Return to Calum's Road


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Jan 22, 2006
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Well, it seemed appropriate that my second journey to Gambia in 2010 started in similar weather conditions to the first and even though I was taking the "easy' option and flying both ways, this time the snow was again going to have an impact.

I was to be in Gambia for 2 weeks to attend the official opening of Calum’s Road on December the 11th (which coincided with the Gambia Horse & Donkey Trusts annual show). provide a pair of hands in preparing the new nursery school funded by Stella’s Schools Scheme which was to be handed over on the same day and then finally get the bush ambulance we had “played” with in February running and train some local drivers in how to ride it. Linda was heading back after the first week and the opening of the road.

We said our farewells and headed off to George Best City airport on the evening of the 5th of December for our flight to Gatwick, we expected a delay but were not panicking as the flight to Banjul was not due to leave until 7.30 the following morning so in the spirit of Tosser traveling we adjourned to the bar to wait for the flight to be called.

Some 40 minutes late we were sat on the runway, the nice pilot came on and informed us he was waiting to see what the weather was like at Gatwick as we were in the wrong type of plane for such conditions, I along with a host of others fired up the Gatwick website and watched the arrivals board on the phone, seemed ok, flights arriving regularly.

What followed was almost a revolt from the passengers. It was fairly obvious that the likelihood of the weather at Gatwick improving as night continued to fall was slim, one passenger even stormed up to the cockpit and accused the pilot of telling outright lies. He was cautioned with being put off the plane altogether.

Time went by, and eventually at around 19.30 the pilot came back on and announced that due to freezing fog at Gatwick, this flight was now cancelled.

The passengers tetchily got off the plane and started queuing for either a refund or a rebook on the first flight next morning. Unfortunately that would be too late for us to make the connection, so while I collected our suitcases, Linda searched, using the trusty iPhone, for any other flights going to London that evening. There was one in 30 minutes. The good news was that there were two seats left. The bad news was that they'd cost £280. The even worse news was that it was going to Luton, 75 miles north of Gatwick.

Never mind, we reasoned, we couldn't totally abandon the trip without having a darn good attempt at making the plane. Before switching off our phones, I used the power of the internet to put out an appeal on Facebook for any information on the best way to get from Luton to Gatwick at 10 o'clock on a cold Sunday night. By the time we landed there were plenty of comments containing links to various train and coach sites … and an offer of a lift from Tom Sung, followed shortly there after by a similar offer from John Hawkins both of this parish. Truly above and beyond the call of duty, but one which we gladly accepted, arriving at last at our hotel at about 1 a.m. Thanks Tom, really appreciated.

An early start saw us meeting up with about 20 other members of our party, and comparing notes on our journeys so far: some of the Scottish crew had had an untroubled trip, others had had a nightmare leg similar to our own. But before long we were airborne, and trying to identify the various landscapes we were flying over. The Sahara desert looks absolutely stunning when viewed from this height!


The trip from Banjul to Sambel Kunda (SK) takes about five hours, so we were spending the first night in a main tourist resort at the coast. The bus taking us to SK was due to leave at 10 am the next morning. Gambia, of course is on GMT – Gambia Maybe Time – and everyone knew that if the bus got going by 12 it would be doing well.

There was much faffing to do with batteries for pick-up trucks, much hauling and shouting as all our luggage was piled onto the roof, and an awful lot of standing around. But we did eventually get underway. The last time I'd taken this trip we had avoided the south road, in a very poor state of repair, but that had meant a trip on the Banjul-Barra ferry, much work had been done in the intervening period to the south road, and there was now just a patch in the middle which was still pocked with potholes.

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We paused for a quick leg stretch in Soma, and one of the party enquired about some chestnut-like items being sold at a roadside stall. The female vendor (vendress?) just smiled at her, but a bloke came along and explained that these were good for men to take, could make them go oooh 3,4,5 times a night. As it dawned on us that these were in fact nature's answer to Viagra it was difficult to keep a straight face.

Our arrival in SK was a noisy one: the school children were there to sing some special songs for us, and all the villagers ran out cheering and clapping to accompany the bus as it trudged its way along the sandy tracks to the horse and donkey compound.

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The next day, we headed to the nursery school to see what we could do.

The first room had a theme of "numbers", and the artist in charge had made a start of creating a panel on the walls to be filled with dots and numerals. But she was struggling to work out the measurements to make all the squares even. Linda soon saw that adjustment for the width of the masking tape had to be taken into account, and eagerly produced paper and pencil to do some sums. Delighted that she was able to utilise her Maths skills, that room became "hers".

I continued to explore the "colours" room next door, and finally the "animals" room, where Lorna Brown an artist had been asked to create a mural reflecting the local scenery and animals, I was allocated as her assistant for my sins and spent the next 3 days mixing colours to the right shade, slapping paint on and most importantly providing background music to paint to.

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All the rooms were constantly being visited by locals and children, but it was the animals room that attracted the most attention.

