A Travellerspoint blog

Goodbye Gambia

Day 8 - Departure

sunny 32 °C

Goodbye Gambia :-( Was feeling sad to leave this wonderful country with lovely people behind. I did come across many people who said that they had kept returning back to Gambia and now I know why. We had so many wonderful experiences and met so many wonderful, warm people and I'm sure I will go back there again one day. There are still many things to see and I do hope that tourism won't destroy it's natural beauty.

We were transferred to Banjul Airport at 1.20pm. The check in went smoothly and for a small airport they seemed to be very well organized.
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There was a slight flight delay but other then that no problems. Reached London Gatwick at
11pm or so and we made our way to the hotel for the night before catching the coach back to Birmingham the next day.
Seemed like we had brought back the Gambian weather as it seemed to have improved in UK :-)

Posted by travelbug_ 03:56 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

The last day

Day 7 - Return to the market

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Today was our last full day in the Gambia. As we had done many trips and been out a lot we decided to take it easy today. We returned to the Senegambia market to see if we could manage to get a few more souvenirs. They remembered us and tried to get us to buy all their stuff again. Last time we had gone down the right side so we thought to be fair we would go down the left side. After some more haggling and bargains reached we left. We did notice that the hotel shops sell the products triple to quadruple the prices than that of the market. For example my Mum managed to get 12 bangles for 75 Dalasis (approx £2 or so) and in the hotel they were charging 75 Dalasis per bangle!! They were exactly the same!!.
Before heading back to the hotel, we said farewell to Abdul and thanked him again for the wonderful tours (although he didn't come on any) . We happened to bump into Jay Jay and he gave us all a goodbye hug . he also arranged a taxi for us so we wouldn't get ripped off.

At the hotel we chilled out and had a lie down on the sun beds near the sea. We enjoyed the remaining time as well on our terrace. The papaya boy came for a chat. My Dad gave him one of his polo shirts which he was so touched by.

The time seemed to be flying by!!

Posted by travelbug_ 03:47 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Cruising the mangroves of the River Gambia

Day 6 - Pirogue Trip and Abuko Nature Reserve

sunny 32 °C
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Back to Lamin Lodge today with another guide called Jay Jay, where we would make a creek trip using a local mode of transport known as a pirogue ' a long, narrow dug out wooden canoe).
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As it was fairly early in the morning , there were only a few local people about so it was nice to be the only foreigners enjoying the beautiful scenery. There were 2 locals who were paddling our canoe and brought us near to the mangroves for a closer look.
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We saw so many different species of birds. Jay Jay told us that it is salt water and not very deep. When the tide is right, the local women and children come out to collect the oysters which are found near the roots of the mangroves.
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At one point the pirogues was moored and we got out to explore the mangroves and to see some of the local houses near the creek. We also saw some shrines which local people pray to in order to protect their vicinity.
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The locals use every herb, plant and fruit in their everyday lives. We were out on the canoe for 1.5 hrs - was bliss. Then at about midday we had our lunch but had to be careful of those naughty monkeys again.
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After our lunch we made our way to Abuko Nature Reserve. I have to say that this was very disappointing and I wouldn't recommend going there. There were only a few hyenas, a pelican, some baboons and a couple of parrots.

At 2pm we made our way back to the hotel. Jay Jay was telling us some interesting information. The children have to pay for education for all grades usually about 300 Dalasis per term increasing as you get to the higher grades. They also have to pay for all their school materials.

