From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



My final day to explore West Africa has been deliberately low key.  The reason is fairly pragmatic; I need to check out of my hotel at 1:30 am tomorrow morning to begin the long journey back to Australia.  Allowing time for some last minute washing and packing, and hopefully a little sleep as well, meant restricting the day’s explorations somewhat.  I started at 9:00 am and finished at 3:00 pm, which seemed about right under the circumstances.

On the way back from Juffureh yesterday, I chatted with Lamin (who seems to refer to himself as Lamb-i) about seeing some parts of Gambia that might interest me.  We put together a short program of four stops, and set out at 9:00 am this morning.

The first stop was more a result of Lamin’s persistence than my enthusiasm.  This was a small batik factory in Serrekunda.  When we visited, no work was underway (except for some clothes washing), but many examples of the batik work were hanging up on display outside to sell.  Some of the work was very beautiful, with distinctively African designs and colours, although looking at the cloths in the morning’s strong wind was sometimes difficult.

The second stop was the cattle market at Abuko, a settlement to the south of Serrekunda.  There were two parts to the market, cattle on one side of the yards, and goats and sheep on the other.  Both cattle and sheep seemed in excellent condition, and were eating grass and other feed from old car tyres – single tyres in the case of the cattle and stacked piles of tyres for the goats.  The market was picturesque, and considerably calmer than I had been expecting.

Our third stop took considerably longer than the first two.  Just a kilometre or so south from the cattle market is the entrance to Abuko Nature Reserve.  This small reserve is only a little larger than a square kilometre, but it contains one of Gambia’s last surviving tropical riverine forests with abundant bird life, monkeys and antelopes (all of which I was able to see during my walk this morning).  There are also crocodiles, but although I saw their pond and their picture, the crocs themselves eluded me.  To my relief, I also managed to avoid meeting any of the snakes (green mamba, puff adders, rock pythons, forest cobras and spitting cobras, among others).

It was a very special experience to see about 15 green vervet moneys in the wild at various stages during my walk, eating fruit and swinging from branch to branch (the monkeys that is, not me).  There were also about half a dozen of the much shyer red and black monkeys, who spent much of their time today peering around large leaves to look at me before ducking behind the leaf if they thought I might be looking back at them.  Even shyer than the red and black monkeys are the antelopes; I managed to spot just one of them as it ran off into the bushes.

At the mid-point of the circular walk, a small animal orphanage has been established.  This was somewhat disappointing, as it comprised a collection of vultures, hyenas, baboons and a sole tortoise, all in double wire cages that made viewing as well as photography quite difficult.  More interesting from an ecosystems perspective were the strangler figs, several examples of which could be seen on the walk back to the park entrance.  Overall, walking through the nature reserve was a great experience, being a fairly easy (i.e. level) walk in cool shade on a sandy track with many opportunities to spot wildlife and admire the magnificent gallery forest.

The fourth visit involved a short drive east from Abuko to the Tanbi wetlands.  This is a rich area of extensive mangroves that line several short tributaries of the Gambia River.  It is possible to go out onto the water in small, hand-propelled pirogues to get a close look at the wildlife, which we did.  Being high tide and around midday, the opportunities to spot wildlife were limited, but we did manage to spot a couple of long-beaked brown birds that seemed to make the man rowing the pirogue quite excited.

Returning to the river bank, we saw a quirky structure that looked like a little boy’s over-grown tree house.  It was a three-storey wooden pile structure built at various odd angles over the river, known as Lamin Lodge.  Operated by a German gentleman, Lamin (no relation) recommended it as a great place to eat or have a cool drink.  I agreed to the latter and enjoyed a cold Coke that was indeed refreshing.

By the time we returned to the hotel it was a little after 1:30 pm.  Feeling like some exercise before my long flight home, I decided to go for another walk along the beach near the hotel.  This took me almost an hour; a very relaxing, therapeutic experience as I enjoyed the gentle sea breeze accompanied by the soft rumble of the low, breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

The experience of the beach walk may not have been typical of the past few weeks’ travels through West Africa (mild understatement!), but it was an enjoyable way to say ‘au revoir’ to this little known but highly significant part of the world.

Why significant?

I read today that according to the GIBS (the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa) Economic Outlook for 2014, Sub-Saharan Africa will overtake South-East Asia as the fastest growing region in the world in 2014.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this statement: (1) we will be hearing much more exciting, important and positive news about West Africa in the very near future, and (2) I must have uncharacteristically good internet access at the moment here in Gambia if I can access such up-to-date news.


31 January 2014

Day 35 - Abuko, Gambia