Vacation spot Gambia: A Lesson Price Sharing

Gambia
Cruising up the Gambia River.
Kia Koropp

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Once we cruised into Banjul—the dusty, bustling capital metropolis of Gambia, on the western coast of Africa—the customs agent knew precisely what he needed.

“The workplace has run out of espresso, and the workforce doesn’t have the funds for to purchase any—ahem, ahem,” he stated as we tried to clear in. 

My first thought was that he at the least had completely different style in palm-greasing than the port captain, who was required to view our onboard shops however didn’t assume he’d have the time if we purchased him a Coke. At immigration, it was a $5 “donation” they wanted from us to assist the division purchase its personal boat. 

Sure, this was our welcome after deciding to commerce cruising amid coconut bushes and tropical fish for cruising up a muddy river filled with hippos and crocodiles. As we ventured onward, I wasn’t totally positive what to anticipate. 

donkey cart
Though provisioning is difficult in Gambia, and transport in a rickety donkey cart could be tough, welcoming villages are in all places.
Kia Koropp

I’d first heard about Gambia from a German couple cruising within the Canary Islands. I’m a cruiser who likes to discover, and the extra culturally numerous the locations are, the higher. Gambia receives only a handful of yachts annually, making it about as off-the-beaten-course as a vacation spot can get. And so, we added it to our itinerary as a stopover vacation spot between the Canaries and the Caribbean. We at the least knew it will be completely different.

I’d had visions of crusing slowly up the Gambia River with the tide. Once we obtained there, although, I needed to study to mood my expectations. That is no large, Amazon-type river; there isn’t the gap between banks to make crusing sensible. You might want to tack as quickly as you full your tack, and proceed working sails from port to starboard till you concede defeat and activate the engine. We did sail, a bit, however solely when the wind was instantly behind us and the tide was working with us. 

We additionally encountered the Gambia Bridge, which cruising boats can get below with masts as much as about 55 ft tall, however that’s it. This bridge serves as a barrier to some vessels from exploring the higher reaches of the river—and a visit to Gambia is all about these higher reaches. We ended up with solely a foot of clearance from the VHF radio aerial in an intense second after I needed to make the decision whether or not or to not proceed. 

local paddling
Locals will typically paddle out in pirogues to go to a cruising boat.
Kia Koropp

Different elements turned evident as soon as we have been safely (whew!) on the opposite facet of the bridge. The broader river turns into smaller creeks, providing secret hideouts to tuck into. The choices aren’t at all times apparent as a result of a creek’s entrance can get shallow earlier than the water turns into deep once more. With our draft of greater than 7 ft, we regularly drew a line within the mud with our keel on our manner right into a creek. We’d then discover ourselves nestled up tight amid the reeds. And we needed to drop anchor instantly within the creek’s middle in order to not bump the mangroves on both facet. 

We additionally discovered about who else lives alongside these small creeks: moths that love anchor lights at evening, and harsh mosquitoes whose itchy bites final for days. Fortuitously, we had a three-tier netting system: netting across the cockpit for the worst of occasions, netting for the hatches and companionway as customary use, and netting above the beds in case obstacles one and two have been breached. There wasn’t an evening we weren’t grateful for the sanctity of our impenetrable fortress.

What’s lacking from this river is consumable water. The river is muddy all the best way up its reaches, so utilizing a watermaker is ill-advised except you’ve got a bilge filled with filters. We crammed our 370-gallon tank with water from the group effectively earlier than departure, and used water sparingly. We washed our our bodies, garments and dishes in river water, and used our tank water solely for consuming and cooking. This meant scenic deck showers within the early evenings, a hose dragged via the cockpit to fill the sink, and white-turned-brown garments pegged on the rail to dry.

local children
The youngsters are gregarious and inquisitive, and the adults prolong a heat welcome.
Kia Koropp

Meals can be sparse outdoors the bigger cities, and transport is tough. Should you aren’t up for an extended and dusty stroll, then your decisions are a scorching minivan or a rickety donkey cart. The cart is preferable as a result of a restricted variety of our bodies can match atop it, although witnessing folks being got rid of means your security shouldn’t be assured. To me, it nonetheless beat being trapped inside a nine-person minivan with 30 different folks alongside scorching, dusty roads for the 4 hours it takes to maneuver 12 miles. We’d get again to the boat in darkness, all for a sack of onions and potatoes. 

What makes all of this value it’s the solitude and seclusion in Gambia. You possibly can spend weeks up a creek hidden from the world, with solely birdsong to remind you that different life exists. Villages are welcoming, however there’s no cruising group.

One other huge distinction is that as a longtime cruiser, I’m used to the ripple of wind throughout water, the fixed roll over mild waves, and the swell of the ocean as if it breathes. It has been a very long time since I’ve appeared out over water that has no motion, no heartbeat, no breath. But, a muddy river could be filled with vibrant coloration: blue, inexperienced, crimson, white, black. The water captures the life that surrounds it and tosses it again, with the sky, forest, solar, moon and folks in stunning, excellent reflections. 

