Day One - Saturday, January 26th, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Garden Hotel

Well the first full day in the Gambia did not start on a really good note. Steve's alarm did not work in the morning (or something) so I was woken up to “how quickly can you get ready?”. Not terribly nice. We quickly got changed and headed to the main courtyard area where there were tables set up for the “buffet” breakfast which had some wonderful bread, boiled eggs and fruit. We enjoyed our rather hurried breakfast then met with the group at 9 for our initial briefing during which we were given more books of information and an overview of what we are to expect for the next three weeks as we are trained.

Room at Safari Garden Room at Safari Garden Hotel

The first order of the day was to meet up with current volunteers in the Gambia and they would give us a quick tour around the area. Usha (who is currently a volunteer here) was Jane and my guide for the next few hours. Jane is a volunteer who will be working “in-country” instead of on the coast (the “Kombos” area) where we currently are. She is working as a nurse trainer in Bansang which we are told is quite a few hours drive along the river heading east along the length of the country.

Safari Garden Hotel Jane and Usha at the Safari Garden Hotel

The Gambia is a funny country. Formerly a British colony it is now ruled by an elected parliament. It has an ever-increasing population of more than a million now in the relatively small area that the country occupies along the north and south banks of the river Gambia. It is surrounded on all sides by Senegal (though the most populated area of Senegal is to the north) and now even shares military forces with the country. The climate is very warm and dry all year round with the exception of a few weeks each year during the rainy season where it rains every day and is very humid both day and night (from about July to September).

Usha walked us north up the dirt road leading down the lane to the hotel and we caught a taxi to the “Palais au Chocolat” which is one of her favourite places to eat! They are a western-style ice cream shop so we each had a scoop of ice-cream (I had mango though I am told they are not commercially harvested locally) and we also enjoyed the air- conditioned interior as it seemed to be getting quite warm despite it being fairly early in the morning.

We have been told to try to get use to the local water so Jane and I had a few sips from glasses of tap-water we had been given but we basically stuck to the bottled water we had picked up from the hotel.

Westfield Junction Jane and Myself at Westfield Junction

We stayed and chatted for a while before again heading out to catch another taxi to “Westfield Junction” which is just down the road. It is very different in the daylight (as you might expect). There are people always walking along the sides of the road and a few (brave) people on bicycles along the edge of the road (though they are most times forced over the edge of the tarmac to avoid being run down by the cars). The edge of the road and most other areas are simply brown dust though there is a lot of foliage. Many people are selling things and throughout the day we were approached to see whether we wanted a taxi, a “Rolex”, or various other sundries. Most of the buildings are in “compounds” – walled areas in which one or more houses/buildings are situated. The houses by and large in this area are quite nice and are surrounded by many different fruit trees.

At Westfield we got out and were shown where the telephone company was as well as one of the many Internet Cafés that are all around this area. Jane was looking for some rechargeable lights for her house in- country since she had been told that electricity is more often off than on so a rechargeable light had been recommended to her so we visited a local electrical shop and was surprised at what we saw inside. There are no prices on anything (typical, we would find, of everything) and every where there could be goods, there were. All over the walls, hanging from the ceiling – everything from generators to lights to computer equipment – very interesting.

We caught a “bush taxi” from the junction next to Bakau – A bush taxi is basically a van that goes along set routes picking up as many people as it can, typically with someone hanging out of the sliding door shouting the name of the destination. Most of the time is not only the owner/operators that are doing this but also the customers as they climb aboard or get out often as the vehicle is moving. It is a fixed fee trip and is quite…exciting. Bakau was quite some distance away (especially for only 3 delasis!) and we eventually were let out just outside the small market that is there.

The market is quite something. All sorts of little stalls selling all manner of things from fresh fish, fruit, vegetables to dried fish, clothing and electrical items. We had a bit of trouble with the smell around the area where the fish and meat was being sold (it is very hot and smells…a lot) but other than that it was very interesting (again, no prices, all has to be bargained for!).

We had a lunch at a local bar (Buddies) where I ordered a Chicken Yassa which is a local dish that is supposed to be quite good (it was). Buddies is quite different than what surrounds it and could easily be a café anywhere in the western world – many volunteers eat here perhaps for that reason. As we were sitting and eating/chatting many other volunteers who were out with their guides also met up with us and eventually pretty much all of us “new arrivals” were there.

Our small group once again headed out and briefly took a walk through the rest of the market before catching a taxi back to the area of the hotel (just down the road again). We returned to our rooms and got changed for the beach. Heading once again along the dirt road by the hotel, we turned left and walked the 100 meters or so to the entrance to a favourite local hang-out – “Leybato”. We followed a winding dirt road as it led up a small hill then down through some trees, beside some sea-side apartments then into the car park and then through some very low-growing trees (watch your head) to a series of thatch “huts” (gazebos) all along the lip just above the beach (about three or so feet). The huts are all in amongst the trees and have a table underneith each along with hammocks scattered elsewhere under the trees. Then, of course, there is the ocean.

Leybato Beach Beach at Leybato

Leybato is located just on a bit of bend in the beach and has a series of small black (volcanic) rocks in the surf just outside of it but to the left of it is unbroken sand for quite some distance (you can walk to some of the big hotels just down the beach – about an hour's walk). The ocean is quite rough here and quite cool at first though is very pleasant after a few minutes (if you have time to enjoy it between the big waves). I had quite a few mouthfuls of water and water in the eyes before I learned to keep them both shut to avoid it…(horrible tasting!). The area is very much the picture of some exotic beach resort.

Leybato Beach More Beach at Leybato

As we were drying off UNDER the paragodas a few people came by selling various things and we did actually buy some peanut brittle (they know it locally as “peanut cake”) as well as some fresh-squeezed orange juice for 10 delasi from a lady who had set up a small stall on the beach in front of the bar. We chatted away with the other volunteers for some time as they eventually wandered in.

Eventually have a long, hard time there, we headed back to the hotel though along the way, another of our Bansang volunteers Sam had a bit of a hassle with someone wanting to be her friend (though I tried to get between him and her to force him to keep his distance). Just a bit awkward.

The afternoon was just a strenuous as we had a swim in the pool (which seemed to be cooler than the ocean) and I read for a while. Dinner was a curry with a banana fritter dessert and we all chatted until about 11 o'clock when a few volunteers headed out to a local bar where there was a party under way and another party for “Burns Night” we all had to miss (it was expensive, we had received too short a notice and the fact that it was a pretty formal occasion).

Jane and I spent some time commenting about “lizard kababs” as we had seen many of them about (though the marketing aspect is a bit troubling as we have to convince people that they taste good even though they don't…). A very humorous and enjoyable evening.

⇒ Continue to Day Two - Sunday, January 27th, 2002 - Fajara - Safari Garden Hotel