Day Three – The Gambia

After having a “British breakfast”, we say goodbye to the Jungle Beach Resort. We walk to the meeting point with Adama, in the middle of Sanyang. The entire village notices our presence and doesn’t hesitate engaging in a conversation with us. We talk about football, Barcelona and Madrid. They are very kind and friendly. They tell us they are about to go fishing while they prepare their boat for the occasion. Adama arrives and we hop in his van.

The “British breakfast”

We drive to the southern Gambia-Senegal border. A few kilometers before arriving, we find a military post with a group of soldiers dressed with camouflage clothes. One of them has a machine gun. They turn out to be friendly and let us pass. Just a few meters ahead there is another checkpoint. This time, the soldier is more intimidating and wears a rifle. After briefly inspecting the van, he lets us pass. We arrive at a tiny village whose main economy is oyster collecting and the border crossing. Taxis arrive at the riverside and leave their passengers, who will take a very small boat to the Casamance region in Senegal, just a few meters away. The border is a “local border crossing”, explains Adama. It is not legal —  tourists can’t cross it since there is no immigration or border office. Instead, it is used for people from both sides of the river that work on the other side of the border in order not to go through a border control every time. That is why there is a huge military presence in the region — so that this small “hole in the system” is only used by the local people and it is not used by smugglers or unlawful tourists. We drive back north and Adama gives three cigarettes to one of the soldiers in the checkpoint.

The Senegalese region of Casamance by the river
Both ports where the small boats cross the border

After a 15min drive we arrive at the Reptile Farm. There, a Sierra Leonean man called Edmund welcomes us. He is really friendly and smiles all the time. After a small chat with him over politics, we start our tour of the farm. The farm was founded by a French man over twenty years ago and its objective is to rescue reptiles from all over The Gambia, take care of them for some time and then leave them back in the wild. He shows us turtles, lizards, scorpions and a wide variety of snakes. He even encourages us to hold them and take pictures with them. We were quite afraid at first but we ended up tackling our fear.

Matías handing a “friendly” snake

Next up, Brikama. The town is even more chaotic than Senegambia. A huge amount of rainfall fell last night and the dirt roads were completely flooded. We hop off the van in the middle of the town in order to solve our mobile data problem at an Africell office. The man in charge tells us the electricity went off ever since the storm and they can’t do anything. However, he picks our phone numbers and promises us to solve the problem whenever the power is back. We head to the Brikama Craft Market. It is less organized than the one in Senegambia and the vendors are less stubborn. They craft all the souvenirs by themselves — we can see a group of people working with wood in the middle of the market. After Matías buys some figures, we tell Adama to take us to some place where we can eat. He takes us to a place nearby with low prices and a big menu. Turns out half of the plates offered in it are not available. The entire village continues without power. It was now time to go to Bintang.

Views of the Bintang Lodge

After one hour we arrive at the picturesque village of Bintang, just next to one of the main rivers that flow to the river Gambia. The place is filled by mangroves and big baobab trees, which really make this place magical and unique. The river is calm and the only thing that breaks the serenity is the laughter of the kids. After we hop off the van, we try to give Adama 50€, just as we had agreed the previous days. He doesn’t accept it and says it is way more. We don’t understand, we had an agreement to pay him 126€ and he is insisting that it is not right. He shows us a photo with the “official fares” and starts adding fares out of nowhere. After adding everything up, he says we need to pay him 95€. We had just been ripped off. We pay him that quantity and start thinking about what we can do — our plan was to go to Janjanbureh tomorrow but that would cost us 200€ extra according to the “official fares” of Adama. He also wanted to stay in the lodge for the night so “he didn’t have to go back home because it was too far” (only 50min) so we would also have to pay him the night. We take time to think about what to do tomorrow — trusting Adama was not an option (at least a cheap one), and the odds of getting to Janjanbureh without his help and from the small village of Bintang were low. We decide to look for help at the lodge and they tell us the easiest option is going to the main road, which is 4km away and wait until one of the crowded cars the Gambians use for moving around shows up. At first we hesitate but then Adama tells us that it is better if we do that because if we go with him “it can be very expensive”. He was basically kicking us out, we guessed he was satisfied with what he had overcharged us and wanted to go home. Now the decision is clear — we will take one of the crowded cars.

The big tree of Bintang meeting the river

After Adama leaves, we talk to a group of German tourists which confirms our suspicion that Adama had ripped us off. One of them, who had recently married a Gambian woman, tells us that his wife’s brother could take us tomorrow to a police station and from there, stop a good car so we could get to our destination safely. The idea sounds nice and we agree to meet him tomorrow morning. The electricity suddenly comes back and we get some minutes of Wi-Fi. Things were starting to look better. The people at the lodge are very friendly and welcoming and the place is mind blowing — it is built over a zone filled with mangroves, so to get to our room we would have to cross over a bridge which goes across them. We decide to take a look at the village. The people are quite friendly and one of them decides to be our guide although we hadn’t told him to do so. He shows us some big fish the villagers had caught in the river and takes a shortcut through a small path through the mangroves to show us a place where Queen Elisabeth II had prayed in an official visit. After visiting a rice field, some baobabs and the mosque of Bintang, our unexpected tour ends and we hand our “guide” 600 dalasis.

Our self-declared guide and the Bintang mosque at the back

The sun set and we took a seat in the dock of the lodge. The sky was flashing with thunder and lightning — a storm was coming. As the first raindrops fall, the staff of the lodge start evacuating the dining area and moves everyone to another area which is more protected. The electricity goes off, again. The storm is intense — we can feel the wind and the rain striking the village with huge force. After dinner we head back to our room. Tomorrow will be our toughest day yet.

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