March 19, 2023
Today we booked a private tour with Sonia and Boris. We were here in 2018 and enjoyed our tour then, so this time we were going to do something different. Three other couples booked a tour through the same company and we were all waiting at the pier for the tour guides – ours said to look for Sonia’s name on “A4” paper! Eventually one of the people on the other tour got an text – it turned out that the guides were waiting for us at the other ship that was in port! We could watch them running to get to us. In the meantime, many vendors came to set up on the pier.
Our guide was Mustafa and he was clearly the junior guide of the duo. The other group went in an open air vehicle and we 4 were in a SUV. We traveled together and both guides gave us information during the walks. Their guide stood on the back of the vehicle the whole time.
We stopped first at Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral which looked pretty beat up from the outside. Mass was just finishing and the priest shook each of our hands as we went into the church. I loved the fabrics of the womens’ dresses last time we were in Africa and they are just as impressive this time.
90% of the country is Muslim but there is a small number of people who practice other religions. We saw hardly any women wearing head scarves or any kind of Muslim covering.
After the church, we went to the market and walked through a lot of the stalls. We saw (and smelled) everything from dried and fresh fish to vegetables, live chickens and clothing of all kinds. Mustafa said that people come to the market to shop every day since a lot of them do not have refrigeration. This is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The people seem very happy and we did not feel at all unsafe. But the shops and the houses are really bad. The market was just along the beach so we walked out there and saw some of the fish that was just caught.
The chickens, chicks and cats seem to get along well!
This looks like wood, but it is a kind of plant that they use to clean their teeth.
There was a restaurant in the market that had open fire and really no place to sit. I wondered how things don’t burn down!
The city is divided in two by the Gambia River. We asked why the country is called “The Gambia” and not just Gambia. The Portuguese named it after the river known as “the River Gambia” so they called it “The Gambia”.
We saw a man on the street leading this flock of sheep.
On one of our walks, we saw the Bombax ceiba, a tree that has a flower the opens like cotton and is used for making pillows.
Many bridges connect parts of the country to the rest. Along the river there are many types of mangroves. Here among the red mangroves, women harvest oysters and there are piles of oyster shells everywhere. One of the women showed us a basket of oysters she had harvested.
We saw some crocodiles on the shore near the mangroves. Little did we know we would see more up close later in the tour! These kids had fun waving to us.
In fact, this was our next stop – in Bakau. First we went through the museum where we learned many of the rituals of the people. One room was all about the circumcision rituals. We asked if women here are still circumcised and yes, some are but many less since it is being really discouraged. There were some of their instruments on display and a shop with lots of wood carvings. This man was carving one as we watched.
The art as we entered the museum was beautiful.
We then walked to the crocodile pool where we found many crocodiles both in the water and around the grounds. There were attendants there who told us there are 100 crocodiles there – they keep the population at that number – and that they are fed 250 kilos of fish every morning so they are too full to eat US! We were allowed to come right next to them and touch them. Eek! The ones who are pregnant, have eggs or babies can get aggressive so we couldn’t go near them but we did see some.
Kachikally is also one of three sacred crocodile pools in the Gambia, traditionally believed to cure couples of infertility. Women struggling to conceive traditionally visit to bathe in the water (today this takes place in an open concrete hut); if a pregnancy results, it is traditional to give the child “Kachikally” as part of their name.
This is the nest of a bat that lives in the area. A huge tree and one that has the plant used for loofah.
We stopped at the river and saw people getting on a boat. One of the flags on the boat was the US flag. There were lots of women in white with large hats both getting on the boat and standing on the street. Was this a bachelorette party??? Our guide said they were probably filming a video but we don’t know for sure.
We had an early departure from the port today and needed to be on board by 2:30, so we declined the offer to go to a hotel for relaxation and lunch. We did stop for local bananas and delicious oranges though.
On the way back to the ship, we went to an area that was full of peanut hulls. They eat a lot of peanuts in their food, and the hulls are used for mulch that breaks down in to fertilizer.
Back on the pier there was a band with a surprising bagpipe player. There were lots of vendors set up too, they were just setting up in the morning as we left the ship.
Tonight we have a show called the Tap Step Brothers that Ray said people talked about for months after they performed on the last world cruise. Looking forward to that after a fresh fish grilled dinner at the Terrace Café. We saw that Farid bought fish in the port yesterday.
So very interesting. Thank you for this blog.