TANJI FISHING VILLAGE
This is the busiest fishing town in The Gambia. The beach is busy throughout most of the day, with a constant delivery of fish from the abundant supply of the Atlantic Ocean. Once on the beach, the boats are unloaded, the fish was then taken ashore, in baskets and wheelbarrows. From the shore, the fish is taken to the smoking centre, the market or the holding freezers.
Dozens of broken freezers sit on the beach at Tanji. The ingenious people have old, none working, freezers near to the beach, they use these freezers to store the catch that is caught in the late afternoon. The fish is put into the freezers along with ice from the local “ice factory”. It is stored overnight, then dispensed the next morning to the markets or the smoking centre.
The market is very close to the beach where the fish is unloaded from the boats. The market is busy and hectic, with many types of fresh fish and seafood on sale.
The oyster farm is situated just outside Lamin Lodge, i visited on the " 4 in 1 day tour" with ARCH-TOURS
The oysters are brought to the farm, boiled for 20 minutes so that they are easier to prise open. The larger of the oysters are sold to local hotels and the smaller ones sold in the local markets. The shells of the oysters are ground down to a powder the mixed with water and used as white-wash to paint the local houses. This business is run by the women of Gambia. This visit to The Gambia I only saw the oysters after they were caught, hopefully next visit, I will go on a trip into the mangroves and see the women catch the oysters.
KACHIKALLY CROCODILE POOL
Kachikally crocodile pool is in a district of Bakau. There are over 100 magnificent crocodiles in and around the pool.
The pool also has sacred fertility properties, women still to this day go there in the hope that it will help them to get pregnant. This is not the only sacred pool in The Gambia, some of the others also have crocodiles living in them. The ritual of body washing, is carried out by women of the Bojang Dan. They wash the woman who has come for help with water from the sacred pool, the woman also takes some of the water home to wash in again. If the woman falls pregnant and she has a baby, the baby is usually named Kachikally.
The crocodiles around the pool seem quite docile, it is safe to touch them and have your photo taken. I thought the crocodile that I stroked and had a photo with was stuffed as he (they always use male crocodiles for the tourists, as the females can get vicious if they have young) never moved whilst I was with him. He soon sprang into action when the keeper threw a fish onto the ground.
This experience was part of the “4 in 1 day tour” with Arch-Tours.
A culture show at The Palm Beach hotel
During my stay at PALM BEACH HOTEL, there was entertainment each evening, at the bar around the pool.
Sunday and Wednesday evening, the entertainment was “a culture show”.
Women African dancers, danced energetically to a drum band played by men. It was very entertaining. People were invited up onto the stage to participate. I enjoyed the show from my comfortable seat, with my cold beer.
4 IN 1 DAY TOUR
4 in 1 day tour, This was the first ARCH-TOURS that I went on in The Gambia, it was really fun and very informative. We started by going to Serrekunda market, which was very busy and hectic. Alex showed us some of the products on sale including Kola nuts, we tasted these, they were quite bitter but very popular with the locals.
We next went to Kachikally Crocodile pool. The crocs roam around the pond area feeding and basking in the sun. one crocodile, always a male, is used for the tourists to take photos with. I thought it was a stuffed croc as it never moved whilst everybody was touching it, after all the visitors had their photos took the local guide threw a fish onto the ground and the croc burst into action, it wasn’t stuffed.
From there we went to Lamin lodge where we had coffee and delicious homemade donuts. Lamin lodge was a wooden construction set amongst the mangroves. The oyster farm was also here and we learned that the oysters are sold to hotels and local markets and the shells ground down then water is added to make a type of whitewash, nothing is wasted in The Gambia.
From the oyster farm we travelled through the country side visiting villages and schools. Most people had brought pens, pencils, balloons and paper for the children. The children were very well behaved but they got very excited when they were given their treats. We had a look around a typical village. The houses were very basic with mostly just mattresses on the floor for sleeping and just a hanging bucket for showering. The toilets are holes in the ground. One thing that did strike me about the families in The Gambia is how clean and happy the children. There is a real sense of extended family with children and babies moving between women so it was hard to tell which was their mother as they were fed and cuddled by all the women in the group.
We then went to a local abattoir, which was fascinating, the animals were quite happily hanging around in a field until they were sold. it was interesting to learn about how each village would have their own animals living amongst them until it was time for them to go to the abattoir
Our next stop was paradise beach, after a delicious buffet lunch I sat on a deck chair under the shade and had a rest. Lamin (the first born son is always called Lamin) found me a nice spot and I sat and watched cows wander up and down the beach.
