The Long Ride Home to Dakar

Saturday morning, we packed up our belongings and did a quick cleaning of our Airbnb in Bajul, Gambia before checking out. We had made no arrangements for getting back to Dakar from the Gambia and figured we would just see what happened. We walked out to the main road and hailed down several taxis, asking them to drop us off the the Bajul port, where there is a ferry to cross the river. The neighborhood around the port was lively, with lots of people shuffling about. We were immediately approached by a group of young boys who tried to carry our bags in exchange for some money. After wrestling our stuff away from them, we wandered off to find the ticket station.

At the ticket station, we happened to meet a man who said he had a bus going to Dakar. He ushered us through the gates to a back ticket window and then led us onto the ferry where his bus was waiting. We all piled on board, careful to keep track of our luggage in all the shuffling. We ended up changing seats multiple times as more people loaded on and our group separated to different areas on the bus. As is common with many of the transportation in Dakar, there were two rows of seats on either side of the aisle and a row of folding seats in the aisle in order to fit as many people as possible. I sat in the very back, with a good view of the rest of what was happening on the bus.

Within the first ten minutes of being on the bus, our clothes were soaked through with sweat and we were all thoroughly uncomfortable. It was only when the boat unloaded and the bus started moving, that the open windows allowed for a slight breeze and we started to cool off. The drive to the border was relatively uneventful. We stopped several times at police check-points and several of the boys who worked on the bus would hop and go chat with the officers, slipping them a few bills before hoping back on board.

At the border, we all lined up, waiting for our passports to be stamped and successfully crossed back into Senegal. We reloaded back onto the bus and continued on our way. The atmosphere on the bus was very friendly, with people chatting and switching seats to have conversations. We were the only white people on the bus and everyone got a kick out of hearing our broken Wolof and seeing our discomfort with the heat. One older Senegalese woman decided to give us all Senegalese names, a gesture of welcomeness many of us had experienced in other areas of Senegal. With our naming, a friendship was formed and for the rest of the ride, she shared her fan with us. In turn we shared our snacks with her, at one point passing a singular Pringle up the aisle from person to person to her waiting hand.

The bus made many stops and what we thought would be only a five hour journey, stretched longer and longer. We seemed to be stopping in every village and town along the way. At some points, the driver and the boys would hop out to grab a snack or go to the bathroom by the side of the road. There were many police stops, although there didn’t seem to be any issues with our passing. People would load on to the bus and others would hop off. At one point, I looked out the window to see a goat being unloaded from the roof, where it had been riding for the journey. Furniture was also loaded on and off the roof and we wondered what else could possibly be stored above our heads. With the influx and outflux of people, the bus became more or less crowed, sometimes with every seat filled and sometimes with enough room for each person to stretch out. At many of the stops, women would board the bus, balancing bananas and other food a top their heads, selling snacks to the people on the bus. There was also a salesman who spent about an hour pitching a variety of knock-off products, passing samples down the aisles for people to try.

The ride back to Dakar took over ten hours and by the time we finally arrived, everyone was thoroughly exhausted. We had not had a proper meal since breakfast and had no opportunity to use the bathroom while on the bus. We all said goodbye and flagged down taxis to take us back to our individual neighborhoods. Our fall break had been one for the books, but wow were we happy to be back in Dakar, a familiar city with our host families to look after us.