So, after a few days in Abene, the five of us headed off to the Gambia for a little r&r before the folks flew back to chilly England. Upon reflection at the end of the trip, we agreed the final evening in Abene was one of the special moments. Dad and I had returned from a successful search for mint sauce. As we walked up the drive way, we heard the soft bubbling sounds of the kora, the West African harp. My friend Bunja, a percussionist, and Hami, a kora player from Gambia had turned up with Holly, a professional musician from Manchester who was travelling and learning local instruments. I’d last seen Hami six months previously at a wedding in Banjul where he was performing, and took some pictures for his website. They played all night and sang songs to Gulliver, my parents, Khady and I.
|Hami at the wedding|
There was a little snap, crackle and pop upon departure – we found a highly venomous puff adder, which before we knew what was happening, Backary, my gardener, killed. Having watched Bear Grylls, I knew exactly what to do and lopped off the head with my machete, then buried it before the kids or Scrappy Doo started playing with it. They retain poison for 24 hours or so.
Upon arrival on the Smiling coast, instead of our usual hotel, Mum and Dad treated us to somewhere a little nicer and so we went to the Leybato on the beach in Fajara. You couldn’t fault the setting – a terrace overlooking golden sands and straw roofed huts amidst a tropical garden. There were plenty of other things you could fault though. Our usual spot may only cost a fiver and be slightly down at heel, but they always fix any problem quickly.
|Our favourite Gambian beach bar|
We met some nice people there though, including the trustees of a charity, Afrikaya and Joe, an English guy with Gambian/Senegalese parents who, after a lifetime in London has moved back here. He promised to take me fishing on his boat and I promised to show him around his ancestral lands in the Casamance.
On the first night we ate at the Butchers Shop, run by Driss, a Moroccan TV celebrity chef. It was great with lovely food, but our experience was marred when a security guard came in and ordered Khady and Gulliver off of the premises – instead of checking who she was, he had assumed she was bothering us. After I’d spoken with restaurant staff, he may well now be searching for a new job.
Aside from laying on a beach, we took a stroll in Bijoli forest, a small pocket of Guinea Savannah forest that is home to hundreds of vervet monkeys and the shyer red colobus. Later we visited the sacred crocodile pools where women bathe in the waters if they are having fertility problems. Dad had obviously relaxed into the African spirit – last time I was home and showed a photo of me with a croc he looked at me as if I was nutter. Here, I spotted him standing surrounded by four crocs concentrating on taking a picture of a bird.
We also visited Lamin lodge, somewhere I’ve written about before. It’s a tree house like restaurant built over the mangroves, but it was closed as apparently they couldn’t pay their tax bills. Enterprising locals were waiting though and offered canoe trips around the surrounding creeks. After negotiations, we took a boat as a lad explained all the uses of the mangrove plants and the oysters that grow on their roots. The shells are left in the sun for a year or two, then crushed to use as cement. I filed that one in my future ideas for eco-houses brain compartment.
On the final day, we luncheoned under a thatched roof next to a lagoon filled with crocs. We dropped Mum and Dad at the airport and returned to our hotel feeling a little lonely. The next morning, we skyped them and there they were at home, wearing fleeces and looking cold. It always amazes me that I can have breakfast in Brighton and be in Abene in time to see the sunset.
When we returned to our house there was a pile of eggs in Gullivers’ cot. We thought Khady’s sister had placed them there for safe keeping, but no, one of our new hens had made her nest and despite our efforts, she returned every day for the next week laying a new egg.