Togo

The Road to Lome
After a short few minutes on a bike from the Ghana side, I reached the Togo side of the Wli border. There was no power in the small room where the immigration formalities were to take place, so the officer was checking my passport by torchlight. Once they realised there was no visa in my passport, because I was expecting to get a visa on arrival, they said they couldn’t issue the visa on arrival at that time, but the bigger border a little way down the road could help me.

Another officer came out from a room behind where we were and the 2 officers spoke to each other in French for a bit. I presume they were discussing the situation because they eventually told me that they would give me permission to enter Togo and I could get the visa in Lome. Well, that was totally unexpected! I’d never heard of anything like that happening before, but was glad that it did, as it saved me some back-tracking.

I then got back on the bike again to climb up a windy, broken up road. I’m sure there would’ve been a lovely view had my trip been during daylight hours. The hill seemed to go on forever, but that could’ve been because it was completely dark and there was nothing more interesting to focus on. I was so glad when the road finally started leveling off because after that point, it was all downhill and I was able to catch glimpses of the lights from far off towns through the trees. I’m not sure exactly how long it took to get the 25 kilometres to Adeta, but it was probably about 40 minutes.

Once in Adeta, the motorbike guy found me a van to Lome that was ready to go, for 1500CFA, (€2.3). That was incidentally the same price that my Ghanaian friend George had told me to pay for the motorbike. The motorbike guy had either forgotten the set price, or thought that he could get more money out of me, so let’s just say there was some banter back and forth about the amount I would pay. The van driver ended up moderating and getting the motorbike rider to agree to the set price, because he wanted to leave.

The van didn’t look too bad from the outside. It was loaded up with stuff, so there was only room for 4 people. The driver didn’t speak too much English, but he was very nice and kept checking if I wanted anything. Once the van started moving, it became obvious that this trip was going to take a long time as the van struggled to gain speed. It seemed that the highest speed it could manage was about 60km/h. Mind you that’s an estimate based on my offline map app, because none of the meters on the dash of the van worked. It’s a good bet that the van wasn’t very mechanically sound, but hey, it’s Africa, so that sounds about normal! I’m not sure if the slow speed was because of all the weight or the mechanical problems. It was probably a bit of both, to be honest. Luckily, Lome was only 140km away, so it took just under 3 hours to get there.

Once I got to Lome, I had to take 2 bikes to get to Tsevie, the town where I was staying, which was 35km from Lome. Of course they charged extra because it was night time. The price during the day would’ve been 500CFA (€0.8), but they were trying to charge 2000CFA (€3). I found a guy who was willing to take me for 800CFA (€1.2) because he was going that way anyway. So about 40 minutes and 2 almost swallowed bugs later, I finally made to it Tsevie and met my host Anoumou. We stayed in his office for the night, where he repaired and sold electrical goods, because it was quite late by the time I got in.

Tsevie

Main Roundabout in Tsevie

Tsevie, pronounced kind of like che-vee, was quite a small town. It had only one sealed road, which was the main road through the town. All other roads in the town were dirt roads that seemed to be arranged in perfect grids. Many places, including my host’s place, had outdoor amenities including long drop toilets and open-air showers with only walls, but no roof.

Tsevie’s only traffic light

In the morning, Anoumou woke me up at about 6:30 to walk to the family home to meet everyone. We sat around in a sheltered outdoor area in the front yard of the property and chatted about many things. They were very interested to know more about what I’d seen and done on my travels through Western Africa and what my thoughts were on the place. As Anoumou was busy with work, his older brother Edem was tasked with taking me around.

Edem gave me a bit of a history lesson on the area, which included a chalk representation of a map of the area. Historically, Togo was a much bigger state, but a huge division of the western part was ceded to the Dutch during the second world war, then eventually taken over by Ghana years later. This is why Togo is now only around 100km wide. He also bestowed an African name upon me, which was somehow worked out from my day of birth and gender. You may all now call me Akou.

History lesson

Getting The Visa
We made our way to the police station, where another adventure in corruption began. I was a bit taken aback by this, because my initial impression of Togo had made me think it was less corrupt than it’s neighbour to the west.

Firstly, they charged 500CFA (€0.8) for a badly copied fiche, or information form. The form was stamped with the date, so it couldn’t be copied and used on another day. If you made a mistake on the form, or if they weren’t happy with how you’d filled it out, they’d make you pay for another. Then after lining up for an hour, they said they wouldn’t accept the application because it was almost their break time. They told us to return at 14:30. It was only 11:30.

After getting some WiFi and something to eat at a nearby hotel, we returned before 14:30 to a line outside the complex, which of course meant more waiting inside. An officer finally came out and took us to an office upstairs, but when he knocked on the door there was no one there, so he took us back outside to wait.

The visa was only 10,000CFA (€15), but they wanted to charge me a penalty (ie: bribe) of 100,000CFA (€150) on top of that. I think I almost had a heart attack when that figure came up. There was no way in hell I was paying a bribe that was 10 times more than the cost of the visa!

Let’s be corrupt under the ‘Stop Corruption’ sign!

The first officer, who had informed us of the price, wouldn’t budge and said we had to go see the guy issuing the visa and negotiate with him. We somehow got him down to 20,000CFA (€30), which was still way too much! The problem was, they had my passport and weren’t going to give it back until I paid them something, so I was once again forced to participate in African bribe culture. It was demoralising.

The price of corruption in Togo

Once the negotiation was over, despite the fact that he had my passport right in front of him, the officer told us to come back at 10am the next day, because it wasn’t like they’d already wasted enough of my time. It was 4pm by that point and we’d gotten there at 10am. On the way out, the first officer inquired about the outcome of the negotiation. When told, he said, “We’re too nice to you”. Hmm, I would’ve used other words.
Kez = 4, African Corruption = 3

With the closing of another corruption ordeal, I was feeling relieved, but also very hungry. I met my friend Taotao, who bought along his rasta friend, at a restaurant across the road from the police station. Taotao had planned to take me to a local club, to listen to some local music and see how the natives spent their nights. I was looking very forward to this, until Edem decided that he couldn’t let me go off with someone else because I was his responsibility.

Taotao and friends

You could say that I was seriously annoyed by that. Nevermind that I’d travelled to 64 countries around the world, plus 13 countries in West Africa by myself. This dude that I’d only just met, had decided that I needed him to take care of me. I wish I could say it was the first time I’d encountered this attitude in Africa, but alas, it was not. It was the first time that it had affected my plans though.

Luckily, Taotao was very understanding about it and organised to meet me again the next day after I had picked up my passport. So when I woke up in the morning, I packed all my things up and made it clear to Edem that he should just drop me off at the police station and I would go my own way from there, as I didn’t want to miss out on seeing anything else because of someones misguided sense of duty.

The City and the Road to the Border
At the police station, I finally got my passport back after waiting an hour for who knows what. Once that was done, I met Taotao who then took me on a tour of the city, with a couple of stops at places I’d said I wouldn’t mind seeing. He also helped me find a small Togo flag from a roadside seller, who seemed to be the flag guy. He grabbed a bag from underneath a shelf and seemed to have flags in there from almost all of the surrounding countries and a couple of European countries. I’m guessing he was the main supplier for people wanting to show which team they were supporting for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

As the capital city, Lome is the largest city in Togo, but it’s also much smaller than the capital cities I’d passed through in other West African countries. The central district has a population of less than 1 million, which makes it feel a lot less crowded and congested than some other cities. This gives it an almost cosy feel.

Palm tree beach

It’s also a coastal city, so you can see the beach from quite a few places within it, but apparently the beach that is the most popular, is also not the easiest to access. That didn’t really present a problem for me as I knew I’d see a lot more beach on the way to the border because the road follows the coast.

More Beach

Taotao said that there wasn’t really too much of the stuff I wanted to see in the city, so we continued towards the border, again with a few stops on the way. The first stop was Lake Togo, which was not far from the coast. On the opposite side of the lake was a settlement called Togoville. Togoville relies heavily on fishing and trading. Small ferries regularly cross from there to the side that I was on. There must’ve been news that one of these ferries was due soon, as some men on my side had lined up some things near the shore for quick loading when the boat arrives.

Lake Togo

A short distance away on the coast side of the road was the UNESCO listed Maison Wood, or Wood House. Despite its delightful sounding name, the place was used for a sinister purpose; illegally trafficking slaves for almost 20 years around the mid 19th century. The house was not made of wood, but instead named after the slave trader who owned it and kept slaves in a cramped cellar underneath it while they awaited the journey to their new masters across the sea.

Wood’s Slave House

The third and final stop before the border was an area buzzing with activity. Just after a bridge, the river flowing underneath it went out to greet the nearby sea. Small local fishing boats sat docked in the calm water near the river bank, whilst people on the dock sold freshly caught fish from wicker baskets placed on small concrete pylons.

Resting fishing boats

Further along the pier, people sipped drinks under blue marquees at the waterside. Even with all the activity in the area, it seemed like a pretty peaceful and reflective place. It was interesting watching the ocean waves break at the mouth of the river. I honestly could’ve watched it all day, had the time being available to me.

The river and the sea

A short while later I was at the border, where I had to get off the bike and walk through so that my passport could be checked. Taotao said he would meet me behind the building to take me through to the Benin side. This immigration area was a little confusing, even though they had signs to indicate where to go, all the signs were in French. I walked to the closest window I could see, hoping that it was the right one.

I think the immigration guy went through and looked at every single stamped page in my passport, cause he seemed to take a while to stamp it. After receiving the stamp, I had to walk through another area, which I think is where they were checking people’s bags, but the man just waved me through. I found Taotao and got back on the bike for the short ride to the final West African country I would visit, for now.

🇹🇬Togo Summary 🇹🇬
In a few words – wait me, I’m coming
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶
It may require a short walk, but it is possible to find semi-decent WiFi.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🏍 Bikes, bikes and more bikes! They were generally the locals’ transport choice.
🚘 Shared taxis were also quite prevalent, but were slighty more expensive than the mototaxis.
🚐 Minivans seemed to be exclusively available for intercity trips and were relatively cheap.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣
Aside from the terrible road near the border, roads in Togo seemed to be fairly smooth and acceptably maintained.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🏞🏖🌳
Togo has mountains, waterfalls, trees, lakes, rivers meeting the sea, dusty towns and beaches. Something for everyone really.
Prices – 💰💰
Great for the budget conscious traveller.
Checkpoints
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints in Togo.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
Despite the fact that there were no queues at either border I passed through, I spent about 30 minutes at each one while officers chatted and looked at my passport.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠
Although not at Guinea level, corruption is alive and well in Togo.
Overall – 👍👍👍

Ghana

Border Bribery and Bullies
Upon entering the immigration area, I saw a large sign above the doorway leading to the processing area that said,

It is illegal to offer bribes to immigration officials.
It is illegal for immigration officials to accept bribes.

As I hadn't seen signs like this at any other borders, I wondered why there was one there. It wasn't long until the answer to that question became painfully obvious. Right underneath that sign, officers were taking bribes from everyone passing through. Each bribe was 2000CFA (€3), which is not a large amount, until you consider that hundreds of people pass through the border each day.

The Nigerian I was with suggested that when asked for my passport, I should place 2000CfA on top of it when handing it to an officer and the officer would ignore the fact that I didn't have a visa and just let me in. The problem with was that I just couldn't do it. So I handed them my passport and they said I had to pay for a visa on arrival, which is of course, exactly what I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting is that they would double the price.

I negotiated hard to get the price down and the Nigerian even suggested to them that they just take 2000CFA from me, but as they now had a chance to get a lot more money than that, they declined. So once again I was put in a position where I had to line someone's pocket to get through a border, which is definitely the most frustrating thing about travelling through West Africa!

