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Wednesday, March 7

Senegal

Brett: The fact that most of this post is taken up with admin and corruption is fairly representative of overlanding in Senegal. There are some good things to see, but travelling in your own vehicle is a bit exhausting – probably because so many people drive cars from Europe to Senegal and bend the rules to sell them here.

We left Nouakchott at about 8am and followed the tar for the first 2 hours and then the dirt road for the next 2 hours to reach the Diama border. The border between Mauritania and Senegal is known for being the most corrupt in Africa, so we wrote a lot of details below for overlanders. About 10km before the border is a checkpoint where you have to buy entry tickets for the Parc National de Diawling ($7pp, keep the receipt). We saw quite a lot of birds and warthogs in the swamps and salt pans as we drove through. The checkpoint was manned by two friendly guys, one of whom casually asked us for a cadeau/gift - we didn’t give him anything and his mate explained to him (in French), “No man, these guys are English – it’s only the French who give us gifts”.

At the border itself, we had many aggressive requests for money – we avoided the ones we believed to be fake except for the cop at the Senegalese immigration – we spent about 40 minutes arguing with him in the 36 degree heat, but the bottom line was that he wasn’t going to stamp our passports without the money and I made the mistake of losing my patience with him, which resulted in a shouting match about how I didn’t have a suitable respect for his position and intimating he could get us thrown in jail. Mary managed to make friends with him again and we paid 6000CFA ($12). I suspect if we had managed to sit there for about 2 hours, we could probably got through free, but it didn’t seem worth it – all his mates are in on it and none of them were bothered by the queue of people waiting outside. You get a 48 hour Passevant at the border for the car – before it expires you either have to get an extension in St Louis, stamp the carnet in Dakar or exit Senegal.

The scenery and houses are very different on the Senegalese side of the border and started to feel more like home. We drove past St Louis and straight for the famous Zebrabar ($8pppn), which is a very relaxing spot set on the delta about 20km south of town. We got an early start the next day, with Ursula giving us a lift on the school run into town to sort our the Passevant Extension (see below for overlanders). We had bought 5 days Senegalese insurance in Nouakchott for $20 to avoid having to buy expensive insurance at the border. While in St Louis, we bought ECOWAS / Carte Brun Insurance (covers Senegal to Cameroon) for 3 months for $100 – a total saving of roughly $50 over having bought at the border. The insurance looks very official, although with all these 3rd party insurances, I doubt they actually pay out in an accident. The lady selling the insurance seemed very nice, although we had to play a bit of actionary to describe the car, number of seats, etc for the quote. St Louis itself is awesome – it is very pretty and has a great vibe / feel – it is one of those places we feel it would be easy to live there. We caught a taxi back to the Zebrabar – one of the typical yellow beaten up French cars.

We had bought a new battery for the car the day before, but I realised my novice mistake when I tried to fit it because the terminals were the wrong way around, so I drove back into town to swap it. On the way, I passed the famous St Louis Corrupt Cop (N15 59.132 W16 29.268), who is mentioned on many blogs and even has a waypoint in T4A. We had passed him on the way in but he hadn’t seen us – this time, he waved me over. I was already doing only 40km/h and stopping at all the signs - I indicated as I pulled off the road. He started off aggressively asking for the insurance, taking it and saying “Oh, dear”. He then asked for my international drivers licence. Still in aggressive tone, he asked if I was from England – I told him South Africa which immediately made him smile and relax – he tried one last time asking to see the fire extinguisher and then wished me a good day. The guy who sold me the battery was happy to swap it out, but most of his had the terminals the wrong way for our car – we eventually found one that fit – it was bigger being a 90Ah rather than the standard 55Ah, but it still fit so I paid the difference and swapped it. I fitted it quickly in the street to make sure it worked (what an amazing difference) and gave the old battery to a nice guy I had been chatting to. I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a service and fixing the central locking wiring in the Zebrabar workshop.

We enjoyed relaxing at Zebrabar – the setting is perfect, with lots of shade, great swimming and canoes to use for free - it is really well located, being on the edge of a reserve, so no people live south of them. Zebrabar wasn’t as social as we expect from an overlanding campsite, but one night a rally of about 30 Dutch cars turned up at about 11pm with a couple of interesting characters.

Mary: On our way south, we stayed a night at Lac Rose, which was once a great nature spot and the end of the Paris-Dakar Rally, but it is now pretty much a dump. The only good reason to stay there is because there are campsites within striking distance of Dakar and then La Petit Carmegue Campsite ($10 per tent) (N14 49.821 W17 13.550) is fairly nice. We opted to skip getting our Carnet stamped in Dakar and headed towards The Gambia before our 10 day Passevant expired.

