Gambia

      

    The view over the River Gambia. 

Leaving Senegal was far easier than entering, after a 10 minute stand off over a bribe the policeman gave up and let me through. 

Gambian customs asked for a ‘voluntary donation’ rather than a bribe. Not paying said donation might explain me being searched and every item in my sizeable first aid kit being scrutinised. 
The first ferry across the River Gambia was fantastic. The ferry broke down on the wrong side and was delayed by two hours. Once on the ferry a truck broke down as it crossed the ramp. At one point 30 people tried to push it off! Eventually after nearly 6 hours I was on the other side of the mighty river. 
When I was to return across the same river (halfway along the country) I was on a much smaller ferry the whole process only took 30 minutes. 
   
   

 

Senegal Part I

It’s now been a fair amount of time since I entered Senegal (currently in Ghana) however the Rosso border crossing is still one of the most difficult things I’ve done this trip. Other people have covered this infamous crossing in greater depth so I recommend googling ‘Rosso border crossing’ to read their tales. 

The Mauritanian side starts off as chaos. A large compound with hundreds of fixers/scammers hovering about. Every single border guard is asking for money. To stamp your passport out they ask for 20 euros. After a small battle I managed to get away without paying. Then had to negotiate my way through ‘bike fees’, parking tickets, village tax and countless other extortion attempts. 

Eventually I was free and crossing the river Senegal with my cloud of fixer/scammers in tow. 
   
     These two geezers followed me everywhere (both sides) with another two, always trying to extract cash some way. 

 View from the front of the ferry. 


On the Sengelase side things started to ramp up a notch. Officials started to become incredibly aggressive. Despite Senegalese visas being free on the point of entry they had an official looking price list. Whether this was counterfeit or predates the free visa I don’t know.

 When I arrived at the first passport window I was asked to go into the office through the door. Terrible mistake. The policeman then proceeded to pocket my V5 and driving license. Apparently if I wanted them out of his pocket I needed to give him 100 euros. After a few minutes of me trying to argue with him he decided to give me the cold shoulder and just stopped engaging with me. 

At this point I decided the only option was to pull up a chair and sit it out. This pretend nonchalance only ended up enraging the policeman. After a few minutes of shouting straight at me he ended up completely loosing his cool and pushed me off the chair to the ground. I managed to put on a brave face and once up again, righted the chair and prepared for whatever grim fate that was in store for me. At this point to my surprise the man actually buckled and handed me back my documents without a bribe. 

Customs was a similar story although less physical. When I saw the compound gate open for a slow truck I knew this might be my only chance to escape.  Despite being short of a customs stamp and still having two ‘fines’ outstanding I seized the opportunity and dashed through. I hadn’t got far when a chain was pulled up along the road and I was told to dismount and buy insurance. I was fairly sure that even if it was genuine insurance it would be a complete rip off, however even if I had wanted it I didn’t have any local currency. 

I left the bike running with my helmet and gloves on the bike. They lowered the chain and we all walked towards the insurance booth. I asked for a months insurance and pretended to search my pockets for a cigarette. Having found nothing I explained I had left them on the bike. 

Two of the fixers followed me back but not suspicious let me walk on ahead.  I threw one leg over and just raced off. Once a couple of miles away I stopped for a breather and donned my helmet. 

  
Road to the Zebrabar. Felt like I was in the Great Escape!



From there I just raced to the sactuary of the Zebrabar. I coasted through the first police checkpoint so my engine noise wouldn’t draw them out of the hut.  The second checkpoint I wasn’t quite as lucky.  When they signalled me to stop I waved back and just raced through.  

I really wasn’t in the mood for more bullshit. Considering how I had been treated by the police when I was innocent, I certainty didn’t want to be caught driving without insurance. No one gave chase and I ended up arriving at the campsite that evening just a few minutes ahead of the others who had gone through the Diama crossing. 

      

First legal beer! Never realised I could enjoy a lager so much. 
 
Once in Zebrabar I could relax, catch up on drinking (first legal alcohol since the north of Morocco) and do some much needed bike maintenance. 

My leg was still pretty painful after my fall in Mauritania, I’d also managed to rip my pannier at the same time. To top it all off the mounting bracket for cheap eBay top box had disintegrated from vibrations on the dirt roads. Luggage wasn’t fairing too well!

    
The next day I shared a taxi into St Louis where I was able to buy insurance and my torn canvas bag repaired. 

