In 2001, The Gambia was fortunate to have a varied fleet of GPTC coaches which covered most of the major routes in the country ... with adept planning on the Banjul to Dakar ( Sénégal ) and Banjul to
Basse Santa Su routes, one could catch the Express Coaches .. amongst which were a few Volvos, new a few years before, even one or two with air-conditioning and video ! At a very reasonable price, the Express
Coaches made fewer stops ... whilst the cheaper, but much slower, standard coaches stopped frequently to set down and pick up passengers. However it was by far the most comfortable of methods of transport,
over the long distances involved, in comparison to the assortment of minibuses and private taxis available ... with their narrow wheel-bases, who had to drive slowly around the numerous potholes on some
stretches of the road.
*Edit 2016* When this trip was made in 2001, the roads on both sides of the river .. running inland from the coast to Bassé in The Gambia .. were in very bad condition. Nowadays they
have been repaired and are in good condition, making travel very much easier and more comfortable.
Whilst efforts are constantly being made to repair the supposedly tar-macadam route between Banjul and Soma ( Mansa Konko ), the route is extremely tortuous and very dusty ..
we were all soon covering our mouths and noses against the bright red laterite dust that permeated every
aperture in our older model coach. Unluckily, the expected Volvo was on a different schedule that day. A 15 minute stop in Brikama ( the woodcarving capital of The Gambia ) where my friend bought two large plastic bags of freshly picked oranges, at a fraction of their normal coastal price, from the mass of mainly
young women who throng around every bus and taxi that arrives.
Questioning whether it was a sensible decision to consider carrying kilos of heavy fruit, in addition to our heavy-enough baggage, hundreds of miles into the bush, was met with a knowing smile !
The nearer the departure time .. the more rapidly the prices of the varied goods on offer reduces. Withstanding the temptation to buy an assortment of brightly coloured, freshly
dyed T-shirts .. more sunglasses to compliment those already being warn and enough plastic key-rings to stock a souvenir shop .. we departed in a cloud of dust .. last-minute purchases being thrown in through the coach windows with an ensuing rugby scrum of vendors collecting their coins, thrown out in return.
Small plastic bags of cold water are always on sale at bus / taxis garages in West Africa for a few bututs ( 1 Dalasi = 100 Bututs in
Gambian currency ). I have never had any problems with drinking this, when bought in major towns and villages, most Gambian water being thankfully quite clean and unadulterated with the numerous
chemicals present in our "civilised" societies here. Bottled mineral water is usually on sale in the major towns and villages but cannot be relied upon to be always available. With daytime temperatures in
the upper 30 - 40 degrees C, it is advisable to have enough with you to allow for unexpected stops. Coke, Fanta and numerous bottled fizzy, but very sweet, drinks are usually on sale in most places. Look out for
small plastic bags of the deep red, sweet fruit drink called Wanja .. which is made from the petals of a locally grown Hibiscus plants. The method being to bite a small hole in the corner of the bag and squeeze the juice gently into your dusty dry mouth ... very thirst quenching ... but messy if you squeeze too hard !
Another two hours down the road and we stopped for half an hour at Soma where the Trans-Gambian Highway from Ziguinchor ( in Casamance, S. Sénégal ) to Dakar crosses the Basse route. Time for a cold
Coke and a couple of half pint glasses of local coffee
( Nescafe from Cote d'Ivoire, boiling water and condensed milk ) vigorously stirred by one of the many "restaurant" owners at the bus depot
.. a snack of fairly spicy lamb, onions, scrawny potato chips wrapped in paper rescued from an old cement bag and a chance to practise my French, which is mainly spoken here, as opposed to English which is
commonly spoken in the rest of The Gambia.
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