The Rivers of West Africa
Updated: May 27, 2020
It’s always exciting to travel to new destinations and discover what’s there of interests. It’s even better when surprising connections are made with people and places that were totally unexpected. This describes my trip to Dakar, Senegal and The Gambia. Senegal has been on my list of countries to visit since the early 90’s. So, when an opportunity came to cruise on the Gambia River that started and ended in Dakar, I couldn’t pass it up. Variety Cruises was offering this experience on the Harmony V, their 25-cabin small ship. I believed river cruising would be a perfect fit for my personality, this trip confirmed that. The cruise was about the destination! Here are some of my personal highlights of this trip.
“Roots” was a television phenomenon when it aired in January 1977. It was and still is an important part of America’s history. The cruise on the Gambia River opened my eyes on how important Alex Haley’s family history is there, Kunta Kinteh was born in Juffureh, The Gambia. During the cruise, we toured Kunta Kinteh Island (formerly James Island). It was used for several purposes but ended up being the gruesome holding place for captured men, women, and children who were to be sold into slavery in the US. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is unfortunately eroding. The Gambian government is doing what they can to preserve the island, but additional assistance is needed from other countries (especially those that benefitted from the Africans being forcibly taken from their homeland).
There were some special events that occurred on the ship, also. Chef Sukai, a local chef, prepared a delicious Gambian dinner for us which was an unexpected pleasure. One of the dishes was Domoda, a peanut stew. Peanuts are a major crop in The Gambia. We were fortunate to have a griot come on board to entertain us. His name was Jaliba Kuyateh, I particularly was excited to hear him play the kora. It’s a stringed instrument that looks similar to a sitar and sounds like a harp. Loved it! The first time I heard this instrument it was played by Guinean musician, Mory Kanté.
After the cruise, we took a tour of Dakar that included time on Goree Island. I was
haunted by the beauty and the devastating history of this island. Was this the last place my ancestors would see of their continent? The general answer is “YES”. The specific country of my family’s origin is not known, we weren’t fortunate to have that history shared through generations. But regardless of that unknown information, the Senegalese and Gambian people didn’t hesitate to welcome us home.
All of the tour guides were personable, knowledgeable, and passionate about the countries and areas they shared with us. I hope to return, soon. This writing only covers a small portion of my experience. I've decided to let photos and videos tell the rest of my story, those posts are coming.