Friday, 26 April 2019

The Gambia and Senegal...Beautiful Beaches and Safari for the Uninitiated...Part 1

Dear Readers,

It is your Hapless Blogger once more.  Not again!  I hear you cry…Unfortunately, yes.  This time, your Hapless Blogger is joined by her Intrepid Mother.  Terrifying. 

Today, we are going to explore two travel trends in one trip.  Firstly, we are going to talk about African beach holidays, and secondly, in Part Deux, I am going to expose you to the delights (questionable) of safari in Senegal…You’ll feel sorry for the animals…

Just a bit of geography to start off with:  mainly as I knew vaguely where the Gambia was, but I have to admit, my knowledge of African countries is hazy at best.  The Gambia is a long, very thin country, positioned, interestingly, within Senegal.  It basically skirts the River Gambie, which runs right from the Atlantic coast, inland. 

Let’s start our trip on a very small aeroplane:  my mother said one day, darling, we’re off to the Gambia.  It’s such fun.  She’d been before.  I was clearly having some sort of mid-twenties crisis and she decided that it would be “good for you, darling” to get some Winter sun in the Gambia.  Note here, dear Readers, that nothing was mentioned about safaris in Senegal…Now something I have to remark at this stage is that if you want some Winter sun, the Gambia is the place to go.  We went in November and it was glorious.  Mind you, the sun is mega hot.  If you are not native, or very, very dark skinned, you will BURN.  I am dark skinned but even I peeled like anything, so make sure you use Factor 50 all the way. 

Be warned.  The plane is small.  The flight is about 6 and a bit hours.  Oddly enough, the Gambia is only one hour behind the UK, which feels a bit weird really, as you have been on a (very small) plane for so long.  You fly into Banjul “International” Airport, which is a bit of a stretch, but probably the maddest airport I have ever been to, and if you’ve read my other Blog posts, my dear Readers, you’ll know that I’ve been to some pretty strange places…I don’t need to tell you this, but just in case:  prepare for the heat.  Most of you will be leaving the UK in November at about 10 degrees being generous.  When 30 degrees of dry heat hits you, it hits you hard.  Fortunately, and something else to note, dear Readers, is that it is a dry heat.  Often, it’s the humidity which nearly kills you, but a dry heat, one can usually handle.  So knuckle down and try not to get swept away by the madness of the airport.  Something else which struck me, was the volume of Brits there.  It seems that Brits have enjoyed holidaying in the Gambia for many, many years, and I can really see why!  I loved it, dear Readers! 

Once you clear the crazy airport, normally packed into a small people-carrier, you are shipped out to your various resorts.  This is great fun in itself.  It seems to me, with this sort of travelling and indeed holiday, you have two choices:  you can either hate every minute of it, as it’s not comfortable, too hot, too dirty, too foreign, or in true public school girl, head girl (my mother, not me, although we did go to the same school, I was more likely to get caught smoking behind the CDT block, rather than being captain of the netball team…sigh), jolly hockey sticks-style, embrace it.  And embrace it we did, dear Readers.  In the words of my mother (and also Miranda’s mother in “Miranda” if you watch it) “such fun, darling”.  And it really was.  A lot of the Brits we got talking to were off to their timeshares in the Kololi Beach Club ( which looks lovely.  We were off to Kombo Beach (, which was equally lovely.  No, Readers, it wasn’t posh, but it was hardly basic either.  The ground were lush and green with beautiful palm trees, but the main feature, and having been to many, many beaches, as I am sure you have, dear Readers, has to be the beach.  The “smiling coast” I think they term it, and you couldn’t not smile.  Honestly it is just beautiful.

I suppose a lot of people prefer to stay in their resort, as there really is everything there.  A lovely restaurant with local and international cuisine and even aqua aerobics if you really want…It’s a great place to chill out, read your book and re-charge as they say.  Being beach people we embraced it, although I will warn you now, dear Readers, of two slightly problematic issues:  the former is slightly more important than the latter, which is, quite frankly, #firstworldproblems.

Number one, and this might bother some people:  you get a hell of a lot of “hassle”.  I had blonde hair at the time which only made matters worse.  You do not get that level of hassle if you are male.  We took it completely in our stride, but I can imagine some people could actually get quite upset about it.  Really, it starts as soon as you emerge onto the beach on your sun lounger.  Should you remain relatively close to the resort, the staff there see off anyone trying to sell you something/talk to you etc etc pretty quickly.  However, as you begin to bake, you may want to take a dip in the Atlantic.  You then have to leave the relative safety of your lounger and run the gauntlet to the sea.  Once in the sea, they don’t really bother you.  For the first few days, and due to your inbuilt British politeness you either suffer or feel very, very rude.  But after a while you get used to it.  Best not to make eye contact.  And don’t buy anything.  Should you wish to take a lovely stroll up or down the beach, which we both very much enjoy doing, again, be prepared. 

Number two is this:  you are jumping straight into the Atlantic.  It’s much warmer than you think, but very, very wavy.  Jumping the waves has always been a favourite pastime, fortunately, but I would warn you that they are strong and vicious and will come out of nowhere, and knock you clean over.  But it’s SO MUCH FUN!  I would also warn you that it’s extremely salty and takes its toll on your bikinis very quickly, so if they are not particularly robust, or have seen better days before you go, think on, dear Readers, think on.  They will dissolve.  You have been warned!

Again, some people would just stay in their resort and refuse to go out at night to eat on the basis that it’s not safe.  No true.  You’ll be fine.  If Jolly Hockeysticks and I survived, then you will, too…We decided to venture out, mainly because Jolly Hockeysticks had been there before, and in typical my mother fashion, knew EVERYTHING about it already.  I’m not sure quite how much you know about Gambian food…yassa and fufu are popular sort of stews, and goat is a favourite along with beautiful seafood and fish.  We ventured out to a fabulous little place called “Boss Lady’s” as it’s pretty close to the resort and very, very traditional.  Now, Jolly Hockeysticks doesn’t mind a bit of rough and ready, but I found the hard boiled eggs and raw onion on top of yassa and rice a bit challenging, especially when you’re not quite sure what the meat actually was…but guess what, have enough local brew and you don’t really care anymore, it’s all about the experience.  Another resto of note is “Sailor Beach Bar and Restaurant” which you get to down a very dark bit of street.  Once the sun goes down in the Gambia, that’s it, pitch black.  Jolly Hockeysticks is not a streetwise person, so we had a full on posh-girls’ argument about how dangerous (me) it was and how I was overreacting (her).  Let’s face it, dear Readers, any potential threat would have run a mile anyway, and it turned out she was right (as always).  This is one of the best fish restaurants I have ever been to.  Fresh, BBQd fish and seafood.  Cheap as chips and wonderful.  Only slight drawback was the lighting, in that you pretty much ended up eating in the dark, but that was fine…

We are not “entertainment” people, but even we enjoyed the entertainment at the Kombo Beach.  It wasn’t cheesy, but in contrast, extremely interesting with local dance and costumes, and the participants obviously enjoyed it, and were extremely skilled.  In the picture below you’ll see a less willing participant:  white girls can’t shake their booty like the natives!!

Having bedded in nicely, with the tan coming along, and the stress leaving me, Jolly Hockeysticks, who likes to spring things on me at the best of times, announced we were leaving the following morning to go on safari in Senegal…”it’ll be such fun, darling”…famous last words?  Read Part Deux to find out!

And on that cliffhanger, dear Readers, I shall leave you.

Would I recommend the Gambia?  Absolutely.  Cheap as chips, welcoming as anything, and beautiful beaches.  Perfect for Winter sun, so put it on your list.



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