My Gambia Experience

TV presenter Anna Williamson spent a few days in The Gambia earlier this year, filming a holiday competition for a TV programme. Here you can read her views of her first trip to Africa.

CONTRIBUTOR

CONTRIBUTOR
Anna Williamson is a TV presenter; her children’s show Toonattik has recently moved from ITV to Nickelodeon. She was recently filming in The Gambia; find out what she thought.

 

I’ve never been to Africa. Always wanted to go, but never had the opportunity. That is until I received a frantic phone call from one of my producers.... ‘Can you go to The Gambia to film....tomorrow morning!!’ Guaranteed sunshine, a luxury hotel, my favourite film crew...the answer was of course, most definitely, YES! I’ve been hosting holiday competitions for a few years now. I’ve been lucky to have visited some lovely places but none quite so unique as The Gambia.

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After a last minute scramble to get my stuff together (typically I’d left my passport at home) and an emergency trip to the doctor to get some malaria tablets...I found myself in the airport lounge at Gatwick Airport with my team and Jo Wedeman from The Gambia Experience. It is often a myth that TV is glamorous, believe me...behind the gloss of the finished product you (hopefully) enjoy, there is often a lot of stress, waiting, unforeseen problems, unhelpful people...you name it...we encounter it. So it was a great start that upon arrival at Gatwick the lovely Jo got us checked in and whisked us all to the special airline lounge assigned to The Gambia Experience.

After a quick complimentary breakfast and the obligatory mad dash magazine purchase (still essential on a work trip!), we boarded our (on time) flight to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia. Six hours, and a most satisfactory aeroplane lunch of chicken curry later, we touched down at the small airport of Banjul. Don’t you love that moment when you’ve left rainy England and arrived in a hot country, when the aeroplane doors open and you get that first waft of warm air on your face....nothing quite beats it!! Well, The Gambia didn’t disappoint and by the time we’d made it down the plane steps into the tiny terminal, my jeans were already most uncomfortably hot!

Resort Manager Joyce (total legend and ex pat who knows literally everyone!) met us at passport control and within minutes had our passports stamped and returned and whisked us onto our minibus to be taken to the hotel.

One tip for you – take your read magazines off the plane and give them to the airport workers...their wives love the pictures and fashion apparently!! As I soon realised with the people of The Gambia, it’s the simple things we take for granted, bring the most joy to others....a theme that was recurrent throughout my week.

Upon arrival at our luxury hotel, The Coco Ocean, we were met by Mary who showed us the complex. WOW. This hotel really does have it all. From the moment we arrived it was champagne cocktail welcome drinks, wicker hand fans to keep us cool, and the rooms and facilities are second to none.

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I was very kindly given a Beach House room which overlooked the ocean and shared a pool with only a few other rooms. The bed was a huge, comfortable four poster, and there were all the mod cons and luxuries one would expect from a 5 star hotel. I had the best night’s sleep in that bed, listening to waves crashing..... In addition to the top notch rooms, there was a small gym and a beautiful spa that really is the pièce de résistance for this resort. I experienced a herbal bath massage which was most relaxing and their signature ‘hamman’ is really worth a try.

A tired and hungry crew require feeding and the restaurants absolutely delivered in quality, choice and service. From fresh sushi, to Thai, to traditional African cuisine, our taste buds were spoilt for choice.

A special mention to the wonderful staff who always greeted us with a smile and couldn’t have been more helpful. It was quite humbling.

Out and about in The Gambia is a must do. We went on a four wheel drive excursion which took in all the local life, wildlife and gave a real insight into the poverty and culture of the country. The locals are so welcoming and thanks to our guide, Mucki, we learnt the traditional greeting which is pronounced ‘al – saam-a-day’ which helped us feel like we were making some effort!

A trip to the mangroves is a must, and I thoroughly enjoyed a trip in a canoe meandering along the river listening to sounds of the native drums. Bliss. In a nutshell, The Gambia exceeded my expectations. If you go (and I would definitely recommend it) my tips to blend in and understand what you’re in for are:

  • Take magazines, pens and sweets for the locals. They will ask so if you want to do your bit, do stock up.
  • Be firm when saying NO. The locals are great but persistent. A Westener (understandably) is a pound sign to them so if you’re not going to buy, say no there and then otherwise you will continue to be hassled.
  • The Gambia is a developing country. Fortunately food isn’t a problem but be prepared to see quite a bit of, sometimes heartbreaking, poverty in the streets and villages.
  • As such, internet and phones don’t really work. Best to not bother to be honest, or use the hotel land line if you really have to make a call. It is expensive on mobiles and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get signal!
  • The Gambians love football. Indulge a local in footy knowledge and you’ll have a friend for life!

The Gambia Experience is a great way to do just that, experience a country that has it all – culture, sunshine, beaches and fine cuisine. This time I was there for work, next time I’m going back for a holiday!!

 
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