Relaxing in the officers lounge after a four course lunch with wine.
There are two options for getting to South America; you can ship to Buenos Aires, Argentina or you can ship to Halifax, Canada then drive south.
We discovered AFTER arriving in Buenos Aires that it is much easier and cheaper to ship into Halifax and drive south.
Entering the USA from Canada is easy but entering from Mexico can be problematic. Most overlanders that have done this tell stories of being locked in a room, out of sight of their vehicle whilst it is being searched. If the customs staff have difficulty opening a cupboard they break the door! We suspect the best way is to enter via the smaller borders if you drive north into the USA.
Another fact to consider - it is MUCH cheaper to ship from Central America to South America than it is to ship from South America to Central America. Other travellers report that this is the case no matter which country you chose to ship from or to.
All this information has made us reconsider going north to the USA, but maybe things will change before we are ready to decide where we go next.
GRIMALDI provide a more basic ‘cruise’ experience - no pool and a sailing schedule of one month. The cabins are either outside twin beds or inside bunk beds. All are comfortable with a en-suite shower room, fridge, air-conditioning and a television that broadcasts BBC world news and two Italian channels.
Good storage space is provided in lockable wardrobes and drawers within your room and there is a laundry room for passengers only - it holds a washing machine, tumble drier and a bath with NO plug. There is a very small library and DVD/ video cupboard. Meals are very good and you get wine with lunch and dinner but if you are a vegetarian or hate garlic - then it’s not the ship for you!!
You can access your vehicle when-ever you are in dock. Dave checked Nessie prior to each European sailing and found, every time, that people had been tampering with her – either trying the side door handle or attempting to open our awning.
Grimaldi are not good at passing on information. We paid our booking agent and he sent all the paperwork to Grimaldi HQ in Naples - they did not inform the Tilbury office that we were loading a truck or that we were boarding as passengers. Luckily Dave called a week before departure and, after a stunned silence, they confessed they knew nothing about us! We had wanted to travel in August but we were told that only two cabins remained free for the whole year - one in June and one in July. Imagine our surprise when we spent the whole trip as the only passengers surrounded by empty cabins!! We have no idea what is going on but it’s another example of Grimaldi’s poor communication skills.
Dakar harbour + Goree Island Fishing boat, Banjul
Senegal The Gambia
DAKAR: A small harbour in the heart of the old city.
We sailed past Goree Island, with it’s lovely colonial buildings, and arrived in dock for 8pm. We watched in fascination as the expert loaders moved containers around the confined spaces on the dock side.The following morning we went ashore only to discover it was a public holiday and everything was shut! Leave the harbour and walk toward the Texaco garage then turn left up Allees R. Delmas, you will find a bureau exchange, a internet cafe and restaurants - at the end of this street is a main square with shops and banks. The city hustlers are easy going and accept no as your answer. There is a local ferry to the island but our ship was unloaded overnight so we didn’t have much time to go sight seeing.
We found a wifi connection in the harbour and sat surfing the net on the ships deck.
BANJUL: A tiny harbour with barely room for two ships. We are very familiar with The Gambia and have previously seen all of the sights, so we were content to stroll around town people watching. We had forgotten the vibrant colours, corn curled babies and waving school children of The Gambia - lovely.
If you want to see more then we can recommend two trips:
FIRST - Catch the bus to Bakau, visit Charlie the crocodile at Katchikali Sacred Crocodile Pool - sit on his back and stroke him if you want to fall pregnant. All I can say is, ‘Thank goodness for contraception and a belly full of fish!’ He is a real LIVE crocodile!!
Then walk to the Atlantic road where you can visit the batik and craft markets before strolling along the beach to the Botanical Gardens.
SECOND - Hire a bush taxi to drive you to Lamin Lodge, stopping at Abuko Nature Reserve on the way. Ask the driver to drop you at one entrance and then to meet you at the other side - it saves a long walk back through the reserve. Then sit on the wooden terrace of Lamin Lodge sipping a cool drink by the mangrove edged river before driving back into Banjul.
(The city hustlers are more persistent and have to be told to GO AWAY.)
SAFETY IN AFRICAN PORTS:
The crew have told us stories of piracy, dead bodies, stowaways, theft and robbery - all these tales are from African shores. It has become clear that no- one enjoys the African port stops and crew members work very hard, sometimes all day and all night, to clear the ports as quickly as possible. We spend hours out at sea drifting to waste time, allowing the crews some much needed rest before entering the next port - the Captain obviously times his departures to suit the rest patterns and safety needs of his crew and ship.
Only last month a crew member, who was standing on Conakry dock, right beside the ships hull, was robbed at knife point by four locals and stripped off all possessions - work torch included!
It has left the entire crew shaken. The Captain has spoken to us about the dangerous ports and outrageous bribery and said that, although he cannot stop us from going ashore in Conakry and Freetown, he strongly advises against it. We are not going ashore.
CONAKRY: A small filthy and chaotic harbour.
