Western Africa

Western Africa

Morockin' the oases till I'm ghana!

I enjoy pretty much all types of travel, save for the all-inclusive variety and/or the staying-put kind.
But if I had to chose, the unexpected, the seldom trodded, the sparsely populated, the wilderness-y versions would be my top picks.
I have a feeling Western Africa can fulfill my curiousity in that regard, so....
I'm going to Western Africa!

Sacs à dos

Cool-downPosted by Martin Wed, January 31, 2018 21:07:22

The flight home was uneventful. Upon booking, I was giddy over the fact that I was able to choose my seat immediately. There was a mixup however, and my chosen seat was apparently in business class. Since I hadn't paid for business class, they had changed my seat, but luckily I was still in aisle, and not the dreaded middle, so no fuzz. I watched The Force Awakens in preparation for what was to come and tried to get some shut-eye. After a short, but not stressful, layover in Istanbul I made my final flight. Passport control was surprisingly inefficient by European standards, but the baggage carousel started moving pretty soon, and my distinctive backpack was among the first.

At the exit, some of what I had missed the most waited*, and I got a ride home, dumped the luggage, had a shower, and pretty much went straight from a continent quite quite close to a galaxy far far away....

And as is tradition, or an old charter, or something, it's time to present this trip's….


The Brick Backpack (for best city)

The Calico Backpack (for best surprise)
Dolphins in the river in Gambia

The Celluloid Backpack (for best photo)
Goats in trees

The Copper Backpack (for most price-worthy experience)
Mozziepants, haggled down from 10 000 to 6 000 guineabobs, roughly € 0.60

The Cotton Backpack (for best accommodation)
Niagara Inn, Accra

The Fur Backpack (for best nature experience)
Boat tour on the rivers and mangrove swamps, Tendaba, The Gambia

The Glass Backpack (for best hang)
At Sukuta Lodge

The Granite Backpack (for best landscape)
Guinean highlands

The Jade Backpack (for best cultural experience)
Elmina town walk

The Khaki Backpack (for best guide)

The Malt Backpack (for best drink)
Guinness (other nominee: The first beer after the dryness of Mauritania)

The Neoprene Backpack (for best dive)
Half sunken shipwreck, Banana Island

The Plush Backpack (for best transport)
The coach from Cape Coast to Accra

The Silver Backpack (for best eating)
The steak at Butcher's (other nominee: some of what Preben made)

The Terry Backpack (for best swim)
Kinkon falls

The Goathide Backpack (for best medina)

The Velour Backpack (for softest experience)
The beaches of Sierra Leone

The Gold Backpack (for best experience in total)

I entered country number 70 and did dive number 50. I slept in a mozzie net under the stars in the wilderness and met a bunch of cool-ass people. But the one thing, the unique thing, unlikely to be repeated ever, was to trek into the jungle and have a close encounter with one of my absolute favourite animals from my childhood.

Therefore, the Gold Backpack of 2017-2018 goes to:

Chimpanzee trekking in Guinea


*) Definitely whom I had missed the most

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Trois petits cochons

GhanaPosted by Martin Tue, January 30, 2018 10:15:43

Between Kumasi and the coast lies Kakum National Park. A rainforest with many of the usual suspects, including, but not limited to, trees, insects, forest elephants, monkeys, snakes and leopards. The thing with jungles, as opposed to, say, the open savannah, is that there are trees and other vegetation pretty much everywhere. The consequence for the non-human inhabitants is that they tend to be smaller than their open-air cousins (for example, the jungle elephant might as well be called pygmy elephant, but don't say that to their trunks). The consequence for the human visitors is that the other animals are difficult, if not impossible, to see, what with all the vegetation and pygmy-ism and all. Therefore, a cool* experience in Kakum is a canopy walk. Rickety, but perfectly safe, rope bridges are suspended 15-40 metres in the air, making for a fun walk just above the foliage.

