London to Gambia by Car. 2018.
Having left our house in London and stayed overnight in Kent, we left Maidstone, Kent, at about 4am, much to the annoyance of the neighbours!
Off we go
New Fanbelt please
All went well except for the rain, and about 3 hours later, and about 200Kms into our 4,000Kms trip The Duchess announced to me “One’s battery light has been illuminated.” We stopped quite sharpish on a side road, not only for the battery light but the bonnet wasn’t secure. Stupidly when filling with petrol Sue had gone into automatic pilot and pulled the button by the steering shell to unlock the petrol cap. Good idea but wrong vehicle, as it opened the bonnet. That’s how Juan Carlos, the car in Spain works. Anyway, we then find that the fan belt has broken.
Mechanic to the rescue
However Graham, my marvelous mechanic, engineer, all round sort of bloke you hate because they know how to fix everything, (Only mucking about) Brother in Law in the other car fixed it. An old replacement is found in the boot, how lucky is that. But after a couple of hundred kms there is awful screeching from the fan belt. We’re saving the spare for a real emergency as the old one seems to be working. I did say to him before we started that DIY means “Don’t Involve Yourself”. So the deal is, he fixes what I break, and I buy beer for him.
Hunt the fanbelt
Best Western hotel Poitiers
Off to Salamanca
Anyway, journey starts about 0630 and eventually we have our first stop at 1000 having just bypassed Bordeaux. On the few overtakes that Sue tried there was just so much spray from the trucks it was quite scary. The plan had been to drive at about 65kph. No chance for nearly two hours. Average of about 45.
Me and the bird is in Espana!!
On route to Gibraltar
Back out again at 7am for the last part of the european journey to meet the rest of the team near Gibraltar. Shame to leave such a lovely hotel room for a cold, rattly Suzuki Vitara but that’s what we did. Although still pitch black until almost 0830 the drive this morning was better without the rain and wind. Not that it didn’t come at various times throughout the day.
We stopped for brunch at a service area, but the food was hot. Continued the drive, and meet Paul and Alison (Alf) at one of our pit stops. They’re driving a very fast Shogun thing. They overtook us at a high rate of knots.
Gaffa tape holding
The gaffa tape which is holding the back of the vehicle together is flapping around in the wind and will need some attention as soon as we can get the canvas covering dry!
The radiator cowling
We met up with some of the other travellers, some of whom are to cars what train spotters are to trains.
Ferry to Tangiers from Tarifa
Ferry crossing takes us to Tangiers where the fun starts. There are a multitude of forms to fill out. Insurance to buy, customs officers to keep ‘happy’. Eventually we leave the port and we are now a convoy of 4 cars. John and Lynne are also in a fetching red Suzuki Vitara Jeep, the same colour as ours. Graham and Karen are in a silver model. Paul and ‘Alf’ are in a blue 4 x 4. We hit really slow traffic initially, then we head for the ATM. I am told at this point that we don’t have any idea of a route, so Sue and I take the lead.
Road to Fez
The plan is to head to Fez for the night. driving through the town was a nightmare. There are no rules for cars, for pedestrians, for anyone or anything. My poor heart didn’t know how fast to pump. Scary, scary stuff. Roads not too bad after that and had lunch in what is described as the blue city/village. Had to pay someone to look after the vehicles whilst we had lunch! If this morning was bad this evening was worse. There were huge trucks, with bales of hay, very badly loaded, travelling at slow speeds along very bumpy roads.
Cars were overtaking in the dark, round blind bends and doing crazy, crazy manoeuvres. There were very few road markings visible and Sue is so grateful that she wasn’t behind the wheel. We struggled to find our hotel and we arrived at about 2030. Another long day. Pizza delivered to the hotel and plans made for tomorrow. Knackered …. Oh dear there is no alcohol served here! We have to rely on our duty free we collected along the way.
Alarm set for 0715. The plan is to drive to Marrakech so back in the £361 limo.
Zimmer Beach Resort
Paul and John set off in their vehicles and we bimble around town to find Carrefour for some supplies. Had a Costa coffee whilst waiting for the shops to open. Not much to report on the drive. We stopped for lunch at the Zimmer Beach Resort in Mohammedia or something like that.
Golden sand, crashing waves, surfers, a couple of beautiful white horses. Expensive meal but enjoyable. Then back on the road.
