Barra to Banjul
Day 10
( continued )

Hot, tired and wanting to get home ... I fell into the usual trap when returning to The Gambia ... which I love, know well and once lived in for a long time. Revelling in the use of English ( 10 days of thinking and speaking in French is somewhat tiring ) and expecting a level of easy normality to take place. Regardless of being accompanied by a Gambian and speaking either Gambian English, Wolof or Mandinka, having an established suntan ( the envy of any two-week tourist ) or being dressed in well-worn African traveller's clothing ... a Toubab and most everybody else wanting to taxi the short distance to Barra, are targets and prospective fair game for extortion, to some of the opportunists in this taxi garage.

An influx of weary travellers, having no choice for their onward travel but to hire one of the motley selection of vehicles on offer ... are met by the initial choice of either being packed like sardines into a large airless minibus ... built for 15 but capable of holding 30 or so squashed passengers, at a lowish price, if you wish to wait half an hour or so for it to fill up ... or to hire a 7 7-seater Peugeot ( now mysteriously limited to 3 passengers only ) at an exorbitant price.

The game has to be played ... however tired one is. Searching out the taxi controller, we fairly reasonably suggested where he could put his taxis and prices and went off to sit in the shade to have a cooling drink. Adopting the attitude of being without a care in the world and having plenty of time to spare, it wasn't long before a representative hurried over and we joined other, wiser, travellers in boarding a normal taxi at normal prices.

Well "normal" could be stretching the word a little ! The driver, at first so full of  smiles and confidence, was sweating profusely and almost crying in frustration as he nursed his once fine example of Peugeot technology, engine coughing and spluttering, at speeds of between 2 and 20 kph into Barra. Luckily we were in plenty of time for the last ferry's departure ... again, as the sun began to sink.

Barra is purely an arrival / departure point for the ferry to Dakar and Banjul's only road transport connection to the North for many kilometres. New housing developments alongside a recently reconstructed smooth road lead out of town to the territories of The Gambia's North Bank. Overnight accommodation is available, but sparse, and care should  be taken not to miss the last ferry. Timings are very approximate, but it is normally around 8.00 pm. The River Gambia narrows from almost 7 miles wide .. here at its entrance to the Atlantic Ocean.
You can see easily Banjul and the returning ferry leaving the harbour and crossing the river on its way to picking you up .. or you should be able to !

No ferry was in sight and enquiries revealed a wait of an hour or so. Only one ferry was running that day ... normally two ... so we settled down to await its arrival with coffee, cold drinks and snacks, in one of the many little refreshment stalls to be found in the taxi-garage.

My favourite snack in Senegal and The Gambia is a type of bread made by the Fula people called Tapalapa. It is heavier in consistency than the usual "French sticks," doesn't dry out for 3 or 4 days and is the equivalent of wholemeal bread. Sliced lengthways and buttered by the vendor, with the addition of a cream cheese triangle, hard-boiled egg and a sprinkling of Maggi cube ... wrapped in newspaper .. it is sufficient for a midday meal. Africa's heat both reduces one's appetite and .. incidentally .. trips to answer calls of nature, to about 2 a day !

The cost of this meal ... around 20 pence UK / 36 cents US.

Buying our ferry tickets we went to wait on the landing stage amongst a large queue of people and vehicles. Six large fuel tankers, with their drivers, were in the queue and had evidently been waiting for 5 days ... sleeping beneath their lorries. Transporting fuel oil for the power station at Kotu, which supplies The Gambia's electricity, they had been "pipped at the post" by a large container ship, full of fuel oil, that had arrived at the port in Banjul a few days earlier.

Consequently, they were constantly being relegated to the rear ... behind busses,  private cars and other goods vehicles ... now that  their precious cargo, which had been ordered to ensure a hopefully constant supply of electricity for Tobaski, was not needed quite so urgently.
With only one ferry running, their stay in Barra looked like it may continue for some time.

We met a couple from the North of England on their first visit to The Gambia ... who had signed up with a local Jeep Safari tour to visit Juffureh. This village is The Gambia's principle tourist attraction ... being the origin of Alex Hayley's Roots story. it gives tourists the opportunity of meeting descendants of the Kinteh family and seeing the remains of an original slave-trading post and the St. James Island fort. Unfortunately for these tenderfoots, their Jeep had broken down and they had endured a long journey over sandy roads being towed back to Barra.

The poor lady was glowing like an overripe tomato in her sleeveless cotton dress, somewhat dehydrated ( no hat ! ) and generally fed-up with the whole experience. A lesson to all to take suitable protective clothing, plenty of  sun-cream, spare water and to expect the unexpected.

The ferry eventually arrived ... a mad rush ensued to secure seating or standing room by the pedestrians. Amidst a cacophony of whistles and shouts by at least 50 people who suddenly promoted themselves to experts in vehicle parking ... the ferry loaded up and set off across the River Gambia. Chatting with a young German lady and her Senegalese boyfriend on their first visit to The Gambia, we found out that they were staying in a Guest House close to our base .. and had no idea as to how they would get there.

Acknowledging the friendly advice from one of the ferry ticket checkers to beware the bad boys, who have a habit of waiting outside the ferry terminal in the darkness, we adopted the role of experienced Gambian Guides and hired one of the Mercedes local taxis waiting outside the ferry exit, which took us all to our destinations.

Receiving a warm welcome from anxious friends .. our journey had taken two days longer than anticipated to complete .. we relished the familiar food, comfortable beds and warm showers.

Hearing stories of the taxi driver, who had turned up every day for the past 4 days, fearing great retribution for failing to turn up on time to pick us up for the start of the journey .. we were able to relax with a host of good memories and provide a fund of tales for our inquisitive friends.

A fascinating, sometimes hilarious - sometimes arduous, experience of the Magic of Africa.


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