The goal of the day, however, was to reach the coast. That we did, but unfortunately the place we stayed was a fair bit out of the way. As I had to get to Accra before the truck did, and the local bus would leave Cape Coast (at least an hour taxi drive away) at early o'clock, I did some quick rearranging of my itinerary. Both Elmina, the closest town, and Cape Coast, the next town over, are coastal towns with an important historical affiliation with the slave trade of colonial times, and definitely worth a visit.

And so it was that I packed all my stuff**, said my good byes to the people who stayed at the campsite, and shared a taxi to Elmina with some who didn't.

Elmina Castle, sometimes called St George's Castle, is presumably the oldest European-built building in West Africa and marks the starting point of any visit to the former Portuguese colonial town. But rather than focusing on the slave fort, we took a town walk with a local guide. Noticing the three major sources of income (salt mining, fishing, and tourism) we perused the streets, the forts, the convents and the markets in the 40 degree heat. After a well-earned cold beer, I said even more goodbyes and took a taxi with my diving-buddy co-traveller for a tour of Cape Coast Castle.

Built by the Swedes in the 1600's, the Castle served as a slave fort and waystation before they were shipped away to unknown destinations. It was later claimed by the Danes, then the Dutch, and finally the British. The cells in which they kept their slaves were devastating to see, the solitary cell even moreso. The stories about, especially, the female slaves went straight to the heart. The impact made by learning about the horrible, unimaginable conditions these people had to endure was strengthened by the stark contrast of the luxury of the governor's quarters.

After one more goodbye, I went to my hotel, getting ready for next morning's early bus ride. Although crowded and a bit late, the bus ride itself offered luxuries I had forgotten existed. The seats were comfy, there was plenty of legroom, the headrest cushion was so soft it could have served The Spanish inquisition***, and there was aircon.

The inclusion of air conditioning was even more obvious as I stepped out of the coach in Accra, walking right into what felt like a wall of hot steam.

The capital of Ghana is a city in the usual sense of the word. There are streets and avenues, parking lots, high-rises, museums, asphalt, nightclubs, bars and restaurants, and even a shopping mall****. There are also, of course, the wrong side of the tracks, shady areas, bustling markets and people trying to scam and/or sell you goods and/or services.

Armed with my inconspicuous small camera, I put on my walking shoes and set off to explore this my last destination of this odyssey.

Kristiansborg, a former Danish slave fort marks the Eastern end of the city along the coast, which stretches westwards towards Ussher Fort and Jamestown lighthouse to indicate the Western border of the city proper (although the metropolitan area does continue to the west, starting with a sewage treatment plant). In between lies Independence Square and Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park & Mausoleum. The square was empty and the park was closed due to a wedding, though. The activity tracker on my sports watch had a couple of field days (quite literally) as I perused the streets of Accra, including the poor fishing district of Jamestown and the perfectly non-hectic market quarters.

Passing through the cozy neighbourhood of Osu, I found myself at the, according to TripAdvisor, second best eatery in town: Burger & Relish. And with an item on their menu named Three Little Piggies (named so due to the burger being endorsed with chorizo, bacon and bacon jam), who am I to disagree?

Time flew, and soon I had to, as well. Rearranging my luggage, throwing away what I not needed and optimising the rest, I eventually got in the taxi to the airport. The adventure was drawing to an end, and as I spent my last cedis at the duty free (for reasons unknown, there's no bureau de change after the security check at Kotoka International Airport, so one would have to repeat the tiring procedure or simply spending the remaining moneys buying goodies at the duty free or trinket shops), this African Adventure was over.

*) Though not in the literal sense; the temperature was close enough to 40 degrees, and humidity felt like it was in three digits

**) Except, as I noticed later, the lower parts of my zip-off trousers; they were unfortunately left on the truck.

***) The Pythonesque one, of course; the one nobody expects

****) Though no cinema, as far as I could tell, so Star Wars ep VIII: The Last Jedi would have to wait

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Le roi de les quis?

