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NoFear Travel in Africa (5) | Overlanding in the Gambia

We (Cor and Grietje van NoFear Travel), travel with our Toyota Hilux 4×4 camper by Africa. The African continent is the Mecca for 'overlanding' with many challenging routes and beautiful destinations. The first African country we visited during our trip to South Africa is Morocco, followed by Mauritania en Senegal. In this article we tell you more about the progress of this journey, overlanding in Gambia. Of course you will start again by watching the video at the top of the page.

About Gambia

Included: Gambia is landlocked in Senegal. On the west side it has free access to the Atlantic Ocean and the elongated land is intersected by the River Gambia. The west coast is popular among international tourists. Here you will find luxury hotels and beautiful sandy beaches.

The climate: it's warm, say hot. Like the rest of West Africa, it has a wet and dry season.

The second language: of the Gambians is English. That's better for us, English is easier for us than French.

Money: it mainly earns from the export of peanut (products). The tourism industry accounts for about 25% of the national income.

Islamic: About 90% of the population adheres to the Islamic faith, the other 10% is Christian. Although the majority adheres to Islam, we see differences between the countries. The men in The Gambia wear much less traditional clothing, the women hardly wear headscarves and they often have bare arms. You hear fewer calls to prayer and people pray less (visibly).

Central and Eastern Gambia

Arrival and corrupt border police

Our first contact with Gambia is not what you want. At customs we get the stamp for entering the motorhome (in our CPD) without any problems in the first office. But then… we had already read about a corrupt Gambian official who randomly asked 1000-10.000 CFA (about € 15,00) for the import stamp.

With us, “sir” asked no less than 10.000 CFA. We refused to pay and he refused to stamp. A fierce discussion ensued. We put things on edge to pretend we were crossing the border after all. A very angry senior officer - himself as corrupt as what - came again to tell us that we had to pay. A big shot by his stripes.

Yet another man from customs was clearly on our side. He knew about the corruption but unfortunately could not help us.

Just in a Gambian street | Overlanding in the Gambia

We threatened to spend the night here on the sidewalk until they let us through. A little later another armed soldier came and urged us to back off.

In between the game, a senior government official came by to inspect the border or something, with the result that everything was temporarily closed.

Then an intermediary agent came who wanted to arrange passage for us. We went back to the office and after many discussions it turned out that the corrupt official did not want to lose face. Very angry, he wanted to put a free stamp with access for a maximum of 72 hours. We refused this too, we are entitled to 30 days without paying for anything.

After even more discussion, the gentlemen got into friction among themselves and we finally got our free stamp for 30 days. When we said we would put this story on the internet after getting the stamp, they got even angrier, especially at each other. With a lot of yelling behind us we quickly got in and drove off.

Walking tour in Farafenni

After our experiences with the corrupt border police, we end up in the courtyard of a small hotel right in the center of Farafenni (Location here ), the first town across the border.

The next day we take a walk through the town. First along the covered market where we meet only friendly people. Cor is looking for a hairdresser and a random woman leads the way.

A young man wants to cut. Just to be sure, we ask if he has experience with blonde European haircuts. He doesn't mind. Later it turns out that he does not have a pair of scissors and a comb, only a clipper.

Meanwhile, a lot of children gather around us. They are friendly, curious and shake hands. Sometimes they want to touch our white skin. Together we have a lot of fun. When the cutting is done we go to another shop and give the children all a biscuit. It's great to see the twinkling eyes.

Children at the hairdresser in Gambia
Children at the hairdresser in Gambia

Then we go further and see a group of young people on mopeds. They hire themselves out as a taxi. We have some fun with them and we are interested in their semi-automatic mopeds. One of the boys dares to lend his moped so that Cor can drive around. Beautiful!


We continue our walking tour and are approached by a police officer. Not because we're doing something wrong, but because he wishes us a nice stay. We get to talking and he talks about his life as a cop. Yesterday his children were sent home from school because he couldn't pay the school fees. He himself works 24-hour shifts as an agent and earns 100 euros a month. Too little to pay school fees, among other things. 

We walk with him to the office to exchange a phone number. He invites us to his home.

In the office we have a bizarre encounter with prisoners who are shouting with their hands through the bars. The nine of them stay in a cubicle of 5 by 5. It reminds us of scenes we have seen at the prison museum in Veenhuizen. But here it is just real…

The agent says that they are stuck here for about 5-6 days awaiting a court ruling. They are here visible because everyone can see that they have broken the law.

