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Slavery Museum, Albreda
The small slavery museum in Albreda is housed in a wooden building dating from the mid 19th century, known as the Maurel Freres Building. This building is somewhat ramshackle, despite being described in a sign on the outside wall as “one of the best structurally preserved historical buildings in the James Island and related sites world heritage complex”. It is named for a Lebanese trader (I assume slave trader, though the sign says simply “trader”) who once used it.
According to the same sign, the James Island and related sites present “a testimony to main periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River Gambia, a continuum that stretched from pre-Colonial and pre-slavery times to independence.” That could be said to be the aim of this little museum too.
It has three rooms which tell the history of the slave trade (both in this region and more generally), describe the appalling lives of the slaves, and, more positively, celebrate the more recent achievements of black African-Americans. A number of artefacts such as manacles, chain neck-locks, and foot-locks bring the gruesome history to life, as do quotes and posters from contemporary sources. It is somewhat cramped and the artefacts not imaginatively presented, as they might be in a more sophisticated museum, but they are all the more telling perhaps for that reason.
Entry to the museum cost 50D (about £0.80 or $1.30). You can also buy some small booklets about the slave trade.
Next door is the small village school which you are encouraged to visit. Although we were here on a Sunday, some children were inside doing colouring and happy to chat to visitors who have the opportunity to buy small craft items made by the kids. Outside the museum is a replica slaver ship which you can climb inside to see the cramped conditions, and a sheltered area (a bantaba) where you get a welcome break from the hot sun - when we visited a local musician was playing the korah (a stringed instrument) here and aiming to sell CDs to the visitors.
Next tip: JuffrehRelated to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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Juffureh is the neighbouring village to Albreda and like it is visited on the popular Roots excursion. The two villages in fact more or less join each other, separate only by what appeared to me to be a wide sandy track but could equally as easily have been a dried up river bed. Only the "Welcome to Juffureh" sign tells you that you are entering another village.
And Juffureh would be just that, "another village", were it not for one black American man, Alex Haley, and his search for his African ancestors. He told in his semi-fictionalised account how he traced his family back to a certain Kunta Kinte who originated from Juffureh, from where he had been captured and sold into slavery in the plantations of the American South. Haley came here to see if any of his relatives could be found. He discovered the descendants of Kunta Kinte's brother still living here in the family compound. Alex Haley himself claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte and here he met a woman also of that generation. She has since died but other members of the family remain and take it in turns to represent the rest ("sit for the family", as our guide put it) when tourist groups visit. We met the daughter of that seventh generation woman who had welcomed Alex Haley, and another family member whose relationship was not explained. The women greeted visitors and posed for photos, and in return sold small booklets about the story or simply accepted a small donation for their time. There have been some challenges to the authenticity of Haley's account (he himself admitted that he took some details of Kunta Kinte's story from another book) but there is no denying the fact that these villages, like most others in the region, suffered terribly from the impacts of the slave trade – both on those who were taken and those left behind.
Not having read "Roots", I was more interested in the general history of slavery than this one man's story. For me the more memorable encounter in Juffureh was not with the Kinte family but with the village chief, who just happened to be, at the time of our visit, a woman – still an unusual and remarkable occurrence here. She sat in the village banaba to receive visitors, welcomed us (through a translator) and spoke a little about her appreciation of the efforts we had made (truly not that considerable!) to leave our hotels for the day and travel to see something of village life. She happily posed for photos with anyone who wanted to (I myself preferred to take more candid shots of her alone as she spoke) and gave anyone who wanted it a small "certificate of visitation" in return for (another) small donation. I made the donation in recognition of the photos I had taken but declined the certificate. But it was certainly an interesting experience to meet her and one of the highlights of the day out for me.
Next tip: Kunta Kinteh IslandRelated to:
- Historical Travel
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Kunta Kinteh Island
Formerly known as James Island (the name was changed in 2011) and prior to that St Andrew's Island, this small island in the River Gambia is home to the ruins of a fort that once belonged to colonial Britain. For many slaves, this would have been the last patch of African soil that they saw before being transported in the bowels of transatlantic slave ships to the Americas.
Prior to coming into British hands in 1661 it had been occupied by first the Portuguese and later the Dutch, among others. For the British it represented their first imperial exploit on the African continent. They renamed the island James Island and the fort Fort James after James, the Duke of York, who was to become King James II of England. The island subsequently changed hands many times, particularly between the French and British. The fort was destroyed and rebuilt several times during this period, both in these conflicts and by pirates.
Today you can see the ruins of the fort and some of its outbuildings, though many of the latter, including the slave houses, have been lost due to erosion of the island. It is now apparently only about one sixth of the size it was at the time of the slave trade, although much of what has been lost was in fact artificial island that had been built up around the natural water’s edge to enable more buildings to be constructed here. Without constant maintenance it is not surprising that these reclaimed patches of land are being lost again to the river. Our guide, Ibrahim, bemoaned the fact that his government is doing so little to protect this part of the country's history (and this despite the fact that it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with related sites including Albreda, Juffureh and Fort Bullen). You can still see the ruins of the main fort building and can enter one of the cells where recalcitrant slaves were imprisoned, and there are still cannon in place on the crumbling bastions. But the outlying quarters where the majority of the slaves were housed are among the buildings no longer standing, so you get only a partial idea of the conditions they suffered, although your imagination, the explanations of your guide and your own reading of history will fill in the rest.
