Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“We reached Bambali one day before the introduction of electricity. The village is 20km from the national road, by a bend in the Gambia river not far from Elephant Island. The guidebook merely said that there were no tourist facilities in the village, but that if we wanted to see a hippo or warthog, we should seek out the head of the village, who could arrange accommodation and a guide into the mountains. This sounded both entertaining and authentic to us, so we decided to take a look.

The bumpy road to the dead-end village was good in a way – for the first time we were able to try out a truly bad road, which would have been impossible to drive down in a normal car. Fifty minutes, four-wheel-drive, two gears. You could almost watch the fuel gauge indicator falling. There are no car roads in Bambali, of course, so we couldn’t simply drive into the center and ask to see the village head. Instead we called out to the first person we saw at the edge of the village. Musa didn’t speak English, but he willingly invited us to follow him, and we parked close to his house. Here we explained to Ibrahim, who had arrived in the meantime and did speak English, why we’d come to the village. He was the village mechanic. There was no more talk of the village head – guests belong to the person who found them. Everyone was pleased we’d come, and only seemed sad when we explained that we could only stay a night, since it meant there would not be enough time to arrange a traditional dance performance for us.

Our host soon suggested that we should set off. The tire tracks soon disappeared, but without giving the matter too much thought I pressed on through the vegetation. After a few hundred meters we came to the reeds by the riverside. We didn’t see any hippos or warthogs, however – just a lot of mud-crabs in the abandoned rice fields. We also noticed that the vegetation had done a pretty good number on our car’s enameling, and while it wouldn’t detract from the value of the vehicle, it could be a very good excuse for the rental agency to keep our deposit.

On our way back our guides insisted that we take a look at the mobile phone base station, which one of them guards for $75 a month. They eagerly dug some cassava roots out of the station garden to give to us. One of Musa’s wives cooked dinner for us, and our wait proved eventful: First, Musa had a phone call with another of his wives, who lives in the other half of the country, and passed her over to us: we swapped polite formulas for three minutes or so. Then there was a loud cheer as a large group of children arrive; it turned out that they were the team that had won the village football tournament. After I’d shaken hands with 40 celebrating kids, I was even allowed to lift the cup myself! Finally, I learned the rules of the toilet hole – there was no door, but if I lit the lamp, nobody would bother me.

Dinner was modest but delicious: together with Musa and his wife, we ate rice and peanut butter from a shared washbowl, but with separate spoons.

As we ate, we listened as the village crier shouted the latest news (two cellphones were stolen from the common charging station. If the culprit returns them to the village head by the next day there will be no punishment). The second course was roast cassava, which we ate with our hands. Ibrahim told us that the electricity would be connected the next day, and that if we returned in the future, we would think we were in an entirely different village. He also suggested that we should go by canoe to see the hippos the next day, but the price seemed very high at first. In the evening, a visiting DJ threw a huge party on the edge of the village, but we were simply too tired to watch what must have been an interesting event.

We set off at eight the next morning. Before that, however, we negotiated the price, paying roughly half the average local monthly salary for accommodation, food and a rower. While everyone was unquestionably very friendly, we also had the feeling that they were trying to make up financially for all the tourists who haven’t visited the village over the years. Ibrahim then cheerfully reported that a local hunter had shot a warthog during the night, and while we had no interest in seeing a dead warthog, the road still led to it. Half the village accompanied us to see the corpse, very proud to have something to show us.
Later, we had to summon our courage: his vessel was a half-foundered fishing boat, and while ‘benches’ had been carved for our benefit, they did cause the craft to lean alarmingly to one side, and there seemed to be a leak. What was more, even after two hours on the muddy river, we hadn’t seen a single hippo, nor even the traces of a hippo, despite our silent vigilance, and while our guides kept promising them around the next bend, we did have to get going.

Ibrahim was both disappointed (because he had failed to produce a hippo) and relieved, because it was quite clear he wasn’t an experienced oarsman. When we were leaving, Musa even tried to increase the price a little, but I wasn’t having it. You could see that, even so, he knew he’d made a good deal.

We left the village, and I started worrying again: how much were we going to be charged for the scratches to the paintwork, and would our rather seasick-looking hitchhiker throw up over the back seat? Did we have enough gas to reach the next filling station? Most pressing of all, though – would a year in Africa be enough to teach me to enjoy the present, instead of worrying about the future? (2016)

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Banjul, the tiny capital of Africa’s smallest independent state, is actually not too bad. We took a long walk through the quiet streets, and every now and then we’d stumble upon some quite impressive piece of British colonial architecture. What really made Gambia memorable for us, though, was our encounter with nature after so many urban experiences. Near the capital are two excellent nature reserves, Abuka and Bijilo. After the dry savanna of Senegal we found ourselves surrounded here by lush, subtropical vegetation, and as we walked along the well-made paths we saw crocodiles, monkeys, baboons, hyenas, and an unbelievable number of birds. There were even a few gigantic spiders, which I was less pleased to see.
Our other encounter with the local wildlife was altogether stranger. We were walking in the gardens of Kachikally, where there is a circular pool which is home to around 70 crocodiles. The locals consider this a holy place, and the water apparently makes women fertile. The crocodiles are of course free to wander the entire park, but fortunately they appeared relatively calm and fell fed – disinclined, in other words, to bite us in half. (2016)


West Africa - Gambia - islet - Elter photo

Practicals

Transport

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Gambia - crowd enters the Banjul-Barra ferry that runs across the Gambia river estuary - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul-Barra ferry across the Gambia river estuary - k.a. photo

Food

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The Gambia - Banjul - Royal Albert Market - smoked fish - k.a. photo

Shopping

The local currency (Dalasi) is not convertible outside the Gambia. You can convert your currency into local currency in banks and money changers. Money exchanged on the black market is punished by the police.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and shops (however, they often charge a high handling fee, and you can get your money at an unfavorable exchange rate).