GhanaPosted by Martin Sun, January 21, 2018 11:36:41

In Central Ghana lies the cradle of the Ashanti (sometimes spelled Asante) kingdom, and nowhere is Ashanti influence more obvious than in the regional capital Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city.

In a rare, or actually unique, instance, we camped in town rather than a 15-60 minute taxi ride away. An almost as rare instance was that dinner wasn't cooked on open fire on a tight budget, but rather free of choice. Guidebooks and websites all agreed that the best restaurant in Kumasi is The View Bar and grill, so half of us went* there.

Fitting name, the place offered spacious dining with a 270 view of the city and the best steak in 2018. Quite a difference from the fufu (a cassava/plantain flour porridge or dough) I had for lunch.

Guidebooks and websites all agreed that the number one thing to do in Kumasi is a visit to Kejetia market, the largest in West Africa. 11.000 stalls and four times as many people working there, the market covers the ground of an entire neighborhood. One could get lost in the maze** for hours, and what you can't find here in hand-me-downs simply hasn't been handed-me-down yet.

Obviously I tried to avoid that literal hell as much as possible, but the thing infects its surroundings, swelling into the actual streets, and I found myself all but stuck in a noisy, crowded, suffocating place with no apparent route of escape. Frantically clutching my wallet and my mobile I struggled through, and eventually found myself in relatively open air again, took some deep breaths, getting my bearings, and making it to the National Cultural Centre. There was an opening to a different world. Open space, air, peace and quiet, with streets lined by arts and craft shops, cafés, jazz clubs, museums. There were people there, yes, but they weren't yelling and they weren't everywhere.

There were the selling of stuff, yes, but they didn't nag you and harass you and not even once shouted 'Hey white man!'.

There were vehicles, yes, but they were few and far between, and neither honked, nor spewed exhaust fumes on idle.

A nice oasis in a city that, other than the market, is busy, but not overly hectic.

The museum of Prembeh II Jubilee is situated here, which for a very affordable fee will provide you with a personal guide to show and tell a brief history of the Ashanti kingdom.

Another place where the Ashanti heritage is presented is Komko Anokye Sword site. That is the place where, in the 17th century, the local clans gathered, agreed to join forces with each other and thereby forming the Ashanti kingdom.

A kingdom needs a king, of course, and since all the chiefs aspired for the throne, the obvious solution, according to the high priest, was to pray to the gods for a sign. And so, after a night of praying, and definitely not making any shady deals, treason and backstabbing, the priest gathered the chiefs anew, whereupon a golden throne appeared in midair, gently dropping down to one of the present chief's lap, thereby declaring him king***.

The priest then stuck a sword in the ground, and it has never been removed since. Many have tried, yes, but neither bulldozers nor Muhammad Ali could pull it from the earth, and so the Ashanti kingdom remains. True story.

*) With 5 km away from where we were staying, we figured it'd be smoother and quicker taking a taxi rather than walk. Not necessarily so; the adress given is not the same as the actual place, maps.me and Google maps disagree on the location (though not by much) and for being touted as the best restaurant in Kumasi, neither the locals, nor the taxi drivers have any idea of where it is. Thus we stepped out of the taxi somewhere between where the adress indicated and where Google did, and walked the last bit, eventually finding it, just 30 minutes after our reservation.

**) Or possibly labyrinth

***) Strange invisible gods hanging in midair, distributing thrones, is no basis for a system of government.
Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aerial ceremony.

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Regardez, monsieur Frodo: Des olyphaunts!

GhanaPosted by Martin Sat, January 20, 2018 10:08:52

Note: the pix below are now hi-res (exept, I suppose, for the croc one) and clickable.

With three blank pages still available in my passport, I was now in country number 70* on my globetrotting CV. Ghana is sometimes described as West Africa for beginners, and I could get behind that sentiment. The roads are decent, electricity is available almost 24 hours a day and many places sell ice and meat. At the same time it has some of the attributes of the region, such as villages of huts with thatched roofs, waving children, busy markets and elephants.

