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Experience the real Gambia

My Magazine 2022/02
15 min
Before I start sharing some insider tips about The Gambia, maybe I need to introduce myself first and explain why I travelled to the Gambia. My name is Nicole. I am 29 years old, and I am a marketing and event manager. However, I actually prefer to describe myself as a creative free spirit. My first time in the Gambia was in September last year.

Away from tourism, into real life.

At that time, we travelled to The Gambia as a team of four. The reason for our trip was a social project. When we travelled back after one month in the Gambia, I still decided at the airport to turn back as soon as possible. The country, the people, the cultures, the sea and the sun, which is just always there, on average seven hours a day!

I had decided to work remotely for the first time...and in The Gambia. Already the first time we were in The Gambia, we had lived rather untypical for tourists. We had stayed in an Airbnb but lived in the middle of the community in Tanji, the fishing village. We wanted to integrate experience real life and Gambian cultures. We didn’t want to see tourist attractions and be treated as little as possible differently than locals. We quickly realized that the country on the Atlantic Ocean is not called “The smiling Coast of Africa” for nothing because everyone is happy, and you are greeted warmly everywhere. Everyone was always eager to show us the supposedly most beautiful places, cafes, restaurants, beaches and things.

Just everything that is typically touristy, and most tourists usually want to see. But we wanted to experience real-life, eat with the people, sit, drink tea. It’s not easy to find these places and opportunities, even more so on the coast, where around 600,000 tourists (in 2019) vacation per year. However, the longer I was here, the more “real” life I could find. I am now back in The Gambia since December and would like to share a few tips and ideas on how to experience the “real” Gambia here in the magazine.

  1. The quick breakfast on the go: tapalapa with egg.

In the Gambia, too, everyday life is becoming more fast-paced. People who work and go to school here have less time and eat more on the go. One of the easiest, fastest and cheapest snacks to eat on the go is tapalapa. Tapalapa, the Gambian white bread, is sold on almost every street corner and kiosk here. Topped with butter, boiled egg and mayonnaise, omelette and onions, or boiled potatoes, it is a filling and convenient breakfast or lunch on the go. Depending on the toppings, tapalapa costs between 20 and 50 dalasi and tastes delicious. Just keep your eyes open and see where people stop to pick up their sandwiches on the way to work or school.

  1. Local food.

We’ll stick to food because there is, of course, more local food to discover than just the white bread with egg. There are a few very local restaurants, which are of course less in the tourist streets. If you want to eat cheap and still fresh and good, you should definitely go to Sukuta. This is, of course, only one of many local restaurants. The “Seaview restaurant “in Sukuta is, in my opinion, one of the best local restaurants with simple but delicious Gambian food. You should definitely try the Chicken Afra and the Chicken Balls. The dishes cost around 150-200 Dalasi (between two and four Euros). Most Gambians get their food there as a takeaway. But if you want to eat there, you can, of course, do that as well. If this is still too touristy for you, you should eat where the working Gambians have lunch - on the street. Unlike in Thailand, for example, street food in the Gambia is usually not found directly on the main streets. If you ask around and observe, you will quickly find out that local street food is rather sold in the small side streets or backyards. There is usually only one dish, but it is fresh and tastes just like “mom’s home-cooked food “. Mostly it is rice with vegetables and meat or fish. A full plate (they are huge) costs between 40 and 70 Dalasi, so usually not much more than one Euro. And it tastes...soooo delicious!!!

  1. Camping on the beach.

Attention camping fans: I have made the experience that camping is tolerated everywhere here on the free and lonely beaches. A beautiful beach, secluded and away from tourism, bars and restaurants, can be found in Batokunku. There are beautiful waves, a few palm trees that provide shade and enough space in the sand for tents and campfires. Because the tide is not to be underestimated and it is definitely advisable to inform yourself beforehand at what time the water rises. A few points that are important to mention here: It is advisable not to drive on the beach unless you have a car that can easily drive in the deep sand. There are a few breaches in the wall that separates the beach from the village. There you can leave the car on the side of the road and walk to the beach. If you make a campfire, you should, of course, make sure that it is completely out the next day. The garbage should be taken with you when you leave because there are no garbage cans on the beach. And: Do not forget mosquito spray! Otherwise, it can be a very long night!

  1. Surfing in the Gambia.

Surfing in the Gambia? Yes, that’s what I thought when I saw a surfer for the first time. The Gambia is certainly not a surfer’s paradise, and I would never have associated the country with surfing. However, the waves on the coast of West Africa prove to be beginner-friendly and definitely possible to surf. If you have your own board and are thinking about surfing, you could definitely bring it. As bulky luggage, you pay around 100 Euros depending on the airline to bring your surfboard. If you don’t have your own favourite board or don’t feel like bringing bulky luggage with you, you can rent one here. I have not tried it myself, but have heard of a surf school, the “Gandah surf school”. I learned to surf here, and I love it! I don’t have my own board, but luckily I have friends who have several surfboards. Every now and then, we meet other surfers, once we even met two long-term travellers who came to the Gambia by car and had five boards of their own with them. Really cool! But as a professional surfer, the waves here are surely rather boring. For me, they are just right!

  1. Ride with a cab in the Gambia.

If you want to get from A to B and not live like a tourist, you have to travel like the Gambians do - with the local transport. Okay, so what does that mean exactly? At first, it can be very confusing because there are no uniform rules. The rule here is rather: Go with the flow! Basically, the first thing you should know is that all vehicles with a yellow license plate are licensed to transport people. If you get into a yellow or green painted vehicle, obviously painted as a taxi, and are asked for a “town trip”, you are sitting in a “typical” tourist cab. If you get into a normal car that is not painted as a taxi and possibly already has a few people in it, then it is a local transport, a shared cab. Easier to spot are the microbuses, which are packed with people. This is local transport. Here you pay 10 dalasis per section. Mostly these sections are from one intersection to the next. In the Gambia, there are no real street names, so here you calculate by sections, neighbourhoods, intersections and junctions. Sounds very confusing - it is! But the longer you are in the Gambia, the easier it gets. Learning by doing, I would say. If you want to be on the safe side and get from A to B in an uncomplicated way, you can always take a normal taxi. But you should expect costs of 200 Dalasi upwards. Quite expensive if you are a backpacker or live in The Gambia.

All in all, The Gambia is a beautiful country to travel, live and work remotely. Due to the regular power outages, you should load credit and data volume on your smartphone to really be able to make important calls and online meetings. Remote working here is connected with small obstacles but can be so beautiful, because you have the sea in front of your feet, almost permanently sun and no standard, everyday life.

You might not have the Gambia on your radar, but the country surprises you even more once you have visited it. Who does not want to be able to claim that he was on THE Smiling Coast of Africa?!

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