Around Tunis

Everybody has heard of Carthage, founded in the ninth century BC, on the Gulf of Tunis.

I know a little about the three Punic wars and Hannibal crossing the Alps to Italy on an elephant. That’s the extent of my knowledge but it was enough to make me keen to visit.

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A Tourists Red Train and Ruins

Two separate terrorist attacks in 2015 made Tunisia a no go area for British tourists. But with extra security around tourist sites the government no longer advises not to travel to most of the country. There is so much to see in this North African country, it has everything history, culture, areas of natural beauty, interesting food, and if you go at the right time of year, great weather.

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A postcard from Timbuktu

 

 

On Getting a Postcard

Today I got a postcard, not any old post card  from a standard holiday destination, but a postcard from Timbuktu.

Not many people get a postcard from Timbuktu in Mali mostly because you have to be seriously deranged to actually travel there. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.

Going to Timbuktu

 Going to  Timbuktu means going to  the ends of the earth. Its mysterious, romantic, inaccessible and remote . On the edge of the Sahara its the oldest city in Africa, the spiritual and intellectual centre of Islam on the continent.postcard from Timbuctu

Its hot and dry all year, in the summer the temperature reaches 40 ° F and in the winter it never goes below 30° when the Harmattan trade wind blows sand into everything.

I would happily put up with this to see the Djinguereber Mosque which is made entirely of mud and is of course a UNESCO World heritage site.

However there is worse.

In 2008 Al Qaeda began kidnapping tourists and in 2012 many religious buildings were destroyed during rebel occupation. The kidnapping goes on and the Foreign and Commonwealth office advises against all travel to Mali. This means your travel insurance is invalid. I think I would be a very bad kidnap victim, I cant sit still or shut up and at my age insurance is very necessary.

So we won’t go.

But back to the postcard now sitting proudly on my mantle piece.

There is a guy called Phil living in Mali who arranges for postcards to be sent from Timbuktu post office. For ten dollars you get your message written out by an  unemployed tour guide and sent to you.  I hope one day it will be safe to visit and maybe if I was younger I could wait for this to happen but for now the postcard is great.

postcard from Timbuctu

 

As you can see my daughter made her feelings clear!

 

A Visit to the Wassu Stone Circles

A Morning Visit to Wassu

After getting up in the middle of the night and a long journey first  over the river and then by 4WD for several hundred kilometres on bumpy roads we finally arrived in Wassu.

As you can see there were some hold ups along the way!The goat herder was in no hurry to move his charges off the road.

road hold up

But we got there eventually!

 

The mysterious stone circles at Wassu are 1000 to 1500 years old and not much is certain about them.

This UNESCO site consists of stone circles made up of  Laterite pillars. This rusty red rock was  shaped with iron tools into cylinders and placed into circles of various sizes.

They we probably the burial mounds of ancient chiefs.

Local legend says there is a curse on anyone who disturbs them which is possibly why they have been left untouched until present times.

tour-guide

 

 Pa Sanyang guided us round the site. He was really nice and welcoming but he had some incomprehensible ideas about numbers all  involving nine.

One thing he did explain was the little stones on top of the pillars. You put a small stone on the pile and make a wish.

We left the site with no more knowledge about the origin of these circles than we came with but it was an interesting excursion.

Next a ride along the river to our hotel ( I use the word loosely) for the night.

sunset on the river

Sunset on the Gambia river – beautiful.

Janjangbureh hut

A night with no electricity – no problem, no water, not even cold water, – not so good! However we survived (baby wipes – never travel without them).

Then on to Janjanbureh

river boat

Escape by river boat and on to George Town

Officially named Janjanbureh but called George Town by everyone this dusty town is 300 km from Banjul. It has a ferry port, a post office, a market, and a prison.

Guides will tell you sad and convincing stories of the slave trade involving their ancestors but apparently these have been greatly exaggerated to feed the tourist industry.

Fast food in George Town

Must be lunch time?

Gambian Children

We had taken pencils, sweets and a bag of clothes our grandchildren had grown out of.

The kids seemed to appreciate them.

 

 

A Day Trip to Fathala, Senegal

Getting To Fathala

Next we wanted to take a day trip into Senegal.The best bet seemed to be a visit to the  Fathala Reserve. However  this was not as simple as we had expected.

The Gambia is a small thin country either side of the Gambia river. It is surrounded by Senegal so we assumed it would be an easy journey. We finally found someone who would take us to the Fathala game reserve, a day trip not recommended for the elderly – well ignore that to start with! We later found out that the reason it was hard is because many operators are currently refusing to use the Banjul to Barra ferry, the only sensible way to get across the river and on to Senegal, because of safety concerns. However we were blissfully unaware of this as we left in the very early morning for Banjul.

