So, finally I have bought a car!
Several months ago I started looking for a vehicle so that I could get out of Kombo and explore the country easily, and I was also beginning to make plans for leaving the Gambia next March with the intention, if possible, of driving back to the UK via Senegal, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Spain and France. If this trip was to take place I decided I would need a reasonably good four wheel drive so I started looking around for something suitable, preferably a Land Rover Discovery as I have some experience with Land Rovers. There are a lot of second-hand cars for sale in Kombo, just parked by the side of the road, each with a paper in the window saying “For Sale” and a telephone number, but no other information, so it is necessary to ring up to enquire the price which is invariably quoted as a “starting price”, but also invariably seems to be higher when the vendor is speaking to a European. (As a result, with a couple of them I asked a Gambian friend to ring on my behalf and the initial asking price seemed rather lower than if I had made the call myself). Most of the vehicles here have been imported second hand from Europe, but they soon deteriorate in the Gambia (largely through lack of maintenance and rough treatment) so although I looked at a number of them, I only saw one which I thought was in reasonable condition – it was a Discovery which had arrived from Netherlands only recently but was priced a little above my budget, and while I waited hoping the price would come down, it was sold to someone else. (The prices here seem to be around 40-50% more than I would expect to pay for a similar vehicle in the UK, but of course reflect the shipping costs, import duty, and vendor’s profit margin). Nearly all are left hand drive, and the UK sourced Land Rovers have mostly been converted from right hand drive, which if not done well can cause problems, so much so that the local independent Land Rover specialist (an ex-pat from the UK who has been running a garage business out here for many years) told me not to even consider a conversion.
At the same time as looking for a car I was also planning a possible route home and trying to find out what paperwork was needed for my trip in terms of visas for the various countries en route, vehicle documents, and motor insurance. I contacted my insurance broker at home (and quite a number of others who said they specialised in motor insurance overseas) but have so far been unable to find anyone to provide the necessary cover. UK brokers seem unable to provide insurance outside Europe, and the Gambian companies seem only able to provide cover as far north as Senegal, which leaves a large gap in the middle (I think in practice that no-one will provide insurance for Mauritania!). In addition it seems that I would be unable to import a Gambian registered vehicle into the UK so I was left with the possibility of driving to Tangiers and abandoning my car on the dock side, or spending a few days there in the hope of finding someone who would buy it from me for a reasonable price. So what to do?
It had occurred to me that if I shipped a vehicle from the UK, I could retain the UK registration, take it back to the UK with me and then keep it when I got home. This would cost me a little more but I knew I would end up with a better vehicle and have no problems on my return home. Having spoken to a number of shipping companies to find out the cost of shipping (and various port charges and handling costs!) I then went to see the Customs. Here I was informed that I would need to obtain permission from both the Commissioner General of Customs and the Chief of Police for a temporary importation, and they assured me that this would not take long to obtain. I would however have to write to them with full details of the vehicle, supported by a letter from the Department of Agriculture saying that my stay here was only temporary and that I would be leaving the country in March, which left me in a quandary. To give the vehicle information required in this letter I would have to buy a vehicle in the UK before I even knew whether I could get permission to ship it out here, so I eventually decided against this course of action as I thought this was a little risky (or possibly costly!).
It seems that I’m going the wrong way, as driving from Europe to Africa would be a lot easier. Each year there are several organised “rallies” where travellers drive from the UK (Plymouth – Banjul), or Europe (Amsterdam – Dakar) in an organised group for an adventure holiday, terminating here in the Gambia where the vehicles are usually sold for charity. So when last week I saw an advertisement in the newspaper that such a rally had just arrived and the cars would be auctioned on the Sunday at Independence Stadium which is ten minutes walk from my home, I decided to go and have a look. The auction was scheduled to start at 10am, but by 9.30am only three or four of the forty or so vehicles had arrived on site and the Director of the President Jammeh Foundation for Peace was getting quite annoyed with the Dutch organisers because she wanted the auction to start on time. (This is quite un-Gambian behaviour, as you will note from my previous blogs that Gambians have no sense of time and everything starts late here). In due course the cars arrived and the sale started about 10.45 by which time a small crowd had gathered together with representatives from Skye Bank (payment had to be in cash on the day), and the Customs (to collect import duty). There was a wide selection to choose from – vans and cars of various sizes and in various states of repair, together with a number of 4WD vehicles, some of them rather smart. I would have liked one of the latter, but although I thought some of them were good value for money, they were beyond my budget so I eventually settled for a Dutch 1992 Volvo 245 estate with 3 spare wheels and an assortment of spares which by the time I had paid import duty, cost me the equivalent of about £1050.
I’m now looking forward to some trips out – so far I’ve only driven it from the stadium up to the nearby compound of the Department of Agriculture for safe keeping while I apply for number plates and arrange insurance. So far this has involved a number of telephone calls and I now have to go to Banjul where I will no doubt have to visit various official offices and pay various charges before I can legally get on the road. Of course they are only open in my normal working hours so I will have to take time off next week to arrange this – I’ll let you know how I get on!