I felt fine the following day so I hired a taxi to ‘go looking.’ Brecama was first, where I bought a wooden antelope in the craft market and then went on to the ‘real’ market, which was very colorful.
We went to Sanjang beach on the ocean, enjoying the pretty pirouques (like big canoes) carrying the fishermen.
Moving on we saw another fishing village, Brufet, followed by Ghanatown where Ghanians live who catch and dry fish and send them home to Ghana. I wanted to stop at Sanimentereng but my taxi driver wouldn’t as he said it was a special place of worship and people go crazy that visit it. He said if I wanted to go there he would let me off and I could walk there but then he couldn’t find it anyway, so we went on to the Katchically Crocodile Pool.There are 70 crocodiles that live in this pool of which ‘Charlie’
is the tamest, allowing me to pet him. They are ‘dwarf’ crocs and only grow to 10 feet (!) and live to 100 years—Charlie is only 18. They only eat fish (not humans). The pool has religious significance—wrestlers bath in it to get strong and women bath in it to get pregnant!
Next was the wresting arena. Gambian wrestling is active and widespread. There were as many as three matches going at once, which were accompanied by lots of very loud drumming. As soon as one wrestler got his opponent down the match was over. The winner would take a lap around the arena, accompanied by drumming, and collect money from the onlookers.
The kids were perched in a tree watching–they had climbed over the fence. The wrestlers wore complicated diaper-like trunks, which kept coming undone. Sometimes the opponent would grab the trunks to take the wrestler down.
I did go fishing on Sunday on Oyster Creek. There were four crew and seven fisherpeople in the pirouque, a type of dugout canoe invented by the Portugese and used here for 200 years. I caught the first fish, a topander, which at the end was also considered the biggest since two of the fisherpeople who caught bigger fish were not paying customers, but friends of the captain and did not put in the 10 D. I got 25 D for the prize and gave it to the crew, as they baited all the hooks. Other types of fish that we caught were frogfish, grouper, a stingray, catfish, a seasnake (ugh!), a crab and others. The creek is lined with mangroves that support lots of egrets and herons, including the huge Goliath Heron, which we spotted on a sand bank. It’s also where oysters cling, hence the name—Oyster Creek.
Since that evening was Christmas Eve , the hotel served a big buffet with lamb, turkey, chicken, meatballs, shrimp, fish and lots of potatoes and veggies. It was all cold and had no taste! I noticed when I came back to the hotel that I didn’t smell any cooking odors—maybe they made the food a week ago. Oh well, it was festive, anyway.
On Christmas Day I went to downtown Banjul to watch the many drumming, dancing, chanting groups performing in the street. Some wore masks or were dressed in women’s clothing. Each had a shaman completely covered with an elaborate headdress. They collected money from us onlookers.
The day after Christmas I decided to visit the town of Juffureh, which is the town of Alex Haley’s “Roots.” I got the ferry to Barra, then bargained for a ride to Juffureh in a truck/bus. I sat in the passenger seat in the cab.
Meanwhile, the driver picked up and let off other passengers who sat in the back end. He was 25 years old, from Juffureh and said his aunt was the alcalo (chief) of the village. He proposed marriage to me during the ride. The road was unpaved, but quite good.
When we arrived at Juffureh, he introduced me to his aunt, the alcalo, whom he said would accept a donation. Then the young man took me to the Kinte compound (remember Kunta Kinte from “Roots?”) and introduced me to Binta Kinte, an old woman. Another boy of about 16 said he was Binte’s grandson and told me the story of Kunta Kinte. Apparently Alex Haley’s family passed down the story as did these people. Or maybe it all was generated from Alex Haley writing the book. Some of the timelines didn’t work out too well, but good enough for an interesting afternoon.
Here’s the story: Kunta Kinte was 18 when his mother sent him to fetch firewood, when he was captured by the Portugese. They took him to Albreda (about a half km away) and held him in a building that is now falling down. A week later they took him to James Island (an hour away by boat) and he was sent to the West Indies to work on the sugar plantations. Eventually he went to the USA. He was the great-great-grandfather of Alex Haley, although this story-teller said ‘7th generation.’ Alex Haley visited this village in ’77 and eventually brought electricity to the village. He also started building a mosque but died in ’91 before it was finished, but his son has promised to finish it. It really was quite dramatic, sitting there in Kunta Kinte’s compound!
From there we did go to Albreda and see the falling down building, and then went back to Barra. On the way I asked the driver about palm wine. He said he would stop so I could taste some, which he did. We left the other passengers waiting in the truck for about 15 minutes while we went to get the wine. Someone cleaned out an old bottle in which to put the wine and we went back to the truck. I tried it and it tasted just as you’d expect—‘palmy’—kind of funny. Back to Barra, then the ferry, and back to Bakau where I’m staying near the ocean.
The Gambia seems to be mainly living on tourism leaving not much ‘real life.’ All the kids yell, “Too-bob” meaning ‘white person’ in Mandinka and ask for a pen, a sweet, or less often, money. Even the women in the Kunta Kinte compound hit me up, rather rudely. To absorb lots of tourism, I think the country has to be big like India or China, otherwise it gets a little hokey.
I flew back to Dakar and bought a train ticket to Saint Louis, Senegal’s second city. In Dakar I visited the Marche Sandiga, a market, which was a complete hassle, and so I went on to the Marche Kermal—it had burned down three years ago. So I tried the IFAN, their wonderful art museum—closed until January!
My train left at 3:00 for Saint Louis.
I’ll explore Saint Louis tomorrow.