The Scooters in the Sahara Project was originally started by Bill Oates from the UKGSer forum in 2005. This followed a successful trip to Gambia the previous year in the Plymouth to Banjul Banger rally when the Landrover he and two friends drove was donated to the Alexandra Edwards Clinic at Badi Mayo.
Against all the odds in 2005/6 we managed to deliver 8 Honda C90’s a Mercedes Van and roughly £200,000 worth of donated medical supplies and spare parts to Bansang. These were shared between Bansang Hospital and the Alexandra Edwards Clinic which received 3 of the bikes.
Since that inaugural run we have concentrated on supplying transport and spares rather than the medical supplies which frankly we do not have the space nor expertise to accommodate. Meanwhile the Bansang Hospital Appeal has over the years, under Anita Smith’s wonderful and charismatic leadership, managed to secure sponsorship to help in obtaining the medical resources required.
In 2007/8 we again took a further fleet of C90’s and a 4 x 4 to the Hospital with a further 4 x 4 and Trailer being delivered to the Alexander Edwards Clinic.
In 2009 our planned trip was aborted following troubles in Mauritania
In 2011 we took a further 6 bikes (1 failed en route!) and a 4 x 4 to the hospital together with a sizable quantity of spare parts. No further aid was given to the Alexander Clinic following Stella Marsden’s untimely death from cancer, as it has now been taken over by an American charity with whom we do not have any contact.
The first two trips ran from 28th December through to roughly the end of January. However that gave a logistical problem of either having to ride the C90’s across Northern Europe in the worst depths of winter or finding someone willing to transport them all the way to southern Spain for us, which with the price of fuel is now also an expensive proposition.
So in 2011 & 2012 the decision was made to move the trip on by 2 months to March as by this time Christmas/new year was well and truly out of the way and the Portsmouth to Santander ferry was back up and running after its winter refit. This worked well, although the first couple of days were still very cold across the center of Spain. It was also quite a bit hotter in Gambia with temperatures well into the 30’s by the time we arrived. And getting hotter by the day.
For 2013, due to a variety of reasons, the projected departure date is 11th October with return flight to UK on or about 12th November dependant on availability of flights. There may also be a chance for 2 or 3 team members to return overland in the truck with me adding a further 3 weeks to the trip (approx) For 2016 the departure date will be somewhere around the same time depending on flights, ferries etc.
The Trip & Requirements
The overall duration of the trip is planned at 4 weeks (give or take) of which roughly 3+ weeks are taken up by the ride and the last week split between the hospital and a bit of sightseeing and relaxation in and around Bansang.
You must have:
A valid UK Passport (if you are not a UK passport holder please speak to me)
A full driving licence
An International driving permit
All vehicle documents (V5, MOT, Insurance. Tax is optional depending on how you get your bike to Portsmouth.
Full international medical cover. You will not get cover for Mauritanian. In the case of an accident/sickness we will stick you in the truck and try to get you through to Senegal
Current Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. This is the only compulsory vaccination although there are various other recommendation which your doctor/travel nurse can advice you on which includes:
Rabies vaccination is an option which I personally do not bother with. It does not prevent rabies but give you an additional 24hrs in which to get help.
Anti Malarial Tablets – I used to take Malarone, expensive but they have little or no side effects. You will need 22 tablets.(30 if making the return trip). Although more recently I have switched to one of the cheaper alternatives without any problems. Speak to me or better still you medical practitioner for options and recomendation
Our route takes us by ferry from Portsmouth Docks to Santander from where we cross Spain in approx 3 days via Madrid to collect Visas for Senegal, to Algeciras. It’s then another ferry across to the new Tangier Med port in Morocco
The route through Morocco has yet to be finalised for 2016. However, our first night wil almost certainly be spent on the campsite at Chefchaouen from where we head down towards Fez. It’s then either Rabat, Marrakesh or Quazazarte, then Tan Tan and on into Western Sahara.
Whilst still technically a war zone, Western Sahara is quiet and peaceful having been annexed by Morocco following a UN brokered ceasefire in 1991. The route is pretty straight forward as there is only one road which runs the entire length of the country! No problems or difficult decisions here then!
