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)!

Souks and spices in Morocco

Hasan II MosqueHassan Mosque, RabatRabat
Our brief beginnings in Casablanca had time to take in the impressive Hassan II Mosque with the highest minaret in the world at 200m.. Proof that a monarchy and $800m donated from your faithful subjects can compensate for a lifetime of insecurities. It is a very large and impressively beautiful minaret. How they keep it clean with all the pigeons is another mystery!

An hour or so journey up the cost from Casablanca is Rabat, the political capital of Morocco. We strolled around the medina and the cities souks, the streets were surprisingly empty as only crazy tourists are dumb enough to walk around in the full glare of the early afternoon heat! We visited the Hassan Mosque in the city with the ancient minaret facing the newer Royal mosque across a walkway of roman columns from the site of Volubilis. Royal guards stood impressively outside the entrance of the Mausoleum of Mohammed V in their Arabian nights white outfits. We also walked around the Andalucian style streets of the city’s Kasbah des Oudaia with beautiful wooden and iron doors set among blue and white painted walls.

volubilislocalmarket2farmers21En route from Rabat we sopped at one of the local markets in the country, parked our bus near the Berber limos (mules) and had a stroll around. A very bizarre mixture of cooking pots, sheep, clothing, spices and even a Berber barber shop where a little toddler was having his mop top trimmed on his mothers lap!

A Roman city built overlooking the surrounding countryside dating back to the 3rd century AD. We walked through the boundaries of ancient houses, roman brothels and market places and saw the still preserved mosaics depicting the ardours of Heracles and the journeys of Odysseus.

Moulay Idriss Moulay Idriss panoramaMoulay Idriss, a descendant of Muhammed and founder of a significant Moroccan dynasty. The white walled town nestles in the hills overlooked by the ruins of Volubilis. The mosque has the only round minaret apart from Mecca and is described as the “Poor man’s mecca”. Five pilgrimages to the holy sites in Moulay Idriss are considered equivalent to one pilgrimage to Mecca.

The tannery, Fez The Jewish quarter, FezThe old city in Fez is like one huge rabbit warren of passages, buildings and mosques. Donkeys and mules staggering heavily laden through the passageways and dead goats hanging up in doorways. You could never find your way around without a guide. It was crazy and incredible, like stepping back into the 14th century. We saw leather being soften with pigeon excrement and died with natural dyes of henna, poppy and indigo in the tannery, mosaics being laid out and all dressed up in djellabas. The second evening I also got to inact my revenge on pigeon populations by eating one in a very nice Pastilla, yummy!

Stopping to feed some wild monkeys and lunch by a river we travelled over the high atlas mountains and the middle atlas mountains on the way down to Er Foud in the desert. We arrived tired and hot but then got taken out to a local house for dinner. We had Tajine, berber pizza, mint tea, watched Donna strut her funky stuff to some local music and were entertained by the tiniest son of the family running madly from door to door but too shy to stop and say hello to us!

monkey turban Joedi and her camelDriving for an hour over dry scrub desert we could see the almost-unreal dunes on the sahara stretching out in front of us. We lounged on cushions under the tents bordering the sands, went camel riding to watch the sunset, drank wine and baileys as the full moon rose, went for a night stroll to watch the stars, slept out under the sahara sky and woke up at dawn to watch the sunrise!

Next stop the Todra Gorge. We spent the evening sitting under a huge tented area nestled into the side of the gorge. On each side 300 metre high orange cliffs rose up into the sky. The strip of fertile farmland running down the centre had narrowed into a small pebbled stream running down from the heights. We did a morning hike up over the gorge to view the plains and the anti atlas mountains beyond, then walked back through the local fields of figs, pomegranates, dates, palms and cabbages. I also discovered my favourite arabic proverb: “If Allah listened to the dogs it would rain bones.”

Berber kids atlas mountains Ait Benhaddou Ait Benhaddou: as seen in Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. A huge ancient and very impressive Kasbah that sits on the hillside.

In the high Atlas mountains we walked for an hour up through villages and walnut trees, the donkeys carrying our day packs up to a small hill side village called Armad in the mountains. The first snowfall of the year had covered the peak of Jebel Toubkal behind us.

Kate, me and Joedi, Marrakech Jemaa el Fna square, Marrakech mosaics
The final destination was Marrakesh, a town full of souks, parks, old mosques, horse drawn carriages, dinner stalls, snake charmers and fortune tellers. Joedi bargained ferociously with stall holders earning herself the nickname – the Blond Berber whilst Kate and I were accosted by the bizarre pronouncement, “You, small tits, small price!” Charming! We ate street food from the stalls in Jemaa el Fna square, drank endless glasses of mint tea, shopped and finally said farewell to the enchantment of Morocco.

