What to do on your last day in an amazing country? You know that feeling: on the one hand you want to catch a last (sentimental) glimpse of a place you will soon leave. On the other hand, going home requires some mental preparations and the swimming pool suddenly feels a lot more appealing.
We were not able to decide how to spend our last day in the Gambia. We were feeling a bit down because we would head for the airport the next day and fly back to the cold north. We would leave the sunshine and the smiles behind. During our short stay in the Gambia we had had time to see a lot; the bustling market in Banjul, the megalomaniac Arch 22-tower, the Fathala Wildlife Reserve. We had also managed to squeeze in a day to see a fraction of the history of the slave trade on a trip to Jufureh and Kunta Kinteh Island. So on our last day Susann and I decided to make a shorter trip. In fact the trip was only a few kilometers and it took us to the market in Serekunda, with the compulsory stop at a local bookstore.
Serekunda is the largest urban area in the Gambia and it is home to more than 300.000 people. We had earlier in the week passed by the outskirts of Serekunda multiple times, but seeing the actual center was a new experience. The amount of people, cars and livestock was immense, considering the small population of the Gambia. One thing is certain, we would never have been able to find either the center or the market by our own means.
So how did we get there? Earlier in the week we had travelled with the same taxi driver on several occasions when going from the hotel to the restaurants in Senegambia. Muhammed in his Mercedes was a very friendly, talkative and service-minded man. He had each time told us that he would be available to drive us on any excursions in case we’d decide not to go with the tour companies. So, in the end we decided to give it a try. He not only drove us to the market, but also guided us around all the narrow alleys and obscure pathways. And one thing is clear: the market in Serekunda is a labyrinth. Our first meeting with a Gambian market had been a shock, with all the noise and smells and the eagerness to sell stuff to tourists at the market in Banjul. This second visit was completely different.
Unlike the Royal Albert’s Market in Banjul, the one in Serekunda was a pleasant surprise. Maybe it’s because we didn’t go close to where meat and fish were sold, but the place seemed more controlled in comparison. At the market in Banjul the rotten smell of fish was overwhelming even when one stayed away of that part of the market.
One thing to remember at the markets in the Gambia; bargain all the time! We usually managed to get the prices down to one third or even a fourth of what was first requested. I believe that Muhammed was probably a bit embarrassed a few times when I wouldn’t accept the price for some souvenirs. It is important to remember that no one would sell anything to you in case they do not make a profit. At the same time it is equally important to consider whether it is really worth to continue bargaining to save another euro on something that is already really cheap? Not to mention the fairness and ethical implications.
The time spent at in Serekunda certainly was another interesting experience. We were so focused on everything around us that we completely missed that the guy from the reception at our hotel was trying to greet us. We were quite embarrassed when he told us about it afterwards as we had not recognized him!
Back at the hotel we found my brother tired after a day in the sun. A whole week in 35-40 degrees centigrade and without a single cloud in the sky since we had arrived started to take its toll on all of us.
And the bookstore? Well, if you ever visit the Gambia, you will find it in Bakau. It’s called Timbooktoo. Ask for Muhammed, he’ll take you there!
Lesson learned; after finding a reliable taxi driver, the country of the Gambia really opens up. The possibilities of where to go are not as limited as the tour companies sometimes make it sound like. So the next time we are in the Gambia, we will surely try to use the taxis a lot more in order to get further away from the hotel areas and to experience the gems of this West African country.