My wife, Laura, browsed the internet for hours in order to determine the most convenient and cost effective way to fly to Gambia from Montreal, Canada. Royal Air Maroc, although not ideal , was our choice over Montreal to the U.K. or from other European sites, and then on to the capital of Gambia - Banjul.
November 4: We were scheduled to leave Montreal at 6:35 pm. While sitting in the airport watching passengers disembark from the Casablanca to Montreal flight which shortly was to be our mode of transport, a fire suddenly started under the plane with great billows of black smoke cascading over the tail structure of the aircraft while passengers scurried down a ramp into relative safety. Later we found out that the baggage unloading machine caught fire, but within minutes no less than 5 fire trucks were on site and the flames were quickly brought under control. It took several hours of waiting for the “ powers that be” to determine that our flight was cancelled until midnight the next day - a delay of some 30 hours. We were put up at a hotel near the airport with meal vouchers provided.
November 7: Arrived in Banjul at 2:30 am. (local time) after a long delay in Casablanca where we were put up at an hotel for a rest since the waiting period between flights was so long. The wifi connections were so poor at the airport and the hotel in Casablanca that we were not able to contact our guide - Ebou concerning our delay. The Banjul airport at this time of night was virtually abandoned, but we were able to fine someone with a cell phone who called Ebou in the middle of the night. We paid him for his service and about 30 minutes later we were finally driven to our hotel in Kotu which was to be our home base for the next 7 days. An unbelievable start to a birding vacation when you consider the flight time from Montreal to Casablanca is 7.5 hours and from Casablanca to Banjul is 3.5 hours - yet it took us over 2 days to reach our destination. No wonder that during the next week when we were asked where we came from and said Canada - a look of wonder appeared on the faces of the questioners. To get here is a hard and arduous task. However, over the next 14 days, having seen 230 species (139 of which were lifers) and a number that were rare or endangered , our flight problems became a distant, but unpleasant memory.
LOGISTICS, COSTS, ACCOMMODATION, ETC.
My wife and I (both 75 years of age) decided that we would like to visit Gambia to investigate the unique birdlife, the ideal weather at this time of year (start of the dry season) and the friendly attitude of its people without any fear of hostilities or personal danger. To a large extent these objectives were realized. Our 2 sons, both avid birders, will undoubtedly visit Gambia at some point in the future in order to experience these same objectives.
1. Having read numerous “Bird Reports” we decided to contact www.birdtoursgambia.com who then sent our email to Ebou Berry, with whom we made all the financial and logistical arrangements prior to our departure from Canada.
2. The arrangements included pick up and return to the airport, accommodation for 7 nights (with breakfast) at the Badala Park Inn, all guiding services, transport and entrance fees at coastal locations, transport and services plus accommodation up river for 5 nights plus 2 river tours. The only expenses we had were lunch and dinner daily.
3. Prior to our arrival in Gambia we paid Ebou (via Western Union) the equivalent of US$100 in local currency, ie. Dalasi in order to confirm our birding dates Nov. 7 - 20.
4. Ebou’s first choice for our one week coastal location was the Palm Beach Hotel, but he changed us to the Badala Park Inn, which proved to be in our estimation much superior. Our room on the second floor overlooked a potential garden, with mature trees and during our stay we identified 20 different species of birds while sitting on our balcony. The Badala has a large pool, 2 restaurants serving good food and a very friendly staff. The General Manager, Jargalai Mboge, was very helpful in assisting my wife with her internet concerns. The Badala with its location in Kotu , owns a sister hotel next door - Palm Beach Hotel, right on the ocean with swimming privileges extended. On one occasion we had dinner at the Palm Beach, but much preferred the quiet ambiance of the Badala.
5. A bonus, when staying at the Badala, is that you are within walking distance of some of the prime birding locations - the Kotu Creek, Fajara Golf Course, Kotu Ponds (sewage lagoons) and the Casino Track. You should be able to identify close to 100 species by yourself before even considering a bird guide.
6. On our 1st. day of birding I paid Ebou the balance of our costs which for 2 persons was US$2650. This works out to a little less than $100 daily per person - excluding lunch and dinner.
7. On our trip up river we initially were to stay 2 nights Tendaba, 2 nights Baobolong , I night Basse. This was changed to 1 night Tendaba, 3 nights Baobolong and final night back at Tendaba. We found no problem with this since the birding was very good around the Baobolong location.
