Around The Gambia – Expedition Blog

Follow our progress…..

I’ll be updating our expedition progress right here each day as we circumnavigate around The Gambia from 2nd April 2018. You’ll also be able to follow what we’re up to on Instagram and Twitter. You can read about why we are doing the expedition here.

Thursday 29th March – Just in Time!

Phew! Nothing like leaving it to the last minute! Water-to-Go bottles and Firepots from Outdoor Food arrived today, just before the bank holiday and Easter weekend! We’re really proud to be supported by some fantastic partners and brands on this expedition. Here’s why we’re working with them……

I’ve been using Water-to-Go bottles for nearly 2 years now on all my expeditions, along with a raft of my adventure pals including Ash Dykes and Chaz Powell. The bottles themselves are ultra-tough and will filter out 99.9% of all waterborne nasties. Quite simply, they are the most convenient, effective and adventure-ready filter bottles on the market!

Firepot meals are made in-house, locally at a kitchen in Dorset, using only healthy natural ingredients, then ‘dehydrated’ once cooked. This is different from most other ‘freeze-dried’ expedition meals, where the first time the individually dried ingredients come together is in your pounch after you add water. As a result, Firepot meals are far superior in taste and nutritional value. Yummy!

Friday 30th March – Thank You!

Thank you! We’ve already smashed our fundraising target of £200, both through our Just Giving page, together with offline donations. All this money will be used to directly support the most remote villages during our expedition. We’ve totally maxed out our extra luggage allowances with all manner of medical supplies, school stationary, water filtration systems, children’s clothing and much more. So you can rest assured that this will go directly to those communities that need it the most. You’re all amazing for helping us achieve this, but please don’t let that stop you spreading the word and helping us make an even bigger impact through continued donations towards even more supplies when we get out there.
Just Giving Love Adventures Around The Gambia

Saturday 31th March – Comfortable with Chaos!

Packing Around The GambiaWho doesn’t love expedition packing? So, I’ve packed everything up, unpacked it all, and re-packed again – and I’m still well over the weight limit! Hopefully my expedition partner Martyn has some spare room in his bags….. Otherwise, I’ll be on the charm offensive at the Thomas Cooks check in on Monday!

Monday 2nd April – Touch Down!

Gambia SunsetThis morning confirmed my passionate dislike for early starts! Up at 3am, we set off from Portsmouth to reach Gatwick.
My heart was in my mouth as we loaded our hold luggage on the check-in belt, knowing full well that every bag was way over its weight limit and rammed full with medical supplies. I could see that the stern-faced hag on the other side of the desk hated early starts just as much as me! A murmuring of “£50 excess” was mentioned. Then came “I also need to weigh your hand luggage.” Wait, what! Since when did that ever become a thing! She’d clearly seen all the tricks before! Charm was definitely not going to work here. Instead, we tried to put on our best ‘shocked’, ‘sheepish’, ‘discombobulated’ expressions, along with a spattering of “it’s all charity supplies”thrown in for good measure. To our amazement, it seemed to work! Our bags whizzed off the back of the conveyor without another mention of excess charges and we were ‘advised’ that our exceptionally heavy hand luggage could be checked in at the oversize baggage desk at no extra cost! Before she had even a second to change her mind, we made a rapid exit. I take the ‘hag’ bit back – thank you kind old lady!
6 hours later – touch down! As the cabin door swung open we were greeted with a wave of 30 degree heat. A stark difference from the 6 degrees and rain we left back in the UK that morning. At the Gambian customs check I thought I was in for a strip search as our main supplies holdall and I was carted off into a side-room for ‘closer inspection’. Some general explaining, a photocopied letter from a Gambian Charity and a bribe of our entire supply of chewing gum seemed to do the trick!
Success! We were finally in!
For our last night of civilisation, we checked into a rather basic apartment. As I write this, it’s to the sound of a backup generator following a power cut, a cold trickling shower and the sight of several small cockroaches darting from under the bed! It’s all good though [this is Africa [TIA] after all] and tomorrow we’ll be starting one hell of an adventure! We headed down towards the beach to pick up some last-minute supplies and were rewarded with the last of the day’s sun setting over the Atlantic, marking the start of our circumnavigation Around The Gambia!
Around The Gambia Arrival

Tuesday 3rd April – Tea, Toast and 600 Smiles!!

British High Commissioner Following tea, toast and an in-country update from the British High Commissioner, we were soon on our way with a few more project ideas to visit on route.
After only an hour, we were at our first stop; a school project in a village called Kiti. The primary driving force behind the project is the British-run charity, Goal for The Gambia, and what they’ve managed to achieve in just 6 years was truly remarkable.
Gambian Boy WindowWe were greeted by the most amazing reception of laughter, singing, dancing and nearly 600 smiling faces, all eager to take our hands and lead us into their classrooms. Despite the school having been open for over 20 years, before the charity’s intervention, attendance was nearer 100 children, housed in dilapidated buildings. Now the school is bustling with activity, with vast improvements to classroom conditions and even more annexes being erected.
Goal for The Gambia is an exceptional example of charity money being used to its greatest effect and directly supporting those it was intended for.
We delivered a big of of school stationary, lots of much needed first aid and dental supplies and some items of clothing. However, it was obvious that the real heroes were the dedicated teaching staff, whose enthusiasm was incredibly infectious. It was clear that education goes such a long way in a country where access to schooling is limited. The stories of those who progress to university are humbling, although thankfully becoming more and more frequent thanks to projects such as this.
If you’ve ever considered supporting something truly worthwhile, then look no further than Kiti. Here, even a visit from an outsider to show appreciation to the staff is equally as important as a helping hand to paint a classroom for a week or monetary donations. So check out their website and discovery how you can get involved too.
Day 1 - Around The Gambia

Wednesday 4th April – Dib, Dib, Dob!

