The Gambia - January 2001
You can click on the photos to make them bigger.
Oops! A good start - our transfer coach has a blowout on the way from the airport to the Hotel. The driver handled it very skillfully, and we came to a safe stop at the side of the road. A replacement coach got us to the Hotel after less than an hour - well, at least we got a taste of rural Africa!
Our Gambian resort reps said it was all part of "The Gambia Experience"
This is our terrace at the Senegambia Hotel. Most of the several hundreds rooms are arranged in small two storey blocks spread around the extensive grounds, typically with four up and four down on each side of a block of sixteen. Fairly basic inside (though with shower/wc), but plenty adequate for us.
This is the "Birds Centre", where the Hotel's resident Birdman, Maas Chan, hangs out. There is also a pool, pitch and putt, tennis, squash, archery, fitness centre, five restaurants, five bars - and a staff mosque - dotted around the grounds!
Every morning at 11.30 (ish -they're on GMT - but it's Gambian Maybe Time) the hooded vultures are fed! Dozens of them congregate beforehand in the trees on the pitch and putt course, along with a few cattle egret and the occasional black kite.
There are also very large monitor lizards in the grounds - including one real grandaddy. We met him coming towards us along a path one day. He stopped, we stopped, and looked at each other, wondering who was going to give way. His tongue was a good two feet long!
The staff are all very cheery and friendly. Here's a couple of the waitresses at the Beach Bar, having a giggle.
Every evening, an hour before sunset, this band played down at the Beach bar. The instrument on the left is called an Kora, and seemed to be strung with green garden twine! Sounded good, though.
This shot of the Senegambia's bit of beach was taken early evening. We saw much nicer beaches away from the hotels.
Each evening the Hotel laid on some entertainment, but on Wednesday it was "African Night" - with a buffet of African food at the pool, and several hours of (very good) drumming and dancing display. See the little lad on the right!
On Saturday we took a taxi into the nearby large town of Serrekunda to watch the weekly wrestling match. We were a bit early, but found this pub around the corner - where we were made most welcome! The two ladies are Marie and her sister.
The wrestling takes place between the different tribes in The Gambia (Wolof, Mandinka, Jolu, etc) but all seemed to be in good fun. Each tribe has its team of drummers, who play even louder and faster as the bout gets under way. The winning wrestler's drummers then follow him on a "victory lap" - to collect money from the spectators.
The building behind these drummers doubles as bar, changing room (for all the tribes), and office!
A couple of contestants shaping up for action!
This guy was a real showman! After winning both his bouts, he came over to tell me that he was "really thirsty" - so we had a beer each!
Out and about
This is Kololi street, taken from the pub above the Ali Baba bar, in the middle of the day. The Hotel is just out of sight beyond the trees in the centre.
On our first night we got a young hustler attached to us, who calls himself "MS". He showed us a couple of bars (which we would have found anyway!) and we gave him a couple of quid - as MS frequently reminded us "it's nice to be nice"! He materialised often after that when we were out for a drink, but he wasn't at all sinister, and we developed a knack of getting rid of him when we wanted to. We did learn a lot from him about how he and his family live, and he was quite good fun on the whole. He didn't get any more money - just the odd soft drink.
Here is MS and his brother in their carved wood shop in the craft market. When he wasn't hustling MS did a spot of "finishing" (polishing) - and also promoted one of the local restaurants.
We also employed a local bird guide for three mornings - he was brilliant, at both finding and identifying birds, and a charming young man as well.
Here's Dembo and Viv by one of the many termite mounds in the Bijilo Forest Park - a nature reserve ten minutes walk from the Hotel.
Here's Dembo with his friend Abu, whose 4 wheel drive we used to get to another nature reserve at Abuko, about thirty minutes away by road.
This is a not very good shot of two of the birds we saw at Abuko - blue breasted kingfisher, and African darter, at the Crocodile Pool. You'll have to click to get the larger version to make anything out! And yes, we did see the crocs - and, at different paces, plenty of monkeys in the wild.
We went on a trip with the Hotel Birdman (middle of picture) in an open 4WD. This is at paradise Beach - very aptly named!
We did one excursion - "Birds and Breakfast" - with our tour company. After a 5.40am start, and a dugout trip up a mangrove creek, we had breakfast at this place - Lamin Lodge. We then walked through local smallholdings, and saw people tending their produce.
I have written a fairly full report on the birding we did - including accounts of the trips above. It's intended for other birders who may be thinking about going to The Gambia, but if it may be of interest to you, click here for our bird report