The Gambia, The Smiling Coast

If you read my last blog post (Border Crossing from Senegal to Gambia), I just got to the Kotu Island Lodge and based myself here for the remaining four nights. I was pretty exhausted the first day from traveling for 10 hours or so and did not do much.

 

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The kinds of cars that I took to travel across the borders.

 

The next day, I checked out the Senegambia area. The shared taxi cost eight Dalasi to get from the main road to the Senegambia strip in about five minutes. A shared taxi fits up to four people and it was one of those really old Mercedes from the 80s or 90s. They call the individual taxi a township ride, which costs around 50D from my area to Senegambia. There were no official taxi stops, you just have to put your hand out and they stop.

 

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The Senegambia strip during the day.

 

The Senegambia strip was known as “the party” strip, but it seemed quite dead during the day. There were several bars and restaurants plied through two main streets and there were plenty of touts trying to lure me into their joint. I had a job interview, so I desperately needed wifi, but there were frequent blackouts in Gambia. I had to find a place that had a generator that was actually on and not off.

The first few restaurants from the Senegambia traffic light had working wifi and I was able to complete my interview. I ended up eating at the same restaurant and the grilled chicken with chips was excellent. In case you want to know where I ate, it was a Dutch owned restaurant and the second restaurant on the right hand side.

I walked around the area, but there was really not much to see. I went to the beach, but in order to get there, I had to go through the Senegambia Beach Hotel. It seemed intimidating with a guard standing at the entrance, but there was no problem for me to walk through the lobby and into the premise. It was a good 300 meters or so from the hotel lobby to the beach. The hotel was very quiet, since most visitors come during the European winter. The main swimming pool was undergoing renovation, but the pool next to the beach was open. I saw around 20+ people by the pool/beach and I decided to walk towards Kotu Beach along the water.

 

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This lady tried to sell me some sarongs. 

 

I walked for around 3 miles, only seeing a handful of tourists. I got harassed a few times by ladies trying to sell me sarongs, massages, etc. One local dude came running down from his beach chair (literally a 30 meter run) and asked, “Would you like a massage by these two ladies?” pointing to the ladies sitting by the beach chair. I had no interest in massages or scams, so I just told him “no” and continued walking towards Kotu Beach. As I walked, he said, “do come back, it will be a good massage.” The only massage I wanted was from a Thai masseuse, a full body, back breaking ordeal.

 

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The beach was quiet and underdeveloped. Well, this is Africa!

 

As I continued walking along the water, I noticed a good 5 or 6 pairs of interracial couples, mainly women over 50s and the local bloke less than 30 years. That reminded me of Thailand with plenty of older men with young Thai girls, but this was the other way around. Take no offence, I just thought about Thailand, since they were offering massages. Yes, I have seen the older guy younger girl situation in various other countries.  

I got to Kotu Beach and once again, there were very little people. Gambia seemed like a dead country! I did not go into the water, since it was a little muggy and I had no one to ask if there were any predators there. In Mauritania, there were loads of jellyfishes and I was not going to take a chance going into the water alone.

 

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The mosque next to the soccer pitch. 

 

That evening, I managed to play football with a local team. The football field was around the corner from the hotel and the coach allowed me to practice with his team. We played on a dirt field with lots of pot holes, areas with sand, and of course, areas where the vertical drop was around 35cm. Despite these conditions, the kids played like there was nothing unusual. For me, it was really tough playing on the sandy part, especially in my sneakers. The Gambian players were very fast and skillful. I noticed the same in Senegal as well, but they were very devoted in playing and kept in shape. I liked how most of them were not individual players, but a lot of passing involved.

 

Visiting Banjul

One day, I went into the capital to check out a few buildings and the famous market. The journey from my hotel could have been an easy 200 Dalasi (4 Euros) one-way ride, but I opted to take local transportation. From the main street, it cost 16D to one of the main junctions and then another 25D for a shared taxi from there to the ferry terminal in Banjul. The distance was roughly 15km, but it took around 45 minutes to get there after all the waiting and switching taxis.

 

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I caught one of these old school Mercedes shared taxis to get into Banjul. 

 

 

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One of the many fruit stores at the taxi junction. 

On the way into Banjul, there was a police checkpoint and they were asking for identification. I did not have my passport on me and my driver’s license only. The policeman asked for my passport and I told him that I left it at the hotel. Why would I carry my passport around in the first place? He told me that I could not enter Banjul and asked me to come out of the taxi. I told him that I won’t go into Banjul and will go back to the hotel to fetch my passport. There was no point for me to go through this nonsense. Then, he tells me that I can go through, but to carry my passport next time. Ok…. Seriously, why do I need to carry my passport around? I guess it makes sense to carry it around in some countries, but in Gambia? It was a safe country and there were really no problems. Besides, an Asian passport will be no use to these people anyway.

