A Travellerspoint blog

Surprising art works … and then home

Gambia days eleven and twelve

View Gambia 2014 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Mandina Lodges sunrise

We had a later start for today’s final outing with Amadou, so there was time for some photos from the decking before breakfast, as we enjoyed our customary coffee. It was still not quite light – Venus was visible above the mangroves, a heron was silhouetted against the sunrise, and a Goliath Heron kept watch from the trees – probably the same one we had seen on other mornings.

Heron at sunrise


And of course Jenny was there to keep us company!

Dawn over Mandina Lodges

Goliath Heron at sunrise

Local woman by the river near Kubuneh


I had read before leaving home about the Wide Open Walls art project and was keen to visit, so we asked Amadou if it would be possible to see some of the art and he proposed a visit to one of the villages involved, Kubuneh, about a half hour boat ride from Mandina Lodges.

By the river in Kubuneh

We landed on a small beach where local women boil the oysters they have prised off the mangroves. Collecting these is a tough job, and one traditionally done by the women whom we saw frequently passing Mandina in their dug-out canoes or pirogues.

Oyster shells on the small beach

Local woman carrying oysters

The oysters have to be boiled for an hour to make them edible (you can’t eat these raw as you do the coastal ones, we were told). Some are eaten by the locals but most sold to restaurants. The discarded shells are picked clean by Hooded Vultures and Piapiacs (an African crow) before being smoked, ground to a powder and mixed with water to make a wash for the walls of buildings.

Hooded vulture

Hooded vultures


The Wide Open Walls project

Some years ago, one of the owners of Makasutu and Mandina, Lawrence, who is a keen artist, decided to use art as a way of bringing some income to the local villages. He invited internationally known artists to stay at Mandina after the end of the tourist season, and to create street art in the most unlikely of settings, the small rural Gambian villages dotted around the area. The idea was that the works would function as a valid art installation in their own right and at the same time promote The Gambia as a tourist destination and thus benefit local communities. Progress has been slow, mainly because of the recession, but gradually the project, known as Wide Open Walls, has begun to create more and more interest. You can read more about it on the Mandina Lodges website: https://www.mandinalodges.com/makasutu-forest/wide-open-walls.

It was fascinating to see the works as they seemed at the same time both incongruous and totally in their right place. They are on public buildings, private houses, walls and even on the trees! And because quite a number of artists have been involved since the project began, there is a good chance everyone will find some that appeal.

As you can imagine, I took lots of photos. Here's a selection for you to enjoy - or scroll past, depending on your levels of enthusiasm for street art!






Wide Open Walls

As I said, even some of the trees have been used by the artists as 'canvasses'.

Faces on the trees, Kubuneh

Life in Kubuneh

Visiting Kubuneh didn’t just give us the opportunity to see the Wide Open Walls street art but also to see a rural Gambian village.
The village seemed still largely untouched by the extra attention it is starting to receive but there were some early seeds of the development of a tourist infrastructure – a part-built restaurant, a small craft stall under a baobab tree, signs promoting bird-watching trips. I hoped that this would benefit the local people but not spoil the special atmosphere here – from what I learned about Lawrence I thought it fair to say that was unlikely.

Sign on a tree

Certainly overall the village was then (2014) still largely untouched by the presence of visitors, and although some small children called out a hello, in the vain hope of being given sweets (giving which is strongly discouraged by the authorities and tour companies), there was no sense of the commercialisation that we had experienced earlier in this trip, to some extent at least, at the former slave trade villages on the River Gambia.


Children in Kubuneh


Local people

The village church

On our walk through the village we stopped to chat to a local woman whom Amadou knew. She was happy for us to take photos of her and her children (twin boys and a baby) and we gave the boys some postcards from home in return which they seemed to like (and much better for them than sweets!) This is one of the houses that has been painted through the Wide Open Walls project and the woman told me how much they like it.

Mother and two of her children

The twins with their postcards


Amadou also took us to visit the local community-run school, which takes children from the ages of three to nine as these are considered too young to walk to the nearest government school 1.5 kilometres away. Unfortunately for us (but not presumably for the children!) the pupils had been given a day off in recognition of having won a sports competition the previous Friday, so we weren’t able to see and interact with any of them.

