UK to The Gambia By Road
Stage six: Into Senegal
22nd June 2018 (still!)
The short ferry crossing from Mauritania got us to the Senegalese side at Rosso for about 10.30am. Our fixer took us to immigration, where myself and Vic paid about 10 Euros each and then on to the customs office to clear the vehicle, which was where the difficulties started. The main problem is a lack of any clear information about anything and the lack of anyone that can be trusted to give you any true information.
Our fixer had spoken to one of the officers as we entered the office and we were very quickly taken into the Commander's office where it was explained that old vehicles needed to be escorted through Senegal. The 'Commander' and our fixer explained that the process was that we should phone somebody in Dakar to find out the price and then ask the man who gave us the price to phone the 'Commander' who could negotiate us a discount. The whole thing sounded odd and went against our research which had said that the system had changed and escorts were no longer required. To further put the pressure on, our fixer told us that if we didn't sort it straight away, the office would be closed for Friday afternoon and not open again until Monday. Thoroughly confused we went back to the van to consider our options and to try to phone for some advice.
By handy coincidence a British friend had a Gambian brother, Johnny in Rosso working on getting his car released and he was able to come to where we were waiting, still with our dodgy fixer in tow.Things change after Johnny arrived! He knew the system and was well connected and it was clear that our fixer knew that he would find it hard to scam us now, so he quickly departed. Johnny had spent 11 days in Rosso by that point, sleeping where he could and eating bread and butter. He explained that dealing with the Senegalese customs had been a huge education, “You would never believe how these people treat their fellow human beings”, he said, “And not just toubabs or Gambians, but even their own Senegalese brothers.”
23rd June 2018
He started to point out and introduce other people who were caught in the system including a Senegalese who had been waiting for 5 days for papers. He mentioned that he was waiting for the Commander to arrive for a meeting and that often the person in the Commander's office was just one of the other staff dressed up in the uniform and sat on the chair!
We hung out with Johnny for the rest of the day and at various stages he went off to try to negotiate our way out. Eventually, by about six in the evening we were called back into the first office and told that we could pay 230,000CFA and leave as part of a convoy with escorts at some time yet to be arranged or 250,000CFA and leave on our own that evening. Thoroughly hacked off with sitting in a filthy, fly infested car park we went of the second option. By 8.30, after more seemingly pointless delays, we were escorted to a checkpoint about a mile from the crossing, given paperwork that allowed us 48 hours to be out of Senegal and let loose. Even now, I've still got no idea what the correct cost or system should have been.
A few miles outside of Rosso, we were ripped off by a Gendarme for not having yellow and red chevrons on the back of the vehicle (only actually required by HGVs) and later by another Gendarme for a small crack in the wing mirror that had passed a UK MOT. It was clear that it was pointless even trying to negotiate – better to just pay up and move quickly!
We stopped in the first town we saw and eventually, with the help of a really nice local guy, found a ghetto selling beer, which lifted our mood quite considerably. We had food and then settled in for a grim night amongst the flies and mosquitos that had sneaked into the van throughout the day.
The next day we headed straight for Gambia. The drive went fine apart from a 32 mile stretch of badly rutted road that threatened to rattle the van to pieces. Slow or fast, the road was really tough and I was desperate to get out of Senegal without a breakdown that would mean our papers would be out of date and put us at the mercy of the Senegalese officers once again.
We were relieved to reach the border near Farafenni but still had to spend nearly two hours while they read and re-read our papers and asked where our escort was.