I went through the list of checklist of all the things I needed for my travels the next day. I had earlier gone to the market that same Thursday to buy things I would need for the travel. I had my passport, cash, flight ticket, vaccination card, my press id, a sweater, an additional shirt and trouser, mosquito repellent, two rechargeable power banks, my laptop and other things. I spent a lot of time also thinking how best I’ll minimise my spending and also avoid problems with immigration officers on the trip. All these and other things occupied my mind before going to bed very late that evening.
The airline delayed us for almost one hour thirty minutes before asking us to board the aircraft. While walking to the aircraft, I noticed some very large birds flocking around some parked aircrafts. I called the attention of one of the staff working for the airlines to the fact that those birds could cause problems or even accidents. He promised he would tell those in charge of that to do something about the birds. We were boarded and on the runway in a few minutes later. Just at the point when the aircraft was about to take off, there was a loud noise from the right engine of the aircraft. This was followed by a smell of some electrical component being burnt. At that point, I was concerned maybe there could be a problem somewhere that the pilot knows nothing about. I also noticed other passengers were worried, some because the take-off was aborted. I somehow knew the pilot was going to talk to us soon. In less than 2 minutes into all these, the voice of the pilot came from the cockpit tell us we just had a bird-strike and that he had aborted take-off.
There was a bit of excitement when I got to know it was a bird strike. First of all, I have never experienced anything like that before. I have read about it and the different techniques used in scaring away birds from the airport vicinity but not the experience. Secondly, it was an experience I was going to write about in my blog. We all sat patiently waiting for the next line of action as we taxied back to the airport terminal. The pilot informed us that their engineers were on ground to inspect the extent of the damages caused by the bird and to determine if we could still travel on that same plane or if there will be a need to reschedule the journey. After some ten minutes, the pilot told that the damages made by the bird is a minor one and that we could proceed with the journey after they clean up the blood of the bird on the engine. Some minutes later, the pilot advised all the passengers to disembark the aircraft as he noticed some of the tires of the aircraft are not in order and needed replacement. He told us a replacement of those would take another 20 to 30 minutes but the whole exercise gulped up almost 4 hours.
Well, those four hours of waiting was just a good time for me to chat with other passengers to find out about their different destination and what life was like where they were going. I was with a number of passengers travelling to Freetown in Sierra Leone and they told me a lot about Freetown. They talked about the high cost of living, in Freetown, the high cost of real estate and renting shops. According to one of them for instance, to rent a shop in Sani Abacha Street in Freetown, you will be paying at least $10000 US Dollars per annum.
I personally remembered that when I visited Sierra Leone – Bo and Kambia the year before, I could not recall things being expensive but I recall that the exchange rate to the dollars was high ($1 to 7200 Leones). They also talked about the lack of standards in the country as he was at liberty to import goods of whatever quality and sold same without any government authority coming to disturb him or insist he sticks to any standards. We talked of several other things before the airline requested us all board the airplane to recommence the trip.
Taking off this time was less dramatic but however, I couldn’t recall the last time I was that scared during a take-off. I was hunted by questions like, what if they did not do a proper examination of the extent of the damage done by the bird. What if they failed to tight a component properly…what if another bird strikes? All these preoccupied my mind for the first 20 minutes before eventually I forgot what happened.
We arrived the Gambia around 4pm local time, which would be 5pm in Lagos. Apart from being curious about what the weather outside the plane would look like, I wondered if there will be any issues with the immigration officers and I got to them in a matter of minutes. They asked for my passport and my return ticket to Lagos. A return ticket??? I did not have one. He told me he instantly that will not stamp me in except I presented him a return ticket. I smiled, kept calm and explained to him I was a journalist and a tourist and that I would be going to several other places before I leave back to Lagos. When his supervisor noticed I was spending much time with him, he came to find out what the problem was. Somehow, he had a change of mind and told me that he would allow me go but that I should always have a return ticket when I am coming to a different country. Without wanting to argue with him, I told him alright, thanked him and left.
Within the airport premises, a telecom company advertised free sims cards for tourists which I went for. It was in the process of buying the sim and questioning some local people there about how best to move and where I would get a good hotel, places worth seeing and so on. One of them who was quite friendly told me he had been to Nigeria and spent almost a month, at that point, I got interested to talk a bit more with him. Alieu, turned out to be a good friend and he eventually helped me find a hotel, got me to the town where I changed some of the money I had (The bureau de change at the airport offered a cheaper rate). He helped me find a Nigerian restaurant where I had some nice meal like home. At my request, he agreed to come around the next day to accompany me to different touristic sites.
My abode in The Gambia was an 800 Dalasis ($17) Babulas Place in Senegambia. It was a very nice room for that price but however, guests must stay for more than one night. It felt like home, no mosquitoes, it was clean and staff were friendly. I noticed several tourists and Europeans were lodged there as well. I slept well till around 3am (4am Lagos time) the time I normally wake every day. I could not sleep again. I decided to use the opportunity to do some writing. I also planned my day as well to leave The Gambia that same day since there would not be much to see or do. The next destination on the trip was Guinea Bissau where I would have to the opportunity to practice Portuguese and visit lots of other places. The desire to visit Guinea Bissau ate me up that morning.
Alieu requested me to meet him up in town. I did and we went to different touristic sites in the city. We first went to the Fajarrah War Cemetery where World War 1 veterans were buried. We met other tourists there as well. The other notable thing there was that Alieu’s great-grandfather was buried there as well and Alieu boasted and was very proud of him.
From there, we proceeded to Katchikally Crocodile Pool in Bakau. The place had a large number of tourists as well. It was a large pool with lots of friendly crocodiles. He told me those have been there for hundreds of years. The biggest croc there at the time was called Charlie. There was also a museum just in the same compound but we could not go to see it. Asides the touristic significance of the site, the site served some spiritual purpose. People who were in need do normally come there to pray – especially barren women who want kids. We took a couple of photos at the facility and left for Banjul to see the government house.
The trip to the government house in Banjul was not far. We visited different buildings and markets around. More importantly, we spent some time comparing the government of Yahya Jammeh and the new president Adama Barrow. I personally had always been a fan of Yahya Jammeh. I came to understand that the only problem that Gambians had with him was the fact that there was no freedom of speech during his tenure and the quiet disappearance of citizens who he perceived as enemies. These citizens once they are kidnapped, nothing again was heard about them. According to some stories I heard, he had a special army that carried out this mission for him. However, during his time in government, he made sure salaries were paid on time and no government agency went on strike. He built a university and several roads and championed several forms of development in The Gambia. He was the first to place a ban on plastic materials and bag being manufactured in The Gambia because according to him, it is not environmental friendly. I was also told he likes parties and that he hosts parties where all Gambians are invited to come and celebrate with him.
He also likes associating with students and that oftentimes he gives money to their schools to organise parties for them. I also heard he could just give a random student 10000 Dalasis as a gift. Several Gambians believed his tenure could have been preferred if there were no harassment and disappearance of perceived enemies of his government.
We took lots of pictures and I then left from Brikama, where I will get a vehicle to the border of Senegal and The Gambia. I was headed to Guinea Bissau.