The river Gambia runs through the heart of the country of the same name, splitting it into two narrow strips, north and south of the river. To the west is the Atlantic Ocean; on all other sides the country is surrounded by Senegal.
From the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, you can catch a ferry across the river to Barra on its opposite shore; and from there it’s a short drive into the northern half of Senegal. This means that flying into Banjul can be a better option for a trip to that part of Senegal than flying into Dakar. But it means that you have to take that ferry, which can be quite an experience! There have been times in the past when travel companies have strongly advised travellers not to use the ferry, owning to safety concerns; and other times when it has been out of service for the same reason.
But thankfully when we visited Senegal in 2016 it was running and considered acceptably safe, for which we were grateful. Because not only is it a convenient route, it is also a colourful one. And as you will read, we had to take the ferry four times rather than the planned two!
Ferry ride to Barra
Our first crossing was a morning one, departing soon after breakfast. We arrived at the port in good time and had to wait a while before the boat arrived. Of course my camera was already hard at work.
When the boat arrived it was packed with people travelling to the capital to start the working day. Some were carrying goods to sell at the markets, some were coming to buy; some were dressed, it appeared, for office work, others looked like labourers probably seeking day work; school children were in uniform and there were more than a few goats and chickens!
After the people, the cars and lorries trundled off, and then it was our turn to board. Thankfully at that time of day the northbound voyages are quieter so there was plenty of room. On our driver’s advice we secured seats up on the top deck while he guarded the luggage down below. It took a while for some lorries to come aboard but once they had we were off.
The crossing took about thirty minutes and we then disembarked, being careful to stay out of the way of the lorries doing the same.
And back again
A few days later we were forced to repeat the trip. I broke a tooth eating lunch on our second day in Senegal; so we had to return to Banjul for a morning’s dental treatment.
Of course a broken tooth wasn’t going to stop me taking photos; and the scene at the port in Barra, where we had to wait quite a while, was as colourful as it had been on our previous trip. Women carrying babies; women carrying chickens; children travelling to school; labourers to work; farmers with goods to sell in Banjul’s markets.
There was also plenty of activity on the river to watch, especially the colourful pirogues ferrying other locals to Banjul. I was amused to see how passengers boarded these vessels, carried on the shoulders of one of the boatmen!
That journey too passed smoothly and as before we enjoyed sitting on the top deck and watching all the activity; although apprehension about visiting an unknown dentist in this very different part of the world prevented me from fully appreciating the scenes around me.
Dental treatment in Banjul
We had been given instructions on how to find the dental clinic in Banjul and had been told that the lodge guide would just see us on to the ferry and then wait for us in Barra. But he helpfully insisted on coming with us to make sure everything went well. With his guidance we easily found the clinic, where the dentist was on the lookout for us. I had been thinking that it was good to be visiting a French-trained Gambian dentist rather than a Senegalese one; we had been told by the hotel manager that the usual practice in that country was to pull out any tooth giving trouble rather than try to save it. But it turned out that although living in the Gambia this dentist was in fact from Senegal!
Thankfully this particular Senegalese dentist, who spoke reasonable English to match my passable French, agreed with me that a temporary filling would be the best solution in the immediate term. He had soon performed the procedure; but not without giving a running commentary on the quality, or rather the lack of quality, of previous work I’d had done on my teeth; even calling on Chris to come and have a look at one point!
But he worked well, and quickly; so much so that we were able to hurry back to the port afterwards and catch the same boat that we had arrived on back to Barra rather than have to wait several hours for the next one. And he had done his work well; the filling lasted for the rest of the trip and until I was able to visit my own dentist back in London. But somewhat ironically given my fears that he might just remove the tooth, my dentist did eventually have to do just that in order to deal with some subsequent problems!
One last ferry ride
Our final trip on the ferry was at the end of our stay in Senegal; however I had forgotten to change my camera battery before leaving and had packed my spare, so I have very few photos of that one. Most of the juice had been drained out of my camera taking photos on the long road journey from the Sine Saloum Delta to the ferry port in Barra; but I did manage to squeeze one more photo on the boat as a reminder of our fourth ride on this idiosyncratic vessel. We got talking to three local guys who had parked next to our vehicle on board; they insisted that I took their photo, so I did!
I visited Senegal via this ferry in 2016