This is travel diary for our 12 month trip from UK to South Africa via Europe and Western Africa. We started May 2010 and finished the May 2011. We covered 48,361km in our 4x4 Land Rover Defender 110, visited 30+ countries and performed a variety of photographic studies along the way. All content & photos are subject to Copyright. Please contact author for re-use rights.
Warmest day – 40’C Koubri in Burkina Faso and the days have got more humid coming South to Ghana
Cheapest fuel – £0.51 Ghana
Slip slop repairs – 2 more…..Reef SA if you want slip slops road tested you better send them my way!!
Best food tasted – Burkina Faso: Fab doughnuts Ghana: Chicken Curry & Red Red (Deep-fried plantain with chilli sauce)
Best wild camp – Village corner under a tree on a junction at the “Rasta” Camp
Most useful things – Our spangly new solar panel to keep our fridge going when we stop for a few days
Least useful things – Our squashed beloved washing machine!
1) Getting an infected mosquito bite! Although Nick’s Boy Scout first aid “training” came in handy here (so did a packet of Ciprofloxicin)
2) One more traffic fine* in Ouagadougou for not stopping at an amber/red light….Nick!
3) Not being able to find anywhere in Ouaga to watch the deciding Grand Prix.
4) Nick driving over our roofrack ‘washing machine’ tub!!!* ^^
5) Realising what man is doing to the land in the tropics – not many hard woods left but also people “existing” on less than $1 a day – it’s a tough one.
6) Almost rolling the landy – Dassie decided to have a “sideways” moment but luckily Nick is such an amazing and gifted driver he managed to “wrestle” the car back into a straight line …. Phew!!
*Comment by Nick: Vicki paints Nick in a bad light here – its NOT all his fault!!
^^ Comment by Vicki: It is if you put the tub under the wheel arch, forget that you have done this and then reverse over it!!
1) Being invited to have some tea with villagers in a small village in Burkina Faso. Although the tea making was a long process, it was so worth the wait and the conversation.
2) Free camping at the Hotel Ok Inn, couldn’t be better in a capital city and meeting up with our mates from Gravel Roads (Eric and Dean)
3) Staying with our fellow Italian overlanders (Fab and El) in a village in Burkina Faso and hosting Italian coffee mornings for one and all (including Rastas on donkeys)
4) Demonstrating 5 solar lamps for an evening school class and getting involved in a volunteer project at a local school in Koubri, Burkina Faso
5) Staying at the Green Turtle Lodge, Ghana….. paradise!!
6) Vicki realising that Nick is better at map reading almost ALL of the time ;-)
7) The welcome we got when we came to Ghana – complex handshakes and a discussions about the world cup – GO BLACK STARS!!!
8) Ghana street food – It may well be fried in palm oil – but boy it tastes good!!
9) Greenery – palms, hardwoods and plants of tropical sizes
10) Music and dancing – amazing concerts and players – seen some proper African drumming along with some sexy bumpin and grindin!!
11) Trying to master several different African handshakes
1) We gave two volunteers a lift in the back of Dassie and they said it was more comfortable than a tros-tros (local mini bus transport in Ghana), so much so that they both fell asleep!!! And it wasn’t even a tarred road!
2) We had our first proper bartering experience with a little girl in Burkina. She had spotted that we had an empty coke bottle so she came over with a bag of peanuts (they grow these themselves). I thought that she wanted to sell them to me so I got a little bit of money to pay her, when handing over the money she was clearly shocked and gasped. She then made it clear that she wanted our coke bottle. She then said goodbye and something else in the local language, which I clearly didn’t understand. About half an hour later she came back and had made me a little hand broom as a thank you for the money!
3) Meals in Ghana sometimes come on two plates….. we are putting weight on!!!
4) Dassie was orange by the time we hit the coast in Ghana so we gave her a good clean – nice to see parts of the van that we had not seen for more than a month
5) West Africa has had some late rains – we had some great tropical storms with proper Hollywood style lightening, one of which required a complete drying session the next day.