Driving at night
Unfortunately we mistimed the journey and didn’t get to our destination in daylight. Driving on the motorway at night is complete madness. Flashing lights, dreadful overtakes, heavily laden hay trucks. The result being that we are still outside Marrakech not knowing where we’re heading. Finally establish contact with Paul and John. They are beyond Marrakech in the mountains, miles away.
We drive into town and more by luck than judgement manage to get two rooms at the Ibis. https://all.accor.com/ssr/app/ibis/hotels/marrakesh-morocco/index.en.shtml?compositions This one does have a bar, and surprisingly there are a lot of guests here all preparing to enjoy the new year. Couple of beers and lovely hotel window views!
Ibis Hotel Marrakech
Let the New Year celebrations commence!
News Years Eve
Sidi Ifni. Morocco
It took a while to get out of town but we were soon on a dual carriageway of sorts for most of the journey. Coast road most of the way travelling in 4 vehicle convoy. Scenery was stunning, bits of rocky desert, some greenery and then the Atlantic crashing into the golden beaches. After a couple of hours we pull into a little seaside village and decide to call it a day. In total about 3 1/2 hours driving.
We are here for the night and continue south, prob reaching Mauritania on Saturday. Blooming warm now, and getting more desert type by the day.
Still have beer
Hotel basic but clean and right next to the beach. Very wavy, a surfers beach. Dinner had at the hotel. Another tajine, only octopus this time. However google translate did come in handy earlier when we wanted to change rooms.
Still have beer
Found supermarket and petrol station in the middle of nowhere so stocked up with lemons. Nice drive towards Tan Tan. Decent roads, camels, changing landscape into much more desert effect now. Pulled off and had lunch like a load of old people on our camping chairs just looking out into space. Most enjoyable.
Tomorrow we go to Laayoune, Morocco, wherever that is, for a night in a tent. 6 or 8 to a tent so that should be pleasant. Especially after camel curry washed down with lots of Moroccan home made beer.
Sunday Mauritania, and unhappily Gambia by end of next week.
We are staying at Borj Biramane Two beds to a tent with electricity. More Banjul Challenge people arrive who helpfully coordinate dinner as the chef calls in sick. The site is in the middle of nowhere. The sky is full of stars – Orion’s Belt and the seven sisters apparently, some of the Milky Way. Beautiful. So peaceful too. The police arrive to check our paperwork. All friendly. In bed by 2130. What did I do before downloads and podcasts? The overall consensus is that we should invest in a new battery.
The ‘bad egg’
smell keeps returning and I’m sure it can’t be good for us to be breathing in those fumes. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The good news is we find beer!!!
All goes remarkably smoothly with help
from John, Paul and Graham. We head into Laayoune for breakfast but due to the mishap we have to stop at a tyre shop where we also decide to buy a new battery as well as the new tyre. Long overdue in my book!
This takes a bit of time and a lot of haggling on my part. In the end we pay £140 or a bit less for both items. As breakfast didn’t happen I bought a bread stick for about 10p. Still, all sorted, we hope. We then head out of town for our goal of Dakhla quite a few hundred kms away. Close to the Mauritania border.
Stop off at another garage en route to try and get some help for Paul’s Shogun. They say his turbo is not good. Don’t know how important that is.
Drive to Dakhla
The drive continues. Landscape very barren, rocks, scrub bushes, sand dunes in the distance, Atlantic to our right. There are quite a few bits of roadworks with minor detours onto dusty tracks which is difficult to drive through. There are camels crossing the road. There are not many petrol stations. I think all of us were getting close to fumes when we found one. Filled a jerrycan each as well as filling the tank. Moral of the story never miss a petrol opportunity. Lots of police stops now. All very friendly.
Loss of time
Due to loss of time in the morning it is pitch black before we reach town. Hate driving in the dark. Get nice hotel and then taxi to a restaurant where they sell beer and red wine. Very nice evening. I am still trying to convince the Duchess that we should fly from this local tinpot airport to Gambia and sit on a beach. She is not having any of it.
Drive to Baras
Breakfast at the hotel and leisurely drive to Baras through desert landscape. Passed some stunning beaches which went on for miles, herds of camels and not much else to be honest. The road is in much better shape than anticipated.
Arrive at the hotel about 1400’ish and then just waste time. We are staying at the Hotel Barbas in Bir Gandouz, Morocco. https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g15278053-d4481091-Reviews-Hotel_Barbas-Bir_Gandouz.html This is very close to the Mauritanian border. The room is very basic, can’t even say it is clean. The pizza for supper was nice. Lots of teams now at the hotel with a fair amount of one-up-manship going on – whose done most travelling and my dog’s bigger than your dog type of thing..
