The Gambia River; of slave islands and desolate creeks

The Gambia River was calm as we motored against the tide towards James Island. Dolphins followed along the boat in the heat, and the river was so wide we could barely make out the land on both sides. In the afternoon we anchored in lee of the tiny island, which is the place from where the slaves were shipped out from the Gambia. The island has been renamed to Kunta Kinteh Island, named after the main character in the famous “Roots” novel by Alex Haley. According to the novel, Kunta Kinteh lived in the village Jufureh on the north bank of the Gambia River not far from the island, and was sold as a slave from the island. Despite of the fact that the historic accuracy of the novel has long ago been disproved, the Jufureh village are now making good money from the tourists by arranging “Kunta Kinteh history tours”, and for example presenting the visitors to the last living descendant of Kunta Kinteh. Can’t really blame them, it’s a cool story either way.

We, of course, also wanted to visit the little island, and soon had the dinghy ready. On the island, we met the last tourists of the day along with their guides, who were quick to inform us that we would have to pay the price of the ferry trip to visit the island, even though we didn’t actually go on the ferry. We didn’t argue, we do after all find it fair enough that visitors pay the locals to see the historic sites in the country, and in return, the guide gave us a quick tour of the fort. He explained to us how the island is slowly eroding, to the point where it is now only the size of the fort. In the fort itself, he told us a bunch of stories that were clearly just made up, and after searching the history of the place online, we found that even the things he told us that seemed plausible were in fact not true. Such a shame, as the true story of the slave trade is horrifying in its own right, and doesn’t need to be exaggerated to make an impression on visitors.

We spent the night by the island, only in the company of a few people who spent the night fishing from their dugout canoes. As the sun set, the air was filled with flying pelicans, heading to the island for the night, and Mattis spent a long time with the binoculars looking at the big birds.

The Gambia is known all over the world for the many birdspecies, and we spent the next night in a gorgeous and calm side creek to the main river. We know nothing about birds, but could still enjoy the many different types we saw, and while Esben took the kids out rowing in this amazingly beautiful place, Vibe even saw a white snake glide through the water.

After a couple of days sailing past the wild banks, we were beginning to realize that getting food and diesel would be challenging on the river. So as we approached the new bridge with the main road connecting both the two sides of the river as well as north and south Senegal, we figured this was the place to stock up on the things we needed. We moored next to the bridge, and soon one of the workers from the bridge came out to greet us. He offered to sail Esben to shore, and once in, his boss drove Esben to Farafenni, the nearest city, about 3km away, where they got some food and diesel for us. From the river, we had the impression that the Gambia is entirely green, but you don’t need to go far from the river before the arid, dessertlike savannah, something that is also clearly visible on the satellite images on google earth. After a nice afternoon, Esben waved goodbye to his new friends, and we were ready to continue under the bridge. The bridge is less than a year old, and we had been told that the height was 17 meters – but we couldn’t be sure. Our height is 14 meters, which should be fine, but we still waited until the tide turned so we had the current slightly against in order to go very slowly through. Of course, we didn’t have any problems with our little mast, and were soon on our way up the river again, quickly getting closer to the fresh water section, where the wildlife would change.

To see our current position, click here and scroll down.

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