After the wonderful evening I had with my friends Costa and Nelson from Bissau and some tourists from Portugal who were in the hotel with me, I decided it was time to move on. Part of the reason was that I felt I could save more money and time by visiting Cape Verde, and Mauritania on this present trip, even though I did not plan for it when I was leaving Lagos. I reasoned that if I do not do the trip, I would have to fly to Senegal again to do it. So, the next morning I had to leave. I called Costa my friend and he told me he will come to pick me the next morning. First to go visit his mum and then secondly, to get me to a market where I could buy Portuguese study books and then a final tour of the whole city. Costa is a police/military officer in Bissau. I got to know him through his mother who offered to help me the first day I got to Bissau. He arrived and picked me to say final goodbye to his mother who was at work at the time. She was busy when we got to her office and hence, I was not able to see her.
We proceeded to Antula, where he lives with his family. Just like every other African village, it was lively and bubbling. People were peacefully going about their businesses and the little children who were still on Easter Holidays were playing everywhere. After a short visit to his house, we went to the market to buy the Portuguese study books. We were a bit unsuccessful finding a book but we ended up buying a small French-Portuguese dictionary for 5000 CFA (which I considered very expensive) – in Nigeria, that would not sell for more than 1000 CFA. He finally saw me off to the park where I could get a vehicle going to Senegal.
On the road going back to Senegal, I was a bit concerned about passport as I was not properly documented when I was going out of Senegal when I left there some days ago to Bissau. I was however satisfied I had finally visited a Portuguese speaking country. We did some three hour journey on the road before we got to the Guinea Bissau – Senegal border. Unfortunately, I was hoping to see the same gentleman I met the day I was coming but he was not on seat. I rather met a different man who just browsed my passport and stamped me out. He requested for 1000 CFA but backed out when I told him I was a journalist. It is also important I note that in Guinea Bissau, there are two different immigration point when coming into the city. First, is at the border and a second is very close to Bissau. It is also strange to note that both point will stamp your passport if you are coming in by road into the country.
At the Senegalese side however, it was not a problem at all. I was quickly stamped and I left. I was not asked for money or why I did not stamp out the last time I entered. This made me relaxed again. I was Dakar bound, hoping I could get an airplane to Cape Verde the next day from Dakar. We got to Banjul at around 9pm in the evening. We were supposed to take a ferry from Banjul to Barra since we had to travel to Dakar via Banjul. There was another farer route which will not require us using the ferry nor even getting into the Gambia.
Crossing The River Gambia
In any case, we got to the port, boarded the ferry from Banjul to Barra. It was a very cold sail on the mouth of the River Gambia to Barra. Also, there were stories I read on the internet about the safety of some of the ferries but all those were not very important as I was told that the ferries were recently changed by the government. You have to be very careful with your belongings as some pick pockets and miscreants loiter around the ferries. Arriving at Barra, we took another vehicle to the Senegalese – Gambian border in the north. At that point, the language changed from English again to French. May I also note that Senegal is one of those countries that have borders with English, French, Portuguese and Arabic speaking neighbors. However, most if not almost everyone spoke Wolof.
There was a bridge construction work ongoing at that time for The River Gambia Bridge. The bridge would eliminate the need to ferry across the river each time people, goods and services moved between The Gambia and Senegal.
It was about 12am in the morning and we did a 4 hour ride to Dakar.
Dakar’s New Airport
I waited till dawn before I left for the airport in Dakar. There were several options to getting to the airport. I obviously went for the most expensive as I was not properly advised by a lady I met at the Park. I ended up using a very expensive bus of 6000 CFA to the airport – note that some taxi drivers may charge more than that. There are however some cheaper options that could have cost a maximum of half that price. At the airport in Dakar also, they maintained the fact that I must have a travelling allowance of one thousand euros as pocket money before I could travel or else, I would be refused entry into the Cape Verde Islands which was the initial destination I considered. At that point, I had to cancel the trip, planned for Mauritania the next day and decided to get a place to stay for that day.
First, I got and paid for an Air BNB apartment but changed my mind when the host told me the room will be available by 3pm in the afternoon. Meanwhile, it was around 9am in the morning and I had just come from a trip that I almost did not sleep the previous day. I had to cancel the booking and rather booked a hotel room at Dakar International House. This place was nice and I enjoyed my stay. There were different tourists from different parts of the world there as well.
On arrival, I had to sleep for three good hours before I realized I was hungry. The hotel had kitchen and hence, I went shopping to cook, since as at around 3pm that afternoon, all the restaurants or fast food as they call it in Dakar told me they had no rice. I prepared spaghetti and stew with some chicken and sadly, it tasted opposite of what I expected it to. When I was cooking, a female tourist from Iceland walked into the kitchen. We talked about what I was preparing and she invited me to come up to the last floor of the building where other different tourists are relaxing and conversing.
Eventually after cooking, I went up to the floor where these tourists were hanging out. I was welcomed by each of them and I took out time to introduce myself and also asked them theirs and their nationalities. There were two Polish (a couple), one Dutch, one Icelander, one British, a Chinese and a Moroccan. They shared their travelling experiences and I was very delighted to hear what they all had to share about their countries. The Moroccan was particularly happy with me as he said I should be the first African tourist he is seeing who wants to travel Africa. We discussed lots of issues in Africa which includes colonial influences, secession, trades and several other things. At around 11:30pm we started pulling out one by one and around midnight, we were all retired to our rooms.