Strange place. No alcohol here. Supplies starting to dwindle, we may have to abort the trip! Go to bed and watch a downloaded tv programme, drink a glass of red wine and go to sleep
Head to Mauritania
Start the drive for the border at 0600. Only 40 minutes or so but pitch black, bad visibility. Really don’t like night driving. Join the queue ……. Whilst waiting for the border gates to open the cafe opens and manage to get Café au lait and a sort of pancake type thing to pass the time.
Morocco border crossing
The border crossing is still being built but there are sufficient huts for passports to be stamped and vehicles to be checked in and out. This process starts at 0900, lots of paperwork, lots of different people looking at the same paperwork. There is even a sniffer dog doing the rounds. After this a short drive, couple of hundred meters, and the same paperwork is checked again.
Then we come to no-man’s land which looks like the place the world forgot. Dreadful odours of I don’t know what, broken down vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Our fixer is there to meet us, Dhahid is his name, impressively dressed in some sort of floating robe. In his white Mercedes he drives us through the proper no-man’s land.
UN Checking us
There is no road as such, just a pathway of sand and rocks with UN vehicles looking on, a machine gun post and lots more abandoned, decaying vehicles. All very strange. We then reach the Mauritania border. Even more chaos. We need car import stamps, visas, a separate passport check and then insurance is needed. Somehow or other it all gets sorted and we leave the border area about 1400. Not bad apparently. Now back on tarmac we drive in a 13 car convoy to our base for the night in Nouadhibou.
We have a quaint two bed permanent tent type thing, no running water but the toilet does flush. We drive into town passing a really smelly area where goats, camels and people all live together. Further back from the rail track are shanty towns. Everything is so poor. Litter is everywhere, potholes rule the road. Driving about is scary.
Donkey and cart
Two lanes quickly become five, donkeys are pulling carts. There are sets of traffic lights which do not work and cars come at you every which way. We find a bar for beer and wine. Silly prices but what do you expect in a non alcohol country. Return to the camp for dinner, bit of a disappointment. Karen and Graham join us for a drink and we turn the light out about 2230.
Driving around town wasn’t any better than yesterday. The landscape is very barren now, virtually no greenery anywhere. Lots of sand dunes. We catch up with the Real Dakar Rally cars and support vehicles.
Very impressive. Some of the cars are no more than golf buggies.
Early evening to arrive and move into our new two bed tent, no ensuite here, and boil up some water for supper of couscous and porridge.
Waste an hour or so sitting around a log fire listening to the waves in the background. Very soothing.
I get to drive
Not happy. I take over after half an hour or so.
Really can’t understand why we’re putting ourselves through the stress of doing this drive. The first 10-15 minutes of the beach stank of rotting fish and there was lots of horrible seaweed. When we eventually reach a nice bit of beach you can’t stop or appreciate the view as you’re in soft sand and will sink if you stop.
Bumpy Old Time
Again I thought we were doing a 30 minute route but it turned into another 50kms drive. Even when we turned off there was a dreadful soft sand patch and more corrugated bumps. Sue takes over the drive on the tarmac and within a very short distance the car is juddering to a halt. We stop and the thought is we have a dirty spark plug. Off we set again. Not for long though as we judder to another halt. Could it be a blocked fuel line? Who knows…. Anyway after a couple of these stops it is decided to tow us into town Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, about 30kms away.
Meanwhile Dhahid is contacting a mechanic to meet us at our accommodation the Auberge Sahara Hotel, Nouakchott, Mauritania. What a dump but that’s another story.
We get into town and the garage only has diesel so the three Vitaras continue to drive on fumes, not us though as we’re being towed. Arrive at the hotel and after a few different ideas being put forward by our guys the mechanic states it is the fan belt and that is why the new battery was not keeping any charge. Hey presto it all works for the cost of £20 or thereabouts and we use the fan belt we bought in France on Boxing Day.
We then find a Total petrol station with petrol. At the hotel there are only three rooms – we share with Karen and Graham. There are no towels, no bed linen, next to no light but there is hot water for showers. Best room ever. words cannot describe how much of a dump this whole place is.
