Gambia – 2006

My first trip to Africa can in June 2006 – when along with 8 colleagues and one other I went to The Gambia with my school. Lord Williams’s has had a long standing relationship with Brikama Upper Basic School in The Gambia. Each year students go out to the Gambia to study the country. However, this was the first staff trip.

Day 1-  Friday

We landed in The Gambia after a 5 hour flight and emerged into a hot tropical night. We were transported to our hotel, The Tafbel, in the nearby Kairaba Beach Resort where we enjoyed a glass of the local beer ‘Julbrew’

Kairaba Beach is a small settlement south of the capital Banjul, it was to be our base for the next week.

Day 2 – Saturday

After a leisurely breakfast, we  met Mucki  who was to be our tour-guide for the week. He is a great Chelsea F.C. fan and was very pleased to receive a gift from Carol (one of our school secretaries who was not with us on the trip).

We then decided to head to the beach via the adjacent 5-star Hotel, with its beautiful landscaped gardens, admiring the local flora and fauna. The hotel was very different to our own . Well manicured lawns, croquet pitches dotted with herons and even a monitor lizard! Passing through a gate we found the beach and long rows of sun loungers. As we walked along we noticed the sea had taken  its toll gauging out much of the sand.

After a half an hour walk along the coast we came to Bijilo Forest, where we encountered a local troop of monkeys – eager for peanuts, which we had purchased from one of the beach traders.

Returning to the hotel we then took a truck out to Kachikally, a nature reserve for  crocodiles. They live in deep pools covered almost entirely with water hyacinths. The crocs were difficult to spot at first, however we soon noticed several large reptiles, swimming around. Rather surprisingly they are also free to roam around the site  along the paths – something we had not noticed at first

A short walk away from the Crocodile Pool was a cultural centre, where we saw a number of items of tribal clothing and musical instruments.

Kachikally is located within a ‘middle class’ area, where Teachers, Lawyers and Professional Footballers live. It was noticeable that the street had open sewers and the roofs were made of corrugated iron. The smell and heat were very strong. Local children were very keen to drink our bottled water – which was not surprising. I gave them mine.

As with every other night of our stay, we headed out in the evening for a meal at one of many local restaurants. This night we went to Amber’s Nest which was next to the hotel. It was my 11th Wedding Anniversary and I spent it 3000 miles away from Anita. However, I celebrated with colleagues, having a lovely meal (expensive by Gambian standards, but cheap by ours). We were serenaded by a local musician who we naïvely tipped with money equal to a months wages! The evening was made all the more interesting by the occasional power-cut!

Day 3 – Sunday

We headed off to Tumani Tenda, a local Eco-tourism Camp and Community Forest. This is run by the local Jola community. Here we were welcomed by the Village Chief before being shown round and visiting their crops. Wandering around the village, we saw the women preparing lunch on an open fire. Strange to see head and feet of the cow sitting alongside the pot where the rest of the beast was being cooked. At the end of the village was the farmland where crops were rotated each year. Numerous cattle wandered  among the trees and vegetation. We sampled some of the pods from one of the trees. They tasted very sweet and like nougat.

Our transport for the day was a West African Tours Bus. We traveled  along sand and mud roads. We passed by settlements, where houses were in the process of being built brick by brick and row by row as people can afford it. There was just one tarmacked road in The Gambia which runs a few miles out of the capital Banjul.

In the afternoon we traveled on to Makasutu Cultural Forest – a local Eco-tourist Resort. On arrival we were taken in traditional canoes around the lagoon before returning for a meal of local cuisine. Whilst waiting for the meal, we had a nice relaxing drink. Our meal then arrived which was a spicy beef stew in a peanut sauce (Domoda) served with a semolina like grain. After lunch we were entertained by and participated in local dances performed by/with local villagers. Finally we went on a walk through the forest, encountering a troop of not too friendly baboons. The women of our group were asked to walk in the middle with the men directed to walk at either end of the line. This apparently warded off the unwelcome attention of the male baboons!

This evening we all piled into one of the local tourist taxis – which was basically a white van with seats – somewhat decrepit seats into which we were all jammed. These ferried us into town to a restaurant frequented by Gambians rather than tourists – which gave us a chance to see how the locals ate and socialised. In the warm balmy evening we ate outside. It was strange being in a place so warm where the sun set so early – a feature of life close to the equator.

Day 4 –  Monday

We visited our link school Brikama Upper Basic School (BUBS), where we had the opportunity to teach some lessons and view the facilities. The computer facilities at the time were very limited. Of the four machines only one worked and this had no software installed!. BUBS, serves the local areawith approximately 2000 students. The brightest students attend in the morning and the lower ability attend in the afternoon. Lunch was prepared for us by the students after which we visited the house of one of the teachers a two room dwelling with outdoor kitchen. A tree in the garden had the largest fruit I have ever seen (a Jack Fruit). We were then taken on a tour of Brikama, visiting the Market and Town Hall, as well as seeing the local Mosque. As ever the children were keen to see us and have their photos taken.

