Happy New Year ! Wow, I certainly waited this long to have my first blogpost on, but hey, better late than never and I must say that after that fantastic vacation, I needed another vacation just to relax at home, gather some motivation and also, review the whole experience and just let it sink in. Plus, January is my me-month ! :)
As you all know by now, I chose Gambia as my destination this last Christmas and I have to say - I absolutely LOVED it, even more than expected.
Some facts: Gambia is known as the Smiling Coast of Africa, and not just because the friendly smiling people there, but also because, if you look at the map, you can see that it's like a smiling mouth of the African continent. It is located in West Africa and since it was a formal British colonial territory, most of the people living there speak English. Otherwise, as an official language you have Mandika + other african languages.
A first thing I didn't expect was the entry fee that isn't written anywhere, so you'll have to present 20€ ( or 1000 dalasi - Gambian currency ) upon entry and another 20€ when you leave the country. Apparently this tactic has gone to other African countries and it's a way for the government to cash in from tourists but also from their residents. The people complain because the money doesn't reach them, nor serves for infrastructure..
P.S. Flew with Tui but did not like it at all - no on board entertainment, the plane was very old and not comfortable, the meals on board for the trip from Brussels to Banjul were absolutely horrible.
Anyway, back to more lovely aspects. I went in December and the weather is absolutely fantastic. 33C and sun.. even the ocean is warm, something I didn't expect since I'm always used to rather cold water when visiting countries that have an ocean instead of a sea opening.
The local people are very nice, but a bit harass-y as they want to sell you what they got. They call them bomsters. But hey, I got myself a massage for 7€, a horseride for 10€, so I declare myself happy. Yes, life is very affordable in the Gambia for Europeans. Coming from Belgium, I spent my holidays there like a queen, indulging myself in yummy food, activities, cocktails.. I was super happy !
The hotel that I stayed in, Bakotu Hotel is definitely a great place to stay at. It's very cozy, our cabin-room was in the last row, so we basically slept right next to the forest. What a magnificent sensation to hear all the animals during the night, birds, monkeys and other creatures. And yes, monkeys were running around all day every day. They don't attack you, of course, but I also leaved them be :).
The food at the hotel however isn't the best, I mean breakfast was nice and all, but I would recommend going to the beach, that is just in front of the hotel and setting 'camp' at Paradise Beach - a great place to eat, but also to lay in the sun cause they have sun beds ! I spent most of my time there. The food is excellent, the staff is amazing and there's that great vibe around that makes you feel on holiday.
The hotel has these small house-rooms, they're very basic, but you don't need more. There is no airco, but don't panic, the temperatures drop during nighttime and I even slept with a cover on.
In all honesty, I had a look at the other hotels that were situated even more in the tourist area, and even the 5 star ones (that are very few), weren't complete luxury. This hotel that I chose deserves more than 3 stars to be fair, it's a eco-friendly hotel and the fact that you are somehow integrated in the forest-jungle, with animals and birds makes it a splendid choice !
Moving on, Gambia is a country of contrasts, it's not at all a luxury destination, but more of a finding yourself type of place. You are constantly reminded how lucky you are with the little that you think you have and how important it is to hold on to that inner peace.
My first expedition outside the hotel area was in Serekunda. It was a crazy experience, just a taxi ride away!
From there, we found ourselves in Tanji, in the fishermen's town and boy was I astonished ! You really see the other side of the coin. The big quantities of fish that are being pulled from the ocean and even more so, the stories you hear about the Chinese buying the right to fish in their waters and leaving them with small captures... They do this all day every day, so it makes me wonder, how sustainable is the practice here?
In another expedition, I found myself crossing the border to Senegal. We went to Fathala National Park to do some safari. The trip alone is an adventure. Taking the ferry from Banjul to Barra was a spectacle. From there you cross some other rural areas and to be honest, the closer we were getting to Senegal, the more you could feel the poverty. Apparently the country is even more poor than Gambia... We visited Fathala wildlife reserve and did a little safari, nothing compared with Namibia or Tanzania, but if you have kids, it's nice to go. The reserve is quite like a zoo in a way... I went for the border crossing and just having the experience to go to Senegal. :)
And last, but not least, a two day excursion in the Gambia is mandatory if you really wanna have the 100% Gambian experience. It's quite nice. By this point, I kinda was a bit annoyed by the ferry crossing ( the 3rd time that I have done it), but the rest of the group enjoyed. We visited a market as well, the Senegambian stone circles which is an UNESCO heritage site (yes, I made a wish), followed by a 4h boat ride down the river and into Jang Jang Burreh camp. To be honest, I would stay more than a night in this camp. Night critters get in the room and it's just... nope, definitely not for me! :)) I took the whole stay there as a funny experience, but I didn't quite sleep ( I was also sick with hay fever - lucky me!)
On our second day, we set anchor in Kunta Kinteh ( yes, like in the movie Racines ), and learned more about the colonial times and slavery.. sad history, so very good for the yound generation to know more. After a lovely lunch, we headed back to the hotel and on the way, we managed to stop at a big family, chosen by our guide to give a little hand in helping them. It's always nice to lend a hand in whatever way you can.. we spent some time in their household and then continued our route.
It's a long journey, but definitely worth it !
Other than that, I enjoyed some lovely horse rides on the beach, beautiful sunsets, good food and good energy all together.
I know it's been a long article, but I hope you enjoyed and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me !