Our last stop of the day was to Tanji, the largest fishing village in The Gambia. First we saw the smoking process as fish is smoked out in the open. We then went down to the beach where fishing boats were coming in and dozens of workers were scurrying about bringing the fish from the boats, selling it from the beach, transporting it to the trucks (or freezers, if it was late in the day)
After a busy day the jeeps took us back to our hotels.
If you only do one tour whilst in Gambia, this is the one you should do. It is so diverse with all aspects of Gambian life looked at, it is fun and informative and the staff make the day perfect……see you next year ARCH-TOURS
Arch-Tours was by far the best part of my holiday in The Gambia.
The company was started in 2004 by Abdul Conteh,previously they were known as the "boys in red" and their reputation has grown along with the company for the last 10 years.
I booked my tours whilst I was in Gambia as the office was only a ten minute walk from my hotel and next to the supermarket. I had e-mailed Abdul before hand with questions about pick up from my hotel (they pick you up and drop you off at your hotel) and visas for Senegal (a visa is not needed for the day trip to Fathala game park). Abdul replied to both my e-mails within a couple of hours.
The tour guides were all very friendly and great fun to be around. They took the trouble to tell you everything about life in The Gambia, they also kept people from hassling you whilst you walked around the markets or at busy places such as the fishing village.
All the guides were really friendly and helpful. Amy, Steve, Alex, Ali, Solomon, Ebriam. There was also another girl but I cannot remember her name.
I took three tours....
4 TOURS IN 1 DAY...this one is not to be missed.
THE FRUIT LADIES
The fruit ladies serve most parts of the beach between kotu stream and Kololi. Usually when you buy fruit from one of these ladies she will remember you and approach you when you are walking along the beach. I love fruit so I had 3 fruit ladies, Halimatous, Almia and Susan. Each of them work on different parts of the beach. The fruit is really delicious. You choose your selection from about 8 different fruits. The “plates” come in three sizes, small (100 Dalasis..£2), medium (150 Dalasis..£3,) and large (250 Dalasis..£4). My usual choice was orange, banana, mango, melon and grapefruit. I have heard that when you return to The Gambia, the fruit ladies will remember your face and name, I shall put that to the test as I am hoping to go again next February with my daughter.
Bakau fishing village
If you walk into Bakau from Fajara one of the first places you come too, soon after the small market, is the fishing village. Here the local fishermen congregate to launch their pirogues, mend their nets, sell their catch – and to try to make a few extra delasi by showing tourists around. Stand firm – you don't need a guide to wander around here and take some photos, though you should if course be discreet when taking ones of individuals. You could of course ask permission but getting it could mean a tip and that could prove expensive if you want lots of pics!
Fish caught here include barracuda, captain fish and lady fish, all of which you will see on hotel and restaurant menus, plus some smaller fish which tend to be eaten only by locals because of the large number of bones they contain. Chris was also shown a so-called "ugly" fish by one would-be guide, which had weirdly human-looking teeth!
Fish is also processed here before being sold, so you’ll see smoking houses and packaging. Some stalls cook and sell the fish too but I didn’t think the standards of hygiene looked all that great and the fish being cooked were the little bony ones it seemed. And of course, as anywhere where fish are caught, there are plenty of small cats and large birds (here mostly egrets) hoping for a bite too.
All along this coast you’ll see these same colourful fishing boats at work offshore. I watched them a lot from the gardens and beach at our hotel in Fajara, Ngala Lodge, and made a little video of some of the fishermen at work.
Next tip: Serekunda Market
We came to Serekunda Market, the largest in The Gambia, with Habib and spent around an hour wandering around. We were very pleased to have his company as I'm not at all sure we would have found our way around this maze of lanes on our own, and we would certainly have attracted more attention, more hassle, and found it harder to take photos. As it was, most people were comfortable with our presence and our cameras and the few that complained, we stopped photographing.
The market takes place all day and every day.. Few Gambian homes have freezers, and with frequent power cuts the fridge cannot be relied on to keep food fresh, so the women (and it is still always the women) shop daily for fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, fish etc. The place was so packed it was hard to make progress at times, especially with the occasional car or bush taxi trying to squeeze through the crowds and the many porters with their wheelbarrows (all licensed by the government, with "number plates" to prove it).
