The Gambia Day 7

Monday 28 November 2022

Our last full day in The Gambia. We consider a trip to Kunta Kinteh Island; an island in the River Gambia where slaves were held prior to being sold to European traders. Obviously it wasn’t called that at the time, having been renamed after Gambia’s most famous slave thanks to Alex Haley’s book/TV series ‘Roots’. It’s not far, only 20 odd miles, but quite a trek as you have to drive to Banjul, cross the river by ferry, then drive back along the shore the other side, then take another boat to the island. We decide that’s too much palaver in this heat. But we have promised a driver we’ll take a trip this afternoon and don’t want to let him down, so opt to visit some more accessible local sites.

Map of The Gambia

First up breakfast, swim and sunbathing. I briefly consider joining the aqua aerobics class, but quickly realise that this morning’s swimming costume is unlikely to hold everything in place while I jiggle about in the pool.

British High Commission

In the afternoon, we set off with our driver Lamin on our toned down sightseeing trip. First stop is Bijilo Forest Park, which is basically a monkey feeding photo op for tourists. Once you have paid your 150 dalasi entry fee, you can purchase peanuts and/or bananas to feed to the monkeys.

Mmm – banana

The park is quite large, but it’s fairly pointless walking far as all the monkeys congregate round the entrance waiting for tourists to appear and feed them.

Mmm – peanuts

The old man purchases a bag each of bananas and nuts and enjoys feeding the very tame monkeys their treats.

Mmm – banana

Next stop is Kachikally Crocodile Pool. This is actually only a mile from our hotel, but requires coming off the main road, further into to residential Bakau. It’s prey grim; with a putrid open sewer running along the side of the road and children playing amidst piles of garbage.

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

At the end of the road we encounter a fleet of police cars and fancy vehicles. Amidst all this poverty, the mayor of Banjul is taking the mayor of Wisconsin to see the crocodiles. Our driver is super excited about bumping into the mayor. As it’s a special occasion, they’ve dug out the albino crocodile for visitors to touch. Our driver says we’re very lucky – seeing the albino crocodile is rare.

Meeting the Mayor

We pay our 100 dalasi entry fee, and enjoy the spectacle of a hoard or dignitaries and their security escort all taking it in turns to touch the albino crocodile.

Touching the Albino Crocodile

Whilst we wait for the huge convoy to reassemble and make its way back along the tiny street, we visit Kachikally Museum.

Kachikally Museum

The museum consists of a series of huts tell different aspects of the area’s history. The first hut is predominantly about female circumcision, with photos from the Maccarthey Circumcision Festival. Maccarthey was the former British governor of West Africa. Time to leave…

Kachikally Museum

We manage to reverse back up the narrow street without falling into the sewer, which is somewhat of a relief and return to our hotel.

French Skipping

In the evening, one last trip to Indian Zaika. We stop on the way back through the hotel to check out tonight’s entertainment. The best way to describe it is when, as a kid, you put your 45 rpm record on 33 rpm. So we return to our room (501). Our last night in The Gambia is over.

Dinner at Indian Zaika

Only it’s not. The a/c starts leaking all over the bed. Again. So reception move us. Again. Off we trundle, past 514 (where we slept on Saturday) to tonight’s room; 508. I attempt to take a shower, but there’s no hot water. So I return to 501 to shower. Only I take the wrong key. So it’s back to 508 for the key to 501 to shower. Meanwhile, the receptionist has realised that 508 is empty for a reason and returns to tell the old man he’s moving us to room 804. I emerge from 501 in my pyjamas clutching my iPad and a beer not really sure where I live any more. Only to bump into the old man with my underwear and a selection of room keys. The upside is we now have a suite. It’s very hot and smells of mould. But it’s a suite. And I have beer.

Room 804

The Gambia Day 6

Sunday 27 November 2022

Today we have a quiet day planned. After breakfast, we go for a walk along the beach. We are staying near the end of Cape Point, where the River Gambia meets the Atlantic Ocean. Here, the ocean waves come crashing in perpendicular to the beach as they meet the mouth of the river.

Perpendicular Waves

As soon as we leave the hotel, we are followed by a man who tells us he is a talented runner who cannot afford to buy a pair of trainers. It must be so galling to beg for help from a fat old man trundling along the beach in a brand new pair of Asics.

Gambian coast

The walk is both interesting and soul destroying. Apart from the constant reminders of the country’s crushing poverty (around 50% of the population live below the poverty line) the pollution is terrible and the beach is strewn with all manner of junk. How long will it be before we kill our oceans?

Gambian Coast

We walk to the end of the point to the Atlantic proper, then back via the mini market to stock up on drinks. One thing that really annoys the locals is all inclusive holiday makers, whose presence contribute so little to the local economy. So we walk to the mini market each day for our beverage requirements. The shopkeeper is obviously doing well from us, as he has started adding extras to our basket after we’ve paid.

