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Bintang Bolong: Discovering Gambia’s Mind-Blowing Hidden Treasure

For decades now, Bintang has been synonymous with the legendary story of Masanneh Ceesay with renditions about the man and his exploits with Bakary Niuminko recreated in theatre perfomances, narrated by local griots and also belted by our service personnel during state functions.

However, what seem to be of little knowledge to most people are the mind-blowing natural endowments of this Foni community. On a recent working retreat with colleagues from the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC) at Bintang Lodge, the settlement’s  huge tourism potentials unraveled before our very eyes in uniquely different manifestations and forms. For a team whose main preoccupation is the imparting of journalistic knowledge to scores of young people brimming with their youthful exuberance on a daily basis,   Bintang proved to be the perfect provider of escapism to the rigours that come with our profession- teaching.

The evening warmth of Bintang Bolong Lodge

The environment and the people

The serenity of Bintang can be described as therapeutic.  Her landscape is marveling. The inhabitants are simply receptive.   To sum up it all, life in Bintang is the antithesis to the  daily furore in cosmopolitan Kombo, the groans and moans of the archetypal  urban dweller, the rigmarole of the yelling motorists and of course the boastfulness of our petit bourgeoisie.

Talking about the people of Bintang, the sight of happy children playing in the area around the river, splashing water into each other’s eyes is refreshing. Like their duty post, the elderly could be found tending to their nests under the canopy of the gigantic tree just by the tributary with boats of different sizes and shapes lying about idly. This is indicative of a people at peace with themselves. In Bintang, fishing means serious business.

Aerial view of Bintang Bolong Lodge © Bintang Bolong Lodge

Exploring nature with a boat trip

The cherry on the cake – the most beautiful and equally enjoyable part of Expedition Bintang- was the paid-for, two-hour boat trip we had embarked upon between the hours of 5 and 6 in the evening. It was one heck of a moment to savour. Cruising down the tributary using a paddle canoe allowed us to move at a very slow pace. After the initial nervy take-off, we were treated to a wonderful ride by our captain, the languid, witty and yet knowledgeable Bakary Ceesay. His mini lecture on the seven bolongs (tributaries) of the smiling coast, pre-historic man and his hunting methods were accompanied by the gentility of his paddling, the tenderness of the waves, different encounters with the jelly fish known in the tongue of a people as Baayimbi yamboo.

Added to the panoramic view of the meeting point between the water and the sky were the  different bird species, monkeys, as well as other members of the local flora and fauna. Here, everything neatly falls into place within the natural ecosystem underlying both our resource endowments as a people and of course the majestic work of our maker himself. With captain Ceesay’s experience at sea and his seemingly deep understanding of metaphysics, the  journey gave us a vantage point to dissect and deconstruct other water routes such as the ones leading to the River Gambia, Sibanor, Kalagi, and the Kiangs.

Ecotourism camp

 Enter Bintang Lodge and one would find the perfect definition of ecotourism. Sitting on the river bank, the facility’s specially made rooms covered with thatched roofs are nestled among lean branches of mangroves. They appear to be floating on the water as suggested by the sound during the nights. For three consecutive mornings, we listened to birds sing as the waves hit the pillars supporting the specially made wooden houses. The feeling was like wanting to stay in bed longer if not for the penetrating rays of the sun passing through a well-ventilated house that force one to wake up and watch local

Famara Fofana (left) and Sang Mendy at Bintang Bolong Lodge

fishermen or oyster ladies in their dugout canoes racing past our houses into the interior of the river. Call it the ultimate panacea albeit momentarily to a chaotic and melancholic world.

In the grand scheme of things, a destination once described by UK-based songwriter, Zezick Azikuwe in her song Everyone loves The Gambia has more positive headlines to make than the frequent tabloid stories describing The Gambia as a sex tourist haven where European men and women in their 60s and above cuddle with young women and men – holding hands, broad day kissing scenes on sandy beaches along the sandy beaches of our coastline.

Rebranding, repackaging and promoting inland visits

The singer could not just put that line in her song without reason. She must have seen other destinations and seen The Gambia before reaching the conclusion that the smiling coast is heaven in Africa. The Gambia has a rich culture, nice people, beautiful flora and fauna along the river and tributaries that are all navigable. Even on the back of winning a Destination of the Year accolade, the country’s tourism board must never relent in repackaging and re-strategizing because the good name of The Gambia is being sullied by this sex paradise thingy. They cannot continue to use the sandy beaches and the sun as the only selling points. They must promote ecotourism by encouraging visitors to move out of the hotels and tour The Gambia where they will come into contact with the real Gambia.

The tourism board must repackage and re-strategize because the good name of The Gambia is being sullied by this sex paradise thingy. They cannot continue to use the sandy beaches and the sun as the only selling points. They must encourage ecotourism; encourage visiting tourists to move out of the hotel and tour The Gambia where they will come in contact with the real Gambia. Cruising along the River Gambia and or its tributaries will expose tourists to see and feel the natural life that unfolds along the river banks. They would enjoy cruising through the river in a traditionally-styled river pirogue.

Sang Mendy at Bintang Bolong Lodge

On such trips, tourists will come across oyster creeks, mangroves, and watch the monkeys and birds crisscrossing the ever-green vegetation. While on tour, these tourists would see, feel, and interact with beautiful things and people that will give The Gambia a better name.  A cruise through the River Gambia gives one an opportunity to see chimpanzees because the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre which is Africa’s longest-running chimps project is now home to more than 100 chimps. The rehabilitation centre spreads across three islands in the middle of the River Gambia. So, this is another selling point that can attract tourists.

Extra reporting by Famara Fofana.

Sang Mendy is a journalist and the Director of the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC). Famara Fofana is a freelance writer and adventurer. They’re both The Chronicle contributors.

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