As a citizen of ECOWAS, Alaghi needed no extra papers to be within the regulations
of the supposed free travel between and within the 15 member countries.
I was required to have the necessary visa to enter Guinea Conakry, which was quickly
and easily obtained from the charming Guinea Consul in his office in Banjul.
One and a half hours .. D1,000, 2 photos, warm wishes for an enjoyable stay in his country ..
and we were sorted. For those of you who know how long bureaucracy can take in these parts
( it says to allow up
to 2 days in the Rough Guide to West Africa ) .. this was remarkable, especially as he was surrounded by painters and workmen who were renovating the consulate !
An early start on a Tuesday morning was necessary
to get a seat on one of the first taxis out of the Serrekunda-Basse taxi garage, in order to arrive in Kolda for market day on Wednesday.
Factfile 1 : Taxis in West Africa do not move until every last seat is
full .. getting a taxi in villages in the bush on a market day, gives a better chance of extra taxis being available ..
and filling more quickly, due to the influx of a greater number of people and traders.
Arriving at 6.45 am, we found an almost full minibus and lots of people with the same idea !
Negotiations took place and money exchanged hands between Alaghi, the taxi manager and
his assistants. D100 each for the fare .. D35, after heated bargaining, for each bag and a further smallish amount for "business". Wondering what "business" meant, I followed Alaghi into the
interior, squeezing onto the bench seats between lots of chattering women in their brightly coloured dresses. The engine started, an almighty argument erupted between the taxi driver and the women ... and the
engine was switched off. The shouting continued, with others joining in and eventually most of the women, not looking very happy, got out. Whereupon their seats were refilled, mainly by men. Suddenly and without
any explanation, everyone was smiling again and all were the best of friends. The equality of the African sexes is rarely in favour of the womenfolk and evidently the "business" part of our fare was our own
insurance, for whatever happened during the seat reshuffles, we would keep our places.
Alaghi was already using his inside knowledge !
The less said about the journey to Basse the better .. save to say that what should have taken
around 7 hours, in actuality took 11½ ! Due entirely to the horrendous condition of the tarred road from 4 km past Brikama most of the way to Basse ( approx. 250 miles ) Lack of
maintenance over the past few years has resulted in conditions more like a bomb-site than a road and very slow speeds were necessary to weave in and out around the very deep potholes.
The Gambia has superb problem-free roads from the airport to the tourist areas, Banjul and the new housing developments on the coastline .. and whilst efforts are currently being made to
completely renew the Brikama to Basse road .. I think it will take a long time.
Our driver, one of the ever decreasing number to risk his vehicle on this once busy route,
obviously knew his working day would be a lot longer than normal and allowed us only a short break in Soma .. for drinks, spicy meat and onions and calls of nature.
Factfile 2: Calls of nature occur so rarely in the temperatures of West Africa, it is usually only necessary ( heavy beer drinkers apart ! ) to urinate twice a day .. despite drinking far more
liquid than one would in European climates. The liquids in your body's system are constantly leaching out through the pores in your skin, even though you are not visibly sweating !
We arrived at last in Basse's taxi garage just as dusk was falling .. covered in a layer of fine red laterite dust and not a little sore from the bumpy ride. Alaghi went through the pre-prayer
ritual of washing and disappeared into the small mosque behind the garage .. hopefully to say an extra prayer for better road conditions in the future ! I scraped some of the dust off my
hands and face, with the aid of the soap and water provided for the devout .. and dived into one of the shacks for 3 large glasses of the local coffee ( hot water from a flask, condensed milk
and a sachet of Nescafe .. produced in the Côte
d'Ivoire and far richer than its UK equivalent )
Prayers over and his own thirst slaked .. Alaghi started prolonged negotiations with the driver
of the taxi which would take us on the next leg of the journey to Vélingara. ( D50 each plus D30 for our bags ) Again, he wasn't moving an inch until all his seats were full .. so it was not
until well after 10.00 pm before we set off. Taxis in completely unlit conditions ( there is no electricity in Basse ) all look roughly the same .. when we set off we knew ours was special !!
Most of the exhaust had dropped off some time ago, the steering seemed to have a mind of its own and the headlights .. well, I say lights in the loosest meaning of the word .. were no more
than a glimmer in the dark .. the driver literally leaning out of his window and judging where to go by following the occasional bush or grass, on whichever side of the dusty track they were.
My mini-Maglite torch .. all 2 inches of it .. came in very handy in aiding our progress ..
pointed ahead out of my open side window and considerably brighter than his headlights !!
Despite having to stop every time an oncoming vehicle approached .. as we couldn't see a thing in the glare of their lights .. we passed out through the Gambian border and into Sénégal
without incident, somewhat relieved to arrive safely in Vélingara around midnight.
A mini taxi .. and I am fairly sure it was the same small Renault wreck we endured two years
ago, a testimony to the many African cars that go well past their used-up date and still struggle onwards, ferried us from one side of Vélingara to the other ( CFA 500 each ) .. where we found
a motley collection of mini buses and box van buses in the gloom of the Kolda taxi-garage.
( Most of Sénégal has electricity - but the village street lights are sparse and not too powerful )
A smiling face appeared out of the dark and informed us that his vehicle was ready to go and would we hurry up and jump in. Hurrying over, we looked upon an apparition of a beautiful new
US-type camper van. Clean and comfortable looking, internal fans whirring, lit up like a Xmas tree with multicoloured lights all over the dashboard and dripping with every accessory known
to mankind .. engine running ready to go, but surprisingly devoid of any passengers.
"And the fare ?" we asked .. "Only CFA 15,000 ", he answered. Resisting the temptation to
impolitely tell him where to stuff his "generous Toubab Special Offer," we picked up our bags and walked away, instantly meeting another guy who said his minibus was also ready to go ..
but this time at the normal fare of around CFA 1,500 each.
Factfile 3: It often happens, when arriving at an unknown taxi-garage, that one is quickly met
by a totally confusing array of people .. all shouting, tugging, urging and telling you to 'come with me' etc. A calm and purposeful stance, a refusal to be hurried and a fairly stubborn
attitude in sorting out just who is the official guy in charge ( the Taxi Manager ), whilst waiting for this initial rush to subside .. and it does eventually .. is the only sure-fire way of
getting your seat ticket at the right price, in the right car and to the right destination.
Almost hidden from view, there it was .. nowhere near so splendid, but only two seats to fill and
waiting to go. Suddenly an arm reached out of the darkness and grabbed my bag !!
I resisted, accompanied by a tirade of my rudest French aimed at the man-mountain owner of
said arm .. only to be told in chorus from the passengers, that this was our driver !!
"Oooops, pardon monsieur .. but how the **** was I to know ?!!" Laughter erupted all around,
we clambered aboard and set off into a clear and starry Sénégalese night towards Kolda.