Two married lunatics. One Subaru. And the road to Bamako (okay, Bissau...)
Long story short - the posts from 2011 are from the original attempt with my friends to go to the "Race" group of the Bamako rally, to which I (D, real name David ;)) didn't manage to go in the end. Any posts starting October '12 are from the 2012 attempt with me and the wife :) Do note, I use all kinds of colorful language, and am politically incorrect. You have been warned.
As you all probably guessed, we're back in Europe now, and hard at work!
I know, it sucks (but not as much as sitting on the Guinea-Bissau / Senegal border ;)). I'm hard at work at putting the "book" together - comprising of the posts on this blog, and additional commentary and pictures - shouldn't take me much more than... uhh... I don't know, a while. It will be funny though. I think.
Oh, and I have a great dash-cam video of the rock desert... Just need to edit it :) Watch this space!
The car is still on the way back from Africa. And I think he's having great fun - by now, he has seen such lovely places as Nigeria and Ghana - and it about to visit the Ivory Coast... I'm ever so slightly concerned about what state it will be in when it arrives, how many illegal immigrants will have nested in it, and the kilos of illegal drugs that will be hidden away in it, but, let's see.
Aaaah, Dakar. The fabled party-town of West Africa, the home of the Paris-Dakar rally and one of the largest cities in the region.
Surprisingly, not a dump (for values of West Africa).
As we got off the boat, the only thing we could process was a shower. The hotel not being far, it was our first stop.
At this point in time, I need to spend some time on mentioning the hotel situation in the region. They seem to get stars based on the amount of bribes they give to the inspectors (if such a thing exists anyway), and reality seems to bear very little resemblance to the pictures that they post on the Internet. Say, our hotel out here - http://www.hotel-faidherbe.com/ - 3* you say? Sure. One of them is a brown dwarf, the other a late-stage G5 sun on the brink of collapse, and the third one is a little confused and isn't quite sure if it's a star, a planet or perhaps a unicorn.
Unfortunately, this managed to escape the astronomers working reception, because the walk-in rate for a room starts at 75 EUR. :) BUT! It's clean, it has a pool and air-conditioning, and that's really all that we cared about at that point in time.
Oh, and they washed our car! I didn't remember it was actually dark browny in reality, I thought it was "red dust".
Having done what was REALLY needed and feeling quite perky, we bounced off to the shipping agent to get the car processed - only to find out that we needed several wads ("wad" - take 10 of the largest banknotes of the country, put 9 of them together, wrap the 10th one around them and staple them together) of local money as they don't take Euros. Uhhh... Ok, let's do the paperwork today, and pay and do the customs tomorrow - we have plenty of time.
While the LandRover teams went through the process (and got on the plane at the end of the day - there's something to be said for working for an Airline and being able to travel on "stand-by" tickets), we went in search of a cash machine/exchange office. After getting into the most decrepit taxy in town (and that's a competition!), driven by a man who must have failed kindergarten several times and had about as much sense of direction as a drunk chicken, we managed to find a shady guy to convert the rest of our Mauritanian Puffins (Ouiga...something in reality) at a horribly bad rate, and a few hundred EUR (at the normal rate) into several wads of CFA Francs. Thus equipped with funds, the logical next step was to spend some on souvenirs.
Now... You know how you're supposed to bargain? Well, I have no issue with that, and in most cases I do (I like to think so at least) reasonably well for a tourist, but some people our here apparently think that insanity is the order of the day, and start with what I can only assume is their annual income - and THAT pisses me off. 180 EUR for two small glass paintings? Oh Puh-lease brotha, you paid like 5000 CFA for one when you bought them!
We got what we wanted in the end, including a very nice 3-giraffe family, henceforth to be known as "Belinni", "Mimosa" and "Mai Tai". You'll get to see them (we hope) once they arrive with the car into Genoa on the 15th of March, or thereabouts.
Now, to close out this second-to-last live installment, I do need to make a recommendation. If you ever find yourselves in Dakar (which, with the soon-to-open Kempinski and Intercontinental resorts is not an impossible proposition, even for us), you simply MUST go to Chez Loutcha, preferably in a large, very hungry group and several times. It's simply magnificent food.
Now, next steps: One more "live" entry - "Car goes on the boat, we go on a plane", then we start adding the pictures.
And after all that is done... We'll take the stories from the blog, add pictures to them, add some 3rd party content from one of the other teams - and put out a nice .pfd file titled:
"Budapest-Bamako (Destination Bissau) or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Border controls" - an "Idiots guide for Offroading" for and by people that should not be Offroading."
The border opens at 8am, and we're the first car to reach it.
We get cleared into Senegal in 10 minutes, or, in African physics terms, the Senegalese border controls actually manage to exceed the speed of light.