The (almost deserted) village school

But we were able to meet the headmaster, Malik, who showed us the classrooms and told us a bit about the school. They are currently setting up a programme to give all the children a breakfast each morning, as many arrive without having eaten anything (or generally eat poorly at home), so we gave Malik a donation towards that as well as some pencils and crayons we had brought with us from home. He has a donations book which we were asked to complete and it was interesting to see how many others, from a variety of countries, had been here and done the same.


School motto

The writing on one of the blackboards tells a surprising story for a school whose pupils are relatively young, of a man accusing his son of being a bandit and asking the police to 'take him away'. His only crime seems to have been playing his music too loud and not reading his books!

There is also mention of the man beating one of his two wives before throwing her out, accusing her of stealing a chain in order to buy cannabis.

Last day at Mandina

The rest of the day passed in the by-now usual mix of swimming, relaxing and photographing the birds. Among the latter were a pretty Firefinch and some White-throated Bee-eaters who enjoyed darting down to the pool water in search of any insects floating there.

View from my lounger!

White-throated Bee-eater


Another highlight was a Malachite Kingfisher on one of the posts of our decking. He didn’t hang around long enough for me to get a great photo but at least I got something!

A Giant Kingfisher paid us an even more fleeting visit but again I managed to get some sort of photo although his head was in shadow.

Malachite Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher

Later we watched the local women on their way home after collecting oysters – some presumably heading to Kubuneh and the beach where we had photographed the discarded shells this morning.

Local women collecting oysters

That night at dinner some excitement was caused by a Goliath Heron in the shallows right next to the restaurant – very difficult to photograph in the dark but of course I had to try!

Goliath Heron at night

Time to go home

On our last morning there was time for a few more photos from the decking of our Floating Lodge.

Last morning coffee

Sunrise panorama

View of the other Floating Lodges from our deck

Jenny was there again, naturally!

Lizard on a tree

Jenny tried to make it difficult for us to pack and leave but sadly we couldn’t linger as we had a plane to catch.

Please don't go home!

Our transfer back to the airport near Banjul went smoothly, and we found the airport surprisingly well-organised, with only a short queue to check in and a reasonable one for customs and security. It helped that we had already filled in our departure card, but these are available at the airport if needed. Security was cursory by modern standards, with no request to screen electronic devices separately or to remove liquids for inspection.

The departure lounge had three duty free shops all selling much the same goods (mainly cigarettes and alcohol) plus one souvenir shop and a couple of bars. One of these, the Sky Bar, had very pro-active waiters who handed us a menu as soon as we entered the lounge and helped us find a space among the crowded seats. They sold snacks, cold and hot drinks, Julbrew and ice creams, all at reasonable prices, so we enjoyed a cold drink while waiting to board. The other bar was outside on a terrace with good views of the planes but very exposed to the hot African sun, so we gave that a miss.

The return flight was in a smaller and more cramped plane (it seemed that Monarch used smaller planes for their Tuesday flights than their Friday ones) but was similar in terms of service quality. We landed at Gatwick on a chilly February evening. The warmth of The Gambia already seemed a long way away …

Posted by ToonSarah 02:10 Archived in Gambia Tagged art people children birds lizards wildlife views hotel flight airport village river school africa cats street_art customs gambia

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


I"ve enjoyed your trips round Gambia, you are adventurous. My adventures have been round Europe, nearly all of it. Stay Safe By the way, all i see in my garden are sparrows and Blackbirds. Alec.

by alectrevor

Thanks for following my Gambian tales Alec. It's not really what I consider an adventurous destination however - you can do a package tour from the UK (under normal circumstances) with everything taken care of ;)

by ToonSarah

From what we saw of England, I'm sure you did enjoy Gambia in February. Much nicer weather . . .

