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    Travel trends by Global Great Hotels.

Thursday 2 May 2019

The Gambia and Senegal...Safari for the Uninitiated...Part Deux

Dear Readers,

Remember those words? “It’ll be such fun, darling”? Yes, well your Hapless Blogger and Jolly Hockey Sticks were indeed, inflicting themselves upon an unsuspecting Senegal, and embarking on a sort-of safari. Let’s face it, dear Readers, neither of us were really built (or prepared) for real safari, but in all fairness, you can go on some pretty posh ones nowadays…a Blog post for another day, perhaps…but I digress.

We took a rather rickety bus back to Banjul, and this time a short ferry ride to Senegal itself. This, Readers, was a ferry like no other. It was not fussy about its passengers: goats, sheep, cattle, humans, all welcome. We disembarked in Barra, which is also home to a famous fish market which was basically floating as it was conducted actually on boats…amazing to watch, it truly was.  Barra was very busy, full of fruit and veg sellers, and girls with enormous trays of cashew nuts on their heads.

This is when you know what got real.

We were introduced to our mode of transport for the trip (picture below). Not that bad, you think. Bearing in mind it was very hot and rain wasn’t imminent. Up we climbed and in we settled.

Destination was Les Paletuviers, a sort of basic resort in the reserve, but on the way we were to visit Missirah, an ancient tree, which we’ll talk about in a minute. However, let us not forget that this is “Travel Trends” so let’s discuss the “travel”. Now, dear Readers, in order to get to our various destinations, one had to “safari” through the reserves. “Such fun” according to my mother. Fun, dear Readers, it is not. 

The first bit was ok, but after a while, for reasons best known to himself, our driver veered off the unmade road and into the fields. We were driving through bush? Not exactly crops, obviously, but hugely tall grass. What are you whinging about, Hapless Blogger, you wonder! I will tell you, dear Readers. Please take a second to study the picture of the safari vehicle. Do you see any windows? Is it quite tall? Imagine HURTLING through long grass in it. Then imagine all the billions of weird, Senegalese creepy crawlies who live in said long grass. As you are catapulted along, said creepy crawlies are dislodged from their creepy crawly homes, and hurled at you at tremendous speeds. One minute you are minding your own business, trying to hang on and not fall off or out, then next minute you look at your hair on in your lap to see that some sort of giant locus or scorpion looking thing has taken up residence. As you leap up to free him, another one smacks you in the face. And so on. Such fun.

We reached this fabled tree, me half dead from smacking myself in the face and having developed some sort of nervous twitch as every time something brushed my arm I thought it was going to try and eat me. Picture below of fabled tree. I’m going to get a bit serious for a second. This is clearly a known tourist spot. It’s on the outskirts of a little village. The poverty is incredible. The local children clearly know tourists are going to visit and they come to beg. You’re told in the resort and indeed in Barra where they (conveniently) sell them, that should you wish to give the children something, you should give them pencils which they can use at school. But Readers, these children needed food. It was terrifying. In truth, I remember very little of the tree. It was a big, old tree. But the poverty of those children will never leave me. The flies were landing on their eyes, just like you see on the television. And I’m glad, Readers, that I took this trip before I became a mother. Should I do it now, I don’t think I could cope. Little kids. It makes me cry just to think about it. Sorry to be sober, but it was very, very sobering. And you know what was even worse, if that’s possible? There were some “celebrities” there on motorbikes doing some sort of “Travel Trend” of their own, I guess, and yes in fairness to them, they had bought the pencils etc, but they were having their photos taken giving them to these poorly, poor children. I just didn’t think it was right, you know? I don’t know what you think about this sort of topic, Readers, and it is indeed a touchy one, but I felt like the children were just some sort of prop.

Enough melancholy. On we bounced on the “Deathmobile”…more smacks in the face off the creepy crawlies. A giant beetle, of proportions you simply won’t believe, got stuck in my hair. I nearly passed out. We got to our destination, which was to be home for 2 nights, called Les Paletuviers. It was really, really strange: I can only really describe it as an old French (Senegal being French, of course) colonial holiday camp. It had a pool, and funny little huts and a restaurant where we all ate together “such fun”. And Readers, it had the most beautiful collection of exotic birds you have ever seen! Now, I’m not really into birds to be honest, but I kid you not, it was like living in an aviary in Kew Gardens, except the birds were wild. Unbelievable. The next day I was allowed to lie by the pool, and their colours and their song was something unforgettable.

Bedding in slightly, and trying not to think of the “Deathmobile” I relaxed and really enjoyed it. That evening we took an evening cruise to a village built on an island in the river, only accessible by boat. What set it apart from all the other small villages I guess one could visit, was that it was run by women, a woman being the chief. How cool is that?! We were shown around, and saw how they lived, how they fished, their traditions…it was fascinating, and so totally different to our Western way of life, it’s like your brain can’t even compute it.

The following day I climbed with trepidation back into the “Deathmobile” bound for the “Reserve de Fathala” a game reserve. Do you know something: I don’t think I believed Jolly Hockey Sticks when she said we were going on safari, because I hadn’t actually seen anything remotely safari-ish…but now it was time. As we drove through, we saw everything: antelope, zebra, and rhinoceros. It was quite incredible. I was unprepared to see anything and they came right up, with babies, too. Honestly, Readers, it was next level. It’s just so different seeing animals in their natural habitats rather than a zoo or wildlife park. They are just getting on with their lives, being natural. Another important point to make is that this was a very low-key, very relaxed safari. It wasn’t the “big 5” or some expensive, posh experience. I think the whole thing was about £100 for 2 people. But it was amazing.

Back to the colonial holiday camp, and then early the next morning, we were Barra-bound on the “Deathmobile”. More insect slapping, but it didn’t seem to bother me so much this time. And to top it off, we were pursued by some very wild, very cheeky monkeys who were swinging through the grass, keeping up with us at a terrific pace.

Once back with all the goats and cattle on the ferry, and so back to Kombo Beach, I had plenty of time to reflect. As you can imagine, Kombo Beach felt like the Ritz.

So what can we say in conclusion to our safari? I supposed because it was so unexpected, maybe I was unprepared. It was disturbing and wonderful at the same time. It wasn’t in the least bit posh, so if you want to safari in style, this isn’t for you. However, if you want some Winter sun, and an unforgettable experience, do it. Go. And don’t worry about dark streets. Probably not great advice, but if Jolly Hockey Sticks and I survived, I’m sure you will, too.

Until next time, dear Readers, thank you for joining me.