Another downside to doing things the right way and not stuping low enough to feed the corruption is that you get ignored. The simple process of getting a visa and entering the country, which should've taken 10 minutes at the most, considering I was the only foreign national at the border, became an hour and a half ordeal. You see, the officers saw fit to stop processing my entry whenever anyone with a bribe approached the window. There was a steady stream of people coming through who were prioritised over me.
Kez = 4; African Border Corruption = 2

Getting to Cape Coast
By the time I finally got out of the border area, I still had a 2 hour journey ahead of me. A weird young boy approached me as I was exiting and said he would help me find a bus to Cape Coast. He tried to hold my hand, at which point I told him that I didn't need his help and could find the bus myself. He wouldn't accept that and followed me to the station, then started asking me for money.

Eventually, the bus company people stepped in, as they could see and hear that I clearly wanted the guy to leave me alone. Due to the long processing time at the border, I'd missed the direct buses to Cape Coast, so I had to pay the full fare of 60 Cedis (€10), to get to Accra, even though I was only going to Cape Coast, which was several hundred kilometres before Accra. Yes, it was very overpriced, but it was also airconditioned and roomy, which was nice.

The roads in Ghana seemed to be very smooth and well maintained. The buildings also seemed to be vastly different to what I'd seen in the rural areas of other countries. I even saw some rubbish bins at random intervals, which are not really present in other West African countries. So it seems that despite the corruption, Ghana has managed to keep its development level above that of other countries in the area.

Not far along the road, we encountered an immigration checkpoint, where the officer, apparently named Innocent, declared himself my new best friend, gave me his number and told me to call him should I need anything while in Ghana. He was actually quite hilarious and definitely improved my mood after the border debacle.

Something I found rather strange on the way to Cape Coast, was the random placement of huge shipping ropes across the road at odd intervals. I presume they were there to slow cars down, but they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, not near any towns or areas where people could be endangered by speeding cars. They were very effective though.

Once I finally arrived in Cape Coast, I had a wonderful chat about the day's adventures with my lovely host Eric. That was just what I needed before I went to bed to sleep it off.

My home in Cape Coast

Cape Coast
First order of the day, after freshening up, was to get some food. That was apparently more easily said than done, considering the ingredients used and style of cooking that is popular in the area. We did eventually find somewhere that had the right kind of food and was willing to cook it in a healthier way. It was a bit of a mission, but the end result was delicious! With full bellies, we headed to the city to have a look around.

Palm Tree Beach

For the first time in Africa, I got to see some castles. Obviously, they were left over relics from a time before Ghana was an independent country. The Cape Coast Castle is actually a coastal fort that was used as prison, back when slavery was a thing. A walk around the outside brings you to a small inlet between rock formations where the waves break near the base of the castle. It's also an amazing place to sit and take in the awesomeness of nature.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape coast has a very friendly vibe to it. With less than 200,000 people living there, it's a pretty small city, by African standards. Some of the hallmarks of other African cities, like noise and traffic congestion, are pretty much not existent there, making it a lovely place for a leisurely walk. It also seems that nowhere in the city is more than a 10 minute walk from the coast. I guess that's why it has 'Coast' right there in the name!

Before I left the city, I was unlucky enough to see a man walking around with no pants on. He seemed to be known as the local crazy dude, as no one really even batted an eyelid when they saw him wandering around half naked. I saw many other interesting things on my walk around, but none topped what I saw written on some random guys shirt - All professionals can boast, but the teacher taught them all. That's right folks, you'd all be lost without your teachers!

After a great few days in Cape Coast, I paid the 10 Cedis (€1.8) fee then hopped in a van in the evening for the 2 hour journey to the capital, Accra.

Accra
I arrived at my host's house, in a community about 20km out of the city, just after 8pm and was ready for a shower. Until I discovered that the shower was outdoors with an open-air roof and therefore had no light. Instead, I chatted with the family until bedtime.

Once morning came, I was ready to try this outdoor bucket shower thing, because what other choice did I really have? I must say that it was kind of interesting being able to look up at the sky while showering, but on the flip side, you have the chance of getting sunburnt whilst showering. Also, because of the sun, you do dry a lot more quickly than you would in a normal shower.

Now feeling fresh and clean, sort of, I was ready to explore the city. It only took an hour or so to get there in 3 different cars, because the traffic was at a standstill almost the entire way. After sitting down for so long, I was glad to be able to walk around and stretch for a bit. I made my way to the waterside area and it wasn't long before someone stopped me for a chat. His name was Richard and I pretty much know his entire life story now.

The Waterside

When I walked towards a restaurant not long after, a guy called Cesar greeted me and said he was very happy to see me. He advised me that the restaurant was vegetarian, which was exactly the opposite of what I was looking for, so he kindly offered to show me a place at the art centre just down the road, with WiFi!

Art Centre

Once we got there, the WiFi wasn't working, so he took me to his stall on the other side of the art centre, where I meet his older brother who was very insistent about Guineans being criminals. The older brother then went off to find a small Ghanaian flag for me while I chatted to Cesar for a bit.

After the brother came back with the flag, Cesar took me for a walk to a shopping centre up the road where I could find WiFi. On the way there, we walked past some important sites, including Independence Square, (or Black Star Square), which looks like a big open-air semi stadium near the water and the Black Star Gate or Presidential Avenue, positioned on the roundabout adjacent to the Square. Cesar gave me a bit of a history lesson about the square and what it's used for.

Once we made it to the shopping centre, Cesar left me, presumably to go back to the work he'd been ignoring for the 3 hours he'd been helping me. While in the supermarket, I bumped into a lady from the US that I had met earlier that week at the Ghanaian Embassy in Côte d'Ivoire. It seems she'd also opted for getting the visa at the border, as she didn't want to wait for the visa to be processed.

We chatted for a little while and relayed our border experiences to each other. As bad as mine had been, it seems hers had been slightly worse and included getting kicked out of a car for not having a visa. Oh dear. It turns out we're both teachers on our summer holiday who'd decided to make the trip to Africa. I guess it really is a small world after all.

Upon leaving the shopping centre, I was offered a Chinese massage, to which I responded, "I live in China". That caused the man offering to giggle then walk away. I then decided that I wasn't keen to sit in hot transport with the horrific traffic congestion taking place all around me, so I decided to take a long walk back to the community I was staying in. On the way, I found a sign to Deeper Life.

Many people stopped me along the way, to say hi and ask me where I was going, but when I had walked about 80% of the way, a guy started walking with me, because he felt that I shouldn't be walking alone. After the obligatory small talk, he said, "What Would you say if I said you were attractive?" and I replied with, "You'd be about the 152nd guy in Africa to say that!". He really wasn't expecting that response, but it didn't stop him from trying to suggest other things.

In the end, he gave up on the idea of anything else happening and just wanted to make sure that I got back to where I was staying safely. This involved him walking several kilometres in the opposite direction to which he had originally been going.

The Road to Hohoe and the Waterfalls of Wli
My host, who was supposed to help me get to the bus station, had disappeared without saying anything. Luckily his friend was available, so he took me to the station to get a car to Madina where I could get a bus to Hohoe. The small town of Wli is not far from there and that's where the waterfalls are at. The bus driver seemed to deliberately find the crappiest road to get to Madina, so it took over an hour. As it was only 5km away, I literally could've walked there faster. Once at the station, I found the bus to Hohoe for 30 Cedis (€5). The 200km trip took just under 4 hours, because as had happened in previous countries, the road got horrible within 100 kilometres of the border.

The nice part of the road to Hohoe

Once in Hohoe, I was able to find a shared taxi to Wli, home of the waterfalls, at the same station where the bus had dropped me off, for only 10 Cedis (€1.8). The driver was very nice and when I told him I needed to change some money before I'd be able to pay him, he said I could just get in and he'd stop at a bank for me. Changing money at a bank should be easy, right? Apparently not in Ghana!

Firstly, they took a photocopy of my passport then made me wait for 15 minutes, because.. Africa. By this time, other people in the taxi were coming into the bank to ask what the hell was going on because obviously, we all wanted to get going. Once they finally served me, they wouldn't accept my home address and said that I had to have an address in Ghana, which of course makes total sense when I'm on the way out and I don't live there, sheesh. The driver said I could just use his address, but the bank people wouldn't accept that. They said it had to be my address and didn't seem to understand the concept of a traveller not having an address in the country. Clearly, it was a lost cause, so we got back in the car and left.

The road to Wli was absolutely horrific, because all the terrible roads in Africa seem to be near borders! At least it was only a 30 minute drive and once we got there, the driver's friend George met us to help with the currency problem. He took me to the hotel near the waterfall, which was run by a lovely German couple. George had suggested that they might help me to change some of my Euro to the local currency, so I could pay the taxi man. After I told them about what happened at the bank, they commiserated with me about how things are done in Ghana, then happily changed my money. I found out that they had lived in Ghana, running their hotel for over 20 years. The area was absolutely lovely, so I could see why they wouldn't want to leave!

Wli

As we were walking to the park entry for the waterfall, George told me that while I was inside, he would organise a motorbike to take me through to Adeta on the Togo side of the border, where I could get a car to Lome. This meant I could enjoy the waterfall without having to worry about my next move. Fabulous!

Park Entrance

The staff at the park entrance were super cruisy and pleasant. They let me leave my bag with them so I could enjoy the hike unencumbered, then they even offered me a free guide. I think that was probably more so that I wouldn't wander off into an area that I hadn't paid to see, because they'd told me it was too late in the day to go into one of the areas.

My guide was a young boy named Ric. I found out on the walk that he was not a real guide, but just a high school kid trying to make extra money during the holidays by pressuring people into giving him tips. He did tell me that the local name for the falls was Agamasta, which means allow me to flow. The waterfall was lovely and even had a rainbow accompanying it! What was strange is that the super powerful waterfall was cascading into a small calm lake.

Waterfall and rainbow

When I got back to the entrance, George was there waiting for me and true to his word, had organised a motorbike to take me through to Togo. Before heading to the border, he took me to his friend's guesthouse, so I could get some WiFi and let my host in Lome know that I was on the way. George had been a massive help and had asked for nothing in return. What an awesome guy.

Sunset in Wli

At the border, the officers were very friendly, but they took a weirdly long amount of time filling out my departure card for me and looking through my passport. Perhaps they were marvelling at the amount of pages that were full with stamps and visas, or perhaps they were just bored and wanted to keep me there as long as they could, so they had someone to talk to. Either way, they kept me there for over 30 minutes and I was the only person crossing in that whole time. When they saw who my motorbike taxi man was, they advised me that he was a 'good man' and not to worry. I wasn't worried anyways, but it was a lovely sentiment.

🇬🇭Ghana Summary🇬🇭
In a few words – corruption and rainbows
Language - English and local language
Currency - Ghana Cedi (GHS)
WiFi availability - 📶📶📶
WiFi was fairly easy to find but didn't always work to expectations. Or at all.
Transport - 🚗🚗🚗
The spaciousness of the transport in Côte d'Ivoire seemed to continue into Ghana. Vehicles were still crowded, but at least everyone had their own seat.
🚐 Minivans seemed to be the most widely available mode of transport for both intercity and inner city transport. The going price was around 30 Cedis (€5) for about 200km if the road was bad, or 10 Cedis (€1.8) for 150km if the road was good. It was around 3-5 Cedis (€0.5-0.9) for inner city routes.
🚘 Squeezier shared taxis were available for shorter trips at around 10 Cedis (€1.8) for a 30-40 minute drive.
🏍 Motorbikes were used near the border area, because apparently the border roads were not suitable for cars. It seems they start with a very high price but can be negotiated down a lot. They generally only take CFA for payment.
Roads - 🛣🛣🛣
The roads were surprisingly smooth throughout most of the country, until getting close to the border area.
Scenery - 🌳⛰🌳🏞🌳
With rainforest covered mountains and waterfalls accompanied by rainbows, Ghana definitely takes the prize for most amazing scenery in West Africa.
Prices, - 💰💰
Most things in Ghana are fairly reasonably priced, making it a great place for budget travellers.
Checkpoints - 🛑
I only encountered one checkpoint in Ghana, where the officer seemed more interested in a chat than a document check.
Border efficiency - 🛃🛃
There was absolutely no sense of urgency at Ghanaian borders unless you were willing to hand over the bribe they were subtly (not subtly) asking for.
Corruption level - ⚠⚠⚠
Corruption is most definitely present, but seems to be concentrated in border areas, so the rest of the country is quite pleasant.
Overall - 👍👍👍

Côte d’Ivoire

Once I’d passed through immigration on the Liberia side, I walked across the bridge into Côte d’Ivoire. After getting my passport stamped, which took less than a minute, I had my first on arrival request, from a doctor stationed at the border, to see my yellow fever vaccination card. There must be a lot of non-vaccinated people going through that border if they’ve posted a doctor there!

