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Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Journey Begins

We began the trip early in the morning heading towards Senegal, passing our first stop through customs.  We first had to go through the Gambian customs, then the one for Senegal.  With very little fanfare we embarked on a dirt road that was in pretty good condition.  This would lead us far into the bush.  Looking back through the rear window the dust clouds billowed as we were moving at a fast, but leisurely pace.  It was a ride past villages where rocks were piled by the side of the road to alert you that you had arrived at a village.  The Savannah land with small woodlands was interrupted by a blackness where a bush fire had raged a short time ago.  Once in awhile a vehicle could be seen traversing the road, or a lonely bush taxi taking its passengers to their out-of-the-way destinations.  Finally the dirt road ended and we came upon two-lane brick road (actually made out of shells) surrounded on all sides by marshland which was vast and uninviting.  But with it came a welcome coolness from the water and in the distance we saw Ziguinchor, a small coastal town in southern Senegal.

We crossed the bridge over a river almost as wide as the River Gambia, and went towards the country of Guinea Bissau.  We wanted to use the opportunity to see the Carnival there, which is one of the least publicized carnivals in the world.  It is supposed to be among the best kept secrets in Africa.

We were stopped by an armed guard carrying what looked like an AK47 military rifle and were asked in French for our destination, passport, driver's license and insurance.  We had reached the border, had to go through customs, get our stamps, and enter another customs and the gendarmes for Guinea Bissau.  Just 2 more stops and we were on our way until we were stopped by a policeman sitting under a grass hut waiting like a spider in his web for the weary traveler to come by.  He greeted us and asked for our papers; first the insurance and driver's license, then the passports and shot records for everyone.  Then he asked if we had a triangle, a flare to warn of a breakdown?  We had everything but a fire extinguisher.  An argument ensued and we were forced to just sit and wait it out as others were stopped and let to go on their way.  Finally we appealed to his religious nature and in a huff he relented and let us go.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Bissau, we had endured five different stops where we went through the whole rigmarole each time.  Using sketchy directions we tried to find our contact in Bissau.  If I would have attempted to make this trip by myself, it would have ended in disaster because the languages used are a bastardized form of Portuguese and native languages of which I have no clue.

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