The Gambia is a fascinating country with many attractions of its own however it can also be used as a base to visit Senegal. Recently I took a trip to Fathala Reserve with a local tour company founded by a Gambian friend Alieu Bayo. The park is a mere 10 minutes from the north Gambia and Senegalese border, the journey itself is an experience not to be missed, which can give you a real insight on the changes within The Gambia as well as the life of its people.
After travelling from Brufut, we arrived at Banjul ferry port where the chaos of boarding the Barra ferry begins. The Barra ferry always seems to be filled with people, cars, trucks, bikes and usually a few chickens, goats, sheep or cows. The ferry is a vibrant mix of colours from the African clothing and sounds from the ferry itself, to the people talking and the animals on board. Although it may seem a chaotic way to travel at times it gives you a true insight on the life of Gambians and their transport system.
From Barra we travelled north through villages made up of traditional round houses and farming land, where you can see how the rural side of The Gambia operates. Then we reached a town called Darsilam, which is on the Gambian side of the border, where the necessary passport checks and stamps are undertaken. From the border the journey continues onwards through traditional villages in Senegal until reaching Fathala Reserve itself, where the main part of the adventure awaits. After being joined by a park guide the journey within the park begins, the bumpy roads providing an African massage in the back of the 4×4 whilst exploring the park. Many varieties of birds including the African darter, guineafowl, parakeets, weavers as well as the pied kingfisher, red-billed hornbill and long-tailed glossy starling can be spotted within the park whilst travelling through. However the main attractions within the reserve are not its birds but the zebras which can be found happily exploring the land, as well as the number of giraffes roaming the area and eating the leaves from its trees. Various antelope are also found throughout the park. I was lucky and got the chance to depart the vehicle on two occasions firstly to walk closer to the giraffes, one of which was a newly born giraffe, and secondly to go walking with the roan antelope, which are one of the largest species of antelope. After the short walks we reached the park’s white rhino – being so close to such a large and rare animal is a fantastic experience, watching the way the animal lives is somehow extremely mesmerising. The park was home to a pair of white rhinos, but unfortunately one was killed during a fight in November 2011.
Travelling back through the park we came across a number of warthogs, birds and antelope, we continued towards the reserves newest and possibly most spectacular attraction and animals. These are the five lions cubs which are now part of the reserve. The four-month old lion cubs came from South Africa at the beginning of July. The lions have not been released into the main reserve, instead they are currently in their own fenced area where you can actually join them. Going into the lion cub reserve and playing with the lions has to be a highlight of my life so far, it is an fascinating and breathtaking experience playing with five lion cubs as if they were kittens. They certainly act like kittens with their playful and cheeky way, playing with each other whoever is in the reserve and any toys they can find including fabric, sticks and even a broom. It is hard to think they can grow up to be the fierce animals they are portrayed to be.
After the adventure throughout the park and with its animals ended we travelled back through Senegal, the border crossing and onwards, until reaching Barra. Here instead of taking the ferry which can be an extremely long wait and journey to Banjul we joined a local boat known as a pirogue – these boats are an experience in themselves. Due to the fact there are no ports or harbours for them to dock in, for people to carefully and gracefully step into the pirogue, you have to be carried from the shore to the boat then scramble in. As a result of the water being rather deep we each had to sit on the shoulders of one of the carriers, then let them wade through the water towards the pirogue then hop in, something everyone boarding a pirogue has to go through when joining and departing the boat. From Banjul we travelled back to Brufut, ending a fabulous adventure, trip and experience to Fathala Reserve in Senegal.