The elephants dwell mostly in the rural areas, though. Mostly. A nice place to see the largest land animal in the world is Mole** National Park, which also hosts warthogs, crocodiles, a bunch of antelope species and a particularly nasty type of ant.

Taking a game drive in the afternoon, we saw a ton of some of the above, a decent amount of some, and about two dozen per sock of the last, burrowed into them, biding their time until I would let my guard down for a full frontal attack on my groin. I didn't let my guard down, though, and ruthlessly showed some 50 ants who's the boss, and also 25 million times larger.

I went to bed straight after dinner, for I, along with a co-traveller, was booked for a night drive at 3:30. Apparently there's a 3:30 in the morning now, but nobody seemed to have told neither the driver, nor the guide. The night drive was a no-show, and I went back to bed, hoping to catch two hours of sleep before the morning's walk. The morning walk went on as planned, though. Similar sights, and this time even crocodiles.

We left Mole with full memory cards and mosied on, desperately trying to find a decent bushcamp not too far from our next destination. As luck would have it, Mr Charles, the proprietor of a cocoa plantation, welcomed us with open arms to camp in his backyard and letting us use his outhouse. While the pots were boiling, we ventured into the hamlet and actually found a rooftop bar called The Rooftop Bar. It was closed though, but below lied an establishment called The Roofdown Bar, were we got to sample the local spirit (booze spiced with different herbs and sugar, not completely dissimilar to Jägermeister) and its premixed counterpart, Orijin. Next morning Mr Charles took us to see the plantation. A government run facility, they grow and care for cocoa seedlings, which the farmers of the region can collect, free of charge, thereby helping struggling farmers to get enough crops to make a decent living, while at the same time ensuring the highest possible level of quality for the Ghanaian chocolate.

*) Depending on how you count, of course. It's a country if it was recognized as such by the UN or IOC at the time of visit, and it counts as a visit if you've been outside any points of entry (airports, harbours, train stations etc), stayed at least a night and sampled the local food and/or beer (if they have any). The staying a night is not necessary for mini or micro nations such as Monaco, and the sampling is not necessary for nano nations such as the Vatican or places without permanent population, such as Antarctica.

**) Not pronounced like the burrowing, almost blind animal, but rather Moll-e

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En caoutchouc et plage

Côte d'IvoirePosted by Martin Fri, January 19, 2018 19:53:45

At the border crossing, the green, white and orange flag waved, and a bar provided beers while we were waiting for immigration to process our passports. No, we hadn't gone through a portal and materialized on the Emerald Isle; the orange part of the flag was to the left and the beers were large bottles of chilled lager, rather than pints of foamy black stout.
We bushcamped right by the customs building, and had enough time to sightsee the local village. In this case, it was rather the local villagers coming to sightsee us; never before had the large yellow truck full of white people cooking on open fire drawn such a big crowd.
Moving on, we had another bushcamp right at the edge of a kautschuk plantation with perfectly lined trees.

Further south, outside Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d'Ivoire, they had built a big church in the outskirts of nowhere. Apparently it's a replica of the basilica in the Vatican, only without the crowd, and, you know, the pope.

Swiftly passing through the Ivorian landscape, aiming for the actual coast, we soon got to see a rare sight in Western Africa: a city skyline, complete with high-rise buildings.

Abidjan, the capital in all but actuality, was passed through, and we stayed at a beach resort pretty much halfway between the city and the smaller and cosier town of Grand Bassam, with taxi distance to both. The days by the beach were spent relaxing, and in my case getting back to the digital world. I found a decent enough phone for a small penny and started perusing the recently released programme for the upcoming film festival back home. I managed to get through it, select and cull my selection, puzzle all the films into my schedule and ordering the tickets. With dealings with upcoming events at home turf all sorted, we left the coast and moved on, leaving the francophone parts of the trip behind, and entering the last country of this my Western Africa odyssey.

