Gambia is a strange poor place. The country is known for drumming, marijuana, birdwatching, and “bumsters”. There are male hustlers everywhere in Gambia. From the airport to Senegambia. They will act as your guide, find you a taxi, and do, well, anything else you desire, for a price. For foreign ladies, offers can include sexual favors (gigolos) and they are plenty of con artists skilled at the hard sell. Senegambia beach has magnificent ocean views but the hustlers everywhere can ruin it for you. Hustlers are everywhere because they are trying to make a living. Three quarters of the population is unemployed and poverty is very high.
The heat in Gambia can be unbearable. 40 degrees temperatures. I come from a cold place and such heat really got to me. The situation was made worse by the hotel i was staying in. Paradise Suites hotel was anything but paradise. The hotel room i was staying in was clean but had a broken shower that needed fixing daily, the air conditioning malfunctioned and as a result flooded my room occasionally. I had to use a towel to stop the water leak from the air conditioner dripping inside my room. I stayed for almost 2 weeks at this hotel and i gave up trying to report problems to the hotel. A quick scan online will tell you that most of the hotels in Senegambia beach have similar issues. I called front desk numerous times to report the shower that was not working, the faulty air conditioning, requesting an extra pillowcase, had to ask them to fumigate the small fridge that seemed to have amassed a sizable colony of cockroaches and a faulty door. More frustrating was that the pool was not available and it was my first time seeing a pool that took six days to be filled with water. Six days because of water scarcity and an erroneous water supply system.
Why didn’t i find another hotel. Frankly speaking, it wasn’t entirely up to me and i just reasoned that the country is poor and the workers were doing their best to work with limited resources. The breakfast was vile. Reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor have a recurring theme, horrible breakfast.
After all that misery, i inquired with the hotel cleaners on the cost of a cab to Senegambia beach. I did not want to be reaped off by unscrupulous taxi guys. The levels of hustling i had seen told me all i needed to know about Gambia. The hotel cleaners suggested i walk as it is five minutes away from the hotel. And yes it is a five minute walk. The cleaners had suggested Pocoloco, a club located near the beach serving local food and beer. A few pokes here and there about places to visit had clearly indicated that Pocoloco was a good starting point. Senegambia beach is nice for sun-downers with a crispy cold Julbrew draught beer on your hand. Be ready to buff off an on slaughter of waiters inviting you to the different restaurants on your way to the beach. I quickly learnt that “next time” was a kind response and concluded any further chats with these waiters.
Upon arrival at Pocoloco, an army of waiters was in full swing catering for the needs of tourists. The place has a nice vibe to it and the decor is mainly composed of wood and the ocean breeze gentle brushes your face as you descend into an alcohol fueled abyss. The ocean is just a few seconds away from the club and the ocean currents are loud reminding you of the dangers of the ocean should you get intoxicated and get funny ideas of “cooling off” at night.
45 minutes later at Pocoloco, i had drowned three glasses of Julbrew beer and my God of reason told me to slow down. I guess the heat had really done much damage to my throat. I then proceeded to order Benachin, a local dish served with rice and it was tasty. Gambian food can be spicy. A very dark lady approached my table and politely greeted me. Lady X proceeded to take a seat without an invitation. In my head, i was not concerned about the strange lady in-front of me but rather pre occupied with deciding if i liked the place or not. The food had won me and the beer had made the decision process to proceed faster than it would if i were sober. I was on my 6th glass of Julbrew beer when i handed down my judgement about Pocoloco. Decent toilets, nice decor, good vibe, good Nigerian popular music, marijuana intoxicated dancers and nice view of the ocean. Final test score 9/10.
Back to the beautiful dark lady. Lets call her Lady X.
Lady X proceeded to offer sexual services and i must admit she was easy one the eyes. Unfortunately i declined her generous offer and made it clear that i had come for the food and drinks and her auxiliary services were noted and i will keep her in mind should anything change. I offered to buy her two glasses of wine and she agreed. Turns out, she needed five glasses of wine in total. Her accent was heavy and consisted of WOLOF English which sounded like Jamaican Patwah. She proceeded to share a lot of details about Gambia, life, people, poverty, sex, education etc. She had a business card for her “Services” and a few days later, i noted that everyone has a business card in Gambia. After settling my bill, i returned to the hotel to face my air conditioning nightmare. Without air conditioner, you’d die in Gambia. Thats me speaking like a privileged first world citizen.
The following days were spent trolling places around Senegambia beach and trying a few other places but Pocoloco had set the bar too high such that i returned five times to enjoy local brew and food. On my visit to the different restaurants, i bumped into Lady X who wanted to know if i was ready to take her up on the very generous offer. I am not sure about the going rate of such services but i had gathered from the hotel staff that prices ranged from 500 Dalases to 2000 Dalases depending on time of offer and location. This time around, a gentleman who had a Scottish accent took the bait and Lady X dissapeared into the streets never to be seen again. In total i received around 30 or so offers from Lady Xs. They are relentless and easily go on the charming offensive should they sense you are reluctant.
Gigolos are plenty on the beach and old white women can be seen strolling hand in hand with strapping young Gambian men. This is common and there is plenty of fish even for the LGBTI community. I pronounced Gambia a sexual den in my concluding remarks during a discussion i had with myself while strolling the beach a day before departure. Sexual tourism is very vibrant there and its sad that even young girls ply this trade. I later gathered that there are no strong laws to protect young boys and girls from paedophiles. The country sees 20% of its GDP come from tourism and i presumed that the government would show no political will to address the issue of sex trade.
Would i ever visit Gambia again? Yes. The place is in tatters owing to 24 years of a dictatorship. No proper roads, infrastructure is terrible, buildings are old, poverty is high but the place has a vibe going for it. I guess tourism has made the people more welcoming and understanding of foreigners. They hassle you and annoy you but they dont mug or kill tourists. You can walk from Senegambia beach to the hotel at night and nothing will happen to you. There is an unwritten rule in that country: do not attack nor attempt to mug tourists. Everyone is dependent on tourism a lot and you will ruin it for everyone. I personally think the people of Gambia are resilient and have carved a life for themselves amidst the poverty and hardships.
I hope that the government of Gambia improves the life of the people and raises the standard of living. I do wonder about Lady X though. Whether she is still okay, healthy and or safe. Tourists are well and good but some can be dangerous. Some tourists can be a nightmare for unsuspecting young girls. Just so you know, Lady X had a well defined curved body and would tempt any hot blooded male species. HIV rates in Gambia are currently at 1.7% and this explains why its a tourist destination for old white men and females wishing to fulfill their sexual desires. Africa comes with the threat of HIV & AIDS and places like Gambia seem a safe bet for sexual tourists.
If you ever get an opportunity to see the Gambia, do not think twice. Visit the place and you’ll be gladly surprised.