Even the "Pass Avant" - the Senegalese customs form - gets written up for 10 days, so that we'll definitely have enough time to get the car onto the boat, with only a minimum of prompting. I have the 20 EUR it cost us at Rosso prepared, and would be happy with twice that much, as we got an extended permit.
He asks for 5000 CFA, or about 8 EUR.
Huh. So, the "helpful ladies" that "organized" and "expedited" the entry process by and for the rally when entering Senegal (read: 5h vs 10 minutes) took a... 100+% commission?
Nice. Let's not use them next year.
It's 8.15am, and we're 8km from Ziguinchor where a twice-weekly ferry leaving at 3pm but boarding cars until 1.30 can take us clear around Gambia and the killer roads into Dakar overnight.
We WILL be on it.
Of course, first we need to change some money on a Sunday - when banks are closed, and the ATMs that are inside the branches can't be accessed, and a nice gentleman offers us 39000 CFA for 100 EUR.
Do I look like I'm fresh off the boat? (I can't possibly, I smell bad, my hair is all over the place, and my clothes are a uniform savannah sand color). 65000 is the official rate, I'd have taken 60000, but your opening bid is an insult.
A nice dockworker (more flashlights given away) gets us the normal exchange rate in a different shop, we pay the ferry fees and get on the boat. Of course, they find tear gas on Mojca, which doesn't make them very happy (CS spray requiring a license in Senegal - who knew?), and then... Then they find my tear gas, the dagger around my neck and my swiss army knife. They promptly get confiscated until Dakar (I thought I'd never see them again, but I got them back!), and two flashlights solve the "fine for tear gas" problem - but they do take it away from us.
Having said that, the SECOND cans of tear gas in the backpacks get through the same checkpoint untouched, and the Swiss knife Mojca has goes past them unnoticed. Magnificent security you have going on here guys.
At this time (call it noon), the Slovenian Land Rovers call they also managed to reach the border, that the border cop is rather upset we got away from him, and that he's giving them the exact same spiel. Fortunately...
They make the ferry 2 hours later, with minutes to spare. They had no idea why they were suddenly let through, but I call the foreign ministry anyway, and let them know we're all out! Yay!
MEANWHILE IN BISSAU
By this point in time, all the cars - even the ones with no intention of selling - in Bissau have gotten impounded by the military on orders from the government for failure to pay a tax invented on the 3rd of February. Which is also the reason why we probably had issues with getting out of the country. The fact that we had our "Q1 temporary import duty permit" stamped, sealed and approved was, of course, beside the point.
Back in Ziguinchor, as the ferry departs, we notice a large number of black bags tied all over the place. After about 4 hours (call it 7pm), their utility becomes clear. By 10pm, 95% of the africans on the boat are projectile vomiting all over the place. (We really should have recorded it.)
There are people trying to do their evening prayers with a plastic bag in front of them. The doctor keeps getting paged, and motion sickness pills are being handed out like candy. The lady in the row in front of us has her head in a garbage can.
Then we hit some rough seas.
The 6 of us have a beer, some dinner and try to go to sleep, with the sounds of retching around us to calm us while the boat rocks us to sleep. Funnily enough, none of the whiteys (including a gaggle of actual Hippies we share the boat with) seem to be sick.
We hit Dakar two hours late at 8am, and depart the boat (by this time smelling - and looking - like a kindergarden on stomach flu week) for the fresh, or at least non-stomach-acid scented air of Dakar, and go in search of the hotel, before finding the shipping company.
(To the background music of a guy playing a banjo)
It's 7.30pm on the 9th of February. The border is closed (which doesn't stop half the population crossing it anyway on foot, bikes and scooters), I haven't showered in 3 days, and 3ply toilet paper is nice, but I'm not a bear. In short, I'm a slightly annoyed individual at this point in time.
The boss cop leaves, but not before casting a killer look at us. Then two cops we haven't seen before appear out of the darkness and demand our passports.
Okay, that's it. We're going to jail.
They reappear in 10 minutes, passports stamped and open the barrier.
Uhhh... Wait, what?
"Just go, fast, so no one see you."
They didn't have to tell us twice.
The Gendarmerie checkpoint is already closed, but they stamp us and let us through anyway, and tell us to just explain to the Senegalese that we were delayed.
Which would be OK, if there was still anyone there, except a very, VERY armed bunch of folks that tell us to go back, it's not safe, and why are we driving through a mine field at night.
Right, new problem. We can't go into Senegal, we are NOT NOT NOT EVER going back into Guinea Bissau, and we can't camp because being reunited with our ancestors courtesy of a land mine is not particularly high on the to-do list for the evening.
But we can't stay on the Senegalese side because we're not even allowed to keep the lights of the car on.