As I walked further into Côte d’Ivoire, a guy was trying hard to get me to take his bike to Danané. The first price he told me was 10,000CFA, (€14) but I wasn’t willing to pay that much, so he asked me how much I would be willing to give him. I said 2000CFA (€3), but he said he couldn’t go below 3000CFA (€4.5). We eventually settled on 4000CFA (€6), less than half the price. I can still barter like a boss!

Another lovely road

Getting to Abidjan
The road was a pretty terrible dirt road that had plenty of twists, turns, dips and bumps. My motorbike guy drove like a crazy man and barely even slowed down for the numerous bumps and dips along the way, so it was an extremely uncomfortable ride that my back hated me for. Upon arrival in Danané, he took me straight to the bus company. After I paid the rather exorbitant 8000CFA (€12) fee, I hopped on the bus to Abidjan at about 9am. Thankfully we weren’t squeezed in like we had been on previous transport and it was the first vehicle that I’d been in for a month that didn’t have a crack in the windscreen!

Bus ticket

They already had a full load and the motor was running by the time I got my ticket, so I thought we’d be leaving soon. You’d think by this point, I wouldn’t be expecting so much in Africa. Of course, we didn’t leave until about 30 minutes later. Then we were only on the road for about 5 minutes before we stopped just outside of town. The area we stopped at had many piles of what looked like smoking sand. I could only guess that it was some kind of rubbish dump. Luckily, we only stopped for a few minutes to load something onto the roof.

A little later, we stopped at a checkpoint and the driver just seemed to be having a chat with the people there, while they didn’t actually check anything. We then stopped 15km out of Danané for some reason and then again in another town called Bangolo for the first of 2 fuel stops. I guess the bus guzzled a lot of fuel.

It was amusing watching women and kids running from out of nowhere, at each stop we made. They were all running to be the first to the bus for the best chance of selling their wares to passengers. They were pretty much selling the same things in every town. Mangoes, bread, eggs and cold drinks.

Sellers running towards the bus

The road was sealed the whole way, but there were ridiculously large potholes everywhere, which meant a lot of slowing down and driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid them. At various points along the way, local kids could be seen trying to fill some of the gigantic potholes in the road with sand. The poor kids were fighting a losing battle, especially seeing as they had to move off the road every time a car got near.

Suprisingly, the road got worse as we got closer to Yamoussaokro. Which I thought was strange considering it’s supposed to be the (political) capital. The 420 kilometre trip from Danané took about 8 hours, so I was thinking that the 230 kilometre trip to Abidjan might take about 6 hours, which would put back my arrival time to after midnight. Luckily, almost as soon as we left the city, the roads got remarkably better. So much so, that it was almost like being on a European highway. That 230 kilometre trip took just over 2 hours, even with a couple of stops! After the roads I’ve endured lately, I would rate it as amazing.

Now this is more like it!

Côte d’Ivoire is also the first country in West Africa where I’ve seen people riding bicycles along the side of the road. Perhaps because they have the only roads in Africa so far where it seems semi-safe to do so. Mind you, once you get into the city, the traffic would make it a lot more difficult. There’s so much traffic in fact, that drivers create their own ‘third lane’ on 2 lane roads.

Two lanes become three

One thing that seems to be universal here, is the thought that the place is dangerous. As a visitor just passing through, I guess I can’t really make judgments about such things, but I honestly haven’t seen or heard anything that has made it feel any less safe than in any other countries in West Africa. The only thing I’ve found mildy offensive is the strong smell of urine when walking along some streets. It seems men will just go to the toilet wherever they feel, even if people are within their line of sight.

Walking Around Abidjan
My bag had taken a bit of a beating on this trip, so when I saw a shoe repair shop while walking, I stopped in to get it stitched up. The very friendly man inside the stall kept trying to have conversations with me in French, even after me telling him, in very bad French, that I didn’t speak French. Maybe he was telling me about how proud he was of his son that went off to college, who knows. But he was done in a few short minutes and it only cost me 200CFA (€0.3).

Local farming fields

I then walked on to an area close to the water, along what I thought would be a hiking trail, but ended up being a road to people’s houses. Whoops. I still got to see some interesting views on the way, including local farming fields, abandoned buildings and cows being cows.

As I continued along, I noticed that the city is very quiet on a Sunday. I’d say that about 70 percent of the shops that I saw were closed and even the roads seemed to have a lot less cars on them. I guess Sunday is a rest day. Or a wedding day. I passed about 3 marquees in different areas of the beach where people seemed to be all dressed up like they’d been to a wedding, but were just chilling and dancing to local music.

A quiet Sunday in Abidjan

I was starting to get hungry, as I’de been walking around most of the day and got so lost in my own world that I’d forgotten to eat! It was lucky then that I somehow stumbed upon a cute little establishment where the staff were friendly and spoke English! I was ushered upstairs to an interesting open-air bar area where they fed me a lot of free tea. Before I made it to a seat, the guy at the souvenir shop tried to sell me this –

Could this be the most aptly name chili sauce ever?

As I approached the bar, one of the workers started talking to me and it turns out he was originally from Mali and was very interested in what I thought about some of the other West African countries I’d visited. We ended up chatting for hours and he noticed how much I liked the tea, so just ended up telling the staff to give me the pot. It was then that I found out that I have a tea limit. Three quarters of a pot, incase you were wondering.

My pot!

I didn’t actually want to leave, as I was loving the laid back atmosphere of the place so much, but as it was already way past midnight, I was getting very tired. While I was walking along the road after leaving, a taxi stopped and offered me a free ride home, because he’d seen a drunk man near me and was worried for my safety. Awfully nice of him, but he also took the opportunity to tell me that I should love Jesus, because he will provide for me. I adivised him that I was doing a good enough job providing for myself, haha!

Getting to Ghana
As it was a day before Independence Day, there were many people selling Côte d’Ivoire flags. One of them approached me and we started the barter dance. The fact that we didn’t share a common language didn’t stop the negotiation and I walked away a short while later with a small flag for half of his initially stated price. Yay me.

Not long after seeing a dude taking his lawnmower for a walk along the side of the highway, I was at the Ghana Embassy, where I was told a visa would be waiting for me, after my host had completed most of the process on his end. Unfortunately, the people at the embassy were the opposite of helpful and said I would have to wait for it. It was at this point that I was advised that I could just pick up a visa at the border, so I headed for the Gare du Bassam Bus Station to get a car to the border.

As I got to Gare du Bassam a guy approached me and asked where I was going. He then took me to another bus station that only had one service to Ghana a day, which had already left. We then had to walk back to where we’d started. The cheeky git then asked me to give him something for taking me on that unnecessary walk. Yeah, right.

It seemed like this wasn’t really a bus station, just more of a place where cars to various places gather to pick up passengers. I got in a car where the driver had agreed to let me pay the 5000CFA (€8) for my ride at the border, where I could get some money changed. For some strange reason, there were no banks or money changers open in the area, despite it being a weekday. This car wasn’t too bad and we weren’t squeezed in, which was a lovely bonus!

The road was generally good, but there were a couple of short sections about 30km out of town where it was terrible. It got good again and stayed that way for the rest of the journey to the border. I started talking to a Nigerian guy who was sitting next to me in the car and he ended up helping me through the border.

We slowed down significantly on approach to the border as random lots of speed bumps started popping up on the road about 60 kilometres from the border. Once we got within a kilometre of it, there was a huge traffic jam, with cars at a standstill. We were about to get out and walk, but then the cars started magically moving again. The driver and the Nigerian’s daughter waited in the car while we proceeded on foot to the immigration point and exited Côte d’Ivoire with no drama. The car was waiting for us outside and drove us to the Ghana side, where a new adventure was about to begin.

🇨🇮 Côte d’Ivoire Summary🇨🇮
In a few words – friendly, but overly security conscious
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶
Abidjan has a few big modern shopping centres as well as some small cafes with decent WiFi. These places are normally quite easy to find, but people will always help you if you need it.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚘 Shared taxis are available on a zone system, but the zone system seems to be a lot more simplified than other countries and drivers will charge you the shared price of around 1500 CFA (€2.30), even if you’re the only passenger. Taxis are colour coded according to the zones they work in, with the red taxis being able to take you point to point, for a slightly higher fee of around 2000 CFA (€3).
🚍 Côte d’Ivoire was the first West African country I encountered that had fairly roomy intercity buses, but they were also quite a bit more expensive than those in other countries.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣
The roads in Côte d’Ivoire covered the full range, from shockingly terrible to amazingly smooth and well maintained.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🌳🏞🏖
Green and dusty with an occasional beach.
Prices, – 💰💰💰
While still relatively easy to travel through on a budget, Côte d’Ivoire is a little more expensive than some of its neighbours.
Checkpoints – I did not encounter any checkpoints.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Border crossings were quick and easy.
Corruption level – 0
No corruption was evident. Côte d’Ivoire seems to be a lot less corrupt that other West African countries.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

Liberia

Welcome to Liberia
After crossing a bridge on the back of a bike, I was on the Liberia side of the border, where at first the immigration point seemed very relaxed. A nice officer named Anthony, greeted me with, “How are you today?” Then asked me some questions and called my host to speak to him. He took me to a building across the road where another officer, who said he was the Director of Immigration asked me some more questions, then apparently took issue with the fact that I was travelling by myself and no one was meeting me at the border. Why that would be a problem, I have absolutely no idea.

After looking up the definition of tourism, which in essence is someone travelling to a place to sight-see, (you know, exactly what I was doing!), he decided he was going to send me back to Sierra Leone to get a visitor visa, because if I was staying with a local, I wasn’t a tourist and couldn’t enter on a tourist visa. Umm, what now?

This was despite him showing me a WhatsApp message from the consulate in Sierra Leone, with my passport details, telling him I was coming and to let me enter. He also called my host to speak to him, then said he probably couldn’t let me in because my safety was their problem and they couldn’t guarantee it if someone wasn’t here to collect me. I think I’ve been pretty good at guaranteeing my own safety so far.

I’m not proud of what happened next, but the early start and the long day of travel had taken their toll on me and I broke down. It was at this point that the first officer, Anthony told me, when the other officer was out of the room, that I shouldn’t worry, I’d be let in. Apparently, the other officer should’ve never said he’d send me back, as I have a valid visa and there was no reason not to let me in.

The whole saga ended with my host’s mother calling the Comissioner of Immigration, who then in turn called the Director to tell him to let me in. The director then tried to re-itterate the, “We’re doing this for your own safety” argument, to which I politely disagreed when asked for my opinion. I let him know that I’m aware of the risks of entering any new country and my safety is my own responsibility, citing the fact that I’d travelled to over 70 countries by myself with no incidents. He didn’t disagree and replied with, “Welcome to Liberia”. Umm, alrighty then.