Posted by travelbug_ 02:40 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Banjul City

Day 5 - Banjul city tour

sunny 32 °C
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After a long but interesting day yesterday we were happy that today would be more relaxed. Mohammed who would be our guide today picked us up at 9am for our tour of Banjul. There would just be the three of us on this trip.
Banjul is the capital of Gambia and has a population of less than 50,000. It's not the kind of city that we are used to so it was interesting to see what this city would be like. It is very undeveloped and locals go there to do their everyday shopping or business.
First of all we visited the National Museum which exhibited many interesting artefacts from agricultural tools to the musical instruments used in villages. Mohammed told us that it was his first time there and was happy to be able to look around, so we took our time looking and reading about the exhibits.
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Afterwards, Mohammed took us to Albert Market which is more organised than Serrekunda . We had a quick look around just to see what it is like and then moved on.
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Finally we visited Arch 22 which is a free standing monument which was built to commemorate the coup of July 22, 1994. We went to the top which gave us unobstructed views of Banjul. From there you could see the Supreme court , the House of representatives and the mosque.
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After taking pics, enjoying the views and looking at some exhibits inside the arch we headed back to the hotel , reaching there about 2.30pm
The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the beach

Posted by travelbug_ 14:43 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Learning about the history of slavery

Day 4 - 'Roots Tour'

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Another early start and a packed day ahead. Alex was our guide again for this tour which covers the history of slavery and would take us to the Northern part of Gambia.

We drove to Banjul where we waited to go on the local ferry to Barra. Whilst waiting there for Alex to get the tickets, a 'bumster' snatched the sandal from my Dad's foot and proceeded to stitch it up pretending that it needed mending when we knew that it didn't. We kept telling this guy to stop and that didn't want it done but he carried on and wanted money. It took 5 of us to tell this guy not to do any more and that my Dad didn't want the other sandal doing. This was the 'worst' experience with a 'bumster' that we had luckily.
Soon the ferry arrived and we made our way onto it. There were masses of people making the crossing and it was great to see this and experience it.
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We arrived in Barra an hour later (usually the crossing takes 30-40 mins but as were were going against the current it took longer). From there we drove to the village of Juffureh and Albreda which are opposite each other. On the way we went along many bumpy rodes which was fun in the jeep and saw some beautiful scenery. We passed by more villages and saw more children and many ran after the jeep when they heard it. Managed to give them some stuff.
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The tour is based on the author Alex Haley's bestseller book called 'Roots' whereby he tried to trace his ancestral roots. The villages were trading centres for slaves as well as Gold and Ivory. We had a look in the small museum there which had an exhibition of the slave trade. It told the history and origin of the slave trade to its abolition.

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Afterwards we travelled by canoe to James island (where there was a slave prison) which was one of the first European settlements in West Africa.
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The remains of the trading fort are still there although crumbling. We went into the small room where many slaves were cramped in (was sad to see). We walked round the small island and a local guide explained the history of the island and what took place there.
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We headed back to Albreda/Juffureh and had an experience trying to clamber out of the canoe onto the pier. The locals thought we could somehow stretch our legs right up onto the pier (which was much higher than the canoe). We couldn't so they had to get a ladder whereby 1 person held one end down on the river bed and another held the other side down and another person helped us up the ladder. It was rather slippery and a bit of a struggle but fun. I was the first woman to go up as the rest were really scared. I thought what the heck the worst that could happen is that I fall into the river hehehe.
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Once ashore we had a delicious lunch of fish and rice and then moved on to see a Banana plantation.
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This was very interesting as it was nice to see how the owner maintained and grow things using simple equipment. He is waiting for some water pipes to help with irrigation of the soil.
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We also saw the Palm tree and the palm nuts. We saw a boy scale a tree to collect the fruit of the Palm.
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The owner also showed us the Palm oil which is very coloured and stains easily.

At about 6pm we caught the ferry back from Barra to Banjul and were taken to our hotels. A very enjoyable and interesting tour. Alex was great as usual.

We had our dinner in the hotel restaurant. The food on the menu is pretty reasonable and as we had a long day we didn't want to venture out. Jainaba, our lovely waitress was there with her lovely smile and we told her all about our day.
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Tired and exhausted we had an early night.

