Vacation spot Gambia: A Lesson Price Sharing

Cruising up the Gambia River.
Kia Koropp

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After we cruised into Banjul—the dusty, bustling capital metropolis of Gambia, on the western coast of Africa—the customs agent knew precisely what he wished.

“The workplace has run out of espresso, and the workforce doesn’t manage to pay for to purchase any—ahem, ahem,” he stated as we tried to clear in. 

My first thought was that he not less than had totally different style in palm-greasing than the port captain, who was required to view our onboard shops however didn’t assume he’d have the time if we purchased him a Coke. At immigration, it was a $5 “donation” they wanted from us to assist the division purchase its personal boat. 

Sure, this was our welcome after deciding to commerce cruising amid coconut timber and tropical fish for cruising up a muddy river filled with hippos and crocodiles. As we ventured onward, I wasn’t totally positive what to anticipate. 

donkey cart
Though provisioning is difficult in Gambia, and transport in a rickety donkey cart will be tough, welcoming villages are all over the place.
Kia Koropp

I’d first heard about Gambia from a German couple cruising within the Canary Islands. I’m a cruiser who likes to discover, and the extra culturally numerous the locations are, the higher. Gambia receives only a handful of yachts every year, making it about as off-the-beaten-course as a vacation spot can get. And so, we added it to our itinerary as a stopover vacation spot between the Canaries and the Caribbean. We not less than knew it might be totally different.

I’d had visions of crusing slowly up the Gambia River with the tide. After we acquired there, although, I needed to be taught to mood my expectations. That is no broad, Amazon-type river; there isn’t the gap between banks to make crusing sensible. You could tack as quickly as you full your tack, and proceed operating sails from port to starboard till you concede defeat and activate the engine. We did sail, just a little, however solely when the wind was immediately behind us and the tide was operating with us. 

We additionally encountered the Gambia Bridge, which cruising boats can get beneath with masts as much as about 55 toes tall, however that’s it. This bridge serves as a barrier to some vessels from exploring the higher reaches of the river—and a visit to Gambia is all about these higher reaches. We ended up with solely a foot of clearance from the VHF radio aerial in an intense second after I needed to make the decision whether or not or to not proceed. 

local paddling
Locals will typically paddle out in pirogues to go to a cruising boat.
Kia Koropp

Different components turned evident as soon as we have been safely (whew!) on the opposite aspect of the bridge. The broader river turns into smaller creeks, providing secret hideouts to tuck into. The choices aren’t all the time apparent as a result of a creek’s entrance can get shallow earlier than the water turns into deep once more. With our draft of greater than 7 toes, we frequently drew a line within the mud with our keel on our means right into a creek. We’d then discover ourselves nestled up tight amid the reeds. And we needed to drop anchor immediately within the creek’s heart in order to not bump the mangroves on both aspect. 

We additionally discovered about who else lives alongside these small creeks: moths that love anchor lights at evening, and cruel mosquitoes whose itchy bites final for days. Fortuitously, we had a three-tier netting system: netting across the cockpit for the worst of instances, netting for the hatches and companionway as commonplace use, and netting above the beds in case boundaries one and two have been breached. There wasn’t an evening we weren’t grateful for the sanctity of our impenetrable fortress.

What’s lacking from this river is consumable water. The river is muddy all the best way up its reaches, so utilizing a watermaker is ill-advised until you might have a bilge filled with filters. We stuffed our 370-gallon tank with water from the neighborhood effectively earlier than departure, and used water sparingly. We washed our our bodies, garments and dishes in river water, and used our tank water completely for ingesting and cooking. This meant scenic deck showers within the early evenings, a hose dragged by means of the cockpit to fill the sink, and white-turned-brown garments pegged on the rail to dry.

local children
The youngsters are gregarious and inquisitive, and the adults lengthen a heat welcome.
Kia Koropp

Meals can also be sparse outdoors the bigger cities, and transport is tough. For those who aren’t up for an extended and dusty stroll, then your selections are a sizzling minivan or a rickety donkey cart. The cart is preferable as a result of a restricted variety of our bodies can match atop it, although witnessing individuals being got rid of means your security isn’t assured. To me, it nonetheless beat being trapped inside a nine-person minivan with 30 different individuals alongside sizzling, dusty roads for the 4 hours it takes to maneuver 12 miles. We’d get again to the boat in darkness, all for a sack of onions and potatoes. 

What makes all of this value it’s the solitude and seclusion in Gambia. You’ll be able to spend weeks up a creek hidden from the world, with solely birdsong to remind you that different life exists. Villages are welcoming, however there’s no cruising neighborhood.

One other huge distinction is that as a longtime cruiser, I’m used to the ripple of wind throughout water, the fixed roll over mild waves, and the swell of the ocean as if it breathes. It has been a very long time since I’ve regarded out over water that has no motion, no heartbeat, no breath. But, a muddy river will be filled with vibrant coloration: blue, inexperienced, purple, white, black. The water captures the life that surrounds it and tosses it again, with the sky, forest, solar, moon and folks in stunning, excellent reflections. 