Despite its gruesome history this is quite a peaceful spot. I loved the shapes made by the ancient baobab trees against a backdrop of sparkling river water and wandered off from our guide, informative though he was, to take some photos.
Next tip: Baobab treesRelated to:
- Historical Travel
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Makasutu Cultural Forest
Makasutu means “sacred forest” in Mandinka. This 500 hectare reserve was founded by two British men, James English and Lawrence Williams, who had a passion for The Gambia and wanted to help to preserve its wildlife and natural environment. They gradually bought this area of land and restored it to its natural state. It encompasses five different ecosystems including gallery forest, savannah, mangroves, palm forest and wetland. There is a luxury eco-lodge, Mandina, where we spent four nights, but you can also come on a day trip to the area they call Base Camp (because this was where Lawrence and James first settled and camped while developing their project).
Day visitors get the opportunity to go out on a boat on the river, which is a tributary of the main Gambia River; to see a culture show and eat traditional food; to climb to the top of the new four storey tower with wonderful views over the surrounding landscape; to spot a myriad of birds and (of course) shop in the small craft market where you can also see the craftsmen at work. Those who come to stay at Mandina get a full programme of included guided walks and boat trips with their personal local guide. See my (forthcoming) page about our stay here for more information about this option.
Despite all this tourist activity, Makasutu is still primarily a wild and natural environment. Or at least, so it appears. In fact it owes its present-day appearance to the efforts of English and Williams who spent seventeen years restoring it, planting thousands of trees and working with local people to ensure sustainable use of the land. Today those same locals still farm some areas, and the village women harvest oysters from the mangroves, but most of the land is covered with trees and provides a perfect home for birds and a growing troop of baboons. The latter are a mixed blessing – they help to attract tourists and are a visible sign of how this environment has recovered, but they cause havoc around the hotel and damage rice and other crops planted by locals.
This is my last tip. Click here if you would like to return to my main intro page and leave a comment.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
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James Island or Kuntah Kinteh Island
In summer 2012 we visited James Island, also known as Kunta Kinteh Island. James Island is a very small island in the Gambia River. We went there by small boat from the northern riverside.
In 1456 the Island after Portugal acquired the island from local rules the Oortuguese started to build a fort. The location of the island in the middle of the river was a strategic place to control the waterway.
James Island is a World Heritage Site: "James Island and related sites present a testimony to the main periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River Gambia, a continuum stretching from pre-colonial and pre-slavery times to independence. The site is particularly significant for its relation to the beginning of the slave trade and its abolition......"
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Wassu, the mysterious stone circles
In Wassu each stone circle consists of about 10 to 24 massive and reddish brown stones.
The stones are between 1M and 2.5 M high and must weigh several tons, they told me.
Similar structures are found in the Sahara and in Guinee. In Gambia is the largest concentration, about 40 circles between Wassu and Kau-ur.
After my visit at the Wassu circles the four groups of stone circles in The Gambia and Senegal became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006, because ......"the stone circles of pillars and burial mounds present a sacred landscape which is created over more than 1500 years (probably between the 3rd century BC and 16th century AD)".Related to:
I will be there in February/March too. It will be my Gambia Trip # 15.
The real Gambia is to avoid the Hotels and live in the village. There are a lot of appartments and B&B offers.
If you want to travel, which I would recommend, do it on a private base with an experienced guide.
Gore Island is really worth a trip! Anyway, Senegal is taking better care of their tourist attractions. On the other hand, just the basic access in The Gambia is also an experience. I remember my private trip to St. James Island. We took the ferry to Barra, then a cab to Albreda, then a fisherboat brought us to the Island. The motor was down in the middle of the river, we had to changes boats right on the water... that is what I would call an experience.
Or to visit a woman's project of kanyeleng, that means women who where isolated from their families because they can't give birth. To see the way how they survive and become legend, because they are not afraid of nothing and nobody anymore was really impressing!
Whenever it makes sense, take local transport.
And: Senegambia is not THE GAMBIA. Like Reeperbahn is not Germany.
Kachikally Crocodile Park
The sacred pools at Bakau have over the years become a tourist magnet for visitors to The Gambia. Some Gambians believe that the pools have supernatural healing powers and in particular bathing with the waters can aid in fertility. There are dozens of these sacred pools in The Gambia (some without crocs) but this is the nearest to the Atlantic tourist strip. There are over 100 resident crocs of the pool. The Katchikally Crocodile Pool at Bakau, were first discovered by a wine-palm tapper, a member of the Bojang clan, over 100 years ago. The pool's crocodilian residents have since become so tame, that they allow visitors to pet them, and seem to prefer fish over red meat.