All too soon it was Saturday, which began with the annual horse and donkey show. The various classes were judged by the vets and we were seated in the front row as guests of honour (embarrassing is not the word, paticularly as I forgot I was wearing a kilt!)


We were impressed by the fast and furious game of donkey football which rounded off the morning's proceedings. This was invented as a means of encouraging the young boys of the village to care for their donkeys and build up a good rapport with them, and it's an exciting spectator sport.





After a chaotic lunch at the compound we then had the poignant business of travelling to Calum's Road, complete with balloons to decorate the trees. The vets played the tune "Calum's Road" on the fiddle, and bagpiped some other familiar Scottish tunes.

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Gambians love speeches, and so the ceremony took quite some time, especially as the speeches had to be translated into Mandinka and Fula languages. Annette bravely cut the red ribbon, and then the whole party marched down the road, to the strains of "Scotland the Brave".


After this was complete, we returned to the school yard for the official opening of the nursery (more speeches of course!) before going back to the compound. A group of villagers arrived and produced a surprise visitor, who performed the Mandinka dance of happiness for us, a wild dervish of a dance while wearing some leafy branches and juggling with a large knife. And the evening rounded off with a "disco" in a field, where we quickly discovered that dancing on a dry dusty surface is not good for your throat.


Sunday saw some of the party (including Linda, Annette and Katherine) heading back to Banjul for a flight home on Monday, fortunately for me one of those remaining (Peter Coot) was a biker and had experience with sidecars, together we started working at getting the ERanger bush ambulance up and running.

The bike had been donated to The Alexander Edwards Clinic in SK (another one of Stella’s charities) by the manufacturers in South Africa but had been declared unsafe by an ex pat mechanic based in Banjul and been left stored until now. In February we had got it running and promised to come back , spend time sorting it before riding it on Calum’s Road.

After a quick tidy up and replacing the front tyre it was time to take it for a run, riding straight was fine but turning a total nightmare, the bike just pushed its nose and was not in control. Back in the compound we found a leaking carb and a broken airbox, turned out the ex pat mechanic had been having a fiddle for some reason and things were not as they left the factory. A interesting day of stripping the carb and rebuilding the airbox in the dust of SK with limited tools and by the Tueday we had a running bike which after some test runs to sort out the balance was ready to handle the local conditions.

Wednesday saw the bike out for its first trip the length of Calums Road, on the journey back we recorded a video to capture the moment.



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In between training 2 of the local drivers to ride the ambulance we spent our time fixing some of the local bikes, word had got out that we were available and soon we had a number of bikes wheeled or ridden in for attention including one which seemed familiar.



We did what we could but some of the bikes needed more than just a service, so I’m back with a shopping list for parts and spares, hopefully I’ll be heading out again shortly to continue with what we started so if anyone has any C90 parts gathering dust in the back of the garage and would like to donate them to a good cause let me know.

Sunday saw us ready for the trip back to Banjul ready for our flight back to Gatwick on Monday evening and my subsequent flight back to Belfast on Tuesday morning, well that was the plan..........

On the South Road we got stuck in heavy sand as part of a detour, it was a strange experience.............

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Back in Banjul we took the opportunity to relax while waiting for our flight on Monday evening, unfortunately we had more time to relax than we anticipated, the UK weather had come into play again and the flight was delayed for 12 hours meaning I would not make the connecting flight to Belfast.

I finally made it back to Gatwick at 4 in the afternoon on Tuesday and was “lucky” that as my original flight had been cancelled, FlyBe were able to put me on standby for the next available flight. It had been originally scheduled for 15.20. It actually landed in Belfast at 23.00.

So what started in snowy January ended in snowy December, well not exactly ended as the work of The Horse and Donkey Trust goes on and I hope to get out again this year to continue working on the local bikes which are so important to the people of The Gambia.

Horse and Donkey still need financial support to continue their work, I know it’s never a good time to ask people to consider opening their wallets, particularly in the current financial climate but if you want to support them I’ve opened a new Just Giving account, all donations go direct to the charity and 100% are used for their work in Gambia. Clicking the link above will take you straight to Just Giving.

Finally, here are a couple of montages of pictures from the trip, the first is a general one and the second one I pulled together for Stella’s School Scheme. Enjoy!

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Good stuff Roger, reminds me to return there soon it a beautiful country with lovely people:thumb
I am so happy you were able to make this trip and celebrate the official opening of the road along with Linda, Catherine and Anette, I am sure all the other Calum's Road riders would join me in thanking you for making the effort, also for taking the time to post your excellent report.

Top Man Roger :clap:clap:clap

Cheers John.
Great report Roger, only just seen this.:)

I would love to go back again some time and also help with servicing the bikes. I've spent a lot of time recently rebuilding C90s so I've built up a reasonable knowledge of how these amazing little bikes are put together.

Unfortunately, I can't make Dennis's Scooter trip leaving soon, but later in the year I should be free. I know my wife Ann would like to attend the annual horse show so at worst we will get out there in December if not before. Please let us know if you plan any trips before then.



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