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Makasutu national park and the woodcraft market at Brikama

Home -> Africa -> Gambia -> Travelogue Gambia -> 11 January 2005

Tuesday 11 January, Makasutu national park and the woodcraft market at Brikama

We are up at half past six, we really went to bed too late. After a quick breakfast we walk to the entrance where we are picked up by a minibus at half past seven. Dawda, working for African Adventures, will be our guide, a friendly and spontaneously boy.
We start by picking up more people from other hotels in the neighbourhood and then drive towards Makasutu national park where people from the wild are taken care for. There is also a research center. The park is a bit south of Brikama where we will later stop to have a look at the famous market with woodcraft.
Makasutu Baobab treeWhen we arrive at Makasutu we first get coffee and an extensive explanation about the history of the park. A musician is playing music in the background, on an instrument called Kora. It is a charasteristic West-African instrument, a combination of a harp and a lute with a big half-round resonance-box and a total of 21 strings. It has a lenght of almost 1½ meters. And, naturally, there is a Baobab tree on the central terrain, like most communities have in this part of Africa.
Cultivated jungleThe baobab can become 20 meters tall and more than a 1000 years old! This tree plays an important part in numerous African myths and legends. And all parts, the bark, the fruits, the leaves, the wood, etcetera, is used by the people for medicinal purposes or in rituals. When we start our walk through the jungle we notice that the word jungle is not completely correct: it is more cultivated woods with broad pathways. Except for the exotic trees, it could be just a forest in Holland.
Makasutu MangrovesBut first we are going to make a trip in a large canoe on the bolong (a creek) through the mangrove forest . The canoe is a large hollowed trunk. The large number of birds that live here seem to have a day off, since we almost see none.
Oyster shellsThe trip is supposed to last 45 minutes but after 25 minutes we are back on land again and except for a lonely heron we only see piles of oyster shells. The oysters live between the roots of the mangrove and are collected at low tide by women who also pull the oysters out of the shells for consumption. The shells are used to make mortar.
Toilet at MakasutuA little bit disappointed by the tour we return to the central square where we have lunch. Naturally, everybody wants to use the toilet and it looks very nice in the dark, but on this picture it looks less dignified. On leaving the toilet a Gambian man washes and dries our hands, we are not allowed to do it ourselves...
ChameleonAfter lunch we are going to walk for 1.5 uur (in the end this turns out to be 2.5 uur). At last, we see the first wildlife: a chameleon. The guide makes a lot of stops to tell extensively about trees we walk by and animals that we don't see. He is very thorough in his explanation about the 'very important trees of the Gambia', but most of us get a bit bored after the tenth tree. But his enthousiasm is unstoppable.
Termite hill, Makasutu RooferWe come across lots of termite hills, but they can be seen anywhere in the landscape, just along the roads. We are told that the construction is as deep under the ground as it is tall above the ground.
To the right a roofer, working on a new roof made with elephant grass and leaves of a palmtree. The roof lasts for about five years and is totally waterproof.
Oyster gatherer Climbing a palmtreeOn our way through the park we come across more craftspeople, like a gatherer of oysters and a man who collects jungle juice, the juice of palmtrees. In many palmtrees bottles are hanging to catch the juice. We get a sip of the fresh collected juice (without alcohol) and also of fermented juice. After two days it already has a high percentage of alcohol, and it tastes better than it smells.
We also meet a mariboe, a holy man and a fortune-teller, and lots of trees, more trees and even more... trees. The monkeys and birds definitely have a day off! Everybody is glad when we return to the assembly point for a drink and to rest our feet.
Traditional dance Traditional dance with touristsBut not for long, since a few local people gather for a traditional dance under the baobab. The accompanying music is not really music, but has the purpose of indicating the rhythm. It gets louder and faster when one of the women makes some dancing steps, to encourage her. Naturally, the tourists are invited to join the group.
Wood craft Wood craftEverybody is now longing to leave this place but on our way out we have to pass all sorts of souvenir shops and we see some nice woodcraft. But we already have enough African wooden masks at home so we don't need more.
Mother with childrenWhile the potter is demonstrating his work, everybody is more interested in his wife and the baby she carries on her back. She shows how the child is winded in a cloth and we see that it is also used as diaper, since the baby is naked. The baby has her legs around her mother's waist and is supported by the broad hips. Would that be good for the child, we wonder? Nobody buys anything from the potter, but we give the woman some money for letting us make a few pictures.
Proud shop ownerEverybody feels relieved when we finally leave Makasutu; we have got a lot of information, but didn't see any wildlife, even almost no birds, the socalled 'jungle' doesn't really deserve the name and everything just lasted too long. So, on we go, to the woodcraft market at Brikama. This is supposedly the cheapest place in Gambia to buy woodcraft, but it is important to beat the price down to 30 to 50% of the price that is asked.
School kids at Brikama School kids at BrikamaWe don't buy anything but start a conversation (well, they start it) with a group of school kids. They give us notes with their addresses and have to promise that we will send the photographs and, if possible, pens, notebooks and money. We don't have enough to give everybody a pencil, so we don't give anything to prevent them from starting a fight about it and we don't promise anything.
At the end of the afternoon we are back at the hotel and everybody agrees that this excursion has created much more expectation than it fulfilled. Not worth the € 37 per person that we paid. And if you arrange a taxi with 4 people and do the same (but a bit quicker) trip on your own, you probably pay less than € 10 per person.
At the gas station we get out of the bus to have a drink. We just sit there when two people suddenly join us and start talking to us in Dutch. They look rather dusty and tell us they have just arrived and are so happy to see other Dutch people. They already hate Gambia, the heat, the hotel, the fact that their hotel is at least a kilometer away from the beach, etcetera. We try to reassure them a bit, probably they are just tired. And we show them the way to the beach. We hope for the lady that she has also brought other footwear than the shoes with stiletto heels that she wears now!
We have dinner next to the swimming pool and the band that has a dance act is much better than the traditional dance we have seen today at Makasutu. Salifu tells us that every night a band of another tribe performs, so there is a lot of alternation. Today the performance is of a Mandinka band, the largest tribe of Gambia.
Although the excursion didn't meet our expectations, we are tired by all the impressions we got and the long walk. Tomorrow a somewhat quieter day!


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