Day 5 – Tuesday

After a second morning at the BUBS we were taken to the to a nearby primary school, Brikama Lower Basic School (BLBS). Here we were invited to see some lessons. This school had had a lot more investment from North America and it showed. They have much greater computer facilities, compared to BUBS.

After leaving the school we traveled to a local fish market on the coast. As we approached the beach we passed areas where the fish were being smoked and dried. On the beach, women  would wade out to the boats, buckets on heads. These were loaded with fish and returned to the beach, where the buckets were upturned onto blankets to be gutted and sorted. The fish were then tipped into wheelbarrows and taken up the beach to the smokery. This process went on continuously as we watched – it was amazing to see so many people on the beach, all part of one process. On the way out, we noticed old men mending nets and banks of rusty old freezers used to keep the fish cold.


Day 6 – Wednesday

On this day we visited a local health centre  in Sukuta. Here we were met by Aunt Sally, a really fascinating lady and quite a formidable woman who was hard to ignore! She was keen to speak to us all and warn us of the health dangers of promiscuity. We had an opportunity to visit the wards and see some babies. These were very basic by European standards  – one ward stood completely empty without enough people to staff it properly or equipment. Mike presented Aunt Sally with a photo taken at the centre during a previous visit.

After this we traveled on to the SOS Orphanage in Sukuta. The SOS Foundation is a charitable organisation supported y many patrons from Europe and North America. It was well stocked and the classrooms were suprisingly well equipped. Children from across The Gambia come here and are housed in community compounds, made up from children of a variety of ages and a ‘house mother’. Education is provided to orphans and the local community.

We then traveled on to a local newspaper, The Daily Observer, where we were crowded into the editor’s office and given a talk about how the paper stood out against Fundamental Islam and for Democracy in the country. We were given a tour of the premises and had our photo taken for the paper.Finally we visited one of the largest markets in the country in Serekunda where we took in the vibrant colours and smells, the hustle and bustle of the market, complete with a Mosque in the middle. Turning the corner we found a tie-dye factory. A number of tables – set out with items of cloth, hand dyed and battique. Ros and Suzanna had a go.


Day 7 – Thursday

We were up early for a long day ahead. Today we were joining a tour which would take us across the River Gambia and into Senegal. We arrived at the docks in Banjul early and had breakfast on the river bank. We joined a long queue then boarded the ferry which was going to take us across the River Gambia, along with jeeps, trucks and a herd of cattle, which were jostled and squeezed up the jetty and pressed up against the vehicles. It looked like they were never going to fit on board – but eventually after more pushing and much mooing they were on – I would not have liked to be the owner of the cars which were surrounded by cattle. We found a spot to sit on board – near to us was a man repairing shoes by hand using needle and very strong thread to make repairs. Meanwhile the boat was being unloaded – men wading through the river with tall piles of boxes expertly perched on their heads.

Once across we boarded our coach and set off along the road which ran along the northern bank and then up towards the border before entering Senegal. At first there was no obvious change as we crossed the border – the peoples of this region are of the same tribe. However the language of government changed from English to French. We headed for a Senegalese village – this was less developed than those seen in The Gambia and the region seemed poorer. As in Tumani Tenda we were able to view village life and we handed out gifts to the elders (pens and pencils) so these could  be distributed later. We saw cashews ( a staple crop) being dried and also mud bricks.

We drove on from the village before disembarking leaving our passports with the driver of the coach who went on to the Gambian border to process them for us. Meanwhile we headed to a boat on the beach, meeting a villager dressed in her finest wedding gear (and looking for a photo). Here we boarded and headed across the inlet to re-enter Gambian waters. We arrived at a Treasure Island – a tourist spot and walked through a village and across the island through fields to a fabulous beach where we had our lunch (Domoda and Rice). We also had some time to enjoy the beach. It was great to get the chance to swim in the warm Atlantic waters and chill. Unfortunately time was soon up and we returned across the island and by boat to our waiting coach where we picked up our passports with great relief.

Day 8 – Friday

Our last day in the Gambia was spent doing a little souvenir shopping before heading off to Lamin Lodge for a lunch. We all crowded onto a open topped truck and drove off – spotting a flock of vultures on route, tucking into the remains of butchered cattle. Lamin Lodge was sited on a creek was a great place to eat and the buildings were inhabited by a troop of monkeys. It was a great place to relax and have our last meal before heading back to the airport in the evening

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