The room was silent, the gentle humming of the fan that we put on the night before now resting. The electricity created by the solar panels the following day must have run out. The only sounds to rouse me from my peaceful slumber was the combination of the sweeping of a broom against a hard stone path and the chirping of hundreds of birds, excitedly talking to one another.
I opened an eye to see the close white wall of my eco-cottage with a large square window framed by wood. Through the thin green curtains, brilliant sunlight filtered into the cottage.
I couldn’t wait to get up and explore!
Last night our flight from the UK arrived at Banjul International Airport in the evening and our taxi didn’t arrive at our eco-lodge till darkness had fallen, wrapping the collection of clay cottages in a cosy blanket of blackness. We’d had the chance to indulge in some freshly caught fish for dinner, dining to the calming acoustic numbers being played by friends of the lodge’s owner. Otherwise, I had snuggled up in bed and let sleep overcome me.
Now was the perfect opportunity to soak up my surroundings and become acquainted with the eco-lodge.
I’d just woken up from a tranquil sleep. Due to the remote location of Footsteps eco-lodge, sound pollution is minimal and other than the gentle humming of the wall fan, the only other sounds at night was the croaking of frogs and other nocturnal wildlife. Even the resident gecko which lived in the thatch above the bathroom was surprisingly quiet. Sure, there was the odd rustle of thatch as the gecko darted about but this was infrequent and barely audible above the fan.
Our accommodation was a little round-house made of clay. It was fitted with wooden doors and wooden windows. Inside was the bedroom, a circular space except for the straight back wall which housed the bathroom. Within the bedroom was a lovely double-bed, a wicker wardrobe and a little dressing-table with a mirror and chair. It was simple but perfect.
The bathroom consisted of a shower, basin and most-notably a compostable toilet – something which I had never encountered before. The toilet was a twin-chamber meaning for half of the year one side is used whilst for the remainder of the year, the other side is used. The toilet itself is a large hole in the ground. When you need to go to the toilet, you can go as usual with a comfortable toilet seat but instead of flushing it, you sprinkle a handful of sawdust down the toilet which covers anything and coats any smell. The toilet is then frequently compressed so it doesn’t get full.
Although it sounds odd and a bit scary, I very much enjoyed using the composting toilet. It felt good knowing that I was doing something which was eco-friendly and used minimal water. The Gambia is a dry country and it would feel wasteful to use excess water.
Fitting with the eco-friendly theme was the fact that the only plug socket and light in the round-house cottage was powered via solar energy, collected by our own solar panel, a renewable source of energy.
Another feature of the eco-lodge that really made me happy was the fact that we were given our own stainless-steel water flasks upon arrival. In the communal reception at the lodge was a large stainless-steel water filter which purified water so it was safe to drink. We could then use our flasks to top up with water, completely excluding the need to purchase single-use plastic water bottles. Another bonus was that we could travel cheaper as the cost of water can easily mount up.
Lewis and I prepared ourselves for the day, locking our lodge behind us as we made our way to breakfast. We followed the stone path flanked by tall trees and thick bushes. The foliage was alive with birdsong and the occasional yellow weaver bird would swoop across the path before us. I remembered the weaver birds from our road-trip across Namibia. It’s hard to forget such a vibrant-coloured bird!
Behind the bushes, naturally blending into the sandy surroundings were more round-houses just like ours. There were actually 9 round-houses in total, each one named after an iconic African animal. We were staying in ‘hippo’ house, an animal I’m a little too well acquainted with after having several close encounters in Zambia a few years back.
It was a nice short stroll to the communal area which consisted of a pool, a stretch of decking perched above the pool, reception (with kitchens behind it) and a dining area.
This morning breakfast was still being severed and we made our way to the tea-making facilities (naturally).
We settled ourselves at a table in the middle of the open communal area, a tree with branches thick with fruit beside us. Another unique and eco-friendly quirk of Footsteps eco-lodges is that they grow as much produce as they can which are then thrown into the cooking. Not only do they grow their own produce but the produce is all grown organically, without the use of any nasty chemicals like pesticides and artificial fertilisers which are terrible for plants and animals.
It was hard to choose from the tantalising breakfast menu but in the end we selected some eggs on toast, sunny-side-up. Alongside it I opted for some mango juice and, of course, indulged in my tea.
The food was delicious and the surroundings serene but what made the biggest impression on me was the people. Footsteps eco-lodges are sure to hire staff from the local village of Gunjur and every single one of them made us feel extremely welcome. To date, I had always said that Sri Lanka was filled with the friendliest and welcoming people I had ever come across, but I wonder now if The Gambia has the edge!
After some dubious experiences with people in Namibia, like the time someone tried to rob us at traffic lights in Windhoek, I had been nervous about being scammed Africa and it was something that had weighed heavily on my mind since deciding to visit The Gambia, but so far I was feeling ashamed that I ever considered such a thing. The Gambia is a separate country from Namibia. I had been so wrong to generalise based off one experience in a country so far away.
I may have only been in The Gambia for half a day but I was starting to feel happy and relaxed, pleasantly surprised by the warm welcomes I had received and even more surprised that people I had encountered the night before recognised me and knew my name after such little time. The Gambia has a nickname ‘the smiling coast of Africa’ and I was starting to see why.
But our time here was only just beginning. After breakfast we arranged a taxi. It was time to venture into Serrakunda, the largest town in The Gambia, to pick up our rental car. I had no idea what to expect but keen to hit the adventure head-on.