On the “smiling coast” of Gambia

It’s nice to be nice, as they say. And it sure was that; very nice.

Gambia has a pretty bad rep, and I’m having a really difficult time understanding why. I asked on the LP forum before coming here for suggestions of where to go and what to see, and the only replies I got were to not come at all! Literally, “skip Gambia” and “possibly one of the worst places to travel in Africa imho”. One of the worst places!

I mean, I don’t know where these folks have travelled, but that’s a pretty strong statement to make, especially considering that it is now one of my favourite places.

I’m now back in Senegal and I’m realizing just how much of an impact language has on the experience. So maybe these guys are non-native English speakers. Maybe they speak better French and can therefore enjoy their time here more than Gambia. But for me, it’s the exact opposite.

Here, I get stuck with tag-along guys because I don’t have the language skills to shake them off. And I sometimes get swarmed by guys when looking for transportation. I can still get by and all; I find what I need, and get where I need to go, but it’s just not very much fun. I can’t just toss some sass at them and tell them to get lost. Instead, I search for words that I cannot find, and end up shutting down in frustration over not being understood. I read this post this morning, and my reaction in these situations sounds strangely familiar…

So I think this must be a big part of what made my experience with Gambia so positive; I hardly had any advances I couldn’t quickly dismiss, I could actually sit and talk with the people I wanted to, about life, school, work, family, etc., and fully understand all the answers.

And to be honest, that’s all I really did. The best parts of my brief visit there were the times when I was getting to know someone on my own terms. So my write up here is pretty dull, but it was really refreshing to me after big impersonal cities and tourist hotspots.

I crossed the border from Tambacounda in Senegal into Basse Santa Su. As with most towns in Gambia, it lies on the river, which is beautiful.

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The Gambian river

I just stayed one night here, but I met two lovely families in that time, which started me off on a very good note!

I would have loved to stay longer, but with a looming deadline for getting to Sierra Leone, I had to keep moving, so in the morning I headed for Janjangbureh.

There’s a post on the LP forum, which has become more of my guidebook than the LP itself. From this, I thought I would make my way to the JJB camp, but ended up going with the flow and going to the Dream Bird camp in town, after meeting a guy that worked there. And it was actually great! Cosy and comfortable, and one of the guys was nice enough to take me across the river to see some monkeys that inhabit the JJB camp. Turns out that I’m glad I wasn’t there anyways, as it’s both isolated and also filled to the brim with tourists.

Again, one night only, but had a great experience. And, due to scheduled power cuts in the night and the afternoon (I found out after the fact), my phone was dead all day, and thus, no pictures! Sad face.

Finally I headed to the capital. I stayed in Serrakunda, which looks to me like it’s own city, but might just be part of greater Banjul – I’m not really sure on that one. Either way, I quickly mastered the transit system, which is very similar to the trotros of Ghana (a network of vans following set routes with a hop-on-hop-off kind of thing, for super cheap). My two main measures of success in a place is mastering transit and finding cheap food (often these actually go hand-in-hand, as the locals driving and taking cars, eat the best food at the transit hubs!), so here was definitely an easy win.

My first night I briefly visited Bakau beach. For dinner I tucked into yet another makeshift restaurant at the side of the road, but this time I was in the company of about a dozen “bumsters” – a fairly rough looking lot, who are known particularly for their harassment of women, but who were all very chill with me! Best of all, I could finally keep up with the banter, since they all speak English!!

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The harbour for fishermen in Bakau

The next day I went into Banjul proper to get my visa for Sierra Leone. All done in the course of one day, unlike Kyle, who’s flying to Ethiopia in two weeks just to get his!!

Went to the market and visited the hilarious arch which only government cars are allowed to drive under.

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Went back to Bakau to check out Cape Point, and found out where all the tourists go! It was filled with fancy hotels, expensive restaurants, and souvenir shops selling sun hats to the Europeans burning under the Gambian sun.

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Just after sunset at Cape Point, banjul

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Julbrew! An award-winner, apparently 🙂

At the end of the week, I was really sad to leave. I know I’m not doing the place justice in this post, but I really had such a great time. Very relaxed, cheap, and fun. Arrived in the casamance region of Senegal, and wish I could go back!

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