Part of me was thinking that this may have been a subtle bribe request that went too far. Maybe he thought that if he threatened to send me back, I’d offer money to solve the problem. Something that Anthony, the nice officer from before, said also compounded that thought. After he helped get me into a car heading for Monrovia, he stated explicitly that I shouldn’t hand over any money at any checkpoints on the road, just my passport, if required. I can’t be sure if he was trying to imply something there, but I’ll take the win anyways!
Kez = 4; African Border Corruption = 1

Monrovia
Once in Monrovia, I told my host I needed food, but he thought it was more important to walk to his place in the community to meet all his family first. I was pretty hungry by the time I finally got some food, so I got through it fairly quickly. My stomach felt better after that, but I then realised I was super tired and told my host I just wanted to sleep, but he kept putting me on the phone to his friends and family. It was only after I actually fell asleep talking to one of them that he let me retire for the night.

The community

By the time I got to bed, I had a thumping headache. When I first laid down, I kept getting bitten by some kinda bugs. Then, all through the night, the girl sleeping in the bed with me kept rolling over and hitting me, or almost pushing me off the bed, which meant I was constantly walking up, so the headache just wasn’t going away. I spent most of the night awake because of that. The headache had finally gone by the next time I woke up at 6ish. Not the best way to spend the first night in a new country.

My main aim after waking up was to go to the Cote d’Ivoire embassy first thing, then see some of the city and find some WiFi. I’d advised my host the night before of what I wanted to do, but he instead took me somewhere else in the city so he could see one of his friends. We had to get another 20 minute taxi and walk 10 minutes to the embassy, so even though I’d aimed to get there at 9am, I didn’t make it until 12pm. Africa time strikes again!

Most coveted selling spot?

While running around from place to place, I had gotten small glimpses of how things were in the city. It seems people were selling stuff everywhere and using what ever was available around to display their stuff. I bet there’s some stiff competition to get some spots! The traffic is a also pretty crazy. At times it seems that it would be quicker to walk than sit inside a hot car in traffic breathing in the fumes from cars in front.

Busy street

Thankfully, the lady at the embassy was super nice and despite the fact that she didn’t really speak any English, she let me use the WiFi to get some information I needed for the visa. She also let me pay the visa fee in Euro instead of US$. She said she had done these things specially to help me out and it was a one-off. Of course I was super grateful!

After we left the embassy, we continued on to find some WiFi, but my host kept saying that there wasn’t any around. I showed him my map, which was indeed showing WiFi in the area. He admitted that he knew of places that had WiFi, but didn’t want to go to them because we had to get a taxi back to his place before 4pm, otherwise there would be no taxis available. That was something he hadn’t mentioned earlier and I’d presumed I’d have the whole day to do stuff. He then took me to an internet cafe, which of course, I couldn’t use my laptop at. In the end, I found a bar with WiFi and we went there.

The bar was called The Basement and when we approached a lovely lady inside, she ushered us to an office upstairs, where a nice man running an NGO said we could sit down and use the WiFi. I ended up talking to the man and he told me a bit about his organisation, which aims to elevate the poor in Liberia and stop them being taken advantage of. After telling him about the volunteer work I do in Hong Kong, he decided that we should network. I find it funny that anyone would want to network with me, but sure, let’s do it.

Once leaving the bar, we were back in my host’s community, with no issues by 5pm, less than an hour after we’d gotten transport. My host disappeared for hours as soon as we got back, so I think he’d lied about there being no taxis and just had something he needed to do in the area. I actually would’ve liked to have seen some more of the city, so I was a little disappointed. I was also bored. There really wasn’t anything to do in the community.

Luckily my host’s brother, Speedo, took me for a walk in the local area, where of course everyone knew him. While walking, he asked me if I’d ever played pool right as we stopped near a tin shed. I wondered why he’d stopped walking when he asked the question, but the entire contents of the shed we’d stopped near were a pool table and pool players! I stopped and had a game, then we continued walking, despite the guys in the shed trying to entice me to play just one more game.

Lake behind the pub

We continued on to a pub on a lake which had a rickety wooden bridge running across it, to a house in the middle. We were going to sit down there, but the loudness of the music was not conducive to conversation, so we walked to another bar about 50 metres away, on the same lake. The music there was at a much lower volume level, so it was easy to sit down and chat. This pub was run by one of Speedos friends and he said that he’d deliberately kept the volume lower than the other place so people would find it a little more chill and be more likely to hang out there. It seemed to be working for him.

View from the pub

Chilling was certainly what most people were doing there! I’d say at least half the people there were passing around joints and a few were drinking some weird mixture of cough medicine and Coca Cola to compliment the joints. The rest were drinking beers while sitting on plastic garden chairs or retired office chairs in the sand. What a life!

The Long Way To The Border
I returned to Cote d’Ivoire embassy around 11am to pick up my passport and even though it wasn’t supposed to be picked up until after 2pm. I was hoping that the nice lady would hand it back earlier so I could be on my way to the border. I was right!

With passport in hand, I headed to the garage at Red Light, where I could get the car to the border. I was there by about 12:30 and bought my seat for L$2500(US$16). This was another small car with six people squeezed in, meaning I was again sharing a front seat that was only meant for one person. Luckily the girl I was sharing with was also small like me, so it wasn’t as uncomfortable as some previous rides.

Red Light Station

Sounds of Red Light

By the time they sold the last seat in the car, it was 2pm, but because of the terrible traffic near the garage, it took us over 30 minutes to get out to the main road. Everything was going fine until about 200km from the border when an awful scraping noise started coming from the drivers side of the car. It turns out the tread from a badly re-treaded tyre had started peeling off and hitting the wheel arch. The driver got out his knife and started trying to cut off the affected area, until I suggested that it would probably be safer to just change the tyre. He agreed and said that was why he brought along 2 spare tyres.

Roadside tyre change

We were back on the road within 20 minutes, but that stop had probably taken away our chances of reaching the border before it closed at 6pm. We then stopped at a town called Gompa, about 85 kilometres from the border, for the driver to get the shredded tyre replaced. It was around there that the road turned to crap. This was the second country in a row where road conditions worsened within 100 kilometres of a border; I hope this doesn’t become a trend!

By the time we reached an immigration checkpoint 50 kilometres before the border, it was already dark. The guy outside was really rude and demanded that I get out of the car and go inside, where 2 much nicer guys asked me a few questions, but didn’t even look at my passport. Another lady from the car was also told to go inside, but she didn’t speak English, so the officers had her in there for ages, with the driver trying to relay to her in French what was going on. I found out later that she’d actually overstayed in Liberia, but they let her keep going because they were only a checkpoint and couldn’t really stop her.

About 11 kilometres before the border, we hit a long line of stationary trucks and cars. As we got out of the car to investigate, we found a rolled truck stuck in a gully next to a bridge it had broken while trying to drive across. Now this was a problem, as this was the only access road to the border. Some people had made a fire and laid down blankets to settle in for the night, but luckily there was a car on the other side of the bridge that was willing to take us to the border, for a small fee, of course!

Broken bridge

It was after 11pm by the time we got to the border town. A guy from the car took us to the local hotel, so we could sleep. When we found the manager, he said that he didn’t have any rooms left, but he wouldn’t send us back out into the rain that had just started pouring down. He would instead put a blanket down on the floor for us to lay on. Sometimes you just take what you can get.

I was woken up at 6am and proceeded to the immigration building, where after answering officers’ questions about where I was going next, they all declared that they wanted me to take them with me. This was a pretty chill border where it seems the officers spent more time chatting than stamping passports.

🇱🇷Liberia🇱🇷
In a few words – crazy but chill
Language – English and local language
Currency – Liberian Dollar (LRD)
WiFi availability -📶📶
It isn’t so easy to find WiFi and locals don’t really have much of an idea where it is, as most use the data on their phones. Once you do find WiFi, it may not be the best.
Transport – 🚗🚗
🚘 Squeezy shared taxis are available for intercity travel, with their less squeezy, zone restricted cousins available for inner city travel.
Kekehs (tuk tuks) are also available, for a slightly lower cost, on a zone system.
Roads – 🛣🛣
Country roads in Liberia range from absolutely awful to terrible, whereas the city roads range from terrible to okay.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🌳🏞🏖
The Liberian countryside is very green and wonderful to look at. There are also a few beaches near the coast.
Prices, – 💰💰
Great on a budget.
Checkpoints – 🛑
I was only encountered one checkpoint, but others in the car advised that the checkpoint only operates at night.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
Upon entry and exit, it seems like most officers are more interested in chatting than completing immigration procedures in a timely manner.
Corruption level – 0
Although locals voiced their concerns about instances of corruption within the government, there didn’t seem to be any aimed at visitors.
Overall – 👍👍

Sierra Leone

Welcome to Salone
Due to the uncomfortably squeezy ride on crappy roads from Conakry and all the dramas that came up when trying to leave Guinea, I was a little bit frazzled by the time I got to the Sierra Leone side of the border. Luckily, my saviour for the night, Ms Kadie, was passing through and must’ve seen I was in a bit of a state. Her first words were, “Don’t worry, I’m a Sierra Leone immigration officer”. From there, Ms Kadie led us through the checkpoints to a house a little way down the road, where the man with the stamp lived.

After my travel buddy Efuah, who had shared the front seat with me all the way from Conakry, and Ms Kadie explained the situation to him, he berated me a bit for travelling at night by myself. Efuah said that she was travelling with me, so it was okay. His tone changed markedly after that and he started joking around a bit. He went off somewhere, to the stamp depository, I presume, then returned with my stamped passport ready to go. While he was gone, myself, Efuah, Ms Kadie and another lady from the complex were chatting and they reassured me that I had no need to worry, as I was in Sierra Leone now. They were right.

One major difference change between Guinea and Sierra Leone, was the quality of the roads. About 10km before the Sierra Leone border, the road went from absolutely horrid, bumpy, potholed disaster zone, to lovely, smooth sealed awesomeness. I was wondering how this happened on the Guinea side, because I had not seen roads anywhere near this good when travelling through the rest of Guinea. Efuah informed me that this zone was part of an area that Sierra Leone stupidly handed over to Guinea. Well, that explains it.

Once done at the border, we continued on motorbike to Kambia, where we got a shared taxi to Freetown. Even though we had 5 people squeezed in, the ride was much more comfortable than the previous one, because the car and road were in much better condition. Everyone in our multinational taxi was so friendly and we all ended up chatting the whole way. It turns out that not only was it Efuah’s birthday, but also the birthday of another guy in the taxi, Andy from Nigeria. We all exchanged phone numbers at the end of the ride. By that time, all my stress was gone and Sierra Leone had definitely welcomed me the right way.

As Efuah had been so instrumental in helping me to navigate the border, I invited her along to have lunch with my host, Alusine and myself. Getting there was confusing and required a ride in a minibus, a Keke (local name for a Tuk Tuk) and a taxi. It seems that Kekes, taxis and minibuses have zones and once you reach the end of one zone, you have to walk a little to get another form of transport in the next zone.

New friends

I took a little walk along the beach afterwards and even though it was right next to a main road and full of people enjoying the weekend sun, there was something tranquil about it.

Beach

Public transport in the city of Freetown can get rather interesting. It seems that guys put DVDs into the players in the buses, with the express purpose of selling them to passengers on the bus. A lot of the DVDs seemed to consist of 80s and 90s music videos, which I’d kinda be getting into when they’d skip to the next song, or take the DVD out of the player because someone had purchased it. Judging by the price the guy was selling them for, they’re clearly illegal copies.

View from near Leicester Peak

As any good hiker would, I found the highest hill in the city, Leicester Peak, and walked up it. When I started the walk, it was a lovely sunny day, but by the time I got halfway up, I had entered the mist which had almost completely engulfed the view I was looking so forward to seeing. Oh well, it was still a nice walk and I did get a great view for about 2 seconds!

View halfway down the hill

After working up an appetite walking up and then back down the hill, I couldn’t think of anything better than roadside grilled meat to satisfy my hunger. The guy cooking it even let me pick the piece that I wanted grilled up and informed me that it was super fresh, having just come from the butcher a few hours ago. Mmmm!

