Saturday 26 November 2022
We get up and follow what has become the usual routine; enough breakfast buffet to see us through till dinner. Then read, swim, sunbathe, repeat.
In the afternoon we take a taxi to visit Banjul. A quick Google of sightseeing in Banjul does not fill me with inspiration, but we set off for the capital nonetheless.
As capital cities go, it’s small. The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa. It’s really just a sliver of land either side of the River Gambia. One one side is the Atlantic Ocean, on the other three is Senegal. The area around the river was originally colonised by the Portuguese in the 15th century. A couple of centuries later, the British took control. In the 18th Century the area around The Gambian coast was central to the slave trade. Captured slaves were taken to James Island in the River Gambia, close to where European ships could moor up in order to trade and collect their cargo.
In 1807, the British abolished slavery and determined that no one else should continue the practice in their sphere of influence. It was decided to fortify another island further up river to prevent ships from approaching James Island. Thus, the city of Banjul came to be.
Today, this little capital on a river island has a population of just 34,500. This includes the president Adama Barrow. This means you can’t just wander into Banjul; the only road onto the island is heavily guarded and you must pass through a police checkpoint in order to proceed. Once we are through the checkpoint, we continue along the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway until we reach our first destination; Arch 22.
Arch 22 is an arch which spans the highway at the start of Independence Drive. The 36 metre tall arch ( the tallest building in The Gambia) was built in 1996 to mark the military coup of 22 July 1994, when Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh overthrew the democratically elected Gambian government. For 100 Dalasis you can climb around 150 steps round a spiral staircase in one of the arch’s 8 supporting columns to reach a viewing platform in the roof.
Ex president Jammeh has subsequently been deposed and fled into exile taking the contents of the central bank with him. Hence, the arch has fallen into disrepair. Where once were a restaurant and gift shop is just junk and rubble. However, you can still climb to the the top, from where you can see the whole of Banjul and its environs; along Independence Drive to the town, with port and river beyond.
The museum documenting the events of the coup is still mainly intact.
Next up is The National Museum of The Gambia. It’s rather tired (that’s being generous) but documents the region’s history from prehistoric to relatively recently.
If you’ve always wanted to see a sailing ship made out of doilies, this is your chance…
Our final stop is the State House. The official residence of the president is heavily guarded with plenty of soldiers to deter trespassers and photographers – oops!
We walk back to the car through Albert Market. Since its founding in the 19th century, Albert Market has been Banjul’s main commercial hub. If you love shopping, this would probably be a great place to spend some time. Personally I detest shopping. Next…
Apparently we have exhausted the sights of Banjul, so we drive back to our hotel on nearby Cape Point, and after a couple of cooling beers prepare to set forth in search of dinner.
The evening does not start well. The air conditioning has leaked all over the bed, a cat has killed and is eating one of the hornbills which frequented the hotel and there appears to be a tampon in the fountain. We speak to reception about our room and he promises to have a solution by the time we return from dinner.
The old man likes to constantly try new places, but I enjoyed last night’s curry so much that he agrees (somewhat reluctantly) that we can visit the same place twice. So we enjoy another stonkingly good curry then return to be offered a different room. This one overlooks the garden. The old man is not impressed; we paid extra for a sea view. So it is agreed that we will sleep in the new room tonight and they will attempt to repair the a/c in the morning. With this, the old man picks up a bottle of water and departs. I point out that I will need somewhat more than that, such as toiletries. And clean underwear. Once I have packed an overnight bag, we retire to our new room, where instead of the calming sounds of the ocean, we have a live (and not particularly good) band to contend with as it systematically slaughters the greatest hits of UB40.