We spent 4 nights in The Gambia, and what a treat it was. What struck me the most was the friendliness of all the people that we encountered, each one eager to chat and find out more about us and genuinely interested in striking up a conversation. We spent two days in the Northern section, which is developed with package-style hotels around the beaches and two nights south of the River Gambia, making our way from West to East along the slither of a country that The Gambia is. Below are my highlights and lowlights of the four days spent in The Gambia:
The people – English speaking, so was fantastic to be able to communicate with ease and really chat at length to the locals. All were so welcoming and friendly and really made it difficult to say goodbye to the country. Their levels of education seem really good, and even the poorest seemed to have benefitted from decent education.
The kids – high’s and low’s with the kids. All way too cute and generally very well educated and aspiring youngsters. Every time we stopped a swarm of kids would surround our car. ‘Madam. Give me pen. Madam. Give me empty bottle. Madam. Give me Dalasi.’ This was non-stop and no matter how many ‘Sorry, we don’t have’s we repeated it just didn’t end. Striking up conversation and playing games with the kids (including pulling out our wooden snake) quickly diverted this back-and-forth game and we had some fun times with them.
Makasutu Culture Forest – A fantastic haven near Brikama. Started by two Englishmen, this tourist trap is a beautiful display of local flora, fauna and fantastic bird life. Its roughly a 3 hour visit, and includes a pirogue ride on the bolon (marshy river), a walk through the forest and a lunch with local entertainment. Our guide was fantastic and a real credit to both the establishment and The Gambia. Well worth it.
Breakfast with the police officers – on our final night in The Gambia we found a very average, dusty spot to camp just off a main road. At about 9pm we heard people approaching us from all directions and 3 armed policemen suddenly appeared. Not what you expect when you’re brushing your teeth and about to head to bed (yes, 9pm!). They were just checking who we were and that we weren’t causing trouble. We told them that had they come half an hour earlier they could have had dinner with us, but that they could come back for breakfast after their shift if they wished. They double checked with us that breakfast would be at 7am, and true to their word they arrived back at 7am the next morning. Was great to have a coffee and boiled egg and chat with them before we broke down camp and headed for the border post to Senegal.
The border post into the country – a long slow process. It didn’t help that we arrived at 5pm, but when the officer who was filling in all our details in their big book was more concerned about putting on his budget kung-fu movie that kept resetting, than processing our details, the whole process became very frustrating. You just can’t reason with African logic sometimes.
The road East, South of the river – definitely the worst section of road we have come across. Corrugated gravel, potholes, donga’s – you name it. Travelling at speeds of 30 to 60km per hour, it was slow going. Coupled with multiple police stops, you can not be in a hurry to get from one side of the country to the other. The most distressing part was when we drove past a turn off to the president’s village – the road to his village was newly paved and in fantastic condition. Really not fair on the majority of the people in the country who have to live with the lack of infrastructure. (Dee is busy draughting her letter of complaint to the President).
The policemen – again, high’s and low’s with these guys. Whilst they provided much laughter for us, once we had got through their stops, they were rather aggravating. Always asking ‘What’s good for me?’ we could only retaliate with ‘Greetings from a friend!’ and smile sweetly and innocently. This seemed to work, and the bribe they were after was quickly forgotten. Mentioning we were South African always struck up a conversation about The Soccer World Cup and Bafana Bafana. Needless to say, we displayed our South African flag in our rear window the entire time.
All in all, a really fantastic break in The Gambia – could have spent twice as long there if we had the time. I highly recommend this ‘detour’ if you’re doing a similar trip.