The Gambia intrigues me.
Of all the coastal countries in West Africa, it’s the smallest. It also has no particularly unique features. The beach sand is white but not the whitest, the sky is blue and there’s food at every corner. But I could easily say the same about Abidjan or Cape Coast. So why is Gambia’s population made up of a 1:1 tourist to locals ratio? I spoke to Osahon about it and the short answer was that the Gambia does a fantastic job with tourism marketing.
The amount of work the Gambia has put into its tourism sector is evident in every corner. The whole country is wired to cater to tourists. On the Sene-Gambia strip, there are dozens and dozens of restaurants, tourism information centres, an arts and crafts market, telecom providers who close late registering SIM cards for tourists. And so many white people if you sit there long enough you might forget you are in West Africa. Except there are all decked in print clothes and have made their hair into cornrows or dreads.
If you take a walk down the strip, dozens of local guides who have a nose for tourists even the ones who look like them will fish you out. Propositioning to cater to your every whim. You can tell business is booming for the local guides. Tosin and I sat at one of the restaurants on the strip for breakfast the other day, and in the one hour we were there a tourist or a group of tourists walked past us every five minutes, always tailed or driven by a local guide. Interestingly the very few black tourists we identified didn’t make use of the local guides. The local guides sort everything out for the tourists from buying their SIM cards to arranging for their hotels and escorting them to the best food places. Even carrying their bags for them.
Would you pet a crocodile?
Well, I did with surprisingly very little cajoling from our guide at the Kachally Crocodile Pond in Banjul. It’s interesting to me that although Banjul is the capital, there’s very little tourist activity there.
All of the best hotels and restaurants are concentrated in the Serrekunda and Sene-Gambia areas. Top 2 things to do in the capital are to visit the crocodile pond and Albert Market – the biggest Market in the Gambia and the sanest market I’ve ever been to.
The many names of Jollof Rice
Here in the Gambia Jollof Rice is called Benachim. This is the third new name for Jollof Rice I’m discovering on this trip. We had gone looking for Jollof rice the day before and found White Rice and Plasas (potato leaves) instead, which I happened to enjoy more than the Jollof.
My Nigerian bias has refused to let me accept that in most West African countries other than Nigeria, Jollof is accompanied with a sauce. Because it’s accompanied with a sauce most of the time, it’s made a little plain. But the fact that it was plain wasn’t my biggest grouse with the Benachim we had yesterday. It was the sauce that was the problem, the cook had been a little too heavy-handed with all of the spices he had used.
The Sene-Gambia region is home to Jollof so I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the best Jollof Gambia has to offer. Today we try again.