This trip to The Gambia seemed a long time coming. It was booked way back in March, more than seven months previously. A lot can happen in seven months, not least a Brexit vote which of course has played havoc with the valuation in the pound, but ironically also seen a drop in demand for travel to The Gambia.
Why did we book so early? Well my travel companion Alan also needed to fit in a pre Xmas trip to Goa, I needed to fit in a trip with my o/h Claire, and as we were booking through our Gambian guide, we needed to confirm availability of accommodation "up river" before someone grabbed them all!
This trip was all about going further inland than either of us had ventured before. The objective to see one or two bird species not found on the coast. We'd been as far as Tendaba on our last trip, this time we wanted to go as far as Janjanbureh, the former colonial capital previously known as Georgetown.
We knew we had to go early in the season, pre Xmas in fact, to see one of the specialities, the Egyptian Plover, so with that in mind we caught the second charter flight of the season out of Manchester airport on 6/11/2016.
Our plan was 2 nights on the coast, 5 nights inland, 3 nights on the coast and back home again.
I had considered getting Claire to fly out and join me for the the latter part and indeed extending my stay but that would have made life awkward for Alan getting back from the airport. I wasn't going to leave Claire on the coast alone and she certainly didn't want to travel up river as the accommodation is basic. It was easier to leave her at home !
Now that would be mean and selfish wouldn't it? Me enjoying some winter sun whilst she was suffering the cold and damp of a British winter !
Simple solution, I booked a separate package tour for the two of us back to The Gambia, 10 days after the first one ended!
And so to our first trip with just Alan and myself.
Our anticipation and expectations were high, we had after all been before and knew what to expect, well of the places we had already been anyway.
Up early at 4.30 am, I picked up Alan from his home on the Wirral and we were sat enjoying our first beer of the trip in Manchester airport at 7.00am on a Sunday morning. It's part of the tradition now, something that has to be done!
Our flight arrived 40 minutes early, a taxi to the pre booked hotel, the Bakotu , had us ready to catch the last hour of daylight for a quick appraisal of the local area around Kotu before meeting our guide for the forthcoming trip.
Our first impressions were that there weren't many birds around on the mud flats at Kotu Bridge! Very strange.
I grabbed a couple of shots of a Little Bee-eater and that was about it really.
We paid our guide the money for our trip upfront in £ notes and he went off to cash it before the exchange rate dropped any further. He had been given the option to quote in Dalasai way back when the exchange rates looked a bit dodgy but had opted not to in the hope that he would gain on a £ recovery. That was to be his loss, not ours but he had been given the chance to secure a fee in local prices.
On our last visit the exchange had been 70+ dalasi to the pound. It was currently standing at 52.
We ate in the hotel that first night and I noted that the prices of a meal seemed to have risen as a result. Oh well, such is life.