We finished yesterday at Kaira Konko Scout Camp in a town called Soma, where we spent the night. We’d heard about the group from several young people from the Hampshire Scouts, who maintain a close relationship with Scouting in The Gambia. When we arrived, we were greeted by wide smiles and curiosity from all the scouts playing in the courtyard and one of the Scout Leaders, Modou.

We had decided this was the perfect opportunity to deliver our Water-to-Go project, and spent the morning demonstrating how the filters worked by passing fouled water from one glass to another. They were amazed how crystal clear and pure the water tasted and eager to test the bottles out for themselves. They were all so well received and the bottles will now be held centrally by the centre for use by the scouts on their camps and expeditions.

Kaira Konko Scout Group Demonstration
Kaira Konko Scout Group

Having left Soma later than planned, it was unlikely we were going to reach our next location of Bansang before nightfall, so we stopped short on MacCarthy Island in the village of Janjanbureh (George Town) – what a great decision!  George Town is steeped in history, being synonymous with Africa’s slave trade in the 16th and 17th century, before it was abolished by the British in 1807. On the island you can visit the remains of the old Slave Market and underground slave house. It’s also the best location to take a boat trip to see some of Gambias wildlife, including Hippos, Crocs and several species of exotic birds, vultures and eagles.

Day 2 - Around The Gambia

Thursday 5th April – Tippo the Hippo

The day started with an early morning boat trip down the river Gambia with the most prominent local guide know as ‘Tippo the Hippo’. Centred around MacCarthy Island, Janjanbureh and Kunkilling Forest Park, this central section of the river is well-known for spotting hippos, crocodile and exotic birds, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!

Hitting the road again we passed through Bansang and on to Basse, the largest town in the region. We stopped at the Basse Medical Centre, which is the regional medical hub serving the surrounding areas. Here we dropped off the remainder of our medical supplies, consisting of several kilos of first aid items and dozens of bottles of children’s medicine. The response from the medical staff was overwhelming and they couldn’t express enough how needed the supplies were.

Leaving Basse, we set off for the most remote and furthest village in the Gambia, Fatoto. From here the road conditions deteriorate significantly, illustrating the need of using a 4×4 for such a journey. After an hour or so we reached Fatoto. Moving between its surrounding hamlets, we visited several junior schools to drop off our remaining stationary packs. Although most schools were closed for the Easter holidays, we managed to locate each of the headmasters, who were all incredibly grateful for the support.

We were generously offered a compound to stay in for the night, which can best describe as Rourke’s Drift! Nevertheless, there was an open veranda to set up camp and a deep well that provided water to wash and fill up our water containers. Tomorrow we’d be crossing to the north bank and starting our long journey back west.
Day 3 - Around The Gambia

Friday 6th April – Pit Stop! 

We woke early to the sound of cockerels and a goat munching through the fresh rations we picked up from the village the day before. Had I been able to catch the bastard it would have made a worthy replacement! After a quick Firepot for breakfast, we packed up and headed for the river. The crossing at Fatoto consists of a ferry with no engine, thus needing passengers to pull it across the river by hand using a cable stretched between the two river banks.

Once across the driving conditions became even worse. At best, roads became potholed dusty tracks and, at worse, more like sandy footpaths through untamed scrubland. We’d decided to visit the highest point in The Gambia, known as Red Rock – all 54 meters of it! We managed to pinpoint its exact location using the prototype Land Rover Explore Phone we were trialling. Unfortunately, it was located at the centre of some thick scrubland, so took some negotiation on foot to get to.  The large covering of iron-rich rock, giving the site its ‘Red’ name, was incredibly hot and we recorded a temperature of 48 degrees Celsius!

While driving back to rejoin the main north bank track, we noticed an odd noise coming from under the vehicle. Clearly our off-roading had taken its toll and we had sustained a puncture! It was bound to happen eventually, but given our quick turnaround in Banjul, we hadn’t practiced a wheel change on the vehicle. When we cracked out jack, we quickly realised it didn’t have enough travel to raise the vehicle high enough given the size of the off-road tyres. A quick bit of improv saw the vehicle and jack raised on a couple of crumbly cinder blocks from a nearby compound. Nevertheless, 35 minutes of wheel changing in 45 degrees heat and scorching sand was pretty uncomfortable! Lesson: time spent on preparation is never wasted.Pit Stop

We finished the day in the vicinity of George Town, where we had stayed two days previously, but this time on the north bank of the river in a reasonably plush lodge by Gambian standards (and our own by that stage!). The equivalent of £3 got our tyre repaired by a local mechanic and another £1 for a car wash in the river by the local youth! Tip-top!Day 4 - Around The Gambia

Saturday 7th April – The Stonehenge of Gambia! 