Posted by travelbug_ 13:07 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

Putting my haggling skills to the test

Day 3 - Morning in Senegambia and afternoon spent relaxing at the hotel

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Today we had no trips booked as I wanted to try out one tour to see if it was ok before booking more with Arch Tours.
Abdul had asked us to go to the office to arrange and discuss the other tours and to meet him in person. So we took the free shuttle bus to Senegambia at 11am.
We popped into the office and met Abdul. It was nice to finally put a face to his name after e mailing him in England.
He told us that he has 2 daughters who are living in UK and that he had tried living there but couldn't settle so came back to Gambia. With what the UK weather is like, I don't blame him. Three more trips were booked and after a chat we said our goodbyes and headed out of the office.
The Senegambia area is one of the tourist strips in Gambia. packed with restaurants, bars and nightclubs, it is one of the liveliest areas during peak season. Also where a lot of the 'bumsters' are located who try to extort money from you and follow you around for a long time.

TIP : If they keep hassling you even after a few times of you politely declining offers etc you have to be firm and tell them to leave you alone. If that doesn't work then you can say that you will report them to the Authorities. This does scare them off as the government are trying to clamp down on them. We never experienced it so bad but on a few occasions had to be firm.

Up the road is the Senegambia craft market which we headed out to. It has many stalls selling everything from wooden carvings to batik. I decided to put my haggling skills to the test almost immediately. I bought a couple of bracelets at what I think was a decent price. The lady gave me an amount that was 3-4 times more but there was no way I was going to pay that amount. I actually don't mind being slightly ripped off as I know they are trying to make a living but when it's a blatant rip off then no way. She later told me that she was impressed with my haggling.
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TIP The locals expect you to haggle with them and it is fun. Whatever amount they say, start at a quarter of that amount and then negotiate. Have a final figure in mind that you would be happy to pay and don't go over that. Be prepared to walk away, more often than not they call you back.
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After being pulled into a few more stalls and purchasing a couple more things we had had enough and left. Believe me they will pull you into all their stalls and even if you have bought the same thing in another stall they want you to buy something there. Gets a bit tiring after a while.

We managed to get a taxi back to the hotel and then headed back to our room to enjoy the sea view from the balcony. It was the first time that we had met our chamber maid called Marie. Another lovely person who we had a good chat with. She told us that most people earn only about £30 per month and as for her as the travel expense is taken out she doesn't end up with much. Also she has to help the family. Marie also said no to trust what every local says as some will give a false sob story to try to get money out of you etc. and would maybe keep bugging you after.

My Dad was sitting on our terrace and got talking to one of the hotel gardeners who was nearby. He had got a big papaya and Dad was asking him about it and talking generally. The guy was so nice and actually went off to look for a knife to cut a couple of slices from his papaya to give us. He didn't want anything in return but my Dad insisted that he had a pack of biscuits that we brought and gave him a little money.
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On the whole the majority of Gambian people are so nice and will go out of their way for you. This guy came back in a few days time and brought some oranges and bananas for us as well. As I always say if you show respect and kindness to people they will reciprocate.

So the rest of the day was spent walking along the beach, relaxing and talking to the locals. In fact whilst walking along the beach a local came up to try to get us to go to a restaurant which is in the next village. We decided that we wouldn't go as sometimes you have to be careful. I'm sure he was legit but we didn't want to take the risk. I told him that we would consider and maybe go another time. So basically he was walking and chatting to me for a good 15 mins but he seemed harmless enough. He asked me to take a pic of him so I did (dunno why though). Meanwhile these other locals had come and were chatting to my parents and trying to get them to go to their bar on the other side and also one was doing a boat trip. They do ask a lot of questions but don't feel like you have to answer the personal ones, just make something up or say you rather not say. Basically they will try to become your 'best friend' . So another photo was taken and then the security guard from the beach came to rescue us (although we were ok) but he said to us after normally they won't leave you alone and can get quite annoying. It was good that the hotel had security patrolling the beach in case.
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There are many beautiful birds in Gambia and if you are a bird lover than this is the place to be. It was nice to see and hear the birds near our room and whilst walking.
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In the evening we decided to dine outside in a thatched style restaurant by the beach. It was more pricey but we thought we would do that once for the experience. We enjoyed the sunset views and looked forward to the trip tomorrow. Another early start and full day out.
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Posted by travelbug_ 02:59 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Our first taste of the country