Kenya, Tanzania & Zanzibar

A year into my first ever job and definately the slight sense of itchness of the foot soles. After a summer of vaguely wondering where the long holidays of my youth had gone these 17 days were the perfect escape and definately the two and a half week trip of a lifetime!

brunch overlooking lake NavaishawaterbuckgiraffebuffaloFirst time in Africa, very exciting even after the long day of flights to get to Nairobi! We began our trip by travelling in the Warthog (a large truck prone to bumpiness, dustiness with tardis like qualities !) up to Navaisha. Fisherman’s Creek camp on the shores of Lake Navaisha, whose banks were also once home to the late Joy Admunsen whose estate we ate tea and cake at on the lawn. I like to think I am a fairly hardened camper having braved the wintery glacial valleys of Patagonia under barely a poncho, but I was slightly phased upon discovering that the very large hippos of the lake came to graze the grass mere metres from our tents. There was an electric fence, a very small electric fence! In the middle of the night I got up to see their huge shadows disappearing back along the banks. The first (of many) early mornings saw us walking with Giraffes, Imapalas, Waterbuck, Zebra, a few small Dik-Diks, several huge storks and a superb fish eagle in a small national park on the shores of the lake. (Obviously the Fish eagle was more in the trees than walking with us!)

herd of elephantsflamingos in flightzebra bumsnakuru viewsOur next stop was Nakuru National Park further to the North West. Our campsite was a small green hollow in the park visited charmingly enough by Buffalo, second in danger to humans only to the Hippos of the previous night! Huge heidi horned beasts breathing heavily behind the tents in the night. On our game drives in Nakuru we saw more Giraffes, Zebra, Flamingo, Rhino and baby rhino, Elena. We also had amazing sights from a viewpoint whilst enjoying a large fried brunch! Camping at Kembu farm gave us the chance for some fantastic cocktails and to see little chameleons with crazy two toes and swivelling eyes! Then battling with the market sellers in Nakuru town after which three 4 foot high giraffes were introduced to our truck! The next day a long drive and lots of travelling games brought us across the border into Tanzania and to the shores of Lake Victoria, the long sought after source of the Nile.

3lions impalas lionwalkWe drove through fantastic scenery scattered with Lion King Pride rocks and small farming villages. Tanzania was also where we finally entered the Serengeti and powered along the western corridor. At sunset after spotting our first lions and elephants we were treated to the sight of herd after herd of elephants heading across the horizon. After a successful night, not getting eaten by lions as we camped in the serengeti, we set off early for another game drive. We saw lion cubs, Rhino, Buffalo and even the exlusive leopard, happily snoozing in the trees. We had lunch at the exit from the Serengeti and the entrance of the Ngorongoro crater national park. We had to fight off an over enthusiastic baboon trying to steal our lunch! We saw the occasional Jackal and Kori Bustard as we drove through plains of Savannah grass on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater. We reached the crater edge and posed for a group photo with two masai warriors. That evening we stayed in a hotel overhanging the edge of the crater: warm water, comfortable beds and a troop of very acrobatic men in bright turquoise pyjama suits! At dawn we set off in landrovers to drive down into the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater had a huge variety of wildlife: hippos, impalas, zebra, large numbers of wilderbeest, cheetah, hyena and a fantastic male lion sleeping by the side of the road, barely metres away from us. After a while he sat up regarding the 4 landrovers lazily and then lay back down and went to sleep!

warriors groupcrater craterview1After lunch in Karatu we drove down the partly bumpy, partly paved-by-japanese-so-their-tourists-have-an-easy-time-road to Arusha. We were camping in the Snake Park, a lovely campsite with a very nice bar serving very nice shots which was also next to a mini zoo with some very nice and very large snakes. The next morning we hopped on some camels that in my case decided to get up without warning – I was so taken aback that I nearly fell off! We had an intertesting morning visiting a nearby masai village populated by the extensive progeny of one eighty year old masai warrior. The afternoon in Arusha was an interesting shopping experience that I pretty much wimped out on due to the overenthusiatic market sellers. Then onto Marangu for two nights. The next day most of us set off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Well to base camp at 2700 metres and that was a nice enough uphill climb for one day. After we returned we ate Anna’s carrot cake and tea on the lawn, wonderful.

zanzibar zansunset beach1We had another long drive to reach Dar Es Salaam, when we finally arrived there was a gorgeous white beach with palm trees, outdoor showers in wicker roofless huts, a green lighted swimming pool and a bar with big wicker chairs and sofas. Good for the recuperation and relaxation. The seafood BBQ and Tusker beers were much appreciated. The next day we were off to Zanzibar. First the raffish charm and endless souvenir shopping opportunities of Stone Town. We went for a spice tour around a spice farm, saw and tasted Cinnamon, Tumeric, Cumin, Ginger, Lemongrass, Custard apples, Jack fruit, passion fruit and one of the most delicious pineapples. There were sunset drinks, more shopping, bongo players, mojitos and cheesy dance music. The next day we headed up to the beach on the east of the island. Life is hard with a big double bed, princess mosquito nets and a big white beach in front of the huge turquoise ocean. Watching Dhows sail out in the afternoon, eating seafood on the beach, diving in the coral reef. It’s a hard life isn’t it!