Getting Around in The Gambia

At some point throughout my incessant posts about my time in The Gambia, I’m sure you had to look the smallest African country up on a map. If you did so, you would see a tiny country bordered on 3 sides by Senegal and one side by the Atlantic Ocean. You also would have seen that the country is essentially cut down the middle by the River Gambia. This river, while beautiful and full of wildlife (in my area: crabs, oysters, and catfish), presents a transportation issue within the county and for those traveling through The Gambia to get to the southern part of Senegal. There are two main highways in the country, and not many other paved roads outside of Banjul and Kombo, the capital region. Accurately, they are named the North Bank Road and the South Bank Road, winding from Barra on the North Bank and Banjul on the South Bank “upcountry” to right around where the river ends. In this post, I’ll take you through 10 of the forms of transportation Gambians (and I) use to navigate around the country and across the river.

We’ll go from slowest (and most reliable) to fastest (and least reliable, more expensive, and probably not Peace Corps approved).

1. Walking
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6966

The only 100% reliable form of transportation are your own two legs. (“Amga naari tanka!” “You have two legs!” I tell people who complain about our distance from the nearest paved road) My village is 11K North of the North Bank Road, and I have walked that sandy path a few times already. Around the village and to neighboring villages, walking is your best bet.

2. Donkey Cart
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6972

Donkey carts are more often used for transporting rice bags than for people. But if you’re lucky, you can sit on top of the rice bags and get a lift to or from the garden. Donkey carts are usually driven by teenage boys (sometimes younger) and are used for shorter distances if possible. If you’re trekking to the market or to the road on a donkey cart, it’s going to take a while.

3. Horse Cart
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6970

Horse carts are similar to donkey carts, but are faster and usually driven by adults. They can haul more things and people, and are therefore preferred. We have a friendly neighbor who owns a horse cart, and it’s really nice to get free rides to the market when there’s room.

4. Bike
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6969

You would think that using a Peace Corps bike would be 100% reliable, just like walking… until you’re 5K away from your village with a thorn stuck in your now flat back tire. The sandy roads are bumpy, windy, and often full of objects aiming to harm your bike’s tires. However with a small pump and a bottle of water, this bike can get you almost anywhere. I bike to clinics in the surrounding villages, and can bike to the road if there’s no vehicle – usually the health center or police post will find a safe space to keep the bike until you return. Also, bikes are only Peace Corps approved with the use of a helmet (A rule that makes my mother very happy).

5. Ferry
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6971

Remember how this country is cut down the middle by the River Gambia? And we’re only now starting to build the first bridge that will connect the North and South banks. So to get across, there are two main ferry crossings. The ferries are loaded with tractor trailers and buses and then people fill in the empty spaces, usually standing room only. The biggest is the Banjul-Barra ferry. It transports you from the capital to one of the main transportation hubs on the North Bank. This ferry costs 25 Dhalasis (50 cents), but can be very slow. If there’s only one ferry running (usually there are two) it could take several hours to cross. The best way is to try and catch the first ferry that leaves before 7 am. There’s another smaller ferry crossing from FaraFenni-Soma. This is 15 Dhalasis, and a quicker, more reliable trip. I live right in between Barra and FarraFenni, so can take both ferries.

6. Small Boats
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: ❌

IMG_6965

Next to the massive ferries are faster and more dangerous “small boats.” These are a bit more expensive, but a lot faster and take off more often. The funniest part is seeing the captain carry passengers on his shoulders to the boat, to keep them dry. Peace Corps does not like this form of transportation, because (especially at the Banjul-Barra crossing) the current and waves from the ocean make the journey very choppy.

7. Gelli-Gelli
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

Picture a large van – 4 or 5 rows of seats, packed with more than 30 people. The “aparante” or “driver’s assistant” hangs off the back beckoning in passengers waiting on the road and collecting the fare. “Fooy dem?” – “Where are you going?” “Barra! Pass be naatala?” “Barra! How much is the fare?” They make numerous stops to drop people off and let people on, so it takes some time. With my village being 11K off the road, we have 3 gellis that go to the road in the mornings, usually. The only way to make sure is to call the driver the night before and see when he’ll be leaving. To make the first ferry in Barra, they usually leave before the call to prayer or right after, so usually around 4:30 or 5 am.

8. Random cars
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…?

IMG_6975

I know this sounds strange. Getting in a random car is against every rule of growing up in America. But when you’re faced with a hot 2 hour walk on a sandy road, you tend to forget the rules. People driving to villages for different projects or to visit family will gladly pick up people if they have room, usually not even asking for money. This usually leads to making some new friends, and getting home much quicker than expected. Pictured is the fish truck. I’ve never ridden in this one, but it’s a very important vehicle in the area. Every morning it comes through town honking the horn to alert everyone that the fish have arrived. People bring their bowls and money and buy the day’s fish right out of the back. Then the truck moves on to the next village. We get most of our fish from a neighboring town in Senegal.

9. Taxi
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: βœ…

IMG_6974

In bigger cities, like the capital region Kombo, taxis are the best form of transportation. There’s a fixed fare around town and you can fit 4 or 5 people. These are cheap for short distances, but can be very expensive to go longer distances.

10. Motorcycle
Speed: πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½πŸƒπŸ½
Reliability: πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½ πŸ‘πŸ½
Cost: πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
Peace Corps Approved: ❌ ❌ ❌

IMG_6973

The fastest way people get around the country is on motorbikes. They’re easier to handle on the small, sandy roads and can fit better onto the ferries. These are NOT Peace Corps approved at all, and if you’re caught on one, you start packing your bags. The Community Health Nurses (CHNs) are all issued motorbikes because they cover 7 or 8 villages.

My main travel routes:
I walk and bike around a lot, usually walking more than biking. Once a week there’s a big market, or luumo, 10K away. We use a horse cart to get there and usually come back on a gelli gelli (20D total, usually an hour and a half round trip). To get to the capital is a little trickier. There are 3 gelli gellis that usually pass through my village in the morning. If I catch the earliest one, around 4:30 am, I can be in Barra by 6:30 for 65D to catch the first ferry. It’s about the same to get to the FarraFenni ferry, only 75D instead of 65D. If I don’t want to get up at 4, I can bike to the road, leave my bike, and catch a gelli on the road.

One thought on “Getting Around in The Gambia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s