Hitchhiking Senegal: Part Three

Fatick to Tambacounda

We have learned that the early bird really does get the worm when it comes to hitchhiking in Senegal. Lorries are the type of rides that stop for us most often and take us the longest distances. They usually get up early to hit the road, so if you get a morning start as well, you are likely to score an easy ride. When looking at the map, the place we marked as a probable good place to start hitching was a few kilometers away from where we were staying. We usually mark our places by finding the last road on the outskirt of town and walking a bit past that on the main road. It usually is a good estimate, but in Africa, you often have to walk farther as there is a good chance there will be a police checkpoint on the edge of town and it is easier to get rides if you walk past those.

I was still recovering from a stomach bug so I was feeling weak and the first walk of the day is usually the longest and the hardest. Normally, we just hit the road on big hitchhiking days but today I made us stop for some breakfast, knowing I’d need some fuel for the day. We had a typical Senegalese breakfast of a spicy bean mixture and some bread and I got a chance to practice the new Wolof phrases I had learned from Max, our Couchsurfing host in Fatick. After our stop, we got to our marked place a little after 9:30 am, but could see a police checkpoint up ahead and knew we needed to walk a bit farther. We passed that and reached a point we thought was sufficient but were told by passing locals that it would be better if we walked another couple hundred meters up the road. We often take this advice with a grain of salt, as locals are not used to hitchhikers and assume we are lost and are looking for a bus station or taxi stand so sometimes their advice is not the best as you want to be away from buses and taxis so drivers are more inclined to stop for you. However, we weren’t getting much attention from drivers so we heeded their suggestions and changed location.

As we had expected, the area did seem like a bus station but it was a big pull off so there was plenty of room for passing cars to stop for us. After we let a few taxis and buses pass us, we drew the attention of locals who assumed we were just really bad at getting ourselves rides. One guy working for a bus company came up and asked what we were doing. “Yo balay”, we replied. He laughed, thinking we didn’t quite know what that meant and the proceeded to “help” us flag down rides. He was motioning to all of the wrong vehicles (the huge tour buses filled with white people and empty taxis), which was confusing to drivers and certainly wasn’t actually helping us get a ride. We kept thanking him for his effort while insisting that he stop trying to “help” but it was to no avail. Somehow, we managed to flag down an SUV and ran up to the driver, we said our spiel, and he agreed to take us. By this point, the bus guy was also right up in the passenger window trying to convey some information, which was almost certainly incorrect, but we got in the car and left him looking utterly confused.

This ride was also going “just a few kilometers” to Kaolack (almost 50 km) where they were headed to The Gambia. The road they needed to turn on ultimately ended up being smack in the middle of town and it was approaching midday when we arrived. Kaolack is a fairly big city and it looked like we were about to have to walk about 7 km to get to a good spot. Nonetheless, we thanked our ride and strapped on our bags and began the walk.

We were very soon after bombarded by a hoard of Red Bucket Kids (the same we discuss in Part One). Max, our friend in Fatick, worked with an organization of Italian doctors that would feed these kids and organize medical treatment for those suffering from infections. They also tried to muster up the funds to send a few to school as well. Even though the kids would still have to return to the marabout to live, they would at least have the opportunity to get an education. Public school in Senegal is not expensive at 2000 XOF (a little over 3 USD) per year, but that fee, combined with having to buy all your own supplies and provide documentation, is an impossible feat for begging kids. The whole situation is a cruel practice we witnessed in cities all over the country.

While we took pity on the kids who were surrounding us in Kaolack, we also were not going to give in to their demands for money or our possessions and so we kept walking, their procession getting larger. Eventually, we came to a crossroads and the kids recognized their efforts were in vain so they turned back towards town. We passed by a police checkpoint and found ourselves on a fairly straight road, with many passing lorries, and a tiny tree still producing some shade. It seemed like a good place to at least try to hitchhike, seeing as how we still had another 3 or 4 kms to walk before getting to the place we had initially decided on.

A few cars stopped for us but all wanted payment so we declined the offer. It is still a good sign that you are in a decent spot when people are stopping so we decided to hold out there for a bit longer. It paid off because we got a ride, who offered us a much appreciated banana, and took us about 10 km down the road (they said they were going 2). When they dropped us off, the driver asked if we needed any money for water, but we assured him we had our own and thanked him profusely for the ride and the offer.

