Personally, I did not accomplish a fraction of what I had hoped for when I first entered the Plymouth-Dakar Challenge 2005, but it certainly did not hurt to dream big. Overall though I have to say the PDC was worth the effort. Driving 4,000 miles through northwest Africa is guaranteed to provide an unusual experience. But, for me, part of the allure was that over 200 teams from 15 countries took part. I was one of the few Yanks who made the trip in 2005 which I believe was due to the difficulties encountered trying to organize a team from half a world away.

That said, below is a brief overview or summary of PDC05; for a fuller accounting see the travelogue section.

The Plymouth-Dakar Challenge was officially changed to the Plymouth-Banjul Challenge, but old names die hard. I sort of relish the ambiguity since the start of the challenge for most teams is not Plymouth. However, Banjul really is the final destination for cars and teams that finish.

In any event, the PDC (or PBC) is a HUGE national event in The Gambia. Upon completion of the rally I spent a month traveling up-country and during my travels met heaps of people. One thing I found true wherever I went was that every person I spoke to had heard of this crazy event. Having taken part even got me through several checkpoints at opportune moments. In the case of the latter, I would be grudgingly sent on my way with an admonition of “next year, bring us a vehicle!”

The challenge brought excitement for both nationals and foreigners. In Banjul, I met one associate Peace Corps director who helped with the charity auctions. Up-country I met British volunteers, VSO’s, who had also taken part in the auctions.

After a month of travel post-rally, I returned to Banjul and spoke with Geri Mitchell of the Safari Garden Hotel. Geri and her husband Maurice handle most of the logistics at the Gambian end of the rally. In mid-February, before Group 4 had arrived, she had said that the charity auctions from the first three groups had already raised more than 7.5 million Gambian Dalasis. In U.S. dollars, that is about $278,455 - good chunk of change.

But that number only tells part of the story. I will take the liberty and put that into perspective. If you look at 2004, per capita, Gross National Income (GNI) figures, the United States ranks 4th at $41,400, the United Kingdom is 10th at $33,940, and The Gambia ranks 156th at $290. In other words, had that same money been raised and distributed in the United States the amount would be roughly $39.7 million. The UK, £17.2 million.

Bear in mind, a number of vehicles were donated directly to organizations and do not factor in to the dollar figures given above. For instance, the Shogun, the vehicle I rode in from England to northern Senegal, was donated directly to Education Aid in Africa.

Also, most teams raised monies for non-Gambian charities such as Last Wishes, Cystic Fibrosis Trust, and Cancer and Leukemia in Children to name only a few.

Peter Thwaites and Iain Glennon, The Northern Geezers

Team Pekin Boys attempted to raise money for the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust (CRT). I chose MAG because they were picked for the 2004 PDC and I wanted to follow the lead of Team DB. Sort of continue the legacy if possible. I chose CRT as a second choice since I wanted to add a conservation component to the rally.

Unfortunately, I did not have my own vehicle to adorn as I saw fit. I did not discount the possibility of finding a car for Team Pekin Boys sole use after I flew to England so I traveled with my official PDC05 rally numbers and MAG stickers. However, by the time I had reached Marrakech, I was firmly entrenched as co-driver in Jim Simpson’s Shogun. In Marrakech I found myself camped next to the Lost Boys (Team 5203) and their naked Fiat Tempra. There in the campground was the first chance the Lost Boys had gotten to beautify their rally car so I donated my stash of MAG decals. They not only took up the MAG banner, they took the lot of stickers and passed some off to The Roaming Nomads (Team 5227) and Team Dingbat and Wombat (Team 5228). I really appreciated that gesture.

Ross Drinkwater (L) and Ceri Brown (R), The Lost Boys

The Roaming Nomads (L) and Team Dingbat and Wombat (R)

The Roaming Nomads

At the conclusion of the rally, myself and "The Man They Called 'Snapper'" were given a carload of medical supplies to distribute up-country. Geri Mitchell, instrumental as always, gathered the leftover gear donated by various teams and gave us the keys to a rally car. A few days after arriving in Banjul we set off on this little bit of extracurricular activity which may have been the best experience of the entire rally. On the advice of some British VSO’s we passed the medical supplies off to a clinic in a tiny village in far north-eastern Gambia.

Snapper and Clinic Nurse

Old Poppay and Snapper

Snapper and New Friends

Crossing the River Gambia

Myself, Snapper and More New Friends   (note: the ambulance brought down in a previous years rally)

Snapper winning at checkers (with a significant bit of outside help)

One of the last things I was able to accomplish prior to leaving The Gambia was to visit the area adjacent to those managed by the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Trust. I spent several days in the village of Touba Demba and most of that crashing around in the bush of Nyassang Forest Park. The forest park is adjacent to The River Gambia National Park, aka Baboon Island, where the CRT chimps reside. I was not able to observe any chimpanzees from the north side of the river, but what was glaringly obvious was that the protected islands contained old growth gallery forest that has all but disappeared in unprotected areas. On nearly an annual basis, Gambians start fires in the bush so little forest remains. Fortunately, the work CRT not only protects the chimps, it provides some of the only viable habitat protection for other animals as well.

Gallery Forest on Baboon Island,
River Gambia National Park, The Gambia

Nyassang National Forest,
"forest" on north bank of the River Gambia

Matt Selinske, Nelson Ting and Tracker
Nyassang National Forest, The Gambia

Airborne Western Red Colobus Monkey
Procolobus badius temminckii