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Singe d'affaires, encore une fois

GuineasPosted by Martin Thu, January 18, 2018 07:44:22

Back in Guinea, the bush beckoned. The bushfires roared, sometimes right beside the road. Controlled bushfires, though; a necessity in the extremely dry landscape in order to avoid the natural, and way more devastating ones

Rounding Liberia and heading south to the tri-nation border, the altitude rose, as did the humidity. Near Bossou, the forest could now more reasonably be called jungle, and that's where the Guinean chimpanzees like to live.

Unlike their brethren in Tacugama, these apes are free and wild. The area is a natural reserve, and we got to camp at the research centre before trekking into the jungle in search of the 7 or so chimps that were known to live in the neighborhood.

About an hour of trekking, and Jeje, the chief of the local chimp group, appeared, solemnly munching on the nuts he had cracked open with some rocks.

So I have now finally seen the other of my two favourite childhood animals in their right place, and despite the fact that my phone, and with it a lot of writing I had done, had died in me, I left Guinea waving to the locals.

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Ohohoho, Jacques Costeau

Sierra LeonePosted by Martin Tue, January 16, 2018 18:38:38

Well, we crossed eventually. Technically, we spent a night bushcamping in nomansland between Guinea and Sierra Leone. But after that, it was surprisingly smooth sailing. With relative ease and speed, we trudged through the Leonian landscape on paved roads, coming to a slowdown in the bustling traffic of Freetown and eventually breaking free and reach one of the many beaches of the peninsula.

The scarcity of ice for the eskies and the hotness and humidity of the coastal region spurred the thirst of the gang, and luckily the bar by our beach camp was ready. Soon we all had a chilled drink to cool down with.
It is a well-known fact, for those that knows it well, that any beach is guaranteed to infect every fold and nook on your person and belongings within a 15 kilometre radius with sand. And that's roughly where Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is in one direction, and Banana Island is in another.
In the sanctuary, they attempt to reintroduce stolen, abandoned and otherwise incapable apes into the wild. They do so in four stages, from being completely looked after in small enclosures, via testing their social compatibility with other groups, to large enclosures where they pretty much get to get by on their own, thereby making it worth reintroducing them.

The success rate of reintroduction is rather poor, but one could argue that the chimps are better off in the sanctuary than eaten as bushmeat or trapped in a cage in a zoo. And of course, it raises awareness about the imminent danger our closest relatives are in.

In the other direction lies Kent* beach, from where the local fishermen set oar and the tourists get into wobbly dinghies for transportation to Banana Island, two of which were another passenger of the yellow truck and me.

Secluded and definitely more quiet than on the mainland, this is the home of West Africa's only diving centre (not counting the offshore groups of islands, such as the Canaries or Cabo Verde). A delicious dinner from freshly speared fish with tasty groundnut sauce was served, after which we got our gear together, signed away our lives, and went to bed, getting ready for next morning's dives. I've had better dives, and I've had worse. Shallow but interesting, including a shipwreck and some big schools of fish. It was great to be back in the water, though, as it had been almost a year since last time. And it's a great way to start celebrating New Year's Eve.

Back at the beach, the fire got lit, and upon the fire grate was laid a big-ass barracuda, wrapped in aluminium foil. Yummy, and the end of 2017 was celebrated.

As our group had representatives from all over the globe, we had a little mini 'Happy New Year!' every time some other country passed into 2018. First off was New Zealand, natch, and then followed Australia and Scandinavia before the local big strike of midnight. The party didn't last all the way to North America, though.

Relaxing at the beach on New Year's Day, the pizza was nowhere to be found, so we had to settle for lobster.

After the beach and sea getaway, it was time to move on towards Côte d'Ivoire. But alas, between Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire lies Liberia, a country not really advisable for travellers. We therefore headed north rather east, rounding one of the last three countries still not understanding metric, by means of the rocky roads of Guinea.

