This is the beach at my hotel, the Kombo Beach.
Once arrived in Bara we transferred to the transport provided for the safari – a bit like a cattle truck with open sides, basic seats and little or no suspension.
Not too bad on the proper roads, but a tad bumpy once at the Fathala Nature Reserve, driving on dirt tracks or through the bush. Senegal was once a French colony and it was strange to see the signs everywhere now in French and not English. Interestingly, the people from Senegal and The Gambia originate from the same tribes and still share the same tribal language and loyalties. This explains why the Gambians were happy to allow Senegalese troops to enter their country at the time of crisis, still encamped while we were there, but have since gone home.
And here are photos of the animals we saw!
We had a spot of bother following the giraffes through the bush as the wheel on my side of the truck hit a rock and the tyre was ripped quite badly. Fortunately there were two wheels, but even so we couldn’t have returned with one tyre, so while we ate lunch the driver changed the huge tyre, with a little help from other drivers. This delayed our departure and we arrived back at Bara to see the ferry departing back to Banjul.
Ferries don’t keep proper timetables, so we didn’t know how long we’d have to wait. Could have been a couple of hours. Not great after a tiring day, being bounced around in a truck! Fortunately another ferry turned up half an hour later and we made our way through the assorted passengers, including cattle as well as goats this time. By the time we arrived back at the hotel it was time for Happy Hour and a much needed celebratory cocktail or two☺
The final trip the next day was to Makasutu Nature Forest, nestled against the banks of the River Gambia.
My heart sank when I saw our transport arrive at the hotel– a ‘cattle truck’ similar to the one the day before. My back ached even before I climbed up the ladder to find a seat. This time we ended up going across rough country for what seemed hours, before arriving in the beautiful forest of Makasutu. The truck was abandoned and we walked past cattle grazing among the trees before arriving at the centre with beautifully sculpted buildings nestling in the forest by the river.
The Makasutu Trust was set up by two Brits, Lawrence Williams and James English in 2009 to preserve the eco-structure of the area and encourage the locals to support this wonderful biodiversity of animals, birds, trees and plants. After a welcome talk and drink, we headed off to the canoes for the trip down river.
More mangroves! Not much visible bird life but it was so peaceful being paddled along that I didn’t mind. The water was shallow and clear and we criss-crossed from one bank to another to gain a closer view of – guess what? – oysters! All too soon we reached a landing stage down river and stepped up into the trees. Here we found the baboons we’d been promised. They didn’t seem too keen to hang around and kept turning their backs on us – so rude! Birds chattered in the tops of trees as we made our way back to the centre to start the forest walk in earnest.
By now the sun was hot overhead and I was glad of the shade.
The forest guide explained he’d be pointing out the trees and shrubs which offered healing leaves, fruit or bark, used as medicines by the locals for centuries. To be honest, I’ve forgotten them all, but it was fascinating to hear at the time. As if to prove his point, we stopped off at a hut where a ‘wise man’ prepared bundles of herbs and also offered a hand-reading for those interested. Purely in the name of research (ahem!) I handed over my 100 dalasi note (around £2) and listened as the guide translated his answers to my questions. Shall we say it was interesting☺.
We walked for about 2 hours before coming to a small clearing where we were offered palm juice – tasty– and watched as a local demonstrated how he climbed the palm trees to extract the juice from the top. Some of the group also had a go, with mixed success!
Then it was back to the centre for a much-needed lunch of African food cooked on the spot and accompanied by music and dancing from the locals. A quick look at a local craft market – I bought a hand-carved fridge magnet spelling The Gambia (my only souvenir!) – and then it was the long trip back. I had already booked a full body massage at the hotel and, boy, was I glad of it! Being our last night we ate in the restaurant closest to the beach to make the most of it.
The day after we left was to be the official inauguration of President Barrow in Banjul and the celebrations started early, with bunting being hung everywhere. It was also the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain so the Gambians were in festive mood. As we drove to the airport, numbers of people, dressed in colourful outfits, lined the way, ready to welcome VIPs arriving from afar for the ceremony. It seemed a good way to end our stay, seeing the joy and anticipation lighting up everyone’s faces.
Would I go back to The Gambia? You bet!
If you’d like to find out more about holidays in The Gambia, click here.
See part 1 here.
See Part 2 here.