The Last and Final stage of the BudapestBamako 2018. We had plenty of time for this stage as the gate was only opened at noon. The morning briefing was the shortest so far, and the only message was “roll over the finish line”. We packed-up and headed towards the capitol without any major incidents, only the ordinary hassle of the checkpoints. Even had time for a lunch along the way where we had 4 seconds of Internet; enough to post that we were in Gambia as we had been without coverage for a week. We finished the race, headed to the hotel to check in. Take a long shower and relax before the Award Ceremony and Closing Party.
Without any more incidents during the night, this was the day of the well opening in the village of Sankulay Kunda. It was an official opening with the elders of the village and of the wider community. Women were dancing, singing and making a show, and the Gods of old with their swords and masks running around celebrating.
Like any official opening it took a while with speeches and words of joy. To our surprise the money we raised was also used to build a vegetable garden for the women. Animals had destroyed the old one, so this time they had better fencing and even some irrigation it seemed.
We also donated our last give-aways to the teacher in this village and hope it would be put to good use.
Leaving Janjanbureh we left for the last camp that was Tendaba. In the documentation it looked like a nice place with swimming pool and huts, but as we arrived it was a tiny place without anywhere to make camp, and it had the most dirty facilities I have ever experienced. We had to make camp on the local football field made of hard sand. The locals flocked around us as we put up camp and we were definitely the attraction of the month. We had bought some wood along the way, and prepared to cook a meal from the two sheep legs acquired the day before with sweet potatoes and onion. It was a feast, but the meat was like rubber as it handed hanged long enough to be tender. Camping again by the river made the mosquitoes swarm around us as we went to sleep.
This was supposed to be a short day. It would have been if there weren’t again a border crossing, and this time into The Gambia. As we headed out from Wassadou we had to go backwards towards Tambacounda before turning west on a gravel road taking us towards the border at Velingara – Sabi.
This was by far the hardest border crossing. Not because we had to go between so many offices, but because there was just two men working and they only had pen and paper to register both at immigration and customs.
We waited more that 3 hours at the customs office in Mansajang Kunda listening to the local mosque in the sun. Not our favorite spending of time. Being finally done we headed towards Janjanbureh with what to become named as the “black-mailing” route. At all police, military and customs checkpoints they asked for a gift. Some wanted our sunglasses, pens or something else. We couldn’t believe how they acted and at one checkpoint the police officer was eager to give us a fine for not waiting at the stop sign before waiving us forward. It would have gone straight into is pocket we believe. As we approached Maccarthy Island and JanJanbureh we were pretty tired of all the checkpoints and the cadeaus. I the middle of the road we see a crowd of people and someone dressed up in a red hairy costume swinging swords. It really frightened us, as we didn’t know what these people were up to. Did they want to rob us, or even something worse? To our relief they said that they wanted to greet, and thank us because they now had water. This was the people of the village were we built the well. The well opening ceremony was the day after.
In Janjanbureh the race administration had recommended three campsites, one of them called Bird Safari Camp. When we arrived there it was long time abandoned, but a local told us we could stay for free, and Anders and György Kozma (one of our Hungarian companions) went with him to the town to buy beer, eggs and meat. The rest of us stayed in camp to set up the tents and prepare the fire. It was quite a story they had to tell when they arrived some hours later as it was pay-day, a lot of people and a long story on how to get both hold of and buy meat from the butcher. With their late arrival we decided to spice the meat and save it for the day after. Almost ready to go to bed with again saw some lights and a guy coming on a bicycle claiming that the land belonged to his brother and that we could stay if we paid 400 Dalasi (€7) per person. Of course we didn’t agree as the place was in ruins and we didn’t know what we were paying for. Some minutes later two guys, on dressed up as a police arrived as well in the same errand. They told us that they had the owner on the phone and that if we didn’t pay we had to go away. In the end it ended up with us paying 2000 Dalasi (€5 per person). It was clearly a rip-off.
Waking up in this circle of mokey-bread trees was something. The locals were still luring around the cars, waiting for gifts and cadeau. I think they got plenty from the different cars and both young kids and old grandmas went around trying to get everything from toys to food and tea. You definetly had to keep your stuff close, but we heard nothing about steeling. Today we did totally oposite of the day before. We started navigating to the first 4-5 waypoints before we went straight for tarmac again and headed towards the camp of Wassadou. This first stage also took us through different villages and we could see the Senagalise country side first hand.
Coming into the city of Tambacounda, we stopped to get som more cash and some bread. We didn’t see anything special, but heading out was something different. There had been something going on this day, with riot police, stones and burning tires in the street. I didn’t feel very comfartable for a moment as we met a pickup truck carrying men with AK47 machine guns.
After this we had no issues as we arrived at the tropical paradise camp of Wassadou and I had the first shower in a very long time.
Catching up with the rest, it was time to go off-road again. Not knowing better, we headed back towards Saint Louis to fill up our supplies. It took approximately two hours on trying to find somewhere decent to withdraw money, buy bread, beer, cheese and toppings. We also got used to a new word Cadeau! Which means little gift. However, in West Africa in means a whole lot more. It can mean serious bribe, gratuity, tax and handout. It can be a 10 Euro bank note for a customs officer for no reason, a Coca Cola, Green Tea, your car or anything between. We got information during the preparation that it was important to stock up with gifts and give-away items. We had experienced some of this before, but from now on it was something to get used to. In Saint Louis the children flocked around the car and started asking for gifts. And every time you gave something away, ten more people would come and start asking.
