My Gambian Experience
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My first impressions:
Modest airport but well organized for African standards
The airport terminal is a huge arch-shaped building that visitors can't fail to notice. It looks impressive from the outside but the quality of amenities within is still shabby and sub-standard. The Gambian immigration and customs officials outperform their counterparts in Europe and North America. The officials were professional, thorough and very competent. I was very impressed with the decision of the senior immigration officer on duty to allow foreign passengers to be processed by the immigration booths reserved for Gambians. That eased the queue that was building up; resulting in most passengers clearing immigration and customs within 30 minutes max
What impressed me the most was the lack of hassle by customs officials and pestering by porters. This was a great plus for me; having gone through the gauntlet of officials harassing African passengers for bribes and tips at Lungi Airport in Freetown and one's luggages at risk of going missing through the actions of overzealous porters; everyone wanting a tip from you. Sierra Leone has a lot to learn from the Gambia.
WHY DOES GAMBIA SEEM TO ATTRACT MORE TOURISTS THAN OTHER WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES?
This is a question that I have pondered over since my arrival, so I decided to ask a few people.
Andrew Kamara (Guest house Landlord)
"Tourists feel very safe and the Gambian people are very friendly." Whilst I agree with Andrew, there must be more to the Gambia than just safety and friendly people
The Gambia is really safe. We walked from our guesthouse for over 200 metres to one of the restaurants at the kololi beach resort; something we daren't do in Johannesburg or Nairobi. Tourists seem to freely interact with locals than I have seen anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.
There seem to be a lot of taxis and local minibuses around. Taxi drivers actively solicit for trade and are quite competitive which works out to the advantage of the customers. Contrast this with Sierra Leone where customers have to literarily beg and offer to pay more to be transported. The taxis charge per journey as opposed to per head as is the case in Sierra Leone. The general conduct and discipline of taxi drivers is astonishingly high in the Gambia; I noticed all taxi drivers wearing their seatbelts and insist that front seat passengers do the same
There is a huge selection of restaurants and other eateries around the tourist resorts of Senegambia and Kotu. The cuisine is varied from international to African / Gambian. The selection includes French, Italian, American, Mexican, British, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Caribean and Gambian. The price range is relatively lowfor the western tourist. The total bill for a meal for two at the Ali Baba Restaurant came to Dalasis 575 / £11.00. A dish of steak or chicken with chips or rice can cost between D150.00 to D300.00 / £2.90 to £6.00
Kadie Kadie Restaurant
Run by an indefatigable and lovely Sierra Leonean lady, this restaurant would rank amongst the best for quality of food, diversity of menu and customer service. Amongst their best dishes are 'Plassas & rice', 'Benechin' and roast chicken with chips. They also do burgers and steaks. Situated in Kololi Highway off the main Senegambia Highway, Kadie Kadie's is a must for all lovers of authentic African Cuisine and to top it all up, their prices are a fraction of those situated in the resorts.
Mamadu Jallow's Afrah Kiosk
Mamadu and his young wife run their little Afrah kiosk on the junction of Senegambia and Kololi across the junction from the popular Yasmina Restaurant. Afrah is the local Gambian grilled lamb, beef or chicken, sold on most busy street corners. One may describe it as their version of a Sausage & burger cart in the Uk, but I find Afra tastier and healthier
An imposing structure overlooking the city of Banjul, the arch serves as a great viewing platform. It's a vantage point for a panoramic view of all corners of the city and its environs, including the spectacular beaches. It houses a less than impressive art and craft gallery and museum that seem to be dominated by the practice of "Juju / witchcraft" in the Gambia. Curiously, the exhibitors seem to be celebrating and promoting these dark arts alongside the country's Islamic heritage. Though imposing, the structure is grotty and lacks slickness and quality finish. The lift is rickety and the stairs dark and dingy. We nearly tripped on water hoses and other items on our way down. The military statues and parade grandstand seem to reflect the the the ego and masculinity of the country's leader -whose photos on huge billboards could be seen almost everywhere- than the country's national identity and heritage.
TRIP TO SOUTHERN SENEGAL
Amazingly it took around 1 & 1/2 hours from Banjul to the Gambia / Senegal border
Probably the largest in the Gambia, Serekunda is like most African markets with stalls and shops selling everything under the sun
HE Sheikh Alhaji Dr Professor Yahya Jammeh
A sign that you are in a country ruled by an egocentric megalomaniac dictator is the number of titles that precedes the president's name. This is rather comical and I can't help but chuckle with laughter whenever I hear all the president's titles being mentioned by newscasters or read them on roadside billboards. You are left in no doubt as to who is in charge going by the larger than life photos on gigantic billboards of the savior-like depiction of the great messianic leader beaming down at his subjects. With his brilliant white 3 piece agbada suit, tasbeeh and staff, the president's portraits assumes that of a spiritual cum patriarchal leader and at the same time ooses youthful vigour; the tag line on one of the photos read, "we will not only vote for the president, we will die for him". Another read, "supporting the president is a spiritual responsibility". With evidences like these, the only choice the Gambian people seem to have is Yahya Jammeh or Yahya Jammeh; what a great democracy and pluralistic state!