Day 1 - Arrival in Gambia
06.02.2009 - 06.02.2009 30 °C
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).
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.
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.
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.