We got up at 05.00 having stayed up until 01.00 packing and sorting out our trip. We were delivered to the airport by Michelle’s dad and, having checked in made a bee-line for breakfast and reading material.
All sorted and still with 90 mins to kill we resorted to sitting at the gate reading gossip mags, until we were engaged by two fellow passengers waiting for our flight.
Having informed us that this was their sixth trip to Gambia they proceeded to impart every single piece of wisdom that they could think of to us and to anyone else listening, we decided that we much preferred the rough guide/lonely planet guide as you can close them when you have enough info and frankly they are more interesting!!
Mercifully the gate opened and we made our way onto the plane and instantly regretted not upgrading to longer legroom seats as we both had difficulties in folding ourselves in to the 3” allotted to each passenger! Having performed a very impressive feat of leg folding our discomfort was heightened by the arrival in the adjacent seats of the terminal bores . . . still talking!
The flight passed without major event and we were soon walking in the oven heat of the Banjul airport arrivals lounge. As soon as we entered swarms of porters appeared and started tugging at our cases (apparently in an effort to earn tips not in the worst disguised mugging ever!)
We found our bus and at each stop more and more people got off as we got further out of civilisation until we were the only people left! We checked into our hotel and dropped our bags in our basic but clean room and decided to step out and explore our immediate corner of Africa.
This proved to be the most frustrating stroll ever, constantly harassed by touts or bumsters! We returned to our hotel and grabbed a meal of local food (which was delicious) and then, in mixed spirits got into bed and rapidly passed out!
We woke up to tropical birdsong, incredible sunshine, a gentle breeze and a very nice breakfast. The frustrations of travel and bumsters soon evaporated. We decided that the first few days should be spent building up a base tan, then we could explore properly. After breakfast we hit the pool and with the exception of a brief meeting with our rep we spent the whole day acclimatising (sunbathing snoozing and drinking water and ice cold local beer!) We booked thre excursions, these were “Roots”, “Truck Safari” and “Boat Cruise”.
We began to get to know the hotel staff, mainly the pool and entertainment staff who led by ‘Babyface’ keep the place running and the pool clean. They also have a genuine affection for the guests and were very pleasant and constantly smiling company. They were so eager in fact that they were a little put out when one of us went to the bar by ourselves!! In the afternoon the staff water-polo team challenged the guests. With international pride at stake a motley selection of tourists took on the locals and . . . got thrashed, sorry! That said none of the competitors had laughed so hard in ages!
Special mention was made of ‘boss lady’ Michelle’s turn in goal, complete with saved penalty!! In just one short day we seem to have slipped into the hotel ‘family’ and are met with huge smiles and handshakes everywhere, Gambians thus far seem very easy going and friendly.
In the evening we were invited by some fellow guests to a bar called Churchill’s (AAARRRGGGHHH!!!) if you thin Karaoke cannot get any worse then try listening to it in a thick Gambian accent.
We got up and enjoyed a simple but filling breakfast. We didn’t fancy the pool all day and so set off on a more determined stroll. We employed a new anti-bumster tactic – speak Polish – it confused the life out of them. It worked so well that I actually pursued one bumster up the beach asking him if he knew where in Gambia one could purchase pierogi!?!?
Two and a half hours later we stopped to speak to Monika a fruit seller on the beach front. She made us a lovely fruit salad and showed us her home made ‘bamboo-cream’ (a local miracle cure for bites, sunburn or anything else that can have cream applied to it) After a gentle haggle we bought some (it smells funny but is great on sore skin)
The rest of the day was spent snoozing or by the pool. We are finally beginning to fully relax and both physically and mentally unwind.
We looked up the Paradise Beach Bar and set out to find it for dinner, not easily done as nowhere in Gambia is signposted or lit up. So a few confused bumsters and a long walk along the coast later we arrived, it was worth it, great service, great food and a fantastic view.
All full and sleepy we set off home giggling at the fact that ‘home’ was down a pitch black track in the Gambian bush . . cool!
Bumsters and touts aside this is a great place and remarkably laid back and accommodating, with a very unspoilt feel to it, on the way back to the hotel we passed by a group of locals singing and dancing around a campfire, it looked like a lot of fun.
We returned to the room and got ready for bed only to be disturbed by a large African cockroach, several mighty lunges later and the beast was captured and dispatched down the loo, at which point I discovered to my amusement and frustration that cockroaches can swim out of flushing toilets! My heroism rather deflated I set about re-capturing the little bugger and lobbed it out of the window, I can report with authority that cockroaches cannot fly from a second floor windows!
We woke up and discovered that we had been visited by mozzies – aaarrgh! Oh well. Today we had decided to walk to the nearby nature reserve and see what there was to see.
We made sure of our energy reserves with a big breakfast and set off along the track and then along the beach to the nature reserve. We discovered that the beach is quieter in the early mornings and there were fewer touts. It was fairly easy to find the nature reserve (it’s hard to miss a load of bloody great palm trees!) and once inside enlisted the help of Massareh Sanyong, one of the parks guides. Mas, as it turned out was also a closet bushman and our 2 hour stroll was very educational with all of the local flora and fauna being pointed out and the uses of it’s various seeds, roots and leaves explained. About half way around we found what we had been looking for, monkeys! We had come armed with a bag of peanuts and these were gratefully received.
TO BE CONTINUED………..