Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Gambia: Travel, Travel, Travel

Day 1: Easier Done Than Said

After a night spent spooning and talking to Katherine, we had to wake up early in the morning to start our sojourn to The Gambia. Right off the bat we had some good luck with the sept-place immediately filling up (amazing luck with transportation was the theme of the trip) and we were off after I had an awkward conversation with two of the men in our car who chided me for not being able to speak Puular since one of them didn't speak Wolof. From Thies we absolutely flew to Kaolack where we had to switch garages and find another car to the border of Senegal and The Gambia.

I slept almost the entire way in the car (sleeping is a great talent of mine) so I was ready to schmooze with the customs officials once we got to the border. This was a good thing since we were there for a couple of hours waiting for some guy to return with our passports and new visas. Although having the customs officials tell me what scent of incense they would burn for me if I came to their house, was more than a little awkward, they did really help us out with our travel plans. The original plan was to cross the river at this point and travel on the south side of the river to Georgetown, our destination for the night. Fortunately, the customs officials told us the southern road is terrible and that it would be a much better idea to not cross the river and head east on the north side of the river. They were right. The road was in perfect condition and stick straight. The driver could have put the car on cruise control and taken a nap if he wanted to.

We arrived in Georgetown in the late afternoon, hours before we thought we would actually arrive. The only hiccup was exchanging money which proved to be slightly difficult since banks which offer 24/7 services were closed (and their ATMs locked) and the one bank with an accessible ATM was broken. Go figure. We were able to get some Delasi (Gambian currency) and once we arrived in Georgetown we hopped in a little boat and forded the river to McCarthy island, where, with the help of two guys who found us on the boat, walked back and forth across the island until we decided on a campament to stay in.

The campament was pretty nice and super cheap. We negotiated a boat tour with the men who helped us find the campament, took some much needed showers, and ate a delicious chicken dinner, and then went to bed... that is until the campament owner started hacking apart his door at 1am because he had lost the key.

Day 2: Apocalypse Now Field Trip

The first time we crossed the river to the island, Tamar fittingly referenced Apocalypse Now and the similarities between the boat we used and the boat in the movie. It is truly amazing that a boat made out of random pieces of metal fused together actually works.

The day before, the guy who was trying to persuade us into taking a boat trip with him claimed that we would see hippos jumping on a sand bar. While this image reminded me of Dumbo and gave us a good laugh, I gave hippos jumping on sand bars a 0% chance of happening. Grandiose talk. That's what it appeared to be almost an hour into our boat ride down the river. We had planned on going to Baboon Island, which is a chimp preserve, but time and money prevented that from happening so our boat tour was just through the river in the national park. The Gambia provides a much better chance of seeing wildlife than Senegal, but I was skeptical. Especially after seeing one very small monkey in a tree very far away and a small lizard that Tamar swears was dead.

Just as the four of us were about to throw in the towel and tell our guides to turn around we saw a huge family of baboons along the shore. There were probably thirty or forty adult male (huge!), women, and children along the bank. It was really cool to see. The baboons were running around and growling a bit, but we got to watch them for quite a while. We saw them again when we turned around as well. Totally satisfied with baboons sighting, I thought we were done. Then we came across the infamous sandbar... and there were actually hippos! And they were frolicking on the sandbar. I couldn't believe it. There was a family of hippos on the sandbar (which unfortunately was mostly covered in deep water), but we saw the dad jump out of the water while the mom and three babies swam around. It was pretty cool!

Extremely happy with the hippo and baboon sitings we turned around and headed back to Georgetown so we could catch a car heading all the way west back to Banjul, the capital. We got in the boat for our tour at 7:30am and literally did not stop moving in some form of transportation until after 8pm. It was a boat trip to a river crossing in a boat, to a sept-place back to Faraffeni (where we had crossed the Senegalese border the day before), into an Alham (terrifying scrap metal bus) to the ferry crossing, a ferry across to the south side of the river, to another scary Alham bus, to a garage where we got on a slightly nicer bus, which we road for over two hours on a dirt road, until we came up onto a paved road, and then, finally a taxi to the Peace Corps regional house. I have never been so dirty in my life, which is saying a lot since I've been in the Peace Corps for almost two years. It looked like I had murdered a swamp monster in the shower.