Meeeeeaaaaat!

Now, Alusine and his extended family had been very welcoming. If I wanted anything, all I had to do was ask and someone would fetch it from a nearby shop. I had many chats over tea with different members of the family and they were always so interested in learning about my travels through other African countries. It seems I made a huge impression on one of the youngest members of the family. After only meeting him once, he ran across the yard to greet me with a big hug when I came back from exploring one day. So adorable!

Things were just as warm and friendly outside Alusine’s house. I had noticed every time we walked from the house down to the main road, it seemed like everyone knew Alusine and he knew everyone. People were constantly greeting him and asking how he and his family were doing. There was such a strong sense of community there, like everyone looks after everyone and everyone helps everyone out. It’s very refreshing when compared to other places, where people only have time for work and stress, not other people.

I’d also noticed a lot of funny stuff written in many places, mainly on the back of taxis, buses and Kekes. Here are just a few of those ‘quotes’ –
Pee Sounds (the actual name of a company. Why??)
Don’t trust human, trust in God
The land of powerful mixture
God time is the best
This property is not for sale offenders will be prosecuted
Unity is strange
God bless Islam
Nothing blessing gas gas
Clear rejection is better than fake promise

The Road To Bo

I’d decided to cut my trip to Liberia into 2 sections and stop in a town closer to the Liberian border, after hearing that the road gets quite bad and the trip would take a lot longer than I expected. Alusine took me to the roadside where I could get car heading towards Bo. I was loaded into a van and we were all ready to go, except for one small problem, the driver couldn’t start the car! We ended up swapping to a much smaller car which pretty much squeezed the same amount of people in, so that was another fun ride. We finally left around 2:30pm.

While on the road, it started raining, so the driver closed the windows and turned on the air-conditioning! I didn’t even know that existed in West Africa! By the time I made it to Bo it was nearly 7pm and raining quite heavily. So I just went straight to my hosts place and had a relaxing chat in the dark, because I presume the rain had taken out the power.

Safe in the dark with my host in Bo

On to Liberia
I got myself ready and made it to the station at about 7:30am to get a car to the border for 90,000 Leones (€9). That was a bit more than expected, but I didn’t really have any other choice, so I squeezed into a Landcruiser that had to be push started, with 9 other people. The bench seat in the back was actually the least squeezy, so the ticket seller had reserved a seat there for me. The only issue was that, even though I’m short, my head was almost touching the roof.

We had to wait a while for the final passenger to come along and didn’t get on the road until 9:30am. They told me it’d take 4 hours to get to the border, but we got through the first 40km in about 40 minutes, so I was feeling hopeful about making it sooner, as there was only another 120km to go. Of course, this is Africa, so there would surely be something up ahead to slow us down!

Not far down the road, we had to stop for roadworkers clearing the road of debris, presumably from the previous nights rain. The guy directing traffic was wearing a high visibility vest with ‘Henan, China’ written on it in Chinese characters. That was literally the last place I was expecting to see Chinese characters! Also, another Chinese thing I never expected to see in West Africa; BBQ Chicken feet!

BBQ chicken feet

Further down the road, some kids jumped on roof of the car and rode along with us. The car stopped to let them off, apparently in the middle of nowhere, but then after we had cleared a police stop, they reappeared and jumped back on. Seemed like they were in for the long haul. They got down again for another police stop, but we were in the line of sight of the police stop when the kids got down and back up, so it seemed they weren’t even trying to hide what they were doing anymore.

Boys riding on top of the car

We eventually came to a river where we had to wait for a rickety old wooden ferry to take us across. It was already making a trip from the other side, so I ate some deer stew from one of the roadside sellers while waiting and watching a truck driving off the ferry almost capsize it. That seems safe.

Totally safe ferry

Despite the small wait for the ferry, we were still making pretty good time, with no major delays. That was until we hit the terrible road and the driver decided to stop and change a tyre. There were several small stops after that, not completely sure why, but probably just because it’s Africa.

About 40km from the border, we hit Zimmi, where they had a little immigration tent set up. This was not the actual immigration point, just an immigration check where they record people who come through. Of course, the officer couldn’t pronounce my name, but it was funny that even after being told the correct pronunciation 3 times, he actually thought he had it right, which made his colleagues laugh quite heartily.

Another terrible road to a border

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful and it was still light by the time I got to the garage near the border. It had taken just over the 4 hours predicted by the guys at the garage. Now the border is actually a walkable distance from the garage, but a policewoman that had been in the car from Bo with me, called a motorbike to take me there. The border officers were very relaxed and the formalities were completed in less than 5 minutes, then I was back on the bike to cross the bridge to the Liberian border where my next adventure awaited.

🇸🇱Sierra Leone Summary 🇸🇱
In a few words – let’s have a chat
Language – English and Kriol
Currency – Sierra Leonean Leone (SLL)
WiFi availability -📶📶📶📶
Decent WiFi is available if you know where to look or have locals to help you.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🏍 Motorbikes are generally used around border areas and cost around 15,000 SLL (€1.5).
Kekes, (called Tuk Tuks elsewhere) are available for inner city travel for around 1500 SLL (€0.15) per person, per zone.
🚘 Shared taxis are available for inner city and intercity travel. The inner city ones run on a confusing zone system that is much easier to negotiate if you’re with a local. The taxis in Sierra Leone tended to be more modern than the ones in previous countries and didn’t cram passengers in.
🚐 Semi-squeezy vans and 4WDs are available for intercity routes for around 30,000 SLL (€3) from Freetown to Bo and 90,000 SLL (€9) from Bo to Jandema, near the Liberian border.
🚍 Public buses and minibuses operate on inner city routes. They are very cheap at around 1000-1500 SLL, or €0.10-0.15, depending on the zones travelled. They’re fairly comfortable too, as long as there is airflow from the vehicle moving. They can become like saunas when stuck at a standstill in traffic.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣
The roads are lovely and smooth throughout most of the country, until within 100km of the Liberian border, when they inexplicably turn horrid.
Scenery – 🌳⛰🌳⛰🏖
The port of Freetown is very green and mountainous, with some beautiful beach areas. The scenery in remote areas is very tropical and aesthetically pleasing.
Prices, – 💰
Sierra Leone was pretty cheap, even compared to other West African countries! It’s probably the cheapest country for roadside snacks, with a small bag of roasted peanuts costing only 500 SLL (€0.05) and a 200g serving of freshly cooked meat priced at 4000 SLL (€0.40).
Checkpoints – 🛑
I only encountered a few checkpoints within a couple of kilometres of each other near the Guinean border. I think they normally ask for a small payment, but we didn’t have to pay because we passed through with an immigration officer. There were a few police stops on the way to the Liberian border, but they just seemed to ask the drivers where they were going, then let us pass.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
I was the only foreigner passing through the border on the way in and out, so I was able to make it through in under 10 minutes. Most of that time would’ve been spent chatting with officers, rather than waiting for immigration clearance.
Corruption level – Aside from the few checkpoints straight after the Guinean border, there didn’t appear to be any corruption aimed at separating locals or visitors from their hard earned money.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

Guinea

After a short ferry crossing of the river that constituted the border between Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, we got back in the car and drove about 20 mins to get to the Guinean checkpoint near a village called Foulamory. Once there, we had to go into a hut where the guy told me to leave if I didn’t sit down, even though there were no seats left. I said I’d wait for my passport, so he passed it to another guy who looked through it then gave it back to me. Of course, there was no signage, but I had to walk to the police post at the other side of the village to get stamped. The versions of my name the immigration officers are coming up with are getting more comical the further into Africa I travel!

Travel – Guinea style

In many of the villages along the road, I saw signs for a project by China Aid to bring TV to remote villages in Guinea. Something about that did not sit well with me. These are villages dotted along remote dirt roads with no running water and possibly no electricity. Besides the fact that electricity is essential for running TVs, accessibility to water and reliable electricity should definitely be higher priorities.

Welcome to Guinea

As we continued along the way, people would stop what they were doing and kids would point or wave excitedly at the car as we drove past. By 4:30pm, we’d made it to Koumbia and a slightly better, but still quite horrible road. The driver said we would make it to Conakry that night, but I was dubious about that as we still had about 100km of bad road. Plus I was sure there’d be more than a few stops as well.

A better road

At one such stop, I had some unidentified meat. The driver said it was beef, but it most definitely was not. It wasn’t goat meat either, so I really have no idea what I consumed, but that’s all part of the experience! The dirt road continued and we made another stop to offload some stuff at Wendou M’bour, a small town before Boké, at about 8pm. While waiting, I noticed that every time I moved, I had 3 kids creepily following me wherever I walked. I guess they don’t see many foreigners. A little bit further on from there, just after the road finally became sealed, we hit a police roadblock and with it, any hopes of reaching Conakry that night.

Sealed roads do exist in Guinea!

Unexpected Overnight Stay On The Road
Apparently, there had been some fighting and strikes in the town up the road, initiated by an anti-government group. The police had closed the road for miles in either direction, apparently for safety. Fair enough, but it was a little annoying that they wouldn’t give a straight answer as to when the road would re-open. There were about 10 cars stuck in the blockade and a Guinean woman from one of the other cars, who was moving to Dakar, started talking to me about the things like this that Africans have to deal with every day. After telling her about my trip, she told me I was a very strong woman and she was glad I’d taken enough of an interest in the area to want to travel so far overland.

When it was obvious that the block would be in place for several hours, people started laying down on the road to rest, but I headed back to the van and laid down on one of the seats to rest for a bit. Luckily only the driver and 2 other people travelling with me had the same idea, so I had the whole bench to myself.

At least the moon was looking good

Around 7 hours later at 6am, the driver ushered everyone into the van and we started moving again. There was a good chance we’d make it to Conakry in the morning! But of course, we didn’t, because this is Africa! With other stops, we ended up getting to Conakry at about 2pm. It had taken 4 days for me to get there and I must say that the city was very unimpressive. Everything seemed to be twice the price of other West African countries and there was almost no infrastructure.

Welcome to Conakry

Conakry
Any roads that were sealed, were full of car-sized potholes and in severe need of repair, but most roads were dirt or mud and lined with massive piles of rubbish. This meant that the smells got quite interesting at times. I even saw one pile of rubbish that was at least as tall as a house, right next to a market where people were selling food. I definitely wouldn’t be buying food there.

The traffic was also absolutely terrible, probably due in part to the terrible roads. It took 40 min for an over crowded taxi to take us about 8km, which was only about half of the distance to the Medina. I had to change taxis at that point, because they have some kinda weird transport system where taxis only take you as far as they’re willing to go, then make you get another taxi. The problem with that was that several people were already waiting for taxis in that area, so getting one was almost impossible. I decided that I didn’t want to wait around, so walked about a kilometre down the road where I was finally able to get another overcrowded taxi to take me the remaining 4km to the Medina.

Medina

The Medina was super crazy. It was hard on the ears, the eyes and the lungs. Any parts of the path on the side of the road that wern’t covered in rubbish, were taken up by people selling their wares and the occasional beggar. This meant that you generally had to walk on the road, but of course drivers didn’t like that, so the constant beeping was almost deafening.

The Road to Sierra Leone
I somehow found the taxi I needed to take me to Freetown, Sierra Leone but it was way overpriced at 60,000 Guinea Francs (€6) + 20,000 (€2) for my small bag. I was not okay with paying extra for my bag, but the driver was a bit of a dick and he wouldn’t take it for less than 10,000(€1). This price was even more ridiculous when you take into account that fact that the car was at least 40 years old and didn’t look like it had been maintained any time in the last 20 years. It was in such a state of disrepair that I had real doubts that we’d make it. There wasn’t even a key, the driver just started it by hotwiring it.