Gambia - Agglomeration of Serekunda-Fajar-Bakau, the largest city in the country. Here are all the main offices, embassies, hotels, and this souvenir market - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - fashion shop - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - street vendors - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - money exchange office - k.a. photo

Public safety

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Gambia -Banjul - Ecowas sub-regional military troops - k.a. photo (2017)

Health

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Gambia - urinating outside toilet is unhygienic

Others

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Gambia - quality street art - k.a. photo

Background

Gambia - Banjul - Welcome to the Gambia - wel come to Banjul city of light - k.a. photo

Destination in brief

The Gambia in brief
 
The Gambia is a tiny West African country. Apart from its coastline, where The Gambia borders the Atlantic Ocean, it is almost an enclave of Senegal, which is its only neighbor. The Gambia’s narrow land is drawn eastward from the Atlantic coast to the deep inland, all along the Gambia River, a west-east distance of 338 kilometers (210 miles).
 
A former British colony, the country gained independence in 1965.
 
Size: 11,295 km² (4,361 mi²) - The smallest country on mainland Africa – The country is primarily a flood plain along the Gambia River
 
Capital city: Banjul – a modest, very laid-back town
 
Population: 2.3 million (2020) – The ethnic map of The Gambia is quite complicated as practically no sizeable area is populated by a single ethnic group. The largest ethnic group is the Malinke, about 25% of the population
 
75% of the population is under 30 years old.
 
Many local women are dazzling as they walk the streets in their fancy head wraps and flowing caftans. Men typically wear traditional shirts and Western pants, but on Fridays and Muslim holidays, they wear traditional Arab dress and skullcaps, especially when going to the mosque.
 
Languages: English is the official language, but the most frequently spoken languages are local languages, like Mandinka and Wolof, both serving as lingua franca as well.
 
Religions: 96% Muslim (most are Sunni), 3.7% Christian
Islamic rules (harams) are not strictly upheld in The Gambia. Alcohol is widely available, and local Muslims regularly take pleasure in drinking beer.
 
Political system: presidential republic
Gambians cast their votes in elections by dropping stones in holes of drums with a picture of their preferred candidate. This unique system was developed so as to include illiterate Gambians (44%) in the election process. Its advocates claim that this method is “transparent” (?), and stone voting does in fact happen in a private booth. We might add that it is eco-friendly, since it saves a lot paper.
 
The Gambia’s agriculture is a classic monoculture; peanuts are by far the most valuable agricultural commodity.
 
Currency: Gambian dalasi (GMD) – not convertible outside the Gambia
 
Average net monthly salary: about 500 USD (2020)
 
Most common surname: Jallow
 
Safety: The Gambia is definitely a safe tourist destination, except for the pickpockets, and when anti-government demonstrations shake the streets of some cities.
    
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is requested upon arrival. The overall health conditions are poor.
 
When to go? November-May, for a non-high season beach holiday October-November
 
Top tourist attractions:
 
Banjul, the market of Serrekunda, fishing villages, Bijilo Park, Kunta Kinteh Island (or James island)

The fear of evil spirits is still so intense in The Gambia that tribal people prefer to ignore any sounds they may hear at night. They believe these sounds to be the work of evil spirits who will do anything and everything to bewitch them. The ululation of the owls is considered to predict the worst – the approaching death of a tribe’s member.

Nowadays

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Gambia - Bakau - Fishing pier and smokehouse - k.a. photo

Gambia - city crowd - m.v. photo

Gambia - promoting the importance of education

Gambia - Sitting on top of the tables is misuse

Gambia - Agglomeration of Banjul-Serekunda - the town of Bacao - the former democratic opposition holds a campaign rally - k.a. photo (2017)

People

“The various peoples of Gambia are friendly and peaceful. They get along well with the Senegalese, and there is little strife between the many local tribes and their various religions. In Africa, this is really saying something. The vast majority of Gambians are Muslim, and Christians make up only 8% of the population. An indication of the peaceable relations between the faiths is the fact that both Muslim and Christian festivals are public holidays in the Gambia.

Gambians are also friendly towards tourists, and female tourists traveling without a male companion need not fear suspicion or assault. Still, it is important to be aware that as Muslims, most Gambian women live in a position of subservience vis-à-vis male society. It is interesting that many different tribes have settled in Gambia – the Wolof, the Mandinka, the Jola, the Fula, etc. – but each has dispersed so widely that no area is the exclusive home of just one group. It is true, however, that the capital, Banjul, is inhabited largely by the Wolof tribe.

The locals are, by West African standards, remarkably calm, speaking softly and preferring to avoid conflict, but like anywhere, the opposite of these generalizations can also be found.

Gambia - Banjul - street scene - k.a. photo

Gambia - family photo

Gambia - mother and her baby - y.m. photo

Gambia - Banjul - orange basket - k.a. photo

Attractions

Banjul

Gambia - Banjul - Masjid Abu Bakar Saddiq (a mosque) - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - Independence Drive - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - surprisingly many cars in good condition - k.a. photo

Gambia - Banjul - in the outskirts - k.a. photo

Barra

Gambia - Barra - arriving passangers of the ferry boat - k.a. photo

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