Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gambia: It Gets Much Worse

Well here goes nothing. It was time to travel almost the length of the entire country in pursuit of historical sites and animal watching. Mustapha shined immediately. He walked up to the pesky taxi guys outside the hotel and chatted with them to get a good price. Apparently he didn't like the price available because we only took that first cab to a place where there were more cabs, then we switched. I have to admit he was good at that, but that's about all he was good at. I kept thinking he's taking us to hell but he's doing a good job getting us there.

We drove past Arch 22, built to commemorate the military coup d'etat of July 22, 1994. It's the most interesting sounding landmark in the whole country that I'm aware of, and has some sort of museum inside. Can we stop at this political and historical landmark? Nope, we're gonna drive 6 hours to nowhere and look at birds.

I made it rain dalasis.

We headed back to Banjul to take the ferry back across the river. Now that it's Sunday, the crowds went from ridiculous to ridiculous plus. We asked Mustapha how many people can fit on the ferry. "3,000". How many are on it now? "5,000". Lovely.

I hope that our tickets cost more than normal people's because we were treated pretty preferentially. A handful of white people were allowed near the ferry so that they could board as soon as the vehicles were loaded. Everyone else was stuck behind these padlocked gates like cattle. By the time the local folk were allowed on we'd already claimed many of the seats on the top of the ship. Not only did this feel kind of greasy but I would have rather been on a lower deck to stay out of the sun.

Once again there were ladies selling all sorts of interesting snacks. This lady was selling pre-peeled oranges to these eurotrash individuals.

Once on the other side of the river we stopped at his house and his aunt's house in the village of Essau. Both were pretty real. I don't think that either had doors. His aunt's house had several of his relatives there who we sat and chatted with a while. I could see a hen strutting around in another little room, and there were chicks wandering around their living room. Mustapha said that his dad died some years ago so he was the head of the household now. (Eyeroll). I thought it was an awesome opportunity to see how people live here, but I felt like a large reason for this detour was of the guilt trip variety. Oh well, onward!

Next on our list was Kunta Kinteh Island, named after the character from the Roots book and miniseries. On the boat ride over I kept thinking that if this is anything like that freak show Goree Island that I am going to have an outburst.

I got way too much sun on the ride over. Unsurprisingly there was no sunblock available for purchase around these parts.

The island changed hands multiple times between the British, Dutch, French, and a thing I had not heard of called the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Anyhoo, the island is home to Fort James, which was a big deal in the slave trade, starting as a place to hold slaves headed for the New World, and later on as a place where the British attempted to stop slavers once slavery had become illegal in the British Empire after the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Cannons are so awesome. Where do I need to go to get to shoot one? The cannon's little wheeled apparatus looks exactly like one I saw at a school playground in Jamaica.

This is a UNESCO site, so I could be safe in assuming that this wasn't all BS. There were lots of good signs in English to help gather the important parts of the story. We had a "guide" following us around but with the signs present I wished he would just shush his mumbling and let me read. The guide was especially annoying because he kept saying things like "Kunta was here, and Kunta did this." Dear Gambia: Kunta Kinteh is a CHARACTER, much like Spiderman but without the cool powers. Not only is he not real but the author of Roots, Alex Haley, didn't even come up with the character on his own. He plagiarized it from a novel entitled The African by Harold Courlander, got sued real bad, got whooped real bad, and settled out of court, probably for a bathtub full of money. So no, sir, Kunta did not plant that tree over there.

We learned a fun little fact around this time. The little kids have been calling me Twobob this whole time without me knowing it. Apparently it's just a catchall term for white people. Back in the colonial days the British would pay the local two bobs, two shillings, for whatever little task and the name stuck. Now everyone just take two steps away from me because I'm not giving you any money.

What could go wrong when climbing a painter's ladder out of a boat onto a dock? Nothing, that's what.

Wikipedia says that symbol on the guy's chest is the yaz. "The yaz symbolizes the "free man", which is the meaning of the Berber word amazigh, the Berbers' own name for themselves."

Back on the mainland in Albadarr Mustapha informed us that the taxi that we came in was having mechanical problems, that he didn't trust it to take us the rest of the way, and now we had to drive all the way back to the ferry town of Barra to get another one. Oh my. Mr. Fatty the truth stretcher told us that traveling from the good hotel to the bad hotel would take 6 hours. We were on about hour 5 and now we had to back track. Evan said that if he'd known there'd be so much driving that he would have stayed at the resort, and then I screamed inside my head for an hour.

