Saturday, November 25th 2017.

Destinations

Raymond Desmet
DISCOVERING THE GAMBIA

 

By Raymond Desmet, Managing Partner @dmire

 


People travel to “The Gambia” yes, and no not to “Gambia” as most of us tend to believe. Unless they go for a (long) swim. Gambia is the name of the river, the nation's namesake, which flows through the center of the country and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
So do make the distinction between the country and the river. It looks a bit silly to say that you spent 10 days in Gambia, don’t you think? Who the hell spends 10 days in a river?

 

Gambia Gambia Gambia
Gambia Gambia Gambia

 

I spent 3,5 days in The Gambia from 04 – 08 June, accompanied by other incentive organizers from The Netherlands and Belgium. The organization of the trip, as mentioned later on, was in the hands of Glenaki and BBT Online.
Was it interesting? Yes. Worthwhile? Yes. Instructive? Yes. Successful? TBC

Before telling you the whole story, it might be good to give some highlights first.

 

Some facts on the country

MapThis tiny sliver of land is a mere 500km long and 50km wide, and, with the exception of an 80 km shoreline, it’s entirely enveloped by Senegal. The capital is Banjul, its total surface 11,300 km².
The local currency dalasi (D) has for years suffered a dramatic decrease in value, and inflation continues, though it’s at 8% less dramatic than in the early nighties.
The most important ethnic groups are: African 99% (Mandinka 42%, Fula 18%, Wolof 16%, Jola 10%, Seruhali 9%, other 4%), non-African 1%.

The Gambia, with a population of 1,5 Million, is a Muslim country (Muslim 90%, Christian 8%, indigenous beliefs 2%) with a very open mind to other religions. Christmas, for example, is celebrated as much as other religious feasts. Celebration and solidarity is the message, not focusing on each other’s differences.

http://www.visitthegambia.gm/

 

A comfortable journey

We gathered at Brussels Airport for the SN flight to Banjul (via Freetown on the outbound journey, direct flight on the inbound). Departure in BRU was at 14:30 hrs, the arrival in BJL at 21:55 hrs (count a 2 hrs time difference in. 2 hrs time difference also means no jet-lag!). http://gambia.brusselsairlines.com/
We had the opportunity to experience SN’s newest eco seats. It must be said that they look very thin and breakable but some passengers (not belonging to our group) tested them “the hard way” without succeeding in their efforts to change their configuration.

The seats are very comfortable and offer extra comfort by their design. Good move from SN, especially on this long haul flight. Service was good and friendly – no complaints. On arrival we were welcomed by the SN deputy officer in Banjul. As the income modalities for Belgians had changed recently (Belgians can now travel with a simple identity card – no passport needed for The Gambia, whether on holiday or on a business trip not exceeding 90 days, citizens of the EC do not require a visa) we wanted to try this out. To our astonishment some people in BRU were not aware of this (new) rule, as responsible officers in Banjul welcomed us with a smile and didn’t ask for our passports. The only problem they had was that they couldn’t stamp our identity card.

On our way to the hotel we discovered that the roads in Banjul are in good shape, the transfer mini busses are comfortable although the seat pitch is rather restricted. Luggage is stored on top, so keep yourself to the max of 23 kg per piece to ease the lifting for the driver.

 

Quality hotels, but not all for the MICE traveler

As this was a scouting trip, not to be confused with a holiday, the purpose was to get to know as many places as possible to host incentive groups. In other words: most of our activities consisted of the visiting of hotels and lodges, not without keeping an eye on daily life and mother nature during the transfers.

We were housed by and in the Sheraton Gambia hotel Resort & Spa, with direct access to the sea.
The hotel is built to resemble a typical African Village, immersed in a lush garden of palm and baobab trees. Our rooms were all at a short walking distance from the reception and offered a private terrace with direct access to the garden and the beach.

As in many African countries, malaria risk is present in all areas throughout the year. Suitable anti-malarial tablets are kidseasy to get in Europe (medical prescription needed though) and don’t cause any further health (stomach) problems. The overall advice is to get a yellow fever vaccination certificate as well, which is required from travelers coming from areas with risk of yellow fever transmission. This is particularly relevant for those travelling to the Gambia from neighboring African countries.