Among the huge variety of goods on sale we saw:
~ chillies of all shapes and sizes
~ peppers – red, green, orange and yellow
~ tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes
~ yams, cassava and sweet potatoes
~ fruits of all kinds, with oranges the most common
~ palm oil in shades of yellow, orange and brown
~ rice, corn and other grains
~ fish both smoked and fresh
~ red sorrel flowers for making tea or wonjo juice
~ leafy green herbs
~ aluminium cooking pots, small, large and huge
~ second-hand clothes (including underwear and shoes)
~ colourful fabrics hung up and sold by the metre
~ batteries and small electrical goods
~ and so much more!
There are of course many other markets in The Gambia but as the biggest and liveliest Serekunda is well worth a visit, though you have to be prepared for a degree of chaos and be comfortable in crowds. The market lasts all day, every day, but is quieter in the period just after lunch. Ideally you should come in the first half of the morning, as we did, to avoid the heat of the day and see it at its most active.
Next tip: Kachikally Crocodile Pool
Kachikally Crocodile Pool
Have you ever petted a full grown crocodile?! No, nor had we, and when Habib suggested that we might do just that at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool I was in two minds about the idea. But as it turned out we found the crocs docile enough that we did pet them, and lived to tell the tale!
Kachikally is part tourist attraction, part shrine. It is one of several sacred crocodile pools in The Gambia which are used as sites for fertility rituals – Wikipedia says there are three in total while information I found on a Gambian website claims that there are dozens, though not all have crocodiles now.
Kachikally itself is a privately owned shrine belonging to the Bojang family of Bakau, one of the most prominent families of the city. It was a palm wine tapper from that clan who first found it over 100 years ago. It is located right among the residential compounds on the outskirts of town and is thus the easiest of The Gambia’s sacred pools for tourists to visit. But its original role as shrine is still very much alive, I understand, though we saw no sign of that on our visit.
Some local people believe that these pools have supernatural healing powers and also that bathing in their waters can aid in fertility. Habib told us that these beliefs are still quite common and many people take them seriously and believe in the powers of Kachikally’s waters. I found this description of the rituals on a website:
“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 cola nut – 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.
While they may be forbidden from making money from the pool (or at least form those seeking its cure), this doesn’t stop them from charging tourists a small admission fee of 50D (about £0.80 or $1.30). We were also asked inside to make a further contribution to food for the crocs before we could progress round the pool. But I am leaping ahead. The first area you visit after paying your admission is a cluster of small round buildings that house a little museum dedicated to tribal customs. It was interesting to look round this with Habib as he told us more than the signs did in some cases (though signage is generally good). He also made it personal by telling us which was his own tribe and that of his father, which his mother’s and which his wife’s (marriage between the tribes is normal and even encouraged). There was a variety of musical instruments in one room and some fascinating tribal costumes in another, while a third had some rather less attention-grabbing old photos of military aircraft.
From here we proceeded to the pool itself. We were introduced to our “pool guide” and warned not to touch any crocodile without his express permission. A particularly docile and sleepy croc was resting nearby on the bank and this was the one we were to pet. We waited while one other visitor took her turn, and as she came away with all fingers intact I decided to give it a go. As you might expect, the texture of his skin was hard and leathery, but also a little slimy with pond weed. Chris was next but before stepping forward he declared his cynicism by suggesting that this particular creature was not alive but stuffed. A prod of the guide’s stick soon showed him that he was wrong!
We then, having made our payment for the food, headed round the pool to an area from where we could see lots of the crocodiles (there are apparently over 80). Many were lazing on the banks but some were swimming lazily and I made a short video of these. It is said that the reason these crocs are so languid and unthreatening is that they get plenty to eat and are given only fish, so they have lost any taste for red meat. Certainly none of them took any interest in their human visitors.
As you leave there are a few small shacks selling crafts such as batik. I bought a silver bangle from one of these – I liked the fact that you could see the guy working on the jewellery here and also Habib vouched for him as genuine. Whether the silver is I am not quite sure, but the price was low enough and the bangle pretty so I don’t much care if it is slightly less than pure.
Next tip: Fangbondi
We paid a brief visit to the Botanic Gardens in Bakau with Habib. After the colourful flowers on many of the shrubs in the grounds of Ngala Lodge this struck us as a little dusty and bare, with few flowers and some plants looking less than well-tended. But it was an interesting opportunity to see some of the country’s native plants and a few were very striking – none more so than this Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia Macrophylla) with its large dramatically marked blooms that reminded me a little of brocade or maybe flocked wallpaper!
This is also a good place to spot birds. We saw several Long-tailed Glossy Starlings which I managed to photograph and two Green Wood Hoopoe which I did not! There was also a Red-billed Hornbill and several smaller birds which Habib couldn’t name.