Day 2 - '4 tours in 1 day trip' with Arch Tours

sunny 32 °C
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Prior to going to Gambia, I had been looking for guides to take us on trips once we there. I happened to come across Arch Tours on the Internet and since they had good references, I decided to give them a go. I was in correspondence with a guy called Abdul, the owner of Arch Tours. He seemed polite and decent so I took the risk and booked a tour for our first day in Gambia.
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This tour covers 4 main tours that are offered by other tour companies. It would be a long day as they set off at 7.45am!! After a very early breakfast, we were greeted by our official tourist guide called Alex who took us to the jeep we would be travelling in. On the way to the jeep he told us about the Baobab tree which is abundant in Gambia. Alex told us that the locals live in village compounds and that the Baobab tree is the central focal point of the compound as it provides a source of water, the bark can be used to make rope and the leaves or fruit can be used for medicinal purposes. So villagers always build their compounds around the the tree or even near a termite mound as that is also a source of water. We went to pick up another 6 people who joined us on the trip and made our way to our first stop.
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Serrekunda Market
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The journey to the market was a bit bumpy once we left the main road but I enjoyed it. This is the biggest local market in Gambia. Alex guided us through the market, telling us about the local produce that are made and sold in Gambia. He showed us people selling Kola nuts which is a symbolic gift which is used in events like marriage and the purchasing of land.It's also used as a sign of friendship and respect.
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One thing we were told not to do, is to focus our cameras on people, especially the African women. Taking panoramic shots is ok and also if you ask permission then it's fine. On one or two occasions I was taking panoramic shots and women just happened to be in them and they got kinda annoyed but I apologised and explained that I was taking a panoramic shot and they were ok. Also some people might let you take photos of them but ask you to give money to them in return but I never had that happen to me. The market was full of colour, smells and was visually stunning. There were some off putting things like loads of live chickens kept in a small cage, raw meat with flies all over it on display but this is their ways and not ours. After making our way through the winding alleys of the market, we made our way to the jeep and for a quick refreshment break before heading off to our next destination (free refreshments were included in the trip and there were numerous refreshment breaks).
Katchikali Crocodile Pool
This is a sacred crocodile pool located on the south of Bakau (12km from Banjul). Here, you can meet a friendly crocodile called Charlie and actually stroke him. Our guide said that the crocodiles are fed with fish and only have the smell of fish so wouldn't attack humans. One by one we went to touch him and have a quick photo taken. My Mum was reluctant but I finally managed to cajole her into having a go and took a quick snap of her. I take after my Dad who likes to experience and try most things so we weren't bothered by it.
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The Gambians believe that the crocodiles have supernatural powers and are associated with fertility. Many locals bring offerings to them and even use the water from the pool to bathe in.
We stopped for 10-15 mins and looked in the museum which displayed various tribal masks and costumes and drums used for communication between villages. We then made our way to our next stop.
Serrekunda Live Stock Market
Our next stop was at the live stock market where sheep are sold. All of us thought they were goats, but Alex was adamant that they are sheep but not like ours which are woolly and fluffy. Sheep are used as currency. If you can afford to buy many then you are wealthy. One medium sized sheep can cost from £150!! We stopped long enough to take photos and then moved on.
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Lamin Lodge
We arrived at Lamin Lodge at around 11am or so for a quick coffee/tea break. It is situated on Lamin Bolon, a salt water tributary. First you have to cross a timber walkway to get to the lodge. Just at the entrance of the lodge was a man who made up songs there and then and sang them whilst playing his guitar. So he might sing ' the woman in the red t shirt is walking down etc' Was funny and entertaining (should have taken a pic of him but forgot) . We had a 20 min break and ate a doughnut type snack.
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There were some cheeky monkeys about who were keeping a close eye on us and seeing if they could steal our snack and drinks but the guides and workers kept them at bay.