It was fun seeing all the birds and Jenny. How could you leave her????

by Beausoleil

I think the art work is a great idea. I'd enjoy visiting that, too.

by irenevt

Thank you Irene and Sally :) There's a sort-of post-script about Jenny. Grete (Howard) visited Mandina last year and wrote a blog here about it, and was able to report to me that Jenny is still there and thriving (you can see her here: https://grete-howard.travellerspoint.com/483/)

by ToonSarah

I especially enjoyed the photos of the art on the trees. I have been trying to figure out what about the heron is Goliath - his neck, his bill or just his overall size.

by greatgrandmaR

Hi Rosalie - it's his size, he's huge!

by ToonSarah

I think I prefer the "flowerpot birds" or the "tree have eyes" :)

I am always at awe when I see women carrying baskets above their heads, the stability is something I just wish to have!

by hennaonthetrek

I know just what you mean about how the women balance things like that Henna - it always astounds me how much they can carry and so confidently too! I'm not sure which paintings you mean by 'flowerpot birds' - two of them have birds but both are on walls, not flowerpots. I guess my photos don't give an accurate idea of the scale ;)

by ToonSarah

Ah, it is the second photo (in first you can see whole house), I am reading via phone so when I zoomed in it's clearly a wall but before it looked like a flower pot. But "flowerpot birds" has a nicer ring to it than a "wall bird" don't you think? :D

by hennaonthetrek

Ah that one - yes, I love that one. The wall was broken at one end and has bougainvillea growing behind it, which maybe is why it looked like a pot to you :)

by ToonSarah

In Portugal they had a kind of ring that they put on their head. When I was 12 my mother thought I was slouching so she sent me to modeling school and they made me walk with a book on my head until I could do it. Just a matter of practice and walking without bouncing.

by greatgrandmaR

A book I could maybe manage, but not the huge and unwieldy loads these women seem to carry!

by ToonSarah

I was 12, so I thought it was fun and I practiced with a lot of other things. Once you can do a book it is just a matter of practice. Although I never did anything breakable.

by greatgrandmaR

This was fascinating to read Sarah and I live all your photos. I loved reading about the hooded vultures picking the shells clean. And then finding out all the uses of the ground shells. You've actually got me interested in bird watching now! Lively vibrant cultural trip.

by katieshevlin62

Thanks so much Katie :) I wouldn't call myself a serious birdwatcher but when we go anywhere where there are such colourful species I can't help but get interested, plus I love the photographic challenge of trying to get decent photos of them!

by ToonSarah

Walking without bouncing is harder than it sounds if you have do it that way all your life! Walking with the book on my head would have been good for me when I was an kid, might even try it now! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Have done it...

by hennaonthetrek

Or even 'haven't done it'

by ToonSarah

Oh, I meant it as an correction to my typo, lol. (..if you have done it that way...)

by hennaonthetrek

Yes, that's what I was thinking, but I thought you meant to say that, 'Walking without bouncing is harder than it sounds if you haven't done it that way all your life'. If you have always done it all your life it would be easier, not harder - no?

by ToonSarah

Yes, you are right! So I write it wrong from the beginning...But good that you understood what I meant! :)

by hennaonthetrek

Indeed - and I agree with you too

by ToonSarah

Even better! :)

by hennaonthetrek

I saw the King and I when I was a kid - the ladies looked like they were floating. (no bounces) My mother would say to me "You are not walking behind a plow" when she thought I wasn't walking in a ladylike way.

by greatgrandmaR

My mother fussed about a lot of things but posture wasn't one of them - maybe it should have been!

by ToonSarah

I grew right through the juniors department in one year when I was 12 and was not only tall but well endowed and also I looked older than I was. (Someone once thought I was my father's wife.) I found it embarrassing to be whistled at in the street so I tended to slouch and try to be invisible.

by greatgrandmaR

I know so little about Gambia as a travel destination, so it is great to read your page and learn a little bit more. Thank you for showing this little rural Gambian village!
I do love street art!! And such an unexpected place to find it! Fascinating to see that they even used the trees as canvas for their work.

by sim1travels

Thank you Simone - yes, so surprising to find street art in this out-of-the-way African village!

by ToonSarah

what a journey, quite a nice read and I love your bird pictures. I wonder how the village is doing nowadays.

by Ils1976

Thank you Ils :) From what I read online when updating my notes for this blog, the village is overall doing OK, but I expect the lack of tourists will have affected them as it has places throughout Africa :(

by ToonSarah

I guess nowadays it is everywhere the same. Economy is hit so hard that it is just unbelievable and countries who need it the most get hurt even harder ... such a pity!

by Ils1976

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.