It is always great to have a buffet breakfast early in the morning (because of the busy program), especially on a sea view terrace. The freshly sliced fruits and the oven warm pastries and bread put us in the mood to lay down at the beach and enjoy the day. Birgit Defoort (Glenaki) kept us awake though by chasing us to the bus for the oncoming hotel visits.
But no worries, we all were happy to start working that early in a paradise country. Interest took over from laziness and it must be said that A) The Gambia is not overcrowded by tourists yet, and B) most hotels are aware that extra efforts – say investments – need to be done to make them host incentive groups.

Most of them (there are not that many hotels in or around Banjul yet) are focused on tourists requiring a 4* service. Most hotels we’ve visited offer correct services in their category. But Incentive groups require that little extra on top… Don’t understand me wrong, The Gambia offers a very clean, very thoughtful image and is most certainly an example country for mid Africa, but out of all the hotels we’ve seen only 3 (The Sheraton Gambia hotel Resort & Spa, the Coco Ocean and the Kairaba) that are ready to receive incentive groups of over 50 pax at this time. The others are either orientated to receive individual travelers, small(er) groups or offer a 4* service and need some (small) adjustments for Belgian or Dutch incentive groups.

 

ngala-lodge
The Ngala Lodge

 

However a special mention goes out to The Ngala Lodge, a great small, intimate hotel, not for groups, for couples only (a child-free hotel). It is owned and managed by a Dutchman, the cook is British and the rest of the staff is local. A very nice place to spend 1 or 2 relaxing days.

 

Coco Ocean Coco Ocean
Coco Ocean Coco Ocean
The Coco Ocean

 

During our stay we visited:

 

sitanunku sitanunku
sitanunku sitanunku
sitanunku sitanunku
The Sitanunku Lodge

 

As said, all are clean and of good quality. If you go for private reasons you can choose either one of them. Look for their location and what you expect from them. Some of these are located near the sea, others are not. Some of them need a longer transfer and some have many stairs to climb. All of the incentive houses present at this inspection trip can inform you on this.

Gambia Gambia
The Makasuta Lodge

 

Places to visit

James IslandA must see at The Gambia is the village of Albreda and the nearby former slave fortress of James Island, renamed Kunta Kinteh Island to give it a Gambian name.  Albreda is home to the Museum of Slavery. Its displays of relics of the slave trade offer a harsh but interesting insight into the history of slavery. These include chain locks for hands and feet, manacles, yokes and other implements used to restrain the unfortunate victims. As many as 3 million slaves may have been taken from the region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is very impressing to witness the circumstances in which human beings have been shipped to their final destinations.
More info: http://www.ncac.gm/james.html  and http://www.accessgambia.com/information/fort-james-island.html

 

gambia gambia

 

Another must do, quite different to the previous one, is the visit to Mama Africa, a well determined but lovely woman. An artist who hasn’t got an easy life in a man’s world, but thanks to perseverance and hope, managed to create her own world of freedom. Do visit her domain, talk to her, let her inspire you. http://mama-africa-gambia.org/

 

Fishing fishing Fishing

 

Go and visit the fish market of Bakau. Here, you can watch the entire process, from the fish being brought in, to the filleting process and eventually the smoking. It does smell very fishy when it’s hot though… definitely a reason to maintain a respectful attitude towards the people and their work. More info http://www.gambia.co.uk/Docs/Gambia-Guide/Places-To-Visit/Fish-Market.aspx

And finally, don’t miss the Yaabouy home cooking. Small groups (up to 10 pax) can eat at local people’s homes. Prepare to eat the local oysters, meat and rice with your hands out of 1 bowl while listening to the story of their lives. A great and humble experience.

 

cooks gambia

 

More info http://www.gambiahomecooking.com/

 

Conclusion

No wonder that when we gathered for a short home flight at 23:30 hrs (arrival at 07:05 hrs, again 2 hrs time difference to be deducted) we had mixed feelings.  This is a country in which you want to stay longer, but at the other hand you gambiawant to reach out and propose the destination to your clients.
The Gambia was interesting, worthwhile and instructive. The people are great, smiling and determined. The future looks good.

Special thanks to Glenaki (Birgit), BBT Online (Karin), The Gambian Tourist Board and Brussels Airlines to have this trip very well organized.

Thanks to all my companions on this trip for the good spirit and the nice moments.
Best to all of you.
Raymond

 

For further information on The Gambia:
Glenaki Tourism Industry
birgit@glenaki.com
Tel +32(0)50- 61 42 00
www.visitthegambia.gm

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Travel-Angels/271446296228668?ref=ts

 

Gambia Gambia Gambia

 

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