Weather: sunny and partly overcast
Air Temperature: 27 C
It was the last day on this fascinating journey along the West African Coast. The Gambia, a small country surrounded completely by Senegal, was the destination of the Prince Albert II. Early in the morning, the vessel entered the Gambia River where we took the pilot on board. About 30 minutes later we were alongside in the port of Banjul. Today, two separate excursions were offered to our guests.
The first one was the Makasutu Cultural Forest Tour. A excursion that encompassed a visit to the Makasutu Cultural Forest with its great variety of ecosystems, situated along the riverbanks of the Gambia River. The tour also included a river ride on a traditional dug-out canoe.
The second tour was a visit to the mangroves near Banjul and a walk through the Abuko Nature Reserve. Today together with my colleagues Will Wagstaff our keen birder on board, Robin West our Expedition Leader, and Daniil Elterman our Staff Assistant, I joined guests on this tour.
From the ship we drove through Banjul, to see its most important buildings and then on the Trans Gambian Highway the bus brought us to the first destination of the excursion: Denton Bridge. From there comfortable pirogues were the form of transportation through the mangroves of the Gambian River. From the beginning on until the end of our cruise in the mangroves, one could observe a rich bird fauna. As we floated along, the list got longer and longer. So our guests were lucky to see the Great White Heron, Blue Cheeked Bee-eater, Pinkbacked Pelicans, Hooded Vultures, Royal Terns and African Darters, just to mention a few species of the day. Additionally Robin West and I did some explanation about the mangrove ecosystem and how important it is for coastal regions. During this one-hour trip, fresh fruits, coffee, tea and soft drinks were served on deck. Getting back to the landing site, the Lamin Lodge, the busses brought us to the next stop on this tour, the Abuko Nature Reserve. Although situated in the fringe of the town it still harbours a rich variety of mammal, bird and plant species.
On a 45-minute guided walk, our guests got a really good impression of a semi-evergreen forest in the tropics. Adansonia digitata, the Baobab Tree, Kapok Trees and so-called Waterfig Trees were abundant in this forest. In the center, the Darwin Field Station was located with an excellent lookout over a small pond. Here the birders got a good view of the Giant Kingfisher and the Palmnut Vulture. As the group was making its way to the forest, we were lucky enough to have sightings of the Western red Colobus Monkey, certainly a highlight of the day. Additionally a group of Red billed Wood Hoopoe’s crossed our way.
Back onboard the ship after this exciting morning, the guests enjoyed a delicious lunch, while the Prince Albert II was making its way up the Gambia River to the afternoon destinations: Albreda and James Island. The village of Albreda harbors a museum on the history of slavery in this region, especially regarding James Island.
Upon our arrival, it didn’t look very promising that we could land in Albreda because the tide was low and the stair broke off the jetty, so there was no way for the moment to bring our guests ashore. So plans were changed and first we brought our guests to James Island on land. A small island with the ruins of a fortress on it that was built in the late 17th century by French traders and served later as a slavery trading point. The fortress was surrounded by beautiful Baobab trees; some of them had big fruits – a very important part of the cuisine here in Gambia. Our excellent guides took the guests around the site explaining the history and purpose of the fortress. Again we were lucky today and as the tide rose it was possible to shuttle our guests over to the Albreda village where they not only got a final impression of the history of slave trading in Africa, but also of a West African village with friendly people and lovely children.
It was a really full day of excitements and what was really nice was to finish such a memorable journey with an expedition afternoon on the Prince Albert II Zodiacs.
The day finished with a sumptuous dinner in The Restaurant while sailing down the Gambia River.