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Camel World  




Travel Diary - 2003
5 January | Senegal
22 January |Gambia
18 January |Guinea
9 February | Mali
22 February | Burkina Faso
3 March | Ghana
19 March | Togo
20 March | Benin
25 March | Niger
12 April | Chad
15 April | Cameroon
16 April | Nigeria
30 April | Congo
24 May | RDC
31 May | Angola
5 June | Namibia
27 June | South Africa
30 August | Lesotho
10 September | Swaziland
9 October | Botswana
17 October | Namibia
19 October |
29 October | Malawi
4 November |Mozambique
16 November | Tanzania
12 December | Rwanda
16 December | RDC
18 December | Uganda
24 December | Kenya

Travel Diary - 2004
9 January | Ethiopia
6 February | Sudan
21 February | Saudi Arabia
23 February | Jordan
3 March | Syria
5 March | Turkey
12 March | Greece
21 March | ...And Home


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17 months, 43 countries, and 2 vehicles


The Sept Place - Part One  02/02/03

Sept Places, or "Seven Places", are the backbone of the transport system for long distance travellers in Senegal. A typical Sept Place will be a mostly white or blue 7-seater Peugeot. The model is hard to determine as these cars have all seen better days. Windscreens vary from cracked, through very cracked to how in the hell doesn't that collapse inwards on top of us?" The chances of finding a sept place with an intact windscreen must be a thousand to one, and on the sole occasion when I was lucky enough to travel in that thousandth vehicle, where through the inevitable statistical likelihood the windscreen was actually in on unbroken piece, I was amazed to see that the screen had been scoured by time into a sort of semi-opaque screen that defied safe driving (which of course is not a requirement for sept place drivers)

Each of these cards is as individual as its driver; it will have uncomfortable seats manufactured in local shops no larger than the average toilet cubicle, and will be marred with a thousand unpainted weld lines which mark the steady and oft-halted progression of the vehicle's disintegration. 

Getting a place in a sept place involves first selecting the right on in the face of many helpful gentlemen who will want you to pay them for something that you would rather not have help with in the first place, because you are of course, to them, no more than a potential source of income. The "gare routier" where you catch these beasts from are inevitably full of low-lifes, but by a strange contradiction luggage seems to be sacrosanct, especially once it has entrusted it to the vehicle driver or luggage loader. Once you have found the right sept place for your route you must find the ticket seller (fixed price) and at the same time negotiate for your actual seat and the extra that you pay  to the driver for your luggage.

If you are more than four-foot three it is impossible to spend more than an hour in the three rear seats without suffering permanent damage to you spine. For the rest of us the options are the middle row, or the "suicide-seat". Needless to say the good seats fill up first, and you will need to be absolutely sure of your place, usually by sitting in it, until the vehicle is ready to leave. About now you will realise that you are sitting on the sunny side - I don't know how this happens, but it always does.

On taking my seat I always like to look at the odometer. The average mileage, if you can record mileage in kilometres, will be somewhere between and 200,000 and 500,000 kilometres . The vehicle may have travelled far further, but no odometer I ever saw was still working beyond this point.

The vehicles leave on a strict African timetable, which is to say that they go when they are full. There is never a sure indication as to when this will be, but it is likely to be on the same day, and you can say no more than that.

The journeys are all as different as the vehicles themselves, so let us say that I am travelling from say Tambacounda to Kaolack, a journey which I remember most for the singing boy.

First a bit about Talibes. Talibes are the little boys with tins who are everywhere, begging for their living. Their tins contain whatever they can fill them with - sugar, butter, your change... They are not strictly speaking beggars, but students of the Koran under the charge of a teacher, and begging is an exercise in humility, as well as a useful earner for their master.

So I'm picking up a few , when a boy comes up to me and starts singing. munches for the journey, which will be four-and-a-half hours long. It was, I think, a religious song, and he sang it beautifully, so I dropped to one knee to meet his level, and listened him out. And at the end, as a reward for the entertainment as well as the originality of his approach, I rewarded him with a cake that had cost me CFA50, or about five English pence. "How refreshing" I thought. the singing, not the cake.

Later, having obtained my prized second row-by-the-window seat, I was waiting for the sept place to fill up when I spotted something remarkable - a mountain of a woman - moving towards the car. I knew instantly wand with that kind of resigned certainty, that she was to become a very close acquaintance of mine in the least pleasant way, and my instincts were spot on. Within the hour, with the vehicle now full in the most literal sense, and with yours truly pressed hard by a mass of female flesh against a door with the most dubious catch I'd ever seen, we were ready to depart.

Depart, is however, a relative term. We departed from our spot in the "gare routier", to the sweet strains of two Talibes who had taken station by my window, and drove to the filling station, because why not fill up until you've got a full load of paying passengers. Filling up is not simple for some reason, and involves shouting in Wolof and lots of angry gestures. There is a stir among a small group of Talibes who come over and start regaling us with verses from the Koran. Unbelievably, two more people cram in to the taxi taking our payload to ten including the driver, or twelve if you count the lady next to me a three. Then it's back to the "gare routier" for more discussion, people getting in and out, and a chorus of Talibe singing.

Ten minutes later we take the dusty potholed road out of Tamba, and what a site we must have made as we scraped along on the lower parts of the suspension, all to the rising chorus of some fifty Talibes who were running behind us, tins in their hands and hope in their faces....


Kaolack, 17/01/03

Arrived here Wednesday evening after noticing that the clutch managed to both slip in high gear, and jerk and judder in low gear. The on the outskirts of town the engine temperature soared, and I had to let the engine cool before getting getting to our auberge.

By lucky chance a group of daring individuals who had just completed the Plymouth to Dakar rally were staying there, and the next morning Rich, one of their mechanics checked out the engine for me.

The news is not good - it seems the radiator hadn't been filled from the high point, but only from the reservoir, when the radiator was refitted (we poured a gallon and a half of water into the system before it was full) and the result is almost certainly a blown cylinder head gasket at least. 

Marc, the garage owner suggested we get a tow back to Ngor to get it checked out and hopefully repaired, but as we were unable to sort anything out before the weekend we decided to press on to Tambacounda by 'sept-place', the 7 seater Puegots used as communal taxis here, where we finally met Richard.

After discussing options Roxana and Richard decided to head on to Guinea while I return to Ngor to try to get the car sorted out - this may take a couple of weeks. After an entertaining breakfast where Richard demonstrated his haggling prowess we jumped into our various dilapidated forms of transport and went our separate ways.

We'd met an American in Atar by the unlikely name of William Wallace, who gave us the details of the Peace Corps compound here, which was very lucky as it meant that I was able to leave the car there, an I'll be based there till Monday when I hope to be able to get a tow arranged.


Ngor, 14/01/03

The Camel is being fitted with a new clutch, and we are relaxing in the village of Ngor, a few kilometres West of the sprawl of Dakar.

We hope to be able to continue our journey tomorrow and to hopefully pick up Richard in the next couple of days...