Very early the next morning, I headed to the same La Gare Routière des baux Maraichers (Pikine) where I arrived the first day I came from the Gambia. It is a central park in Dakar and one could get a car to Rosso, the border town with Mauritania. It is also possible to get vehicle to so many other regions in Senegal. The ‘Sept Place’ (Seven Places) 505 Old Wagon Peugeot car took 7500 CFA for the trip that took almost 7 hours. I became friends with one Boubacar in the car. Boubacar would eventually help me get a place to sleep that evening.
Rosso – The Border Town
We arrived Rosso at about 6:05pm that evening and I headed directly to the Senegalese immigration. The lady on seat told me that she was not going to stamp me out because the immigration officers on the Mauritania side had closed for the day. I was a bit worried but I went straight to ask people where I could find a cheap hotel where I could sleep. I got a few of those hotels which were too expensive. I got a room with a bed and an old television with air conditioner for 22,000 CFA. That was too expensive and it occurred to me to call my new friend Boubacar for options. He told me his village was far from where I was but he was going to call some of his good friends who live around there to come give me a place I could sleep for the night. I was very happy as that would save me a lot of money. He advised me to take a motorbike to the Richard Toll from where his friend would come to pick me up.
The bike man was kind when I told him I could not cross the border and I was going to sleep somewhere. He told me to feel free to come and stay in his house if I want to. I thanked him and invited him to come and pick me up and take me back to the border the next morning. That was how I met Ibrahima or Ibou as he is called by friends and family.
The next morning, I was woken by Ibou’s call. He told me he was on his way and advised me to get ready. I did not border to take my bath that morning – I told myself I would do it at Nouakchott. I hurried to Richard Toll where he picked me to the border where I completed the formalities and now boarded another ferry to cross over to Mauritania. I had to return a second time to Richard Toll to make withdrawals from a bank because I was told that apart from the 60 euros I was expected to have for the visa, I was expected to have another 50 euros for my expenses.
The ferry was free this time. There were other smaller boats or ‘pirogue’ as they are called in French. You will have to pay for these smaller ones. In any case, we crossed successfully and on coming out of the ferry, a very hungry looking black old man made a gesture signifying where is your passport or ID? I showed him and he took it from me and asked me to wait for a while. I waited till all the passengers on the ferry disembarked and then he took me and two other passengers to meet an Arab man who now quizzed me for almost 30 minutes. He asked me where I was going to and I told him I was Nouakchott bound. He asked for my intentions for the travel, I told him I was a tourist and a journalist. He asked of my contact in Nouakchott and I gave him the address of the hotel I booked at Nouakchott. He placed a call across to them and they confirmed I had a reservation. He stepped out for some time and returned to ask me further questions. At a point, he brought in another man who spoke a little English. They asked me some questions about my age, how long I intended to stay in Nouakchott and other questions. I eventually overheard him saying something like he wants to be sure if I am going to Morocco. Well, after the very long delay and questioning, he came back to tell me that I would not be allowed to cross the border by land as they had made a policy that does not allow people coming from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries that experienced Ebola during the Ebola outbreak to cross the country on land. He advised me I will only be allowed in if I take a plane directly to the Capital. He advised me to go to Dakar and take a plane to Nouakchott. Before this I was given a place to seat in an office with chilled bottled water. After I was given the sad news I would not be crossing, I was served tea and was taken to a room where my passport data page and a few of my biodata was captured. An officer was assigned to escort me back to the ferry to move be back to Senegal. How sad.
The Arab Immigration officer who took me back to the ferry was a kind person. He advised me he could do nothing since his boss has given a final word. He also advised me to inquire if there is a possibility of getting a plane from St. Louis in Senegal (St. Louis is only 2 hours from Rosso). When I crossed over to Senegal, I called Ibou who came to pick me. He was very sad about this development. He suggested several other illegal ways I could enter but I told him I was not interested in going again.
After this experience, I was very lazy and fatigued to continue on the journey and so I decided to spend some two more days at this border town with Ibou and his friends since he was willing to accommodate me. I spent those days riding horses, learning Wolof and visiting Onion Farms. It was a very rewarding stay in Rosso. Ibou and his mum made sure I had very delicious rice to eat.
Ibou also suspended his work for somedays to ensure I had a good time. I finally left Rosso after two days back to Dakar on a Saturday morning. On getting to Dakar,
I went to visit a friend, Mohamed. His full name is Mohamed Amar Athie. I had met Mohamed the first time I visited Dakar the first time. He was then working for IBM but he presently was running his company Netexio. I was most impressed by his good command of English. A very friendly guy, we talked about techology, marriage, travels and African development. Leaving him around 11pm that night, I headed straight to the Pikine Park from where I got a taxi to Thies, which was going to pass the airport. My flight the next morning was 7am and it made no sense paying for a hotel and paying a private taxi a lot to drop me off at the airport the next morning.