• Cheryl Bowie, CTA

The Rivers of West Africa

Updated: Jun 1


Cruise ship on the Gambia River.
Harmony V

It’s always exciting to travel to new destinations and discover what interests are there. And it’s even better when surprising, unexpected connections are made with people and places. 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 offered this experience on the Harmony V, their 25-cabin small ship. I believed river cruising would be a perfect fit for my personality, and this trip confirmed that. The cruise was about the destination!


An island in the Gambia River.
Kunta Kinteh Island

“Roots” was a television phenomenon when it aired in January 1977. It was and still is an integral part of America’s history. The cruise on the Gambia River opened my eyes on how important Alex Haley’s family history is there as well because 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 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (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 my ancestors being forcibly taken from their homeland).


A special Gambian dinner.
Chef Sukai's Special Treat

Some special events occurred on the ship, also. Chef Sukai 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. In addition, we were fortunate to have a griot on board to entertain us. His name was Jaliba Kuyateh, I was particularly excited to hear him play the kora, a stringed instrument that looks similar to a sitar and sounds like a harp. Loved it! I first heard this instrument being played by a Guinean artist, Mory Kanté.


After the cruise, we took a tour of Dakar that included time on Goree Island. I was

An Elite Girls School on Goree Island
An Elite Girls School on Goree Island

haunted by the beauty and the devastating history of this island. Was this the last place my ancestors would see of their homeland? The general answer is “YES”. Unfortunately, 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 one day.


This writing only covers a small portion of my experience. I decided to let photos and videos tell the rest of my story: Rivers of West Africa Cruise - Day 1. More videos will be posted over the coming weeks, subscribe to the newsletter so you can be notified when they are available to view.