Our Ride Through Senegal
We crossed the Mauritanian border in to Senegal on 19 January. I wish that I could tell you that the border crossing was un-eventful…..but it was anything but that.
We rode through a little village and the landscape abruptly changed. Right up to the far edge of the village were the sand dunes of the Sahara, with lots of sand in the streets. On the out skirts of the village we found swamps and swamp country….for miles, about 70 miles…complete with signs warning us of crocodiles.
Eventually the border came into sight. And to put it in mild terms, things did not go so well at the border……….Here is the very, very short version:
There are two types of people that I despise; liars and corrupt government officials…..but then I repeat myself.
We had been on the bikes for about 10 hours at this point and the border was about to close.
The first stop on the Mauritania side was the police station. Lana stayed with the bikes and in I went in to meet the police. He stamped our papers (not the passports) and in French he asked me for a bribe and I told him I only spoke English. (Even though I could not really understand what he was saying, I knew he was asking for a bribe. He was holding one hand out palm up, and rubbing his thumb and first finger together with the other hand. Lana had read some blog posts about this place, along with the fact that a government official in Nouakchott had told us not to pay any bribes at this border crossing). But the policeman was too late to be asking me for a bribe… he had already handed me the stamped papers. He must have been new at this bribe stuff. I pointed at his uniform and gave him a thumbs up, patted him on the shoulder, and out the door I went while he was still talking to me in French….no doubt about the bribe.
The next stop went a lot different.
Right off the get go a Mauritanian customs guy told us that he wanted both of us inside and pointed to the Customs Office door. When we got inside we found a man with a surly attitude, wearing a military uniform, setting behind a rickety old desk. As I always do, I saluted him, said Bonjour, and shook his hand. This usually relieves tension…. but not with him. We handed him our passports and the papers the “I have no experience asking for bribes” guy at the police station had so “graciously” stamped for us. Then in fairly good English the guy behind the rickety desk demands 10 Euros each to stamp them. I said no and he pushed our passports across the desk at us. He then said that was how it was….no money, no stamp. Although there is NO CHARGE for stamping passports he refused to do it without being paid.
We are on a very small budget and 20 Euros is a big deal to us. We simply can’t afford to throw money away like that. And the fact that he is a belligerent, lying, corrupt government official didn’t set well with me.
Leaning against the wall directly to his right hand was an AK-47. It had a 30 round magazine in the magazine well, and the safety was on. (For you uninitiated, that means that there is a 99+ % chance that the magazine is loaded and there is a round in the chamber). All of the bluing was worn off and it was sporting a make shift sling .
Mr. AK-47 and I went around and around about this bribe thing for 30++ minutes.
In the meantime the clock was counting down to the closure of the Senegal side of the border. When we stepped out the door of Mr. AK-47’s office to check on the bikes we could see the Senegal border check point and it looked like there was only one small group left to finish checking through. If we missed the deadline it would mean being stuck for the night between Mr. AK-47 and the very disappointed cop at the police station who did not get his bribe. It did not seem to be a good alternative.
So VERY reluctantly I agreed to pay the bribe
Our next stop was the Senegal side……and it was closed. A fixer approached us and got the gate open and he then went to the customs guy’s house and got him to open the office. We got our passports stamped (US citizens do NOT need a visa to enter Senegal, just a customs stamp) and he got us five days on our TIP instead of the normal 48 hours. (the TIP is a Temporary Import Permit for our bikes, which we have to pay for which says that we will not sell our bikes in that country). In about 45 minutes were, yet again, riding off into the dark. All in all, for the fixer, the TIP and a bribe to get the customs guy to open up shop, it cost us 30,000 CFA (about $40 USD). It sure beat sleeping between Mr. AK-47’s office and “I am new at this bribes stuff”…… and swatting the hordes of mosquitoes coming off the river all night~!!
Senegal is a wonderful country with many great people there. We would have like to spend more time there.
We met three other adventure bike riders at ZEBRABAR Campground. Gulcin is a women from Turkey on a Honda 250 dual sport bike that they converted to a real nice light weight adventure bike. Her boy friend, Ferry, was on another nicely converted Honda 250. Traveling with them is a guy named James who is riding a Yamaha 650 adventure bike that is not sold in the USA. They all spoke English and they turned out to be terrific people…and what a blessing it was to meet them~!!!
We were in Dakar for a few days getting our Mali visas. We reluctantly parted company with our riding partners as they were headed for The Gambia and we were headed for Mali. It was great traveling with such fine people as you all~!!! Thank you again~!!! I pray that we meet again. Ride Safe.
Lana and I rode out of Dakar headed for Mali, riding a little over 300 kilometers that day. The first 100 kilometers was fairly good going and we made good time. The second 100 kilometers we encountered road construction with nothing much going on. We were herded down the narrow borrow ditch for about 80 kilometers and it was one, to one and a half lanes wide at the widest point. When we saw a semi truck coming we could only see the front of the cab…the rest of the truck was lost in unimaginable chocking cloud of red dust….and we were on the down wind side.
Then the road got bad….really, really bad...and my helmet camera batteries were all dead
We rode out of the borrow ditch of the construction and back onto the main highway…… and right into pot holes I have never seen the likes of. Having spent many years in Alaska that is saying a lot~!!! They were up to three feet deep and most of the time you could only ride into one and out of it and into the next one. Once in a while, by weaving into and out of both “lanes”, we would get onto narrow pieces of what was left of the pavement and miss a few of the pot holes….then right back into them again. We were in first and sometimes second gear for the vast majority of the rest of the day.
To paint you a more vivid picture of how incredibly rough the road was…..in the last 200 kilometers we counted 24 semi trucks, bob tail trucks and buses broke down. There were buses setting on the front bumper with the front steer axel wedged up against the back axel. There were 40 foot flat bed trailers broke in two with the loads scattered all over the place. There were semi trucks with the front wheels torn off right through the lug bolts, broken rims, broken front axels, broken rear axle housings, broken suspension components, front axels from semi trucks laying in the road with the truck setting on the frame. One cab over truck (they are all cab over’s) the cab had flipped and laying forward on the ground from the cab tilt lock mechanism breaking.
And through all of this I was so proud of Lana…she never complained once and rode her bike like a pro~!!! Great job Babe~!!!
We arrived at a camp ground on the high vertical bank of The Gambia River just at dark…exhausted. We pitched our tent, got in the no hot water shower and washed off a couple of shovel loads of dust and dirt and then crawled into bed. Thank you GOD for the shower….one of the greatest invention on earth.
We rested the next day and did the laundry by hand. We will cross into Mali tomorrow.
Below are some random photos you might enjoy.
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Riding into a small village
The local street market
Riding into another small village
There are lots of curious kids are everywhere we stop
An overloaded bus
Villages have no trash pickup service so they do the best that they can
The bottom of the load on both of these trucks is very big bags of homemade charcoal. Above that are dried cow hides stacked very high