It’s then the fun starts….. across the Mine Field and into Mauritania. Whilst the Mine Field is very real and one of the largest in the world, it presents little danger to us as we follow a clearly designated and very well used track somewhat wider than the M25 (although with a slightly worse surface!)
Again there is only one surfaced road running down through Mauritania which was completed in 2005 just before our first trip.
I must stress that the UK foreign office advice on Mauritania is unequivocal:
We advise against all travel to the eastern and northern provinces of Mauritania – Tiris Zemmour, Adrar, Tagant, and Hodh el Chargui – due to the continuing high threat from terrorism throughout the country. This includes all areas bordering Mali, Western Sahara and Southern Algeria.
We also advise against all travel to the western provinces of Dakhlet-Nouadhibou and Inchiri. This includes the road from the port of Nouadhibou to Nouakchott – see Rally Racing.
We advise against all but essential travel to the rest of the country.
There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
However, that said, not only have we never had the slightest problem in Mauritania, I would go as far as to say that on the last few trips the country felt safer and more organised than on either of the other occasions we have crossed it. With Police, Army and Customs personnel all seeming to be a little more organised (relative of course !) and a little more polite. There is no doubt that there is a potential threat but that threat is far greater in the far South East corner of the country on the border to Mali. My personal view is that the danger to us is minimal and a question of just happening to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, which can happen anywhere in the world. But I stress this is very much my personal opinion and each of you must make up your own mind regarding the risks involved.
I am convinced that if our Foreign Office had to issue travel advice for the UK it would also warn of the high threat of terrorism which it would say could be indiscriminate and include places frequented by foreign travellers, but one again that is my personal (cynical ?) opinion.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a piste is an unsurfaced route: it is off road riding which can vary from hard tracks akin to some of our good forest roads here in Wales, right the way through to soft sand. I would stress that I am not on off road riding expert. I am not a motorcross nor an enduro rider. BUT we will meet some pistes and other soft stuff on our route and some quite rough tracks whichever route we take. So be prepared. The solitary lady on our first trip had only passed her test some months prior to departure and she had never ridden off road – she coped admirably. One of the strengths of the C90’s is their lack of weight: if you can’t ride it, step off and simply walk alongside it whilst controlling the throttle. With no clutch to worry about it’s dead easy. If all else fails a couple of us simple pick it up and carry it across the problem!
Then come the tricky/expensive bit, the border crossing into Senegal. We have two choices; the expensive legal way or the less expensive way ! Strictly speaking we need carnets to take the vehicles through Senegal. From my discussions with the RAC rep at Horizons, that would cost us in the region of £2000 for just 8 bikes. The other option is to “negotiate” with the border control which is the way we have done it on the last 4 trips. This can cost us £500 for 8 bikes and the 4×4… no brainer I think.
In Africa unfortunately bribes are a fact of life, I do not like it but have learnt that if I want to travel there I have to get used to it. However I always haggle very hard to keep the price down, not just for us but for other travellers who might follow in our wheel tracks: pay the first price asked and you set a precedent. The trick is to keep cool, be patient and be prepared to wait them out and to bargain hard.
After the strict, austere Muslim culture of Mauritania, Senegal come in like a burst of sunshine. It is brash, it is colourful, it is noisy. We head for the Zebrabar, an oasis of tranquillity in a sea of madness for a days relaxation, only our second day off so far if things have gone more or less to plan. (Our first respite being back in Morocco) Warm beaches, cold beers and good food what more could you ask? You can also waste a few pounds if you wish by hiring a cabin for our two nights, but be warned the honesty bar tab can run away with your cash with the euphoria of having survived the toughest part of the trip. We will also have the opportunity to take a taxi into St Louis, a wonderful old French Colonial town, but be prepared for some hassle from the various souvenir sellers. However cross the bridge to the southern side of the river and you are more or less hassle free. Alternatively you could just chill on the beach or go for a walk, your day off, your choice. This is the real Senegal.
From the Zebrabar it should be three days max across Senegal to the Gambian border town of Faraffeni where, we will stay in the very basic (and reasonably cheap) Eddie’s Place before heading up to Bansang the following morning: yes, we are now just one days ride from our destination! Where did the time go? We may call in at the Wassu stone circles on the way up river if the group wishes. Indeed it seems a shame to miss them, you may not be coming here again (that’s what I said in 2005!)
