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Gambia 🇬🇲

 

I left Kaoulak and headed towards the Gambian border in Farafeni. The weather was hot and humid. Since it was already 5 PM and close to the border, I decided to spend the night there and cross the next day. By 6 PM, the border was crowded with people, and I didn’t want to camp there. So, I made up my mind to cross the border. The Senegal side was quick and easy, but for the Gambian side, I knew they always ask for money, even though I didn’t need a visa as a Moroccan.

At the immigration office, a female officer told me that there was no visa for me, but I had to pay because they needed to protect me. I didn’t believe her and started explaining that I was cycling around Africa as an African. I asked her to help me as an African sister. She responded by saying that she also needed a visa for Morocco. We had a 15-minute conversation, and eventually, she allowed me to stay for seven days without paying.

I found a hotel listed on iOverlander, about 5 kilometers from the border. It was already late, so I decided to go there. The owner, a woman, and I negotiated the price. I used the same argument of being African sisters, and she was impressed by my trip. I asked her where I could exchange money and get a SIM card. I found a place to exchange money in a Mauritanian shop. Many Mauritanians have businesses there, including grocery shops. The Gambia was colonized by the UK, so English is spoken there. A Mauritanian guy told me about a Moroccan restaurant in the area. I went there and had a second breakfast.

As I left the city with no specific plans, I cycled north and south without a particular destination. The roads were well paved, and kids offered me mangoes in the first few kilometers. Gambia is known for cashews and mangoes, but it wasn’t mango season. The landscapes were green and the weather was very hot. I couldn’t pass by without hearing “toubab” from the kids. Toubab is a West African term used to refer to a foreigner or a white person. It has different meanings depending on the context, but it is generally a neutral term and not meant to be derogatory. The kids were curious and happy to see a different person on a bike.

 

The hospitality was similar to Senegal, and I was often invited to have lunch with people. I even received marriage proposals, with people asking me to marry them or take them with me to Morocco. To avoid complicated explanations, I sometimes lied and said I was already married or living in Senegal. Yes, I lied to avoid having to explain why I couldn’t take them to Morocco. At the end of the day, I arrived at a small village along the road and asked the village chief if I could spend the night there, and he agreed. The kids in the village were very curious, and I met a girl named Hai who spoke English.

She gave me a tour and introduced me to everyone in the village. These people are very poor, and sometimes I don’t know how to feel or react. A woman in the village asked me to take her 4-year-old daughter with me, and she seemed serious about it. I explained to her that I’m traveling by bike, and she said that even on a bike, her daughter would have a better life than here.

I felt it was selfish to visit the poorest areas and compare my life with theirs. It’s not fair to say things like “I should be thankful for my fast internet, smart TV, and the ability to drink cold milkshakes after work.” It implies that I am superior to them. What do they gain from my visit? Do they have to just hope for a better life someday?

I wanted to play football with the kids, but they told me their ball wasn’t good because it was expensive (about $2) for them. Without hesitation, I asked where I could buy a new ball. When I told them I would get them a new one, I saw the joy on their faces. They started dancing, which made me both happy and sad. How could such a small amount of money bring so much happiness to an entire village? It made me realize how unfair life can be. While I was traveling and enjoying myself, there were people suffering from poverty in the same place. This kind of travel can bring both extreme happiness and sadness. We often see these people smiling and having fun with very little. Sometimes, we may think they are at least happy. But is the source of their happiness the same as ours? Do these people know what is happening in the world? They don’t have TVs or phones to see what’s going on. Maybe if they had these basic things, they would see life differently. While spending time with the kids, a girl invited me to have dinner at her house. They prepared mafe, a popular dish in the region. In the villages, everyone is welcome to eat and then continue on their way. Sharing food is one of the purest things I have seen in West Africa.

The village chief offered me a room, but I declined because it was too hot. I relaxed near the house and accidentally fell asleep. At night, I heard music and discovered that there was a celebration. They were making local food and dancing to the music. They invited me to join them, and we enjoyed the moment under a sky full of stars.

 

The next day, I received a message from my German cyclist friend whom I met in Mauritania and Dakar. Although we hadn’t cycled together, he was nearby, so we decided to cycle together in Gambia. I waited for him after a village, and the kids joined us in a conversation about football. They loved Mbappe and Messi and were happy that Argentina won the World Cup.

They were able to watch the match on a TV in a big village. Jorg arrived, and we cycled along the north bank of the Gambia. Since the weather was scorching hot, we took a break at noon to have some coffee. After a few kilometers, we had a delicious and affordable lunch with some vegetables. We visited the Stone Circles of Senegambia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There was an entrance fee, but we could see the stones from outside, so we didn’t pay. I caught a glimpse of them and continued on my journey, crossing to the southern part. It cost $2 to cross with the bike, and it took about 10 minutes or less.

we camped in the wilderness after a few kilometers and enjoyed some street food from a woman. I must say, in every blog, I’m always impressed and admire the women of this West African country.

The landscapes were beautiful, and the people were friendly and always smiling. I can’t even count how many times I heard the word “toubab” from kids following me with big smiles. I have no problem with that, but sometimes, when you’re tired, you can’t answer all of them. You just want to keep going. However, when you cycle through the wildest and poorest areas in the world, it’s inevitable that people will approach you, ask for money or gifts, follow you, or watch you when you want to be alone. It’s part of the adventure. But what makes Africa very special is the hospitality of its people. They always invite you into their homes and share their meals, something you don’t often see in more developed countries.

we found a great camping spot near the river. The next day, I cycled to another spot in the Gambia River National Park. There were small trees, and there was no water around. I only had three more days to leave the country, and I still didn’t have a plan. During my time in Gambia, I always camped in the wild. You just leave the main road, find a spot, and that’s it. The people here are kind. Last night, I heard a gunshot, and it surprised me. Jorg was already sleeping in his tent, and as a lazy person, I was just getting my tent ready. I made a call to a friend, and when I returned to my bike to get some clothes, I saw a man with a gun coming towards me. I greeted him, and he said he was a hunter. I thought to myself, should I trust that he’s just a hunter? But if he wanted something from me, why would he wait until now? I slept like a baby because I’m a heavy sleeper. Once I fall asleep, nothing can wake me up.

On the way to Soma, I met a guy who was selling clothes on the street. It was scorching hot, so we took a break from the sun, and he invited us for tea. We talked about Morocco, and as a Muslim, he invited us to have lunch with him. He talked about Africa and how African people can share everything, including food. He mentioned that we could sleep in his home for free.  And he said « This is democratic help is about helping people who are suffering or in need, regardless of their origin or religion. »

 

In every country I visit, I have a plan to plant something. While I was enjoying my coffee in a small coffee shop after Soma, I started a conversation with an English teacher from the village. I told him about my desire to plant something in Gambia. He suggested that I plant cashew trees in his home, and I was thrilled about this opportunity. We went to his home, where I met his wife and kids. They had a water problem and could only access it in the morning. The teacher was very kind and invited us to stay at his home, but unfortunately, my visa was expiring the next day, so I had to move towards the border.

Since I only had a limited time of seven days in Gambia, I had to shorten my trip and head towards the border. We decided to take a different road to save time, but it proved challenging as the road was sandy. Sometimes, when you try to cover a significant distance quickly, you face such obstacles.

Gambia was a beautiful country with friendly people and the charming faces of children. I wish I had more time to stay there, and I particularly enjoyed the south bank of Gambia.

In total, I cycled 350 km in Gambia during my seven-day visit

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