The Kiffa Trip

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10

That's all !

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The intention of this trip in 2001 was to try to see for myself and experience the almost mythical aura, that has built up over many years, about the world famous Powder Glass beads that have been made by ladies in and around the town of Kiffa ... which is situated in the southern area of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania.

This tale of a "Toubab in the Desert" is neither a travelogue nor a  definitive guide to travel in West Africa .. I do not consider myself to be an expert in the field of Kiffa beads or even beads in general, we are all learning all the time ... it is merely a record of a fascinating and completely absorbing journey, which I hope will both entertain and be of possible use or interest to those who have requested that I write it.
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A few words of warning to those "dreamers" who might think about immediately starting to pack their bags and head off for similar "adventures" in the sun :
Having happily lived in West Africa for many years, I am well used to travelling
 "bush-taxi" style. For those of you who plan their holidays with meticulous attention to detail and timing, need regular baths, clean & comfortable travelling conditions, air-conditioning
( in temperatures often up to 55 degrees C ), regular meals, recognisable food ( as mother used to make ), constant supplies of clean water, electricity and fresh clothing, have no knowledge of the French language or any of the countless local dialects, cannot converse without speaking,  are worried about having every inoculation possible for total protection ...
and cannot survive without a tourist rep. on call 24 / 7 ........
Forget it !
 You may be able to fly, in "sumptuous comfort", to some of the larger places mentioned ... but you will most probably not enjoy the same experiences, will see little and likely miss out
on meeting the real local people, uncorrupted by foreign influences, in their own quality
( not quantity ) environment ... and that, surely, is the whole point of the exercise.

The necessary Visas and Papers required, were obtained without problem and with much enthusiastic support and encouragement from the Consular Staff at the
Mauritanian Embassy in The Gambia .. our grateful thanks to you all.

The Gambia

Day 1


Banjul to Tambacounda

Sénégal

          From our base in The Gambia, my long-time Gambian friend and travelling companion and I waited at 6 am in the morning darkness for our promised taxi to arrive and take us to the Bus Depot in Kanifing, for the first leg of our journey via the capital city of Banjul to Basse Santa Su. Some 300 miles from the coastal end of The Gambia, eastwards following the course of the southern banks of the River Gambia, over the length of the country to near the Sénégalese border.
 
Both The Gambia and the UK are on the same timeline ... GMT ... in the UK this means Greenwich Mean Time  ( an exact time ) ... in The Gambia this is usually translated into Gambian Maybe Time !! True to form our "chauffeur" did not appear .. it was 7am bus departure time .. not a living soul in site ... not a good start !  A passing  truck, supplying breakfast to some security guards, proved to be our saviour and gave us a lift to the nearest taxi-garage where a very sleepy, early morning driver, washing his taxi, agreed at moderate expense, to rush us to the Bus Depot .. by now we were 20 minutes late.

Local GMT applies to most things and the bus was surrounded by hordes of people none of whom were in a particular hurry to climb aboard ... the usual scrum to find a seat ( standing for 6 hours is not advisable ) occurred about half an hour later and we set off to Banjul Bus Depot to cram another half a busload onto an already full bus.

Two coffees, a large French stick sandwich of spicy meat and salad, many repeated replies of deddit jerrajef ( no thanks ) to the swarms of entrepreneurs selling everything from batteries through plastic toys, radios, watches, clothes, et al .. and another hour waiting in the fast warming up sunshine .. and we were really off.

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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