We celebrated our insanely long day with Chinese food. Banjul is more like Accra, Ghana than Dakar. The streets and buildings are nicer, but there's less of a downtown. The cars are nicer, their regional house is WAY nicer than ours, and cabs actually know where they are going...until they get stuck in sand pits on back roads like ours did on the way to Chinese. No worries, we pushed him out. I have now eaten Chinese food in four different, African, countries which I would call quite the accomplishment. If I had to rank them; Ghana, Cape Verde, Senegal, and The Gambia - although we didn't leave anything on our plates!

Day 3: The Big City

Banjul and Fajara are about as interesting as Dakar. Our first stop was to see the big arch in Banjul, which was a big arch. We did take a nice walk around the market and along the beach until we started getting harassed by some local "bumpsters," or men looking to sell sex. I have a masters degree in ignoring obnoxious inquiries and getting people to leave me alone, but the bumpsters in The Gambia are like nothing I've experienced. They just don't give up. If you ignore them they call you racist and if you engage well, then you have to talk to them and they don't leave you alone when you tell them to. Being followed by bumpsters killed the nice walk along the beach. The beach is beautiful though.

Since there isn't too much to see and it was a national holiday (May 1 is international Labor Day), we headed back south in a cab toward SeneGambia - a strip of bars and restaurants for lunch. We had really good pizza and even better cheesy garlic bread! The food in The Gambia (specifically, the non-African food options) are far superior to Senegal and not surprisingly food was a major part of our trip. With bellies full of pizza we returned to the regional house and chatted with some Gambian PCVs before going to a bar over looking a busy fishing port to watch the activities and the sunset. Mexican food was on the docket for dinner and then a drink at an Irish bar.

Not wanting to offend The Gambia by not showing it the same level of commitment we showed Cape Verde, we swung by Aquarius. Aquarius is THE club in SeneGambia, but even this infamous club can't rally a crowd on a Monday night after a three day weekend so we were the only people on the dance floor...literally. Eventually we gained a few other people, but we never hit double digits. I would say it was a pretty epic night and we definitely owned the dance floor while the American Top 40 played which was great. Aquarius was definitely a good time, but how do you know you probably shouldn't be at a club?

1. It's Monday night.
2. You are the only people at the club.
3. The DJ agrees to watch your purse while playing all of your requests...because no one else is there.
4. There is no line for the ladies room.
5. CNN is on the TV which is supposed to playing music videos for the dancers to watch. Instead, we watch Elliot Spitzer talk about Osama bin Laden.

Day 4: OMG We've Spent Over 24 Hours in the Past Three Days Traveling

With a solid almost four hours of sleep under our belts, we're up and ready to get back to Senegal. If you've ever wondered what it feels like to be in Dante's ninth circle of hell, I can tell you. It involves being crammed into an Alham (crappy bus) while on a ferry fording a river. Yup, that's the ninth circle. Being packed with four other people on a bench made for three while the entire things bobs up and down in the water on top of a ferry is the absolute worst way to spend a morning after you've been out the night before. Not fun.

Two hours later the ferry docks and our Alham doesn't start so some guys have to push it and we coast into starting the bus. Fortunately, it was a short ride to the border where we stamped our passports, used our last Delasi to buy presents for our family, and climb onto a charette (horse cart and yet another form of transportation) to travel through Byron's village to the garage. There Jackie and I were able to get a car directly back to Thies which was awesome, while Tamar and Katherine had slightly longer trips back to site.

It was a great trip and I'm glad that I got to see The Gambia (aka the country inside the country I've been living in for two years) as well as some hippos and baboons! You may be wondering where the pictures are. I hate myself and forgot my camera. I've been so busy taking pictures for Mme. Ly I left it in another bag! Yes, I am heartbroken. Luckily, Jackie, Tamar, and Katherine took a million pictures so check out their blogs and I will be stealing their pictures the next time I see them!

1 comment:

  1. Dante's 9th Circle, Apocalypse Now, Dirtiest ever.....You girls do know how to vacation!!! May I suggest a fancy spa vacation at some future reunion in LA or NYC?!!!!!!

    Honestly, bun, what an amazing experience!