Gambia
Port of Banjul

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    • Day 98

      Banjul, The Gambia

      March 19, 2023 in Gambia ⋅ 🌩️ 82 °F

      New-to-us Port#22.

      First off, why The Gambia and not just Gambia? I posed the question to Mamadou, our guide. He said the country is named after the river that runs through it. The story goes that the name was changed from just Gambia because a lot of shipments were being mis-directed to Zambia. Take that with a grain of salt 😄

      When you look at a map of The Gambia, the name actually makes sense. Surrounded by Senegal on three sides and the Atlantic on the fourth side, the country consists of little more than the Gambia River and the floodplains on either side. Mamadou said that they are the smallest African nation on the continent.

      Later, in the museum that we visited, I saw an exhibit where the country was described as being 15 to 30 miles wide … 295 miles long. And yet, over 2.5M people are squeezed into this small area … which may well contribute to the unsanitary living conditions we would be seeing on our interesting and eye-opening tour.

      Onto the tour organized by Carol & Gary … which did not get off to a good start. This time, it wasn’t a delay in clearing the ship that was the problem. And it wasn’t Carol’s fault either since she was texting the guide the entire time we were waiting. I could write at length about the comedy of errors that ended with us watching our guides running down the pier on the other side of the port where a Phoenix Risen ship was docked over to the pier where Insignia was docked. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that it all ended well … if a little belatedly.

      Once we connected with Mamadou, he directed us to a 4x4 … with two bench seats in the open truck bed that seated the six of us comfortably. It worked out well, actually, because it never got very hot today, and the breeze while the vehicle was in motion, was quite welcome. Mamadou, instead of sitting in the front with the driver, hung off the back of the vehicle, the entire time.

      Finally, at 8:30a, we were on our way … joined by Sonia & Boris’s party in an SUV. Our first stop was at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral. Mass had just ended and the congregants were streaming out, women in colorful dresses … the pastor wearing a neon pink chasuble and the minister sporting a stole in the same bright color. We would later see that the altar was decorated with the same color. Everyone was shaking hands with the pastor and the minister … and chatting with them and each other, so it took a bit of time for the church to empty out. Then, it was our turn to be introduced to the pastor and enter the church for a few quick photos.

      Next stop was Albert Market. The Main Street was like pretty much like any other colorful market we’ve seen in our travels.

      Shops selling fabrics by the bolt; dress shops with well-endowed mannequins in party attire and everyday city clothes; street vendors displaying their wares on cloths laid out on the ground; mobile coffee vendors; kiosks with bags of nuts and spices. There was a vendor selling what may have been raw licorice sticks that Mamadou explained are chewing sticks … toothbrushes are expensive. Another with a cage full of cocks … sold for the purpose of fertilizing eggs. Yet another displaying ladles, and strainers, and pots and pans made out of recycled aluminum soda cans.

      A bag of colorful nuts — which Mamadou simply called red nuts — turned out to be a cultural lesson. He explained that if you’re going to ask a family for the hand of their daughter in marriage, you take a bag of these nuts to the parents. They eat them. And if they say the nuts are dry … well, you can bid your marriage aspirations goodbye.

      Then we entered the back streets of the market where foodstuff is sold. What can I say about this place that does not come across as offensive or judgmental, and still portrays what we experienced?

      I apologize for using it, but filthy is the only word that comes to mind! But it is what it is. The stench … the smell of blood from the butcher shop mingling with the smell of less-than-fresh fish! The black flies covering every inch of recently butchered meat! The dead rat next to a vegetable display. It was terrible. But we persevered, following Mamadou as we walked the narrow lanes through the shacks, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing.

      From the market, we went out to the riverfront. The good news is that there was a nice breeze here . I’ll leave it at that. Something interesting we saw here was an odd-looking ship just offshore. It was named “Karadeniz Powership Göktay Bey” and had a Turkish and a Gambian flag on the side. Mamadou said it was sent here by the Turkish President, Erdoğan and is designed to generate power for the city. (We later saw a joint Turkish-Gambian military base as well.)

      From the market, we went to Arch 22 for a quick photo. Built in 1996 to “mark the rise to power two years earlier of President Yahya Jammeh.” The landmark commemorates the Second Republic of The Gambia. At approximately 105 feet, it is the tallest structure in the country.

      After this photo op, we drove along the river for a while, going through wetlands where we saw some distant birds … great egrets and a whimbrel are the two I managed to identify. There were some crocodiles here as well … but too distant for any serious viewing.

      At one point, we stopped by piles of oyster shells. Mamadou explained that the oysters are shucked to sell the meat. The shells are then burned in a very hot fire to reduce them to powder, which, in turn, is made into lime that is used to whitewash buildings. A woman at a nearby stall was selling the oyster meat and brought a basket over for us to see.