    
Back at the Zebrabar local legend Sayeer managed to fabricate a new mount. A few thousand miles later it’s still going strong!

Zebrabar was a complete paradise; a fun puppy, affectionate cat and canoes.

 
   


Dakar was the next stop, it was chaos but enjoyed aspects. Highlight was visiting an Island of the coast. I was staying in he same hotel as Bevan, Eddie and Richard.

I’d been riding on my own since Mauritania but staying the same places as the others. Dakar was to be the last place I’d see Eddie and Richard as I felt to really get the most out of trip I had to do it my own way. 

I’d continue to bump into Bevan and I’m hoping that I’ll see him again before the end of the trip. 

   
Bevan inspecting a big gun. Apparently they filmed parts of The Guns of Navarone here. That automatically makes its one of the greatest places in the world. I know it’s no ‘Where Eagles Dare’ but it’s a cracking film nonetheless.

 Having a much needed swim!

Mauritania

After conquering No Mans Land I felt I was ready to take on Mauritania. Unfortunately the border was closing in less than two hours and it was imperative that we got through.

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Spending a night in No Mans Land isn’t an option for a motorcyclist with a tent. Bands of lawless criminals prowl the area exiled from one country and not allowed into the next. When Javier attempted the trip in a car a few years back some of these people jumped onto the car whilst he was driving and then proceeded to rip bits off. Not a place that you want to be spending the night!
After a hefty visa fee of €120 and a fair bit of being pissed about we finally got through with 5 minutes to spare. We picked up some local insurance and started racing to Nouadhibou hoping to make use of the rapidly dwindling daylight.

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After a chaotic ride through a pitch black and frantic Nouadhibou we finally pitched up. The southern half of Morocco is dry, as is Western Sahara and Mauritania. By this stage I was in dire need of a drink. Fortunately we had been told of a restaurant that might be able to help. As well as selling distinctly average food it also doubled up as a black market currency exchange, a brothel and very expensive beer seller.
The next day we set off at dawn for the capital Nouakchott. Mauritania is absolutely vast, you can drive for miles and see nothing but sand and rock. Ordinarily it can be tricky to find fuel and we had turned up during the middle of a fuel shortage.

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Having decided at home to save weight/space I hadn’t brought fuel containers like the others. I had reasoned that Western Sahara and Mauritania would be the only places we would struggle and I could always use water bottles in a pinch. After stashing bottles of fuel all over my bike I was ready for the ride ahead.

 

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We spent two nights in Nouakchott so we could pick up our visas for Mali. I was thankful for a day of the bike and the chance to walk around a bit. Even managed to find an imported Mars Ice Cream!
The next morning we left before sunrise again in the hopes of getting to the Senegalese border in good time, a decision I wasn’t thrilled about. Navigating the ‘roads’ is difficult even when you can see clearly. Going through the town we hit one road which was made of just deep, soft sand. I lost control of the bike and came off with my leg trapped underneath. Fortunately the others got the bike off me pretty quickly.
I had sprained my ankle and hurt my knee. I knew I could ride but I couldn’t put any weight on it. The 70km of challenging off road to the Diama border post would be impossible. My only option was to push ahead solo to the Rosso border point. Rosso is notorious for being one of the most notorious border crossings in Africa (just google it!) I would later meet up with the others in Senegal. This would also be the last point I would be riding with anyone else (currently writing this in Gambia).

 

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The next hour of riding to the border was by and large incredibly relaxing once I’d accepted my impending fate. The Sahara was finally starting to give way. Trees would awkwardly start breaking through the desert. The closer I got to the border the more apparent this would become. Once over the border I would be officially clear of the desert that I had spent the last few weeks passing through.
I’m going to write the Mauritanian exit procedure up when I write Senegal so that I can keep the whole Rosso experience as one.

 

Morocco and Western Sahara

I’m going to skip out Europe and start with Morocco. I apologise for boring people with tedious details about borders etc but I’ve found reading other people’s experiences has helped me hugely so far this trip. 

At this point I was travelling with Richard and Eddie, we had been riding across Europe together. I met both of them through the HUBB (vital website for any overlanding). 

The night before the crossing we holed up in a cheap hotel in Algericas (couldn’t find anywhere to camp) ready for the crossing on Sunday morning. We rode to the port at 8, spent around €50 on a ferry ticket and a couple of hours later we were crossing the straits of Gibraltar bound for Tangiers. 