6) Forgot to mention that even though Nick has lost his wedding ring – he still managed to get a marriage proposal from a lady at an egg stall – Nick thinks its because of his good looks and charm – Vicki belives it was because he was so dirty that she took pity on him and simply offered to scrub him clean and wash his clothes…. Could have been a “lost in translation” moment ;-)
For overlander types familiar with traveling North South via West Africa, here is a summary (for the record) of what to expect if you go via Rosso into Senegal from Mauritania. If you are just interested in reading about what one of the worst border crossings in Africa is like, read on.........
In May 2010, the wife and I left the UK to travel South to Cape Town and had the pleasure of going through Rosso a few weeks ago (Oct 2010). Rosso is one of the links between Mauritania and Senegal. Its one of the crossings people dread on this kind of trip and really try to avoid.
1) The Rosso crossing is not as bad as people say as long as you "try" and stick to the following......You can avoid it and there is a better crossing at Diama that is reachable when the rains finish. West Africa had suffered some late / heavy rains in Sept / Oct 2010 and we found the route to Diama closed / flooded. Thus if you have no other option Rosso it is!
2) The border / crossing is true African experience and most of the blogs / posts on the topic are right, so if you have read up on it most of what happens is no surprise and you can arrive "prepared". Keeping your cool is key and take your time - dont get rushed and be firm but polite with the "masses" that "welcome" you.
3) Chaos starts way before you get to the border heading South from Mauri. We were "introduced" to a "guide" 15km North of the border who "chased" us in a Merc. When I say chased, I mean he and his 2 mates drove at speed to cut us up and stop us several times to make sure we "knew" that "they" were our "chosen" guides for the crossing and the people to buy insurance from etc..... These guys seriously intimidate the locals and offers of "free" help were jumped on quickly!!! Attempts to shake them off (changing direction, going back to previous police post etc....) simply resulted in them turning around and chasing us the other way. Easy to escape on motor bikes - less so in an aging Land Rover or push bike. These guys have a well rehearsed routine - with each of them fully understanding French and English they will stand right next to you and listen to your conversations. Try and be polite and talk in private when you are on the move.
4) As soon as you reach The Blue Gates (they have erected on both sides of the river) crowds gather..... you have no choice but to go through them to start the processing. This ensures that Westerners are "greeted" by the right "gang" that happens to have first pickings that day / time. Just ignore the idiots / kids / beggers / scammers and drive through the gates....drive and do not stop and a few inches from the gates they will miraculously open for you...... WELCOME TO ROSSO!
5) Parking is just down by the river. Park up and lock all doors etc... if you are on bikes..... leave your partner with the bikes and walk in with all your paperwork. If you were solo this would be hard work to secure your gear....pick pockets and thieves are ACTIVE and alert to all your moves, with young kids acting as distraction artists (singing, begging etc...) while older, more skilled Oliver Twist types try door handles, locks, bags etc.... etc.....
6) Police and customs are in on the scam..... they so not get involved in disputes and the "guides" are basically their slave / gimps that do their bidding (fetch tea, read out documents etc....) so kind of feel good about their position in the pecking order.
7) To avoid involvement of the "help" is a hard task..... even when (as we did) ignore all attempts of help, and handing our paperwork over to the police etc.... you realise that this gets given straight back to the "help". We accepted this and as we had not lost our cool with them things actually progressed quite smoothly and friendly. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome begins to prevail !
8) While you keep your money in your pocket YOU hold slightly more power than them - its your cash they want - remember this and avoid handing money over in dribs and drabs. Make sure you state you will pay the "fees" when EVERYTHING is complete and all paperwork is back in your hands.
9) If you have more than 2 people in your group (we had 6 in our party) it helps to divvy up responsibilities. This helps create confusion for them and several people will stick with you to make sure where the "money is". Its kind of fun to keep this "show" going right to the end.
10) Ignore the B S""T info about needing insurance before you cross etc..... buy it on the other side. The "help" will cross the river with you and when you get to the other side a "handover" is made to "help" No. 2. Again, be friendly, don't loose your cool and work with the guy.
11) We bought a 6 month Carte Brun for 3rd party insurance for the Landy for West Africa Community Countries for 100 €. You will need to get this as its an easy bribe point at the numerous check points that exist on the way to St Louis. We got asked for it at least 6 times before St Louis along with a series of other items, like warning triangles, high vis jackets, fire extinguisher etc...etc....