And that in a nutshell is the trip….. A more detailed Itinerary will be sorted for the first meeting of the confirmed 2016 Team, which could still be modified according to taste!
The Riding and other stuff
The C90’s are great little bikes to ride but they are not fast, neither do they have very big fuel tanks so that brings about a few fairly unique problems.
if you drop off the back i.e. to fix a puncture…you’ll never catch up until the group stops
There is no reserve on the puny 4 litre fuel tank, so you suddenly just stop…
Therefore we ride as a group, One stops, we all stop. The back up vehicle will always be the last vehicle in the line (with very rare exceptions)
We always ride to the speed of the slowest bike. We should be able to maintain about 40+ mph most of the time. But please always keep in the back of your mind that our goal is to deliver USABLE TRANSPORT to Bansang Hospital, not a pile of junk. If we ride them to the limit all day every day for three weeks…. Well you don’t have to be Einstein to work out the likely outcome!.
Generally I take the role of the lead bike simply because I know the routes reasonably well (that doesn’t mean we won’t go a bit wrong occasionally or have to stop to consult maps or GPS!) I do not have any issue with somebody else leading but PLEASE discuss with me first and keep in mind that the job of the lead rider is to keep the group together not to pull it apart…this is not always an easy task.
To maximise mileage we will often ride until the first bike runs out of fuel, we then refuel ALL bikes (and truck if required). This means that you must keep an eye on your mirrors (see note 1 above) it also helps if you keep an eye on the mileage so you know roughly when the stops are going to occur. I run with GPS and keep a close eye on the mileage and possible fuel stops. This means that if we are going to run out just after a fuel station I will try to pull us into it rather than refuel on the roadside. I will also try very hard not to let us have to refuel by the side of a Spanish motorway; not a pleasant job although they are generally carrying fairly light traffic.
The mileage per day varies greatly a long day may see us doing 300 miles but generally 250 is a tough but more realistic day. We try to be on the road by around 9am which means being up at around 7/7.30am as it will take at least an hour and a half from getting up to moving off. We will usually start looking for campsites by around 4pm. Again bear in mind that a lot of the trip we will be wild camping wherever possible. Occasionally, because we need to be at a certain place (i.e. a border crossing) by a certain time, we MAY need to make a particularly early start. This may also happen if we have been delayed by breakdowns or similar.
I try very hard not to ride at night: C90 head lights and African roads are not a good combination. To illustrate, due to the border formalities getting into Senegal we covered the last 15 miles or so to the Zebrabar in the dark. I rode holding my super bright LED torch in my teeth as it was way brighter than my headlight…..It was not fun and it was not easy. However sometime a little bit of night riding is inevitable no matter how hard I try to avoid it.
I will be looking for people to take on various tasks both before and during the trip
We have been luck so far in having at least one medically qualified person on each trip… So anyone with a medical background is particularly welcome as areb any with simple first aid training. We will have a quantity of fist aid kit with us.
On some chores we all have to muck in. i.e washing up! Not the most pleasant of tasks but it has to be done and shared between the group it is not too onerous a job. Whoever is doing the cooking should not expect to have to wash up before cooking you all breakfast!. Put more simply No Washing up = No Breakfast !
Hopefully we will have at least one good bike mechanic riding with us. However we will still need people to assist with general routine maintenance, checking oil, chains, tyres and topping up fuel at night so we are ready to roll in the morning. And indeed generally assisting in try to keep all the bike running sweetly.. The bikes will also all need a full service once we arrive at Bansang.
Sorting ferries, making sure all the bikes are got to Portsmouth on time and other such vital tasks.
We need to aquire tools, spares, cooking utensils, pots and pans cooking stove, jerry cans to name but a few….but you get the picture. Although some of these are available from the 2012 trip
These are just a few of the jobs that need to be addressed both prior to and during the trip
There will only be a small amount of space available on the support vehicle for personal kit, so travel light, you wll be allocated a bag of approx 40 lt capacity. All other personal kit will need by carried on your bike so: each bike will probably need to be fitted with soft throw over panniers and a rear carrier. I tend to use a small top box for bits and bobs and a roll top bag for my camping kit. This keeps the panniers for clothing, wash kit and other personal stuff. Amongst the kit carried in the trailer will be tents, folding chairs and all the cooking kit. This is in addition to 10 jerry cans for fuel and all the spares and tools, required to keep us on the road. It is not necessary to carry any cooking kit as the group cooker will be kept available for that late night/early morning cuppa if you require it.
