A Wild Goose Chase to the Gambia

Of all my travel stories, the one about an unexpected adventure in Africa gets the most attention.

I was travelling to a rural village in the Gambia, situated next to the southern border with Senegal, to visit a community I had worked with previously. Little did I know the journey would end up taking two days and involve being locked in a room and a car, sitting under a stairwell with a baby goat on a barge, being left in a busy town without my belongings, and a surprise welcome bonfire with an African drumming and dancing session in the backyard of a compound with the company of a million children and a donkey named Contan which means ‘happiness’ in the local Mandinka language.

Welcome to my journey from Brighton, England, to Kartong, the Gambia, via Portugal, Senegal and the Banjul River, where all that happened was a surprise.

Aboard a flight that was flying over the Sahara, the captain’s voice became clear over the speaker: “We have a problem with the engine. We must land.”

After a very nervy few minutes, the plane landed in Portugal, which suffice to say was some distance from my intended destination.

Not getting anywhere

A day later I was still in in Portugal, along with a group of rioting Senegalese passengers who had been on another place that also had a problem. Eventually it was announced we would be flown to Dakar, Senegal, where we would have to stay the night before travelling on overland to the Gambia, which is directly south of Senegal.

We arrived in Dakar at 1 AM and, in trying to escape the airport and find our pre-arranged accommodation, were literally pulled back and forth by people trying to sell us things or get us into their taxis or to their hotels. We ended up with a taxi man who stole some documents from my hand – a sign he was the chosen one.

After lying about his and his partner’s English speaking ability and the distance to the hostel, our taxi driver stopped in a dark alley which he claimed to be our end destination. He tried charging us three or four times more for the ride than it should have been and was demanding various currencies of the western world.

Getting locked in

My friend and I tried to get out but couldn’t – he had locked us in. So there my friend and I sat at 2 AM in a dark alley in Senegal, locked in the back of a taxi with two men demanding money – brilliant! Finally we managed to get out and into the hostel where we only had a few hours to sleep until our next journey.

In the morning we awoke to a locked door. We had been locked in our room. After 15 minutes or so knocking on the door, it was opened. We left to take our bus to the Gambian border but instead of bus we had to take an almost broken down, old, shared car. Of course with our track record what do you imagine happened? While we were waiting for other passengers to fill the seats, we got locked in. After a two hour wait in the dry, dusty heat we started to make our way south.

In a car with no mirrors, a crack across the entire windscreen, a gear box with only a few functional gears and a tyre so flat it was about to fall off, we careened throughout desert landscape, dodging donkeys, cows and chickens.

Once we reached Banjul, the capital of the Gambia, we had to make a river crossing on a ferry, the ticket for which cost a mere 5p. Boarding was interesting: mothers with babies on their backs clambered over other mothers with babies on their backs who clambered over moving cars and other people and an assortment of animals.

Finally reaching the Gambia

Everyone stared at us so fiercely I decided to spend the boat ride under a stairwell behind a trash bag with a baby goat in my lap.

Once across the river only a few more hours remained until we reached Kartong. I thought nothing else could go wrong, however, when we were taken to get food, our guy disappeared in his car with all of our belongings.

Fortunately, an hour later he returned, ready to take us another two hours to the village.

We arrived in the village two days late to be greeted with all their smiling children, a bonfire with an African drumming and dancing ceremony – and a donkey.

Africa undoubtedly is a world away from the UK and undeniably a world full of surprises, experiences and insights. If you get a chance you must go because it is a place like no other, but think twice about the way you travel there.  Expect the unexpected, be safe and be wise, but most of all take the experience for all that it is worth and enjoy the ride.