Delightful West Africa – Gambia Upcountry: Kanilai and Tendaba
The rental car (also see West Africa 18) takes me only a few miles away from the tourist resorts and I am in a different world: Just south of three-star-landia, I discover tiny fishing villages like Tanji or Kartong, where the next catch of fish is much more important than the next tourist.
Near the buzz, I sit with a sweet and spicy coffee Touba and collect the usual marriage offers. Two sisters will take me at the same time. When I want to assign a certain Fatima as my third wife, she shakes her head and demands exclusive rights over her future husband. "Why", I ask like a tourist tout, "this is Gambia, this is the Smiling Coast, this is not Europe here, this is your culture, it's nice to be nice." Like a stubborn tourist, she wouldn't agree, but demands a coffee from me.
The Sindola Safari Lodge sits in the remote rural Gambian village of Kanilai. This is Gambia's president's Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Diliu Jammeh birth place. Thus, unlike any other Gambian village between the coast and the eastern border, Kanilai boasts asphalt roads, a bank, continuous electricity and – the Sindola Safari Lodge. In a manicured 30.000 square meter park with swimming pool I get a bungalow with two very clean, very plush, very comfortable and very ugly 60s style rooms for 46 Euros including breakfast. It is the most luxurious, but by far not the most costly accommodation I have on this West African sojourn.
There are swarms of cleaners. The smart pool side restaurant has three waiters and is always open until 23 o'clock. I've chosen my delicious dinner from a computer printed daily menu. The waiters are most attentive, because I am the only guest in the restaurant. I am the only guest on this day. Actually, I am the only guest this week.
One Sindola waiter asks me if he could transfer credit from my phone to his phone (that's easy with two Africell numbers). He wants to call his wife and says that in Kanilai there was no phone credit available (that's hardly credible with a Africell number). Unfortunately, my phone is not with me in the poolside restaurant, but in my bungalow, half a mile's hike through the hotel park away. "My wife's now far from me, on the coast", the waiter says reproachfully. I'm an obstacle to his marital communication.
After dinner, I hike back to my bungalow through the manicured, dark park. It is a little dangerous, as rotating water sprinklers splash over the concrete walkways regularly. I run down the walkway in a moment when the sprinklers sprinkle the other way, praying not to fall on the slippery paths.
Before arriving, I had phoned manager Omar for a very quiet room with no people passing by. And this I get. Actually, my bungalow sits right on the edge of the hotel park, looks onto double barbed wire and the African family compound beyond.
The African family runs a noisy talk radio station all night long ("Yeah man" is the main phrase). The radio entertains the construction builders that are hammering in the compound all night long. My bladed windows give no isolation whatsoever.
At 2.30 a.m., I haven't slept a minute. I get out into the hotel park to look for security; I'd prefer it if *they* talk to my "neighbours". I fight my way back through the water sprinklers, but up until the main gate, a mile away from my bungalow, I find nobody. I hike back through the water sprinkling barrier and talk directly to my African neighbors across the fence. In the dark, I can't see if they are angry or anything. They turn the radio lower for me, but later it gets louder again and the hammering continues. I don't sleep much.
Next morning, manager Omar assigns me another room without any apologies. Even the new room is within earshot of the African neighbors, but their sounds arrive sufficiently dampened. He refuses to give me any of the rooms that are half a mile away from the family compound. (I believe he wants to show off the newest, plushest rooms.)
Tendaba River Side
The Tendaba camp sits right on wide Gambia river. I don't sleep there, though, because the rooms and the restaurant are set off from the water. I just take a drink and a light lunch. After Bijilo Beach Hotel, it is the second Gambian restaurant where waiters openly scold each other.
It is the day after I couldn't sleep in Kanilai (see above). The camp, inexcusably, has no hammocks. But after lunch I find a shady bank and wake up only at 16.30. A flock of white pelicans flies leisurely along Gambia river. On a walk around the pier, I find kids catching white crabs in a net. They thrash the crab onto the concrete pier and step onto the claws until the crab is sufficiently maimed. Then, still paddling with remaining stubs, the crab lands in a bucket.
Another lady catches a crab with her fishing rod. She hammers her plastic sandal on a freshly caught white crab and kicks the broken claws back into the river. "If they bite you, you're in trouble", she tells me convincingly.
Now I have a question:
"I was told that Muslim ladies may not kill animals. So what about this crab?"
"You see, I don't kill it. It is still moving. I just wait."
"And if you catch a fish? May you kill it?"
"No, of course not. And why. We just put the fish somewhere and… and…"
School girl Aminata tells me that she is slightly scared of the crabs. She speaks very good English. Each day Ami (as I may call her) has to walk five kilometers to school. She asks if I could send her a bicycle from Germany. After I decline, she says, "Why not, other tourists sponsor us too."
I take a sunset paddle boat trip with Fay, after some haggling that's 13 Euros for almost two hours. Fay promises to take me up a small creek. First he paddles along Gambia river's mangrove bank; but "the junction" for the creek, as he says, never turns up. So we paddle just out into the open to see the red sky and the reflecting red water.
Fay is 38, his wife 24. Or so, he says: "We don't record our birth dates, we are not sure about our ages; that Africa, man." So far, they have two children and sometimes severe quarrels. Fay: "If she gets unbearable, I send her away for a day. She has to understand who's in command." No additional wives for him, he assures me with a tired sigh.
In this area, Gambia river flows upriver with high tide and the water is salty. The smoke in the south comes from Kiang West National Park: with management fires they prevent serious bush fires. The huge concrete structure in the far north is a peanuts store. Farmers bring their peanuts by donkey cart; from the depot, the peanuts travel downriver to Banjul by boat.
It could have been a nice sunset outing with insightful talk. I had chosen Fay and no other boat man because he seemed rather relaxed, less pushy and obtrusive than other boat men. But throughout the sunset paddling, Fay remains unrelenting with his demands:
– find a Gambian wife through him
– be his business partner
– sponsor the repair of his boat
– help him finish his decrepit private concrete pier
– eat in his restaurant
– sleep in his rooms
– make promotional photos for him
– set up a website for him
– give him my Gambian and German phone numbers and e-mail address
– give his phone number and e-mail address to all my friends
Finally back at Fay's own concrete pier, I step from the shaking boat onto one of the unshapely concrete stairs. It breaks away under me so that I stand knee-deep in brackish water, my knee hammers against another rough concrete edge.
I'm still trying to work out if this is an adventure…or a relaxing holiday. Seems to be somewhere in between!