*) Most of the beaches of the peninsula are named after places in England, or in English history: Kent, York, Sussex, Hastings, Waterloo

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Guinness dans les Guinées

GuineasPosted by Martin Fri, December 29, 2017 09:17:50

Halfway through the trip I started to know decidedly less, actually. Guinea-Bissau is maiden territory for most overlanding companies, and certainly for Oasis. So what would follow was obscured. The border crossing from Senegal into Guinea-Bissau was smooth as, though, and with the same currency some of the bureaucracy was lessened.

Not that I spent any money. Campsites are not a thing in G-B, and hotels even less so. As per previous warnings, I had stocked up some beer in Senegal (the juice is, though not illegal, difficult to obtain), and the former Portuguese colony was crossed in two days, despite the roads being bumpy and ill maintained, bushcamping all the way.

One of those days was the day that I stopped being 42, and so the christmas licorice from the old homestead was opened, to the delight of all Scandinavians aboard (Preben and myself). The half-dutch passengers feel wrongly about salty licorice, so more for me. It might even last all the way through christmas.

If crossing into Guinea-Bissau was relatively hassle free, then crossing into regular Guinea was almost European in its smoothness. Which is more than can be said about the roads. Roughly three hours after we had entered Guinea it was time for lunch, some 40 kilometres inland. So, the lumpy, humpy, bumpy dirt roads allowed Nala the truck to move in decent running tempo.

More bushcamps in quarries followed, but as christmas was coming up, we stayed one night in Labé in order to get the final shopping done, overnighting on the grounds of a local hotel, thereby at least having access to the essentials.

Christmas itself was spent in the wild, though. In Kinkon Falls in the Guinean Highlands, to be precise.

Sporting my brand new (well, second hand) mozziepants (bought at the market for 6000 guineabobs, about €0.60) and my too small Santa hat, I celebrated Scandinavian christmas (24:th) by opening one of the two gifts I had carried from home. More licorice, obvs, and the deck of cards with moomin motives was inaugurated immediately.

Christmas day is when most of the English speaking world celebrate the holidays, and so I did the traditional Xmas laundry in the morning, before heading to pancake breakfast and Secret Santa.

In addition to the other present from home (even more licorice, yay!), my Secret Santa brought me a little eskie*, with two beers in it. Other secret gifts consisted of a jar of Nutella, a shaving mirror and a slingshot.

Contrary to the usual weather conditions in the end of December, I was so hot my head nearly fell off.

Luckily, the very same river and waterfall that had provided me with the laundry water, offered pools and springs of cooling water, and I packed my little xmas eskie* and spent the hottest hours in or near the babbling brook, including swimming as close to the waterfall as possible.

The roads of Guinea are often bumpier than those of Guinea-Bissau, but eventually we stopped some 60 km from the border and bushcamped (in a manner of speaking) at a football pitch in front of a large audience of locals, clearly intrigued by the big yellow truck and the bunch of white people trying to cook over an open fire. The goal was to cross over to Sierra Leone and get to the beaches of Freetown for a couple of days around New Year's, and crossed we did.

*) Cooler, chilly-bin, ice box....

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Babouins et crocodiles et dauphins, oh mon ....

GambiaPosted by Martin Tue, December 19, 2017 11:07:07

Halfway up the mighty Gambia lies Tendaba. Home of a large variety of birds, as well as the odd simian and lizard, the village bordering on the Kiang West National Park provided ample opportunities for exploring the wilderness.

A bumpy truck ride into the bushy surroundings, and a short hike to the watering holes resulted in a few animal sightings: hawks, vultures and a group of baboons in the distance. There were tracks from porcupines and the local bush pig, but the animals themselves were nowhere to be seen.

