We had booked a few trips with Abbotts Travel previously and were delighted with the attention to detail. So, when we were planning a holiday over New Year 2016/2017 we went straight back to the team for their advice.
We wanted somewhere warm and sunny with a laid-back atmosphere, and the opportunity to try something different. Shelley suggested The Gambia, and when she pointed out that we were virtually guaranteed sunshine with average temperatures of 32 degrees, it was only a six hour flight and the same time as UK, so no jet lag, we were convinced.
We enjoy eating out and trying the local food, so Shelley suggested the resort of Kololi, which is the biggest in The Gambia, with the most varied choice of restaurants and bars. The Kairaba Hotel seemed an ideal choice with its beautiful gardens, relaxed atmosphere and central position. Booking with The Gambia experience, we stayed on a room and breakfast basis, as we wanted the option of trying the local cuisine in the surrounding area.
Driving from the airport to Kololi, the roads are dusty and busy, with people, goats and long horned cows, and The Strip in Kololi is small and very laid back by European standards, but there were plenty of restaurants, bars and a very lively atmosphere.
Our first evening venturing out was a bit daunting, with locals offering to get us a taxi or show us around, and they can be persistent. A friendly and firm response worked well, and the following day the same people smiled and waved at us, greeting us by name asking how our holiday was going. Chatting to them it was clear that their lives are a real struggle, they had interesting stories to tell and are motivated to improve their circumstances.
Eating out we tried lots of the local dishes, fish, meat and vegetables served with rice. Our particular favourites were the fresh fish, and chicken Domoda which is a thick peanut stew.
We got to see some of the sights of The Gambia during our week there. The sacred Kachikally crocodile pool is a must, approaching with a guide you get close enough to touch the crocodiles, and the opportunity for a great photo to show friends and family when you get home.
We visited the bustling market in Serrekunda, and tranquil Lamin Lodge made from driftwood in the mangroves tributaries of the River Gambia.
Along the coast at Paradise beach there are displays of Gambian wrestling on Sunday afternoons. The wrestlers parade around putting on a real show of strength and agility, which is quite a spectacle, encouraging the crowd to get involved cheering for their favourite. Another fascinating trip was to Tanji fishing village in the late afternoon to watch the fishing boats come in with their catch. The atmosphere is lively, with the women wading into the sea to bring the baskets of fish onto the beach.
The colourful sights, sounds and smells are all around you, women and children are selling fruit and vegetables whilst small children carry baskets of peanuts on their heads as they tempt you to buy their goods.
We spent another day travelling up the River Gambia on a boat to Kunte Kinteh Island which sits in the middle of the river. This was a slave trade outpost where the slaves were held before being transferred onto the ships sailing for the West Indies and America. The atmosphere on the island and in the dungeons brings to life the terrible atrocities from West Africa’s history. The trip also takes you to the village of Kunte Kinteh (from the Roots TV series).
As we returned to the airport for the journey home, filling in the feedback questionnaire we reflected on how much we had enjoyed our week in The Gambia, and left hoping to return one day.
Six months later we received a phone call from Shelley at Abbotts, her first words were ‘are you sitting down?’ She proceeded to tell me that she had been contacted by the Gambia Experience and we were the lucky couple completing the feedback form, who had won a week’s all-inclusive holiday to The Gambia. We were thrilled and could not believe our luck. We chose to go in March 2018, this time staying at The Sunbeach Hotel at Cape Point.
We left on the morning that The Beast from the East struck the UK, and within six hours were transported from -7c to 34c. The wide sandy beach at Cape Point was fabulous. This time the holiday was all inclusive and although we don’t usually opt for an all-inclusive package, we really enjoyed the experience, and did find it relaxing not having to venture out to eat in the evening, the cocktails were pretty good too! Lazing around on the beach with the occasional fresh juice from the passing local sellers, was just the way to unwind after the long dark winter in the UK.
We did fit in a trip through, a bird watching experience through the mangrove tributaries at dawn in a traditional boat called a Pirogue. The Gambia is renowned for the variety and number of its birds, and we saw some amazing sights and sounds during the trip, including brilliantly coloured kingfishers, vultures, egrets, and many more.
The beaches in The Gambia are not crowded like many resorts, they are wide and sandy and we had some enjoyable walks collecting shells, or watching the wild crocodiles being fed, while having a refreshing local beer ‘Jul Brew’ at the Calypso Bar, which was a short stroll along the beach from our hotel. Outside the hotel the local stalls sell trinkets, there are some fantastic leather goods, and brightly coloured cotton kaftans which are a real bargain.
On the return to the airport we were given another feedback questionnaire, and this time we noticed the line at the bottom saying one lucky couple would win an all-inclusive week’s holiday returning to The Gambia courtesy of The Gambia Experience.
We filled it in, just in case!