"Gambia's Changing Faces" Top 5 Page for this destination Kololi by Firestar24
Kololi Travel Guide: 34 reviews and 53 photos
I had been staring out of the window of the plane for two hours when the endless sands of the Sahara finally broke and civilisation crept into the land of tiny things far below. The descent into The Gambia was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. The river and tributaries snaked through the rich green forest and I even saw the stunning Mandina River Lodges crouching on the aqua-marine riverbank. It really did take my breath away.
I had been waiting to visit Sub-Saharan Africa for so long that it truly did feel like I’d finally conquered that vast desert. My first choice for a destination was Kenya, but the recent disturbance there made me look elsewhere for my African introduction. It was while talking to a friend in a local pub one Friday night that The Gambia was mentioned as a ‘beginners’ kind of Africa. I didn’t know much about it. Birds, I thought, there are birds there.
On investigation I was thrilled to learn that Gambia is only a six hour flight from Manchester, is in the same time zone and the official language is English. Plus it has been a popular package holiday destination for English tourists since the sixties and that could only mean good things as far as cost was concerned! Don’t misunderstand me, please – I wanted to experience Africa, but so many people had advised when enquiring into various destinations ‘It’s not really suitable for those visiting Africa for the first time…’ (of Gabon) and ‘Have you been to Africa before…?’ followed by the patronising, doubtful look when I say Morocco and Egypt. So I wanted a novice lesson, a taster of the good things I could look forward to on future expeditions. The Gambia proved to be the perfect balance of easy access and real * Africa.
Online, I found return flights from Manchester for £350, so I jumped at a package deal offered by First Choice on the same flight including accommodation for just £250. Imagine a hotel so bad that the company will actually pay you £100 to stay there! I’m joking – we stayed in The Holiday Beach Hotel in Kololi and it was lovely. The rooms were very basic but the gardens were beautiful and led right down to the beach. The front entrance was a two minute walk from the Senegambia Strip – the heart of Gambia’s tourist district and known locally as ‘The Blackpool of The Gambia’ – but far enough away not to be disturbed by noise. And did I mention it was very * cheap?!
Of course, I had no plans to stay in the tourist swamped coastal areas for long. I had big plans for our week and no amount of protesting from Jonathan was going to deter me! Before we left I had entered into discussions with Gambia Tours about their 3 day Senegal trip (not available for the week we were going) and the Janjang Burreh overnight tour they do (which we joined).
One thing we noticed straight away in The Gambia was that everything cost quite a lot. Prices were equal to, if not more than, English prices. At first we thought our glaring white skin was ensuring that we got ripped off at every turn, but we later learned that the cost of living is very high there, which makes the shockingly low wages even more devastating. When we were there constant comparisons were being made regarding the average monthly wage (700 – 750 dalasis – about £21-£30) and the cost of a bag of rice which families bought to feed them for the whole month (600 dalasis – about £18 - £24). Be prepared to spend a lot if you visit The Gambia. Not only will you probably pay more than you expect for certain items, but also you will be expected to give generously to local people. The people here survive on tips and donations.
A man we met assured us that the economy was improving and that the current state of affairs would only strengthen the Country’s position later. He was sixty-six years old and educated by British Missionaries in his youth, then sent to repay the debt in Sierra Leone by teaching Religion, English Language and English History to children there. He told us that we would never meet a rich Gambian, because to be Gambian was to share what you had with those who need it. Then he told me that his President had cured AIDs, asthma and skin cancer through herbal medicine but the big Western Companies wouldn’t let him share the information for fear of losing out financially. He sold us Jujus before we returned home, a clandestine transaction full of promises of miraculous and sensational improvement in our lives and he kept repeating my name over and over. He gave us his phone number and asked us to call him when ‘something happened’.
We made the Banjul-Barra ferry crossing four times in total. Three times were completely trouble free but once we... more travel advice
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