Earlier this week I led a tour up to the Mid River Sector of the Gambia. The main aim was to visit the chimpanzees of Baboon island, a jungle filled paradise in the middle of the river. Leaving early, I picked up Mart, a Dutchman, near the border. Along with my driver, Omar, we drove up country towards the old British administrative town of George Town. Mart was well travelled in Africa and so we had a lot to discuss as we passed the fairly bleak villages. As Mart remarked, it always seems much greyer and poorer than the Casamance where the vegetation and red earth from which buildings are constructed brings a vibrancy.
I’ve visited these islands in the river Gambia, upon which are several troops of chimps, twice earlier this year. This time was perhaps the best so far for getting a clear view. My usual boatman, Amadou, puttered us up stream passed huge palms and around the islands.
A lone hippo wallowed in the water, occasionally surfacing and flaring its nostrils. We could hear the squawk of parrots and hoots of chimps, red colobus monkeys and baboons. Then a large fellow swung across on the end of a vine before making its way along a branch over the river to get a look at us.
After that we saw maybe ten more chimpanzees, including a suitably cute baby.
It wasn’t a culinary trip. Greasy omelette for lunch and spam and chips for dinner. After a very relaxing evening by the riverside we tried to sleep in the very hot rooms. Had there been less mosquitos about I’d have been better off sleeping outdoors.
The drive back was going smoothly – Omar knew an official at the ferry who let us bypass a 5 or 6 hour queue, and we were on time to reach the Little Baobab in the mid-afternoon.
Then the timing belt broke. If that doesn’t mean much to you, check with someone mechanically minded and watch their reaction. Unless you’re very lucky it can apparently damage your engine and be very costly. The gris-gris were protecting us on this occasion. Firstly, a bus stopped and towed us the 100 km or so to Brikama. Mart and I transferred smoothly to a private car and were back at the Little Baobab before you could say “let’s drink sun-downers on the terrace.” Mart was very understanding, saying “this is Africa and it wouldn’t be an African trip without some such issue.” And I was very pleased with myself that I got us back so swiftly and efficiently.
As for the timing belt: I’d only replaced mine in March, so this shouldn’t have happened. The mechanic had a replacement and thankfully there was little damage. Apparently the “original” I’d purchased was a Nigerian fake. Omar got it sorted and was back with a fully hopping Kermit the next day.