Flight to Banjul
As we had booked a package with The Gambia Experience our flight was a charter one, flying with Monarch from London Gatwick. It was a sort of semi "no frills" experience - we didn't pay for meals but we did for drinks (even soft drinks). Service throughout, both check-in and on board, was well organised and despite limited leg room, the plane was modern and not uncomfortable.
The lunch that was served was reasonable too, with good marks for including some fresh fruit in particular (grapes, pineapple and mango).
We landed just a little later than scheduled and stepped off the plane into temperatures more than 20 degrees higher than at home. The sky was blue, there were palm trees and white cattle egrets - we had arrived in the tropics!
The queue for immigration was not too bad, though the luggage carousel was mobbed and someone else nearly walked off with Chris's bag! But soon our luggage had been screened and we were being greeted by The Gambia Experience rep and directed to our buses. The holiday could now begin.
On our return home we found the airport surprisingly well-organised, with only a short queue to check in and a reasonable one for customs and security. It helped that we had already filled in our departure card, but these are available at the airport if needed. Security was cursory by modern standards, with no request to screen electronic devices separately or to remove liquids for inspection. The departure lounge has three duty free shops all selling much the same goods (mainly cigarettes and alcohol) plus one souvenir shop and a couple of bars. One of these, the Sky Bar, has very pro-active waiters who will hand you a menu as soon as you enter the lounge and help you find a space among the crowded seats. They sell snacks, cold and hot drinks, Julbrew and ice creams, all at reasonable prices. The other bar is outside on a terrace with good views of the planes but very exposed to the hot African sun.
The return flight was in a smaller and more cramped plane (I believe Monarch use smaller planes for their Tuesday flights than their Friday ones) but was similar in terms of service quality.
I include the Monarch Airlines website below for reference but these particular flights are chartered and not available other than through The Gambia Experience.
Next tip: bus transfer to your hotel
Transfer to the hotels
If you travel with The Gambia Experience you can if preferred book a private transfer but we were happy to go in the group buses and found that to be relatively hassle-free. The main downside is that you must wait until everyone is through customs and ready to leave, but we were given a bottle of cold water and a straw fan, and there was plenty of activity to look at outside while we waited the 15 minutes or so for everyone to board the bus.
The drive to our hotel took about 30 minutes and took us through Serekunda with its markets and local shops. I was able to grab some photos in passing - children in a school playground, women and children shopping for dinner, a sponsored walk that looked more like a protest march and more snapshots of local life. The journey passed very quickly and we didn't regret for a moment not paying the extra for the private transfer - especially when another couple arrived at the hotel shortly after us in their private taxi that had run out of fuel en route!
Next tip some accommodation possibilities
Finally after 5 days we started our trip. First we had to drive to the east to visit the Niokolo Koba Park in Senegal and to continue our journey to Mali. We were very excited.
Within ten minutes after our departure we had the first problem with our car ......a flat tyre.
It was the one we bought in Serrekunda the day before.Related to:
- Road Trip
We lost our shock absorber
After the flat tyre at the first day we lost also the shock absorber of our Toyota. It was the one, which was repaired in the local workshop in Ker Serigne the week before.
What we didn't know yet this first day, that this was only the start of a lot of technical and mechanical problems with the cars during our transsahara trip.Related to:
- Road Trip
Finally en route
Finally we solved all problems with the car and could head east. The Mitsubishi Pajero in front of us would be the image of the next weeks on our way to Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and back to the north to Morocco and Europe.
Anyway we thought all problems were solved.......Related to:
- Road Trip
Serrekunda, horse cart
Like everywhere in West Africa we saw also in the Gambia a lot of horse carts, like this one in the centre of Serrekunda along one of the mainroads.
In the Gambia the most horse or donkey carts were used for transporting goods. In other parts of West Africa we saw that these carts were used as taxis or for transporting the whole family.
The Banjul Ferry
There are no bridges across the Gambia River, and the only way to get across is by ferry. The Banjul Ferry runs regularly between Banjul on the south bank of the river, and Barra on the north bank. Two rusty and broken-down ferries are scheduled to make the 30-minute trip every one to two hours between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., but there are usually delays, and it is common for at least one of the ferries to be out of commission.
Because space is limited for vehicles, anyone crossing with a vehicle will have to wait for many hours to get on the ferry, and commercial trucks usually have to wait for days. Those without a vehicle can just walk onto the ferry. The boat's top deck can become very crowded, and visitors must be aware of the many pickpockets attracted by the crowds.
Ker Serigne, preparing and repairing the cars
Before we could leave for our transsahara trip, the two 4WDs had to have a check up.
In Ker Serigne was a local workshop. Every time we thought the cars were fixed, it turned out there was a new technical problem.
Finally we had a delay of almost four days before we could start our overland trip.Related to:
- Road Trip
Soma, looking for a workshop to repair our tyre
After our first night in Soma, the first thing to do the next morning was to find a workshop to repair our flat tyre.
In the Gambia and most West African countries that will be never a problem, because every town or village has many workshops. So we find quite easy a workshop, recognisable by the many tyres along the road.Related to:
- Road Trip
The reason of the flat tyre
During the reparation of our tyre in Soma we found out, what the reason was of our flat tyre within ten minutes after our departure from the Atlantic coast.
First we saw that the tube was full of repairs. Second the tube had not the right size for the tyre.Related to:
- Road Trip
Truck of Sterenborg
When you travels in West Africa, you will see a lot of busses and trucks coming originally from Europe. Often you will see still the names and signs of the European companies on the vehicles.
So our fellow-traveller saw this truck with the name Sterenborg still on it. It was a company, he had worked for in the past, allthough this was not the truck, which he usually drove.Related to:
- Road Trip
Looking for tyres of the right size
For the Toyota Landcruiser we needed new tyres of the right size. We were advised to look for these tyres in a shop in Serrekunda.
At the main road in Serrekunda we found this shop with lots of second hand tyres in all types and sizes you can imagine.Related to:
- Road Trip
Hire a moped
If you stay in one of the hotels at the coast like we did during our first visit to the Gambia, it's nice to hire a moped for short distances.
We did hire a moped and visited quite easily other places along the coast, Serrekunda and even Banjul. We took the scenic old coastal road with wonderful baobab trees.
When I see baobabs, it gives me always the real feeling to be back in Africa.Related to:
- Road Trip
The best fun you can have is to use the local mini buses known as "Geleh-Gelehs", the driver is often accompanied by his son who is continually balling out their destination. A trip from the west coast beach resorts into Serrekunda can cost you as little as five delasi per person. The bush taxis are literally that, if you take one into the rural areas as we did to visit Ebou Bah's family, they plough through the bush as there are no roads leading to these small villages. The villagers take their crops up to the nearest main road to await collection by the farmers' co-operative. The tour operators warn you that your insurance policy doesn't cover you for local transportation, I've not yet come across a policy that has that clause in it!
Banjul International Airport
Located about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Banjul, Banjul International Airport (BJL) is the only airport in Gambia offering flights to other African countries and Europe. Most of the airlines that serve the airport are from neighboring African countries, but a few European airlines and charter companies fly into the airport as well.
Airlines serving Banjul International Airport: Afrinat International Airlines, Arik Air, Binter Canarias, Elysian Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Gambia Bird Airlines, Mauritania Airways, Nigerian Eagle Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, SN Brussels Airlines, Spanair, TACV-Cabo Verde Airlines, and Transavia.
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