8. US dollars, UK pounds and Euros may be easily changed at locations around the coast - more difficult and expensive up river. Exchange rate was 38D per Us dollar. Hotel rate was 37D.
Nov. 7 - After a few hours sleep we met our guide Ebou at 7:30 am to bird around the Kotu creek, rice fields, Kotu Ponds and the Fajara Golf Course. In late pm. We walked the Casino Cycle Track.
Nov. 8 - 7:30 to 12:00 - Abuko Nature Reserve
4:00 to 7:pm - Tanji Sea Front and the Bird Reserve. We stopped birding around 6pm. as Ebou was experiencing the onset of malaria - a common and widespread disease in Gambia.
Nov. 9 - 7:30 - 12:00 - Brufut Woods
4:00 - 6 pm. - This proved to be the least productive of any of our birding ventures. I got the distinct impression that Ebou was attempting to tire us out - tramping through knee deep wet rice fields with never a bird in sight. We walked along the main highway for a km or so in order to see an African Jacana before we told him to walk back , pick up the car and drive us to our hotel.
Nov. 10 - 7:30 -18:30 - Madinaba, Pirang Shrimp Farm and Bonto Forest. - Since this was a full day trip with lunch provided , Ebou took us to his family home, where his sister provided a very delicious curry beef meal. He was still feeling the effects of malaria so we decided to omit the Farasutu Forest and the Faraba Bantang Bush Track that was scheduled for the pm. We returned to our hotel around 2:30pm.
Nov. 11 - 7:30 - 18:30 - Another full day was scheduled for Marakissa and Darsilami. The road to Darsilami proved to be impassable for Ebou’s car so we only visited the Marakissa Woods. In the pm. we birded the Bund Road, having told Ebou that we were unprepared to do any more extensive walking through wetland rice fields.
Nov. 12-For some reason Ebou suggested that we would go to the Tendaba Camp up river. We were insistent that he follow the prescribed itinerary, which was to the Tujering Woods in the am. and Bijilo Forest in the pm. We suggested to him to combine both in the morning and we would spend the pm around the pool at our hotel.
Nov. 13 - 7:30 - 18:30 - Another full day was scheduled. At this point we were quite satisfied to bird only in the am. and to return to the Badala for the pm. We birded the Farasutu Forest area before returning to Kotu in the early pm.
Nov. 14 - Ebou picked us up at 7:30 for our 5 night up river trip. He had hired a driver- Jerry, so he would be able to spot raptors along the journey. This was one of Ebou’s strong points as we were able to identify over 20 species of raptors during this 2 week trip. In the evening after arriving at Tendaba, we birded the Kiang West National Park in order to search for the Ground Hornbill and the Standard-winged Nightjar.
Nov. 15 - After breakfast we drove from Tendaba to the ferry crossing to the North Shore of the Gambia River, stopping at Soma for the Egyptian Plover. The 115 Km. drive from Farrafenni to Georgetown was very bird friendly. We arrived at the Baobolong River Camp for a 3 night stay late in the afternoonNov. 16 - After breakfast we crossed the Gambia River to the North side again in order to some roadside birding around Wassu. In the afternoon we drove east to the town of Basse, stopping at Bansang to see the Red-throated Bee-eater colony. In late pm a trip along the Gambia River and creek tributary was very productive.
Nov. 17 - After breakfast we recrossed the Gambia River again in order to search for the Northern Carmine Bee-eater. We found not only the the Bee-eaters but 2 magnificent Martial Eagles and a female Black-bellied Bustard.
Nov. 18 - After breakfast at Baobolong we went to the Jahally Rice Fields where Painted Snipe, Quailfinch, Black Coucal were identified. We drove back on the south side of the Gambia River to reach Tendaba around 4:00pm. for our final night up river. I suspect Ebou failed to make definite reservations and we were forced to drive to a much more basic lodge at Kalagi.
Nov. 19 - After breakfast at 6 am. we drove back to Tendaba for the river trip and were joined by 2 other birders. Ebou acted as primary guide, although an assistant was very helpful in showing us a White-backed Night-Heron. We drove back to the coast after an unproductive venture into Kiang West National Park.
Nov. 20 - A much needed day of rest at Badala Ebou picked us up at 11pm. for the trip to the airport.
Nov. 21 - Around 2 am, we started our long trip home again.