12) When the helper gimps have finished with the paperwork the fun begins. There are some legit. fees to pay, ferry ticket, passivant etc...but the rest is fake. Here is what we paid as a guide (per couple / vehicle).
Ferry ticket 23€
Passivant, processing, tax 25€
Insurance, 6 month Carte Brun 100€
"Help" fee 21€
For sure we got ripped off but also we got off lightly compared to what other people have paid in the past. The insurance alone probably saved us at least a few fines on the way to St Louis.
13) Bear in mind we avoided all the smaller scams (parking fees etc...) and bar one of our mates getting his hat nicked and me getting my pocket felt (a kid stole my ferry ticket receipt HA HA HA), we were finally let out of the Blue Gates in Senegal side at approx 8pm (dark by now) having started the process at 3pm (way too late). We then had a 120km drive in the dark to St Louis.....It was dark and the crowd was intimidating but we stuck together and got through it.
What would we do different next time / advice we would offer:
Go to Diama for sure - but we cut it too fine with the rains - check the weather situation in advance - ideally with Zebrabar people.
Catch the earliest ferry - we made a bad choice because of the closed road to Diama and so ended up on the last ferry (fools)
Unless you speak absolutely fluent French and insist on speaking with the Chefs at each post and probably use a line along the lines of reporting them when you get to Dakar, it is better to work with the "help" - I sensed that no one wants to rock the boat at Rosso so this is probably a futile strategy - so agree a price for the lot before you start and ONLY pay it when you get THROUGH the gates.
You do hold some power and its your cash they want - withhold it for as long as you can - if you can go as a group it helps.
You dont have to worry about your documents going missing as you can stick with the paper chain - just hold your nerve and keep your eyes peeled
Dont do what one of the people in our group did (a traveler we met along the way) and tell them that you are "scared", this helps transfer power to them and probably a racking up of more fees on the "scam meter"
Going there with a "I am going to not pay a single bribe" attitude is probably going to rock the boat. Softly, softly works best.
All in all - Rosso does exactly what it says on the tin! Its a sorry looking, poor place, full of people trying to make a quick buck. It looks like one or two main gangs hold control and they work with the officials - I am not sure how you could change this.
Its a real shame as Senegal is a nice country and this is "introduction" is just a let down which you quickly get over, especially over a bottle of wine discussing the revenge scenarios you might employ should you ever pass by on the river in an "Apocolypse Now" style gun boat and an unlimited amount of ammunition !! ;-)
Countries visited – Morocco including Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal & Mali
Miles travelled – 3436 miles
Longest day on the road – 18 hours……this was the day we crossed the border at Rosso from Mauritania to Senegal
Craziest driving – Bamako, Mali
Sunny days – 29
Coldest night – 16’C on the Tizi ‘n Test Pass in Morocco
Warmest day – 42’C in Sidi Ifni, Morocco
Highest mountain pass travelled – 6829 ft, Tizi ‘n Test Pass in the Atlas Mountains
Cheapest fuel – £0.40 in the Western Sahara
Slip slop repairs – 2 (one on Marrakesh and one in Bamako)
Best food tasted – the garden fresh food that the little restaurant on the summit of the Tizi ‘n Test Pass served……they grow all their own veg & the freshly caught fish we bought from a fisherman in the Western Sahara
Best wild camp – although extremely windy, in the desert in Western Sahara….we had the sky as our spectacle for the night, the highlight seeing the 4 moons of Jupiter with bino's
Most useful thing – the addictive and indispensible “African air-conditioner” (a fan) that I bought in Bamako
Least useful things – the ant colony that took up residence in Dassie
1) Probably the biggest lowlight in the whole of the trip so far was our crossing from Mauritania to Senegal via the Rosso border crossing. Unfortunately our efforts to get to the Diama crossing were crushed as they had late heavy rains, which meant the roads were still impassable to Diama. To add to the misery of this, we were chased by a threatening border hustler by the name of ‘Muhammad Ali’ for over three hours in our efforts to see if there was any other way to Diama. We did find a very obliging local gentleman who was happy to show us a track, which was passable to Diama. As we were about to set off with the local gentleman, ‘Muhammad Ali’ and his cronies appeared on the roadside and started to aggressively threaten the local gentleman. We decided it was safest for all involved to set off back to the last checkpoint and speak to the police and decide on what to do. We could either drive back to Nouakchott (a very long drive), camp at the police checkpoint and start the next day fresh and possibly go back to the gentleman who could show us the track to Diama OR cross the border at Rosso.
