I flew out of London Gatwick on the morning of January 1st, leaving winter behind to land in the warm sunshine of Banjul, capital of The Gambia. The smallest country on mainland Africa, it was established around the mighty Gambia River and played a key role in the slave trade. The people are very warm and welcoming, despite the fact that many struggle with poverty. The culture is fascinating, with the Muslim faith being combined with many aspects of older, traditional beliefs and rituals. Tourism is central to the economy, along with fishing and agriculture.
We stayed at the Mandina Lodges, an exemplary eco-tourism project that sits on the shores of a mangrove-lined tributary of the Gambia River and in the middle of the Makasutu Cultural Forest. Canoe trips along the Mandina Bolon enabled us to get very close to herons, egrets, waders and kingfishers. The forest held a fantastic variety of birds, including several species of both bee-eaters and rollers. All of our local guides were superb; as well as paddling the canoes, they took us on many walks through the forest and surrounding agricultural areas.
In March, I was lucky enough to return to Mandina with a group that included John Barnett, an old friend with whom I had lost touch for over twenty years! We broke the Naturetrek record for this tour, seeing a total of 194 bird species during the week. Mammals are less in evidence but it is possible to get very close to the troop of Guinea Baboons that frequent the forest.
Big thanks to Lamin Jarju and Alagie Bojang, who worked with me on both tours.