Hot wired

The car was only small, yet we had 6 passengers squeezed in there. That meant I was sharing the front seat with a lovely Sierra Leonean lady named Efuah. It was also her first time in Guinea and we started chatting about our experiences in Guinea and how we both couldn’t wait to get to Sierra Leone. She also advised me that the car was only going to Pamelap, which was before the border. That made me even more annoyed about the amount I’d paid, to not even get halfway to my destination. It was also annoying that the driver had told me the car would go the whole way through to Freetown.

Thankfully Efuah knew how things worked and graciously took me under her wing to make sure that I would get across the border and into Freetown okay. I had no idea what was coming though and it really made me sympathise with the anti-government groups constantly fighting against the Guinean government.

Roadside Bribery
The police have set up many stops on the road to the border, where they charge people who don’t have a Guinean ID card between 5000-10,000 Guinean Francs (€5-10). Almost no one has this ID, probably because it costs a stupid amount of money to get one. That means that these compulsory bribes are not just targeted at foreigners, but also at Guineans. Even our driver had to pay at each checkpoint. There was no discussion, you either paid or they didn’t let you through. Our driver actually drove straight through one of the checkpoints without stopping to pay, but I think he just got lucky that the officer was distracted and too lazy to do anything but blow his whistle.

Road to the border

This is a prime example of how a corrupt government can screw over its people and infrastructure. These police officers just sit at these checkpoints all day, collecting 35,000-70,000 (€3.5-7) per car, or 60,000-120,000 (€6-12) per minibus. Even if only one car and one minibus came through each hour, that’s 95,000-190,000 (€9.5-19) per hour. There are definitely more cars passing through than that though. We passed, or were passed by, at least 8 other cars or minibuses on the stretch where the checkpoints were, so a modest estimate would have these government workers syphoning hundreds of Euro a day from the pockets of their people, while the rubbish piles up on under-maintained streets. I have never been more disgusted by the actions of government workers in my life.

When we arrived at 8pm, after 5 hours on increasingly crappy roads, the border was ‘closed’. The immigration guys, who were clearly still working, told me the border was closed so I’d have to wait there until morning, or pay 20,000 (€2) for an exit stamp. As Efuah was with me and helping me negotiate with the guys, I decided to just pay so I could finally get out of the country that was annoying me more and more by the second. The guy with the stamp, who I might add was a greedy freaking douche canoe, decided he wanted to add his own cut of 35,000 (€3.5) to the already ridiculous bribe. I was so disheartened to have to give into to such corruption, but I also couldn’t spend another minute in such a corrupted place.
Kez = 3; African Border Corruption = 1

In Summary
🇬🇳Guinea🇬🇳
In a few words – Rampant corruption and rubbish lined streets
Language – French and local language
Currency – Guinea Franc (GNF)
WiFi availability – 📶
WiFi was almost impossible to find
Transport – 🚗
🚘 Over-priced and over-crowded shared taxis are available for inner city and intercity trips. Inner city taxis run on a confusing zone system that means you’ll have to swap taxi 2 or 3 times to get to where you want.
🚐 Over-priced, but slightly less squeezy vans are also available for intercity trips
Roads – 🛣
Roads in Guinea are terrible. Aside from a couple hundred kilometres of road between Boke and Conakry and a 10 kilometre stretch of road before the Sierra Leone border, all roads in Guinea are barely maintained dirt roads.
Scenery – 🌳🌳⛰🌳🌳
Green, green and more green! I was mesmerised by the endless greenery and rolling hills while driving through remote areas of the country.
Prices, – 💰💰💰💰
Guinea seemed to run on a different mantra to the rest of West Africa; half the service, twice the price. It was by far the most expensive country I encountered, with prices for most things being around double those in Senegal for about 70% less product.
Checkpoints – 🛑🛑🛑
Most of the country was free of checkpoints, until the road to Guinea-Bissau. The checkpoints served a different purpose than they had in other countries; they were specifically set up to extort money from people.
Border efficiency – 🛃
Borders are confusing to navigate as there is absolutely zero signage, you generally need to rely on the driver of your vehicle to point you in the right direction.
When entering from Guinea-Bissau, there was only one immigration officer to process a whole carload of people and he had no sense of urgency.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠⚠⚠⚠
Overall – 👎

Guinea-Bissau

After a very quick and smooth border crossing between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, our trip continued rather uneventfully, onto the capital, Bissau. The frequency of young kids selling cashews at speedbumps increased exponentially on our approach to the city and Bissau seemed to be an interesting mix of shiny new buildings and tin sheds.

Bissau

Trying to Get From Bissau to Guinea
I’d been given information by a hotel in Bissau that I could get a car straight to Conakry for 6000CFA, around €9, so I made my way to the local garage to organise the trip. Once at the garage, a man named Bato told me there was no direct car to Conakry and that I needed to go to Gabu, a town in eastern Guinea-Bissau, and get another car from there. He helped me find the car and gave me directions for what to do when I got to Gabu, along with his phone number. He then asked for money, which I didn’t give him.

When the driver was ready to go, he told us to get in the car, but 2 passengers had walked off somewhere. That meant we were just sitting in a stuffy, hot car waiting. After a few minutes, I got back out, cause it was too hot to handle. The guys who’d wandered off, finally came back and were told off by the driver and other people in the car, so they turned to me, the only person that didn’t yell at them, and said sorry. Then we finally left. I’d been told it was 4 hours to Gabu, but it only took 2.5. Underestimated journey time? That’s a first for Africa!

Gabu, Guinea-Bissau
Gabu seems to be a tiny little town that pretty much just consists of dirt roads lined with people selling things, taxis, a mosque and a garage. There isn’t even a bank. Once there, a guy that was in my shared taxi from Bissau tried to help me find a flag, then went to get a car to where he was going.

Gabu

I found the car to Conakry. It was probably the most expensive ride yet at 12,000CFA (€18), but I’d been misinformed by my hotel in Bissau that it would be 6000CFA (€9), so that’s all I had. The bus guys, plus some others that spoke bits of English, rallied round to help and see how I could get to Conakry. They eventually decided that the driver would let me pay the other half when I could get some cash out in Guinea. Great, crisis averted.

They also advised that the trip from this region of Guinea-Bissau to Guinea could take up to 24 hours, for around 500km, due to the bad roads between there and Boké. Most of that would be spent on the first 200km as the road is good for the last 300km to Conakry. Oh well, all part of the adventure that is Africa!

Unexpected Stop In Gabu
So 4pm rocks around and we still needed another 8 people for the van to be full enough to leave Guinea-Bissau. The van guys decided that we wouldn’t be leaving today, so ‘the boss’ took me back to his place to sleep for the night and they promised me they’d find the people to fill the van in the morning.

By that time, there’d been a bit of rain, so the ground was getting a bit muddy and chickens were hiding under vehicles to shelter from it. The rain subsided for a bit, but then came back with a vengeance. It rained heavily for hours, which didn’t bode well for the next day’s trip. There was a good chance the roads would be super crappy, or even impassable. Awesome.

Oja, the boss’s son who speaks a little bit of English, came to ask me what I wanted to eat. Shortly after, the boss arrived with some lamb belly! After dinner, some girls came in and started talking to me. They didn’t know much English, but we all knew a little bit of Spanish, so that was the fall back language when we couldn’t understand each other. They were asking me about my trip and one of them, who inexplicably hated Mauritania, wanted me to take her back to Hong Kong.

They taught me some French and I taught them some Chinese, before one of them started showing me some music videos from artists in Senegal, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. I don’t think the music was really my kind of music, but to tell the truth, most of the video clips were quite hilarious and the clothes the artist were wearing were pretty unique.

Gabu, Guinea-Bissau – Day 2
When I woke up, the boss man took me back to the station to wait for the seats in the bus to fill up. We were finally ready to go around 11am. It was then that the driver decided he wouldn’t take me cause he was scared of possible anti-government strikes near the border area. I’ll state for the record here that he didn’t give a crap about the Africans in the van, just me. There was about an hour of arguing that ensued, where half the bus tried to convince the driver it was alright, but the driver, who was acting quite irrational by that point, wasn’t having it.

I asked a guy who spoke a little bit of English and had been helping me all day, if there had been any strikes that hit any vehicles and he said no. He added that the problem was that the driver had probably not gone to school and therefore had irrational fears about going to jail if something happened to a foreigner in his car. Well, okay then.

The next van to Conakry was due to leave the next day. The driver from that bus who was a lot less irrational than the previous driver, came over and said he would take me, no problem. When I stated that I’d already waited a day and my friends would be worried about me, (because by this point, I hadn’t been in contact with the outside world in almost 2 days), all the guys around guaranteed it would leave that day. I didn’t really believe them, but what other choice did I have?

After waiting many hours, there were still 8 vacant seats, so leaving that day was looking more and more unlikely. The boss man took me to get some eggs and a random guy in the shop bought me another 2 when I’d finished the first 2, even though we couldn’t have a conversation because we shared no common languages. You can tell a lot about people by what they do for strangers.

By 16:30 there were still about 5 vacant seats and it was obvious we wouldn’t be leaving that day. The boss man took me back to his place again and I was really starting to wonder if I’d ever get out Gabu.

Back at the boss’s place, another family member that I hadn’t met the night before, started talking to me. He’s one of the few people in the town that has finished school and is interested in studying further. He’s actually quite passionate about it, but he can’t do it in Bissau because he said the universities aren’t good enough. He wants to study overseas, but said it’s very difficult to get into and pay for an overseas education when you’re from a developing country. It’s sad that a higher education isn’t available to someone so eager to learn.

Gabu, Guinea-Bissau to Conakry, Guinea
The next morning, the van was finally full and ready to go, so I made my way back to the garage and after a few goodbyes, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we actually started moving.

The boss man and family member

After a few hours driving on pretty crappy roads, we stopped in town little town called Pitche for Guinea-Bissau immigration clearance, then we turned onto a dirt road, which was actually in much better condition than the ‘sealed’ road we’d been travelling on from Gabu. About 20 minutes down the road from there was a small river, which also happened to be the border between Guinea-Bissau and Guinea.

Dirt road to the border

A small ferry crossing was required, but the ferry was on the other side of the river, with no operator in sight. Some of the guys from our van, plus the driver, just stood near the river bank and keep yelling until someone came and started moving the ferry to our side of the river. The whole process took a little while, so we had to wait a bit.

The ferry was basically just a floating platform that moved along a kind of zipline across the river. Some idiot on the ferry tried to grab my phone from me because he thought I’d taken a photo of him. The thing is, I was just holding the phone and the screen wasn’t even on. Mind you, they’d been trying to take pictures of me when they thought I wasn’t looking, then tried to deny it, so whatever. After about 5 minutes of the ferry guys pulling the cable to move us through the water, we were across the small river.

