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Echo’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 25 Aug 2007

Location: Gambia

MapWell, I can finally say that I went upcountry today. I joined a group of women, mostly who work at the US Embassy on an adventure into the wilds of Gambia. Dianne and I were invited by a lady who is done her stint here, who wanted to go see the stone megaliths (found in the Northern, middlish part of Gambia. She had never seen them and decided to put together a sort of trip using one of the Embassies bullet proof suburbans. (We didn't need the bullet proof part but I thought I would throw that in for dramatics, plus how often can you say you rode in a car that was bulletproof). The other benefit to driving in an embassy car is that in Gambia the "special" organizations like the embassies get green license plates, which means that you get "special" priviledges, like not having to get stopped at police checkpoints and going directly to the front of the line for the ferry. I will come back to this point later...

So we were picked up at our house just before 8oclock and the driver drove like a bat out of hell because the ferry was waiting for us with one spot left (this isn't the part that I previously mentioned). So we got to the docks quite quickly because there was very little traffic on the road, which you may think is strange cause 8 isn't that early but there is a good reason. The last Sat of the month has been declared National cleanup day and so no cars are allowed on the roads between 9 and 1, so that cleanup crews can work cleaning up. Since cars are not allowed on the road you would think that we shouldn't be driving then hey? But oh no, that is where green plates come in handy cause you can drive where ever you want when you have green plates. You would think that this would be a sweet deal, which it was for us on this particular day because we had to make a waiting ferry but you would think that it would make it handy for other reasons too right? Like maybe you could be the first one to the bakery, or restaurant but no there is really no advantage to being able to drive because everything, with the excpetion to the ferry is closed. All the shops close because no one can get around, so people use it as an excuse to open late.

Okay back to the ferry. We got to the ferry and they were waiting patiently for us so we loaded up the suburban and then a whistle went and people began to poor onto the ferry. We decided that we didn't want to sit in the car so we got up and sat on the top deck with everyone else. This was quite fun and it was much cooler than sitting in a bulletproof suburban. After 45 minutes we made it to the other side and we were off. A gas station that is normally closed opened for us to get gas (because we had green plates) and then we drove, okay the driver drove we just looked. And man did he drive, that guy was flying and thank god no other cars were allowed on the road because this guy had a mission, he was going to see if he could set the record for driving to Wassu faster than the speed of sound. The highway was very nicely paved and had very little wear and tear so speeding was okay for that reason but speeding and nomadic herding do not go well together.

I am sure that many of you heard me say that nomadic herding occurs in Gambia, well I am not sure if the cows we saw today count as nomadic but I am considering them nomadic for the reason that herds would randomly appear walking down the middle of the highway. They were not by themselves, they were always being herded but it was never just across the road it was on the road and sometimes it wasn't a herd but a random goat or calf that wasn't tied up that would dart across and you would almost smoke with a speeding bulletproof suburban. So this was the one danger that we encountered. Actually to add to that you have to put monkeys on there as well cause on the way home one decided to saunter across the road with enough time so he/she didn't get hit but his/her partner decided to dart out after him/her so we had to suddenly break so we didn't kill a monkey. For all of you monkey people out there reading this, I am sorry but I don't know what kind it was as I was too busy holding my breath and hoping we didn't kill a monkey but I will find out.

Anyways, after what should have taken a normal person about 4 hours to drive, I think we made it to the stone megaliths in about 2.5 hours. So we wandered through the museum, which was very tiny but well done and then wandered through the stone circles. They are believed to be on top of graveyards dating back (I think if I remember correctly) to 400AD. They are solid pieces of rock that were quarried out and shaped into the shapes that you will see pictures of as soon as I get to the faster internet connection. They really are quite amazing and there are a whole bunch of theories of hierarchy and such within the patterns and the sizes of the stones. Apparently there are many stone circles/ graveyards around Senegal and Gambia but this is the most well known one (it is on the back of the 50 Dalasi note).

After we wondered around and took photos, the museum and site guy pulled out a table and chairs for us so we could have a picnic. So we sat and ate our lunch under a really big cool tree, which I can't remember the name of, but it is an important one. I learned today that the leaves can be used to make a tea that can be used to treat Malaria. I will google the name later or ask someone and let you all know cause it is supposed to have other currative properties as well and the branches are used as toothbrushes.

Anyways, we sat and visited and relaxed for about an hour and then we jumped back into our truck and drove like a speeding bullet once again. This time though we did face a little bit of traffic and way more cattle as it was after 1 oclock and national cleaning day was officially over. This still did not stop our driver and in fact I think that the return trip was even quicker.

We made it back to the ferry at around 4 oclock, bought our tickets and then the driver called the ferry guy, he told us to just drive right on up. Okay so here is the point that I mentioned earlier. I know I told you that having green plates has its priveledges but man I am not kidding this is how good or bad it is, depending on how you look at it. We drove up, keep in mind that it is hotter than hell in Gambia right now and we must have gone past about a km or two of cars, two lanes, all waiting to get onto the ferry, which holds maybe 3o cars if you are lucky. We drove past them all and right to the front of the line to get on the next ferry that was coming. I felt so bad and as we were passing other tourists who were waiting their turn in what I was told can sometimes be a 4 or 5 hour wait, I said, "I am so sorry, I am Canadian, this isn't my countries car". At which point every lady in the car looked at me, laughed, and told me to get out and stand in line with all the rest of the common folk if that was how I felt. They were kidding but I wasn't going to take any chances so I didn't stray to far from the vehicle when we got out while waiting for the ferry. But really, I did feel a little guilty riding to the front of the line when others had probably been waiting since 9 that morning but hey I guess riding with the Americans has its priveledges.