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Plymouth-Banjul Challenge - 'Shap Ahoy'

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Shap Ahoy Challenge Diary - The Gambia

This is an account of Nick Capron and Tim Lovatt's journey from Cumbria to the Gambia during the 2006 Plymouth-Banjul Challenge. It is based on notes taken along the way, their photos and their memories. This page covers the time they spent in The Gambia. Use the links at the top of the page to see other parts of their story, or to return to the Shap Ahoy Summary Page.

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Sat 7 Jan Day at the Safari Gardens Hotel in Banjul
Sun 8 Jan Another day at the Safari Gardens Hotel
Mon 9 Jan Visit to Saloum Nursery School & motorcade of Group 1 cars
Tue 10 Jan A couple of days at Bintang Bolong Lodge
Wed 11 Jan Visit to Tabaski village and back to the lodge
Thur 12 Jan Back to Safari Garden Hotel - Friday 13 Jan, Back to UK

 Day 22 - Sat 7th Jan (101,850km)

Spend morning at hotel chatting to the charity organisers (the ones responsible for auctioning the cars), arranging national radio interviews (that never happened), and generally waiting for sight or sound of other teams, many of whom were rendezvousing or staying at our hotel. Giles & Tom arrive about 10am and in the afternoon a steady trickle of travellers start to arrive.

We catch up with our desert travel-mates later in the day, thinking we may be 'persona non grata' for crossing another border without them; but the yellow card is not forthcoming.

Nick tracks down bar with live football feed from the UK - joins a large group of Gambian men - drinking beer and watching Hull City getting knocked out of the FA cup 1-0 by Aston Villa.

We meet Kemo, the Gambian end of PAGEANT, the education charity for which we have helped raise funding for improvements to a local nursery school. We make arrangements to visit the school on Monday.

A team of 4 locals are made available to wash cars if required. For the equivalent of £1 they do a fair job of cleaning Bill inside and out, especially considering their meagre array of tools.

Day 23 - Sun 8th Jan

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No entry in our notebook for today, but from memory we took a tour around markets and tourist hotels & beaches. Back to hotel for a swim, did some reading & lazed around the pool.

Went out with our friends for a meal, ended up in a bar that ran out of tall glasses, so our Gin & Tonics were served in pint glasses! Drinks measures and the barmaid's addition were both unreliable (to our benefit), so a very good night was had by all. Tim introduces group to another card game (PIG) - this involves placing fingers on noses - not many people seem sure of the rules - so Tim wins - as they say, when drinks in, wits out.



Day 24 - Mon 9th Jan

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Kemo arrives and we set off for Saloum Nursery School. At the time of writing this diary, we estimate to have raised over £5,000 for Saloum through PAGEANT. It transpires on arrival that this week is a holiday week and all the children present have come in especially for us. We are shown around the school, which consists of 2 basic block-walled classrooms, a stock room and a part built toilet block. The new toilets have been funded by money raised and sent in advance from 'Shap Ahoy'. The Deputy Head and teacher said that the new toilets should be completed soon, with further work on the existing classrooms and ultimately a third classroom in the future. Nick and Tim presented the school with a giant cheque for £5,000. Nick also presented the children with 11 Hull City football shirts, kindly donated by his favourite team.


In the afternoon we take part in a Motorcade with all the other cars from group 1, through Banjul and surrounding districts. This is to celebrate our arrival and promote the sale of the vehicles at auctions over the next few weeks.



Day25 - Tues 10th Jan

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Can't just sit around pool for next few days (our flight home is booked for Friday) so decide to check out of the hotel and head off up the Gambia River for a couple of days or so.

Steve and Pat (Organic Mechanics) come along with us in their Opel Omega. When the good tarmac runs out we are left to negotiate a combination of dirt tracks and a knackered road with potholes the size (and depth) of swimming pools. After punishing our respective suspensions for half an hour or so, Steve & Pat pull over to investigate a serious clunking noise (with the aid of the air-jack, much to the interest of passing traffic), they tweak some nuts and bolts but don't think anything can be done and tell us to continue on our own. (We later find out that Steve & Pat's tweaks did in fact cure their problem and they could have continued with us!).

Anyway, time was marching on, faster than our progress, so decide to turn off track at village called Bintang; our Lonely Planet guide lists a lodge here so we check it out. After passing some smaller settlements, we arrive at the rivers edge and find a collection of mud huts, with straw roofs built on stilts on the riverbank, all in various states of disrepair, this is Bintang Bolong. The staff convince us that they are open for business and keenly show us their best hut. It's has two beds (good), appears clean (good), an en suite (great), a balcony over the river (fantastic) and the bar has cold beer (hurrah!). We are told the price (800 delasi / £18) and Tim, much to Nick's embarrassment, starts to haggle on the grounds that our guide indicates much less. We agree on 600 Delasi plus 200 each for evening meal.

