What word can I use to describe a holiday to The Gambia? Just one springs to mind –easy! An easy 6 hour flight (from Gatwick).
An easy and quick immigration on arrival in Banjul.
An easy and short (30 minutes) transfer from the airport to the hotels.
Nothing is any effort on your holiday – checking in to your hotel is smooth and straight forward; the hotels are used to Europeans and cater for us very nicely. People are friendly and welcoming.
I stayed at the Kairaba, a good 5 star hotel, beach fronted at the end of the ‘Senigambia Strip’ – a lively area of shops, restaurants and bars – full of noise and local traders, taxis, ATM machines, stray dogs and lots of fun!!
It was from here I discovered The Gambia – a place I hardly knew anything about before arriving from the UK. I was prepared however, with malaria tablets, mosquito spray, creams for after bites, strong sun block and a large pile of paperbacks. Yes, you need all of these, but I was quite unprepared for the history, culture and colour of this, one of the smallest countries in Africa.
It’s a long, thin shape and it lies entirely along the banks of the River Gambia – three sides surrounded by Senegal and one side, where the river meets the ocean, it faces the sea.
90% of the people are Muslim, and 10% are Christian. The women are modest, the men have as many wives as they can afford, and everyone lives in harmony. English is spoken everywhere, but I did learn to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Mandingo!
The food was delicious! Everything from Thai to Italian, and even some Gambian restaurants serving some authentic dishes – I certainly didn’t go hungry on my holiday!
West Africa does not have traditional ‘Big Five’ spotting as East and South Africa – the bush is quite different and the animals are mostly lots of monkeys and large lizards called Land Monitors. Being so close to the river, there is a great deal of fishing. But the Gambia is most famous for birds – they are everywhere, you hardly need to try to spot vultures, kites, parrots, egrets, magpies, weavers, finches and many, many more. The hotels arrange bird walks early in the morning and late afternoon, and this was great fun – the walk was pleasant and informative (and it was great exercise too!)
There are a good choice of excursions too tempt you away from your sun lounger – 4 Wheel Drive Adventures and Lazy Day Cruises. I chose a historic journey 200 years back in time to the village of Juffure. This was the home of Kunta Kinte, the original Africa slave ancestor of Alex Hailey, as told in his famous book ‘Roots’. It was a journey up river, which included a visit to the Museum of Slavery and a meeting with Alex Hailey’s long lost family who still live in the village. Sad, melancholic and moving, can only describe how I felt as we stopped at James Island, where hundreds of captives were shackled while they waited for boats to transport them to an unknown destination and an uncertain future.
I had plenty of time to ponder my thoughts as I enjoyed nearly 30 degrees of warm sunshine everyday. Hard to imagine, England was cold and grey – The Gambia is just perfect for some Winter Sunshine, and with no time difference, there’s no jet lag either. The beach was vast, the sunsets stunning! We did have to adhere to the swimming restrictions and watch for the red flag during our stay. The undercurrents can be quite strong and as our rep told us – the next stop is Venezuela… and you wouldn’t have a passport!
To sum up – easy! Easy to relax, chill out and easy to enjoy – easy to get around, easy to shop for souvenirs! Fun to bargain and barter – easy to get brown, look happy and easyto face the Western World’s rat race again!