A short day meant a relaxed start to the morning, with the opportunity to have breakfast surrounded by monkeys and tropical birds. Time also to catch up on a blog post, albeit only on my laptop as getting access to reliable wifi so far has been tricky!

We visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Wassu Stone Circles. Wassu is only one of the 2,000 or so sites where Snengambian Stone circles can be found. Collectively, there are over 29,000 megalithic stones spread over 30,000 square kilometres, dating back nearly 2,500 years! The guardian of the Wassu site is aptly known as The Stone Man, who spins a tall tale about the relevance of the stones to various mathematical calculations and astronomical constellations. We were pretty lost after a couple of minutes, so we just enjoyed the scenery instead!

Day 5 - Around The Gambia

Sunday 8th April – Just Lion Around!

We had finally made it back to the coast, albeit still on the north bank of the river. With a couple of days to kill, we found a small lodge on the secluded, sandy island of Jinack, just 50 metres from the rolling waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Although we had to paddle a canoe across to the island, the sea breeze was a welcome relief from the scorching heat we had experienced up country.

We decided to take a trip across the border into Senegal where there was a nearby wildlife reserve. The border crossing was a busy place, but we quickly befriended a Gambian border guard to facilitate our crossing – particularly useful when you don’t have all the correct paperwork! With a bit of blagging and British charm (but mostly blagging), we somehow managed to convince everyone to let us through, travelling only a few miles until we reached the Fathala Reserve.

Once inside, we were able to drive around the reserve on a form of self-drive safari, accompanied by a park ranger. No more than 5 minutes in we had already stumbled across the park’s only White Rhino, although it did seem to take an unhealthy interest in our vehicle! Also around were zebra, warthogs, antelope, forest buffalo, monkeys and several tropical species of birds. We then went on the hunt for the Giant Eland Antelope, which is only found in Senegal and was the size of a horse! En route we also passed several well camouflaged giraffes and spotted the white rhino again chilling in the shade with the buffalo.

We then went with another Park Ranger to see the Lions! This was simply amazing. Although they were quite tame, having been hand-raised from cubs by the park rangers, to be so close to them in the flesh was truly an unforgettable experience!

David Love with Lion Fathala

Day 6 - Around The Gambia

Monday 9th April – Cars don’t float!

We set off early from our island lodge, crossing back to the mainland with the car at a tidal-river crossing point while the water was at its lowest. Before completing the circumnavigation, we wanted to visit several historical locations connected with Gambia’s slave trade. It was a real eye-opener learning about the atrocities of slavery back then, with an estimated 6 million slaves being shipped across to America and to a few other countries in Europe. Nice to see the British finally put an end to the slave trade, but we were responsible for a fair few atrocities ourselves!

We also visited a local crocodile pool! Giving a croc a pat on the back was a totally surreal experience. The pool is said to be sacred to the locals, who will often pray for blessings as well as hold the occasional ritual, accompanied by dancing and drumming.

HOWEVER, this is where the drama starts!

Travelling back to the island, we needed to hit the tide just right to get across the crossing point. You can probably tell where this is going……. Having checked the low tide time online, we had a rough idea of the window when it would be safe to cross. However, it was now ten o’clock at night and not only had we misjudged the water height, but it was virtually impossible to pick out the exact line of the sandbar in darkness…….

As we began the 100m crossing, things seemed OK, with the water about wheel-arch height. Suddenly dropped off the sand-bar and the bonnet plunged below surface of the water, with the bow-wave now up against the windshield! We had no option than to try and push through. But, just 20m from the far bank, the car sputtered to a halt. Water started spraying through the door seals and the car was filling fast. I tried to restart the engine, but nothing. That’s a sinking feeling of despair right there!

There was no other option – we needed to get out and push. But the windows wouldn’t open, clearly the water had shorted a fuse! The only option was to open the doors. As we cracked the seal the car filled with water up to the seats. With the car in neutral we went round to the back and began to push.  We managed about 10m before the car simply seized to a halt.  The engine was mostly out of the war now, so I jumped back in the driver’s seat and tried the ignition again. After two failed attempts, and with my foot to the floor, the engine reluctantly came to life and dragged itself, and a car full of water up the bank and out of the river.

My relief was bitter sweet. As I started circling the car, opening the doors to let out the water, the air bags triggered with alarming force, sending my ruggedised military binoculars that were on the dashboard, straight up through the windscreen! Somehow we managed to limp the car back to the lodge. As you could imagine, it was difficult to sleep that night with the impending sense of doom of having to return the hire car the following day.

Unfortunately, my iPhone was in my pocket when I got out of the car and subsequently died, losing all the pictures of that fateful night. However, I did manage to recover one of our successful crossings from the day before below……

One Response to “Around The Gambia – Expedition Blog

  • Elite Travels UK
    3 years ago

    wow adventure within the traditions. Great!

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