 

 

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Welcome to The Gambia!

 

 

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One of the streets in Banjul. 

 

 

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Independence Gate

 

We crossed the Independence Gate and we were finally in Banjul on Independence Drive. Banjul seemed like a happening capital for commerce. There were many people on the streets and it seemed quite hectic, I assumed most people were there for shopping or some administrative work.

 

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A rare church in a predominantly Muslim country. 

 

I checked out the big market, which sold pretty much everything. I kind of got lost in the market, since it was big and like a maze. Everyone was whistling at me to buy stuff, since they probably knew that they can get a higher margin from me. I ended up not buying anything and opted to get some mangoes on the way back. FYI, mangoes in Senegal and Gambia were delicious. If you are there for mango season, I’m sure you will taste one of these sweet escapade.

 

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There were several mosques. 

 

 

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

On one of the days, I visited the crocodile pool, since I saw via a TripAdvisor post that one can actually touch the crocodiles. It was not very difficult to get there and it only required one local shared taxi from my hotel. I got to one of the main streets nearby and navigated my way there. I recommend getting an offline map like Maps.Me, which does wonders to me. It was a short 5-minute walk through a village to get to the pool, but you may want to ask a few people where it is. 

 

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The main street that led to the crocodile farm. 

 

The entrance fee was 100D and I spent around 20 minutes at the museum. The museum had five or six huts full of information on the customs of the tribes, during the English invasion, the Gambian men sent to war, and unusual customs of the tribe. What astonished me was that the ethnic tribes did female circumcision, which is still common in some parts of Africa, maybe even the world today. They did this to attempt to control women’s sexuality and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. Ouch, that must have hurt, especially because they did it during an older age.

 

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Do they really only eat fish or are they drugged? 

 

I learned a bit about the culture at the museum and proceeded to the crocodile pool. The gatekeeper told me to keep on the right and I did. I saw five gentlemen hanging out at the corner and I started walking towards them and I almost stepped on a crocodile! Holy cow. I did not even see the crocodile on the ground since it blended in with the ground. It was crazy to see so many crocodiles sleeping or staying still on the ground.

 

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My guide there, but I forgot his name. 

 

One staff showed me around the place and explained a little bit of history. Supposedly, there are around 100 crocodiles in the area and they feed fish to them only. They do not eat land meat so I did not have to worry about being eaten. The crocodiles have been there for centuries and they come out of the water to get heat. They are cold blooded animals and they need sunlight to heat their body. I touched the stomach of the crocodile and it was really cold. I also touched some parts of the body, but I was still scared. I definitely did not want my arm to bitten off. I took a few pictures with the crocodiles and just when I was leaving, the guide asked me to sign a book and donate money for food. In the book, there were names of people and the amounts donated. Most of them ranged from 500 to 1500D, but I was not going to pay that much. I figured, it was going straight to the pockets of the staff. I gave my guide a 100D bill and it went right to his pocket. I hope the crocodiles do get fed though.

That ends my short visit to Gambia. It was a very small country and I’m sure there were more things to do, but with the lack of time and I had to get down to Casamance to get to Guinea-Bissau, I was back on the road again.

 

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Locals walking around Banjul. 

 

General Information

·         Currency – Dalasi (1 Euro was around 53 Dalasi during my visiting July 2017)

·         Money Exchange – There were lots of money exchanges and ATM machines all over country.

·         Population – 2M

·         Tourists – I saw plenty of older white tourists from Germany, France, and Britain near the main tourist spots.

·         Internet was widely available at cafes and restaurants in the Senegambia area.  

·         Language – English is the official language, but local languages like Mandika and Wolof were widely spoken. Not that I speak any of the local languages…

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Where to stay

I stayed at the Kotu Island Lodge, which I booked through Booking.com for 15 Euros per night. There were two hostels on TripAdvisor and I contacted one of them via email, which was The Gambia YMCA Hostel, but they never replied back to me.

There were plenty of resort style hotels and guesthouses near the beach. During the months from April to October, there will be plenty of rooms so there should be more room to negotiate on price.

Where to eat

There were plenty of restaurants in the Senegambia area. Otherwise, finding a restaurant was quite difficult. I ate at my lodge about 50% of the time. I don’t think it will be wise to eat street food, but if you have a strong stomach, why not?

Tips

  • If coming from the north from Senegal, try to stop by the slave island BEFORE getting on the Barra – Banjul ferry. Otherwise, you will be backtracking back there.
  • Gambia is a relatively safe place, but make sure to take precautions.
  • The local taxis can be either shared or individual. For shared rides, the cost was 8 Dalasi. For individual rides, it can be anywhere from 50 to 150 depending on the destination.

 

 I visited in July 2017.

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