Next I headed to a small town called Kuntaur, where I planned to visit the African stone circles and see chimpanzees! The place was along the Gambia River so I expected a chill atmosphere…it was indeed ha ha. I caught a morning van that way and watched how more and more people were crammed in along the 2-3 hour ride…more crammed in than I found in Senegal or Guinea…all sitting….worse seats were those closest to door…I was in the back…a tad better (1st place – don’t pronounce the ‘E’ – aka passanger seat was also great, just one person). There were I think 17 people inside most the time. I was dropped at the Georgetown river crossing as they continued toward (another atm over there). I took the small boat across since the ferry wasn’t crossing yet…same thing lots of people (all sitting) and a motorbike :). Once over I waited for the van to fill…which basically happened once the ferry crossed 40 minutes later..ha. Once we were off, this van equally as packed, It was an hour maybe to the town, which I didn’t make it to because I saw on the map a closer road and since the van had stopped I jumped out too and began walking….I was luckily picked up by a pickup truck heading the same direction. Yeah, Finally in town!
There was one lodge here, right on the river…To keep within my budget I decided to camp. …I did that only one night…The second night I had a simple room because my tent is an inflatable mattress and mosquito net…and being by the river there were plenty of mosquitoes and neither the treated net nor treated clothes seemed to stop them for biting me…plus buzzing nearby is quite annoying…add to that the late night visitors to the kitchen after an entertaining Saturday at the Video Club (a place that triples as the sports place to watch football matches, turns into the local nightclub, and is a store during the day) I am sure…oh yeah and there was a light on all night where I decided to camp…not much sleeping took place :Z. The simple room was fine but the bathrooms were outdoor and shared…normally fine but here a horror story infested with mosquitoes..no fun showering let alone going pee…my least favorite thing to encounter in Africa now are the vicious mosquitoes in bathrooms….I don’t discourage a visit here at all in fact I encourage it, just be sure to get the private room!
So luckily that first day at the hotel a group was staying and doing the tour to see chimpanzees and I could join them. The monkeys are on several islands…in the river…really like a huge zoo…there are 127 chimpanzees (Gambia River NP). It was a project started to protect them…many were brought from labs from all over Africa…some are originally from The Gambia but because they are on the island they can’t escape…they don’t swim…Besides this fact I say it is like a zoo because they are also fed nightly (even though there is enough food on the islands) so the rangers can make sure they are well and just check on them…they all have names and are recognized easily by the rangers. No humans go on the islands (so they say) but sometimes in their feedings they get medicine, antibiotics or birth control, soo it is highly regulated…despite this control it might be the best zoo ever for them where elsewhere the bush is burned, vegetation depleted and animals forced out. The chimpanzees expect the feedings and perch on branches along the river…some alone, others in groups of 2-4 so of course this is good for tourists too. I saw them yes but it seems a tad controversial and I’m not sure this counts as seeing them in the wild…might have to go to East Africa again in search. Besides chimpanzees there are other monkeys (which the boat captain could care less to stop for…) on the island but no predators for them…in the river you can see Hippos and crocs too…didn’t see the crocs but the hippos quite a few. It was my second time viewing them and I enjoyed see them in the river spouting water as they came up for air…also in the evening from the hotel you could hear them doing this too! Evenings were very magical here along the river…darkness filled with stars, firefly lights, hippo splashes in the unknown distance, flashes of birds going home and random fishermen setting nets for the night (loved it!).
The group I joined was 10 europeans touring the country following their passion for beekeeping! Quite unique and I really enjoyed their company…I also got their contact info should you be interested in this hobby for travel. They also reduced my cost considerably for the tour since the cost was per boat (more people = cheaper). The hotel unfortunately did try to charge me as if it was my own boat even though the price was stated on the board there! And I’d still be sharing the same boat.
The African stone circles were located in Wassu, a few Kms away. I borrowed a bike at the hotel and rode over. The bike had no brakes and only one real pedal…the other bikes weren’t much better…so off I went, nice and slow…ha ha. The area is very flat so it isn’t a huge problem plus I enjoyed using a bike like those who live here…aka ‘the real experience’. I got to the archeological site, it was open but they were having tea…I was in no rush and they invited me to join…who was I to decline an invitation to tea…my favorite pastime in this part of Western Africa. I love how it is a long process, I love how they pour it between the cup and pot a few feet high, I love the community feel of it and the taste is great…although very sugary. This day I literally stayed hours there and had 4 cups of it (shot glass size!) and really felt it…I couldn’t handle it…I downed a whole bottle of water (1.5 liters) as soon as I left to compensate for all that sugar without much food! Worth tasting and being a part of but 1 is plenty…max 3! While the whole tea process happened, every 10 minutes or so more people showed up and joined in on tea time (or tea ceremony as I call it)…a farmer joined and threw some ground nuts (peanut) plants into the center. I ate quite a few raw ones but they weren’t my favorite…they did grow on me though. The group was very kind and I enjoyed their company and chatting with them. Eventually I did do a tour of the archeological site…interesting to see.