Afterwards Tim feels like crap when we discover that our guide was probably written around 4 years ago, and when the exchange rate was twice as good as it is now, however we also find out that the fresh water supply is broken (no en-suite - booo!), and the generator doesn't work either (ah!). Tim feels the 200 Delasi reduction is now justified. So we now have an en-suite, which is furnished with a 5-gallon drum of water for washing & tipping down the toilet, and a candle on the table. Despite these minor setbacks we are quite happy and comfortable, so much so that we decide to stay for 2 nights and 'chill' by the river in this beautiful setting.


Dinner is Saltfish and rice with a kind of Cajun sauce; washed down with wine we brought ourselves, followed by fresh papaya & orange, simple but very tasty. All meals seem to feature fish - either salt or otherwise, and the menu brings back memories of the Two Ronnie's 'Rook Restaurant' sketch - except of course it's fish. We get chatting to a young man working at the lodge (wrote his name down but lost it), and he invites us to share their Tabaski meal with his family the next day. Tabaski to Muslims is like Christmas to Christians, and this explains the reason for all the goats, which are in fact rams. (For more info, read Abraham). Tomorrow they all get eaten! We are also invited to prayers in the morning and to their inter-village local league football match late afternoon.


Despite the heat, poor sanitation and our proximity to water, we are not bothered by pests, flies or mosquitoes.

Day 26 - Wed 11th Jan

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Tabaski. Main event of the morning starts with prayers; all the men of the village are gathered, wearing their finest clothes in a clearing by the waterfront. The local Mosque is not big enough for everyone. Women and children are gathered some distance behind. A small procession, led by the Imam and village elders reaches the gathered men. A drum has been specially made to announce their progress through the village and their arrival. As they approach the gathering, they pass a tethered ram. Prayers are said, responses uttered and gestures motioned. The Imam recites the Koran. Fortunately, our Imam was blessed with a good voice, which he used to good effect by singing and chanting with a pleasing rhythm.

After prayers, tradition dictates that the Imam will slaughter the first ram, then families who have their own ram will duly despatch theirs to feast upon later in the day. Surprisingly this was done without too much ceremony.


Mid afternoon was our dinner engagement at our hosts compound. All residents of the house (except father) were there; this consisted of mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and grandmother. We ate a wonderful stew of couscous, cabbage, potato, yam, sweet peppers, hot chilli peppers and of course­­­­­­..goat. The food was rounded off with strong sweet green tea (men only).


Shortly before 5pm we arrived at the village football field. Nick was to support one team, Tim the other. Each team lined up, and we were personally introduced to all players, just like royalty!

The first piece of action was marked by a wildly swerving volley shot at goal, immediately followed by a flip-flop on a slightly different trajectory. The game was very exciting throughout, well refereed and considering the condition of the playing surface (scrubland), skill was displayed in abundance, as was airborne footwear at regular intervals.

A penalty shootout was needed to decide the winners. Nick presented the 'Man of the match' with a Hull City shirt; Tim presented the prize of 250 delasi to the victors.

We forgot to cancel our evening meal at the lodge, so felt obliged to eat the Ladyfish, which had been specially prepared for us.

What a grand day out!

Day 27 - Thurs 12th Jan

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Before leaving the village, we visit our hosts of yesterday and give away some of our now redundant, but nearly new camping gear. We reckon that the sleeping bags will be most useful.

Back to Safari Garden Hotel for a final sort-out. We empty the car, put all remaining equipment to one side for the auction. Final meal and drinks with some of the friends we made along the way.

Day 28 - Fri 13th Jan

Breakfast. Swim.

Give car keys to Steve to take to auction tomorrow.

Goodbyes. Airport. Home.

More Team Shap Ahoy Information

Plymouth-Banjul Challenge 2006 website gives a great deal of interesting information about the Challenge, and there is a Shap Ahoy Team Page on this website.

The 2005/6 Challenge Page gives more information about other teams who took part in the Plymouth-Banjul 2006 and Amsterdam-Dakar 2005 Challenges, and the Saloum Nursery Page tells more about how Shap Ahoy and Pageant are helping Saloum Nursery in The Gambia.

If you enjoyed reading about Shap Ahoy's exploits in the 2006 Plymouth-Banjul Challenge, then read about the T4 Challenge, where Shap Ahoy helped to reconnoitre the route for the 2007 Bamako Run, to the capital of Mali.

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