From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



Today was a somewhat emotional day of farewells.  Andrew and I both said farewell to Mama and Harouna, who have been so helpful and supportive over the past few weeks that we now count them as good friends.  Andrew and I also said ‘au revoir’ to each other, as Andrew flew out to Sydney via Dubai with Emirates Airlines this evening, while I flew out to Banjul (Gambia) on a four-leg flight with stops in Monrovia (Liberia), Freetown (Sierra Leone) and Dakar (Senegal) earlier in the afternoon. 

Andrew came to the airport with Mama and Harouna to see me off; I had arranged a late check out for Andrew from the hotel so he was able to return and rest for a few more hours.  Accra Airport is not the most modern airport, but it worked fairly efficiently for me today, and in fact my flight departed almost a quarter of an hour early – quite a rare experience for most airlines in Africa.

Gambia Bird Airlines is a fairly new airline, and it has only one aircraft, an Airbus A319 leased from the German low cost carrier Germania.  The straight line (i.e. great circle) distance between Accra and Banjul Airports is precisely 2001 kilometres, which would normally take about three hours flying.  By doing a four-sector “milk run”, the distance increased to 2543 kilometres , partly because our plane flew over Banjul to Dakar before returning to Banjul for the fourth and final sector.  Total scheduled flying time was almost eight hours (2:00 pm to 9:45 pm).

Why did I choose such an inconvenient schedule?  This is the flight that I had to book after ASKY Airlines ‘rescheduled’ their flight to a different destination in late December (as described in Day 1 of this travel diary).  There are only three flights now between Accra and Banjul each week, and remarkably, this is the quickest, cheapest and most convenient option.

There were two principal reasons that I wanted to include Gambia in my itinerary.  First, it is the only country in West Africa where Australians do not need a visa, and that makes travel there considerably easier for groups.  Second, this tiny country (just three times the area of metropolitan Sydney) has developed an enviable reputation for ecotourism, and I was keen to explore this particular facet of the country.

Surrounded by Senegal to the north, east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, The Gambia (as it is officially known) is a long, thin country that straddles the banks of the Gambia River.  The smallest country in mainland Africa, Gambia is less than 50 kilometres across at its widest point, but it is a little more than 1100 kilometres long (in an east-west direction). 

I was very impressed with my flights with Gambia Bird – all four of the sectors.  The Airbus A319 aircraft was fairly new, the cabin staff were delightful, leg room was great, and refreshments were served on each sector.  Furthermore, the views on each of the daylight landings and takeoffs were excellent considering the hazy, smoky air that often lies over West Africa at this time of the year.

The aircraft arrived in Banjul a little early at 9:30 pm, where I was met as arranged by a driver from the hotel after whizzing through very efficient immigration and customs formalities.  The drive to the hotel revealed that Gambia’s roads are excellent, with no potholes, wide lanes, abundant lighting and orderly driving.  It was all quite a novelty.

I was in my room by 10:30 pm, ready for a good sleep to prepare me to start exploring Gambia tomorrow morning.



28 January 2014

Day 32 - Accra to Banjul, Gambia