On the ferry

In Summary
🇬🇼Guinea-Bissau🇬🇼
In a few words – dirt roads and boars
Language – Portuguese
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶
There are some big hotels that have pretty decent WiFi and will generally let you into their compound to use it if you say you need it to contact people.
Transport – 🚗🚗
🚘 Guinea-Bissau saw the return of the squeezy shared taxis like the ones in northern Senegal, but for a higher price.
🚐 Less squeezy 4WD vans were available for longer trips where the roads were less than great.
Roads – 🛣🛣
While there were sealed roads on major routes from the Senegal border to Bissau, they didn’t seem to be very well maintained until you got closer to the capital. After leaving the capital, there were a lot more dirt roads and they were often better to drive on than some of the sealed roads.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🏖🌳🏞
Guinea-Bissau was almost completely green, aside from a few beaches in the central areas of towns and cities.
Prices, – 💰💰
It was a little more expensive than the countries proceeding it, but still good for a budget conscious traveller. Roadside snacks cost around 700 CFA (€1) and meals at restaurants could be found for around 3000 CFA (€4.6)
Checkpoints – I did not encounter any checkpoints in Guinea-Bissau.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
The borders I passed through were small and easy to navigate without signage. I probably spent less than 5 minutes at each one.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – 👍👍👍

Senegal Again

K in Motion Travel Blog. Swamplands on the Drive Through Southern Senegal, West Africa

After clearing Gambia immigration, we drove for probably 5 minutes before reaching the Senegal immigration area, where the officer asked if I had a visa. All I could think was, oh no, here we go again with the bribe dance. I decided I could stop it before it started by showing him the previous Senegalese stamps in my passport. That worked and after writing down my details in his record book, he stamped me out and I was gone.
Kez = 3, African Border Corruption = 0

I could instantly see that the landscape of the south of Senegal was much less dry and a lot greener than that of the north. Also, probably because of the proximity to an English speaking country, there seemed to be a lot more people that could speak at least some basic English. This included the guys working for the shared taxi company. They let me pay for my seat in Dalasis (250, €4.40) then exchanged my remaining Dalasis back to West African Francs (CFA), for a pretty good rate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Roadside Swamp Area in Southern Senegal
Roadside Swamp in Southern Senegal

As I had time to kill waiting for the seats in the van to fill up, I walked around the station and decided to buy a couple of hard boiled eggs because I was a little peckish, but mainly because I wanted to get rid of my 100CFA (€0.15) change. They came with a little packet of mixed spices because plain eggs are just boring!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cheap Eggs in Ziguincor, Southern Senegal
Cheap eggs in Southern Senegal

Once we were on the road to Ziguinchor, I started talking to a guy from Bissau, named Amadou. He and the driver, had earlier helped get my seat back when a Senegalese guy had taken it by mistake. Seats are assigned by the company at the time you buy the ticket and they get very annoyed if you don’t take the seat assigned to you. I’m not completely sure why it matters though. Another African quirk, I guess.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Luxury Transport to Ziguincor, Southern Senegal, Western Africa
Luxury transport to Ziguinchor

It was a relatively short and uneventful drive to Ziguinchor in Southern Senegal. Only the driver stopping a few times to put water in the radiator broke up the monotony. When we arrived at the station in Ziguinchor, the driver took me a man at the station, called Mustafa, who spoke English and was apparently the man to see for all your needs.

Mustafa took me on his bike to the Guinea-Bissau Embassy to check if I had the right visa, but we had both forgotten that it was Saturday and the embassy was therefore closed. He called the number on the gate and the embassy staff were there a minute later. They checked and advised that the visa I had was not valid for overland entry, so they opened the embassy for 10 minutes to give me the proper visa. I couldn’t imagine something like that happening back home!

Once we got back to the station, Mustafa helped me find a black market currency exchange guy, so I could get local currency to pay for the bus to Bissau. He then insisted that I eat some food as I had a long trip ahead. Most of the food on offer at the stalls at the station was pretty unappetising, but I wasn’t really expecting much from a bus station!

Thankfully, the car from Ziguinchor went straight to Guinea-Bissau, so there was no need to change to another car after the border. The crossing was rather uneventful and for the first time in a while, no one tried to bribe me or give me their phone number! I spent less than 5 minutes on each side. The actual border was quite a distance from the Senegal immigration post, but the driver kindly pointed out the actual frontier at a junction between the 2 immigration areas, then welcomed me to Guinea-Bissau.

🇸🇳Senegal Summary🇸🇳
In a few words – Hot women and helpful men
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶
Decent WiFi is available, but it can take a bit of searching to find.
Transport – 🚗🚗
🚘 All European cars from the 60s and 70s moved to Senegal to start new lives as very squeezy shared taxis. You will wonder if these cars are roadworthy, or if they’ll even stay together for the whole trip. Somehow they do.
🚐 Many vans are available for intercity routes starting in the capital, Dakar. They should seat around 15 people, but don’t be surprised if the driver just keeps picking up fares until the number of people in the van is double that.
Roads – 🛣 🛣 🛣
Intercity roads can be good in some places and terrible in other places, which means that travel times can be a lot longer than expected.
Most suburban roads seemed to be composed of dirt, with the exception of major arterial roads, which were in very good condition.
Scenery – 🏜🌳🏖🌳🏞
The northern part of Senegal is quite dusty, but the further south you go, the tree to dust ratio increases drastically. By the time you get close to Guinea-Bissau, you’re surrounded by lush greenery and marshes.
Prices – 💰
Senegal is another great place to visit on a budget. In some places, 100 CFA (€0.15) can get you 2 hard boiled eggs, but 500 CFA (€0.7) can get you just about any snack imaginable on the side of a road, while 2000 CFA (€3) can get you a meal in a small eatery.
Checkpoints – 🛑
I can only recall hitting one checkpoint in Senegal, right after leaving the transport station near the Rosso (Mauritanian) Border.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
If it wasn’t for the immigration officer spending an hour trying to get a bribe out of me at the Rosso border, Senegal would’ve scored much better in this category. Entering Senegal seems to be the time officers will try for a bribe, but I found that opening your passport to the page with the previous Senegal stamp, helps you get through more quickly.
Exiting into Gambia and Guinea-Bissau was very efficient and the officers were very nice.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠
Officers will try to bribe you on entry, but will eventually give up and let you through.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

Gambia

K In Motion Travel Blog. Near Soma, Gambia

Entering
Just a short 1 minute walk from the Senegal immigration area and I found myself at what looked like it could be Gambia immigration, but I wasn’t really sure. I approached and one of the policemen standing outside ushered me inside, after first inquiring about my well being. He took me to a room at the back of the building where a man in a white shirt asked for my passport and said, “Oh, I’m looking for a wife from your country! I’m Amadou”. What else could I do but laugh awkwardly?

Amadou wrote down my passport details in his record book, gave me his number and told me to go to another room to get stamped. Now that’s where the fun started. The man in this room asked the standard questions about the reasons for visiting and duration of stay, then pulled out a piece of paper to check if my country was on the list of countries requiring a visa, which of course it wasn’t. He then stated, “You used to need a visa, but no more. Now you have to pay for an entry stamp.” Hmm, seemed like another one of those not so subtle bribe request situations. I informed him that I knew what he was saying was wrong and he just nodded, stamped my passport and let me go. I was in Gambia!
Kez = 2, African Border Corruption = 0

Despite the implied marriage proposal and the sneaky bribe request, this was probably one of the most efficient border crossings in Africa yet. I was in the immigration ‘shack’, (I’m not sure it qualifies as a building), for less than 10 minutes. From there, I walked to the taxi station and got a seat in a shared taxi to Barra for 100 Dalasis, or around €2, where I got the Ferry to Banjul, the capital of Gambia, for 45 Dalasis (€0.80).

K In Motion Travel Blog. On the Way to Barra, Gambia
Barra

As far as ferries go, this one wasn’t large, with room for probably only 30 cars, squeezed in Africa style, and only 1 open-air passenger deck. It chugs along rather slowly, so you only feel a slight breeze as you move. This gives you time to relax and enjoy the view over the Gambia River, which was actually quite stunning at sunset. You can see Banjul on the other side of the river for most of the 30 minute trip.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Sunset on the Way to Barra, Gambia
Sunset

The bubble of serenity that I now had surrounding me was instantly popped upon stepping into the Banjul port. Within seconds I was engulfed by a sea of taxi drivers, who were probably the most in-your-face of any in Africa so far. Luckily my host was waiting for me, but I was still getting taxi offers almost all the way to his friend’s car. One thing about this port is that there is no lighting past the ferry arrival area, so everyone was using the light from their phones to navigate through the muddy streets.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Banjul, Gambia
Banjul

Glad to be in a more comfortable car on the way to Brikama in southern Gambia, I was happily chatting to my host, until we pulled into a service station and he informed me that I would have to pay 300 Dalasis (€6) for his friend’s fuel. Putting aside the fact a taxi would’ve charged less for the same distance, when my host had said he’d pick me up from the port, he’d not mentioned anything about it being at my expense. The driver was clearly just using me as a way to pay for his weekly fuel. I was not at all happy with paying it, but I was so tired by that point that I didn’t want to argue and begrudgingly handed over the money.

When we arrived at my host’s place in Brikama, in the southern part of Gambia, the power was out due to the rains we had encountered on the way down. All the restaurants on the main road were still open though, so I ate delicious specially made food in the dark. My host kept saying that the power would be back on soon, but I was asleep before it was.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Brikama, Gambia
Brikama

Heading to the Mountains?
My host had offered to accompany me to the mountains in the east of Gambia, so I could go for a hike. He said he had a friend with a car that could take us, which I agreed to after checking that this friend wasn’t expecting me to pay for his fuel. It turns out this friend had something to do and wouldn’t be available until the afternoon, which would be too late to be able to get there and back in one day.

It was time for plan B, go to the local bus station to get a minibus heading east. We waited quite a while for the bus to fill up with people. It was very squishy and uncomfortable. I didn’t even have a complete seat to myself and I was sitting right above the wheel, so I couldn’t even put my feet on the floor. Let’s just say that my back hated me after that ride! Once it was full, we waited some more while the workers loaded a fridge, TV and some plastic barrels onto the roof. Maybe someone was moving house?

K In Motion Travel Blog. Crowded Bus From Brikama to Soma, Gambia
Yet another squeezy ride

Along the road, there were several police checkpoints, with the first being at a town about 6km away, where the road to the border intersected with the road we were on. When he entered the bus, I gave the policeman, let’s call him Mr Grumpypants, my ID as instructed. He then started complaining that I should show him my passport, even though no one else in the bus needed to show a passport. He eventually just accepted the ID, but then we had to wait while he took some locals that had no ID into the station to give them some papers to get them through the checkpoints ahead.

In stark contrast to Mr Grumpypants, the police officer at the last checkpoint, let’s call him Mr Happypants, was happy when anyone made the effort to produce their documents and individually thanked everyone as they showed their ID by saying, “Thank you very much for showing me your ID”.

The road was fairly decent most of the way and the scenery on the drive was quite mesmerising. Occasionally, kids playing on the side of the road would point and wave as the bus drove past. Even a girl who had been using the local water pump to lift her off the ground, stopped and excitedly jumped up and down while waving.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Walking Near Soma, Gambia

Once in Soma, my host took me to the place where he grew up and we met his friend Lamin, who was to be our guide up the mountain. While there, I saw some interesting lizards with yellow heads and blue/grey bodies that did this cute little head bobbing thing whenever they stopped running. Do you think they’d let me take one home with me?

K In Motion Travel Blog. My New Lizard Friend near Soma, Gambia
My new lizard friend

Lamin took us to property nearby, where we met another Lamin and got some water for the trek. Now we were ready to go, but we had one more stop to make at another property, where Lamin asked a man, who was building a wall, permission to enter the mountain area. He explained to me that the man was the caretaker of the area and bad things would happen if we didn’t get his permission. Fair enough.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Heading to the Hill near Soma, Gambia

With all formalities now taken care of, I was eager to hit the Gambian mountains, although I couldn’t seem to see any nearby. After inquiring as to the location of the mountains, it became clear that my local friends were not actually aware of the difference between hills and mountains. We ended up walking up 2 small hills that only rose about 70m above the surrounding area. Not the big workout and panoramic view I was hoping for, but still lovely all the same.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Panoramic View From The Hill Near Soma, Gambia
View from the hill

On the way back to Brikama in the west of Gambia, we got the public bus, which turned out to be much cheaper, quicker and most importantly, more comfortable than the sardine tin we’d been subjected to on the way there. I guess the fact that the public bus was waved through every police checkpoint and only made limited stops to let passengers on and off shaved a lot of time off the trip.

Crossing the Border from Gambia to Senegal
Getting to the border from Brikama was relatively cheap (around 150 Dalasis or €2.50, I think) and easy, as far as these things go in Africa. Of course, there was time waiting for the seats in the taxi to fill up, but the good thing was that this car would be taking me all the way to a bus station in Senegal and not just leaving me at the border.

