A couple of posts ago I wrote about being scared to take the taxis in Saint Louis. It is so interesting to watch myself grow and change to being stronger and more independent. I mention this because last weekend Poppy (18, Ireland), Vanessa (23, Florida) and I traveled to The Gambia . We were by ourselves, no men, it was us, our guide books and the advice from our French teachers. All of which did not prepare us for what we encountered.
4 a.m. Saturday, November 14th
I got a call from Poppy saying, “Waaaaaaake Uuuuuuppp!!” I was supposed to meet them at the police station at 4am, but knowing me I overslept. Good thing I got everything ready the night before. I jumped up and met with them and we took a taxi to the Gare Routiere, station were you catch larger taxis’ called sept place(7 places) to pretty much anywhere in Senegal. First lesson we learned is to talk to the men with name tags if we need information. As we walked up this man, without a name tag, started talking to us and showed us where the Kaolack sept place was. Then he told us that there are already four people already. Poppy being able to do simple math said well we’re three so lets go! But he kept talking and talking and saying that there are four and they need three….then finally a man, with a name tag, came to us and told us that he was a crazy man and that we have to ride in a different sept place.
The way these Gare Routieres work is like this; you look for a sign or a pole with the name of the location or direction you want to go on it. Then you ask how many passengers there are. The taxi will not leave unless the seven seats are filled or unless the passengers are willing to pay extra for the remaining seats. So you wait and wait and wait until people show up, and you hope that there are people out there that need to go to the same place. While we waited Vanessa and I tried to come up with a better system. We figured that it would be better if they had departure times. Then you will be sure that the taxi would be filled. But then I started to think about how everyone says “Inch Allah” (if God wills it) after every sentence when talking about future events. If this is the basis of the population’s belief system, then things like this, is just left in God’s hands. If it is supposed to happen, then it will happen. Nobody really worries, or gets upset about being late…except for us.
We needed to go from Saint Louis to Kaolack(6hrs), Kaolack to Karang(2hrs), Karang to the border(10min), cross the border, border to Barra(30min), catch a ferry to Banjul (30min)(capital of The Gambia), Banjul to our hotels.
We waited till about 6 and we finally filled up. And the adventure began!! We asked one of the passengers if he was going to Kaolack (just to make sure we were getting in the right car) and he was going all the way to Banjul! We slept most of the way, snacked, shared our snacks with the driver and our travel buddy (which we later called talibe kid, because he was going to a Koran school) dropped off some people in Touba, saw the grande mosque, and we picked up some folks on the road.
Our sept place dropped us off in the middle of the town and we then needed to catch a taxi to the gare routiere Nioro in Kaolack. The men, especially the one in a white boubou, was excited to help us find a taxi, but talibe kid started to argue with him. We walked away and asked the driver how much it would be. He told us 1,500 CFA and we said “Total? Ou chaque un?” and he said total so we got in and waited for the argument to end. When they got in the car, white boubou kinda forced himself in, sharing the front seat with talibe kid. He then told us we should take the taxi to the border for 45,000cfa! We laughed at that and said that we’re going to nioro. When we got to the Nioro station the taxi driver told us that it would be 2,000cfa each! It was a ten minute ride! That is when Poppy started cursing and I kept saying “Pourquoi? C’était un dix minute trajet!” We instantly got out of the car to make sure we could get our baggage out of the trunk, just in case something went down. We argued, mostly Poppy, with the taxi driver saying how that ride was not worth 2,000 each person ($4 each= $20), and how he told us it was 1,500 total. He was not havin it and kept saying it was 2,000. White boubou jumped in and said we should pay him. We started to gather a crowd. Poppy and I grabbed for our bags and the driver grabbed Poppy’s wrist! Poppy said “Ecoute-moi, Ecoute-moi!” (Listen to me!) I will pay 1,500 total. I asked talibe kid what he thought and he said the man was crazy. That’s when an officer came over (oh shoot we’re in trouble is what we thought), he was calm, and asked us what was going on. We told him our troubles and he told us that yes, 2,000 each is crazy, and it’s really 1,000, but since we already agreed to 1,500, we should pay that. Standing behind the officer, the driver started to smirk cause he knew he was wrong. We paid (white boubou and talibe got that ride free) and walked away.
We didn’t get far when random guys suggested and knew where we were to go. This station wasn’t as organized as the St. Louis station, there were no name tags. All five of us get in the same sept place (Poppy, Vanessa, Talibe, White boubou, and me) to the border. We asked the driver how much the ride was and he said 25,000cfa, which was a little much, but we didn’t feel like arguing anymore. So we said “that’s 5,000 each right?” he said yes so we were off!
