My last visit to The Gambia was in November/December 2012, just over 2 years ago. Just enough time between visits to keep everything fresh so I was more than looking forward to this return trip. This time there would be a big difference from previous visits though.
In 2012 Claire and I had booked a 4 week package holiday staying at our favourite Sunset Beach Hotel in Kotu but we had also arranged to take an "up river" trip to Bird Safari Camp with Hidden Gambia. Sadly we had to cancel at the last minute as suddenly there were problems for Mark Thompson's set up and the alternative accommodation offered was totally unsuitable for a non birding partner. I was disappointed but Claire admitted she had only agreed to go for my sake and that she hadn't been too bothered about going. For the price of the 5 day trip ( plus our lost days we had paid for on the package) I worked out that I could fly out to The Gambia on my own and take the trip when things were resolved for Hidden Gambia. Sadly the problems remain but in the meantime my friend Alan had asked if he could come too. He rightly suggested that it wasn't economically sensible to just stay for a week when the biggest cost is the flight so we planned a 2 week trip together.
The itinerary as suggested by myself was as follows
Fly ex Manchester with Thomas Cook £366 pp
3 nights in Kotu at the Sunset Beach hotel B&B at £41 pp per night for a room each booked through Travel Republic = £121
2 nights, 3 days guided Tendaba trip booked through Farakunku Lodges to include a 4WD car plus driver, HB superior room each plus 2 river trips. £400/2 =£200pp.
We then returned to Farakunku for a 9 night stay which included 6 days of guided bird watching with the same guide and vehicle plus a driver. 7 nights on this package were £671 HB per person. It would have been much cheaper if we had opted to share a room but with only a double bed in each of their 4 rooms it was a non starter. The 2 additional nights were charged at £58pp so £787 each.
A trip to the Kartung observatory to include a boat trip plus lunch was part of the package but we decided to do it twice so that was an additional £125/2 = £62.50.
A total of £1336.50 per person which ,all things considered was an excellent deal as far as we were concerned.
Our guide for all but the Kartung days would be Lamin K Njie, email firstname.lastname@example.org
All was booked by July and we couldn't wait to go but I had my guilt to deal with. 2 weeks in the sun in January whilst Claire suffered dark nights and the cold home alone. I was feeling bad about that but Alan, without prompting, suggested Claire join us for the second week after we had been to Tendaba which was definitely a trip she wouldn't want to do. Reversing the logic of the cost of the air fare being not worth only staying for a week I booked her some flights. The good news it only cost me £12 per night for her half board as the room was already paid for.
As the departure date approached things started to change. There were big problems in West Africa with an outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus running rampant in some near neighbouring countries. We had everything crossed that The Gambia would not become a victim and thankfully it hasn't as yet and hopefully won't in the future either as things look to be on the mend.
We were down to counting days not months when yet another potential hiccup reared..this time in the form of an attempted coup d'etat. That fizzled out immediately with a total lack of support and so on the 11/1/2015 we were on our way.
The Gambia and the Smiling Coast here we come !