Day Seven – The Gambia

5AM, diarrhea. My stomach hurts like never before. I take some pills to control it and go back to sleep. We wake up at 10AM and I have to go to the toilet again. I also realize I haven’t taken the antimalarial pill at the time I should have because I was sleeping. What a great way to start our day. We leave the guesthouse and go search for a taxi. A driver approaches us and offers us a good price to go to Abuko National Park, so we accept. As he gets us there he starts trying to arrange our day. He makes different offers to take us to multiple places but we already know what to do and decline. We’ve only been one week in The Gambia but we already know what’s the deal with this people. We decide to pay him 1500 dalasis in order to arrange the transportation for the entire day.

Our guide in Abuko

We arrive at  the Abuko National Park — a jungle in the middle of the highly densely populated area of Serekunda, similar to the Bijilo Forest. We pay the entrance fee and the guide fee, which isn’t too much, and follow our guide around the rainforest. He makes a brief explanation of the different animals we can find there: antilopes, different dangerous snakes, monkeys, hyenas and more. The path is not well preserved and the rain has created big swamps in the middle of them. I fail at trying tom sidestep one and cover myself in mud. Staring at us from above, we spot a group of 15 vultures and our guide tells us to hurry up. We reach the center of the place where they have numerous animals in cages, including monkeys, a turtle and hyenas. We later discover that our guide takes Europeans hunting and shows us the head of a hippopotamus which has been hunted down by a local hunter. We were not expecting this — we thought it would be a natural reserve and not some kind of zoo wannabe which enhances the hunting of animals for fun. We regret having entered the place and we encourage you not to visit it. As our guide finds our way out we encounter some of the dangerous snakes, which kindly decide not to go after us.

Hyenas ironically locked down in the natural park

We hop again in our driver’s van and head to Lamin Lodge, a famous restaurant in The Gambia. When we arrive there it turns out there is no restaurant, nor food. We were really hungry and I hadn’t drunk anything since yesterday. Taking into account I had diarrhea it was not a good situation. Turns out our driver is friends with some people at the Lodge and they try to offer us a ride around the mangroves. We were basically scammed — our driver knew we were hungry and that we were expecting some place to eat but instead he had brought us to his friend’s place so we could give him some money. Someone also offers me drugs — it feels the right time to leave. We are really furious and want to leave this place. However, we fear they might get aggressive if we refuse to pay so we end up choosing the cheapest option for the boat ride.

A “mud crab”

The “captain” of the paddle boat doesn’t stop talking. We are upset and dehydrated and really don’t want anyone talking to us right now. He doesn’t stop talking about “how good the Europeans are” since they tip them a lot. We go around an area of mangroves — it is nothing new for us since we have already seen many during the trip. It is very hot and humid. We finally arrive at a sand island where Matías gets his shoe stuck in the mud. They continue to lecture us over the mangroves and the communities and so on. When we return to the mainland they ask us for a tip. Also some more people ask for money. We are furious. We reject the idea of giving more money away for nothing and hop again in the van.

This is a serious problem in The Gambia. Around the most touristy areas everyone tries to pull out some money from you. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do: you’ll always have someone begging for money. They overcharge tourists and treat you like a walking euro. We are not human beings for them, we are wallets. That really ruins the experience in the country — we haven’t found many places where they don’t try to rip us off, beg for money or ask for tips (after overcharging us). If The Gambia wants more tourists to come and improve its tourism a lot must change starting from the mindset of big portions of its population. However, I don’t think it’s all their fault. The Westerners and colonialism have a lot to do in this matter. In Europe there is a widespread belief that the entire continent of Africa is starving or under unlivable conditions so we must give them money or act as a charity with them. First, this belief is false — not many people starve, and although they are way poorer than Europe, they still manage to live a “normal”  life in most cases. The Gambians know the stereotype that their country is poor exists so they try to exploit it successfully, normally. They know the Europeans are easy to break down if they say they are hungry and will give away huge quantities of money.

A sand island in the middle of the river

This “poor tourism” performed by Westerners in countries such as The Gambia which consists of giving money away in the country to feel better and “heroes” is an absolute mistake. It makes the country dependent on “charity money” so instead of improving their tourist offer and product they will try to improve their skills of persuading tourists to give them money for nothing. This, ultimately deepens the postcolonial processes and asserts that the Europeans are “superior”, while The Gambia doesn’t have an incentive for development and industry transformation.

The bumpy roads make us feel very sick. We tell the driver to take us to a place where we can buy cold water and he takes us to his friend’s shop, where they overcharge us and the water is not cold. We don’t care — we just want to get to our guesthouse. We tell our driver we will skip Serekunda as we had planned and leaves us in Bakau. We agree to being taken from the EU Delegation to the airport tomorrow for a nice price. We buy two big cold bottles of water and two big loaves of bread for only 80 dalasi (1,10€) and take a nap at our accommodation. It’s nice when they don’t rip you off. We are exhausted.

Enjoying some fresh juices in our last night

We decide not to rush the evening and go have  dinner later on. We take a long nap — it is our last evening in The Gambia and we didn’t want to push an exhausting plan. However, that wouldn’t be easy. Our money was gone, once again. We counted it again and we found out that not only we didn’t have enough dalasi to pay for the hotel but also to pay for dinner. We decide to search for an ATM in the streets of Bakau. Our first try is the five-star hotel just in front of our guesthouse. It is probably the most luxurious building in the entire country. The ATM inside only accepts VISA. Now we have a situation. As we leave the hotel we encounter our morning driver and we offer him 300 dalasi to take us to a nearby bank — we could have walked there but it is not safe at all to move around at night. As we reach the bank we find ourselves in the same situation as a few minutes earlier: the ATM doesn’t accept Mastercard. Our driver takes us to a place inside Serekunda where we finally get what we want. It is amazing how well protected the banks are in this country. We order take-away again in the place we had dinner yesterday and sit in a juice bar by the beach. We enjoy our food and our last night in The Gambia.

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