**Knowing there are similar stones like this around the world and knowing the people of this region were quite nomadic I wondered if this is how this was spread. I’ve seen stonehedge, some stone circles in Sweden, something similar in Peru and after researching they are literally dotting the planet.
I stayed until I was hungry then went with a guy from the circles to a ‘restaurant’ (not in a building but selling trusted food…there are restaurants as we call them though too) by his apartment for lunch. My first time in a local house. It was small, simple but very cozy, he rested while I ate. There was no visible toilet or kitchen…cooking was done by a pot and coals (similar to the tea), the toilet was either outside or a bucket in the corner…always go in a house if invited genuinely – always a cultural experience to see how others live!
I spent the last part of the day relaxing and then to close it out I took the canoe to the opposite side of the river for a run. This was my first canoe trip ever (i think.. if not alone for sure) and as soon as I got in the canoe I was filled with this adrenaline of the exciting unknown and of ‘hey, look what I can do (mom)’ which obviously remained for the run. It was a beautiful but suffocating run along the red path that passed baobob trees (totally enchanting every time I see them) and swamps on either side which…also, from time to time covered the road…needless to say the adventure never stopped as I tramped through them…lol…they were also the reason for the suffocating humidity (a very dense air!)…! Morning run better here!!! Anyway I made it to the village, took a loop, said hello, ran back and jumped into the river to cool down…lovely! The run being at sunset allowed me to see some cool birds along the way…interesting since I paid more attention to them because right before I left I met the new guests at the hotel who were birdwatchers ha ha and had invited me to join their evening walk…bummer but this girl has got to run 🏃🏽♀️!
When it came time to to leave town to my next and last stop I walked to the taxi stop just a few blocks away where I was told to go. I arrived and didn’t have to wait long before it arrived and I realized it wasn’t a car but a horse and carrage (not the ones like cinderella ha ha but the simple style)!!! How cool! I jumped on with several others waiting and their goods for the Monday market in Wassu (very cool market by the way- took over the whole thoroughfare making it feel massive). I was very impressed with the comfort and efficiency of the taxi as it swiftly made it’s way over…like being gently carried on a carpet ride, with our feet dangling over the side, add in a few bumps lol. It was by far my favorite transport to date…so if you see one going down the street, take the welcomed ride to the next town over…also the hotel I stayed can arrange a private version if preferred!
**Be sure to ask a person waiting the cost beforehand since my driver wanted to charge nearly double for me (which is very common…and seemed even more so in The Gambia).
The population in The Gambia is 2.35 million and the land area is 10,689 square kilometers (4127 sq. miles) and poverty in the Gambia seemed very high to me, even more so than in Guinea…but I think it is my perspective nothing more. Although I do know the coast has more wealth…the interior was full of people, lots and lots and lots of children! Everytime I entered the main road of Kuntaur to look for food or water I quickly found myself among an entourage of children that paraded me down the street (not just here but elsewhere too) calling out tubab (pronounced too-bob: white person in Wolof – a Senegambia language) and sometimes touching me to see if I was different maybe or to say they touched a tubab maybe. Actually My first day I saw a boat arriving to the dock so I went and talked to them. They were awaiting a tourist group that would take the boat up the river to Georgetown, seeing the chimpanzees and more over a few hour ride. I was hoping I could catch a ride the next day with the next group. In the end I waited for nothing as they took off without a word about the idea and left me with 20 or more children who came to beg for books, pens etc. They were given cookies by someone in the group which was quickly spread amongst them because everything is community in Africa (love this!). In fact before the whole group arrived, a few hung out with me while I waited and I gave them cookies, only to have their mom’s come and look for the cookies of the 2 children who missed out…awe. Of the crowd from the boat I promised one older girl asking for a pen that I would give them mine the next day…but it wasn’t until Monday as I went for the taxi stop did I see her (on the way to school)…and yes I dug out my pen for her…I learned quickly why they ask for them…when I replaced mine I found them very expensive…considering local costs.
The children followed me around as I explored town, which in colonial times was a booming place, a peanut hub for the British, which I learned from a cool gentleman with an awesome British kind of accent sitting under a tree’s shade just before the boat arrived! I liked him so much I went back looking for him the next day but he wasn’t around when I rolled by :(.