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Entries about flight

Surprising art works … and then home

Gambia days eleven and twelve


View Gambia 2014 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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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.

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Heron at sunrise

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Jenny

And of course Jenny was there to keep us company!

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Dawn over Mandina Lodges

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Goliath Heron at sunrise

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Local woman by the river near Kubuneh

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.

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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.

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Oyster shells on the small beach

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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.

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Hooded vulture

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Hooded vultures

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Piapiac

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!

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Wide Open Walls

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

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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.

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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.

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Children in Kubuneh

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Local people

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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.

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Mother and two of her children

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The twins with their postcards

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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.

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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.

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Classrooms

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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.

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View from my lounger!

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White-throated Bee-eater

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Firefinch

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.

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Malachite Kingfisher

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Last morning coffee

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Sunrise panorama

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View of the other Floating Lodges from our deck

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Jenny was there again, naturally!

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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.

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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 Comments (32)

A return to Gambia

Senegal day one


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

In 2014 we had visited Gambia for some winter sun so in search of similar two years later we decided to check out Senegal. But initially that meant a return visit to Gambia!

There are two options for flying to Senegal from the UK, either to Dakar (via Brussels) or via Banjul in neighbouring Gambia. While the former may seem to make more sense, and is convenient for the hotels on the more developed coastal strip a few hours south of the capital, flying to Banjul is the preferred option if staying in the handful of hotels just across the border in the Sine Saloum Delta region – and that is where we were headed.

The Gambia Experience and sister company Senegal Experience have pretty much of a monopoly on travel and hotel bookings to the region from the UK (many of the hotels can only be booked through them) and charter flights come as part of the package. On our previous visit to The Gambia with them two years before our flights had been with Monarch; this time they were with Titan.

Because the flight left Gatwick very early, we opted to stay the previous night in the South Terminal’s Hilton Hotel. The cost of this was balanced by not having to leave our car at the airport, and it also meant we avoided the anxiety of getting to the airport on time, especially in unpredictable winter weather. So we were in the airport the next morning in good time and stress-free.

While nothing special, there was also little to complain about in the flight. The plane, an Airbus, was new and the leg-room generous. Service was friendly, and passenger announcements clear and comprehensive. While the flight was late in leaving this was through no fault of the airline – a checked-in passenger failed to present himself at the gate so his luggage had to be unloaded. Don’t you just love people like that?!

The flight lasted a little over six hours. Unusually, in-flight entertainment was provided via an app which we had to download in advance to our tablets. Presumably if you have no such device you have to do without, but that isn't a great hardship as the selection of films on our flight at least was quite limited and uninspiring. Meals were included, as were tea, coffee and fruit juice, though other drinks had to be paid for. The food was unexciting but quite tasty for an airline meal - pasta salad, chicken fricassé, chocolate cake.

Our route took us over Spain, Portugal, Morocco and down across the Sahara to West Africa. From my window seat I had good views and the pilot pointed out landmarks such as Lisbon and the Moroccan coast line.

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Over Spain?

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Off the coast of Portugal

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Coming into land in Banjul

We landed about 30 minutes late at Banjul (thanks to that non-appearing passenger) and cleared immigration after not too long in the queue. After collecting our luggage, we were met by a Gambia Experience rep who directed us to the bus that would take us to our overnight accommodations in the Gambia. Stage one of our journey was completed.

Overnight at the Kombo Beach Hotel

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Kombo Beach Hotel

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Our room

Our choice of hotel for this evening was pragmatic. Our brief stay didn’t justify a splurge on the lovely Ngala Lodge where we had stayed on our previous visit, so we just went with the travel company’s suggestion of Kombo Beach as being close to the airport and mid-priced. This is a rather large hotel which, while it wouldn't be our choice for a holiday base (too large and ‘packaged’ for our taste) was adequate for our one-night stays either side of our time in Senegal.

Rooms are in four big three-storey blocks – ours on the first night was in the fourth, furthest from reception, bar and pool. This was a bonus as it was quieter and also had a good view across a tennis court to some palm trees and the beach beyond.

Our room was very simply furnished but provided with a safe, small fridge to chill drinks, and air conditioning. It had a balcony with a couple of plastic seats, a good-sized and comfortable bed, and an over-bath shower in the en suite. While the shower was good, the curtain was of the horrible flimsy sort that seems to attack anyone showering within a foot or more of it!

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View from our room


We watched the sun set over the beach from our balcony, then spent the evening in the bar, where drinks are reasonably priced and snack meals (burgers, panini etc) are available. We could also have eaten in the adjacent open air buffet restaurant, but I'm not a fan of buffets in hot climates, and in the dark we failed to spot the smarter table service restaurant on the far side of the pool. So we had a pleasant enough evening and retired to our room for a prompt night as it had been an early start that morning.

Posted by ToonSarah 11:21 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises hotel flight africa gambia senegal Comments (11)

Back to an English winter

Senegal day twelve

Our final night of this trip had been spent in Gambia, as it would have been impossible to do the long drive back from Fimela in Senegal, catch the unreliable Barra-Banjul ferry and be confident of making it to the airport in time for any flight, let alone the regular chartered mid-afternoon one to London. The bonus was a few final hours in the hot African sun before flying back to the February chills of home.

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Sunrise, Kotu Beach

The balcony of our top floor room at the Kombo Beach Hotel gave us a great view of a lovely sunrise through the palms.

And after a decent buffet breakfast we took a walk along the beach.

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On Kotu Beach

Kotu Stream

There was just time too to head along the road to a popular Kotu Beach spot. The road that leads off to the Kombo Beach and a few other hotels crosses the Kotu Stream, and the bridge here is a popular spot for bird-watching. In fact, at 10.30 every morning you can come and watch the vultures being fed. That would have been a bit late for us, with a flight to catch, but even earlier in the morning there was plenty of activity to enjoy.

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The view from Kotu Bridge

The downside was that, as everywhere in The Gambia, we were hassled by would-be guides, taxi drivers, boat owners and sellers of all kinds, both during our walk and while standing on the bridge trying to take photos or simply enjoy the view.

I did my best to repel or tune out those clamouring to sell me a tour or drive me anywhere else other than here, and found this despite the hassle a pleasant place to while away some time. Bird sightings were good and included various herons (a Western Reef Heron and a Grey Heron), Hooded Vultures, Long-tailed Cormorants, a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Pied Kingfishers, a Red-eyed Dove, Wide-tailed Swallows, Whimbrels and more.

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Western Reef Heron, and Grey Heron

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Long-tailed Cormorant

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Pied Kingfisher

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Wide-tailed Swallow

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Whimbrel

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Spur-Winged Lapwing

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Hooded Vulture

As well as the birds we enjoyed watching the fishermen with their traditional nets.

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Fisherman by Kotu Bridge

There was a small and rather exposed hide right by the bridge, and there may well have been others along the nature trail but we didn't have time to explore that as we had to get back to the hotel for our airport pick-up.

Our flight home was so uneventful I kept no notes! And after an equally uneventful overnight stay at Gatwick’s Hilton hotel, we braved the chill of London and headed home.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises bridges birds fishing wildlife beach hotel flight river africa gambia Comments (9)

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