We were the first off the ferry and cleared customs in under an hour. We had to fork out around €60 for insurance for the bikes, some uk insurance companies will cover Morocco and you might find that a cheaper option. 

For the first few days the Moroccan roads were generally in pretty good condition. The driving was considerably worse than back home but still better than what you see in Italy. Toll roads were expensive but far less congested than going through all the towns. 

It’s hard to describe the sense of excitement as I saw miles of Moroccan countryside fly past. After months of planning and a some last minute doubts I was finally crossing Africa. 

Apart from incinerating all my socks, part of my bag and a liner on the exhaust I was happy with what I had brought with me. Both the others seemed to have packed considerably more than myself, I had tried where possible to save cash and weight. 

Camped up outside Marakech I had a spare moment to try and fix my burnt bag. I had picked up a pair of oven gloves with the hope to fashion a heat resistant patch out of the material. I also used an oven tray to stop the bag from rubbing directly on the exhaust. Combined with a slightly further forward position it’s been alright so far (I write this in Dakar)
   

    
Western Sahara

For the sake of ease I’ve incorporated Western Sahara into this post. It’s a disputed territory between Morocco and Mauritania, however all the parts I went through were under Moroccan military control. We seemed go through almost ten military checkpoints per day and have to hand out all our details to the military as well as passport checks. For the sake of ease we had printed out leaflets with all these details, this significantly sped up the process. 

By this point scenery was exclusively a dry and arid desert. For miles all you could see was bare ground. This along with the rapidly deteriorating road conditions and military presence really started to make the adventure feel that much more intrepid.  
      

  Way too hot to pitch the whole tent, up before the sun anyway!
 

Going through Western Sahara we also linked up with a spaniard called Javier and Bevan from the States. Javier decided to stay on for another couple of days whilst Bevan joined us for the Mauritania border. 

  
  
Photo: Javier, Eddie and Richard (left to right)
I’m not even sure where to start with this border, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. It took about two hours to get stamped out of Morocco, after this we had to traverse an area of No Mans Land before entering Mauritania. This consisted of a large expanse about 5 miles wide between the two countries. No roads, no track or signposts. Just a large expanse of bed rock and soft sand with abandoned vehicles scattered everywhere. Somewhere on both sides is a minefield so you really don’t want to get lost here. 
  

  

Halfway through crossing I realised I still had a small bottle of Aberlour whisky in my bag, not wanting to incur a €3000 euro fine and a night I’m the cells I had no choice but to neck the bastard before I reached the border. After a while we started to see what appeared to be some buildings in the distance, to our relief it was the Mauriatian border. With all four bikes safely across it was time to navigate through fixers, scammers and Mauritanian bureaucracy. 

    
Every inch of Western Sahara was covered in flags; more flags than all the people, cars and buildings in the whole country. All for the Kings imminent arrival. 

outside quay

It begins! Set off from the Cresselly Arms, in Pembrokeshire.

Whilst I’ve been living in London for the last five years, Pembrokeshire is my home. Thought it would be appropriate to start there and it gives me a few days to run in the bike before my ferry leaves at the start of next week.

Hopefully I’ll have another entry for you when I’m in Spain and with something slightly more exciting to report!

 

 

outside quay 2

Site under construction – First Post Example – Insurance

 

Falling at the first hurdle

 

Sadly the trip hasn’t got off to a good start. Less than 3 weeks after I bought my DRZ it was stolen. Whilst a major set back I thought that my insurance would prevent this from putting a stop to the trip. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

Despite buying the bike for £3000 MCE Insurance  have offered to pay out a paltry £400. After calling at least 20 times to an 0871 number (on hold for up to an hour on some occasions!) on Tuesday I was finally given some good news after 6 weeks. MCE agreed to pay out on all upgraded non performance parts (new seat, pannier rack, fuel tank, windscreen). However this wasn’t to be. After two days I found out that MCE have now gone on back on this offer and I’m back to square one.

Update:

One month on and I’m no further towards the end. I asked MCE to clarify something in writing to me. Its been nearly a month and three separate phone calls chasing up this email and it still hasn’t been sent to me. They’re trying to wear me down by making everything as difficult as possible.

To make matters worse for the last couple of months I’ve been plagued by ‘Injury compensation’ calls after MCE sold my details to third party companies. MCE traced my work phone number and even sold this to them. My office is now being spammed by these people.

drz

 

 

mce