I, like most of the people here for the first time, feel like we have been thrown right into the deep end. Far removed from our normal comfort zones. Although our veteran leaders were keen to mollify our fears and concerns with their rather grave recounts of the previous expedition. It has truly been a rather wild start.
In the last three days I have found that the Gambia has an unyielding excess of things that are not always so easily found in England. Firstly is the Sun, the sheer humidity and heat of the day, creating a totally exhaustive mixture. Secondly, and far more importantly, has been the overwhelming and heartfelt friendliness and warmth we have been greeted with by the Gambian people.
Our journey started early on Friday morning, but spirits were high from the moment the coach left the Den. Although our flight was delayed slightly, it gave us a chance to unwind and talk together in the Airport. After a plethora of surprise free samples had been offered round and everyone had done their little bit of duty free shopping it was time to fly.
Yes, there was a slightly tense and silent apprehension as we took off, but that void was quickly filled with good conversation, an audacious game of eye-spy at the back of the plane, and an interesting selection of in-flight movies and music.
Some people managed to sneak in a brief sleep during this time and in hindsight, they where the wise ones. The moment we stepped out of that plane, we felt that we were at the mercy of the over-powering climate. However, we were pleasantly distracted from the weather by the Gambian’s enduring and equally over-powering cheerfulness.
So, we came around to the Sena-Gambia hotel, at some awfully late time in the evening and got some well needed kip. The following morning I and the rest of the Explorers took a dip in the pool whilst the leaders worked hard to get the important jobs in the background done: collect the cars, change up money and buy resources for the projects. Of course, none of this could come before breakfast, a lovely buffet of various salads, breads and a smaller selection of western cereals.
That just left the six hour road-trip, a simple preposition, yet not so straightforward in execution. Three minibuses and a pickup truck made a tight convoy across the Gambian landscape. In appearance, flashing past the numerous police checkpoints in our immaculate uniform, stopping for a short lunch and siesta before continuing along the flat yet diverse countryside. The reality, however, was a cramped and exhausting ride for some of us and an even longer yet interesting trip for the others. As we reached the halfway mark, the pickup, went – as non-mechanics say – completely kaput. We all managed to keep in good spirits and although that latter group of people may have been given one stroke of bad luck they managed to find the silver lining. All had a chance to meet the local children and some even had a donkey ride.
The first two minibuses were lucky enough to arrive in the final destination of Basse before dusk. What a greeting they received. A marching band, many happy faces, old friends and new. It is fair to say that everyone was shocked by not only how quickly but by how impressively the scout HQ has been built. A sun-shelter was what we expected – a training centre come amphitheatre is probably a better way to describe it!
Peter, in summarising Day one, commented:
“It’s been so exciting to come back to the Gambia after 5 years, to meet some old friends, to make new ones, but more importantly, for our participants (Explorers and networkers) to experience some incredible stuff.”
That then is all from me after Day 1. Bring on Day 2 and our tour of Basse!
P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos, Internet is too slow here!