We passed Accro Baobab, which is similar to “Go Ape” in the UK, but in amongst the Baobabs. It looks like a nice place, but it was empty and far too hot to be active. We stopped at Ferme du Saly Campsite ($10 per tent) (N14 25.614 W16 59.745) – this was one of the original resorts on the Petit Cote – Saly is really built up now, but is quite charming, with lots of good restaurants and many locals doing exercise or playing football on the beach. The owners were very friendly and helpful, but camping next to their zoo of sad-looking snakes, crocodiles and monkeys felt a bit weird.

Travelling further south, the roads started getting a little worse with many potholes and sections washed away. We stayed at Chez Epecier ($20 room), Tabakouta in the Sine-Saloum Delta. We weren’t expecting much as the scenery over the last few days had been quite bleak (lots of straggly, sick looking baobabs and the ground grazed or burned leaving just sand) but the town itself was very pretty and views over the delta were great. It was very hot (probably near 40 degrees) so we waited til late afternoon and took a pirogue tour ($15pp) into the delta, to an island with ancient, engraved baobabs and went bird watching on the mangroves. The weather cooled to 30 degrees at night – we had taken a room as it was cooler during the day,but it was pretty much an oven at night. It was the first time in about a month that we hadn’t been in the tent and confirmed that the tent is usually easier and more comfortable! After a bad night’s sleep we set off for the Gambia border…

For Overlanders

The Diama Border

We had read lots of horror stories about the border between Mauritania and Senegal, with many overlanders listing it as one of the worst borders they had ever crossed. We decided to head for Diama, avoiding Rosso which is the bigger & busier of the two – Rosso also requires crossing the river with a ferry where foreigners are regularly conned into paying hundreds of Euros to cross.

Many blogs mention that all the fees at this border are scams, so we decided to test each one. The dirt road leading up to the Diama Border is 80km and has some very soft and corrugated sections – it took us 2 hours. About 10km before the border is the checkpoint where you have to buy entry tickets for the Parc National de Diawling – it seemed legit as we had passed many large signs telling us we were entering the park and that the ticket office was coming up

We reached the Mauritanian side of the border and signed in at the gate - they asked for $13 (it is always a convenient €10) which I refused and they gave up after 2 more tries. The Customs guy asked for 4000 Ouaga ($13) which I refused at first, but he closed up his books and said he wouldn’t do anything without the fee. My judgement told me he was an honest guy, just frustrated, and he showed me the receipt I would get, exactly the same as the one we got when entering Mauritania, so I paid. At the Immigration office, the grumpy guy demanded $13 after he had filled everything in, but we refused and he eventually just told us to get out. At each step, someone would come and unlock a boom and we could move into the next enclosure.

There is a toll bridge (4000CFA / $8) on the Senegal side where Mary charmed the old guy with some Wolof and made friends. We were suspicious of the fee, but he gave us a receipt and he had a stack of recent receipt copies stapled together, all with the same charge, so we paid it happily.

At the Senegalese Immigration the policeman (lying on his bed listening to the radio) demanded 6500CFA ($13) to stamp our passport. We asked him if we would get a receipt and he said no, he just writes it in the ledger. We tried to argue this one for 40 minutes arguing with him in the 36 degree heat, but the bottom line was that he wasn’t going to stamp our passports without the money and after making the mistake of losing my temper (rare), we knew we would have to pay in the end - 6000CFA ($12).

The final step was Senegalese customs – they charge 2500CFA ($5) with receipts for a Carte Passavant, which gives you 48h (realistically that day and the next) to get your vehicle stamped in at the Dakar Customs.

We were through in 1h30, having spent a total of $52 – considering the bad press, it is cheaper than most other borders. Maybe we were lucky, but other than the policeman, it was easier than many borders we have passed through so far – if you have some local currency and have an idea which requests for money are worth arguing, it should be straight forward.

10 Day Passevant Extension St Louis

Ursula from Zebrabar gave us a letter (a standard one they do which just says you are staying at Zebrabar and want to extend the Passevant in order to explore the surrounding area) and we met up with the guy at 8am that helps all the cars in the rallies cross the border. He took me to the Customs/Douane North (N16’02.274 W16’30.149) to get a 10 day extension to the Passevant, so that we could spend time in St Louis before going to Dakar. They sometimes use the Douane South building (N16’01.485 W16’30.232). They charge $20 (with receipts) and require a copy of carte grise (car registration docs), Carnet, Carte Passevant and passport – we finally had the extension by 5:30pm after many trips back to the office and a lot of waiting – I suspect it would be a lot harder to get the extension without help from the Zebrabar.

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