We arrived at the ferry terminal on time but we had to hang around for about an hour before we could board, a common occurrence apparently. Luckily our guide got us on quickly and we got a seat so we could people watch the crowded chaos around us.

The boat ride took  about an hour. We watched people begging and others selling a random assortment of items from bags. Colgate toothpaste seemed popular- no idea why!  Eventually we landed at Barra and our 4WD took us to the border with Senegal. Getting in was easy we only had to hang about for a few minutes sitting in the Jeep while our passports were checked  and then we drove on to the reserve. The road was straight and in quite good condition. Unsurprisingly the country side didn’t change at all. The only real difference we found was the language. Gambians all speak English as well as their tribal language ( our guides spoke Mandinka). In Senegal every one speaks French. The Gambia has no large animals but the reserve in Senegal has animals imported from South Africa.

We knew the time of year wasn’t the best for seeing much wildlife but we really just wanted the adventure of a trip to another country.

At the Reserve

 

We drove around the reserve in our Jeep looking for wildlife. The driver tried really hard but we saw a lot more termite mounds than wild animals. I also got bitten by insects a lot!

But we were allowed to stand up as the Jeep hurtled across the bush, very Indiana Jones. All our bruises were definitely worth it. No health and safety rules to spoil the fun.

 Not Walking with Lions

There was the option to walk with lions. A fantastic photo opportunity billed as a chance to interact with young lions in their natural habitat. However either the lions are tame and no danger or they are wild and its not safe! I decided that it was probably safe, killing your tourists isn’t good business. So the lions were tame and young enough not to be a danger but lions should not be tame and safe to walk with  they should be wild and free. Then they are worth seeing.

We didn’t do it.

 

 

Gambia, Called the Smiling Coast

Winter Sun in The Gambia

The cold wet  start of November makes you want to go somewhere warm. The obvious and cheapest option is a beach holiday. Great, but we don’t do beach holidays. I’ve never been able to spend any length of time lying in the sun. A quick paddle and I’m done. So last November we booked  week at the beach with plans to go to as many places in the country as we could.  As it’s only a six hour flight and there is no time difference The Gambia seemed a good bet. You need malaria tablets which isn’t great but nowadays you can get them for a reasonable price in a supermarket chemist. So when we   found an economical package holiday with  flights, transfers and hotel all included we booked it. Sorted!

The Beach and Beyond

Internet research showed several local tour operators providing one and two day tours around the country so the plan was to try to find something to do each day. Our hotel was OK, a standard tourist place with three different bars and several restaurants spread over quite a large area with gardens and a beach.

Outside the hotel grounds we found a supermarket, well that’s what they called it, cigarettes biscuits and soft drinks, if you needed anything else you were out of luck.

 

Walking along the beach meant a great deal of hassle. You meet a fruit lady , a sewing lady, a massage lady, a tour man and, a boat man. Everyone can tell you have just arrived and their aim is to be the first to claim you as their customer. They will give you a business card, often a piece of torn paper with a name on it, sometimes a neat little laminated picture. Once you have these they are your protection from all the others. Tell everyone you have been in the country for a week and already have a fruit and massage lady. They will respect this and your peace is restored. Well mostly!

 

A visit to Serrekunda Market

 

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Kachikally Crocodile Pool

Kachikally crocodile park Gambia

Then a visit to a crocodile farm, about a hundred crocs busy ignoring you. You get to stroke their heads!

We managed to leave with all our limbs still attached.

On to Lamin Lodge for Coffee

coffee break – sharing donuts with the monkeys.

This wooden restaurant on stilts is in the middle of a mangrove swamp.

 

A Look Around the Countryside

We had a lightening visit to a school to see the local education standards. The kids were a bit shy but smiled at us.

They must be used to being on parade in return for  pencils and the odd packet of sweets.

I found this a bit uncomfortable but its how things work in The Gambia.

 

Then at the end of our tour time to relax on Paradise Beach. It was surprisingly peaceful with few of the hassles we experienced at the hotel beach. Just a couple of bumsters, the young men who want to be your best friend and holiday guide, trying to sell us drinks and boat trips. Twenty minutes strolling on the sand and we were ready for the drive back to our hotel.

 Just in time for happy hour, two for one cocktails,  and a seat by the pool.

Maybe this sort of holiday isn’t so bad!