The thing that surprises me most about the Atlantic beach resorts of the Gambia is how unlike most beach resorts they are. When reading about them beforehand, I'd envisaged high-rise hotels, nightclubs spilling onto the beach, and fat tourists with their arses hanging out of their swimming shorts. The only one I've managed to find is the latter, and that only once (though it was a depressingly memorable sight).
Once we'd shaken off the bumster curse and found our home for the weekend, we decided to explore and soon discovered that the coastal resort towns of Bakau, Fajara, Kotu and Kololi, which from south to north make up the Gambia's Atlantic tourist area, are tiny. Perhaps it's the effect of the off-season, but these places feel nothing like beach resorts in the same way that Banjul feels nothing like a capital city. They're far too laid-back and pleasant for that (bumsters notwithstanding).
Unable to get my head round the relatively clean streets, the lack of bumster hassle and the ease with which I can communicate with the locals, today I decided to walk 4km inland to Serekunda, which the guidebook says is the unofficial capital of the Gambia, the transport hub for the whole country, and 'a taste of unrelenting in-your-face urban West Africa.' It actually turned out to be a relatively docile African town, with hardly any touts, an interestingly squalid market and shops selling everything from electronics to furniture, but it wasn't anything to write home about, and I can only assume it's a different story in the tourist season. In October, Serekunda, like Banjul and the Atlantic resorts, is a taste of unrelenting, in-your-face, chilled-out West Africa.
Perhaps the insanity lurks just beneath the surface, waiting for the tourists to scratch it into life. Bumsters are one thing, but it seems that even officials can be patently idiotic. Yesterday morning, for example, we visited Bijilo Forest Park, a pleasant stretch of rainforest to the south that's home to lots of tourist-tainted wildlife. The monkeys of Bijilo are fun to watch as they're completely used to humans and don't run away as soon as you see them, but this isn't necessarily such a good thing; feeding monkeys in parks like this can make them dependent on the generosity of tourists, and this can lead to violent behavioural problems, which is why there are signs plastered all over the park entrance asking people not to feed the monkeys.
But this is Africa, and putting up signs doesn't really amount to much. I saw two groups of tourists feeding the monkeys peanuts, and when we stumbled across the third bunch happily handing over the monkey's lunch, I noticed they had an official guide with them (we'd declined the offers of a guide at the gate, figuring we could work the paths out ourselves).
'You're feeding the monkeys,' I said.
'Yes,' the guide said gleefully. 'The monkeys love it.'
'But you aren't supposed to feed the monkeys,' Sarah said.
'But they love it,' he repeated. 'Do you want to feed them?'
'No,' I said. 'It isn't good for the monkeys.'
'Are you forestry people?' the guide asked.
'Yeah,' we chorused, hoping this would scare him into submission.
'Then you should not feed the monkeys,' he said, and turned back to his troupe of pasty toubabs, who by this stage were dangerously smothered in peanut-grabbing simians. Faced with such bizarre logic, I just shrugged my shoulders and headed back to the beach, making a mental note not to believe officials any more than bumsters.