In the beginning of August we traveled to Dakar for a literacy seminar. After looking at the price of plane tickets, we decided to brave it and drive. There are two routes to get there — and we knew we would probably need to stop two nights regardless of which of the two we took. We finally decided to take the longer road, because it had fewer bad spots. Plus we’d get to see some of the country we hadn’t seen before. Since it ended up being quite an adventure we thought we’d tell you a bit about it!
Off We Go!
Wanting to get ahead of the semi trucks that clog the skinny mountain roads, we left our home at 4 a.m. Of course, since it is a bit strange to be traveling at that hour, we were stopped at checkpoints several times before dawn. Thankfully, once they knew we were missionaries, they quickly sent us on our way.
We knew what to expect on this part of the trip (narrow, paved, lots of potholes, no guardrails) since we had driven it a few months before, but even knowing what to expect some of those mountain switchbacks were still unnerving!
We stopped for a roadside breakfast of deep fried egg sandwich on local bread and a hot tapioca-like breakfast drink made from cornmeal. Lunch was leftover pizza reheated in the sunlight on the dashboard.
After 11 hours and 400 km (250 mi), we arrived at our first stop. We were able to stay at another mission’s guesthouse and the missionaries running it invited us to eat at a restaurant with them. (It was some the best food we’ve had in Guinea!)
Because of our early morning we hit our beds quickly after supper.
We were aiming to get to the border as soon as possible, so we wanted to get another early start. We left the guesthouse at 6 a.m., but almost immediately Michael noticed something was amiss. Sure enough, we had a completely flat tire! Thankfully we were in a town and not in the middle of nowhere! As the town itself was just waking up, we drove a few blocks and saw a tire shop (shack!) that wasn’t open yet. Nancy started passing out granola bars for breakfast while we waited for it to open, and after 15-20 minutes a man came up on a bicycle. He said he knew the owner and would get him for us. Thinking this was going to be a big help, we took him at his word. But after waiting a little over an hour(!), Michael looked around and found a phone number on the side of the shack. We called it, and were told “I’m coming!” Thirty minutes later the real ‘tire guy’ showed up, with the first man showing up about 10 minutes later and continuing on his way (we have no idea where he was that whole time!) Thankfully it was only a valve stem problem and was easily fixed in 30 minutes (for only $1!) and by 9 a.m. we were back on the road.
We knew this day was going to be the most interesting road-wise, and sure enough about an hour in (around 60 km) we came to dirt road. The first 25 km (15 mi) took us an hour, and was pretty rough going. We saw many places where the mountainous road had eroded, leaving just enough room for one vehicle. We quickly learned if someone had taken the time to put a stick in a hole, it was a BIG one!
The next 60 km (37 mi) took two more hours. This section was in the process of getting improved by grading and widening, and there were many sections where the mountain had been cut away or blown away. It really felt like we were off-roading!
We ate some homemade “pretzel hot-pockets” for lunch, also warmed in the sun.
Around 2 p.m. we pulled into the first of twelve(!) places we needed to visit at the border. (Guinea side: 3 customs checks, 2 passport checks, 2 vehicle checks; Senegal side: 1 health check (For ebola and yellow fever), 1 forestry/protected wildlife check, 1 customs check, 1 passport check, and 1 vehicle check.) We thankfully hit it at the perfect time, no morning rush and no evening rush! We never saw another vehicle in the 60 km (36 mi) of border crossing stops and it only took us 2 hours! We were pretty happy, since it can take a LOT longer if things don’t go smoothly.
Roughly an hour into Senegal we stopped for the second night. Michael had found a website for a hotel, so we had an idea of where we could stay, at least. We were able to get two rooms with AC! One had a mini fridge and a mosquito net that Nancy, Emma and Isaac shared all on a double bed, the other had three single beds that Michael, Titus, and Micah slept on. There was also a pool and breakfast (bread, jam, coffee) included the next morning. All told, we were pretty impressed!
We still went to bed pretty early as we were physically tired from the jostling and the 400 (or so) km (250 mi) we travelled.