At the Gambian immigration post, the officers seemed more interested in chatting with me than checking my passport. They were pretty relaxed and had actually started planning my return trip for me. I kinda got the feeling that they didn’t get non-Africans passing through that border often. I had to cut the chat short because my taxi was waiting for me, so we could move on to Senegal. Before I left, one of the immigration officers gave me his phone number. Maybe it’s a Gambia thing to check someone’s passport then give them your phone number?

🇬🇲Gambia Summary🇬🇲
In a few words – Waving and smiling kids
Language – English and local language
Currency – Gambian Dalasi (GMD)
WiFi availability – 📶📶
When the power is on, WiFi is available at restaurants, but I can’t comment on the speed as the power was out almost every night I was there.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗
🚘 The old, squeezy shared taxis of Senegal seemed to have been replaced in Gambia by slightly younger, more sensibly loaded taxis.
🚐 Vans are available, but as in many other African countries, won’t leave until they are full. They are quite old and the metal framed seats are covered with a thin layer of padding that does nothing to protect you from the frame.
🚍 By far the cheapest and most comfortable option is the public buses. They also tend to be quicker than the for-hire vans as they leave whether they are full or not.
Roads – 🛣 🛣 🛣
The intercity roads were all sealed and fairly well maintained, whereas suburban roads tended to be made of dirt and some of them didn’t fare well after rains.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🌳🏞🌳
The Gambia is much more tropical and green than the countries to the north and has almost no trace of dust.
Prices – 💰
Another great place to visit on a budget. Snack size servings of tropical fruits like coconut and mango were readily available from roadside sellers for 5 Dalasi (€0.80) and a meal from a restaurant could be found for around 200 (€3.50)
Checkpoints – 🛑
I only encountered one checkpoint, about 5km out of Brikama, near the border area.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Although the crossing into Gambia only took about 10 minutes, it required speaking to 3 different officers in 3 different rooms.
Leaving Gambia was also relatively quick. The hardest part was trying to stop the officers chatting to me after they’d stamped me out.
Corruption level – ⚠
Gambians will try to get money out of you, but won’t press the issue if you don’t want to hand over your cash. When entering Gambia, a cheeky officer tried to tell me and some Europeans that we needed to pay for an entry stamp, but happily stamped our passport and let us go when we refused.
Overall – 👍👍👍

Senegal

K in Motion Travel Blog. Canoes on the Senegal River

Once clearing Mauritanian immigration, we were treated to a short, peaceful canoe ride across the Senegal River, to the Senegal side for 100MRO (about €2).

K in Motion Travel Blog, Senegal River
Senegal River

As we got off the boat, a friendly immigration officer met us at the dock and ushered us to the window where our passports would get checked. Inside the window was a plump old man who seemed more interested in chatting to unseen people at the back of the room he was in, than checking passports. Anna and David, the couple I had crossed the river with were processed before me with no problems, but when the man took my passport, he tried to tell me that I needed a visa. Of course, I’d checked beforehand that this was indeed not the case and I showed him the screenshot I had of the page showing that a visa was not required.

Not willing to believe the information put in front of him, the man produced a document in French that had my country on a list of countries that could get a free visa on arrival. I pointed out to him, that if that was the case, he should be the one to provide that visa, being the immigration guy. He wanted to argue some more about why he wasn’t going to do that, but eventually just stamped my passport and let me go with a warning that I would need a visa if I entered Senegal again. Never mind that letting someone who apparently requires a visa into the country without a visa makes absolutely no sense at all.

I had heard that this border was notorious for stunts like this and I presume the document in French and the plump old man’s patronising demeanor, are part of an intricate ploy to try to get a bribe out of lone travellers. Perhaps he was counting on me turning up to his country and not knowing anything about the visa regulations, but who would be that stupid? Or perhaps he thought that as a lone traveller, I might just concede and pay some money to make the problem go away. I guess in these cases, if you stand your ground for long enough and they see that you’re not going to back down, they give up and let you go.
Kez = 1; African border corruption = 0

With the completion of another supposedly easy process that had been turned into an epic mission, I headed further into the border area to find a black market money changer, cause that’s how you do it in Africa. Surprisingly, I actually got a pretty good rate for Euro from a dress wearing man. He must’ve been running quite low on Euro to offer such a good rate. From there, with the help of a very kind Senegalese man called Mumoudou, who had been in the van from Nouakchott with us and had taken us under his wing, we got a shared taxi to the station a short distance away, where we would find our onward transport.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Stalls at the Station near Senegal Border
Stalls at the station

The station, of course, was buzzing with craziness. Mumoudou told us to keep close to him and not talk to anyone, which was slightly easier said than done, with all the people gathering around trying to get us to buy toothpaste or get into their car. Mumoudou found the car to St Louis and organised us all tickets for it. We put our bags in the car and figured that we could relax a bit, now that our transport was sorted. Mumoudou went off to buy some water and as soon as he left, the driver took our bags out of the car and told us that we had to pay extra for them. We of course protested, but as soon as Mumoudou came back and we told him the situation, our bags were back in the car, without us paying an extra fee.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Shared Taxi near Senegal Border
Shared taxi

On his little walk, Mumoudou had found a car going straight to Dakar, so I decided to swap to that one and thankfully they didn’t try to get extra money out of me. It was at that point that I had to say farewell to Anna and David. They will visit the same West African countries I intend to visit, then continue heading on down to South Africa, as they’ve quit their jobs to experience Africa for at least a year. You can see a chronicle of their adventures here.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Anna, David and I near Senegal Border
Anna, David and I

While waiting for the seats in the car to fill up, little kids were constantly coming up to me and putting their hand out for money, but I found when I put my hand out, like I was looking for money, they were kinda confused and walked away. Once the word got around that I was doing that, they started just coming up and doing it for fun, then walking off laughing. They eventually stopped approaching me altogether, which was the aim!

One thing I instantly noticed about Senegal is that Women’s hair and clothes were very bright and colourful. After travelling for weeks through conservative Muslim countries, it was nice to see women dressed in what most people would probably be considered stereotypical traditional African clothes. Senegalese women are also not afraid to show off their bodies and a bit of cleavage. I’m a fan!

Once our car was ready to go. The little boy that had been sitting in it had disappeared and his mother sitting on the seat in front was laying down on her husbands lap like she was sick. It turns out that her son didn’t have papers to show the police just outside the station, so he had walked through the back of the station to a point down the road out of sight of the police post. Mum was pretending to be sick, so that if they asked, she could say she paid for 2 seats because she was ill. Sneaky.

Whilst making our way to Dakar, a lovely Mauritanian man in the car started talking to me and when he left the car a little before Dakar, he gave the driver instructions to call my host when he got me to the station in Dakar. The trip was mostly pleasant, if not a tad longer than I had hoped. There was certainly a lot to look at on the way, like the wild goats roaming around. They seem to be the stray dogs of Africa. Some people even walk them on leads as if they were dogs.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Shared Taxi near Senegal Border
A rather squeezy car ride

After a few hours on the road, we stopped at a town called Gueoul, where most of the others in the car went off to pray, while I was just glad to not be sitting in an uncomfortable car. One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be a lot of speed bumps on the road, which was supposedly a highway, as we were approaching towns, which of course slowed us down a bit. By the time I reached Dakar, it was dark, so I just met my host, who happened to live in the ‘ghetto’ area called Grand Medine, grabbed some food and decided to rest early. Boring I know, but the days events had taken their toll on me.

Dakar
This place is really an assault on the senses. It’s next level chaotic. Cars going in any direction they please, walking and stationary vendors trying to sell you their wares. Dust everywhere, with random puddles of mud, probably due to the small bit of rain we hit on the way in. Everyone seems to be very eager to talk to you, even if they don’t speak your language. They also seem very eager for you to take their phone number within a few minutes of initiating a conversation, just in case you need their help while you’re there.

K in Motion Travel Blog, The Ghetto in Dakar, Senegal
The ghetto

One of my missions while in Dakar was to my Guinean visa from the Guinean Embassy there. It was my best visa experience yet. After looking at all the stamps in my passport and asking me few questions, the officer decided that I could have the visa and placed it in my passport within 10 minutes. He then started giving me a lesson about the geography of Guinea and was so happy about getting to practice his English that he took me to lunch. Of course, he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I needed anything while in Guinea.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Street Art in Dakar, Senegal
Street art in Dakar

While walking around Dakar could be a little overwhelming, it was also amazing how friendly everyone was. I could never walk very far by myself without someone offering to help me get to where I was going. People would often just start walking with me and chatting to keep me company or invite me to a little roadside tent for tea or food. One guy tried to help me, but didn’t know exactly where the place I wanted to go was, so he stopped in a random shop to ask a stranger for assistance. The stranger was only too happy to oblige.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Sex Sells? Dakar, Senegal
Sex sells?

Even though I’d aimed to spend most of my time exploring the city by myself, I was never alone for long enough to achieve it. Even when eating a meal, it wouldn’t be long before a local saw me sitting alone and decided to join me. I even had offers for people to keep me company for my onward travels to Gambia. While sometimes, you just want some alone time, it’s nice to be in a place where everyone has time for other people and are willing to offer their help so freely.

Getting to the Border
One of the kind people I’d met along the way, had secured a taxi to Gare Routiere des Baux Maraichers (inter-city bus station) for me. He’d even asked the taxi driver to show me where to go when we arrived at the bus station. Upon arrival, a guy from the bus to ‘Gambia’ tried to get me to run, because the bus was ready to leave, but that wasn’t going to happen! I was surprised to find that the bus was only about half full when I got inside. Normally in these circumstances, buses won’t leave the station until they’re full.

It seemed that the driver had thought he could pick up the rest of the passengers on the way, which I guess is fine in theory. The problem with that approach is that it required driving around side streets and constantly stopping. It took us 2 hours just to get the airport area, which was only about 40 kilometres from the bus station where we’d started. Even though I’d gotten to the station in the morning, I still hadn’t left the city by the start of the afternoon.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Kids Playing on the Beach near Dakar, Senegal
Kids playing on the beach

Along the way, the road followed the coast for a little while. I wouldn’t say the beach was anything special, but it did seem like people were living there in small wooden shacks. In some places, you could see families just hanging out underneath their washing that they’d hung up on a makeshift wire placed between their shack and the nearest power pole.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Life's a Beach near Dakar, Senegal
Life’s a beach

There were a lot of stops on the way, as many people in the bus were going to towns between Dakar and the border. Every stop would inevitably start with local sellers almost climbing over each other in an effort to get people on the bus to buy their stuff. Then some poor passenger would have to push their way past the vendors to exit the bus.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Buy My Stuff! Dakar, Senegal.
Buy my stuff!

With all of these stops for people to alight, the bus had become considerably more comfortable and quiet the closer we got to the border. That combined with the increasingly greener scenes outside the window were making the ride much more pleasurable.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Getting Greener away from Dakar, Senegal.
Getting greener

When we got to a town called Kaolack, about 100km from the border, the driver inexplicably made us leave his nice roomy bus for another overcrowded bus. I’m guessing the bus we were switched to was probably only supposed to seat about 20 people, but at one stage there were 36 people squeezed in there, including kids!

K in Motion Travel Blog. How Many People Were Squeezed in This Van From Dakar to the Border in Senegal?
Can you count how many people have been squeezed in?

The 270km trip from Dakar had taken around 8 hours, so by the time we got to the border, it was after 6pm. I was a bit worried as I’d been told that this border closed at 6. Luckily, it was looking very open. I joined the long line, thinking that I’d be waiting for quite a while, but the wait was shortened considerably when the officer processing people entering, ushered us into his lane. Even though he didn’t really speak any English, he was very friendly and even asked me where I wanted him to place the stamp. Overall, exiting through this border was quite easily and it had the best signage of any border so far!