The Gambia Day 1

Tuesday 22 November 2022

The weekend before last I went out for the evening, leaving the old man unattended. When I got home, he’d booked a holiday to the Gambia. So this morning we are up early to do something we very, very rarely do. We’re going on a package holiday. It feels a bit strange not having a spreadsheet of travel, accommodation and sightseeing itineraries. We just have to turn up at the airport and get on the plane. Simple, right?

First things first, extricate the cat from the old man’s suitcase. Then we can set off on the drive to Gatwick. The journey to the airport isn’t great; we get caught in the Bournemouth rush hour (who knew Bournemouth had a rush hour?) Then, just as we are about to exit the M4 it closes just in front of us, due to an accident at the junction. After half an hour parked up on the motorway, we are finally on our way again.

Holiday packing

The old man tells me he’s booked airport parking. It turns out he’s booked Purple Parkingwhich is actually a further 10 minute drive though the airport and out the other side. Here, you park your car, leave the keys in the ignition and catch a shuttle bus back to the airport. The bus service is fast and efficient. Who knows where our car will spend the next week?

Next to negotiate Tui check in. The queue is short but takes an eternity as each person ahead of us (a) has exceeded their 15 kg luggage limit and sets about unpacking their suitcase on the airport floor and (b) seems surprised to have to provide a covid vaccination certificate and has to download the NHS App in order to proceed. Finally it’s our turn and we can check in and proceed to our flight.

I haven’t flown TUI before. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience. First of all, I’m surprised that such a long (6 hour) flight needs to be undertaken without the benefit of seatback entertainment. Secondly, it is by far the noisiest 6 hours of my life. I am surrounded by children being kept entertained by electronic devices at very high volume. Not a set of headphones in sight. The cacophony of inane sounds is almost unbearable. And with beer at £5 for a small can, I’m not even attempted to numb the nightmare of buzzes and rings and beeps with a cloud of super expensive Heineken.

Enjoying the flight

Add in the fact that the woman behind me opts to change her baby’s nappy at her seat, so we have the waft of poo to contend with for a while. Plus I make the rookie error of not putting my shoes on to go to the toilet, so have to spend the final part of the flight in urine (not mine) soaked socks. And you have the perfect recipe for how not to spend six hours of your life.

Flying over the Sahara

But all bad things must come to an end. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of an onslaught on my senses, and when I think my head will explode if I have to listen to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ one more time, we reach Banjul. Not before the child in the row in front leans over the back of his seat and spits a nut onto my my tray table, where I had been attempting to read before almost taken out by a hyperactive 2 year old ninja assassin.

Reviews have led us the believe that our thoroughfare through Banjul airport is likely to be a slow one. So unlike on our recent visit to Morocco, we have come armed with drinks and snacks. To be honest, we’ve made quite a dent in the snacks before even disembarking the flight.

In actual fact it’s really quick and by the time our flight is supposed to land, we’re already sitting in the bus which will take us to our hotel. Another 46 minutes later, we are ready to depart for our ultimate destination; Ocean Bay Hotel.

We lived in Nigeria for 3 years back in the day, but this is my first time in West Africa in over 20 years and my first visit to The Gambia. I shall need time readjust to the pace of life.

Our bus sets off through Banjul towards our hotel in Bakau some 13 miles away. Once through the city, we turn off onto a road with a notice stating ‘Weak Bridge – Weight limit 7 tons’. Luckily I don’t have Wi-Fi, so can’t Google how much a coach weighs. Which, coincidentally, is somewhat more than 7 tons!

We reach our hotel in one 7+ ton piece, check in a head for the bar. It’s been a long day, I’m hot and thirsty and would literally kill for a beer. Service is painfully slow and when the beer finally arrives, it’s warm. To add to my displeasure, there is karaoke. Just when I thought my quota of unbearable noise had been reached! To make matters worse, a man comes with a hat to ask for tips for the band – we have to pay to be musically tortured.

Ocean Bay Hotel Reception

We retire to our room which has a patio, slightly cooler beer and significantly less karaoke. Once I have finished my warm beer and consumed my body weight in mini cheddars, I am finally relaxed…

First Gambian Beer

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