Hitchhiking Senegal: Part Four
Tambacounda to Ziguinchor
It is easy to get an early start in Senegal because the people keep crazy hours. People do not eat dinner until around 9 o’clock, then have sugary tea and stay up until at least midnight, sometimes later (children often included!) At 7 am, they are up again, off to work or to complete their house chores. We find that even when we try not to be, we often end up being the first ones asleep and the last ones to wake. The morning we awoke in Tamba was no different and being on the main road, I was stirred by the sound of passing lorries (potential rides!) so I tried to wake Gabe a little earlier than usual, with which I always have varying levels of success.
We got out of the door in a good time, around 8 o’clock and stopped for a quick omelette sandwich (at 300 XOF it was the cheapest we had found yet) and hit the road for a good spot. We scored a bit of shade but were soon joined by more people trying to benefit from our ambitious methods for flagging down drivers. We felt the isolation. Even though there were only two roads, there was not much traffic coming our way. We’d have to make every car count!
Eventually the cluster of people around us got to be too much and we strapped on our bags and tried to out walk them. We had to go quite a distance but a taxi soon came by and picked most of the others up. Walking through a traditional Senegalese village, we found some trees and decided it was as good a place as any to make our stand. We were there for ages.
It was potentially the longest wait we had done yet in Senegal. Cars passed by, trucks giving us the wagging finger (a soul-crushing sign for a hard pass) but with much patience, we managed to flag down a guy in a dream car! He worked for the military and was driving this brand new car all the way to Kolda, a little over 150 km! When we get into cars like this it is a real treat. This one had A/C even!
He was a super nice guy and wasn’t too talkative, which is sometimes nice when you are going long distances with someone. Gabe asked if he could film in the car and he agreed so he began getting some shots of the road and of us in the car.
It wasn’t much later that Gabe was filming us from the dashboard and we passed through a police checkpoint. He hadn’t seen the barricade and still had the GoPro (in our case, a knockoff brand but an amazing little camera) out. We drove past the checkpoint and I heard the officer honk his horn but I assumed he was saying hello to our driver, who was also military. He was not.
The officers whipped around and pulled us over and immediately walked to the front passenger door where Gabe was sitting and yanked open the door. “SHOW ME THE FOOTAGE!” he demanded.
“I was filming the inside of the car not the checkpoint,” Gabe calmly replied.
“SHOW ME THE FOOTAGE, I KNOW YOU WERE FILMING!
“I had the camera pointed the other way, let me show–“
No use. The officer grabbed the camera and walked off demanding we follow him back to the checkpoint. Our ride was not pleased. He was now having to make an unnecessary detour and have to deal with the police and even if it was a mistake it was still going to be a hassle for him. I felt terrible. There goes the dream car, I thought. We hadn’t made it even 50 km yet.
We arrived at the checkpoint and the officer asked for our passports and why we were filming him. Our ride had to show his papers and documents and after, began pulling our bags out of the car.
Gabe continued to calmly explain that he had not filmed any of the checkpoint and that it was simply and accident and a misunderstanding. Finally the officer seemed to understand and the mood was suddenly much lighter. He apologized for not realizing (although we would have been able to explain much earlier had he not interrupted us when we tried the first few times) and gave us back the camera and our passports.
However, the driver was still pissed and was not keen on taking us any farther. Fair. It had been a pointless waste of time (even though it had only taken about 20 minutes) and he had come from Dakar that morning, driving since midnight. I was irritated with Gabe that we were going to have to sacrifice this perfect ride just for a ten second shot of us in the car together.
The officer was not about to let the driver leave without us and insisted he put our bags back in the car and take us with him. The whole situation was painfully awkward and my anxiety was through the roof because of it.
The driver, begrudgingly, accepted the officers demand and we got back into the car with him, though he was vocally not pleased. I insisted Gabe make it clear to him that he was free to drop us off at any point once we got out of the officer’s line of sight. But I guess he had a change of heart, or maybe he didn’t want to stop again and waste more time getting our shit back out. He told us that it was fine, just annoying, but that we were good.
We weren’t really good for a while though, and we sat in awkward silence for quite some time. Eventually, Gabe began breaking the ice again by asking him about his family, which seemed to ease the tension. “I have one wife,” he told Gabe, “but one day I will have four. Woman is made for man, you know.” I didn’t feel as guilty for wasting his time after that.
He dropped us off in Kolda and again, we had a few kilometers to walk before getting to a spot. It was 2 pm, and I commented on how we always seemed to have to walk in the hottest part of the day. No matter how early we left, or how many rides we got, for some reason we ended up in the midday sun every single time.
Because it was 2 o’clock, many shops were closed and the streets were dead because this is the time everyone leaves work or school to return home for lunch. It was a shame, because we were hungry and trying to get out of town quickly, but with nothing open and nobody moving about, it was going to take a while.
