Gambia is Africa’s smallest country, with 15 million people living on a flat stretch of river plain carved out of central Senegal. Besides peanut cultivation, tourism is an important source of revenue, and indeed coastal Gambia is one of the most Westernised parts of sub-Saharan Africa in this respect. I recently spent a week there with my wife and kids. Here are some of the high points of our stay.
- Sunshine, heat, beach, hotel swimming pool. These were the main reasons for us to leave Sweden at all.
- The locals are friendly, sociable, and not in the least deferential to tourists. Most speak good English (while in Senegal, for the same reasons of colonial history, people speak French). No apartheid at the pool side: people mix freely, not least because Gambian expats come there on vacation, stay at hotels and entertain their family and friends there.
- Humble residential areas and grocery markets are just across the coastal highway for anyone who wants to learn a bit about life beyond the hotel walls.
- Small nature reserves full of wildlife are just a short cab ride away. Monkeys, lizards, termite hills!
- Birds are particularly abundant and various wherever there’s a spot of greenery. Bring binoculars!
- Pop music sounds nothing like at home, being an eclectic mix of local polyrhythms, Jamaican reggae and US styles. Bring a small radio!
- Amazing drum-dance-singing acts: we saw the Kucha Kassem Cultural Dance Troupe one night and were completely floored. And invited onto the floor, all four of us! Contact troupe leader Abubacarr Colley to find out about gigs or book drumming and dance classes: firstname.lastname@example.org, +220 771 27 87.
- Everything’s cheap once you’ve learned to haggle. An ample dinner dish and a bottle of soda at a decent restaurant is like $12.
A beach vacation in Gambia offers a lot of good stuff that you will never see in the Canaries or Morocco or Spain.
Still, there were times when I really wanted to go home to Sweden. It wasn’t just that poor Junior got the shits and took to his bed for two days with a high fever, nor that my back mysteriously seized up and kept me awake nights. In my next entry I’ll tell you about the main drawback to a Gambian vacation. Can you guess?