The mighty baobab tree stands still, though, and we picked some fruits and gave it try. Unlike any other fruit I've tried, the baobab is almost completely dry. A hard, crisp shell covers a fiberous inside, with some fluffy, porous, slightly crispy material covering the rock hard seeds. The taste and texture is more reminiscent of some foreign candy than fruit, and I couldn't easily make the connection to the baobab juice I had tried in a café a few days prior. The art is in the making. Unlike basically all other types of fruit and berry juice, where you extract the fluid from the source, with baobab you add water to the fruit, letting it soak, and you shake it all about. That is often enough (but it's recommended to filter away the seeds and the stringy fibres), but often they add sugar, and/or mix it with other fruits, such as banana, turning it into a smoothie.

As the area is located by the brackish waters of the river and the mangrove wetlands surrounding it, a small, silent boat with six passengers proved to be a better choice than a 14 person diesel pickup for approaching the local fauna without it fleeing well ahead.

Herons and egrets, kites and kingfishers, pelicans and sandpipers were aplenty, sitting in the trees, sweeping closely over the water's surface or scurrying over the muddy riverbanks.

But the excursion offered not only specimen of the avian persuasion. The odd monitor lizard was seen, and crocodiles glided silently into the water as the boat approached, all before I had the camera ready (though I did see them).

The biggest biological bonus, however, was not in the mangrove swamps, but in the river proper. There, in the distance, a small pod of cetaceans was swimming. As we got closer, some put on a show, jumping out of the water, splashing all around. And they weren't the smaller, darker, river varieties either. These were bottlenose dolphins, and the closest I've ever been, without actually being in the water myself.

With nature sometimes comes culture. The Tendaba community centre was founded by a Swedish couple some years ago, and run by a few more generations of Swedes before the Gambian government took over. The Swedish flag still flies on the premises. Schools, handicrafts and international exchange with other students are on the agenda. We timed our visit with around 120 British students in their teens, but luckily they left by the very next morning. But not after having contributed to the cultural bonfire by the beach. Lit by the locals, the youth, including the children, gathered to dance, sing and play the drums. Everyone was invited, of course. Our little gang mostly stuck to conversations with the locals rather than joining the singing and dancing, but the teens from the UK shared a bit of their culture, by means of a rendition of Wonderwall.

Waving adieu to the friendly people of Tendaba community, we once more turned to the mouth of the mighty Gambia, and the visas that were hopefully there.

Indeed they were. As were the embassy for Sierra Leone, and with it a promise of a quick issuing. The days spent in the Gambia were therefore nearly over, and the last full day was another B-day. Some of the B:s we lucked out of last time became rectified. Breakfast included bacon, Butcher's Shop was revisited (this time with bacon) and it was a birthday. In two senses, I suppose, because birthday girl Mary also became an aunt that day.

The last B of the day was a booking. With the visas done for the immediate future, the itinerary could reasonably be considered set until Accra, and I could therefore book a flight home. A big plus for the airline that best suited my wishes was the fact that I could reserve a seat directly upon booking, rather than 48 or 72 hours before lift-off, thereby avoiding the dreaded middle seat.

And so, roughly halfway through the trip, I had a better grasp of the future.

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Jour de 'B'

GambiaPosted by Martin Tue, December 19, 2017 10:35:03

The smiling coast of Africa they call it, and the country and its people are certainly friendly.

Crossing the vast mouth of the mighty Gambia on a rickety ferry, we disembarked in Banjul, capital of the Gambia, and set course for its twin city Serrakunda, home of the embassies.

The idea was to get Nigerian visas for the people heading therewards, and the wait was spent one cheap taxi drive away from the beaches and resorts of the Atlantic coast, the smiling coast.

B-day was coming. Not someone's birthday (that would still be a few days off) mind you. Nor a less than an A+ day. No, B-day was just a day of doing, buying, going to and spending by things that starts with the letter B: Bikes, beach, bottle shop, Butcher's, bus, bath, beef, bacon, Bloody Mary, bakin', beer....

Unfortunately the bikes weren't available, and buses are few and far between. The lack of tomato juice ruled out the Bloody Mary, and since everyone had been raving about the pepper steak at the restaurant called The Butcher's Shop, I chose that in favour of any pork.