The other two girls slept but from then on I didn’t trust white boubou so I stayed awake and watched him the whole time. The driver asked if all three of us were married, I said yes, it was a wives vaction. But then he proceeded to tell me that he wants to go to the states (I wonder how?). Our driver took us straight to the border. Poppy, Vanesssa, Talibe and I paid 5,000 each. The driver sat there looking at us like he was expecting more. I told him “Nous avons paye, c’est fini” (We paid we’re finished) HE then started to argue with us saying that the total is 25,000 and how he doesn’t have that total. Well….that’s because white boubou hasn’t paid!!! Is what we told him. In the meantime white boubou has gotten out of the car, buying water and snacks. Street money changers started to gather, and one, a woman got in and tried to get us to exchange our money. We told her to wait, and while she did she helped us to explain our situation. The taxi driver and some random man who spoke English kept arguing with us ( but not white boubou!) to pay. White boubou supposedly told them that he was our friend and he was helping us get to the border, so we agreed to pay for his way. Poppy said “C’est merde!!” (that’s shit) and I laughed, and Vanessa explained how the man can’t even speak French! I told them once again that we paid, we’re finished. THEN they told us that white boubou doesn’t have money. Comedy (comooodeee…denaya) once again. We asked, we’ll how is he buying water and snacks? They said he only had 2,000cfa. Not our problem! We exchanged our money, got out of the car grabbed our baggage and told them to talk with white boubou.
Talibe showed us to the border offices, one for Senegal and one for The Gambia. They checked our passports and when they saw talibe’s paper, it was just a scrap with words written on it, we got scared that he wouldn’t get through. Poppy whispered, “We can’t get attached, we’re going to keep going”. He made it through! At the Gambian office we had to buy visa’s (which is a way the government makes money, the officer told us). The officer there was really nice. When he saw my name he started to talk about scenes from “Coming to America”! haha! (the main character’s sister’s name is Patrece).
• We grabbed a taxi to Barra where we waited for at least three hours for the ferry because it broke down. We saw a lot of tourists and men carrying a coffin.
• From the Ferry we grabbed another taxi. Exhausted and extremely dirty at this point. Our driver couldn’t find our hotels (poppy was meeting up with her dad, Vanessa and I had a different hotel) but eventually he did and offered us his phone number, just in case we needed anything.
The Gambian Experience
We stayed in Fajara. Our hotel was immaculate! It was spacious, had a kitchen, hot water and an actual mattress on the bed. Not a piece of foam. We walked to a place for dinner and then fell comfortably to sleep.
Gambia was very interesting. It was very different then Saint Louis.They speak English which was weird because we have been speaking French this whole time. Plus there English isn’t as good as the French in Senegal (meaning it’s not good at all). There were huge signs everywhere of the presidents face, one said, “We are working towards making gambia an economic super power”. I could tell that’s what he was trying to do, there were large walmart like superstores, everybody had nice cars (fords, chevys, Hondas, bmws, and Mercedes benzs), and large new buildings everywhere. Venders were difficult to bargain with, and taxi drivers were ridiculous and charged us crazy prices, so most of the time we walked.
We went to the market to buy potatos and fruit for Sunday’s breakfast. We then walked to the Kachically Crocidille pool. Which was amazing! There was a museum about Gambian culture. When we walked out of the museum, there was nature! We walked a path, found huge trees, huge spiders and tall grass. We followed the path and found a pool where crocodiles were laying around! We later found out that they can roam the area as they wish, crocodiles are sacred people come to the pool to bath in the water. We petted one and was scared the whole time.
We walked more, found lunch, searched for a bank, bought fabric and art from a very difficult vender, and went back to the hotel for nap. When we woke, we swam with Poppy and her dad at their hotel. Poppy’s dad bought us dinner, beers and dessert. It was lovely to relax and talk. There were also pet-able cats that were begging for food like dogs. Poppy and her dad stayed in Gambia for the whole week.
We made a breakfast of pineapple, eggs, potatoes, and bissap (a juice from heaven). We took a taxi to a book store ( taxi driver tried to charge us $10 for a 5min ride). I bought to books by African authors that are in french, we then bought art from a deaf artist and then headed back to the ferry. This time around we knew what to expect, Vanessa and I were ready. We walked with our heads high, knew where to go and didn’t take anyone’s B.S. When we crossed the border there weren’t any taxis around to take us to Karang. BUT, there were these hoodlems on the side of the road with their moped/scooter vespa type things lined up. They offered to give us a ride for only 200cfa. At first I said no, there’s no helmet, the roads are crappy. But Vanessa convinced herself then me that I would be ok. It was only a mile ride. We got on the back of their motos!! I was scared at first but then once it got fun it was over. I wasn’t able to take a picture. (sorry didn’t want to look like a super tourist)
We made it successfully to Kaolack, where we had to transfer to Garage Dakar(another garage in kaolack). There we found our sign for St.Louis and we knew we were home free!! We were so excited and proud of ourselves! We also found that our driver was the same driver who drove us from St.Louis to Kaolack! That made it even better because then we knew he was really going back to St.Louis. We shook his hand and he asked us about our trip. This time we waited almost three hours for one person to fill the 7th place! We were very close to paying for the missing person when someone showed up! The whole way back we sat in the back seat which is very small. We shared it with a very weird man who kept trying to stretch out, lean on me, put his arm around us and he took off his shirt because he was “hot”. I wasn’t able to sleep because I was so smashed. I was at the end of my patience with him at the end both Vanessa and I pushed him to his side of the seat. He just yawned a little and continued to sleep. Finally at 1:20 ish we made back to Saint Louis! When I got home my host dad was up watching t.v. waiting for me to get him!!! It touched my heart so much! He gets up at 5am everymorning!
The whole trip was just a challenge to not "get got" and I think we came out on top.
More pictures are on facebook