It was a little after noon and we still had just under 300 km to go before getting to the next major hub Tambacounda (aka Tamba). Because of our success hitching to Fatick, we were optimistic that we could get past it and camp near a small village, but at this point in the day, we would be happy to make it to Tamba. Besides, we knew we were going to have to camp that night and we were hoping to be able to set up the hammock before the sun went down. Sure enough, another lorry soon stopped for us and said they were headed to Mali and they would be passing through Tamba. We hopped in and buckled up (figuratively, obviously) for the long journey ahead.

Riding with lorries is great because they usually take you long distances. However, to get this distance takes ages and this truck was particularly slow. The entire ride we never reached above 60 km/hour, but we were averaging 45 km/hr the whole ride. It ultimately took over 6 hours including the stops we had to make for truck repairs and lunch. At one stop, we contemplated getting out and attempting to get another, faster ride. It was around 3 pm, so we still had a bit of sunlight left and we were hoping to maximize our distance, especially because we had calculated that at the pace we were going, we would be setting up camp in the dark. Plus, if they didn’t make it all the way to Tamba that night, we would still have to get through the city the next day, potentially having to walk around 10 km just to get to a good spot. However, we decided to stick with them and it ended up being a good decision because we did not see many other vehicles on the road after that and the ones we did see were often taxis or buses usually reserved for paying customers.

They did end up making it to Tamba but were parking their truck in the center of town so we were going to have to walk. By this point it was getting dark and we still had at least 7 km to go in order to reach the outskirts of the city. We were hungry and were out of water but wanted to get as far as we could while there was still a little sunlight. We were also exhausted. Even though we had been sitting all day in a truck, the ride was tiring. You are constantly bumping around on a space piled up with equipment and gear, so you are always having to adjust your posture and for people like Gabe, you are usually too tall for the space you are crammed into.

I was still feeling weak and so we stopped for some food. We were in the process of attempting another $5 Challenge, going 750 km on $5 (around 3000 XOF). We were on day 1 and had already spent 500 on the morning’s breakfast and we still had a lot of road to cover and at the rate we had traveled that day, we were not sure just how long it was going to take. So when we saw a lady selling a giant plate of couscous and mystery sauce on the side of the road for 500, that is what we chose.

My stomach wasn’t 100% and we could not tell if the sauce was mushrooms or organs. We never figured it out, but due to the fact that Senegalese dishes do not usually include mushrooms but do often include organs, we were pretty sure as to what the sauce was made of. Nonetheless, I told my stomach it was mushrooms and hoped that it wouldn’t set me back in my recovery, especially since we were going to have to camp that night and would need to be up early the next day for another long one. No time for having the shits.

We finished eating and now attempted the search for water. Because we have our filters, we choose to fill up our water bladder with tap water instead of buying bottles. You gotta minimize your carbon footprint where you can! We went around to different stores asking to use a tap, but as we were not going to buy anything, everyone refused. We were planning on continuing our search when a man on the other side of the road began calling out to us to get our attention. It was getting late and it was dark so we assumed he was just another guy trying to ask us for things or money so we tried to ignore him and continue. He persisted. Eventually, we gave in and responded to his calls.

He asked where we were from and where we were going. Not wanting to advertise the fact that we were camping, we danced around the question of where we were staying. “Why don’t you stay with me?” he suggested. He introduced himself as Maury and told us he worked as a handyman at the hospital and that his house was just a little up the road and that we were welcome to stay with him for the night. We rolled the dice and accepted.

His house was very close and he brought us in and introduced us to the other 10 or so people living in the compound. It seemed Maury was the only one with a private room and without us asking, he told us he would leave us his room for the night. We were shocked. It made me think of the other people we dismissed for thinking they had ulterior motives. How many were just trying to be hospitable? We were so grateful to this stranger who had gone out of his way to do us a huge favor and I felt guilty that we had no way of repaying the favor.

His sister had already prepared a big meal of chicken and rice and they insisted we join in the feast. Even though we had already eaten, I was happy for the additional food since I had not eaten very much Organ Couscous for fear of getting sick again. The chicken and rice was the perfect antidote.

We were so exhausted and thankful to have a place to get a solid night’s sleep before another undoubtedly long hitchhiking day. I spent the night feeling overwhelmed by the amount of goodwill we had been shown by strangers throughout our travels. By hitchhiking we are constantly shown kindness by people who have no obligation to help us. It sometimes weighs on me how much we receive and by traveling the way we do, I worry that we do not adequately reciprocate. It is one of my goals to work on this. I want to be able to pay the kindness forward and give back to the communities we visit. Days like the one we had just had really drive the point home for me, but like all things, we are a work in progress.

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