|Posted by David Pugh on April 16, 2014 at 2:20 AM|
I've only been working on the African Jungle skills project for about three weeks. I was having conversations with Bhuwan in Rishikesh, as to how I could set up a business to allow my friends in the Gambia earn a better living, when I had a rather obvious revelation. Bear Grylls is extremely popular in India and people are also aware of Ray Mears woodcraft skills. My friends in Guinea Bissau were born to these survival techniques, so why not give people the opportunity to learn directly from the people who live their lives in the woods. I have stayed in the village twice myself and I have never felt more alive and in touch with nature and the true values of a life free from clutter. We are only looking for about six people at the moment, to join a trial jungle skills program in Cassalol, Guinea Bissau. Details are on our prototype website http:/africanjungleskills.webs.com/
For those who might find several days in the village too overwhelming, you can take a four to five kilometre hike to Varella, a cluster of abandoned hotels on a deserted Atlantic beach. The entrepreneurs who built them should have budgeted for a road to reach the "resort" first. Once you have experienced this mud road for yourself, you'll appreciate that this track is not the ideal start to a relaxing beach holiday. However, you'll find that you'll have this clean, long beach pretty much to yourself.
We have had some immediate interest and the main question is how much will it cost? Here's a clearer breakdown of what you are likely to spend on this trial run:
A return flight to the Gambia from the UK in early December 2014/early January 2015 should cost in the region of £300.
There's an exit fee from the Gambia, I think it's now about £30.
You'll need to be picked up at the airport by one of our people, to take you to either a local hotel or a home stay. The more we can fit in the cars the cheaper it will be. Call it £10 for the whole car.
We're offering a local hotel in Kotu for under £10 B&B or a home stay in Brikama for about the same.
Brikama is the music capital of the Gambia and has good nightlife but far from the sea. Our friend Pa Gibba can only accommodate four people in his two spare rooms, inside his family compound. Pa has a western style bathroom and internet access, as he is project manager of a British charity. Having said that, this a REAL African compound, a true slice of West African township life.
If you're looking for some peace and isolation, our English friend, Meg Roberton can put you up in her ecolodge, Alla La Daroo for about £12-£14 B&B per night, about twenty minutes from Brikama.
We'll be taking bush taxis from the Gambia, changing vehicles in Senegal, to take us to the Bissau border town of Sao Domingo, before the border closes at 6pm. I'd estimate a tenner for the whole trip, depending how many we can fit in the cars. The bush taxis are mostly sept-plas(seven seaters).
The Guinea Bissau visa is available same day' arranged by Lucas at their consulate in Fajara and about £10, he will take you there in person to sort the paperwork, a short taxi ride for those in Kotu. We'd suggest that we all meet at the consulate as soon as it opens, Pa can arrange those staying at his compound to get there on time. We'll begin our journey immediately we get our visas, any delay will mean spending a night in Ziguinchor, capital of the Cassamance region of Senegal. It's an interesting enough town but not as much fun and more expensive than Sao Domingo. If all goes to plan we'll be stopping for lunch in Ziguinchor, it's your only chance to access an ATM machine, to get some West African francs, Guinea Bissau and Senegal's common currency.
Budget another £10 for a hotel in Sao Domingo, where you'll find the best quality imported Portuguese wine, tax free to their former colony at about £2 a bottle. Portuguese beer is also available for about 50p a can.
Meals while travelling should be not much more than £1-£2.
The next day we'll need transport for the four hour drive to Cassalol, this could be minibus or lorry and very bumpy, a small pillow might be advised. You shouldn't have to pay much more than £2-£3 each.
When we arrive at the village I'm going to suggest that each pay about £12/£15 a day for full board, this will probably include all the palm wine you can drink. You'll get simple rice based meals, they value their chickens highly so if you want to eat one it'll cost at least £5 and all the family will expect to share the treat with you. You'll be offered a chance to join the men on a hunt, using bow and arrows, then you can cook what you kill. The village has a sweet water well but we'd advise sterilisation tablets or there is one shop on the outskirts of the village that sometimes stocks bottled water but more often canned beer and soft drinks but no fridge.
The village has only one mosquito net so bring your own, a torch is a necessity and a thin sleeping bag liner would add to your comfort.
Malaria risk is low in the winter, Malerone is the best medication, very expensive in the UK and almost unavailable in the Gambia. If you do find it for sale, it won't be any cheaper. Doxicyclin is available locally and quite cheap about £1-£2 a box, it has minimum side effects and can help prevent stomach infections as it's an antibiotic, it is effective from the next day.
As this is about bringing an income to the Jatta family, we'd expect you each to pay your guide Lucas Jatta £5-£6 a day. He'll be accompanied by his son George, who has never visited is his father's village. George will have to book two weeks off from his poorly paid job, at a subsidery of Chinese company LG, well in advance and probably won't get any holiday pay. This qualifies George for a Bus Fare grant but it would be nice of anyone involved to chip in too, to cover his meals and transport.
That's the basic village stay covered, we're suggesting a minimum four night stay but we can extend or shorten it, to suit the time you have. Pauline, Myself, George and Lucas are hoping to then travel to Bissau City, to catch a Friday afternoon ferry to the main Bijagos island. I'm told it takes two weeks to cover each island but we'll have to get George back to his job, so we'll be returning on the Sunday evening ferry. This boat only runs once a week. The Bijagos are twinned with the Cap Verde Islands but far less visited. For the single gentlemen in the party, I was once told, in hushed tones, by some soldiers in a Bissau bar, that knowing a Bijago woman can change your life. Lucas is looking forward to getting back there and you'd be welcome to join us but Bissau City hotels are expensive.
Most people who visit the Gambia only leave their beach hotels, on the usual organised excursions. We are offering you something unusual and almost impossible to organise by your self. You just can't turn up in Cassalol village, unannounced and expect a welcome. The village is split into four "hamlets" separated by the forest and you'll get the chance to visit each, providing you have the time. What we can guarantee you that if you turn up with us, you'll have a welcome of a lifetime.