Last ferry to Banjul

Most of the people know The Gambia due to its funny shape on the map. Located on the West-African coast, with only one neighbouring country – Senegal, that encompasses The Gambia in the North, East and South. In fact, the country is basically a beautiful stretch of land about 10km wide on each side at the shores of  the Gambia river. While being in the capital city of Banjul, Evgeny and I knew that we needed to organize a few things before we could move on to the next country.

Waiting for the last ferry
Waiting for the last ferry

The shape of a country

The Lonely Planet “West Africa” book became our main source of information about embassy locations, opening times and itineraries for land crossings. From this book, as well as from the exchange with other backpackers on the road, we knew that the road through Guinea-Bissau (our next intended country) would seriously set our travel plan back. After weighing a few options, we decided to fly instead from Banjul to Guinea (or: Guinea-Conakry as the locals say) and then move on from there by car to Bamako (Mali). Here in Banjul, we could only organize the visa to Guinea(-Conakry) in a day. So we had an early morning start, depositing our passports at the embassy, organizing the flight for the next day and then set off to visit the Gambian hinterland while waiting for the passport processing.

Exploring The Gambia

We hired a taxi for the day and went to the Gambia River National Park. There we visited the Baboon Island before returning back to our “base” in Banjul. Surprisingly, this country – essentially separated entirely by one long river – has very few bridges to connect both parts of it. I counted three bridges for a stretch of 200 km. Moreover, the main crossing from one side to another is the ferry between Bana and Banjul. The last one operating at 9 pm, was the one we almost missed. Although our taxi queued up on the Bana side around 7 pm, there was a lot of negotiation between drivers going. Priorities were shifted and ferries came and left. Our young taxi driver had to give way to other drivers and after two hours waiting in line, Evgeny and I figured out that we needed to take action.

Foreign exchange booth in Banjul
Foreign exchange booth in Banjul

When getting information in Africa, take everything with a grain of salt and let common sense guide you. The official information (from books) we had so far, was that the last ferry leaves Bana for Banjul at 9 pm. All the locals – and our taxi driver – who were still queuing at 8:30 for the incoming ferry claimed that there would be another one at 10 pm. No need to worry. Evgeny and I looked at each other and without much saying we took our bags from the taxi, paid our driver and headed by foot to the ferry. Once it left and arrived on the Banjul side, we took another taxi and went back to our guest house in the Bakau area. Next morning, during breakfast, the taxi driver from our excursion the day before showed up. We agreed to hire him for another day, since we needed to get around town and collect our visas. Then, he told us that he had to sleep in his taxi, since there was no more ferry after we left.

Later that morning we collected our passport from the embassy of Guinea. We figured out that the Mauritanian embassy was not too far away and would grant visas in under one hour. So we went there, too – not exactly knowing whether we needed it, since our itinerary went to the opposite direction. Little we knew at this time, that this visa proved to be one of the most important one – but that’s another blog story. By now, we heard for quite a while from different people – locals and tourists – about the area “Senegambia”. Located not far from Banjul, we decided to check this area.

On the Gambia river
On the Gambia river

Suprise holiday resort

When our taxi driver arrived at the Senegambia strip, we were stunned. This place looked more like a Mediterranean holiday resort strip, than a West African suburb. There were plenty of British-style pubs, souvenir shops, pizza restaurants and other fast food parlors. The main food served was “Fish and Chips” and the tourists looked like the Beckham family fishing for paparazzi pictures. The African scent in the air gave way to the ones of perfume brands and shampoos. Clothes were white washed and looked new. Far from the dusty, stinking clothes we managed to have after only three days on the continent. We quickly learned that this location features dozens of package-holiday resorts at the beach side. The Senegambia strip – located behind these resorts – is the amusement center, where the mainly British mingle and get drunk for cheap money. Evgeny and I decided to take advantage of this unexpected area of convenience and infrastructure. Therefore, we went to one of the numerous ATM’s to get some serious money for some serious food.

The Gambia country side
The Gambia country side

With a full stomach full of European-style food, we went – later that night – by taxi from Senegambia to the airport where we boarded our flight to Conakry at 3 am. Traveling by bus or by plane at these crazy times became an annoying necessity during our road trip, which we really hated towards the end. But for now, the excitement of exploring the next country was bigger than our need for sleep.