Gambian Coast

We walk back to the hotel through the craft market, which is teeming with vultures this morning.

Vulture

When we return, we are told, for the second day in a row, that the air conditioning has been fixed. After returning to our original room, we spend the afternoon swimming, reading and sunbathing before we head off in search of dinner.

Vultures

This evening I have to kick my curry habit and we go to Gibbi’s on the Beach where they serve traditional Gambian food on a veranda overlooking the ocean.

Gibbi’s on the Beach

You can eat and drink beer whilst watching the sun set over the wetlands and listening to reggae music – more reasons why going all inclusive is a bad decision. The sun sets on a different side of the restaurant than we’d expected. The old man goes on at great lengths about how the sun is in the wrong place!

Gibbi’s Sunset

Tonight’s dinner is chicken benachin – chicken cooked in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce, served with rice.

Chicken Benachin

After dinner we return to the hotel for the evening’s entertainment, described as an acrobatic culture show. My expectations are not high. But it turns out be pretty spectacular with drumming, acrobatics, break dancing, even a contortionist who manages to squeeze through the head of a tennis racquet.

Acrobatics

The highlight of the trip so far. I mean the show, not the contortionist – that made me feel quite sick. But when I wasn’t about to throw up, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening of African food and culture.

Contortionist

The Gambia Day 5 – Banjul

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.

Welcome to Banjul

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.

Drive to Banjul

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.

Drive to Banjul

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.

Welcome to Arch 22

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

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.

Arch 22 Entrance

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.

View from Arch 22

The museum documenting the events of the coup is still mainly intact.

Arch 22 Museum

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.

National Museum

If you’ve always wanted to see a sailing ship made out of doilies, this is your chance…

Ships made of doilies

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!

State House

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…

Albert Market

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.

Dinner at Indian Zaika (again)

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.

Dinner at Indian Zaika

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.

The Gambia Day 4

Friday 25 November 2022

This morning the old man sets off early for his day trip to Senegal. I am not accompanying him because technically, you need 3+ months on your passport to enter Senegal, which I don’t have. There was a time when I would have shoved a few dollars in my passport and hoped for the best. But I now consider myself too old to deal with the hassle of traipsing all the way to the border just to be turned away. Or worse still, detained for attempting to bribe a Senegalese official. So instead I spend a quiet day by the pool swimming and reading.

Pool time

In the afternoon, I attempt to walk to the nearby mini market to purchase beer and snacks. It’s all rather creepy. When I’m with the old man, people follow us, but soon give up. But today one particular man will not leave me alone.

Walk to the mini mart

When my new shadow and I finally reach the mini market, it is closed. Some children appear and tell me the owner has gone to the mosque for prayers and that instead, I should give my money to them to buy a football. Their cheek amuses me, and I am tempted, but worry I will never shake my tail if I start randomly handing out cash in the street. So I return to my room, through the gauntlet of tour guides and taxi drivers, and spend an afternoon on the patio monkey baiting with my stash of emergency Oreos.

The old man returns early evening. He has been on a day trip booked via the Tui rep. I was shocked to find out that the rep was charging those without yellow fever certificates £10 to be provided with a fake certificate. Absolutely atrocious that a so called reputable company should be involved in the issue of fake vaccinaction certificates. And to think I was worried about the short validity of my (genuine) passport! The complete lack of morals shown shown by tour operator aside, he appears to have enjoyed his day.

Crossing The Gambia

They were taken by coach to the ferry crossing in Banjul. The coach was late in departing meaning that they actually missed their target ferry and had to spend an hour and half milling around the port.

Crossing The Gambia

After crossing the River Gambia by ferry, getting that all important (for the old man) passport stamp and producing their (genuine or otherwise – can you tell I’m fuming about the fake certificates) yellow fever certificates’ they were picked up by a second coach which took them to Fathala Wildlife Reserve. I say wildlife reserve; it’s actually just an area of scrub which they have cordoned off, then imported a couple of rhino (one of which subsequently killed the other), a few giraffe and other animals. After a truck ride round the park and lunch, they turned round and headed home.

Antelope

TBH I’m not disappointed I didn’t go. As he is fairly late back, we head for the restaurant closest to the hotel; Indian Zaika. This is a fairly unusual occurrence – usually, when in a foreign country, the old man is insistent that an integral part of the experience is only to eat the cuisine of aforementioned country. So an Indian Restaurant in The Gambia would not usually be an option.

Dinner at Indian Zamia

As it happens, the food is really good, in fact I’d go as far as to say one of the best curries I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve lived in Bradford and Pakistan, so that’s saying something!