The space available on the truck & trailer is as I’ve said very limited therefore do not expect us to be pulling a mobile bar along with us. A LIMITED quantity of beers and wine will be able to be accommodated (except through Mauritania which is “dry”) but we are talking 1 or 2 beers per person. If you need more, you need to make space on your bike to carry it! We run a kitty system for drinks, it is not included in cost.
I will issue a full suggested kit list later to confirmed participants. Most of it you will probably have any way, but keep in mind that you won’t be bringing a lot of it home.
Projected Budget £2650 plus buying/sorting your bike
(Please Note: this was the 2013 budget but I don’t expect it to increase significantly)
All the fuel for bikes and back up truck, ferries including shared cabin on Portsmouth/Santander crossing, all border crossing fees, Visa for Mauritania and Senegal plus service in collecting Mauritanian Visa. Tent, Chair, Bag. All food cooked/prepared in camp, camp sites where used, 2 nights hotels through Spain, 1 night at Eddies Place in Farrafeni, 4 nights B & B & evening meal in Bansang, transport from Hospital to Banjul, 1 night hotel in Banjul, probably at Luigi’s.
Flight home Banjul – Gatwick.
You will also need to have a credit/debit card with available funds, as just in case money……and of course such spending money as you may feel appropriate. Although to be honest there ain’t a lot to spend it on other than beer and souvenirs) !.
IT DOES NOT COVER
Replacement parts for your bike! Whilst we will be carrying some spare parts, these are destined for the bikes at the Hospital. Therefore you will be charged for spare parts used to keep your bike on the road whether new tyres/tubes/wheels or a spare engine! If you have problems we will try to get you back on the road but it is your responsibility to ensure you bring a reliable bike and prepare it properly, more info will be given at a later date. If you bike doesn’t make it out of Spain you will be off the trip!
Alcoholic drinks, Upgrades to cabins on camp sites where available. Hotels other than above. Restaurant/Hotel meals & drinks. Personal spending money.
We usually run a kitty system for beers etc but please remember as has been stated earlier, we do not have space or carrying capacity for large quantities of booze. If it is that important to you perhaps you should consider a trip to Malaga rather than Bansang!
I stress this is not a charter trip or a motorcycle tour of the formal type and as such you may have to dip into your pocket for unexpected expenses. I am not running a motorcycle tour business and do not carry insurance as such. I am putting together a group of like minded people who want to help Bansang Hospital whilst having a fantastic adventure. But, like all adventures it can (will !) have it’s problems. That said, I will do my utmost to make the trip run as smoothly as possible. If you have any medical problems, or other concerns please speak to me!
I make no apologies for the fact that what you will see at Bansang Hospital and the wonderful work done by Anita and her dedicated team just sort of sucks you in. As I said earlier I only ever intended doing one trip….this will be my seventh and probably my last: who knows……?
If having read all of the above you are still fool enough to want to come along, you will need to attend a selection meeting early in 2016 ( Something will have to worked out for non- UK based applicants) from which I will do my best to put together a balanced and workable team of participants. Once notified of your participation you will be required put up an initial £500 to secure your place on the trip. The balance can then be paid in three installments at the three team meeting weekends we will have prior to departure. These will be in July, August and September, dates yet to be finalized.
If you have any questions or doubts please speak to me either by phone or even come up to Wales for a face to face chat. Spare bed and or camping space available anytime.
Whilst the worse injury we have sustained to date is a couple of broken ribs…
Please remember this is an adventure and as with any adventure there are risks involved. Whilst I will endeavor, to the best of my abilities, to minimize such risks, your participation is strictly at your risk and I take no responsibility whatsoever for any negligence, accidents, acts of terrorism or war, acts of God howsoever they may occur. It is your responsibility to take such precautions and insurance as you deem to be appropriate. You will, once selected be required to sign a full liability waiver, your participation will be conditional on acceptance of this.