TONY KNIGHT revisits African skies to discover uncrowded beaches, friendly people, how to get the most out of a holiday in The Gambia and maybe make a difference too.
is a travel journalist,
photographer. He has
been to The Gambia a
few times now, and he’s
ventured out and about
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On my first visit to The Gambia I’d reluctantly prised myself away from the Kombo Beach Hotel at Kotu, to face leaden UK skies and torrential rain lashing the M25 – and wishing I could return, for the crimson sunsets and a sundowner on the beach. And now I was back amongst Gambia’s smiling, welcoming people to write and photograph for Compass Magazine South & Wessex feature.
A couple of hours south of the Canaries, The Gambia has its own pace of life and is also on GMT – Gambian Maybe Time. It is true Africa, being south of the Sahara, yet safe and accessible. No cynical marketing ploy, but everyone you meet smiles and extends their hand in greeting whether they are adults or children. Make friends and meet a Gambian family in their own homes. It’s more like visiting an extended family.
Whether you choose to take organised tours or, as I did, a battered Mercedes taxi, which would have stopped an MOT inspector in his tracks at a hundred paces. I got around with my Gambian friend Amadou, who acted as guide and mentor. I visited the ‘leafy suburbs‘ around Serrekunda, which normally remain a mystery, hidden beyond the few metalled highways and made more friends.
The area is a microcosm of Gambian life, with small family businesses, a scrapyard with rusting, cannibalised vehicles and a local blacksmith. Residents sit by the roadside, greeting passers-by, braiding hair and watching as life passes by. It’s a hive of industry, unseen by most visitors and a glimpse of the real Africa.
Being a photographer and broadcaster, The Gambia is a feast for the eyes and ears and I love to explore. There is a trade-off between Gambian’s aversion to being photographed and that of the visitors to bumsters! The Gambia is a delight and colour catches the eye at every corner, whether it is the vibrant colour of the women’s clothes, or the charm of the children and make it irresistible. I love to get out and explore. ‘Wake Up With the Birds’ was an invitation I could not refuse, so on Sunday morning I was ready. Four bleary eyed guests, me included met up with Dodoo, an experienced ornithologist for the 20 minute drive through slumbering suburbs to Lamin Lodge on the edge of the mangroves. Almost immediately a large Mongoose was spotted foraging the shoreline beneath the log bridge over the creek. After welcome coffee and biscuits shared with some hungry monkeys, we gingerly clambered down the ladder and into a canoe. In less than a mile we had seen species as diverse as Pink Back Pelican, Caspian Tern; Blue Breasted Kingfishers which flashed over our heads; Red Hornbill, Mouse Brown Sunbird and a Gray Heron taking to the air from a mud bank right in front of us. During our walk in a local forest, I was given a newly shed Royal Python skin discovered hanging on a tree bark – a real souvenir. The Gambia is an ornithologist’s dream. In total we recorded 51 species in a few hours.
Education is highly prized by Gambian parents, although infrastructure and facilities are more difficult to come by. Many visitors return regularly to see progress at schools which they support. Whose heart wouldn’t melt instantly at the sight of a classroom of smiling children. They are attentive and charming and during my visit to the Abuko Lower Basic School treated me to an impromptu rendition of ‘ One Man Went to Mow a Meadow’. Children ‘hot desk ‘ with separate morning and afternoon sessions. The Gambia Experience’s Resort Manager, Joyce told me about their School Development Fund which raises money to provide additional facilities which schools don’t have – renovation of staff quarters and classrooms, school wells, toilets and perimeter fences for example.
The Gambia is a delightful place to enjoy a holiday, winter or summer and make friends. It’s the sort of place where you feel inspired to make a difference after you’ve returned home – until next time.
Discover more about The Gambia
To find out more about the country and holidays visit www.gambia.co.uk or telephone 0845 330 4567 to order a copy of The Gambia Experience brochure. Read more personal experiences and submit yours at www.thegambiablog.co.uk
View more images and upload yours to www.flickr.com/groups/thegambiaexperience