Join Wanderer-in-Residence, Gary Arndt as he travels up the coast of West Africa on G Adventures’ very own MS Expedition. We’ll be sharing a collection of his posts each week. Tune in to find out what this adventure of a lifetime is like first hand from Gary.
Day 26-27, At Sea, Off the coast of Mauritania
As the cruise is winding down, I thought it was worth it to take a moment to talk about the passengers on the ship. The ship was a collection of people who spent a lifetime traveling the world. The passengers did skew older (after all, not many people have a full month to devote to a trip) and I was one of the younger passengers on the ship.
Here is a short description of how well traveled the people on the ship were:
- There were at least 8 people on the ship who were members of the Traveler’s Century Club and probably another two dozen who could be if they wanted to.
- One woman visited her 200th TCC destination while on the trip.
- One man was a platinum level member and had been to over 264 TCC destinations in his life.
- During a storytelling night, many people had travel tales going back 40 or 50 years.
- One couple consisted of an Englishman and an Israeli woman (who was born in Lithuania) who met in Guatemala, were engaged in Egypt, and married in Sri Lanka. They now live in Australia.
- It was the 5th trip on the Expedition for one woman, who had also gone to Antarctica and the Arctic with G Adventures.
Outside of some small island in the Pacific, I couldn’t find a place where I’ve been where another passenger hadn’t been.
Day 25, Dakar, Senegal
The day started in central Dakar where the government buildings are located. This part of Dakar is one of the nicest areas we’ve seen on the entire trip and was on a par, or surpassed, Accra, Ghana. It had the feel of a French Colonial city and was quite clean. Next up was a visit to Goree Island.
Goree was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites to be created in the inaugural session of the World Heritage Committee in 1978. Unlike most world heritage sites I’ve visited, I didn’t find Goree Island to be as well protected as a site of its stature deserved. Goree isn’t a museum. Goree is a living community with residents living and working on the island. The result is not a lot in the way of interpretative content, but a lot of artists and curio vendors. There isn’t as much on the slave trade here as you might think there would be.
Day 24, Banjul, The Gambia
Our first stop of the day was a visit to the Abuko Nature Reserve. It is the first ever nature reserve in The Gambia and is located about 30 minutes outside of Banjul. An interesting trivia fact about the park is that it is the closest tropical forest to Europe, or another way to put it, it is the last tropical forest before you reach the Sahara. It is also the most visited tourist attraction in The Gambia.
We were there are the end of the dry season, so the forest was not at its peak. Unlike many African nature experiences, Abuko isn’t about the megafauna. We did see some monkeys, but mostly you’ll see a wide diversity of plant species, termite mounds, birds, and if you are lucky, some crocodiles.
After, we headed to lunch at a local ecolodge called the Makasutu Cultural Forest. Because the resort was located near a river and a mangrove forest, we had the opportunity take a short 30 minute trip on the river by boat to try and see some wildlife. After watching some dancers at the ecolodge, we moved on to visit the market in Banjul.
Day 23, At Sea off the Coast of Guinea and Guinea-Bissau
Today marked an important milestone in the trip: we rounded the southwest corner of the Guinea region of Africa and started heading north.
From Angola to Sierra Leone, you could notice the increased temperatures in all the public areas of the ship. Once we rounded Guinea-Bissau, however, the water temperature dropped dramatically. The sea temperature went from 30°c (86°f) to 25°c (77°f). Everyone on board could tell when the water temperature dropped and it was a great feeling. In addition to sailing in cooler waters, we are now also entering a very different part of Africa. The stretch from Angola to Sierra Leone was very green, and more densely populated, with a Christian/Animist population. Now we are entering a drier region: the Sahel. Beyond that is the even drier Sahara Desert.
Tomorrow we arrive in The Gambia, the smallest country on the physical continent of Africa.
Day 22, Freetown, Sierra Leone
For the first time on the trip, we woke up in the same place we were the day before: Freetown, Sierra Leone. We were supposed to be in Guinea-Bissau today, but for reasons only known to them, they would not let us land. So, to compensate for the extra day in the schedule, we stayed on in Freetown.
The passengers on the ship had two options for the morning today: to visit an orphanage and present them with a gift of school supplies, or to go on a birdwatching tour of a near by nature preserve. I went with the first option.
The orphanage we visited was The Raining Season Orphanage which currently has taken in 101 kids from around Sierra Leone. This is the second time during my travels that I’ve visited an orphanage. I had mixed feelings about visiting. On the one hand, we were delivering school supplies, the kids had an opportunity to meet new people from places they’ve never been and it gave them an excuse to put on a performance when they don’t have family to come see them perform. On the other hand, I always feel a bit exploitative when I do something like this. Thankfully, I think the concerns were all in my head as the kids seemed genuinely happy to meet new people and talk to them about where they are from.
After we left the orphanage we hit the road and visited John Obey Beach and spent the afternoon at the TribeWanted facility there. It is similar to a hostel, where people can stay, and promotes local investment and sustainability. The beach was quite nice and cleaner than any other place I saw in Sierra Leone. Many of us, including myself, went swimming. The waves were big which made for good body surfing. Local fisherman provided crab for some of the passengers who wanted to pay extra for lunch.
Day 21, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Prior to our arrival, we had a lecture on Sierra Leone and watched several documentaries about the war and its aftermath. It left you feeling sorry for the place before you even arrived. As we drove through Freetown, I had two simultaneous observations: 1) Freetown might be the poorest major city I have ever visited, and 2) Freetown might be the friendliest place I have ever been to.
We visited a chimpanzee sanctuary, which was developed to rescue chimps that had been taken as pets and later abandoned. Chimps that are brought in are taken through a series of stages that allow them to acclimate to the larger population of chimps, so they aren’t immediately attacked as an outsider. They start in a large cage and graduate up to a an outdoor area where they are more free to just be chimps.
Back on the ship, we were entertained by the Sierra Leone National Dance Troupe. It was part ethnic dance routine and part Cirque du Soleil. In addition to the native dancers and costumes, there was also a contortionist, a fire dancer and a juggler. The show was quite good and the first time we had locals come on board the ship to perform.