Most are in prison for theft, burglary and fighting.


Peanut plantation

After a spontaneous meeting with a local farmer, we are invited to visit his peanut plantation.

And so he was at the camper at 10 o'clock in the morning with his donkey and cart. We first drove to his house where he is part of a residential community, a compound. He has 4 children. The eldest of 12 is from his first deceased wife. She died of bleeding during childbirth. A doctor arrived much too late. He wipes away a tear.

The family in the compound

After we have met the children, his wife, brothers, sisters and everyone else from the compound, we continue to his country. He inherited about half a hectare from his father.

He explains to us in great detail how the process of peanut cultivation works.

Pulling the peanut plant with donkeys | Peanut plantation in Gambia
Pulling the peanut plant with donkeys | Peanut plantation in Gambia
Crushed peanuts | Peanut plantation in Gambia
Crushed peanuts | Peanut plantation in Gambia
Good explanation | Peanut plantation in Gambia
Good explanation | Peanut plantation in Gambia

We go back to his house and are invited to join him for lunch. But we decline this because we want to move on.

A ride with the donkey cart | Peanut plantation in Gambia
A ride with the donkey cart | Peanut plantation in Gambia

River Gambia National Park

We visit River Gambia National Park (Location here ) with a boat because it is located around the river. From the boat we see the richly overgrown banks.

We are initially looking for hippos. Our experienced guide knows where they are. Sure enough, two big eyes surface to take a bite of oxygen. A beautiful face. About the danger of hippos we get some different information from the locals. It is better to stay away, but at our overnight spot in Janjanbureh we can just swim. Although hippos are quite fast on land, they cannot get out of the water against a steep bank.

Then we continue to look for chimpanzees. In 1979, a number of them were released on an island in the river. No one comes to the island, not even the rangers of the national park are allowed. This is to allow nature - and therefore the chimpanzees - to run its course in isolation, completely unaffected.

After sailing along the shore, three chimpanzees show up. Fantastic to see how the animals try to get attention. The behavior of monkeys is very fascinating. 

Chimpanzee on the shore | River Gambia National Park
Chimpanzee on the shore | River Gambia National Park
Two chimpanzees on the shore | River Gambia National Park
Two chimpanzees on the shore | River Gambia National Park

Also read: East Africa on a scooter | Part 9 | Fort Portal – Muhorro (100 km)

Visit remote settlement

Always looking for a special place for the night, we end up on the north bank of the river where according to the map there is some habitation.

Immediately upon arrival, someone in a beautiful robe approaches us. He says he is the village chief. He wears his beautiful dress because it is Friday, a kind of Sunday for Muslims.

There are 3 compounds in the settlement. Several families live in the compounds, about 70 people in total. The village chief is the only one who speaks English.

He is very proud that we visit his village and tells with great love. By now, just about all the children and a number of adults from the village have gathered around us. They try to get our attention but at the same time are a bit hesitant. After we decide to grab our folding chairs and a drink for ourselves, everyone hangs around with us. Without saying anything, on their haunches, they just stare. It makes us a bit uncomfortable, but yes, after all, such a special car with white people does not pass by every day.

On the way to find a place to sell | Overlanding in the Gambia
Children in a remote village | Overlanding in the Gambia
Children in a remote village | Overlanding in the Gambia

The next morning we are invited to visit the village. Very drastic to see how primitive people live.

The water pump has been broken for a few months. It is too expensive to repair and so people now drink from the river. A look into the river makes us realize how strong their intestinal system must be.

We get an enthusiastic tour of the land around the settlement where mainly peanuts are grown.

Western Gambia

We were a bit biased about western Gambia. We already saw huge rows of luxury hotels with swimming pools, overcrowded beaches and guides with organized tours for us. In short, a part of the country where tourists rule the roost and little is left of the traditional Gambian culture.

We certainly liked it!

On the street, along the so-called “strip” it is a nice place. Various nationalities mingle. But the vast majority are Gambian.

There are western shops, you can buy products that you will not find in the rest of the country.

And yes, you are frequently accosted by Gambians who offer their services for money. Sometimes quite annoying, but if you know the harrowing conditions people live in, respect is in order.

Compelling story Bijilo Forest Park

During a walk on the beach we are approached by a young man. He tells us that he would like to show us around in the adjacent "monkey forest". (Bijilo Forest Park, Location here ) Initially we hold this off, but in the end we let ourselves be convinced by his friendly smile.