Early start for Senegal border tomorrow. . Lots of to-ing and fro-ing not achieving much until we go to the restaurant across the road for pizza. The group refuse to pay £7 for a can of beer so it is a Fanta all round. Back to the hotel for an early night. All in all, an exciting day for all the wrong reasons. Forgot to mention our rear number plate had to be removed as it was falling off and there was a worry about our exhaust as well. Looking forward to Senegal.
Head for Senegal
We leave the Auberge Sahara Hotel, at 0700 after a small misunderstanding about the price we should all be paying for the rooms. It doesn’t help that they have devalued their currency and issued new notes which the locals haven’t quite got the grip of. Anyway, finally manage to manoeuvre our way out of Nouakchott despite road closures, diversions, darkness and manic driving.
The tarmac ends pretty promptly
Consequently Sue is driving faster than she would like, if I’m honest, but felt I had to keep up the pace set by Paul when he’s in front.
We get our comeuppance when Sue crunched down into one pothole too many. These potholes had to be one foot deep in places and sometimes were the width of the occasional tarmac road. No description will adequately cover the dreadful conditions of the roads. You have to steer from one side of the road/track to the other to miss potholes and general degradation, not to mention have two wheels off the road in soft sand with the other two on the road. Bloody nightmare. The cost of my driving is both tyres punctured on right side of the vehicle.
Sue is devastated and cannot apologise enough as the guys do a double pit stop. Sue has been renamed Penelope Pitstop! Quite like it. Everyone takes it in good humour saying it had to be one of us! After what seems an eternity we reach the National Park turnoff and miraculously there is a perfect tarmac road for about 20kms. Divine. We then get into the park proper and the tarmac disappears.
I should add here at a couple of the ongoing numerous police check points we’re told not to go to the border crossing of our choice as it is closed. We choose not to believe this as Dhahid has arranged us to be met on this border crossing to help us through to Senegal. We think it is part of a scam to direct cars to another part of town where the ‘local mafia’ scam you for all the currency and gadgets that they can ‘persuade’ you to part with.
Back to the park it is all the compacted corrugated track which is dreadful to drive along but better than the potholes. However there are deep tracks which necessitate steering from one side of the track to the other and I, of course, am ultra aware of the fragility of the tyres knowing that we only have two more spares between three cars. Find a slightly smoother path and follow that. Not much wild life seen – a few cows, donkeys and then some flocks of flamingos.
Mauritania Senegal Border
The border is in sight and the final hurdle is to get up a steep, rocky, heavily pockmarked slope. I see Graham in front just hit the accelerator and fly so I do the same and come to a screeching halt at the top. Success.
We still have the excitement of getting through border control but our contact is there and he takes our passports and vehicle paperwork to various offices/portacabin lookalikes. He keeps returning asking for money for police tax, border barrier tax, bridge tax and anything else they fancy tax.
We did know this was going to happen but you still can’t believe the cheek of the corrupt system. After the best part of an hour everything is stamped and the border barrier is lifted and we drive across the bridge to the Senegal border following our fixer man. There we meet another fixer man who takes all of our paperwork to various offices. We have fingerprints and photo taken. I find a toilet, there is tarmac on the road, trees on the horizon and all of our vehicles which are over 8 years old manage to fit the Senegalese criteria of acceptable modes of transport to be allowed into the country.
We all go to the nearby parking area to pay our fixer €180 each for bribing the right people and getting our insurance with a nice pocket of cash for himself and his runners. Again this was expected, in fact the going rate is usually €250 so we did well. A short drive into St Louis, Senegal, where we find a hotel overlooking the river.
Hotel Du Palais À Saint Louis du Sénégal.
The rooms have bed linen and towels. Marvellous. Nice place for a 2 week all inclusive.We decide to stay for a second night to get over the trauma of Mauritania. Our group has already adopted a local lad who is doing our laundry, getting some of the cars cleaned (not ours yet), who joins us for dinner at a local restaurant, and we decide to use his city tour by horse and cart tomorrow at 1700. Everyone tired so back at the hotel by 2200 and asleep by 2300.
Round up thus far
Also a capital shitty, I mean capital city down the road.
Did I mention the car cost £361??
No driving today.
Hurrah. ‘Rio’ Suzuki Vitara (did I mention it only cost £361?) gets a wash and is one sparkling in the sunshine. Slight hiccup I remember that I left bank cards and cash in a pair of socks that I left with the washing. Ismael, our new Senegalese friend, is contacted. The good news is we got the cards back but certainly missed out on a couple of hundred euros. Shame really as I thought Ismael was a good guy. Another learning curve. We wander around and find a place for breakfast. The omelettes arrive with lots of ham so Sue enjoys coffee and a croissant.