      When we arrived at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool and Museum in Bakau, Mamadou escorted us to the ethnography museum that is run by the community. The interconnected buildings are constructed to resemble rondavels. Exhibits include initiation rites, with a number of displays showing costumes and masks used during circumcision ceremonies (male and female) to ward off evil spirits; local crafts; and traditional medicine, with display cases showing different jujus.

      Then we followed a narrow path to the crocodile pool, one of three that is considered sacred in The Gambia. Here we found a number of the crocs just lying about on the ground next to the path. A handler explained that the crocs are well-fed, and therefore “friendly.” He invited everyone to take turns petting one of them that might or might not have been an albino … I didn’t get close enough to check the eyes 😵‍💫

      The handler then took us around to the pond where he told us there are about 100 crocodiles. We saw a number of them in the water and along the edges where they were sunning themselves. He also pointed out a partial enclosure where he said women who are having trouble getting pregnant come to bathe using buckets of water from the pond to increase their fertility. In the past, they actually bathed in the crocodile pool! Tradition has it that if the woman then got pregnant and gave birth, Kachikally is one of the names given to the child.

      After our “crocodile experience,” we began the drive back to Banjul. We drove through a neighborhood that looked to be quite modern. No wonder … this is where the embassies are located. Mamadou pointed out the US Embassy, cautioning against taking any photos.

      We made two more stops along the way. The first was in a place that looked like a landfill. Turns out that it is where peanut shells and rejected peanuts are gathered by women for processing. The shells are used as fertilizer; the peanuts to make soap. While most of the women were welcoming, one of them was mad at Mamadou for taking us there and encouraging us to take photos. He tried to explain to the woman that us taking photographs of what we see is no different from photos sent to them by the sons and daughters they send overseas for education. His explanations fell on deaf ears.

      The next stop was at the jetty. Really, nothing for us to see except for a couple of boats. As were looking around, we started to see groups of women making their way to one of the boats. Each one was in a pristine, and quite fashionable, white outfit. At first we thought it might be a wedding, but Mamadou explained that it was just a “white party.” The women were all buying sun hats from a nearby kiosk before boarding the boat that would be taking them on the river for an afternoon of partying. Hey … Sunday after all!

      Returning to the ship, we found the police band waiting to greet us. This time, Mamadou had managed to get permission to drive us to the ship. When we got out of the vehicle, the band started playing. They did this for every vehicle that returned to Insignia from wherever they had gone off to explore.

      There is more to our day, of course. But this has been an exceptionally long footprint with me trying to paint an accurate picture of our experience without offending anyone.

      Let me just finish by saying that we left our berth at 3:30p to continue our cruise in a roughly southeastern heading. Tonight was another Chef’’s Market Dinner — “Fresh Fish Al Fresco” — at the Terrace Café. Great entertainment tonight … “That’s En-tap-tainment” … featuring a British duo called the Tap Step Brothers (who aren’t brothers at all) … tapping to everything from the musicals of Fred Astaire to the Lord of the Dance of Michael Flatley.

      Next, we have two days at sea to get some rest before we continue exploring some of the countries that are along Afica’s Gulf of Guinea.
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    • Day 64

      Dakar, Senegal

      March 18, 2023 in Gambia ⋅ ☀️ 82 °F

      Dakar is the capital of Senegal, in West Africa. It’s an Atlantic port on the Cap-Vert peninsula.

      Instead of 8:00am, our ship got cleared close to 9:00am. Not a problem for us as our tour was suppose to start at 9:00am.

      I booked a tour for 4 people. Erin, Mui and us.
      We met our guide Oamar as soon as we exited. the ship.
      He spoke very good English and almost all the way to Reserve de Bundia talked nonstop. He told us many interesting facts about life, education and history of Senegal.
      The area was colonised by Portuguese in the 15th century. Portuguese established a presence on the island ofGorée and used it as a base for slave trade. French took over the island in 17th century.
      The country gained an independence in 1960.
      Still 40 percent of population is illiterate and 60 percent younger then 19 years old. Unemployment is 50 percent. Big problem with drugs.
      95 percent of the population are Muslims, and the use of drugs is prohibited.
      Our tour guide told us he has 29 brothers and sisters from his father’s side and 9 from his mother’s side. Each man can have up to 4 wives if he can afford them and has to threat them equally.
      It took us one hour to reach the Reserve.
      We got onto safari 4x4 open car and had a wonderful tour for an hour through the reserve. We saw lots of animals, trees, birds. Very enjoyable.
      Then we drove for another for more then 1.5 hours to reach a restaurant for a lunch.
      The traffic was very heavy and the roads are horrible.
      The so called restaurant was on the property of the hotel.
      The meal was in the form of the buffet: rice, chicken, pasta and bananas.
      I had a small piece of chicken and two bananas.
      The restaurant was close to another attraction- Pink lake. This lake has a very big concentration of salt and used for salt mining. The lake is suppose to have a pink colour because of algae. Recently there were lots of rain and the lake was flooded.
      Because of the this, the algae died and the colour of the water is changed and now it is a normal water colour.
      We needed to be back on the ship by 5:00pm and were a little concerned about the traffic.
      Our driver took a short cut on unpaved road, but avoided the traffic.
      We were back on the ship after 4:00pm, took shower and had a great dinner at the specialty restaurant.
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    • Day 19

