1 January 2018

Ferry crossing Barra Banjul

Banjul, Gambia

Banjul-Barra Ferry

Barra Ferry station!!! Oh my Gosh, what an experience!!! Here came the memorable moment of our vacation.  From Amdellai, we took a van and reached Barra after lunch and it was already late for Senegalese timings.

The first thing we did as soon as we got to Barra was standing in line for the ferry tickets. The queue was very long and people hardly respected their turn, so, we had to be strong enough to reject them and push them away from us when they tried to bypass us. If you don't do this you will never get your ticket especially when it is over crowed. They will just pass through pushing you out from the queue like it was nothing. Of course immediately we didn't realize what was happening, but after some minutes we understood their method: we did the same and finally got it done: we bought the ticket for 25 Dalasi each and we walked into the station. For you information I just want to let you know that cars pay 250 Dalasi each. Not more that so if someone out of the ferry station propose to buy the ticket for you, it's better knowing the price before. Specially if you are traveling with a taxi driver they try to cheat you telling you a higher price.

We reached the huge waiting area where we have been waiting for hours and hours. The time passed but the ferry was not arriving. Usually there were two operating ferries and there should be a departure approximately every forty-five minutes. We learnt later that that day one of the ferry was out of service so it was taking longer and longer. As we already knew that the ferry doesn't run after the sunset, we started to be scared. People just kept on coming in and the huge waiting area was getting full and full with passengers carrying animals and loads of bags with goods.  We were told earlier to watch out our pockets and keep our camera safe. Observing this crowd waiting probably for the last ferry of the day to come was something unbelievable. Among them, there were also vendors going around selling different kind of stuff: food, water, dresses, electronic items, face creams and so on.

The ferry arrived just some minutes before the sunset. After having finished disembarking the vehicles and passengers coming from Banjul they finally opened the gate which linked the waiting area and the ferry. No one of you can imagine what happened at that moment: there were about 200m distance between the gate and the dock, the crowd started to run towards the ferry, pushing and pulling each other dragging their animals and bags behind them. It was evident that there was no place for human rights, moral standarts or animal rights. There was a lady pulling a rope with a dozen of goats tied up and these animals were screaming. There were also ladies carrying babies on their back. Even if we had not immediately understood the real reason for what people were running so aggressive toward the ferry, we did the same. We realized the reason once on the ferry: they didn't get everyone on board; at some point they closed the gate again, leaving out a lot of people, even the once who already had the tickets!! From the top of the ferry we could see people behind the gate trying in any way to come through. At that time we felt extremely lucky and relaxed.
As the ferry was overcrowded, we couldn't find a seat, but it was not a problem at all. Well, we have done it! Having had a Senegalese guide with us during the ferry crossing would have been helpful; you won't get stressed especially if you are self-driving. But since it is not dangerous at all, if you can, try to do it by yourself to see lots of daily life backgrounds that the tourists don't usually notice, in short to feel the real Africa. We reached Banjul very fast and the journey itself was not more than twenty minutes. At the Banjul ferry terminal we could easily catch the taxi to our hotel! After all, nothing could surprise us anymore.
After relaxing three days in the Gambia, we crossed the border again to turn back to Barra and then to Senegal.
Our last experience helped us to take some precautions. The very important thing was leaving in the morning, at least before 10 am. When coming to Senegal, minutes of delay early in the morning “could not be a problem” but 2.5/3 hours in the evening could really screw up all the plans. Now we knew that the ferry hardly runs to a schedule and may take hours to make the crossing. Instead of the normal 30 minutes it used to cross the stretch, it was not unusual for them to take more than two hours or even more to complete the journey. There was no toilet on the ferry, the one at the ferry terminal appeared terribly dirty, so I personally decided to drink less water, I couldn’t wait more than five or six hours (even more) without a toilet.  We well knew the rush and crush to get on and off the ferry but we knew also that the safest thing to do during the disembark was letting the others to leave the boat first in order to disembark safely ourselves!
When we reached the Banjul ferry terminal at eleven am, the ferry has just left so there was no queue at the ticket office. The second ferry had not been repaired yet, therefore still one was running. As you can see from my photos  they were very old therefore in a very bad condition and for this reason they often breakdown. The other reason for what they are often out of service is surely the poor maintenance. We have waited as we did before. We could take some good pictures and enjoy spending our time observing the Africa at work. There was a small market by the entrance of the ferry station in Banjul where we spent some good time before the departure. We have been able to handle the trip back to Senegal with relaxed mind because at least we knew that we were not risking the last ferry. This time it was not so overcrowded but it was full anyways. We were told later that more than 20.000 people do Barra-Banjul ferry crossing (and viceversa) a day and that it had been occasions when passengers spent the whole night in the middle of the river due to the breack down. 
NOT TO BE MISSED! This experience will last forever in our hearts.

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