First, I got this message from the place I booked (a self-service apartment, which seems really common in Banjul) right when I was boarding my flight from Morocco to Gambia. Great.
Luckily, I had a contact for a driver who would meet me at the airport, recommended by a friend. I told him about it, and he said he would contact a few places to find options for me. On the plus side, I had the whole row to myself and could lay down, since the flight would arrive after midnight.
On arrival at the airport, my conversation with immigration police went something like this:
- Cop: You’re telling me you are just here to travel.
- Me: Yup.
- Cop: For 2 days?
- Me: Yup.
- Cop: You have many, many stamps in your passport. What do you REALLY do? Your story does not add up.
- Me: My story isn’t a story. It’s the exact truth.
- Cop: Something is really suspicious here. No one visits Gambia for 2 days.
- Me: You think it’s suspicious I want to visit your country? Why? What’s wrong with your country that you think I shouldn’t want to come here?
As promised, the driver was outside waiting for me. We found a place to stay, which was mediocre but sometimes that’s good enough.
Also, let’s get it out there that you can’t walk 2 steps without someone on the street bothering you. Selling stuff, trying to get you to visit their shop, drugs, pretending they’re just friendly and then hitting you up for favors…it became a bit of a nuisance.
I saw tons of birds while walking around aimlessly.
Who knew? Gambia is apparently a paradise for birdwatchers.
On the first day, I made my way to a beach on the north side of the city. While sitting still and far from other people, I actually enjoyed some peace and quiet. As soon as I started walking down the beach, literally anyone I passed tried to use me as an ATM. “Do you have any change?” doesn’t bother me. It’s the people who walk with you for a long time, telling you they don’t want money but just want to practice their English or tell you about their homeland…when you know it’s BS.
At the end, there’s a request for money to repay them for giving you info you didn’t care about, and then they are indignant that you won’t give them anything that they promised you didn’t have to give at the outset. This approach annoys me. It made me skeptical of anyone who approached me in Banjul, being surly to just get them to go away and avoid this charade.
On day 2, I found some places that made me laugh. This sign was one of them, and the very-fake Hard Rock Cafe was another.
I wound up at a hotel with a cafe along the beach and slowly nursed a Coke and fries to be allowed to hang out there for a while. I walked on this beach, on the south side of the city, and it was much more isolated. I enjoyed it.
Late on day 2, I got my stuff from the apart-hotel and headed to the airport. I had a 10pm flight to connect to Dakar, Senegal and down to Bissua, in Guinea-Bissau.
My same driver from before said the airport is small and not far away, so we could meet at 8:30pm for my 10pm flight. I told him that sounded like not enough time, so we agreed on 8.
At 8:10, he showed up and said his car was having problems with the radiator, so we needed to wait to let it cool down a minute/add some water. Then, we entered the most ridiculous traffic jam along the only road that goes to the airport. “It’s always crazy traffic at this time of night,” he said.
Um…if you know there’s always crazy traffic, why didn’t we…leave earlier? Of course his car had problems again, so we had to jump in a taxi together. We got to the airport at 9:10pm, and they’d closed check in already. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, I wasn’t getting on the plane. Awesome.
We called Air Senegal, and the news was that there’s no flight to Dakar until this time tomorrow (24hr later) but no connecting flight to Bissau for another 3 days.
During this time, I contacted multiple people I knew who had been to Bissau before and found out a border town in Senegal (Gambia is completely surrounded by Senegal) near the Guinea-Bissau border has a consulate. I’d planned to fly, so I could get visa on arrival in the Bissau airport.
I found out I could take a bus to Ziguinchor, Senegal, get my visa in about 10 minutes, and then continue on to Guinea-Bissau, all as a day trip with buses. Sounds like a plan.
The driver took me to the bus station to ask about buses. Turns out the pandemic killed the direct bus from Banjul to Ziguinchor, but the next town south still has a bus to the Senegal border, where I could get a bus to Ziguinchor, and then a bus from there to Bissau. Deal. My plan was to get a hotel near this bus station (since my previous place was 30min drive) and then get a taxi to the next town int he morning.
Since my driver was at fault for me missing the flight, he offered that I could stay at his place, then he would drive me to the next town in the morning. While I had misgivings about this, I wound up accepting. First, I saw no hotel signs. Second, I did need a ride in the morning. Since he is young, I figured his family would accept it, and we’d be out at sunrise anyway.
Little did I know that he lives alone in a hole in the wall. There’s literally a bed in his “apartment”, and then a bathroom that he shares with 10 other apartments. There’s no kitchen, just some plug-in items like a rice cooker and tea kettle. I slept on one side of the bed, while he slept on the other. It made sense why he didn’t have money to fix his car right away.
At 5am, we were up and out the door. When we rolled into the next town, he said that it looked like the buses hadn’t started yet. Since he felt really bad for what happened the night before, he drove me all the way to the Senegal border (about an hour, then he had to drive an hour back). I gave him what the bus fare would’ve cost me, plus a little extra for the hospitality.
I stamped my passport out of Gambia, exchanged money to the West African Francs I’d need for the rest of the day, and said goodbye. While the hassles were quite stressful, in the end he did his best to make up for causing me to miss the flight. If I visited Gambia again, would I count on him as a driver? Sure. If you tell him “be at x place at x time”, he will be there. I’d make up my own mind on the times, though.
Will I visit Gambia again, though? Unlikely. I didn’t enjoy Banjul.This entry was posted in Africa, Banjul, Gambia