The Kiffa Trip - Day 1
( continued )

 Mansa  Konko  to  Tambacounda  

A loud blast of the bus's horn and we climb aboard to resume our journey on the very good stretch of road which leads towards Georgetown ( now back under its previous name of Janjanbureh, a former very important trading post in the 1700s ). By now the loud and extremely animated conversation, which began in Brikama, between a sixty year old "Don Juan" and his beautiful young female target, has the whole bus in hoots of laughter ... whether we understood what they were teasing each other about, or not !

These antics pass the time whilst we travel at speed over smooth roads between gently rolling hills ( the only area of The Gambia  which is not flat ) The usual sparse scrub changes to a more intense mixture of shrubs and trees including many of the hauntingly beautiful " upside-down " Baobab trees.  Enormous areas of cultivated land, on either side of the road, show the future presence of groundnut, millet, cous and rice crops and a lot of hard, manual work, when the rainy season arrives in mid-July.

The village of Janjanbureh ( previously Georgetown ) is on an island in the middle of the River Gambia .. nowadays, a shadow of its former importance as a trading post .. it is still worth a visit .. two or three comfortable and inexpensive Lodges provide accommodation and a walk around the village will give an idea of the original trading posts and reveal a small produce market, Bird Sanctuary, large school, even a prison ( where the " guests " are being "rehabilitated" in agricultural production methods ).

There was a new Hotel on the far river bank ( just whistle for the pirogue ferry ) surrounded by trees, numerous monkeys and a very welcoming, friendly black dog. A good place to let your historical imagination take over, but don't go for a walk in the rice fields during the rainy season ... on a previous  trip, the locals told me that the crocodiles like to walk there as well !

Our bus stopped momentarily to pick up passengers at the small car-ferry crossing point and headed off on the short distance to Bansang, known for its large hospital set in pretty rural surroundings. Further exchange of passengers and onwards on the last leg of this journey to Bassé Santa Su, arriving around 3.30 pm.

Basse Santa Su is the largest rural town in the East of Gambia, close to the Senegalese border and known for its cotton industry ( unique thick and heavy cotton tops [ with tassels ] and trousers for the cooler January nights can be found in the large market here .. considerably cheaper than further West ) plus a considerable production of vegetables and meat to The Gambian economy.

Many of the Fula tribe's nomadic herdsmen spend half the year breeding and grazing their beautiful cattle, with lyre-shaped horns, in these areas. Enormous, often Mandinka, farming families, of up to five generations, live together in thatch and tin-roofed, red-earth walled,  farming communities and the  summer rainy season sees the whole families hard at work in the fields .. clearing, cultivating, sowing, weeding and reaping crops of groundnuts ( peanuts )maize, millet and couscous ... mostly by hand, sometimes with the aid of donkeys, cattle and horses .. tractors are rare and very expensive luxuries.

Little or no electricity ... water, hand-raised from wells sunk deep in the ground and a superb family spirit make these some of the most friendly and accommodating people I have ever had the privilege to meet. The ladies and young girls never seem to stop working, from before dawn to after dusk, catering for their incredibly large families ... an elder with four wives each of whom has many children, is not uncommon.

Outside the farming months, the young men look for employment in the tourist coastal areas and the bantabas are well used for 'important discussions' amongst the elders !

An hour or so waiting in the taxi-garage for our Peugeot 504 7-seater bush taxi to fill up, more liquid refreshment and snacks ( groundnut and sticky toffee biscuits ) and off to Valingara.

The method of booking your seat in all West African bush taxis is to find the real taxi-controller .. pay your money and receive a small square of hand-written paper with the amount paid and your seat number on it. Next you find a shady spot within site of the vehicle and wait for all the remaining seats to fill. If you are number one ... the prized front seat next to the window is yours for the taking .. but .. then you have to wait for the other 6 to 9 people to buy their places.

The normal seating arrangements in a 7 seater 504 is a 2-3-2 formation .. in rural areas it  is quite usual for a 3-4-3 formation to occur ( plus the driver's good friend, squeezing in as well, for a short freebie lift up the road ! ). "Friendly", in such a close situation with your fellow passengers, it certainly is .. although rarely comfortable ! To be taken into consideration, as well as the human cargo, are the mountainous bags of goods and luggage,  the odd sheep, goat or chicken, enclosed with netting and stacked high on the roof-rack.

 Plus the necessity of the repeated use of polite, but stubborn, insistence that one's own personal baggage stays in the crammed space behind the rear seats ... if at all possible.

Your prized limousine was also probably condemned to a European junkyard, as unroadworthy, many years ago .. will be devoid of most of its interior upholstery and shiny paint .. will rattle and grind through the gears and over the potholes ... have tyres closely resembling a Yul Brinner haircut, a dodgy battery, one or two working lights and instruments and seem to be held together with welded plates and prayer. However, your driver and the engine will normally have strong and happily beating hearts and somehow get you to your destination ... eventually.

The short distance to the Senegalese border .. should have taken around 30 minutes or so ... we hopefully thought ... not expecting a  forty five minute heated discussion in the first tiny village we came to, with much unloading then reloading of passengers and baggage and thereafter a slow drive whilst the driver concentrated more on explaining, in triplicate, the details than furthering our journey. Our planned first night stopover at Tambacounda was still a long way away and the sun was sinking towards the horizon.

Immigration and customs procedures were swiftly completed at the Gambian customs post ... but sadly this was not to be the case on the Senegalese side. One and a half frustrating hours, with no facilities whatsoever, apart from a kindly customs officer who boiled some water and gave us some beautiful strong Senegalese coffee. No milk but lots of sugar and very refreshing, he shared his one and only large plastic beaker with us. Meanwhile his Chief was painstakingly examining every item of merchandise being transported into Sénégal for trade from the Gambia ... listening to long and plaintiff excuses why duty should not be paid and then laboriously writing out full receipts for moneys charged. The Muslim Feast of Tobaski being imminent, there were plenty of traders in a long queue before us.

Darkness having falling, Valingara eventually appeared. A small village seemingly full of scavenging families of black and white pigs ... we were directed to a "skeleton on wheels", that once had been a small Renault car, which whisked us at high speed, scattering pigs and piglets in all directions, to the Tambacounda taxi-garage. Thankfully a short wait before our slightly better condition 504 was full enough to depart. This one had lights and a functioning dashboard .. only one window winder handle ... but we shared that !

The road, although long, was thankfully pothole free and apart from stops for a couple of police road checks, where passports were inspected, was incident free. Arriving around 11.00 pm in Valingara, our kindly driver dropped us near the best hotel in town,
The Asta Kebe, where we treated ourselves to a comfortable room with large fan and superb French cuisine for evening meal and breakfast. Apart from the owner's family and their friends, we were the only guests .. in an enormous European-style  hotel which must be able to accommodate hundreds .. and is sometimes used to host large conferences.

Tourism not being a major commodity in Tambacounda .....

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Day 2