Infertile women travel from far and wide from both within and outside the Gambia to visit the site where they are washed with sacred water from the pool by specially trained women of the Bojang clan. After the ritual washing the women are given some of the water in a bottle to be applied to certain body parts before going to bed and first thing in the morning. In return, people washed at the pool are expected to make a small cash donation, a piece of cloth and a colanut - half of which is shared among the elderly and the other half of which is thrown into the pool to appease the crocodiles. Once the ritual is performed, one is not supposed to shake hands with anybody from Bakau. Members of the Bojang clan are forbidden from exploiting the pool for financial gains lest it loses its sacredness. There are two other popular pools at Folonko in Kartong Village and Berending Bolong 4km from Barra.
You can actually touch the crocodiles if you are feeling brave enough!Related to:
When in the Gambia, do take a trip to the south part of Senegal, the Casamance. Go on a guided trip for one day and experience the Atlantic Ocean, the different language and the husle to cross the border and to get in again........
Great fun.Related to:
Wassu, stone circles
Near Wassu are several stone circles, believed to be burial sites and about 1200 years old. Wassu with its stone circles is one of the most famous sites in Gambia.
These stone circles gave me a very mysterious feeling, like also Stonehenge in England and the stones in Carnac in France did.
The archaeologists don't know yet the origin of these Wassu stones, so it is still an archaeologic and anthropologic mystery. It is believed, it must be the remains of a very old and developed African civilisation, before the old Ghana empire.
Besides these stone circles in Wassu there are three more large groups of stone circles. There are all together more than 1000 monuments along about 350 km of the River Gambia.
After my visit at the Wassu circles the four groups of stone circles in The Gambia and Senegal became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006, because ......"the stone circles of pillars and burial mounds present a sacred landscape which is created over more than 1500 years (probably between the 3rd century BC and 16th century AD)"......Related to:
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Mali & Senegal Tours with Oumar Diarra
Anyone considering a beach holiday in the Gambia and Senegal, may want to look West and venture deeper into the real Africa. Whether you just have a few spare days away from the beach or would like to spend three or four weeks travelling around the sights of Senegal, Mali, Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, Oumar can take you there. For those lucky enough to spend several months away from the cold winters of Europe and America, Oumar can take you deeper into the forests and deserts of West Africa. Oumar can speak several languages outside of French and English, including Mandinka, Bamanan and Fula , the main tongues of West Africa. This will give you entrance to people and places denied to those on a tourist package.
For those looking for Music and Culture, such as the Festival of the Desert in December and the Festival on the Niger in January, Oumar can organise the trip for you. He can tailor the tour to suit your budget, whether it's luxury hotel or a tent in the desert , Oumar will organise it for you.
Gambia is Good Farm
Close to the Banjul International Airport you find the Gambia is Good Farm yard. Gambia is Good is bringing together thousands of local farmers. The supply Gambia is Good and they in return sell the crop to the Hotels, Restaurants, Supermarkets etc. Thus providing a livelyhood for the local farmers and making the hotels etc less dependant on foreign supply. At the farm yard you can see some of the crops they are growing, get introduction into all Gambia is Good is doing and taste solar baked cakes etc.
This day out is fun to do. We got to know about it through posters in Kombo Beach Hotel and we didn't want to miss this. Fantastic work Gambia is Good is doing.Related to:
Cruising on the River
We came across this great website for Gambia River Cruise. We contacted them and within a day we had a trip arranged. We chartered a boat just for the 2 of us and it was just fantastic. The boat itself is huge - the crew is fantastic and the day itself is one to remember for the rest of our lives. If we ever get married we want to do it on that boat.
Upperdeck with lovely deck chairs and a lounge area - below comfortable sitting area and a kitchen where the cook is preparing some finger licking food. We caught some fish, we took a dip and we saw the local women collect oysters from the mangroves. All in all just SUPERB!Related to:
- Water Sports
On Bakau New Town road you will find a bit hidden The Saloon. This is a multi purpose place. Hair and massage Saloon downstairs, Art Gallery upstairs and there is also a lovely food place. The whole building is a gem with loads of different styles and you just keep on looking around. If you are lucky the owner will show you his garden with the most beautiful orchids and other exotic flowers.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Bicycle riding & Serrekunda Market
just rent some mountain bikes and drive towards Serrekunda - avoid the big road with loads of traffic - and then just drive around this bustling city. You can park your bicycle e.g. at a local bar, have a drink and then ask the waiter to look after your bikes whilst you visit the market. You just wander around and you will be amazed at what you all see. In general the locals don't pay much attention to you unlike the beaches were you will often be approached by locals to try and sell you trips, souvenirs etc. It is so refreshing to see the day to day life in a busy city.Related to:
The Gambia Hotels
The Kombo Beach is the only hotel we have been to in The Gambia, we stayed here the first time and...more
well such an extraordinarily well run venue in Gambia. German influence, very efficient. What...more
AU Hwy, Brufut Heights, PO Box 3311, Serekunda, Gambia
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Couples
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