The author taking pictures
You possibly can spend weeks up a creek hidden from the world, with solely birdsong to remind you that different life exists.
Kia Koropp

These river views dominate the nation. Gambia stretches 350 miles from west to east, and the river runs your complete distance. The river is the nation, as are the animals that rely on it. I used to be instructed that I’d see hippos and crocodiles; what I didn’t respect was that this was assured. Trampled reeds and river entry holes via the bush mark each creek. 

On Christmas Eve, we took chimes up on deck within the night to persuade the children that they’d heard Santa’s sleigh. A cute concept, till a hippo’s bellow drowned out the chimes. And as an alternative of one thing that appeared like Rudolph, a crocodile crashed via the reeds into the water about 15 ft from our anchor. 

On New Yr’s Eve, we sat in our tender watching crocs laze on muddy shores and hippos calm down within the shallows as males laid out their fishing nets. We additionally sat in our dinghy within the nationwide park, watching a household of chimpanzees dimension us up from a tree overhanging the water solely yards away. Dolphins have been a nice shock. 

Gambia
Gambia stretches 350 miles from west to east, and the river runs your complete distance.
Kia Koropp

That is what it means to be surrounded by silence and nature. The magic of likelihood encounters with animals are totally completely different than these sometimes seen by yacht. 

As for the welcoming villages, they’re in all places. Invites to go to are readily made by waving fingers on the shoreside. Should you aren’t drawn in by their visible indicators of welcome, the folks will paddle out in a pirogue—an extended, slender canoe created from a tree trunk—to ship greetings in particular person. The youngsters are gregarious and inquisitive, as kids are typically, however adults additionally prolong a heat welcome. It helps that English is broadly spoken. 

Sure, these are developing-world areas, however I skilled little of the “give me” perspective we’ve encountered elsewhere. If something, the handouts got here the opposite manner. I had extra meals made for me, was requested to drink extra tea, and was gifted extra fish and greens than in any nation I’ve cruised. Even the wood-carving peddler supplied two further carvings as presents for the children after I purchased one small bowl. The batik artist gave my daughter a costume despite the fact that I didn’t buy something. Self-selected guides would supply to stroll with us, making introductions alongside the best way. It was implausible to have an envoy who helped us to expertise a deeper layer of the group. 

In a single village, we have been invited to hitch in a Christian ceremony, the place we adopted a person round city who was sporting a horned headdress and gourd-covered again. He represented the evil spirit of an animal that the group chased after to scare it away. I’m undecided what a part of Christianity was being referenced, however in a predominately Muslim group, I don’t assume that was what mattered. That the fruit bloomed and the vegetable gardens have been protected was of way more sensible concern. 

Spotting dolphins
Recognizing dolphins within the river could be a nice shock.
Kia Koropp

We have been additionally invited to hitch a household within the naming ceremony of their new child son. The day prior, we undertook the minibus journey to city to supply cloth, monitor down a seamstress, and have a ceremonial outfit made. The following day, we have been invited into the home to observe the 7-day-old’s head get shaved earlier than his first look to the world. A steady stream of girls walked in with donations of rice as a result of the brand new mom can be taking a while away from the fields. The group elders gathered, chanted and whispered the kid’s title into his ear. There have been prayers for his well being and welfare, after which the title the elders chosen was introduced. The women and men sang and prayed as separate teams, adopted by a shared bowl of candy floor rice and betel nut. A shared lunch adopted.

Many times, I noticed the passing of small change between fingers, slipped over on a handshake. This manner of interacting is taught from an early age. Every part is split and shared. Youngsters cut up their half-nibbled cookies and gummi worms. 

In that context, the port entry officers asking for a drink or a few {dollars} instantly appeared a complete lot completely different.  

We spent a portion of time at Lamin Lodge, which had fallen into disrepair, however the place locals had established a day by day communal meal to make sure that everybody was fed. The middle of exercise was normally below the bushes between a bar that, as a result of lack of electrical energy, offered soda from a cold bin, and a restaurant that, as a result of lack of shoppers, served solely on the spot espresso. The two o’clock meal was most incessantly served at 5 p.m., with the rice (95 %), fish (4 %) and greens (1 %) cooked for a number of hours over charcoal in a big iron pot. They fry the fish in a gallon of vegetable oil and take away it earlier than including the veggies, herbs, and spices. Then they take away that and prepare dinner the rice within the richly favored oil. Three hours later, the meal is layered on a platter in reverse order and served. 

fishermen
From the dinghy, one can watch crocodiles laze on muddy shores and hippos calm down within the shallows whereas males lay out their fishing nets.
Kia Koropp

And let me inform you, the meals is scrumptious. We’d sit within the dust, consuming with our fingers from the communal platter with whole strangers. It was a day by day ritual of camaraderie, and it was arduous to tug ourselves away when it was time to depart.

So, yeah, I’ll commerce just a few rum cocktails for a visit up the Gambia River. I’ll take the motoring within the silent, tranquil creeks. I’ll elbow via a mile of mud to sip tea with a stranger. I’ll battle a billion mosquitoes to carry 100 little fingers in my palm. 

And now, I’m more than pleased to purchase a Coke for whoever desires one.

Kia Koropp and her husband, John Daubeny, have been cruising the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean for the previous decade with their two kids, ages 7 and 9, aboard the 50-foot Ganley Resolution Atea.

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