The entrance channel is very narrow and marked by several buoys picking their way through the numerous ship wrecks that litter the expansive bay. The town is flat and stretches for miles with the minarets of the Grand Mosque in the distance. Officials swarm the boat in separate ‘hunting’ parties - one group search the kitchen area and leave with a large, heavy bag of ‘gifts’. They look like a bunch of officious sods and we are glad we don’t have to ‘negotiate’ a ashore trip! We ensure all our belongings are in our room. The loaders from Dakar have travelled with the ship to load at all the African docks - we watch as several heated arguments take place amongst locals roaming the dock side, trying to trick their way aboard. We have a local film crew aboard roaming the car decks - maybe our Nessie will be famous in Africa?!
FREETOWN: What a surprise - Freetown is beautifully set amongst lush hills rolling down to golden beaches. As we near the small dock, the millionaire villas that dot the water front and hills turn to shanty squats sitting on filthy shore lines full of foraging pigs, rubbish and naked children bathing in the oil filled waters of the harbour. The streets are incredibly busy - it’s looks like market day. The docks are very clean and well managed but the officials are still hungry for ‘gifts’. Large groups of people wait for their vehicles to be unloaded and when we go to check on Nessie we are amazed to see she is completely alone - the ship is almost empty! The ships crew also drive the vehicles out at this port and it’s chaos in the decks - J turns, sump bursting ramp jumps and tyres smoking. The locals who are helping are frightened and understandably upset at the damage being done. We thought our truck would be at most risk of damage in the African ports but the truth is that the Europeans are far more disrespectful of property than the Africans.
A old Mercedes in Guinea Beautiful scenery in Freetown, Sierra Leone
RIO DE JANEIRO: Large harbour with good security in Caju district.
We were lucky to get a lift from the Grimaldi agent into the centre of town. We walked around admiring the beautiful old buildings eventually finding the bus stop for Cristo Redentor,(our Lonely Planet book had NO information about it). Walk down Av Rio Branco until just before Av Almirante Barroso - all the buses stop on this street. Get on any bus named Comse Velho, we took number 180, it cost R$2.20 per person and took 20 minutes. Take the number 422 bus back to centro.
Once you get up there you can either take the cog train or a private car/bus - we took the car/bus as we got to stop at the helipad for a good view of Sugarloaf and Copacabana on the way up. The views are stunning.
Unfortunately we had no time to visit anything else as we had to be back at the ship for 3pm - we took a taxi from the centre to our dock and it cost R$20 on the meter.
A stunning introduction to South America.
SANTOS: A small harbour within easy walking distance of the town centre. We went into town to do a bit of shopping and to check on our emails, we are amazed at the friendliness of the Brazilians, a local walked half the length of the town to show us where the post office was - nice guy! There is a good beach not far from town if you want to spend the day there.
MONTEVIDEO: We anchor off shore with 13 other ships waiting for a empty berth before finally arriving at the small harbour at 9pm. The next day it is cold and wet - the change in weather over the past 2 days has been amazing. We walk into town to try and source insurance for our trip but are unable to find any company that will cover a foreign camper. Winds of 50 knots delay us leaving the safety of the harbour for 3 days - when we finally do leave we see over 30 ships waiting to use our berth!
ZARATE: A huge car park with thousands of cars waiting to be loaded. This would make the ideal dock to arrive/ depart on your Ro-Ro as it’s small and outside of the hustling city limits- it is a short drive from here to the campsites north of the city. We sail back down the river toward Buenos Aires casting a shadow over the beautiful wooden stilt houses that sit on the narrow rivers edge.
BUENOS AIRES: A large dock area in the heart of the city. We were escorted by the customs man through the gates and round to his office. Thirty minutes later we were free to leave. No-one checked our vehicle or asked about food stuffs, all they wanted was a list of all electrical goods including serial numbers and if we had a gun! Our free visa is for 3 months and our vehicle import papers are for 8 months - very, very easy.
We met a French family who’s car was on our ship - it took them 2 days of intense ‘negotiations’ to clear the dock, some belongings were stolen from the car and their battery was completely dead after a loader had left a switch on.
We drove a short distance to the Buquebus terminal and met up with fellow overlander and friend Casper - it was great to see him again after two and a half years.
PREVENTING SEA SICKNESS
There are several drugs available over the counter, we chose two brands:
STUGERON 15mg - a whole tablet can make you sleepy so we took just a half tablet once a day when needed.
PHENERGAN 25mg - take with care. I took one when we first got on the ship - forty minutes later I was in danger of falling face first into my plate of pasta! This tablet rendered me unconscious for almost 36 hours, waking only long enough to eat!! If you are in very stormy seas and want to miss the event take one of these.
For our voyage of 34 days we used only 4 stugeron tablets. The secret is to NOT look out of the windows or stand on the top deck if the ship is rolling. Some days we were ‘corkscrewing’ on the seas, drawers were opening and, one day, our wine glasses slid across the table. We never felt seasick.
You are issued with I.D cards when you board - the crew keep your passports for the whole voyage. These and a stamped photocopy of your passport is enough documentation to allow you to go ashore in the ports apart from The Gambia, where they stamp your passport and issue a temporary free visa document.
Some of the crew from the Grande Francia. Thanks for a great trip guys!!