From milking cows to cuddling pythons, why you should stay in tribal village in Gambia


“GRIP the calabash in your left hand,” the grinning herdsman tells me.

“Slide your other hand between the cow’s legs and gently stroke her teats with your fingers.”

 Within 24 hours of arriving in Gambia you can be milking cows
Within 24 hours of arriving in Gambia you can be milking cows

There must be a knack to this milking lark, and I don’t have it.

But that’s the fun thing about Gambia, this former British colony in West Africa surrounded by French-speaking Senegal.

If you drag yourself away from the beachside hotels, which line the Atlantic coast, to venture up river into the interior along the Ninki Nanka Trail, it’s one surprising adventure after another.

Within 24 hours of arriving in Gambia, we breakfasted with vultures, stroked a crocodile and cuddled up to a python.

 Drag yourself away from coastal resorts and stay in a tribal village for an exotic experience
Drag yourself away from coastal resorts and stay in a tribal village for an exotic experience

We took a boat trip, dodging wallowing hippos, to Baboon Island, where curious chimps swung out through the trees and hung upside down staring at us.

It was just after we had been marvelling at a prehistoric-looking shoebill squatting in a savannah tree during a sunset birdwatching trek that we stumbled across farmer Moudou and his herd.

After watching me struggle, he showed us how milking should be done, before passing over the calabash gourd used as a collecting vessel so we could taste the stuff fresh from the cow.

Package-tour holidaymakers began flocking to Gambia during the Seventies. With a six-hour flight, they were drawn by the beaches, the cheap prices, friendly locals, lively nightlife and Julbrew beer.

 Don't miss the chance to meet some gentle crocodiles during your trip
Don’t miss the chance to meet some gentle crocodiles during your trip

But the country also developed an unwanted reputation as somewhere Europeans went looking for sex.

READ  Furious passenger slams American Airlines after cabin crew ‘ignored her in first class because she’s black’

Earlier this year the country’s tourist trade was also dealt a huge blow with the collapse of Thomas Cook.

But the present government, led by President Adama Barrow, who once worked as a security guard at an Argos store in London, is now trying to clean up Gambia’s act.

They are opening up the rest of the country — which revels under the slogan “The Smiling Coast of Africa” — in an attempt to show there is far more to Gambia than just the coastal resorts.

 Meet the locals and learn more about the country's rich culture
Meet the locals and learn more about the country’s rich cultureCredit: Alamy

Of course, you can still enjoy the sun, sand and sea.

Luxury hotels such as the African Princess, Sunprime Tamala and Swiss Boutique are opening alongside old favourites such as the Coco Beach, Ocean Bay and Kombo Beach.

You are guaranteed a riotous night out at one of the clutch of bars, restaurants and clubs along the busy Senegambia Strip.

Check out Poco Loco, where the music is as good as the food, and Sea Shells, run by a softly spoken Moroccan woman called Fouzia, whose steaks are reputed to be the best in town.

Or, if you fancy a taste of real Gambian food, take a cab to Kadie-Kadie.

A plate of delicious beef domoda, chicken yassa or fish plasas costs only a quid at this no-frills cafe. Then wash it down with a 10p bottle of the local ginger beer.

Things get more interesting after taking the crowded car ferry across the River Gambia, which neatly divides the county in two, and venturing “up country” along the Ninki Nanka Trail.

READ  Premier Inn reveal the weirdest things guests have left in their hotels, including a goldfish and glass slippers

Here is a growing network of solar-powered eco lodges and homestays, where tourists can get back to nature, meet the locals and learn more about the country’s rich culture. There is even an African version of Stonehenge with the mysterious Wassu Stone Circles.

 There is even an African version of Stonehenge with the mysterious Wassu Stone Circles
There is even an African version of Stonehenge with the mysterious Wassu Stone Circles

Nobody knows just when or why these volcanic rock structures were erected. The best bet is about 1,500 years ago as some sort of sacred burial ground for tribal kings and nobles.

We stayed nearby at the simple but comfortable Morgan Kunda Lodge, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the village school.

The edge of the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve in northern Gambia is a twitchers’ paradise, with some 550 species of birds.

They include eagles, flamingos, hawks, pelicans, parrots and Egyptian plovers, as well as the marvellously named exclamatory paradise whydah.

At night, after supper, the locals pile into the lodge for an impromptu party with lots of wild drumming and some even wilder dancing.

For a really authentic touch of Gambian culture, you can stay in a genuine Jola tribal village at Ndemban.

This is not some sort of synthetic Disney-style “holiday experience” for wealthy Europeans. It is the real McCoy.

 There are 550 species of birds in the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve
There are 550 species of birds in the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve

So there is no swimming pool or fancy cocktail bar. And don’t expect fawning staff to cater for your every need.

Not only do you help prepare food for the whole community — perhaps picking fruit or roasting cashew nuts — you eat with them too, using your fingers instead of cutlery.

READ  The difference between ABTA and ATOL and how they protect your holiday bookings

You can even watch local wrestling. Look out for the fearsome Crazy Rock, His party trick is to lift 50kg bags of rice with his teeth.

If you are feeling a tad under the weather, you can consult “The Bush Doctor”, reputed to be the best traditional healer in Gambia.

Then relax by taking a tour around the countryside while sitting aboard the village ox cart. At the end of the day, you retire to your own hut to sleep. There are, however, a few concessions to western comfort.

The three guest compounds not only boast electricity and their own tellies but, most importantly,private bathrooms.

But there is a notice next to the rather rudimentary showers warning: “If the village does not have water on the day of your visit, please enjoy a bucket bath.”

The Hilton, it ain’t. But fun it is and everyone is incredibly friendly.

At around £10 a night, including food, it is a real bargain too.

GO: GAMBIA

GETTING/STAYING THERE: The Gambia Experience offers holidays with flights from Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester, see gambia.co.uk. Morgan Kunda Lodge rooms are from £48 a night, all inclusive. For a Ndemban homestay, email giyoroom@yahoo.com

OUT & ABOUT: African Adventure Tours (adventuregambia.com) can arrange beach hotels, safaris or trips into the interior.

MORE INFO: See visitthegambia.gm





READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here