We found some big shade past a police checkpoint, which seemed perfect to hitch from. However, every car we tried to flag down passed us by and soon we realized we were standing right next to the school. Around 3, when the kids return to school, the street became filled with people and cars were coming to drop people off right where we were standing. It was a horrible place to try and get a ride.
Somehow, a pickup truck saw us and stopped although they were just going to the next village, which ended up being only 3 km up the road. Still, it got us away from the craziness and we were on a straight road, however, there was zero shade. The 4 o’clock sun was brutal and we walked a few more kilometers hoping we would find some cover from the sun up the road. We managed to find a spot with something more akin to a shadow than shade but it would have to do. We waited in that spot, in the thin wispy veil of leaf cover from the sun for a few hours.
No car was stopping for us. And few were even passing us. We pulled out all of the moves: dancing, big sweeping two handed waves, prayer hands…nothing worked. The brush was thick where we were but we figured we could try and dig through it to get a place to put up the hammock. We tried to contact our host in Ziguinchor to tell her we were not sure whether we would make it that night or the next morning but we realized that we did not have reception so there would be no way to let her know. I hate when things like this happen. At this point, we would either have somebody waiting for us, spending the night wondering where we were, or we would end up showing up late and having to send a last minute message.
We didn’t think about that too much though because we were focused on convincing a passing car to give us a ride and a reprieve from the sun. Finally, after a few hours, a lorry stopped for us but was only going about 18 km. We took it.
The town they brought us to was small but we were able to fill up our water bladder, which was our biggest concern since we were fairly sure we were going to have to camp. I was hungry but we couldn’t think about that because it was around 6 pm, giving us another hour or so of daylight.
We found a decent spot to make our last stand, a place that was close to suitable camping woods so we could attempt to get a ride until the last minute and if we didn’t succeed, we wouldn’t have far to go to set up camp. Within two passing car, however, a guy in a delivery truck stopped and told us he was going just outside of Ziguinchor. We weren’t sure exactly where he was stopping but we didn’t want to hold him up by asking so we hopped in and prepared ourselves to just figure it out later. We had spoken to a Couchsurfing host that was about 13 km east of Ziguinchor and at the rate the driver was going (assuming he got close to there), we could make it to their town around 8 pm, which, for Senegalese, is not late so we figured it wouldn’t be rude to message them then. In the meantime, we tried desperately to get reception in every town we went through to send our potential host a message updating them on our status. Finally we were able to make a phone call and apologized for the inconsistency and uncertainty regarding our schedule and said that we would try and get there tonight, but might still have to camp. We would let them know as soon as we knew, but if it was an issue, we were more than happy to just camp that night and meet them the next day. They said it wasn’t a problem. Score. Now we just had to get there.
Our truck driver was a really nice man and offered us some fish beignets, which we were grateful to receive. We spoke of his family, who he was on the way to see after having been away for two months. He showed off some relics he had in his packed truck including a water bottle made out of a gourd that his deceased father had crafted for him. He showed us a small balafon, an African instrument his uncle plays quite well, but which he was not very good at.
He was stopping in a town about 10 km from the town of Niaguis, where our host lived, at around 8 pm. We quickly called our host to check if it was too late to arrive and they insisted it wasn’t but were confused as to how we were getting there. Simultaneously, our ride was trying to help find us a ride, even though we had told him he had already done enough and that it would be easier if we just tried to flag down a passing cab. We knew that a cab ride would be cheap and we were not opposed to paying for one but we only had a 10,000 note, which was far too large for any cab driver to make change for. Soon one stopped and after asking for a ride, the agreed. “Amuma xalis”…it wasn’t a problem.
They threw our bags on top of the taxi and sped into the night. We had managed to get all the way from Tambacounda to Niaguis in one day, just under 400 km. We had continued to be successful in our $5 Challenge and had spent only 575 XOF that day. We had a place to stay with a lovely family and had arrived at our destination, even with the few hitches we experience along the way.
We had a quick meet and greet with our host family who was new to Couchsurfing. The mother and father were both teachers and she was also heavily involved in non-profit organizations committed to the empowerment of women. Right up my alley. We ended up spending four days with them and learned a lot about their culture and about ourselves. But that is a different story.
The next day, we hitchhiked to Ziguinchor to try and get some credit for our phone and some celebratory beers for we had officially completed our challenge and gone 750 km on $5! The first beer was even included in that budget!
We often hear from people that the biggest reason they do not travel is because they think the cannot afford it. By doing these challenges on our travel days, we want to disprove the misconception that travel is inherently expensive. Some people do not want to hitchhike, prefer to take buses, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, and go on organized tours. There are loads of people who prefer to travel this way and they will always be there to support the locals (but often also foreigners) who profit from them. However, we want to show that you do not have to travel like this. Travel is not as inaccessible and difficult to do if you are inclined to do it in a less conventional way.