It was divine! Best beef outside of Argentina, I wouldn't wonder. Ordering it rare, they brought it to me rare, with the creamy and well-balanced pepper sauce on the side. The sauce worked equally well with the tender meat as with the crispy chips, and the rich, mildly sweet aroma of Guinness completed the finest lunch in a long time. A long time.

Many other B:s were ticked that day, including going to the beach, bakin in the sun and bathing in the ocean, whereas banking and bottle shopping had to wait for the next day.

The update from the Nigerian embassy was that the visas would be ready by Monday, meaning we could truck on inland for the weekend, halfway upstream the mighty Gambia.

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On dit 'dachna'

SenegalPosted by Martin Tue, December 19, 2017 08:59:11

St Louis is a colonial coastal town and former capital on the Senegalese side of the border. It is also the place of Nice Burger, which it not completely is, and its accompanying beer, which most definitely is.

After exploring the chaotic, loud, bustling mainland part of town, a quick walk across Pont Faidherbe took me to another world, it seemed. French colonial architecture lined the quiet and virtually vehicle free streets, references to the air mail era was abundant, and by the water quaint restaurants lined the shore.

Overlooking the silently bobbing colourful pirouges (the local style of boat) and the bridge itself, we sat down for a few local brews before heading on towards our camp for the next couple of days.

Zebrabar lies in a bird sanctuary, and although the place certainly had more feathery friends than any other place so far on this trip, someone apparently forgot to tell the birds.

A nice and relaxing stay it was, nevertheless, with some kayaking and nice local fish.

The itinerary had definitely changed by now, and instead of turning east towards Mali, we steered south, bushcamping close to the border of The Gambia. Many were the sticky little thistle-y pods in the reed among which we pitched our tents, and the favourite pastime the next day was to painfully de-burr shoes and clothes. That, and at least for me, reading the Swedish newspapers they seem to export to Senegal, and even moreso where we were now, The Gambia.

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Le livre de Boussière

MauritaniaPosted by Martin Wed, December 13, 2017 16:31:52

Of course, the desert and the Anikin grade sand doesn't stop just because Morocco does (or the country of West Sahara, but that's a hot potato). No, even south of the border the sand roams free and the booze does not.

Even more so and less so. Vegetation is sparse in northern Mauritania and there's nothing to bind the dust. The uncountable little particles get everywhere, especially when the truck has one side open and the other closed; it's pretty much a roach hotel for smaller-than-clay fractions: dust checks in, but it doesn't check out.

The dryness is bad enough with every crevasse, nook and cranny covered and filled with nanorocks, and to add insult to injury, there's not even anything to wash the dust away. In Morocco alcohol is legal, albeit difficult to obtain and pretty expensive. No such options exist in The Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and beer and bacon are off the menu.

Apart from the abundance of sand and the absence of booze, Mauritania is little more than a vast strip of land needed to cross in order to get to Senegal. It has nice food (Yassa is highly recommended; it's a mix of onions, spices, herbs , oil and a main ingredient such as chicken or lamb), the people are friendly and less opinionated than their northern neighbours.

Apparently Mauritania is the place where 1990's Mercedeses come to die. Roughly every third car is an old 190 or 220, and most of them seem to be assembled from other 190:s and 220:s, with little to no regard for colour, vintage or even model.

Mauritania might also be a place for good news, everyone! Through a series of events, mostly related to hard-to-get visas, the itinerary will probably change for the better: one detour to an even drier (in all meanings of the word) country will be skipped in favour of another much more sociable, and widely regarded as one of the top destinations in Western Africa. Nothing's set in stone, though.

Sand, rather, because the desert and the Anikin grade sand doesn't stop just because Mauritania does. Well, almost. The southern parts, near the Senegalese border, have decidedly more vegetation and less dust than the northern and central, and at the (hopefully) last bushcamp without beer in the eskie, the biotope seemed to change towards the savannah rather than desert. And just there, across the river, lay Senegal invitingly.

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