Rosso was decided and we entered the blue gates that meant there was no going back!! Aside from all the hustlers, scammers, pick pockets and chaos we managed to get the last ferry over the river where we were basically held ransom till after dark. The authorities seem to turn a blind eye to the goings on and they leave the border post at 6pm. We were then held by the scammers& hustlers and told we had to pay for ‘parking’ at the border post and then were not allowed out the border gates till we paid a ‘community’ tax!!!!! In the madness and negotiations to reduce these fees and taxes with an ever increasing crowd around us, Dean had his hat stolen from his bike, Ruth and Ian had an imposter trying to steal from their vehicle and Nick had a hand go into his pocket, luckily the little thief only acquired our ferry receipt. It was now dark and well after 8pm and we still had 120 km to drive before reaching the Zebra Bar. We succumbed and paid fees to get out and started our long journey breaking the BIG RULE of not driving at night.
The road was atrociously pot holed and took over three hours to get to St Louis. Once entering St Louis we got stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident and a sewerage cesspool in the street. We eventually turned around and went another way. Relieved that we were very near to the Zebra Bar we headed out of St Louis with the bikes going ahead. This was short lived as the bikes were stopped at a checkpoint and initially they were told they were speeding and then it changed to an ‘illegal’ overtaking of a moped. We finally got to the Zebra Bar at 1am after negotiating the fine….we were all exhausted and very pleased that we were welcomed at this hour with cold beers. We had survived Rosso……!!
1) Meeting fellow overlanders in Marrakesh for our transit through Mauritania. We did this transit with 3 vehicles and two motorbikes. The ‘team’ consisted of ‘The Italians” Fabio & Elenora, “The Boys/Bikers” Erich & Dean, “The Africans” Ian & Ruth and ourselves. We thoroughly enjoyed all the time that we were together and we hope that everybody has a fab journey onwards.
2) Having Happy Birthday sung to me in Arabic by a lovely Moroccan gentleman where we stayed on the Tizi ‘n Test Pass.
3) Seeing goats in trees!!!
4) Being given tomatoes for free when we stopped to buy some on the roadside of a very rural village. Later that day we were given some oranges by another local where we were wild camping. We have had such amazing experiences from people who have such a little, it really leaves you with a lump in your throat.
5) Helping to fix a bicycle for some children and seeing how appreciative they were.
6) Getting our Carnet stamped in Rosso – GET IN!!
7) Surviving Rosso crossing and having revenge fantasies involving gun boats, automatic weapons and people in high places (up yours Muhammad Ali)
8) Visiting the Bandia Wildlife Reserve in Senegal.
8) Exchanging travel tales with our fellow travellers……we have all laughed till our bellies have ached on some of the things that have happened to us..... most of which seem to be toilet related ;-)
1) I braved it and went to buy a fresh whole chicken to cook everybody a curry whilst in Western Sahara. After seeing chickens being ‘dispatched’ to order in most medina’s, I was a bit worried that I would have to watch the fate of the chicken…….luckily they had been ‘dispatched’ a little earlier in the day but the chicken butcher did laugh when I asked him to remove the chicken’s feet!
2) We had to replace Dassie’s clutch slave cylinder on the roadside….big thank you to Dean and Erich who were so keen to help us on our two slave cylinder episodes, you are legends!!! Again, sorry that Nick spilt clutch fluid on you Dean.
3) Our diesel fuel injector sprung a leak, luckily we were able to find a specialist in Dakhla who was able to replace a seal which has worked a gem since.
4) We got one traffic fine in Morocco for not stopping at a stop sign….always listen to the wife Nick !
5) We got our wheel clamped for parking in the ‘wrong’ place in St Louis, Senegal….again Nick should listen to his wife more.