The Banjul ferry service operates regularly between Gambia’s capital, Banjul, and the town of Barra, located on the north side of Gambia River’s mouth. It is the most popular ferry crossing in the Gambia, serving thousands of people daily.
The fleet is comprised of three boats: ‘Johe’, ‘Barra’, and ‘Kanilai’: which run between the two cities from 7 am up to 9 pm. They are supposed to be departing at half-hour intervals from either end, but are most usually delayed up to several hours.
The ca 5 km trip between the two shores takes approximately 30-40 min to complete.
As of January 2017, the ticket costs D25 per person, and D250 per vehicle; and is purchased from the ticket office on spot.
Many concerns have been raised about the safety of the service, as the vessels are very poorly maintained and most often unduly overloaded. Several tragedies have occurred in the past.
Apart from the three large ferry boats, the crossing is also possible to be done by pirogues. In such case, the fares should be fairly lower, but the trip duration much longer and the safety standards further degraded.
Other ferry services across the Gambia River, farther inland in the country, operate in Janjangbureh, Bansang, Barajally, Yellintenda, Basse, Fatoto, and Jarreng.
Being in Serrekunda and intending to get over to north Senegal, I had, myself, to utilize the Banjul ferry service, so to cross the Gambia River and continue my trip northwards. Early that morning, I was loaded with all my stuff and was out on the still quiet streets of Serrekunda in search of a taxi. It didn’t take long, and, after the necessary negotiations for the price, I was in that taxi covering the 15 km separating me from Gambia’s capital and its ferry terminal.
The driver dropped me off right in front of the ticket office. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have to wait particularly long to purchase my ticket, as, despite the queue being long, the counter was working in a fairly effective manner.
The waiting came thereafter; when I proceeded through the gate and found myself squeezed among a large crowd pressed into a narrow, open waiting space. The central part of the area was provided with tightly adjoining benches, occupied mostly by gaudily dressed women and children. And all around, lots of others were either standing in any free piece of ground to be found or jostling their way through the rest trying to sell their miscellaneous goods.
The huddle had become nearly suffocating by the time the boat arrived; and especially so, right before the iron gate leading to the port, when that appeared close. When it was finally berthed, the entire crowd: pedestrians from our part and vehicles from another: bolted as in an assault towards its deck.
Waiting for the initial wave to pass, I also boarded the boat among the last and found my ideal spot by the gunwale on the upper floor of the deck. When the boat was finally as full as it could possibly be, pretty much, it cast off and started ripping the waters of Gambia’s estuary apart, heading to its opposite shore – If it wasn’t for my trusting my swimming skills enough to feel confident I can make it back ashore in case of need, I could have well prayed upon that instant; the whole thing about the vessel’s condition and the way it was overloaded: with people, trucks, and stuff: was somewhat precarious.
Otherwise, that short trip was pleasant enough. Just standing by the gunwale and staring at the vast, rhythmically undulating sea was as exhilarating as during any boat trip. And, on top of that, watching the so picturesque people of west Africa, observing their peculiar habits, and having some short, funny conversations with some of them, was definitely a very interesting thing about this trip, too.
Some 40 min after, we were let to disembark on the other side, safe and sound, and time had for me come to find some way to proceed on my trip.
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