The Gambia, the Smiling Coast (English)
Gambia is high on the list of places we want to visit. We spent a holiday here four years ago and the country has stolen our hearts.
From Tenerife we sail in one way to The Gambia. It takes us eight days to travel the 950 NM. We skip the alternative stopover at Dakar because it’s going well. The entrance of the Gambi river at Banjul is well marked with five buoys. It’s deep enough for seagoing freight ships so it must be deep enough for us.
A sandbank stretches far into the sea on the southbank of the river and some sandbanks are close to the fairway. We keep a good eye out.
It has become dark when we arrive and we anchor opposite to the old wharf at Half Die. The RCC pilot says there’s an anchorage here. The next day we’re told to anchor a little bit further to the west, near the dock of the fishing fleet. There are some wrecks in the water that are not visible at high tide so it is best to seek an anchor spot at low tide. The place is called Half Die because of a cholera epidemic in 1869 from which half of the population died. It is an old industrial area where sea ships are being loaded and unloaded. The buildings consist of old rusty halls where goods are stored. The road is full of holes and the open sourage alongside the road produces an indefinable smell.
The offices of customs and immigration are situated in this inspiring surrounding. After inquiring a few times and a short walk across the port area we finally find the immigration office. Tucked away at the back of a stone building it’s the third dooropening that is covered with a curtain. After a polite “knock, knock” we push away the curtain and than we find ourselves in a room with a desk and an oversized tv screen. After we make clear what we come for we are told to wait a moment for the official that can help us.
After twenty minutes he arrives and we are led into the next room. There are one table, a couple of chairs and a metal locker. He carefully studies our passports, asks us questions about where we come from and where we’re going and we have to fill in a form. That turns out to be pretty difficult because in the whole room there is not a single pen that produces ink. Fortunately we’re prepared for this and we offer him a pencil from our own stock which is highly appreciated! And the ice is broken when we explain the abbreviation on the pencil . Our passports are stamped and we are allowed to stay 14 days in The Gambia. We’re satisfied about this swift procedure and in good spirits we head for customs.
The square shaped space is filled with desks from where seven officials are busy with all sorts of documents. Freight handlers are waiting for there documents in the narrow gangway. People come and go.
One of the officers gives us a form and explains how we should fill it in. Because there is no copy machine he asks us to make our own copy’s in the copyshop further down the road. Of course, no problem! Armed with our documents and copy’s we report back at the office. Just as we think that we’re done it seems that we have to have another document. For that we go to another building where, in a small hot room, we’re received by a corpulent man. It turns out that he is the customs inspector. Together with him we walk along the long muddy road to where our boat is anchored. Halfway the distance he decides that we can solve this in another way. After being presented a small compensation he signs the document and we walk back. He to his office and we back to the customs office for a final stamp.
Once back on board we drop the Q-flag. We’re officially in The Gambia!
Through a system of creeks that meander through the mangroves we sail to Oyster Creek near Denton Bridge, halfway between the capital Banjul and Serekunda. The creeks are not well charted so we must monitor the depth all the time. Just before the last corner to Oyster Creek the depth decreases quickly and before I can get the engine in reverse we are stuck in the mud. It’s falling tide so if we can’t free ourselves we will be stuck here for about four hours. We ask a passing pirogue to help us but they can’t get us out either. There’s nothing else to do but wait. Under a heel of 20 degrees we prepare the fresh fish brought to us by local fishermen and I clean the port bottom of the ship. It is dark when we finally sail the last part and anchor near the bridge.
The next morning we go to shore with our dinghy. Our good friend Laminators is waiting there for us. We know him from the last time we were in The Gambia. He’s a tourist guide and taxi driver. Also there is a militair that wants to speak to us. It seems we anchored to close to the electrical cables that cross the river. When we are back on the boat we discover that there’s merely one meter between the mast and the cables! We didn’t notice that in the dark. We rapidly move Saline to a mooring that a local fisherman kindly offered us. Surrounded by pirogues that take tourist to fishing spots or a trip into the creeks and away from the cables we feel a lot saver.
