The day had finally arrived. We were set for a destination known only to us as “Tendaba Camp” and the only real information we had been given is that “it’s hot” along with the other helpful titbit “there are millions of Mosquitoes”. This left myself (and I am certain at least a couple of others) filled with excitement accompanied by a strong sense of trepidation. A convoy of Land Rovers grinding its way through the dusty roads of the Gambia is not an everyday sight for the locals yet they all seemed to know exactly what to expect. A few waving, others asking for empty bottles to help them get water or shouting the usual “Tubab!” , some simply observing us driving by and a small minority waving their arms and insisting we leave their village. This was mainly the teenage male contingent; who understandably bear a grudge towards outsiders however, do not yet understand the importance of tourism. Village upon village seemed to live in more squalor than the last, as we travelled along the ever more freshly lain tarmac roads on our 150km trip inland.
A sneaky tactical decision of feigning more illness than I was actually suffering from had paid off as I sat in the cabin on the open backed Land Rover; completely shielded from the scorching rays of the sun and the blinding orange clouds of dust erupting out from the underneath the tyres of the other Land Rovers in convoy. Half way through the journey the fortune ended and karma took its sweet revenge thanks to someone suffering more than I; thrusting me reluctantly into the blinding dust and live cremation the others were already enduring. A few kilometres, later misery was compounded further as the road that up unto now had been luxurious tarmac tore itself from beneath our tyres like a magician with a tablecloth. Suddenly we were in Africa and it was completely naked but with the same scenery, and it was amazing. Yes the dust was blinding, the skin was burning and journey seemed to be lasting forever but the purity of the environment was incredible. In the skies above life swarmed, birds of prey such as Hooded vultures, Palm-Nut Vultures and Snake Eagles soaring high in the thermals whilst in the lower reaches the Senegal Parrots and Abyssinian Rollers fluttered from canopy to canopy of the small clutches of trees.
|Photo by Parys Hatchard|
The bedrooms were basic to say the least, a thin mattress on a concrete slab with a mosquito net draped over it. Although basic there could be no complaints, there was a shower to remove the plastered orange shell we had developed and most importantly a new base. Before we knew it we were whisked off for dinner followed by the first of our Tendaba trips. A night crawl aboard a boat through the mangroves across the gigantic river that is the Gambia. It is safe to say that the scenery from Tendaba Camp was nothing short of epic. After sunset the Media conglomerate of around twenty students boarded the boat along with a couple of “guests” who had been staying at the resort, a guide and a couple of lecturers. Crossing the river in the pitch black armed with camera and head torch did not do too much to combat niggling fact that we were entering the unknown. Being the Media people everyone had their camera ready to capture anything and just minutes into trip a night heron appeared. Almost instantaneously the majority of the group began happy snapping much to my disgust. The poor Night Heron edged wearily back and forth along its perch during the 10 seconds it was subjected to blinding camera flashes of about 15 cameras. I put my camera away (the reason for the distinct lack of photos in the blog thus far). No matter how brief the experience for the bird, I did not want to be part of this.
Drifting further into the mangroves and crept past a bird in the mangroves, I instantly regretted packing the camera away as the guide, ecstasy audible in his voice, shouted “Pel’s Fishing Owl!” (a bird which apparently had not been spotted here in 5 years). A lucky few in the group managed a snap shot of the bird as it flew away. With a smug grin crossed with disbelief on his face the guide told the boat driver to move on. The second part of this trip involved a walk in search of wild hyenas. Thanks to the “guests” wanting to stay on the boat and ironically scaring away wildlife by singing “hakuna matata”; made even more ironic due to the fact that on our return to the boat the driver had bucket in hand and was bailing water out. Slightly lower in the water, we made our way back to camp. It was only when we arrived back at Tendaba that the significance of the Pel’s Fishing Owl sighting really sunk in. This was fantastic news for Tendaba.
Before this night I thought the worst hangover occurred after a solid night out, apparently not. My Tendaba roommate (who will remain anonymous) in a fear of Mosquito bites unleashed a deluge of Deet spray mist on our room without airing it before bed. Safe to say the world’s worst headache led me to seek refuge in the fresh air around the communal dining tables for breakfast slightly earlier than planned at around 6am. This morning was our first chance to really take some pictures and enjoy the bird life in all its glory. Hopping aboard the Land Rovers we went off-roading on the local African plains. After he mixed emotions of the previous night we were greeted by a bountiful selection of Gambian bird life. Pied kingfishers were added to my list which had now reached four out of the eight resident Gambian species. Abyssinian Rollers, Yellow Billed Shrikes and Grey Kestrels all posed nicely for the group to take pictures in a mass photo shoot. Other species like the long crested eagle, African Green Pigeon and White Pelican remained too far away to get a decent shot of. The Abyssinian Roller itself was a beautiful bird to photograph; our Land Rover drove past the one below and had to reverse back into the gathering of other Land Rovers. I managed to get a snap shot before asking the guide “are they common?” to which he replied “yes, very”,
“So they are like our Feral Pigeon?” I asked, half expecting the guide to not know what they were.
“Yes” he replied
Nonetheless a beautiful bird. Come to think of it the Feral Pigeon isn't really a bad looking bird despite being compared to a flying rat by many.
We drove on seeing other birds such as several species of Sunbird, the Double Spurred Francolin and African Golden Oriole and also managed to get a quick shot of a Lizard Buzzard. The dust proved less problematic today but the sun beat down strongly and by lunch time people were exhausted and in much need of a lie down. We headed back through a little village seeing an Oxpecker perched in a shady baobab tree. Baobab trees were amongst several tree species so luscious and green leaved but the one that got to me most was the mango tree. There, in the middle of scorching Africa, a tree covered in mangoes. This wasn’t the only tree. There were lots of them dotted at random points throughout the journey. Temptation was told me to reach up and grab a fruit as we drove underneath a tree but morally it just didn’t feel quite right. Later I was offered a cashew fruit. Definitely realised I had chosen the wrong fruit as my tongue froze and face winced in protest. After this we had some time off so it seemed appropriate to sit by the bank of the Gambia and watch a Western Reef Heron.
Before bed we squeezed in another trip with a hike out of the village in search of Bush Babies. To avoid being involved in another case of blinding the poor blighters I decided not to take my camera. Bush Babies were surprisingly speedy little critters and no sooner had one set of eyes reflected back your torchlight than it had disappeared into the pitch black canopies. The wide eyes were enough to satisfy the soul. We had seen the quintessential nocturnal African mammal.
The following morning, after a better night’s sleep, we went on our final Tendaba trip back to the mangroves for some daylight exploration. The mangroves had already given us the the Pel’s Fishing Owl so expectations were high. We boarded the sinking boat and crossed the Gambia once more passing pelicans along the way. I managed to spot a Malachite kingfisher shortly before what seemed like endless waterways filled with Pied kingfishers. Following this the guide introduced us to the African darter; an intriguing bird that can fly as well as swim. As the day grew on the wildlife began to hide away, a Goliath heron flew off from a distance, as Martial eagle perched in the tree tops of a faraway tree and we got a brief glimpse of a White Backed Night Heron. Tendaba had been incredible. Only a handful of the birds spotted have been mentioned from a trip which really provided us with everything we could have wanted, rarities, beauties and ultimately; a true African experience.
An incredible end to an incredible section of our journey however there was no time to rest; it was time to begin our chosen photography projects...