While not a must-see destination this is a pleasant place to grab some shade and get away from the hassle of bumsters and would-be sellers out on the main road. Entrance is 50D and is collected by an attendant who will find you as you stroll around.
Next tip: Calypso at the CapeRelated to:
Calypso at the Cape
Although this is a bar and restaurant I am including it as a "Thing to do" because it is in such an appealing setting that it merits a trip simply to see the surroundings. We came here with Habib at the end of one of our excellent mornings out (see my Fajara Favourites tip) and had a relaxing time sipping cold fresh wonjo juice (made from sorrel, as Habib told us, not as is usually claimed from hibiscus). We had a shady table overlooking the pool and a great view of all the bird life there.
We especially enjoyed watching a pair of Pied Kingfishers fishing in its waters. We also spotted, with Habib's help, some Caspian Terns, a Cinnamon Roller and various others including weavers and lots of swifts and swallows. A large Gambian lizard sat sunning himself on a nearby wall, while a couple of crocodiles swam lazily across the pool. A wonderful spot!
Should you be in need of more refreshment, Calypso serves light lunches and evening meals. We will definitely come back for either or both if in this area again.
Next tip: the birds of The GambiaRelated to:
Bijilo Forest Park
This is an easy excursion from any of the coastal resorts, and if you like animals and birds, one well worth making. Bijilo is an area of natural sandy-soiled forest that was preserved when the coastal strip was being developed, so that tourists would have a chance to see something of natural Gambia on their doorstep. It has become home to troops of monkeys, with two species living here: green vervet and red colobus. While the latter are relatively shy and sightings not guaranteed (though were lucky and saw quite a few), the green vervets are habituated to humans and incredibly friendly and inquisitive – probably because they have learned that most tourists come bearing gifts in the form of groundnuts. Not for nothing are these also termed monkey nuts, as the creatures clearly love them!
In theory feeding the monkeys is not encouraged; in fact, signs at the entrance to the park say that it is not allowed. But in practice all the guides seem to urge the tourists to do so and the park security guys must know this and turn a blind eye as long as the food (bought from sellers just outside at 50D a bag) is hidden from view in your bag as you enter the park.
We came here with Habib soon after breakfast when the air was still fresh and pleasant. Strolling among the different trees was lovely, and for a while we were happy with sightings of birds (a hornbill and bee-eater in particular), ants’ nests, various trees etc. But to start with at least, there were no monkeys to be seen. Habib explained that they would have gone to the nearby hotels to forage for breakfast scraps and would be back soon. He promised that we would see the green vervets for sure, and get some good photos, but gave no guarantee about the red colobus monkeys.
After we had been walking for about half an hour, and while i was engaged in photographing an interestingly shaped baobab tree, suddenly there was a small green vervet monkey at my feet! Soon several more appeared and as Habib pulled our bag of nuts from his pocket, even more. It seems that even without food you are pretty much certain to see these cute animals, as they will surely come to check you out. But if you have some nuts they will linger and you'll get a chance to really interact with them and get some great photos too - although the latter isn't as easy as you might think at these close quarters, as they are almost continually on the move.
We spent some time with this group - in fact until all (or so I thought) our nuts had gone. It was a wonderful experience to feel their soft hands gently tugging at your finger to see if you had a nut for them. What intrigued me most was the very clear distinction of characters within the group. Most were friendly and eager, without being pushy. But one large male, clearly the alpha male, threw his weight around and tried to shove the smaller monkeys away if he felt he wasn't getting his fair share - on a couple of occasions a brief scuffle ensued. One younger male in particular took my fancy, sitting patiently in a nearby tree, at shoulder level, and seemingly accepting each nut I passed him with almost spoken gratitude. And one poor little one was so self-effacing that she hung right back and wouldn't even pick up a nut that landed nearby when I tried to toss it to her, because she just knew a bigger, bolder monkey would easily grab it from her before she could eat it. You can get just a sense of how fascinating their antics were in my video.
Eventually we moved on. Habib was continually on the watch for the red colobus monkeys and we were in luck! It was not too long before he spotted a group in some trees above our heads. We grabbed a few shots but it wasn't easy; however he soon motioned us to a better position on a side path and we were able to get some better ones and to enjoy the sight of a small baby with its mother high above us.
As we returned to the park's entrance we found that more tourists had arrived (up to this point we had seen only a handful of other people) and also a lot more green vervets, who were interacting with the visitors and enjoying a bounty of nuts. One was even sitting on a man's shoulder! It was at this point that we found that Habib had kept back a few nuts. He suggested I sit on a low branch and hold a nut by my shoulder to see if a monkey would take it from there. As soon as I did so I had a monkey on that shoulder, with his tail draped round my neck, and a couple more on my lap! They quickly realised that my small supply of nuts was in my pocket and when that ran out one monkey even stuck his head inside the pocket to look for more - so cute and clever!