We continue our meanderings through the narrow sand covered streets to see dilapidated colonial style houses, kids in uniform going to school, kids with no shoes walking the streets, thousands of fishing boats in various states of repair surrounded by so much rubbish – plastic bottles, bags, paper – such a shame as it made the whole area look filthy. We are amazed at the cars that are driven. Certainly wouldn’t pass an MOT. The town is buzzing with lots of markets where the locals are selling small amounts of fresh vegetables on the kerb to kiosk type shops selling lino and single sachets of shampoo.
Have horse and cart tour of the town at 1700.
Horse looked fairly healthy and we went on an hour’s hike around town, saw mosque, fishing village, fish market and lots of people doing their business, mum’s looking after their kids, kids looking after other kids, goats meandering….
We learn by our mistakes.
Head to Kaolack
However, we seem to be the only people here and there is nothing else in the vicinity so you’re a bit of a captive audience. Also they only take cash and we didn’t have much. Oh well, another trip to the ATM.
Border crossing into The Gambia
There is also a large gathering of foot passengers with varying amounts of luggage, bags, live chickens and all sorts. Our four vehicles manage to get on. It is chaotic.
Lots of people
What seems like a never ending sea of people are pressing by the side of the car to get on. I feel imprisoned in the car and can imagine becoming slightly claustrophobic! Once we move away from the dock I manage to squeeze out of the car and stand on the back bumper gazing in awe at the sights of us all on board this ferry.
The crossing only lasts about 30 minutes and then the same chaos ensues as we all try to get off at the same time. Easy drive to Senegambia area where we find our hotel. Senegambia Hotel, Gambia. http://senegambiahotel.com/wordpress/ There are a couple of police stops along the way where we are asked if we have anything for the officers.
John and Lynne already have a reservation at the hotel, Paul and Alison get a room as do Dick and I. Karen and Graham have to go upmarket to the hotel next door for two nights before our reservation begins at the Senegambia hotel. The complex is huge, a few pools, lots of trees and lawns, monkeys, colourful birds and vultures. Apparently feeding the vultures occurs everyday. Several restaurants and bars. We go to the Ali Baba restaurant, Senegambia, Gambia for a mediocre meal and a fairly early night after visiting Safeway supermarket for supplies.
We had a great 3 weeks driving down here, and the £361 love machine got here with limited damage, technical problems, and lot of cable ties. Right, so now we are in a lovely beach resort for the next week or so drinking breakfast beer and watching olde birds making a fool of themselves.
People return to UK.
16.1.18.As Sue purloined a yoga mat of sorts from Lynne yesterday she started her day with a short yoga session on the terrace. Spend the morning trying to get a strong WiFi signal. Fail miserably, but we do find George Gomez the contact for the Dakar Challenge car drop. In doing this we see The Bees Brothers, Stuart, Ken, The Odd Couple (the Smalls), Paul Reid and The Colombians.
Meet the Police
We are also introduced to some police officers, immigration and customs officials who meet weekly to progress the donations of the cars to local charities. There is also the editor of the local newspaper. Photos are taken and we await the printing of the next edition.
We are famous
John and Lynne donate their Vitara to the eye clinic,l ater that afternoon. Couple of hours around the pool then we dine at the Lebanese restaurant. we are introduced to the Ali Baba Garden bar, Senegambia where the old, fat white women congregate there with their young, slim, black escorts. I enjoyed myself.
This place is a reversal of the Thailand experience, that, apparently, men endure in Bangkok. In that white European ladies of a ‘certain age’ will chat to local young men, fall in love with them, and walk along hand in hand with a man clearly 2 generations younger. I am not sure what the local men see in the fat corn beef legged ladies who have so many blue lines up their legs it resembles a motorway road map of the UK. Or is it, as put to Debbie McGee, ” what is it that you see in this elderly millionaire?” Or is in this case, just love!
John and Lynne leave for the airport about 1100,
Karen, Grace and Sue set out at 0700 for a trip to James Island,
where the slave trade took place in the 18th century. Dreadful what human beings can do to human beings. Travelled on the new Banjul ferry to get to our destination and also sampled a ride in a leaky fishing boat. Afternoon around the pool. Graham feeling better. BBQ at the hotel for dinner.
Time to go Home