27th December 2021
Baboon Island, Gambia – Banjul, Gambia via Kudang, Bombale, Selekini Creek, Albadarr, Banjul, & Lamin Lodge, Gambia
Deadlines, by their very nature are not good things and should be avoided at all costs. We hoped that we’d left deadlines behind with the world of business, but even in the wilds of Africa, far from modern civilisation, we’ve got deadlines to meet. These deadlines are not driven by fickle financial quarters, they’re driven by real world wind and tides.
We were far upriver from the Senegambia bridge and we knew that the waning spring tides threatened to trap us up unless we nipped under its low beam, so Baboon Island, with its hippos, monkeys, warthogs and birds marked our furthest point inland. The Gambia river had given us everything we hoped for and would continue to give as we were swept downriver on the tide and current.
Heading downriver we could finally sail and with the engine silenced the sounds of the country washed over Ruffian. While the mangroves sung to the voices of birds, the calls of ‘Too Bob’, and the classic ‘Hello. How are you?’ rung out from the children in the scattered settlements we passed.
The nights were noisier than the days with the soothing call to prayer marking dusk and the howl of unknown wildlife echoed along the shore. Some of these noises were more welcome than others as one night, with Ruffian shrouded in darkness Iain ventured outside the confines of our full cockpit mosquito net to take in the night.
Within seconds Iain’s world was full of buzzing and zipping sounds as every flying creature was attracted to his headlamp like iron filings to a magnet. Waving his hands at the invisible innumerable creatures and getting mouthful after mouthful of flying protein, he was facing a losing battle. It was like a battle between David and Goliath and David had hands down won.
Catching the tide perfectly we scooted safely under the bridge and had successfully met our first, and most pressing, deadline. We now focussed on our next one, getting the right weather for heading offshore to the Cape Verde islands.
As the days passed and the miles slipped under Ruffian’s keel our new deadline was becoming illusive. The vagaries of the weather were making themselves known, closing the window and making our deadline null and void. The pressure was off so we could continue to enjoy this amazing country (and crack on with more maintenance) for a few more days.
After being so far from civilisation for so long Ruffian & Cerulean’s diesel reserves were running precariously low and this needed resolving. Iain & Steve had scoped out a local petrol station and so struck out with Jerry cans, trolleys and handfuls of cash all ready to rectify this situation.
Trundling the little trolleys along dirt roads they took their lives in their hands as HGVs zoomed past with stereo’s blaring and loads held on by nothing more than good luck. Arriving at the petrol station to the bemusement of local taxi drivers and the pump attendant, they started filling and then went to pay.
This petrol station was cash only and they handed over reams of folded notes feeling like drug barons doing an illicit street deal. The attendant’s wad of cash, which had been straining his pocket seams came out and as his fingers struggled to reach around its girth, he leafed through the notes like it was monopoly money. In a country so poor it was startling to see its national debt held in one man’s pocket.
Even with Christmas Day upon us the maintenance schedule on Ruffian was unrelenting. As Iain dived time and time on Ruffian he was given gift after gift. Line, fishing net and string, left over from catching a fisherman nets were removed and handed to Fiona like a stinky stocking filler. The real gift however was knowing that this hadn’t been wound into any bearings, not fouled into the inner workings of the prop, or left any lasting damage.
After opening the fisherman’s present, we headed over to Cerulean for a full-on Christmas feast. The previous day we’d scoured the local street market and among the prawns that were swarming with flies and sprats that had dull sunken eyes, we found 3 fish that had been recently plucked from the river, this was served up with salad and chilled white wine and then came what makes Christmas, Christmas; Christmas cake.
As Christmas drew to a close a new deadline was approaching. The internet informed us that we would have some perfect weather for heading offshore and this was a deadline we didn’t want to miss.
Before leaving we really wanted to give something back to everyone at Lamin Lodge who’d made us feel so welcome and nothing warms the heart as much as a full belly. Cooking over charcoal in pots that were more like vat’s, Fiona & Helen, under the expert eye of Senna blended unknown spices, exotic vegetables and yet more fish into a peanut-based concoction (ground nuts as they are called here are grown and harvested wherever the ground is fertile). After hours of bubbling and filling the whole village with amazing aromas piles of locally grown rice were served up accompanied by the Domada dish and smiles ensued from every corner.
The smiles gave a fitting ending to our time in the Gambia where everywhere we have looked, we’ve seen happy people who want to welcome us and give with their hearts. We hope that we have given back as much as we have taken, but what they have given us will last a lifetime. Gambia has lived up to it reputation of the smiling coast, but deadlines have had to be met and another country across the ocean awaits.
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