Altogether we spent almost two hours here and got excellent value from the 30D entrance fee. I would certainly recommend coming in the morning when there are fewer other tourists around, but not too early as the monkeys will be breakfasting elsewhere ;-) Wear comfortable shoes (the path is mostly easy but you’ll be climbing over fallen tree trunks and places) and shorts/trousers that you don’t mind getting grubby – monkey paws aren’t very clean!
Next tip: the River Gambia
If you have read Alex Haley's book, Roots, have seen the TV series or are simply interested in the history of slavery in The Gambia and West Africa, this tour provides an interesting insight into the places and people behind his story and that of thousands of others. You board a boat in Banjul for the two hour journey on the River Gambia to the villages of Albreda and Juffureh. In the former you visit a museum dedicated to the slave trade and see various monuments to that time, as well as getting the opportunity to observe village life (albeit somewhat distorted by the locals' understandable desire to entertain and thus make money out of the many tourist groups). In Juffureh you meet the village chief (when we visited, February 2014, the role was taken, unusually, by a woman) and also members of Kunta Kinteh's family. The latter was the ancestor of Alex Haley to whom he traced his roots, and this village was his home.
After lunch back on board you make a brief visit to James Fort on the small island that used to bear the same name but has recently (2011) been renamed Kunta Kinteh. Then it is back on board for the return journey to Banjul.
I have written separate tips about the different destinations below. The trip cost us about £50 per person (early 2014 prices) which included lunch, other light refreshments on board and a payment to the local village guides in Albreda and Juffureh. You're encouraged to make a donation to the village school rather than tip the guides, or the various groups of kids who make great efforts to entertain you.
The trip is expensive compared with those you can arrange with local guides in the resorts, but is more complex and it’s maybe worth the extra cost to have someone put it together for you and take care of logistics. It’s a long, hot day though – we had only been in the country for 24 hours and I was unaccustomed to the heat, coming straight from an English winter, so I found myself suffering just a little later that evening with what I think was mild heat exhaustion. Take it easy, take plenty of water (I thought I had drunk enough, but …) and stay in the shade when you can.
Next tip: more about the first place we visited on this trip, AlbredaRelated to:
- Historical Travel
We visited Albreda as part of the Roots excursion. It is a small fishing village on the north bank of the Gambia River, about two hours sailing time from Banjul. In less happy times this was one of the embarkation points for slaves being transported to the Caribbean and Southern states plantations, and the village contains several memorials of those days.
Albreda was formerly a French outpost, having been given to the French by a local ruler, Niumi Mansa, in 1681 to strengthen trading ties with Europe. This gave the French a foothold in the otherwise British-owned territory in this region and led to regular skirmishes, with nearby Fort James changing hands between them several times, before settling down under British control from 1702 onwards. Albreda itself was transferred from French control to the British Empire in 1857.
Today the village survives on fishing and tourism, the later sustained by these memories of its dark past. As you arrive by boat you will see a dramatic statue of a human figure, part black and part white, with broken chains hanging from its wrists and a globe for a head. On the plinth are inscribed the words, "Never again" (photo four). Nearby are the ruins of a ‘factory’ or fortified slaving station, and the so-called Freedom Flag-pole (photo three) which we were told gets its name from a story that if a slave managed to escape from James Island and swim here, and to touch the pole before being caught, he would gain his freedom - but none ever did because they feared the river and never learned to swim. I am not sure how true this is ...
From here you can stroll through the village with its dusty football pitch and shady baobab trees, to a small building that houses the slave museum. As you walk you will likely be "serenaded" by local children with drums, singing and some rather bizarre costumes and dancing (see my short video and photo two). Every group has a begging bowl for tips but you are encouraged instead to make a single donation to the village in a box outside a small council office.
The slavery museum is housed in a wooden building dating from the mid 19th century. I have written a separate tip about it below. Next door is the small village school which you are encouraged to visit, which again I have covered in that same separate tip.
In summary, this is a good place to visit not only to get an up close perspective on the impact of the slave trade on this region but also to see a rural village. Just don't expect to have it to yourself, and do expect a (manageable) degree of hassling. After all, why shouldn't these people cash in on the opportunities we bring their way?
Next tip: the Slavery MuseumRelated to:
- Historical Travel
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