We sit here in south London with a chance to reflect on our time in the Gambian bush. There is so much to digest, think about and reflect on that there is a good chance that we will have more that one post about this part of our trip.
To start with, how about an account of our trip to Sabi, the remote village we stayed in for 7 days.
The day started with meeting, for the first time, a wonderful couple who would be our hosts, tour guides and guardians. She is from the UK and he is from Minnesota. With smiles on all of our faces we were eager to get to know one another and start our long journey to Sabi.
The trip was adventurous on all fronts. Even from the get go. With help of our friend hosts in Banjul, we traveled about 30 minutes into the capital city where we had to decide on one of two options across the large river mouth to the north side of the Gambian river. It was on the north side that we would pick up the Land Rover and drive to Sabi. But first the crossing. As we parked the van we were greeted by friendly but eager people who wanted to carry our bags to the ferry boat. This is great if you are able to ID one person to negotiate prices, carry the bags and pay. We would need to do this on several occasions, primarily on both sides of the boat crossing. A price was agreed upon and we made our way to the “Long Boats” a shorter, more efficient route than the slow and unpredictable ferries. Excited and a bit nervous we walk down the busu streets of Banjul, through an alley way and out into a bustling area where the long boats wait to take people across.
The long boats are very long, narrow, beautifully painted and made of wood. No amenities and the only “safety” they have are worthless life jackets. Some jackets had foam, some didn’t. Despite the lack of ‘life protection’ these jackets would provide in the event of an emergency, we were some of the lucky few who received them.
Since we were the only “Tubabs” wanting to load we were surrounded by tons of people yelling at us to let them take our bags or carry us onto the boats. Each of the boats were anchored just off shore and the only way to board, without getting wet, was to have someone carry you on their shoulders. It was quite a site so see this feet of strength as they whisked away our 6’4 teammate 🙂 and everyone else.
After about 20 minutes of loading people, cargo, tires and more people we were ready to go. However, to be honest I was a bit concerned about the boats ability to stay afloat. You see, it was so overloaded that when even one person would change positions the entire boat would tip and sway in the water. But thankfully we had a calm day and people seemed to stay seated for the 35 minute trip. Despite water coming in at our ankles, the ‘crew’ doing a bit of water bailing and several silent prayers to God almighty, we made it safely across.
Upon arrival we again were greeted by a hoard of people eager to take our bags and our money. So the negotiating began once again and soon enough were were on dry land. With bags in tow we made our way through the hot, dusty and narrow roads to where the car was parked. Our bags were securely tied to the roof and we piled into the car. We were on our way to Sabi!
The drive to Sabi was, for the most part, pleasant. The day was hot. The landscape was flat and dusty (the country is heading into the hot season right now). And in the distance you could see some of the over 400 species of birds that live in The Gambia. The majority of the road was paved. And our trusty friend and driver was quite good at avoiding the cows, goats and monkeys that would cross the road unexpectedly. Along the way we made a few stops in various villages to fill up on water, eat a meal of rice and peanut sauce and stretch our legs. Each time we would be surrounded by joyful children eager to have one of us take a picture and then show it to them on the screen.
About an hour outside of Basse (the last big town before Sabi) The road turned from paved to dirt. We weaved in and around trees, over pot holes and more cows until we could see a lone street light in the distance; at 8pm we had reached Sabi. As we pulled up you we were greeted by children playing int he street, shouting with excitement for the return of our driver and his wife to the village. As we stepped out of the car, you could feel the stillness of being in the bush, despite being surrounded by a symphony of crickets, dogs, goats, donkeys and the occasional radio or tv. As we got sorted and made ourselves comfortable in our mud huts we could only wonder what the week had in store for us.
More to come…