During the morning briefing I downloaded the coordinates for the race sheet, and found out that the stage would cross the main road at a distance of 180 km. There was also a longer, but maybe faster route on tarmac. So leaving Saint Louis we decided to take the “shorter route”. “Shorter” can mean two different things; Shorter in time – or shorter in distance.
I was so keen on once again go through the official route that I didn’t catch that there was a second meaning to it, and guided us towards the race coordinates. Almost there I remember we had a loud discussion in the car around miscommunication. Anyhow, it all came out to the best. As we approached the coordinates I found a very nice gravel road that took us directly towards tonight’s bivouac. Unfortunately it ended half way as we came into a local marketplace with six roads/tracks leading into it. As it was afternoon, the market day was about to end and people headed back to their villages on carts and driving herds of goats, sheep and cows. Mostly women and children sat on their donkey carts with todays catch. It was really interesting to go through the villages and see how they lived, the fences and their houses. It looked like time had stood still in these places as most of the village was built by straw, mud and sticks. We continued onwards, and as the sun started to settle we only had 18 kilometres to camp by air.
Problem was that we ran out of road leading in the right direction. We had no tracks on our GPS, nor in any of our maps. Luckily our new friends had a satellite map, that we after a couple of failures were able to find a track in the dark, but it was dusty and low visibility and our speed was in some cases down to 15-20 km/h to be able to see ahead.
We also ran over some fields and were able to scare a whole village as we went through it by car in the dark with all our lights and engine sound. As we rolled into camp, almost all the others were already there. We sat up camp, had something to eat and was very satisfied with all our experiences and sights during the day under the monkey-bread trees of Khaye Boubou.
This day we had once again to catch up with the race. We ate some easy breakfast in the hotel parking in the morning, and planned on how to proceed towards the Senegalese border.
The road going there was supposed to be a tar road. It had more craters than the surface of the moon. It meant we had to go on and off, or do sudden stop not to break off or severely damage any vital parts.
It took almost an hour more than planned to reach the border. Today we even had lunch by the ponds of a national park with birds, boars and crocodiles. Actually there had just been what we estimated was a 3 meter long crocodile just where we sat down to eat. Going back on to the road, we heard on the CB radio that we started leaking diesel again. The temporary fix we did previously did not hold up, and now the car was pissing diesel. Salvaging what we could we put the jerry can beneath and let it be filled as Anders tried to come up with a new MacGyver fix consisting of a screw, some tape and a piece of metal. Anyhow we filled the main tank and the jerry cans with what we could and had to leave the rest as it was.
Again the border crossing was chaotic and costs money. Not sure if it is registered anywhere or if it goes straight into pocket of the commandant. We never received any receipt on any of them. This time they also wanted a coke and some give-aways before they let us pass into Senegal. On this side there was an agent that made the officials go super fast. Of course he charged €10 for the services from everyone, but then again it took at most 5 minutes before we rolled across the border. From thereon everything changed. Senegal is one of the more stable countries in the region. People seem to live a happier life, with better clothes, better houses, electricity, driveable cars and less trash. Passing through Saint Luis made us feel safe again. People greeted and it was no longer any police controls or any handing out of Fiches. Zebrabar, the place where we stayed for this night was built and is operated by a Swiss couple that have been living here for 20 years.
The best news for the day was that we could buy beer as any alcohol was forbidden in Mauritania. The place was like a paradise with palm trees and a beach. Absolutely a gem we will remember and recommend. We had now been driving with our Hungarian friends for several days and a lasting relationship was starting to form. From now on we always travelled together.
The late arrival and exhausting previous day changed the plan for us. Our partners from the previous day had a very strong opinion on not go forward with today’s stage. It also was stated in the road book that the stage was extremely dangerous and though. It had never been used for Budapest-Bamako, but once part of the famous Paris-Dakar. We were not allowed to go without a satellite phone or a proper working vehicle. Uncertain about the condition of the auxiliary diesel tank and the extreme length of the day we chose to leave the race and go to Nouakchott. Have a shower, sleep in a decent bed and see the capitol of Mauritania. The decision was later verified to be the right one as just two teams were able to complete the stage before midnight.
The drive itself was not very exciting as it was tar road the whole way. The scenery changed between white sand, dust, small villages and group of houses. Camels were already a common sight for us and didn’t make us snap any pictures as we passed them by.
But we had a bit of a Sandstorm. This was blowing heavy accross the the road and probably in the deep desert as well for the others.
Arriving in Nouakchott on the other side was something to remember forever. There is just one way to describe it, and that is chaos. We have never seen anything like it, and will probably not do it again. Entering the town we also saw a guy standing along the road waiving for us. It was one of the cars in the race that had broken down because of probably some bad petrol they had bought of someone. The two guys had no experience, no tools and helpless. Luckily we had Anders and our comrades from Hungary. They just rolled up their sleeves and started finding out what was wrong.
As we stood there, more and more people approached by scooters, cars, donkey carts and by foot. It didn’t feel very ok, so not finding the fault nor wanting to spend more time we choose to tow the car to a garage. Once done, we headed towards the hotel having no local money. The hotel had no problems being paid in Euros; we got two rooms, African cleaned, and headed out to find an ATM. What we had heard and later experienced was that Mauritania was replacing and devaluating their currency. To find any ATM that worked with an European credit card was not an easy task, as the exchange rates changed through the day, they were only fixed and available in the morning just after opening hours. The streets were only sand, crowded and cars going in all and any direction. It felt very unsafe and dangerous as all eyes followed the three white men walking the street. After some tries Anders was still able to withdraw some money, as we needed to fill up with diesel the next day.
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