I am currently sat stern up-right, knees touching the seat in front and smelling the distant smell of the incredibly overused aircraft toilets combined with un-appetising airline food, on route back to the UK from an amazing trip in the Gambia. This trip was fantastic, not just because of the incredible things I did whilst there, but because of the company I had. The Gambian people are some of the loveliest people I have ever met.
Throughout the week my friend and I were accompanied by two Gambian boys named GG and Lamin. At first I thought they were extremely annoying; they were Gambian ‘bumsters’ and followed us, tried to convince us to book trips with them and tried to take us to their friends restaurants/bars. I am a free spirit and this generally does not impress me. But throughout the course of the past few days we developed a good friendship, and I really became quite fond of them. They looked out for us, they pulled us out of the way when a fight started in a club, stopped other Gambian men from bothering us, took us to some amazing, un-touristy places.
We were staying in a hotel named Palma Rima in Kotu, or ‘Palma Rip Off’ as the boys called it. They would wait outside the hotel for us each day and take us to wherever we wanted. One day we ventured into Serrekunda to see some of the hustle and bustle of African market life. The market was really busy and without the boys we would have had so much hastle, but they showed us around and helped us bargain for reasonable prices rather than the high tourist prices the locals wanted to charge us. From here we went to visit an orphanage, however this was unfortunately closed at the time so they took us down to visit the crocodile park instead.
The boys showed us around the museum at the croc park and gave explanations for many of the things displayed there. It was wonderful to have a local’s account of the things we were reading. The crocodile park is great and gives you the chance to get up close and personal with the reptiles.
Another day we went over to Senegal to a nature park to see some of the wildlife typically found in Africa. This was my favourite day. We got on a local ferry (which was a very cultural experience!) over the Gambian river and were then collected by one of the boys friends the other side in their jeep. We then cruised along in the open top jeep (with free air conditioning as they boys would say), hair blowing in the wind and Bob Marley blaring out of the stereo. Along route the children would scream when they saw us as they rarely see white people. It was quite a surreal experience.
The park was great and we were driven around where we would be on the look-out for different animals including; zebra, antelope, giraffe, buffalo, warthog and rhino. We stood up in the back of the jeep in search of animals and I felt like I was in Wild at Heart (my favourite programme)!! It was fantastic!
In the evenings the boys would take us to a different local restaurant that they recommended and they were always great and reasonably priced. It was great to know that we were eating in Gambian owned restaurants and that our money would stay in the community rather than end up elsewhere by eating at foreign owned restaurants. The boys would always return around about the time we finished our meal and take us to a bar or walk us back to the hotel.
Another day we went into Banjul to see the main tourist sights. I had read in my Lonely Planet guide that we could take a tour around the hospital and learn about the African healthcare and so when we arrived to find that there were no tours on that day we were a little disappointed. However the boys were brilliant-they argued and plead with the security guards at the hospital and eventually managed to get us in for a tour. Good effort boys!
After a few days, and we felt they were more of our friends than our guides, we went out with them in the evenings. One night they took us to a local reggae night, which was quite an experience! It was so busy with people, all dancing along to various tunes that I had never heard of, but that were good to ‘bop’ along to! The boys were showing us some of their dance moves and introducing us to lots of new music. The club was rammed and there were barely any white people, and barely any women, so we were certainly outnumbered! But the boys took great care of us!
The last day that we had together was very sad. I was sad that a fantastic trip was over and that I would be going home, but I was also sad to leave two people that I had become extremely fond of. The boys told us many times how they will miss us and that we should come back again. I would love to come back, but there are many other places I feel I need to see aswel. When it was time to go to the airport we all sat in the taxi in silence, everyone feeling very sad. I hate goodbyes at the best of times.
Gambia is a wonderful place, we had lots of relaxing time at the beach and around the pool, whilst also having lots of adventure! The boys encouraged us to try local dishes and we sampled palm juice straight from the tree in a local house which was very cool. We also met so many wonderful, kind people. The reps tell tourists that it is unsafe in the Gambia, however it is one of the safest places I feel I have ever been to, or perhaps that is just an illusion because of what good care the boys took of us?
When it came to saying goodbye I felt terribly sad, and sitting on this flight now writing this I am still feeling blue. I don’t know if I will ever see these people again, I have their facebook ads, but although I am on Facebook daily, internet access isn’t as easy to come by in Africa. In a couple of weeks the tourist season will be over and they will both return to their villages where they will again live the traditional African life. I will think of them.
It is incredible how you can have two people that come from such different backgrounds and such different lives. When I heard them talking of money troubles and corruption and living conditions it made me sad, but then this is what travelling is all about- meeting and learning about people from different worlds, because these boys really do come from a different world from the one I live in.
Lamin said to me last night that people should not judge a book by its cover, and he is completely right. When I met them I thought that they just wanted money from us, I did not think that they could turn out to be such friendly, caring, lovely people. GG said to me that he doesn’t just want to be friends for holiday, he wants us to be friends forever, and I hope this can be so, I really do. So boys, if you ever do get the chance to read this- thankyou for making our trip fantastic, hopefully we will meet again someday! Lots of love xXx