Gambia maybe time

One of the wonderful things you can do with a spare week of holiday and the internet is play the cheapest holiday wins game. So take three girls; myself Nicky and Rachel, take a week in July 2006, a budget of £300 and plug it into the internet. The other foolishly left me in charge and as a result I obviously picked the furthest and most off the wall destination I could find. A few days later I emailed the girls, told them to stock up on Malaria tablets as I’d found a bargin deal for one week in Bakul in the Gambia during the final week of their holiday season.

banjul8 bakau5gambian kids abuko1The Gambia is a bizarrely situated country, a slender wedge of land nestled in the midst of Senegal along the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Its borders allegedly were set by a canon’s flight from the river that runs almost it’s entire length. The country’s modest tourist industry is predominantly located in a series of hotels in Bakul, just south of the capital.We stayed in the African Village which, well the name gives it away.

People in the Gambia are massively friendly, the only drawback to which is a degree of over-friendliness. Groups of young guys hang around outside the hotels to befriend/guide/sell drugs to/chat up or with any foreigners emerging. In a bizarre twist to the usual sex tourism stereotype the most coupling seems to be middle aged of older white women with young toned Gambian men! We befriended a taxi driver who became our unofficial guide guide, taking us on trips to Abuko National Park and the local markets in Banjul. We also took advantage of a Nigerian guy who worked in the hotel who took us to visit the local crocodile pool and fish market.

croc pondsouthkomombo26jinack island fishmarket12The local croc pool is an important part of Gambian village life. It serves a quasi religion/ritualistic role and is basically a well tended large pond and surrounding area which holds up to 100 crocodiles. It’s quite  an initial shock to walk up just seeing the algae covered pool and then realise that the ground around you is be occupied by 20 or so large dozing crocodiles. They are very well fed and for the most part extremely lazy and seemed largely unperturbed by the odd visiting tourist.

We also took a day trip over the border into French-speaking Senegal via Jinack Island. We walked across the island for our return boat trip to the Gambia while our passports mysteriously disappeared with the truck driver to make the official border crossing – for some reason our presence wasn’t needed for this transaction! En route we crossed several similar fields of a low growing green plant. One of the women looked puzzled and then asked her husband what crop they were growing.

“It’s Marijuana, darling,” he replied rolling his eyes.
“Don’t be ridiculous dear, you don’t have illegal plants just growing in a field for anyone to see.” She snapped back.
Clearly in the Gambia, you do.

gambia school gambianschool15img_625817My favourite trip in the Gambia was a day we travelled by truck through the countryside in the south of Bakul visiting a countryside school and ending up with lunch on the beaches of South Komombo. The coastline was an long strip of white sand, waved with different colours, snaked with large leafed vines and backed by dark red cliffs. So much more impressive than palm fringed white sands, for me anyway.

Finally I can’t mention the Gambia without a passing comment to the time keeping. Whenever organising a taxi or an excursion everyone would add on GMT afterwards.

“10am GMT?” we asked, “Surely we aren’t on Greenwich meantime here?”
“Ah, no?” Would come the response. “GMT is Gambia Maybe Time.”
“Gambia Maybe Time?”
“Yes, maybe it will be 10am, maybe it will be 11am, nobody knows!”

The land of pyraminds and pharohs

Cairo Islamic QuarterSmoking ShishaCairo spectatorsSaqqara pyramidsCairo

Another year, another trip and this time my brother and I thought we’d go together, despite not having been on holiday together for around eight years. And surprisingly we didn’t argue and had a fantastic time even if I did pretty much loose every game of cribbage (4-2 up in Scrabble though!)

We began our trip playing computer games with the traffic in Cairo, the most densely populated city in the world (it feels like). Very crowded, a little crazy, but fascinating. We rode camel and horse around the famous pyramids at Giza and I very nearly fell off – cantering in flip flops – not such a hot idea. We strolled around mosques and the souk in Islamic Cairo and everybody thought James was Egyptian. We spent a morning in the Egyptian museum marveling at the sheer amount of STUFF in there, all the treasures of Tutankhamen, and the very spooky royal mummies

We caught the overnight train down from Cairo to Aswan, a slight slowing in pace from the hectic nature of the captial. We spent a leisurely morning sailing around Elphantine island and Kitchener island on the Nile before getting lost in the Nubian villges.

Aswan sunsetsFeluca, AswanAswan kidsAbu SimbelAswan and Abu Simbel

After persuading James to get up at 3am we took a mini trip down to see the immense temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel in the early morning sunshine overlooking Lake Nassar. Officially dedicated to the most important gods of the Kingdom; Ptah, Amun-Re and Re-Harakhte, but given the four giant statues of Ramses outside as well as numerous victories and glories featuring the pharoh inside, one might be forgiven thinking that the temple was more a dedication to himself! Next door he did build a beautiful, if slightly smaller, temple for his wife, Nefertari. Afterwards we drove back north and stopped at the relatively tourist-free temples of Philae, a temple built for the goddess Isis.

James as an EgyptianLuxor templeWest bankLuxor (Thebes)

Luxor on the banks of the Nile. We spent a day exploring the East bank at Luxor temple and Karnak before walking back into town at sunset avoiding the Felucca touts and replying for the millionth time that no, James wasn’t Egyptian, nor Nubian, nor Sudanese! We befriend Zacharia in a local shop and had tea and shisha while him and his friends dressed James up in a traditional Gallabah.

The following day we took a mini tour, with a very entertaining guide, over to the West bank and where all things were to glorify the dead; we began with the Colossi of Memnon, the beautiful princes’ tombs in the Valley of the Queens and then the magnificent and breathtaking paintings in the tombs of Ramses IX, Ramses IV and Ramses I. Then we visited Deir el-Bahri, the temple Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule as Pharoh, having sneakily assumed the throne from her infant son Tuthmosis.

Dahab viewsDiving gearKiwi crew in DahabDiving in Dahab

After a slight mishap with the canceling of the boat across from Hurghada to Sharm El-Sheik, we managed to squeeze into the final seats of an overnight bus to Dahab and, by eleven the following morning, were relaxing happily with lemonade on the banks of the Red Sea . After all the temples, tombs and pyramids it was nice to have five days of resting, relaxing, diving…and a spot of partying (but I entirely blame that on the Kiwis)!