Yesterday was our second and final rest day on this journey across the Gambia. I was staying at Sindola Lodge, a real treat for the tired body. My room was air conditioned, had a working overhead shower, electricity 24/7 and free wi-fi. But the best part of it all was the pool where I could soak my body and let the water gently massage my legs.
I slept in until about 8:00 and then went for a nice breakfast by the pool. A man joined me to talk and I learned a lot about the area and the predominant ethnic group in the region, the Jola. I then strolled over to a big tree near the reception where weaver birds were coming and going, busily building their nests. A game ranger is South Africa once told me that the male weaver builds the nest and that the female then comes to inspect it. If it is not to her liking, she will sever what attaches the nest to the branch and it crashes to the ground. The male then has to start all over again! When I commented to one of the girls working in the restaurant how noisy the birds were, she told me that in Mandinka, they call someone who talks a lot a weaver bird.
After breakfast, it was time to do some laundry. I hand washed two tubs of running gear and clothing and then hung everything up on a phone cable outside to dry. Marc and I also had a chance to Skype that morning, as the internet connection was fast. So nice to see him!
Then I figured it was time to jump into the pool. The water was so refreshing and I swam lap after lap, having the whole pool to myself. Not long after, Pa Modou, Spider and Kebba arrived. They also jumped into the pool and we splashed and horsed around like kids for a while. A young man came over from the gym and I recognized
him as one of the soldiers who had been at the military check point in Kalagi. He had recognized me as well (not that impressive, as there are not many toubabs running across the country) and wanted to say hello. He was now posted at the President’s palace, which was literally around the corner from Sindola. And sure enough, in the early evening, we heard a gun salute, drumming and the sirens of a motorcade, all signs indicating the President was coming home from the capital for the weekend.
Following our swim, we went to Kebba’s sister’s house for dinner. She had made her delicious shrimp and chips. We were welcomed at her home and also met the two American Peace Corps volunteers who lived next door with a tiny kitten. Kebba’s sister is a remarkable woman who recently took in a tiny infant from a teenage mom who was unable to care for the child herself.
When I got back to my hotel, a soldier accompanied some VIPs to their rooms in the hotel. We started talking in the lobby and it turns out he was a former Gambian rugby great and is now the commander of the forces in the area of the President’s palace. We spoke about sports and about Love4Gambia and maybe next year we will have some members of the forces running with us for short stretches.
It was already late in the evening. I enjoyed a cold shower and then headed to bed. We had an early start planned yet again.
I got up on time and Pa Modou and Kebba arrived shortly after I was ready. But since the reception staff hadn’t arrived yet, I couldn’t settle my bill, so we waited. When we finally left Sindola, we were already a bit late. We had to stop at Kebba’s sister’s house to pick up Spider and to say our good-byes. Some of Kebba’s relatives had arrived and a family meeting was required. I waited in the yard playing with the kids while Kebba and his family discussed some family business. When we were ready to go, some of the women ran to the gate of the yard with me to hoots and hollers from the kids.
The boys squeezed into the car with us and we drove to the starting point for today. After buying some water, we set off, the boys by my side. It turns out they were pretty amazing runners and although some of them were small, they easily ran a mile – some barefoot, some in sandals or flip flops, and one boy, whose sandal came loose, kicked it up into his hand in one smooth motion without breaking stride and then continue with one sandal on and the other off.
By the time we had started running, it was already past 9:00 a.m. and I don’t think I need to state the obvious with respect to the temperature. It was going to be a long day! Just after the boys left us, we came to the house of one of Pa Modou’s friends. We stopped to say hello and visit for a little while. One of the ladies than came and ran a few hundred meters with me – good on her! Slightly further down the road, we came to Kebba’s in-law’s house. Again, we stopped, visited and handed out stickers, which the kids promptly put all over their faces. Stickers could be found on foreheads, ears, noses, cheeks and chins.
Back on the road, a few military trucks came our way and each time I gave my finest salute, which was returned by many of the soldiers in the truck and acknowledged by the drivers with loud honks of the horn. With each step, we were getting closer to Banjul and today was the day where we would go from triple digits to double digits for our remaining number of kilometres!
Even though it was getting late in the morning, the team decided we would stick to our planned distance of 34 kilometers for the day. At around kilometre 30, we reached the house of the Nova Scotia Gambia Association’s country director, who came out to greet us. We would be enjoying his hospitality and that of his family later, but first the last few kilometres needed to be covered.
Just after passing by the house, we came to a flooded rice field and some young boys were fishing in the water. They told us there was a crocodile in the water, so we went to investigate. We stood at the water’s edge for a while, the boys throwing rocks to get the croc to surface, until we finally saw it lift its head high enough for his eyes and nose to peek out of the water. I thought the boys were pretty brave to fish in this water, as this involved being submerged, rather than fishing with a rod. Kebba told me that crocs sometimes chase the women working the rice fields, but that to date no accident had happened in the area.
We tore ourselves away from the croc watch and put in our last few kilometres. The day was finally done! When we went to put down the mat so I could lay down and relax, a small boy saw that Kebba was using a branch from a tree to sweep the ground. He came running over with a broom that we could borrow. His kind gesture was rewarded with a minty.
Following a little recovery time, we made our way back to the house of the country director where we received a warm welcome from him and his family. One of the boys put a bucket of water in the shower for me and I got cleaned up before we enjoyed a delicious lunch.
By now it was pouring outside, but the heat did not subside. When the rain stopped, I walked out to the washroom and saw a large water monitor, the largest type of lizard, scurry out of my path. In a panic, he tried to climb a fence, but unlike small lizards who are able to climb walls, this big guy came crashing back to the ground doing a belly flop before taking the long way around.
Earlier in the rice field, I had noticed an abundance of bird life and I was curious to check it out. Elle, the 15 year old son, offered to take me to the area and some of his friends came along. We took the short cut through a grassy area and saw some red monkeys jumping around in the trees. We watched them with my binoculars for a time and then moved on. The boys told me that this area was full of reptiles – snakes, lizards, water monitors and more. I kept my eyes peeled, but to my great disappointment, I still had not seen a snake.
We also saw a variety of birds. The Gambia is a birder’s paradise and I am always on the lookout for the amazing flashes of colour. Once we arrived at the rice field, the boys told me to tread softly, so the crocodiles wouldn’t come running. We slopped through the wet field in our flip flops, carefully avoiding areas where the water was more than ankle deep. Then we watched by the river for a while to see if we could spot a croc, but no luck. By the road, we saw a group of children fishing. They were all holding on to the sides of a mosquito net, which they dragged through the water and then lifted quickly once some fish were inside. Other kids were lunging themselves into the water to try to catch fish with their bare hands of plastic bags. The kids were giggling and shouting and when they saw us watching, proudly showed off their catch.
From the river, we walked up to see the boys’ school and then we headed back to the house. As we were coming down the road by other houses, the familiar cries of “toubab!” rang out and a group of small children started following us all the way back to the house and into the gate. When I disappeared inside the house after saying my good-byes, they stood on the porch and peaked at me through the window.
Less than 80 kilometers remain in our journey. It is hard to believe we have come this far and that the rich and enriching experiences I have been living here every day will soon be but a memory. But the South Bank Road is not done with us yet and tomorrow is another day, which will no doubt be full of great encounters.
Lots of love,