Trans-Gambian Highway, Revisited

Trans-Gambian Highway, Revisited

Lane pointed me to this article on the BBC site talking about the famed (well, famed to me, anyway) Trans-Gambian Highway, which I had the “pleasure” of crossing a few times during my séjour in Senegal.

Apparently there’s been quite a bruhaha going down across the River Gambia. (Senegalese newspaper Le Soleil’s latest article [FR].)


The Trans-Gambian Highway, which runs further inland, has effectively been closed to cross-border traffic for over a month by Senegalese transporters protesting against the sudden doubling of charges to cross the river on the small and unreliable ferry.

The BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt says that Senegalese hate the power Gambia has over them, and a clearly exasperated President Abdoulaye Wade this week suggested three ways to break the deadlock.

  • Gambia should build a bridge over the river
  • Senegal could operate its own ferry
  • Senegal could even, he suggested, tunnel right under Gambia – which is only about 35km wide.

    He pointed out that there are plenty of much longer tunnels in the world, and claimed that China had offered to help build it.

Firstly, let me say that this is hardly a “highway.” This is a two-lane paved road that is so messed up in many spots that drivers would rather drive on dirt and brush than brave the 8,000 potholes that riddle the road.

I got stopped at the border and had to pay 1000 CFA (about $2) as a transit visa fee. It’s quite possible that that was just a bribe, but the Gambian guard seemed pretty intent on making us pay. Even my Singaporean travel buddy, Lucienne, had to pay it — despite the fact that in theory members of the British Commonwealth don’t need visas to travel to the respective countries.

I’ve crossed the River Gambia four times at this spot and never had a problem, although I will say that this place has the dirtiest restrooms I have ever seen. Once, when headed north I really had to go to the bathroom (#2). Being that toilet paper is something that isn’t very common in these parts, I quickly bought a packet of tissues (mouchoirs), which are readily available from the street vendors on the south side of the river. I grabbed them and took off for the bathroom.

When I got barely through the doorway, the stench of feces was overwhelming. I looked around and across the stalls of Turkish-style (squatter) toilets were piles of shit — many of which had missed the hole by a good foot or so, and dozens of flies clearly having the time of their lives. I picked the least filthy one and took care of business, but it was pretty clear that it hadn’t been cleaned in at least several days, and perhaps longer. So all you people who think you’ve been in dirty public restrooms — go check out the one on the southside of the River Gambia.

In other news, I had to send my iBook to the Apple repair facility in Memphis to get the screen replaced under warranty. I was expecting it to be out for a week, which for an Internet junkie like me is a lifetime. But I sent it out at about 4 pm on Monday from my office here in San Francisco, and off it went. About two hours ago it was returned to me, with a new screen and everything. Kudos to Apple for the under 48 hour turnaround time, including a transcontinental trip.