Gambia was, like we hoped, a change we longed for after leaving Senegal. We have reached the border pretty quick. Unlike the two guys who gave us a ride, we were quite lucky as they were robbed the previous night. Their car, packed with clothes and toys brought all the way from Milano, was empty now. The guys admitted that they had one beer too much after a long ride. While the two of them passed out in the bar, someone broke into their car. Crossing the border went pretty smoothly though.
Marta had to get her visa (around 15 Euros) however Ben was exempted of this obligation. It’s worth to remember that paying for your visa in the local currency instead of Dollars or Euros makes it much cheaper.
We have reached the ferry dock to cross the Gambian river only at the afternoon even though it wasn’t far-off the border. While waiting for our turn, Ben contacted our next hosts, an American-Gambian couple. Thanks to a very nice guy whom we have met on board, we got dropped right in front of their door just before sunset.
We had a real blast together and spent an amazing evening over a delicious Chinese dinner. We learned that the majority of the Gambian citizens come from the Mandinka tribe (about 41% of the population) and speak their own language. You can also find the the Wolof (15%); the Fula (19%); the Jola (10%); the Serahuli (8%); the Serer (2.5%); the Aku (0.8%) and the Manjago (1.7%).
In the Gambia, like in all the other countries in the Western Africa, the music is joyful, vivid and full of good energy. To check it out click here.
The next day we took a walk around Bakau- a touristic place with a handcraft market and another attraction worth seeing- a crocodiles pool! Touching the rugged skin of those reptiles was amazingly exciting for us. The animals, on the contrary, remained impassive to our presence.
The distance we had to cover each day to get to our next hosts was very small. Without worrying about reaching the next destination by the sunset, we could enjoy ourselves much more. Suddenly there was enough time to lay plank on the beach and have amusing chit-chats with traders at the local markets. Since we didn’t have money, we tried to exchange our stuff for fruits we wanted to try and have never seen before. Giving away our books and some of our clothes we were able to taste everything!
From the vast variety of fruits and vegetables we have chosen our personal favorites. The unbeatable two are the Soursop and the Cassava (known also as manioc). The first one is a sweet and juicy fruit with tiny spikes which makes it hard to peal but totally. However it is totally worth the effort to do so and give it a try! The other one is a root with a potato like taste, but sweeter and much more delicious.
On our walk through The Gambia you should not miss Senegambia. It’s a part of the country known by its numerous bird species and beautiful beaches beloved by tourists. We passed by the Monkey Park and had lovely encounters with those plucky animals.
Regarding its ecological development Gambia is without doubt a praiseworthy country. Plastic bags, strewn around each neighborhood in almost each African country, are banned in the country. It certainly proves the high level of environmental protection of the Gambian government.
Even though in many cases the Gambia excels Senegal and other West-African countries, it is still backward in the matter of education. Many times we had the chance to discuss this issue with Gambian citizens. Among them were people with only basic schooling, but also with degrees and diplomas. Finally, we also spoke to parents, whose choices concerning the education of their children were in our opinion extremely questionable.
Boys (the education of girls is not that much of a concern as it does not seem to be very important to the West African society) with Islamic background would be sent to so called “Koranic School” before they even learn how to write and read. Depending on their parents will, they would spend there up to 3,5 years. The education in those facilities boils down to repeating verses of the holy book after the teacher. To make it even more ridiculous, Quran read during classes is not the translated version but the original, Arabic text (Arabic is not spoken in that part of the world). It is hard to imagine spending years on repeating sounds you don’t even understand. Yet, the parents believe in Gods power which they think will certainly help children with handling the difficulties of their further education.
It was extremely hard and tiring to discuss this issue with our hosts and their families. Surely we didn’t manage to get our opinion across and were considered people of little faith. Well, we can live with that.
One of the best days we had during our trip through the Gambia was for sure the day when our host lent us his bikes to cruise around. Driving on the dirt road we passed little villages and admired green fields and trees. We were chased by yelling kids and greeted by their parents. With elicited surprise and amazement on people’s faces.
We left the Gambia very relaxed and in a good mood. We have met many kind people from whom we learned a lot about their country and culture. Due to their good English knowledge it was quite easy to communicate with Gambians. It made our stay there easier and pleasant. Now, on our way to Guinea Bissau, we were about to cross the border to Senegal again.
The region of Casamance is very green and the most southern part of Senegal. It is also known by the presence of rebels who claimed the independence of this area in the past. The bloodiest period of this conflict was under way over 20 years ago. Still, we were cautioned to look after ourselves while travelling there.
Passing by we haven’t noticed anything suspicious though. After walking for hours through the jungle we got a ride from a British guy who turned out to be the ambassador of Great Britain in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau. He loved Africa and was happy to bring his family there. The Ambassador told us things about Senegal which we didn’t know yet. He considered Senegal as a country of extraordinary art, high education, universities, exhibitions and good restaurants. We also shared with him our experience about the poorest districts of Dakar and people’s need to urge away to Europe. It was a refreshing experience to talk about those things with someone who like us was brought up in a different culture and also had to face some difficulties in order to adapt. We certainly enjoyed our time together.
After spending one night in Casamance we tried to make it to the border to find ourselves on a quite empty road to Guinea Bissau which was however the main crossing into the country. We had to walk for hours and the border was still not in sight. We figured that we were stuck in the middle of the jungle and, as it turned out later, that was only the beginning of our problems. We were about to enter a country we didn’t know anything about. Not knowing any of the languages spoken in Guinea Bissau, we were a bit worried but also excited and curious.