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There were nice views of the mangroves and it was nice to see the pirogues'dug out canoes' that are used by the locals to fish or get oysters. Just outside the lodge is an oyster farm. There were mounds of oyster shells which were waiting to be further used for various purposes. The women harvest the oysters by going in a pirogue and getting close to the roots of the mangroves where the oysters are located and cut them out. The used shells are burnt and ground after a year and have many uses like making it into a type of white paint to paint huts or to make clay stronger for example. Time to move on to our next destination
Makumbaya Village
It was time for our tour of the local villages. We drove along the dirt roads which were very bumpy and dusty. As we passed various villages, the local children at the sound of the jeep will come running out and run to the jeep to ask for school materials, sweets or empty water bottles. The jeep would slow down to a certain pace so we could hand out stuff to them or Alex would throw them out to them if they weren't able to run fast. It was sad to see all of this and I found it really touching. I wish we had been able to bring a lot more than what we had but we will be ready next time. We also didn't realise how valuable empty water bottles were to the children who would use them to bring water on their long journeys to school. So whenever we had finished water wherever we were we would keep them all (even ones at he hotel)and bring it with us to hand out to them.
We made a stop at Makumbaya Village to learn more about the way of life. A compound would contain an extended family with numerous children. The house is very basic with no lighting, the rooms would be shared by many family members, the children would sleep on cardboard, the doors would be made from curtains. There is a nearby well to draw water and a very basic 'shower' area and toilets are just dug out of the earth. Made me think how much luxury we have and how much we take everyday life for granted. Two local children showed us how to pound grain and the females on the trip all had a go - much harder than it looked.
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Men live like kings in Gambia, so we were told, the women do all the hard work from harvesting crops to childcare, the women do everything whilst the men sit back and relax!! We were told that it's a disgrace and a shame to the community if a man is shown to be helping his wife and it looks like she has the upper hand. However the modern generation are changing their attitudes and the modern man is willing to have equal responsibility and to marry only one wife. The majority of Gambians are Muslims but they live in harmony with other religions and often intermarry with no problems at all. I really enjoyed this part of the trip and found it fascinating to learn about their way of life and to see the conditions they live in - a real eye opener. Then we were off for our lunch break.
Paradise Beach
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We had lunch at Paradise Beach and had free time for nearly 2 hrs . I had lady fish and chips which was delicious as the fish was so fresh. We all enjoyed our meals and relaxed by the beach until it was time to make a move. I have to say that I'm not impressed by the sea as it's not the nice crystal blue/green sea that we all like but then I didn't come for a beach holiday so it didn't bother me.
Tanje Fishing Village
This is a village located in South Kombo. It's very hectic and noisy but nice to see the local fisherman at work. At one time numerous seagulls were really close to our heads, waiting for the fishermen to come in with their catch. We saw how the fish are smoked and that once smoked they keep them in fridges which are packed with ice.
So if we don't need our freezers any more we should send them on there.
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Our final stop was to a local distillery run by a man from UK. He's been there for 2 years (but has visited the country on many occasions) and loves Gambia. He makes different types of liquors and we were able to try 4 of the flavours. Luckily I was not too tipsy afterwards as they were pretty strong.
At about 7pm we arrived back at the hotel, tired but having enjoyed the trip immensely.
Some thoughts about the tour company and trip...
I was really happy that we had booked to go with Arch Tours. Alex was excellent and is so knowledgeable, friendly and humorous. He really looks after you and makes sure everyone is ok. There were numerous beverage stops along the way - they had a cool box in the jeep and had everything from soft drink to beer. Also it was great to have lunch included so you don't have to worry where and what to have - you could choose from a menu. The trip was almost 12 hours long and so is well worth the price.

