On The Road…

Not a reference to Jack Kerouac’s book, but the more mundane pleasures of getting to the airport and onward travel to West Africa…

In this case not a reference to Jack Kerouac’s book, but the more mundane pleasures of getting to the airport. ..in this case London Gatwick.

It’s some 12 years since I first travelled through West Africa, and a lot has changed. Where before it was feasible to travel to Timbuktu and even to the Festival in the Desert,  now it’s a no go zone.

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My first trip to Bamako was the start of my child hood dream…following in the steps of such famous explorers as Mungo Park en route to Timbuktu. Having said that, it was somewhat easier flying than directly there, rather in Mungo’s days, even if it was in a dilapidated Russian crate of a plane. Just as well the runway at Bamako airport was very long.

Moving on to the present day, I’m supposed to be jumping on a plane to head off to Dakar in Senegal shortly, but as ever, life’s not straight forward, particularly as my ‘day job‘ requires me to go to Ipswich to give expert evidence in the Crown Court case.

What had been carefully planned for some months, is now threatened by a demand to appear at short notice – despite having told everyone that I wasn’t available. No consideration is given for my travel arrangements or work to be completed, whatsoever. Still, I know the pitfalls, and as we always used to say in the Navy, ‘that’s life in a blue suit!’

If I’m lucky, my point blank refusal to attend will be accepted (as any reasonable person would expect), however we are talking about the English justice system, just hope the Judge has a good breakfast and is considerate! If not, it’ll be an order to appear or face contempt of Court (travel plans will definitely be on hold then).

Still on the bright side, I hear prison foods quite good these days now that Jamie’s involved…but being a glass half full sort of chap, I suspect it’ll all pan out alright.

Moving on to my current plans, first stop Dakar, then Saint Louis and onto Touba and Tambacounda before crossing into The Gambia and travelling along the river to Banjul.

Now that the former president Yayah Jammeh has departed, I’m looking forward to seeing the changes that have started to appear…certainly the national spirit is on a high, and hopefully this will auger well for the economy. How Adama Barrow is going to deal with a nigh on bankrupt state remains to be seen…we wish him well.

Continuing from Banjul will take me into the Cassamance region, an area neglected by tourists over the last decade or so, partly due to the separatist movement in the region, coupled with over zealous warnings from the FCO about the dangers of travelling in the South of Senegal…seemingly unfounded given the peace that’s prevailed for many years. Yes there are checkpoints, and on occasion the odd request for ‘la cadeau’, but all in all a smile will ease the way.

From the Cassamance it’ll be a return trip to Dakar for a flight to Freetown in Sierra Leone…a country I missed on my last trip due to delays in getting a visa in Guinea Conakry. Failing that, it’ll be overland via Guinea Bissau and Guinea, with a side trip to the Fouta Djalon reigion. 

In Sierra Leone, I’m looking forward to a side trip to Bunce Island, one of many slave islands in the region (probably less well know than Goree Island off of Dakar).

Travelling in West Africa is tough; there is no public transport or railways (mineral trains are generally off limits), so travel is invariably by the ubiquitous “sept place” – old Peugeot 504s, which will be crammed with many more the the ‘sept’ (7) seats, together with mounds of luggage and other goods. These 504s have definitely seen better days and would instantly be condemned and sent to the crusher in the UK. Still, if you’ve a sense of adventure and a strong constitution, there are undoubtedly worse ways of getting around!

Travel in West Africa is not something that can be planned to any degree, which it so much more exciting than the daily commute…

If anyone would like to contact me on my travels,  email vagabondingafrica@yondercot.uk

Be great to hear from you to to meet enroute.

Shaun – 01/02/17

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