Mmm – curry

Then it’s back to the hotel to watch the football. In Portuguese. Tomorrow Banjul…

Room at the Ocean Bay Hotel

The Gambia Day 3

Thursday 24 November 2022

We get up and head for breakfast. After I have finished eating and am watching the old man tuck into plate no 4, a cat appears by the table hopeful for scraps. There are signs asking guests not to feed the various animals, with a helpful photo of some children feeding a kangaroo. Because everyone knows West Africa is teeming with kangaroos! Not one to take notice of instructions, I go and get some slices of sausage from the buffet. In my mind, what happens next is that I surreptitiously sneak a morsel of sausage under the table where it gulped down by a grateful cat.

Good morning

What actually happens is that the cat cannot pierce the skin of the sausage. Each time he tries, the sausage rolls away. He assumes it’s still alive and pounces on it several times, chasing it half way round the restaurant. Eventually, after multiple attempts spanning a vast area, the cat finally manages to completely unsurreptitiously eat the sausage. The waiter confiscates my remaining plate of sausage.

African snail

Lesson learned, we return through the hotel gardens to our room. I stop several times to photograph some birds, a giant snail and some flowers.

Flowers

A few minutes later, the gardener appears at our door. He says he saw me photographing the flowers and presents me with a vase of freshly cut blooms.

Vase of flowers

After a busy morning of reading, swimming and sunbathing, we catch a tourist taxi ( different from a local taxi as you have exclusive use and the driver waits until you’re ready to return) to the nearby resort of Senegambia.

Senegambia Strip

The hotel we’re staying at in Bakau is nice, but the surrounding area is rather quiet. Senegambia has a cordoned off street, running from the main road towards the beach – a strip of restaurant and bars.

Senegambia Monkey

After a wander down the road as far as the Senegambia Hotel, where they have a far slacker policy on not feeding the animals. A woman with a bag of peanuts is causing mayhem amongst the monkey population.

Senegambia Craft Market

Back up the other end to the craft market. We lived in Nigeria for 3 years, so rapidly conclude that we have more than sufficient West African handicrafts and go instead in search of dinner.

Paradiso Restaurant

On a friend’s recommendation we choose Paradiso. I order the chicken Yassa; chicken in a spicy onion sauce. It’s very tasty, and is washed down nicely with a couple of beers, while we wait for the prearranged time to meet our driver for the return journey.

Chicken Yassa

The Gambia Day 2

Wednesday 23 November 2022

One of the old man’s feubles is that when it’s cold he complains bitterly about the cold and turns the heating right up. But go somewhere warm, and the first thing he does is crank the A/C up to Ice Station Zebra Mode. So although it’s a balmy 29 degrees outside, I have to get up in the night and add some extra layers of clothing.

Good morning

In the morning we awake to a very stiff breeze; it’s almost like being back in Bournemouth. Apart from the temperature. And the monkeys.

Is anyone serving here?

We head for the breakfast buffet for some proper food after yesterday’s dinner which consisted solely of mini cheddars. The man at the next table makes the mistake of choosing a banana. Monkeys appear from every direction as if activated by some sort of banana detector.

Mmm bananas

As we arrived after dark, this is our first chance to explore our surroundings. We paid extra for a sea view, which wasn’t readily apparent yesterday, but we are, in fact, only 100 metres from the sea. We take a walk along the beach, before the old man goes off to book himself a day trip to Senegal.

Bakau Beach

I shall not be joining him because (a) I don’t have the necessary 3 months remaining on my passport, (b) it involves a ferry crossing and I hate ferries in general and massively overloaded third world ferries in particular and (c) we chose this hotel for its pool and that is where I intend to hang out. Not literally of course, but you never know…

Bakau Beach

Once my not insubstantial breakfast is digested, I make my way to the aforementioned pool.

Mmm swimming pool

After a refreshing swim, a little added bonus; aqua aerobics. I haven’t done aqua aerobics since pre lockdown when my gym closed and didn’t reintroduce aqua when it reopened, so that was fun. Although I could have down without being spun around in a circle so soon after breakfast!

Ocean Bay Aqua

The old man gets bored and goes for a wander, locating a mini mart with a super fierce fridge – no more warm beer (or karaoke) for us. Unlike most of our trips, which are a frenetic series of sightseeing activities, we spend the afternoon on our sea view patio relaxing and drinking cold beer.

View from our room

A man comes to water the grass in front of our room, which causes hundreds of butterflies to descend, which is an amazing, if somewhat unphotographable, sight.

Butterflies

We appear to be pretty much the only people at our rather remote, beginning of the season, hotel who have not opted for the all inclusive package. Undeterred, we set forth to find a local restaurant for dinner. We don’t have to venture far to reach the Calypso Bar, which boasts dinner overlooking a crocodile pool.

Crocodile pool

There are indeed crocodiles and the food is good.

Fish in foil

But the highlight of the evening are the enormous number and variety of birds descending on the pool in search of their own dinner.

Diving heron

Much, much later, we walk back along the beach accompanied by the exotic sound of drummers. We have not ventured far, but I have enjoyed my first day in The Gambia.

Cheers from The Gambia

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