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Our first taste of the country

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

sunny 32 °C
View Gambia on travelbug_'s travel map.

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.
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.
Serrekunda Market
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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

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