We go back to the Bissauian Gendarmerie checkpoint (fortunately out of sight of the cops) and ask them in broke french-spanish-portugese if we might possibly be allowed to spend the night next to the post.
Oh, no, no! Here, drive in to the back yard, it's safer and off the road! (This all being explained with waving arms as we didn't have any overlaps in our language knowledge).
Wait, what? You're... Nice?
About 15 minutes after we park in the yard between the border post and the house the 3 gendarmes live in, and just as we're contemplating dinner, they come and ask us to join THEM for dinner.
Uhhh... Did we cross the twilight zone boundary as well? Who are these people!?
Dinner consists of the main course (fish stew with Baguettes) provided by the Gendarmes and Coke and cookies provided by us. They share their baguettes (they had 3) and their spoons (likewise, exactly 3) with us - and we're overwhelmed. They're the nicest bunch of people we met so far. We give them a few of the good flashlights, so they don't need to always share the one they have - and we crawl into the car to spend the night. You can hear the carnival in the distance, and people (and god knows what else) crossing the border in the background.
It is now 11pm. We've been at the border for 11 hours.
By default, any African border, even on a good day, is an exercise in random checks, useless paperwork and uncontrolled chaos - and Petit Cadeaux.
First, we passed Customs, where they took down the details of our car. All nice and well. Then, the Police - at this point in time, it's just before noon. Where everything was going OK until they saw the rally stickers.
"Not allowed to pass, have to go back to Bissau." Says the cop.
"Call from big boss in immigration, all cars must go to Bissau."
But we don't want to go to Bissau, we need to get to Dakar within 36 hours and there is 600km on a bad road ahead of us. And 2 more borders if we take the trans-Gambian route.
"No, go to Bissau, immigration call, no cars can go."
Right. Okay. This is odd.
So we phone up the organizer, who has no idea what we're on about. But he says he'll check. The Capo comes out of the station, and tells us we need to leave. A loud discussion ensues where I explain to him that I am an EU citizen with all the proper documentation wanting to leave the country, and that we will camp out in front of the station until we are let across. "No, no camp, go back to Bissau!"
Yeah, of course. That's not happening.
This, or variations of this goes on for 2 hours. I call our organizer, he calls the government, they say there's no problem, cop at border says that Immigration called and we're not allowed to go, won't speak to the - I kid you not - the Secretary of State of Guinea Bissau who was at the opening of Carnival with the rest of the cars - and won't give me the name and number of the person that called them.
It wasn 't a border crossing, it was a Dali painting from his batshit-crazy years (true, that's most of them...)
And then, just as I thought that the 100 EUR bribe offer was maybe too low (what if Daddy needed a new wife!?), the other Slovenian teams call, and say they weren't allowed to cross either at the same border crossing we entered through yesterday, because immigration called that no one is allowed to leave.
Oh, now we're fucked. Andrew (our organizer), help! Bigger problem. Fix it. Please. We just want to leave. Everyone in Bissau is still saying there's no issue, border cop-man is still casting evil eyes at us as we sit on camp chairs outside car and I drink a beer.
Time to start calling the embassies.
The Portuguese embassy which is supposed to be responsible for EU citizens in G-B does not pick up the phone (it being Saturday, there's no way there could be a diplomatic problem in a 3rd world banana republic, right?).
The French embassy only speaks French (who would've thought that our highschool French would come so handy during this trip?), and gives us the number of the Honorary Consul of G-B in Slovenia. Which we already called, but because it's Saturday, he's not picking up. And neither are the Spanish.
Well, okay, now what?
The Dutch embassy in Senegal does pick up, and the nicest lady ever calls up their guy in G-B, and tries to check of there's a problem.
Then, I call our foreign ministry.
"Are you trying to tell me that they won't let an EU citizen leave - leave! - the country?" was the repeating question from both the Dutch and ours. With only a slight nudge - aka., call a friend of a friend who is the head of the diplomatic service - it sometimes pays to live in a small country - the Slovenians started trying to see what was going on.
"Move car, go to Bissau!" guy comes around again.
Nope. Not on your life. 200km over medium- bad roads (but gorgeous country and scenery!) to someplace where I won't be able to leave for a few days? Gee, thanks. We have MREs, pate, wine, cookies, processed cheese, energy bars and the emergency stash of scotch. We're ok for a week or so.
Meanwhile, the other Slovenians make it to Bissau, and we agree to meet at the border in the morning.
It is now almost 7pm. We're still at the border, I'm out of beer, we have no idea what is going on, the phone bill will be the size of the GDP of the country we're stuck in, we need to get to Dakar to get the car on the boat for Europe, the road to Dakar is a giant pothole with some asphalt around it, there's two more borders and a country for which we need to blag a visa and, joy of joys, the border is closing.