Since the hotel provided us breakfast, we didn’t leave until 8:30 a.m. This day was (thankfully!) mostly uneventful. All the main roads in Senegal were so nicely paved and without potholes! Our only worry was making the right turns as road signs are mostly non-existant, and it was the first time we were making this trip on our own.
For lunch we bought some bread on the side of the road and took the meat off some leftover chicken from the restaurant the night before and had some cold chicken sandwiches.
The only time we got turned around the whole trip was the last hour. We took a wrong turn, but realized we could still continue and get to Dakar, however we were blocked by a semi that had overturned across the road and we had to backtrack for 30 minutes or so. Thankfully we arrived in Dakar around 5:30 p.m. after driving 600 km (370 mi).
After greeting all our friends who were already in Dakar, we found some ‘fast food’ and crashed at a guesthouse.
We were in Dakar two weeks, more on that in the next post!
Home Again, Home Again
Day 1 was pretty uneventful, but we did we get a picture of this full service gas station (provides for all your needs, even religious!), and since it worked so well before, ate cold chicken sandwiches from some chicken Nancy had baked the day before.
We stayed the night in the same hotel and the kids took advantage of the pool again!
By far the most eventful of the whole trip! We left the hotel around 8am, crossed the border in 2½ hours and braced ourselves for the “Bad Stretch”! Near the border is a National Park so we saw several large groups of 20-50 monkeys run across the road in front of us.
Because of the rainy season (we were in Dakar during the height of it), the dirt roads had gotten a bit muddier since our trip up! We even had to (got to!) use our 4WD several times, but thankfully none of the mud was too deep. We encountered several semis stuck in the mud and in all but one instance we were able to off-road pretty easily around them.
We also were able to pull a little sedan off a mud ‘ridge’ where he had chosen his path poorly and had all 4 tires hanging in the air while the center of his car was balancing on dirt. On one of those mountain switchbacks we encountered a semi that had taken the curve too tight and his trailer tires had gone off the edge, pulling the trailer down the mountainside and tipping the cab over. His trailer was balancing on the trees and brush growing on the side of the mountain, while his cab was still on the road. Thirty people or so were scavenging the supplies that he had been hauling. By bending in our rear view mirrors, we were just able to squeeze by and continue on our way.
The most fun we had was when we came up to a mud hole where the road had been cut out of the the mountain and had cliff walls going up 40 feet on one side and 10-15 feet on the other. A semi truck was stuck in the hole, blocking most of the road. About thirty people were there, half were trying to help the semi get out, half helping others get by. They had cut out a path big enough for a vehicle to pass on the shorter side, but you drive up a steep, curvy, slippery 10 feet to get to the path! Some guys tied a tow rope onto the front of the car, assuring us that they would be able to pull us along if we slipped. They had built a ramp with some dirt and the things they had cut out of the path. Thankfully we were able to get up the incline to the mountainside path, and drive at an angle past the semi, and descend to the road again (all without falling off or getting stuck)! The guys with the rope ran in front of us the whole time (though I’m not sure what they would have been able to do if we really started to slide). We gave them a bit of money for their assistance, gave a ride to the next village to one of the workers, and continued on. Nancy thought she had videoed this experience to share with you all, but sadly the recording never started! We ALMOST went back and did it again to just get a video!
That night we slept in a guesthouse in a town about nine hours from home so our third day would be shorter.
We ate crackers, jerky and dried fruit for lunch and quickly stopped at the restaurant where we ate on our trip up and got some food to go.
We hit the hay right away again that night — the last bit of the day, in the rain and in the dark on twisty mountain roads with no guard rails had worn us out!
We started out at 6 a.m. eating granola bars and dried fruit for breakfast-again. We had jerky and bread for lunch. We were very thankful for air-conditioning the whole trip, but this especially as it rained the entire day! We arrived in Conakry in time to eat supper at a restaurant and in the one hour on no rain, we were able to unload the car in time to sleep!
Thanks for going on this journey with us and thank you so much for all your prayers during our trip. We really could not have had a better trip!