting to appear.

Yesterday came across a spectacular road into a canyon and battled Atlantic gales hitting the car side on, quite attention grabbing.

Today heading toward the border, Mauritania from tomorrow!

Likely more updates for a while, let’s see where the next wifi spot is.

Day 3 – Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Well, sea really, as is Mediterranean. After an epic 705 mile journey that started at Montpellier, France and ended at Almeria, Spain, I’m now sitting waiting to board the ferry to Melilla for a brisk 8 hours of sailing. When I wake up I’ll be in Africa, for the first time in over 17 years. No pic this time, too dark. The parking lot is filled with B2 participants, looks like this ferry is a popular choice!

My updates may become more sporadic from now. If I can I will get a Moroccan sim but let’s see…They’re getting ready to load the cars…I’ll update when I can.

Rally Day 2: Dazzled and Starstruck

Today’s drive was largely a slog, pushing westward with the eventual goal of a ferry to Morocco. But along the way there was a little highlight…the bright and cheerful lights of Monaco. If you are familiar with Formula One, you might just recognize where this photo is taken…right next to Piscene (Or swimming pool). After navigating a back way into the principality, along some narrow twisty roads, I zipped along a portion of the track and found this little parking spot, stopping for some quick sightseeing. Then got underway and made it to Montpellier, completing a 587 mile drive. Tomorrow I head for Spain and the ferry that will get me to Morocco…