Posted by travelbug_ 14:09 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Out from the cold and into the heat

Day 1 - Arrival in Gambia

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Due to the adverse weather conditions in the West Midlands, at the last minute we decided to see if we could change our coach tickets to travel to Gatwick Airport on the day before rather than our original time. We had heard all the weather warnings and were not sure what to do for the best but decided we were going to do all we can to make the flight. Luckily our flight was going from Gatwick and not Birmingham Airport as definitely we would have missed out on the holiday.
We arrived at Gatwick at around 10pm and were calling around to see if we could get a reasonably priced room for the night as it would have been a very long uncomfortable wait at the airport. Whilst we were at a counter, a worker had heard us talk about it and said that he could probably get a room for us in a nearby hotel at a better rate ( he has some agreement with someone there). After we called and had no joy and especially as the rates were too high we said ok and he managed to find one for a good rate for us and so off we went to the hotel.
Staying one night over in a local hotel wasn't such a bad thing as we were more refreshed and could have a shower before going to the airport.
Today we were more relaxed as we knew that we had made the right decision to go a day earlier and that we would be at our destination. I was getting excited and trying to imagine what Gambia would be like.

Our flight took off at about 9am after a 20 min delay and six hours later we arrived at Banjul Airport. It was a smooth flight on Monarch Airlines although a lot of people were complaining about how cramped the seats were. As I stepped out of the aeroplane, I felt the intense heat smack me. Talk about two extremes, the freezing cold weather we had in UK to the sweltering heat. Still, I wasn't complaining but welcomed it.

Banjul Airport (also known as Yundum international) is relatively small but has a modern structure. We had no problem at passport control and the first thing I noticed was how friendly and smiley the people were. Typically our luggage was the last ones to come out and once collected had to make our way to a suitcase screening area (why it needed to be done again, I don't know). At this point locals were trying to grab your suitcases from you to bring in to the screening so that you could pay them for their service. As I already read and heard about this, I held on tightly to mine and politely refused their help - my suitcase had wheels after all and I'm not a weak, defenceless woman. Also we had no small change to give them. Once through that they try to grab it again to bring it to the taxi or coach transfer, so just hold on tightly and decline politely. As we had booked a package holiday we had a free hotel transfer which we were very happy with as we didn't have to worry about being ripped off at the start of the holiday. Our hotel was only 10 mins away from Banjul in an area called Brufut . As I was travelling with my parents, we decided to go for somewhere which is more peaceful and away from the 'bumsters' ( a term you will hear often).
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N.B Should you get a taxi, for a short trip, it should cost only around 50 Dalasis per person. Always negotiate the price before stepping in. I heard of one person being charged £30 for a very short trip. They will try it on but will back down when they realise that you know the rates. Sometimes it's good to say that you have a Gambian friend or that you have been to Gambia a few times.

The Sheraton Hotel was luxury for us as we don't normally go for 5 star accommodation, but as we got a really good deal we decided to treat ourselves for a change. Our room had a sea view and when you walk out onto the terrace, you are only about 15-20 steps away from the beach. The room was decorated with an African theme and had a nice big screen tv (not that we would be around much to watch it). The hotel grounds are very big with many Baobab trees around. There are many chalet style accommodations where the rooms are, looks very beautiful especially at night when it's lit up.
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In the evening we made our way for dinner and was greeted by a lovely smiling waitress who welcomed us very warmly. I decided that I wanted to try the local food so went for a dish called 'Chicken Yassa' which is chickem marinated with garlic, chilli,lime, onion and is served with rice. My parents decided to try 'Fish Benachin' which is spicy and tomato based.
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After we had our dinner, we went for a short walk and noticed how cool it had gone. We went back to our room and had an early night as we had to be up early for our arranged trip the next day.

N.B In the early morning and evenings it can get quite cool so make sure you bring a couple of warm clothes in case.

Posted by travelbug_ 11:39 Archived in Gambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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