There is an entrance where you can buy a ticket and a bag of peanuts. It looks like the Apenheul. But yes, just like with the boy, your heart almost melts when you see the most charming, mobile animals.

On the way, however, we are even more impressed by his story than by the monkeys.

Tame monkeys in Bijilo Forest Parc
Tame monkeys in Bijilo Forest Parc

He says he is 19 years old and grew up in a remote village in the east. Until the age of eighteen there was money for school, after that there was no more, so he was forced to stop. He decided to go west to earn some money from the tourists there. Meanwhile, his brother wants via Libya cross the Mediterranean. His voice cracks when he says that the rickety dinghy capsized and that all occupants, including his brother, drowned.

He tries to make some money by showing tourists around and has an appointment with a cocktail seller. If he brings customers there, he also receives a contribution.

Once a month he has enough money to send a “bag of rice” to his family. He doesn't go himself, that's too expensive. He has the rice delivered via a bush taxi.

As we prepare to say goodbye, he shows us his sleeping place. Ten mattresses in a row where he spends the night with fellow sufferers. He washes his clothes in the sea, fortunately there is a freshwater tap a little further on where he can rinse the salt out again.

Visit son and daughter-in-law

After we had already enjoyed a nice lunch with our hairdresser from Westerbork (who also happened to be in The Gambia), the icing on the Gambian cake came….the visit of our eldest son Ruurd with his girlfriend Lisa.

They rented a car and so we could go on an adventure together. Ruurd and Lisa were of course very impressed by the differences between the wealthy Europe en Gambia. They stared.

We left the busy tourist area behind and took a look at the fish market of Thinner (Location here ). Here you can see a part of real Gambian life in a fishing village. Huge crowds of people involved in fishing in one way or another.

Tanji fishing beach | Overlanding in the Gambia
Fish drying | Overlanding in the Gambia

On the way to Marrakech

A little further on we spontaneously stopped at a compound where we were welcomed very friendly by the residents. The proud Gambians were happy to show their compound and way of life. On the opposite football field, Ruurd and Lisa even kicked a ball with the locals.

On the way to Marakissa | Overlanding in the Gambia
Group photo with the residents of the compound | Overlanding in the Gambia

We stay overnight Marakissa River Camp (Location here ). This accommodation, run by a Dutch owner and his Gambian wife, is very worthwhile for nature and bird lovers. They have cottages and you can also camp and eat there. But above all you can take a canoe trip on the fantastic river. It is teeming with birds, there are iguanas, but there are also crocodiles swimming. According to the owner harmless, but we are still alert.

Soothing river | Marrakech River
Soothing river | Marrakech River
Overwhelming nature | Marrakech River
Overwhelming nature | Marrakech River

We are rewarded, among other things, by spotting a baby crocodile that shows its sharp teeth with its mouth open. We're so impressed we're late with our cameras.

Kingfisher | Marrakech River
Kingfisher | Marrakech River

We close these unforgettable days together with a delicious dinner in the Balafon Resort, where we were allowed to spend the night near Ruurd and Lisa in the parking lot for a few days.

Our image of The Gambia

The Gambia, “the smiling coast of Africa” more than lives up to its nickname! We have never seen such friendly people before. Given the suffering and poverty of which we saw many examples, the population has enough to make them sad. But the pride of their small country, together with a rock-solid faith, ensures a smile every day.

One of the differences with MoroccoMauritania en Senegal what struck us is that most people in Gambia work or do something for a living. Here people are much less drinking tea all day and not lying under a tree all day. The people are happy to do a job for you but are not pushy.

Embedded baobab tree in Gambia
Built-in baobab tree | Overlanding in the Gambia

In the center and east of the country, the "ring road" is perfectly paved and maintained. There are hardly any cars, so we were often alone on the road. The side roads and roads in villages are actually always dirt roads.

In the west there is much more traffic with regular congestion. Although it is somewhat chaotic, it remains friendly and (if you take the time) it is pleasant to steer.

The nature in The Gambia is fantastic. The combination of heat, moisture and river produces a beautiful flora and fauna in which there is much to discover. It is a paradise for bird watchers.

We say goodbye to Gambia and its lovely people, stings Senegal over and continue our journey Mali. More on that later!

NoFear travel

NoFear Travel

A Drent and a Frisian have caught the travel bug and travel the world with their 4×4 camper. We are Cor and Grietje from NoFear Reizen and we will take you on roadtrip adventure.


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