Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Off to Africa - The Gambia - November 2012

It ain't half hot mum!

Elaine & I had been looking forward to visiting The Gambia since late 2011. My friend Wally White had described it as similar to Goa in so much as the hotels were good, the food was OK, it was hot, more importantly the fishing was good and so were the opportunities to photograph the wildlife. It seemed to tick all the boxes so hey ho we booked a trip and counted down the weeks throughout the year. Our friends Steve & Liz also fancied the idea so Thomas Cook got 2 bookings for the price of one!

We flew from Manchester, 6 and a half hours south crossing the Sahara. Its the first time I've seen the Sahara all be it from 35000 feet, Your flying over endless sand for 2 hours, its nearly as big as the beach at skegness! We touched down in Banjul mid afternoon, walking down the steps off the plane, the heat was unbelievable, it was like climbing in the oven with the Sunday roast. I've never felt anything like it 40 degrees and high humidity. I was thinking at that time that we'd dropped a clanger. It stayed that hot for the first 3 days and it turned out they were experiencing a heatwave and the rains had finished late hence the humidity but we were there and had to put up with it like it or not.

Jango, a taxi driver mate of Kev's at work picked us up at the airport in his battered old Peugeot 405 Estate, which to put it bluntly had seen better days fifteen years ago! We rattled and banged along the main road to the Reggae tones of Bob Marley emanating from the state of  the art sound system worth in total 5 times the value of the car. Driving from the airport to the hotels on the Coast it struck me how under developed the Gambia was compared to any where else we've been before. Arriving at the Senegambia Beach Hotel though we were pleasantly surprised at the complex and the rooms we were give. Certainly not 5 star but more than comfortable. the beds were 7' square, the air con worked and the room was tired but spotless, more to the point the grounds were beautiful and full of wildlife, despite the searing heat things were looking up.

And so to the holiday itself, the heat was hard work for the first three days, we'd intended to spend a couple of days out in the sticks photographing the abundant bird life, to be honest it was so hot that by lunch we'd had more than enough and spent the afternoon's around the pool complex in the hotel 

The beach at Senegambia, eroding badly along its length but alright if you like that sort of thing!

Elaine poolside

During the mornings as I've said we'd get off out and about. We took a trip in to Banjul the capital and to the large municipal market called 'Albert Market'  Markets are pretty much the same the world over except in the 'western world' where we've abandoned them in favour of Tesco's and Walmart! I normally enjoy strolling around and taking a few snaps but it was hard work at times. The Gambians are lovely people but they don't like having their pictures taken or at least some don't! Never the less I persevered and managed to capture some of folks going about their daily business. If this was a photography article this is the one place I've been where i would have preferred a smaller less obvious quiet camera than my Nikon D700 who's shutter sounds like a dustbin lids been dropped!

Albert Market - We got sort of a smile after Elaine had bought some beads!

I'd swerve this fish if I was you!

No problems getting a smile out of this young lady!

I looked like this most afternoons!

Elaine said she needed a new whats the problem!

As well as the early morning trips out photographing the birds ( or not in many cases, more of that in a different post! ) we travelled up and down the Coast as far as the Senegal border in the south and again to Banjul and Serekundi areas. About 10kilometres from the hotel is a fishing village called Tanji which as well as been a haven for bird life is also a bustling fish process centre with a large smoking facility. You can smell Tanji before you see it on the right day!  They call the local fish bonga fish and it looks a bit like herring. In the heat of course it doesn't last long so theres sheds with chest freezers and of course smoking that preserves it. Your a bit off the tourist trail here so we didn't go poking around the side alleys as i would have done elsewhere but we managed a few shots of the boats coming in and the villagers working on the beach.

Unloading the days catch at Tanji

Its humbling to see an entire community pitching in

Most of the youngsters wear football strips and follow european teams

The other reason I'd been hankering after a trip to the Gambia was of course the fishing. I learnt a long time ago that when you've got limited time on holiday local knowledge is key to cutting corners and finding fish. I'd done a bit of research and discovered that Bernard Westgarth was guiding on the beach's in Gambia. Bernard is an ex England international shore angler where as I'm a twice a year off the wall at Immingham man, so really I'd be foolish to go it alone. I emailed Bernard and arranged to meet up with him for a couple of days fishing. After the first day was re arranged due to me having the dreaded banjul belly ( I should have left the sea food starter! ) we eventually made out first trip down to the southern border past Kartong. I could write a blog post purely about that trip, overland by land rover, down river by fishing boat and wading ashore to get to the best areas, brilliant. We had a great days fishing surrounded by feeding sea eagles, ospreys and pelicans without another soul in site. Add to that the fishing was superb with us catching guitar fish, butter fish, catfish, bass and silver something or others. Elaine of course out fished me catching the best fish of the trip a 23lb guitar fish. Needless to say I'll have to go back and put that matter straight!

I used this because I haven't got that many of the beach!

I did catch some bigger - honest!

Elaine's Guitar Fish

I allocated myself an hour to pen this and I'm way past it mainly due to the photo's taking so long to upload. Getting around in Gambia is a bit more of a chore than say India, you can't hire a moped and are pretty dependant on the taxi's, walk five minutes up the strip from the hotels and the taxi's are much more reasonable to negotiate than the little cartel that works outside the front door. I suppose one of the reasons for visiting Africa was to watch the incredible sunrises and sunsets. The only problem with that is that sunrise is far too early and sunset clashes with happy hour at the Green Mamba Bar. Not wishing to disappoint however I thought I'd rectify that with one last photograph of ..happy hour at the Green Mamba Bar!

Left to right, Steve, Liz, Bernard, Mike and yours truly

A final word about Thomas Cook,  what a shower of shite that company is, they changed the flight times 4 times, crap service at check in, they even had some po faced cow wandering around the departure gate checking that your hand luggage hadn't grown in size and picking arguments with passengers. Worse still the  planes they fly are cattle class, 6 and a half hours each way with zilch leg room and a service matching Spice Jet's of India. If we'd not enjoyed Gambia so much I wouldn't even consider using them again, they deserve to go out of business.

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