I’ve just spent a week of travelling around the Gambia conducting research for the Bradt guide – always my preferred guidebooks in Africa, even before I was working with them. The other popular guides seem to have given up on West Africa. Bradt are perfect for those travellers really wanting to get under the skin of the place and understand more of the culture, geography, wildlife and history.
It’s my first real assignment as a travel writer (I contributed articles to the Senegal guide) and having met several guide book writers I wasn’t under any illusion as to the reality of the job. I’m not complaining – I get to travel, explore, meet people and it certainly beats working in an office. I’m having to check everywhere, contact details, map coordinates, prices and so on – tens of hotels and restaurants on the same day, so it’s not all cushy, but as someone who has shovelled pig shit for a couple of years to make ends meet, I’m not going to express too much guilt for havin a dream job.
Back to last week. I started off in the main city, Serrekunda, which is part of a kind of conurbatio spreading from Banjul through to the coastal resorts, themselves villages that have merged together over the years. It’s the main commercial centre with mile after mile of shops, markets, greasy workshops and busy traffic clogged streets. The only time I ever get in a traffic jam these days is here in Serrekunda – unless a donkey and cart get in front of me on a narrow track.
Serrekunda is a place with few sights as such, but an electric atmosphere and somewhere that certainly reminds you that you’re in Africa if you’ve spent any time in one of the resorts. For the first couple of days, I was on foot. I’d decided it would be easier in such a busy place and besides, Kermit was having treatment.
After slogging my way down the long Kairaba avenue, I visited a tour company and then ducked into the air conditioned offices of Timbooktoo bookshop and realised how dehydrated I’d become – I downed an entire large bottle of water very quickly. One of the owners friends was an ex-Bradt guide writer and she soon arrived so that we could trade stories and tips.
For the next day and a half I visited countless hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars.
Ngala Lodge was particularly stunning – if you’ve got a good budget, you could have a very nice time there. The added bonus to me of visiting these places was that they’d often heard of me via my books or lodge and it was a great chance to meet, have a good chat about life here, what we are up to and to share stories.
The going was a little slower than I’d counted on – partly as there was a lot to check, I didn’t want to miss anything and it was so darned hot. By the end of the day, I melted into Leybato hotel and met up with old friend, Joe:
That evening we dined with the tourist minister at the Green Mamba restaurant. Like the Mongolian wok bar, you choose your raw ingredients and cooks fry it up in front of you. Delicious. And all the grub is cooked on briquettes made from peanut shells. Profits from the restaurant support a project making these and selling the technology.
Here’s the golf course at the Fajara Club, a members only institution that was once upon a time the colonial Bathurst Club. I promised to go back with my father next year. The course doesn’t have greens. It has browns:
On Sunday I took a shared taxi up to Banjul city, which is a small place that resembles a country market town rather than a capital.
There’s barely a paved road (and those that are are potholed). I visited the dank cheap hotels that looked like they should be charging by the hour. The one world class one closed a year or two back.
There were a couple of very nice looking restaurants – both closed when I visited – but both sporting awesome ocean, river and beach views.
After a stroll around Albert Market where I met the lovely Aram Jah, a friend of a friend, I went to Arch 22 and climbed up for a stunning view across the city. It’s rare to get a view in these flat lands with few tall buildings. But I was looking forward to getting away from the built up areas and into the tranquil remote beaches of the south.