Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Truly Once in a Lifetime...

a sept-place very reminiscent of the one that we took

     The Gare Routeire Pompiers is a entanglement of buses, taxis, sept-places, people trying to sell you water in bags or hard boiled eggs, and bus drivers asking you where you want to go, all while you are trying to navigate your way past piles of rotting garbage and stagnant pools of water carrying 50 pounds on your back in the early morning heat.  This sums up my morning.  We ventured out at 7 to start our journey from Dakar to The Gambia.   it was already hot and with my 50 pound backpack strapped to my back, I instantly began to perspire. 

     The Gare is a hub for public transportation, buses that take you god knows where and the now infamous sept-place.  When I first read about sept-places I figured, "oh it's just some van type bus with seven places," boy was I wrong.  A sept-place is an ancient station wagon of some sorts that has been converted into a courier for seven people traveling long distances; the driver and passenger, and two additional rows of seats for three people to pack closely together leaving no personal space.  Not to mention no air conditioner and for the three rows of people there are only windows in the first two.  To say I was not looking forward to the journey is an understatement! I figured if we got there earlier enough, before it was full  (they don't leave until they're full no matter how long it takes) we would have a good chance at getting better seats, ones next to the window.  But of course that did not happen, even though we were the third and forth passengers to arrive.  We were sent to very back of the station wagon, atop the gas tank, Alex next to the window, that did not open, and I, smack dab in the middle.  And there we sat, waiting for all the seats to fill.  We thought about buying an extra seat so we could have the whole row, but my frugal side thought we should save the money.  Once we were full, which really didn't take too long, we were off on what I will call the adventure of a lifetime.

    The road out of Dakar is two lanes but once we were out it was one lane the rest of the way.  Every truck or bus in front of us we passed.  When goats or cows or people got too close to the road the driver would lean on his horn.  The road was not bad for the first three hours of the journey, the occasional pot holes were dodged.  We passed village after village where women were gathered selling mangoes and everyone else escaped the sun under the shade of trees,  napping in wheel barrels or children playing in the dirt.  And Alex and I crammed in the back of the sept-place par took in a sort of lyrical dance, moving this bag here and that foot there every thirty minutes or so when something feel asleep.  This routine continued throughout the trip, but once we passed Koalack, a new curve ball was thrown at us, washed out road. 

    I would not recommend traveling in sept-place on a washed out road.  For what seemed like 200 miles through Senegal, the once tar road has made way for a part dirt with spots of tar road with dips and routs over a foot deep, pools of water, and rocks.  Our sept-place was all over the place, swerving to avoid damage to the ancient vehicle.  Half the time we were off the road entirely because the shoulders were a better alternative.  Alex and I were flying all over the place.  I just wanted it to end.  Just about the only saving grace, was the little boy traveling with his mother and sister.  He was probably about two and wore a New York Yankees hat.  He was insanely cute!  As Alex and I were flaying in the back seat, he would turn around every so often and wave, reassuring us that everything would be ok.  When we finally reached the Senegal/Gambia border, 6 hours later, I was relieved momentarily.  Our stopped car was bombarded with people selling things and trying to convince us they would give "best price" to exchange money.  Our journey was not yet over.  From the border, we traveled 20 more minutes by taxi and then had to wait for our ferry to the capital.  The ferry we were told would take 50 minutes (40 if the current was going our way) but the 50 minutes soon turned to an hour, then two as we floated across the river.  The ferry's engine seemed to be entirely useless.  So when all was said and done, we spent close to ten hours making our way to Banjul.  A trip that I can say without an once of doubt I can go the rest of my life without doing again.  Truly, once in a lifetime!

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