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Senegambia

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Serrekunda, Banjul, The Gambia.

We crossed the border with Guinea and drove into Senegal. To us, after roughing it in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire for over a week, this was civilisation: the roads were suddenly excellent, sponsored by the generous people of the European Union, we started meeting other overlanders, and luxuries like internet were available once again. We then headed into the Casamance, a province that fought for independence for decades, and soon the impeccable roads turned nasty; this province obviously hadn’t earned roads with more asphalt than potholes. We tried to go north into The Gambia, but the ferry across the Casamance River was charging extortionate prices, which were in retrospect worth the money to avoid the horrible road to Ziguinchor. The road was so bad that at one point we contemplated swallowing our pride and going back to the ferry. Eventually though, we reached the capital of the South of the country and were rewarded with a wonderful campsite that is run by a friendly French woman. From here it would be an easy drive to Gambia, the tiny country enclosed by Senegal. We didn’t need a visa for either country, and there were few bureaucratic complications. In the 1980s, Senegal and Gambia even tried to form a confederation called ‘Senegambia’, which never quite got off the ground.

We made our way to Gambia, where we were invited by a German woman (Anna) to camp on her compound. She was very hospitable and immediately phoned a mechanic when she heard we needed one. We were able to wash our heaps of dirty clothes and bedding, and got a chance to thoroughly clean the car. The Gambia thus provided us with the facilities we needed to get our affairs in order before we headed up to Mauritania and the unforgiving Sahara Desert. We got our Mauritanian visa in Serrekunda: a transit visa for just three days. For the application we had to pinpoint our exact date of entry. The three-day visa saved us half the price of the regular one (€45 instead of €93), so we picked a safe date on which we would enter the country.

The last day before we left we got a chance to enjoy Gambia in the way that most people do. Gambia is a tourist paradise synonymous with male prostitution, marihuana and endless numbers of bumsters (hustlers). The tourists are mostly lower-class Europeans looking for some fun with the locals. Middle-aged women hire young black men for sex, sometimes even taking them home and marrying them. Female prostitution is less common, but for 500 Dalasi a day (less than €15) you can have your pick of the most beautiful women in West-Africa. In reality, most people are very poor and desperate, and tourists are an excellent, if not the only, source of income.

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