“Morning, morning”, like every morning around 8 AM Sam comes rowing to us with the bread we ordered. For three days now we are anchored off Lamin Lodge, an impressive wooden building that was build in the ’80s of the last century by a German sailor who lost his heart to The Gambia. Peter Losens past away in July 2018 and since then his Gambian wife is running the business. There are several yachts here, most of them parked here for the winter.
The locals make money in the dry season with boat trips and excursions for tourists. In the rain season there are merely any tourists.
Walking through the building, crossing a footbridge you end up at a square with the internet tree. On this tree several visitors have painted their name. We go for a walk and end up in the village Lamin, four kilometers down the road. We meet Solomon who guides us through the village and end up in a local bar. We talk with Solomon about life in The Gambia. With his taxi he brings us back too Lamin Lodge and charges us quite a high price for this short ride. We learn that these things are better negotiated on forehand.
James Island (Kunta Kinteh)
We sail further up the river and anchor at James Island (Kunta Kinteh) which is on the UNESCO world heritage list. The next morning we have the whole island for ourselves and we can take a look around. A fort was build on the tittle island where more then 100 people lived in the 18th century. That must have been pretty full then. Today only pelicans, iguana’s and spiders live here.
At the Bintang Bolon river we anchor right opposite of Bintang Bolon Lodge. The lodge is situated at the river bank between the mangroves and exists of a couple of houses on poles and a covered terras/dining room. We tie up the dinghy to the fence and order some drinks and food. Because the lodge is somewhat remote there’s limited choice of food: chicken or fish with rice or fries. It tastes delicious though.
We have a lot of fun with the waitresses, Mame and Olie. “I’m going to the bank” I say when I find out that I left my wallet at the boat. “Bring some for me too” Olie says laughing. Mame and Olie are always cheerful.
We brought some items for the local youth on our boat: pencils, blocnotes, bubble blow and a football. But the football isn’t inflated yet and we have no pump. “You show me the pump and I will get the football” I say to the boys that gather round us. Immediately someone is send of on a bicycle. Five minutes later he returns with a pump. As promised I go to the boat to get the football. The youngsters are over enthousiast so we need one of the elder men to enforce order. The youth moves on playing football and we can return to our boat at ease.
Mame and Olie are sad. Today we leave and head back to Denton Bridge. I think I even see some tears by Mame. We’re having a hard time too. We felt really welcome here and the people are so friendly here.
Our last triplets us to Pelican Island, on the southern border of The Gambia and Senegal. Because it was a last minute decision to go there we have to wait a while for the boat that brings us not the island. We sit under the porch at the local rescue post. The emergency number is painted on the wall. I put it in my phone immediately, you never know. The post depend on foreign countries for their equipment. The Gambian gouvernement doesn’t have enough money for this. The little polyester boats don’t look that seaworthy. The post is manned around the clock and regularly sails out for fishermen with engine problems.
With the right timing it’s possible to get through the surf into the boat without getting wet. In the big open boat it takes half an hour to get to Pelican Island. Besides four pelicans and some other birds there’s a lot of rubbish on the sandy island. “If you bring a bag and clean the island every day, then it will be more attractive to tourist” we say to the guide and we put our money where our mouth is. Together with Lamin, who joined us, we fill a big bag with plastic and take it with us to shore. Back at the rescue station we discuss the importance of clean beaches for a country who’s main income is tourism with the head of the rescue station.
At the immigration side office at Denton Bridge I try to get our passports stamped for clearing out. The officer needs to make a phonemail to the head office in Banjul and states that we can stay another day but we really have to clear out in Banjul. So that’s what we do the next day. We anchor at Half Die and we find the office almost without getting lost. There we meet the same officer that cleared us in. “You had permission for 14 days starting the 1st of November”, “Yes?” “And now it’s the 15th of November”. “Yes?” “So you should have asked for extension” “Oh?” “Normally that’s 1000 Dalashi (EUR 20)” “Ah, but yesterday your colleague at the side office said we could stay another day.” “Yes, but you had to apply for the extension two days before it expired”. “I see”. “That’s the procedure. Did you have a good time in The Gambia?”. “Yes, we’re definitely coming back”. “Okay, you are more than welcome”. Our passports are stamped and we are free to leave. With an aching heart we leave the hospitable Gambia and set sail for The Cape Verdes.