Kathryn, from our Marketing Department, takes a nostalgic look through some of her favourite photographs from over 10 years of visiting The Gambia.
When I joined the company back in 2005, it wasn’t long before I booked my first holiday to The Gambia. I had been to North Africa before but West Africa sounded very different. I remember well that first transfer from the airport to the hotel. One of our wonderful reps chatted away, welcoming everyone and explaining local idiosyncrasies, such as GMT standing for 'Gambia Maybe Time'. I still smile every time I hear that. And I’ve heard it a lot. I also remember drinking everything in as we drove along, from the roadside fruit stalls to locals smiling and waving. There was only one set of traffic lights in the whole country back then and no street lights that I remember. There’s a lot more now.
I’ve been back a great many times, both on holiday and for work. I’ve enjoyed seeing the girl I started sponsoring when I first joined the company grow up into a lovely young lady. I sponsor her through Friends of The Gambia Association. They are a wonderful charity that do so much, from building schools to funding sight-saving eye operations.
Over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of photographs. Don’t worry, I’m only going to share 20 or so here today!
Caption: Kotu Market, 2007
One of my favourite photos from an early visit is of these three colourful ladies in Kotu Market. I remember thinking how great they looked. The colourful clothes in West Africa actually had quite an impact on me. I used to wear a lot of black before I first visited. I’ve worn a lot more colour ever since.
Caption: Jola Futampaf, 2007
Have you ever been to a Futampaf? It’s a traditional Jola festival celebrating the young men coming of age, and only occurs every four or five years I believe. I was privileged to be invited to photograph the event in 2007.
Demonstrations of bravery are a big part of the celebrations. Men were dipping large knifes in holy water that had been prepared by a Marabout, a holy man. Unnerving but fascinating to watch, these men used everything from cutlasses and razors blades to energetically strike their bodies without ever leaving a scratch!
Caption: Jola Futampaf, 2007
Still at the Futampaf a group of ladies, all dressed in matching outfits, sing and dance.
Caption: Jola Futampaf, 2007
And here’s one of the initiates being held up high on someone’s shoulders before being taken off into the bush to learn how to be a man. I was rather surprised to see them come straight back again though, so I assume now the act is merely symbolic.
The photographs were displayed as part of an exhibition about Gambian life at a festival in my home town of Bognor Regis. We were raising money to buy mosquito nets for children in The Gambia.
Caption: A warm welcome at a school in Brikama
Over the years, I’ve visited a great many schools, but the one I’ve been to most is the old primary school of the girl I sponsor. Whenever we drove into the village I would hear excited calls of “Toubab! Toubab!” the name commonly used for westerners in much of West Africa. One visit, however, I suddenly realised that they weren’t shouting “Toubab!” anymore, they were calling “Kathryn! Kathryn!” It was a lovely surprise.
Caption: Sanyang Beach
Sanyang is a beautiful beach south of the main resorts areas that many people visit for the day. I’ve been a number of times, but one particular visit sticks in my mind. I’d grown a little bored of lazing under a palm tree, so walked along the sands to where the colourful fishing boats were. I had a long chat with these two ladies about the fish that were caught here. It’s one of my favourite photos because of the happiness and warmth shining from their faces.
Caption: Kunama village
This photo was taken when I was with a group of travel bloggers, visiting the village of Kanuma. We were there to see how the solar lights donated by The Gambia Experience were making a difference to the lives of the villagers. The welcome we received was overwhelming.
Caption: Kumpo dance at Kunama village
Still in Kanuma the villagers organised a fabulous display of singing and dancing, the highlight of which was the arrival of the Kumpo, seen here spinning around in a display that seemed to defy logic.
Caption: Dawn at Mandina Lodges (the view from my floating lodge)
When I first joined the company, I remember seeing Mandina Lodges in a book called, ‘1001 Escapes to Make Before You Die’. It was love at first sight and I was well and truly smitten by the floating river lodges. Eight years later, I finally stayed in one and it went above and beyond my high expectations. Waking up, looking out over a tributary of the River Gambia, in the middle of Makasutu Forest, to a soundtrack of the birds’ early morning chorus, is a treasured memory that will stay with me forever.
Caption: A juvenile baboon in Makasutu Forest
The troupe of baboons that roam the forest, and regularly run amuck through Mandina Lodges, make a lasting impression on anyone who stays there too.
Caption (above and below): Macondo Pool Suite at Ngala Lodge
Another one of my favourite hotels is Ngala Lodge. I was very impressed with the new Macondo Suites. Sadly, I was only visiting this time to photograph them. The plunge pool and the new infinity pool both looked very inviting.
Caption: Tamala Africa
The best drumming group I’ve ever seen in The Gambia are called Tamala. The Gambia Experience arranged for them to put on a display of drumming and dancing for a second group of bloggers that I took over to The Gambia. They excelled themselves and put on a really outstanding performance that had us all mesmerised.
Caption: A traditional West African wedding
Here, my friend from Guinea Conakry, is getting married to a lovely girl from The Gambia. That’s him dressed all in white surrounded by a colourful gathering of ladies. It was wonderful to be able to share this special day with them.
Caption: Sacred Ibis
I certainly wasn’t a twitcher when I started visiting The Gambia, but as a keen photographer, and with over 560 species said to be in the country, it’s no surprise that sooner or later I would start photographing the birdlife in The Gambia. I took this photo on our ‘Lazy Day Cruise’, an excursion I would highly recommend. The highlight of the trip for me though was swimming from the boat.
Caption: Swimming from the boat on the ‘Lazy Day Cruise’
Caption: Fish Benechin (prepared by us with a little help from Ida)
Another favourite excursion is ‘Cooking with Ida’. I loved it so much I‘ve done it twice. As well as enjoying Ida’s fabulous cooking, one of the highlights of the day is a visit to Tanji fish market, a place that assaults all the senses and is a joy to photograph.
Caption: Tanji Fishing village
Caption: Jungle Lodge at Mandina Lodges
Since that first visit to Mandina I’ve been lucky enough to stay there again, this time I had a Jungle Lodge. I think you’ll agree it’s pretty impressive.
I lost count of how many times I’ve visited The Gambia a long time ago. Now when I arrive our staff greet me like a long-lost friend, as they do all of our repeat customers I’m sure. Each time I return I have a sense of being back home again that I can’t quite explain. All I know is, that if I don’t visit The Gambia for any length of time, I can feel it pulling me back again.
Caption: Kombo Beach Hotel, another favourite of mine, not least because of its wonderful beachside location
And what is one of the first things I do when I arrive at my hotel? Order a Julbrew, the locally-brewed beer, which ideally should be drunk with a view of the sea. Well, it would almost seem rude not to!