Thursday, December 03, 2009

Banjul and Lamin Lodge

Sailed into the bay of Banjul (named Bathurst during British colonial rule but recently renamed Banjul, the Madinka word for bamboo) early on the morning of November 6th. We arrived in a small flotilla including the Atmosphere, the Tangaroa and the Victory and were welcomed by a red dingy containing Jeroen and Babette from the Zilvermeeuw. The harbour was full of rusty wrecks in varying states of decay, small wooden fishing pirogues and one large tanker. The shore was a riddled with fading and falling down buildings. I took a dingy in with Olous (Atmosphere) , Caroline (Tangaroa), Jan Bart (Victory) and Jeroen kindly helped us with the rather complicated and often excruciatingly time consuming check in process. The authorities were very friendly and the process was a little random and haphazard. Check-in took us first to a little office in the side of a warehouse where immigration officers were located; then along a dusty road to small shop to make copies of our passports and change money; then back to immigration; then on to customs which looked like a large busy hallway where our detailed forms were filed into a wooden desk which looked like it hadn’t been opened in years. Our final stop was with the port authority to get a river permit. Here we needed to climb seven stories up in an old run down building to fill in a form then walk down again to a small broom closet to pay and upstairs again to hand in our second detailed form (hand printed in duplicate) and receipt. The form ‘stamper’ was not available so we were asked to come back again in an hour or so. In total the whole process took about 3 hours which we were told was remarkably quick.

Banjul port is not beautiful and is reputed to have many pickpockets and ‘bumsters’ as the scam agents are known. Dirt streets, garbage and dust and broken down buildings were in great contrast to the sparkling bright colours of the formal and glamourous clothing of the people. While we waited, several wooden boats came alongside the boat offering everything from fresh fish to laundry and tailoring services. When we went on land we were met by a group of people rather pushily offering to show us around. One man walked with us for the entire check in process, trying to help along the way. We came to expect this when going ashore in The Gambia and while sometimes annoying it was often useful , the people are generally very nice, interesting and knowledgeable and it was certainly never threatening. The only frustrating aspect was that it was sometimes difficult to discern if they genuinely wanted to help or were just looking for a ‘present’.

After check-in we motored 5 nautical miles up a small bolong to Lamin Lodge, a rickety wooden structure located on a very peaceful muddy inlet amongst the mangroves. We headed in as a group for a candle-lit dinner (no electricity in the lodge) and enjoyed or joined our kids dancing around while an smiling wrinkled old man played the kora (harp-lute) and crooned African folk songs.

All in all a very intense and interesting day and we were all feeling rather excited to be in such a remote and beautiful place with our own sailboat homes.

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