I took a little video just to give an impression of what the road was like.

The broken cab's driver had something up with his right eye. No big deal, buy some eye drops when you get a chance, right? Well when we sideswiped a tree on our right side I realized a two eyed driver is probably optimal. Evan was taking a little nap on that side of the car when it happened and I may or may not have laughed when he was jarred awake by the impact. You have to find happiness in the little things.

Looking out the cab window at the countryside I can see termite mounds easily taller than I am.

I asked Mustapha if he'd ever seen the Lion King. He'd never even heard of it.

We switched cabs yet again back at Barra, this time for a van which everyone appreciated. I noticed the speedometer was broken, but then again the police here don't have radar guns so even-steven I say.

Speaking of police, their main strategy of keeping control out in the countryside seems to be a speed bump next to a little guard house in every town. All of the drivers really respected these, and always waited for permission to proceed even if the police office manning the check was busy or far away.

When we got to friggin' Janjanbureh it was after 10pm, TWELVE hours after we left our resort, and was now pitch black out. We arrived at the "hotel" Mustapha claims the president stays at and well...

Top shelf is where I keep my hat, bottom shelf is where I keep my mold.

Toilet seat? Only when the president is in town I bet.

Complimentary coffee... can.

I laid on the bed a bit to relax and felt some movement under my shirt. I jumped up and did the "oh my god something is in my clothes!" dance to shake it out. It was a cricket.

There's plenty of space between the door and the door frame so the mosquitoes don't feel left out.

Even my anger at Mustapha for lying to us and screwing us with this nasty hellhole is frustrated. This is still probably better than his house. Can I be mad at him? Maybe he legitimately thinks this is nice and if I tell him I hate it I'll hurt his feelings. Surely though he knows there's quite a difference between this hotel and the previous one, especially considering the time he spent there creeping around looking for us.

I think it's like a basic problem when interacting with people both here and in Senegal. I'm so much better off than they are that there is huge reward in it for them to try to trick me. And we are both aware of that fact so if they do trick me it's like "Sorry I had no choice because life here is so hard" and I have no choice but to agree. I hate having to be suspicious of everything everyone says to me here all of the time.

These two want dinner so we wander around in the dark in a small town in Africa looking for restaurants. What could possibly go wrong? And what the hell kind of guided tour is this? Have you done this before? Did you do any planning beforehand? How about some local history or something dude?

We stepped into this restaurant that has one little light bulb in the corner of the room, and is effectively dark. I don't want to eat here. I have to be able to SEE what I'm eating, especially in a place like this. Mustapha and the cook chat about it and decide the lighting is better outside. OK. So now we are sitting outside. In rural Africa. At night. With a bare light bulb hanging over our heads from a tree. Believe it or not but a lot of bugs are interested in that light. And many of them are bouncing off of it and falling on my head. Do I want a big plate of food right now? NO I FREAKING DON'T! I just ordered a beer and put the cap back on top in between sips. I would have just walked back to the hovel but I wouldn't be able to find it in the dark. I sat and endured these two's riveting conversation on such topics as: "Are dinosaurs real? Are dragons real?" The conversation I was having with myself was more like "How much could buying a helicopter possibly cost? Maybe I could fake a heart attack and they'd airlift me to Europe?"

This picture was taken inside a restaurant.

All sorts of species hustlin' out here.

At the end of the meal one of the staff could probably tell I was trying to set fire to the place with my eyes because he came over to shake my hand and told me "Thank you for your business. You know when people come here to visit they stay in the lodge and they eat in the lodge. That's why we hassle you to come in." I've never been so uncomfortable and felt so guilty for feeling so uncomfortable in my life.

I kept hearing this little beeping sound that was like a bunch of tiny submarines tracking me. It turned out I wasn't far off. It was bats.

Back in the hovel I tried to pretend I was camping. I wished I was because then the tent zipper would be able to keep these little beasts at bay. I finally managed to fall asleep.

I woke up sweaty at around 3am. What the heck is going on? Well the power went out in the night, which killed the fan. And it stayed out. I didn't want to use my phone because I was now unable to charge it and it contained the next day's hotel reservation. So I just laid in bed in the dark and listened to the bats and the monkeys and the bugs and waited for sunrise. Call your travel agents now folks.

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