The author taking pictures
You’ll be able to spend weeks up a creek hidden from the world, with solely birdsong to remind you that different life exists.
Kia Koropp

These river views dominate the nation. Gambia stretches 350 miles from west to east, and the river runs all the distance. The river is the nation, as are the animals that depend upon it. I used to be instructed that I’d see hippos and crocodiles; what I didn’t recognize was that this was assured. Trampled reeds and river entry holes by means of the bush mark each creek. 

On Christmas Eve, we took chimes up on deck within the night to persuade the youngsters that they’d heard Santa’s sleigh. A cute concept, till a hippo’s bellow drowned out the chimes. And as a substitute of one thing that regarded like Rudolph, a crocodile crashed by means of the reeds into the water about 15 toes from our anchor. 

On New Yr’s Eve, we sat in our tender watching crocs laze on muddy shores and hippos quiet down within the shallows as males laid out their fishing nets. We additionally sat in our dinghy within the nationwide park, watching a household of chimpanzees dimension us up from a tree overhanging the water solely yards away. Dolphins have been a nice shock. 

Gambia stretches 350 miles from west to east, and the river runs all the distance.
Kia Koropp

That is what it means to be surrounded by silence and nature. The magic of probability encounters with animals are totally totally different than these usually seen by yacht. 

As for the welcoming villages, they’re all over the place. Invites to go to are readily made by waving arms on the shoreside. For those who aren’t drawn in by their visible indicators of welcome, the individuals will paddle out in a pirogue—an extended, slender canoe created from a tree trunk—to ship greetings in individual. The youngsters are gregarious and inquisitive, as youngsters are usually, however adults additionally lengthen a heat welcome. It helps that English is extensively spoken. 

Sure, these are developing-world places, however I skilled little of the “give me” angle we’ve encountered elsewhere. If something, the handouts got here the opposite means. I had extra meals made for me, was requested to drink extra tea, and was gifted extra fish and greens than in any nation I’ve cruised. Even the wood-carving peddler provided two extra carvings as items for the youngsters after I purchased one small bowl. The batik artist gave my daughter a gown regardless that I didn’t buy something. Self-selected guides would supply to stroll with us, making introductions alongside the best way. It was implausible to have an envoy who helped us to expertise a deeper layer of the neighborhood. 

In a single village, we have been invited to affix in a Christian ceremony, the place we adopted a person round city who was sporting a horned headdress and gourd-covered again. He represented the evil spirit of an animal that the neighborhood chased after to scare it away. I’m unsure what a part of Christianity was being referenced, however in a predominately Muslim neighborhood, I don’t assume that was what mattered. That the fruit bloomed and the vegetable gardens have been protected was of far more sensible concern. 

Spotting dolphins
Recognizing dolphins within the river generally is a nice shock.
Kia Koropp

We have been additionally invited to affix a household within the naming ceremony of their new child son. The day prior, we undertook the minibus journey to city to supply material, monitor down a seamstress, and have a ceremonial outfit made. The following day, we have been invited into the home to look at the 7-day-old’s head get shaved earlier than his first look to the world. A steady stream of girls walked in with donations of rice as a result of the brand new mom could be taking a while away from the fields. The neighborhood elders gathered, chanted and whispered the kid’s identify into his ear. There have been prayers for his well being and welfare, after which the identify the elders chosen was introduced. The women and men sang and prayed as separate teams, adopted by a shared bowl of candy floor rice and betel nut. A shared lunch adopted.

Many times, I noticed the passing of small change between arms, slipped over on a handshake. This fashion of interacting is taught from an early age. Every part is split and shared. Youngsters cut up their half-nibbled cookies and gummi worms. 

In that context, the port entry officers asking for a drink or a few {dollars} abruptly appeared an entire lot totally different.  

We spent a portion of time at Lamin Lodge, which had fallen into disrepair, however the place locals had established a every day communal meal to make sure that everybody was fed. The middle of exercise was often beneath the timber between a bar that, as a result of lack of electrical energy, offered soda from a cold bin, and a restaurant that, as a result of lack of shoppers, served solely on the spot espresso. The two o’clock meal was most continuously served at 5 p.m., with the rice (95 p.c), fish (4 p.c) and greens (1 p.c) cooked for a number of hours over charcoal in a big iron pot. They fry the fish in a gallon of vegetable oil and take away it earlier than including the veggies, herbs, and spices. Then they take away that and cook dinner the rice within the richly favored oil. Three hours later, the meal is layered on a platter in reverse order and served. 

From the dinghy, one can watch crocodiles laze on muddy shores and hippos quiet down within the shallows whereas males lay out their fishing nets.
Kia Koropp

And let me inform you, the meals is scrumptious. We’d sit within the filth, consuming with our arms from the communal platter with whole strangers. It was a every day ritual of camaraderie, and it was exhausting to tug ourselves away when it was time to go away.

So, yeah, I’ll commerce a number of rum cocktails for a visit up the Gambia River. I’ll take the motoring within the silent, tranquil creeks. I’ll elbow by means of a mile of mud to sip tea with a stranger. I’ll battle a billion mosquitoes to carry 100 little arms in my palm. 

And now, I’m more than pleased to purchase a Coke for whoever needs one.

Kia Koropp and her husband, John Daubeny, have been cruising the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Indian Ocean for the previous decade with their two youngsters, ages 7 and 9, aboard the 50-foot Ganley Answer Atea.