A 30.000 pies por viajeros para viajeros

Destination: Gambia. The Gateway to Africa

By Clara Arnedo

I’ve just got back from Gambia and some of the sights still linger in my mind: the rainbow that appears onTanji beach every day at sunset, when fishing boats laden with fish come back to the port, and the whole town takes part in collecting and selling the fresh fish. These are just a few of the memories that this small but perfect country leaves with you, to help you get an idea of what Africa is really like. Now Vueling makes it easier for us to travel to the Gambia, with a new route connecting Barcelona and Banjul, the capital of the country.

The journey starts in the capital, Banjul, a city that is small and pleasant. And so is the country, with a population of 1.6 million. Banjul is a relatively safe and peaceful city, where it is worth exploring the crowded colourful markets selling all kinds of wares. The most outstanding is Albert Market, a large typically African market mainly selling fruit, vegetables and fish. When sellers and customers see us they are reluctant at first and quickly avoid our cameras. But after a while they gradually become more open and available. All they need is a little time.

Another attraction in the city is Arch 22, in honour of the president, the bodyguard of the former president, who took his position on 22 June 1994. Since then he has been the great protagonist of the Gambia: we see Yahya Jammeh everywhere – on posters stuck on walls and lampposts in every village and every town.

But the Gambia is especially a country with a coast that opens out to the Atlantic Ocean; a wedge-shaped country that cuts into Senegal and is divided in two by the river that gives the country its name – the Gambia.

First we go to the coast to discover the long, fine sand beaches of Banjul. There are hotels on the seafront, affording a spectacular view of the ocean. But the most memorable fishing scene has got to be Tanji, where you can find a flurry of colours and life every evening on the shore when the fish is brought in. It seems like chaos but there is actually an internal organisation and hierarchy, and laws that enable the same spectacle to happen every day at sunset. The men are strong and muscular and are in charge of carrying tons of fish from the boats to the beach, balancing the baskets on their heads. Once they are on the shore, the women collect the treasure to wash it and prepare it to be sold… young men run further to look for spots to set up and sell the fish. The children often follow, running fast at their heels, hoping to catch a bit of fish that might fall on the way. This makeshift fish market on the sand is the tip of the iceberg of this small country that is bursting with life. In the morning, in that same spot, a colourful fruit and vegetable market materialises, dominated by women buying and selling food. One of these women is Ida Cham Njai, a beautiful and energetic chef who offers the unique experience of accompanying her to shop in the market, and then spending a pleasant day cooking local produce with her at her home. The gastronomy and local produce are the best ways to learn a bit more about this pleasant destination.

A British redoubt in colonial times, it is now one of the smallest countries in West Africa. It also has one of the highest birth rates. The Gambia is full of children, and mothers who wrap them to their hips: it is a beautiful and typical scene of the country. The rest of the country is made up of the jungle, nature and many animals: monkeys, birds and even hippos. The further upstream you go, the wilder nature is, and the more rural the population is… it is a wild adventure to go up the river towards the town of Georgetown, because there are not many places for accommodation. Tourism is not widely developed in the Gambia, and that is part of its charm. In any case, you don’t have to travel very far from Banjul to discover the wild. NearSerrekunda, the largest and busiest city in the country, we find Bijilo National Park, or Monkey Park, which includes easy paths to walk around. In this area you can also visit a crocodile pond, and you can even touch one of the crocodiles! This is the other side of the Gambia, with its river and mangrove swamps; the more authentic Gambia, one of the least developed countries on earth, with a life expectancy of 54 years and a literacy rate of 40%.

But this is not the end of the journey, and the Gambia, despite being a small country, still has a few surprises in store for us. Can you imagine remote African villages invaded by Street Art and graffiti? Well, this is what you can find in the Gambia. Specifically in Bafuloto and Makumbaya – two names that are hard to remember, two villages with small and simple houses, streets made of sand and dirt, where children play under the sun. And on the walls of these huts is where the Wide Open Walls movement found one of its favourite canvases. Pictures that depict nature, with animals from the area and other motifs that fill these places with colour.

A great way of discovering the Gambia from different perspective. Another way of penetrating Africa through this small gateway.

By Clara Arnedo

 

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