      BANJUL, Gambia

      March 19, 2023 in Gambia ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

      I think there is a saying that the port you just left was the most memorable and then 3 ports later, they kind of run together. For me, this will stick out. First, the vehicle (4×4) that was provided for our tour and then the living conditions. Poverty can just about be overwhelming. Majority of population is Muslim. But as it was Sunday, our visit to the Catholic Church was at the end of their service, so witnessed the parishioners leaving the service. Woman were dressed in colorful dresses as was the priests cloak. Our visit to the Albert market and surrounding homes emphasized the poverty. Off the shore of this area is a ship providing power to Gambia. We then passed by the Parade Grandstand , the Arch 22 & Gambia National Assembly Building. What a contrast from all the poverty. On to Crocodile Museum and Crocodiles. Museums gave us some inside as to traditions of the people. What surprised me the most in the museum was a map of Gambia. The country is long and narrow, 15 to 30 miles wide, 295 miles long, surrounded by Senegal except for shoreline. Then on to see all the crocodiles. Very docile group as they are well feed. On way back to the ship visited a site where soap is made from rejected peanuts. Saw a group of women dressed in white attending a white party. Amazed how well dressed the woman in Gambia were, especially with the living conditions.Read more

    • Day 64

      Banjul, The Gambia

      March 19, 2023 in Gambia ⋅ ☀️ 84 °F

      Today, March 19th, Harriet Beecher Stowe published her book, Uncle Toms Cabin, about slavery. We continued to learn more about the history of slavery in this part of the World. Today on our third stop in Africa and we went to City of Banjul, The Gambia, a city of 2.4M residents in a mere 4400 sq miles. Although slavery was abolished in 1807, there was a significant history of slavery here. In the 17th - 19th centuries there were more than 3 million slaves in The Gambia.

      The Gambia, the smallest African Country, is surrounded on 3 sides by Senegal and one side by the Atlantic Ocean with a river that runs through the entire country. We went to the largest market in The Gambia, Banjul Albert Market. What a “challenging” experience it was. We took a bus there and they left us off in an area that could only be described as looking like a garbage dump at the end of a bumpy, dirt road lined with trash. When we got off (other people refused and asked to be taken right back to the ship) we “found” a young person (Albert) who did not speak English but wanted to show us around. Yes, English is the official language but many do not speak/understand English but some version of many African languages and French. It seemed like a very “iffy area” but we proceeded with Albert as he took us through a maze of rows and stalls, making and selling everything from used clothing, chickens, vegetables in all stages of being cut and cleaned, grains and herbs, fish (dead and alive), chickens, “coffee” (you will have to ask for more info) and broken TV sets. Should I go on?

      It was such an incredible scrapheap of items one on top of another in makeshift stalls of cloth and any materials around with barely a place to walk. No aisles, dark, very smelly and we no longer had any idea where we were! Even Karen, my compass, was quickly turned around and we were lost most of the time that we walked with Albert. It got “more interesting” when Albert was “surprisingly” joined up by another young person that spoke English and joined the walk. Was this planned or not, where were we going now? They pointed out some items and at least now we understood what he said but at the same time he was “slick” and he was “very aggressive” and wanted to take us deeper into this maze of garbage.

      We insisted that we had to go back to where they found us where the bus dropped us off at the trash heap. After another dozen twists and turns and 10 nervous minutes we ended up about a block from the bus. At this point of course they began to get more anxious looking to deal for payment. The good news is one of the entertainers from the ship (thx Keenan) saw us in an uncomfortable place and ran over to “help”. We quickly got out and back to the bus and safety. We were probably not in danger, but the situation might have been a risky one, we just could not tell. This was our experience in the market in Gambia.

      Once we relaxed, we realized the worst part of this experience was recognizing the real sad situation that people were in, working in conditions that were unbearable, in dirt and with terrible smells and endless crowds. Most of these people are so poor and with no real hope of getting out of this situation. Very sad.
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    Port of Banjul

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