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Inside Gambia

african fishermen sleeping on the beach
The smiling coast of Africa
April 21, 2017
Pirogue fishing boats in Senegal
Teranga in Senegal
May 6, 2017

March 19th - Lamin Lodge

With a roaring engine we leave the Lamin Lodge, but after half a day we are all four very disappointed. Sailing on the river isn’t what we expected. The river is everywhere a couple of hundred meters wide which make it seem like the sea. The strong current and treasonable fishing nets make it hard to sail, wherefore the engine works in overtime. The first night we anchor in the middle of the river, but the wind and waves are so strong that we become seasick, on a river. We let the initial plan, to sail all the way to Georgetown, go quickly and take the first exit into the Bintang bolon, on of the best navigable mangroves and anchor on a beautiful spot. In the small village of Bintang lives continues quietly. A group of men is sitting on the same place all day long, everyday. An unconceivable ability as if boredom doesn’t exist. Doing nothing on a sailing boat won’t be a challenge for a Gambian.

In the riverbed we are completely astonished. A young hippo lies, motionless, dead on the sand.

After the easy crossing to Gambia, Olivier feels like crossing the Atlantic again. The disappointment is big when Dieter and Margrit don’t want to take the risk (Different Paths). Because we will be travelling three weeks apart from each other, we want to enjoy our time together in Gambia. We leave the boat for a couple of days and explore Gambia, so everybody can prepare for the big crossing in his way. After a mandatory pitsstop in Birkama, we continue our trip to Georgetown, which we reach yet, just not with the sailing boat. This city, situated on an island in the middle of the river, was once a administrative centre of the British colonial empire. These days the glory has gone and only a few old warehouse remain, which they gave a new identity. On of the warehouses is transformed in a slave house, historically not correct because the slavery dates many years before the construction of the warehouse. Most of the tourists that come here visit the river. In the part there is fresh water and the mangroves made room for other vegetation. Hippos and crocodiles swim live in the river and with the hot climate there is rive cultivations everywhere.

We head to the tiny village Kuntaur which is situated next to the Gambia River National Park. Our surprising day starts that morning at the ferry. Dozens of beautifully dressed women, ready to go to a wedding, are waiting for the first boat. On the other side they all jump into the back of a truck, which converts the truck into a dump truck for carnaval. This is only one of the many scenes that pass by when we are waiting for our transport. Many people are leaving with a horse of donkey cart, but our bus only leaves when it’s full. After every load of the ferry we hope to find enough candidates to start our trip. With a slow pace we bump towards Kuntaur, which makes it look like a safari ride, searching for wildlife. Once Gambia was blessed with lions, elephants and giraffes, but nowadays only monkeys, wilde pigs and some antelopes remain. In Kantaur we search for a local fisherman who wants to show us around into the national park with his pirogue. The local fisherman we cannot find and it is not worth the high tourist price. That’s why we make our own adventure.

On of the local skippers of a big push boat, Lopiz, shows us around in the groundnut factory. Although factory is a compliment for the big and empty factory hall where only one corner is occupied with a conveyor-belt. This location is one of the many groundnut collecting points, from where they are shipped to the main factory in Banjul. There they are further exported or processed into groundnut butter and oil. A bit later we are walking through the village searching for a viewing point on the river. When we are almost there, a group of little boys shout “there it is!”, as if they know what we are looking for. In the riverbed we are completely astonished. A young hippo lies, motionless, dead on the sand. We are not the only who are surprised. The group of bystanders grows quickly and some of the little boys posture proudly on top of the hippo. In this town the hippos are sacred, and some people belief that touching them is a crime. Some people even have the ability to talk with hippos. We wonder why they don’t ask the hippos to not enter the rice fields anymore.

There are more strange statements that we hear from the Gambians. Sometimes we are surprised, sometimes we laugh out loud. Few cats in Gambia are pets, and certainly not inside the house. Kuba looks at us interrogatively when we say that our cat sleeps with us in bed. “Doesn’t the cat eat your ears or fingers in the night?” he fears. Another moment we are eating in a local restaurant. We hear that the chickens are coming from the Netherlands and ask in many places why they don’t eat chickens from Gambia. Confidently on the cooks states “In Gambia we have living chickens”, as if they are born inside frozen inside a package in the Netherlands. Overtime when we tell that we are coming from Belgium or the Netherlands, their usual response is “nice country”. Off course, they have never been there, but they heard that is must be a paradise. On a certain moment Abdou says to us “we learn that everybody in Europe is happy”. Life is definitely easier, but you don’t see so many happy and smiling people as in Africa. But that is impossible to explain to them.

When we are back in the village, all the streets are abandoned. Friday is rest day for the muslims and it is mandatory to go to the mosque. After half an hour live starts again in the streets, first the men, then the women. We are invited in the house of a family and are introduced to the mother one, two and three. Moments later the real mother comes out of the kitchen and offers us a delicious plate with rice. In this muslim culture it is natural to have more wives who all live together is the same compound. The father usually has more than fifteen children, his life insurance for his old day. The younger generation starts changing and says that one wife is enough, and with a big smile they say “one wife, one problem”.

The last days we return to the boat. It is tremendously hot in Banjul, which is captured inside a sand storm coming from the Sahara. The boat is covered with a thick layer of sand so it receives, just like us, regularly a salty shower. We try to celebrate Olivier’s birthday but it feels strange one day before the farewell. On Friday we navigate with the boat into the fishing harbour to fill up the water and gasoline. The jetty is not suited for a sailing boat and it is a little miracle that Jatinga survives it without a scratch. When the water tank is filling up and the jerry cans for the gasoline are ready, it is time for Olivier to go to the ferry. With all the hustle and bustle the farewell it to fast and short. A hug, a firm handshake, safe sails and take care of Zoë. Two months Jatinga was his house, but it never felt like home. An experience to never forget, but also do never try again. With mixed feelings we walk together to the ferry where we have to fight for the last tickets. When the gates open, Olivier squeezes into the mass and looks back one last time. See you in three weeks, hopefully, because waiting feels endless. []


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