I’m not known for winning anything (except for a book by one of my favourite authors, Barbara Erskine 2 years ago), so it was with stunned disbelief that I started to read an email sent from Silversurfers- the other online magazine for over 50s! – last October.
It congratulated me on winning the prize of 7 days in The Gambia for 2 people, including the hotel and flight. Well! What a lovely way to start a dull autumnal week!
Within a couple of days I’d arranged that my sister-in-law would join me (I’m single) and we had extended our stay to 10 days and booked for February, as this was when I would be celebrating (not sure that’s the right word, but still…) an important birthday. We duly checked out the vaccinations recommended, adding up to several, and resulting in sore arms for a few days. Having been on safari in Kenya some years ago I knew the score about endemic diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, and we also invested in anti-malarial tablets and various sprays and lotions.
After booking a hotel for pre-and post-travel from Gatwick, our ‘free’ holiday was proving not to be quite free, but it was still a bargain and an exciting chance to get away to the heat and sun in the middle of our dreary winter. And as any woman does, I checked out the sales and bought some floaty and colourful clothes appropriate for the African climate, unfortunately not likely to be needed much in our English summers.
Then disaster struck!
You may have seen or heard it on the news at the time – the country’s President Jammeh, defeated in a democratic election in December, refused at the last minute to give up power and called a state of emergency – 2 weeks before we were due to fly out. The unfortunate tourists already in The Gambia were evacuated hastily over the next couple of days and the British tour companies cancelled further flights until the end of January. Our flight was on 7th February! That morning, while I tried to get through by phone to Serenity Holidays, the company behind the prize holiday,
I began to wish I’d never won it. My stomach was leaden and I was in a daze. Talk about having something snatched away from you at the last minute☹
A couple of hours later, the lovely Maxine returned my call and managed to sound upbeat, considering the circumstances. She advised me not to cancel the booking, but to hang on for another week as the situation could change, but if it didn’t I’d be able to travel later in the year. Although this wasn’t much comfort, it was good to know we could still have a holiday, even if not until about October or November, when the winter season began.
Hotels tended to close in April through the summer during the rainy season.
Well, over the next few days I hardly came off the internet, constantly googling The Gambia for updates, even setting up a Google alert. I should have been writing my latest novel, but lacked all concentration and interest. I became a woman obsessed☺ Events moved apace. The other West African nations formed a united front against the dictator Jammeh, sending thousands of troops to the Gambian border, while other heads of state tried to talk him into stepping down and allowing the new President, Adama Barrow, to be inaugurated as had been arranged. Barrow had to make do with an inauguration in next door Senegal while the discussions dragged on. By the way, this coincided with the inauguration of President Trump that week, something which drew many comparisons and comments at the time!
By the beginning of the following week, the situation in The Gambia looked clearer. Jammeh had flown off to Equatorial Guinea, one of the few countries not a party to extradition treaties, taking a stash of money and luxury cars with him. Soldiers moved in to clear the way for Barrow, searching for possible hidden weapons and any soldiers loyal to Jammeh who might pose a threat to the new President.
Barrow remained in Senegal but, wonderful news! – he rescinded the state of emergency – thereby allowing the Foreign Office to advise tourists it was now safe to travel to The Gambia. Flights began shortly after and our holiday was back on☺
Go to Part 2 here.