Tourism industry in The Gambia gutted by global recession

We all know the global recession has hit the tourism industry pretty hard, but smaller countries off the beaten path are feeling it worse, and are less able to bounce back.

The Gambia is the smallest nation on the African mainland and has a modest tourism industry based around its beautiful beaches, serene river, and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the mysterious stone circles pictured here. Unfortunately, Mr. Alieu Secka, president of the nation’s Hoteliers Association, says there’s been a 50% drop in arrivals for the 2009/2010 season. A quick check of several leading hotels revealed the figure to be more or less accurate.


The Gambia is not a rich nation, and such a plunge in the industry will threaten jobs and businesses, creating a knock-on effect as families have to support the newly jobless.

Is The Gambia the proverbial canary in the coalmine? Will other small nations get hit this hard?

Hopefully I’ll be going to The Gambia in 2010. My wife, who is very supportive of her wandering husband, gave me a flight there as a Christmas present, so assuming I don’t trade it in for a flight somewhere else to visit my friend as he motorcycles across Africa, I’ll be able to give a firsthand report. Perhaps I’ll bring along some extra money to spend. The Gambians deserve it.

In case you’re wondering, I got her an espresso machine. She didn’t want to go to The Gambia with me so I guess she’ll just sip espresso at home and read my blog posts.

Breastfeeding is best when you travel

There have been discussions about breastfeeding and travel on Gadling before. Breastfeeding on an airplane, in particular, has come up as a subject with many opinions. Here’s my take. I was reminded of my breast feeding days when I saw a woman with a two-month old at the movie Sherlock Holmes. When it comes to travel, breastfeeding is the way to go. And don’t worry about what anyone thinks about it.

If you’ve ever been to West Africa where a breast is for nursing children and not used as an object desire, you’ll see where I’m coming from. My Peace Corps male friends who were in The Gambia when I was would moan every time they saw a woman pounding grain without a shirt on or whipping a breast out in the middle of a conversation to nurse an infant, “This is ruining it for me,” they would say. What would they have to fixate on-to fantasize over?

When my son was born in India on New Year’s Day, I was fortunate to be living in India, a country where breast feeding is seen as natural as breathing. It gave me the notion that babies and travel do indeed go together.

Because I breast fed only, for six months my husband and I traveled bottle free. There was no worry about our son getting sick. No paraphernalia to pack. I’d pack onesies, a few cute outfits, and a pair of baby shoes, one of those plastic diaper changer travel kits, disposable diapers, burp cloths and a cloth baby blanket. (The portable changer rolls up to slip into a daypack and has a pocket for carrying two or three diapers and baby wipes.)

Breastfeeding made our lives easier. What I also discovered is that if one is quiet and discrete, you can breast-feed about anywhere as long as you look comfortable. I breast fed in movie theaters, museums, and restaurants. If you’re not worried about what people think about you nursing, you’ll feel comfortable. If you’re comfortable, chances are they won’t notice, and if they do, it won’t seem like a big deal. Think of it this way. Your breastfeeding is helping add to the peace and quiet of everyone else. Your baby who is breast-feeding is not crying. On an airplane, that’s a real gift to give to passengers-particularly during take offs and landing.

To help make breastfeeding easier, take a light weight shawl with you and wear shirts that provide room for your baby to nurse comfortably, but also will cover your breast.

Even when I traveled in the summer in the U.S. and breast fed there, I never had any problems.

For more tips on traveling with a nursing infant, whether breast or bottle fed, check out “Travel Recommendations for The Nursing Mother” at the Center of Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Monkey attacks: How to avoid them

Reading about Jason Biggs recent experience being attacked by a monkey in Gibraltar reminded me of my own attack by a monkey. Okay, okay, so it only bit me on my thumb. Lightly. The bite barely broke the skin. But, it did give me anxiety later when I had a brief moment of thinking that I had rabies about two weeks after my two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in The Gambia had ended. My thumb was numb and I felt ill.

The doctors in the emergency room in Rochester, New York where I was visiting a friend assured me that I did not have rabies. Whew! But, as Jason’s story illustrates–and my own points out, monkeys can bite and its best to not get them riled up if you happen to be traveling where they live. In my case, the monkey was a young one that had been captured and being kept as a pet in my village. Not by me, but people who I used to visit.

In other cases, the monkeys and people come into contact because the monkeys just happen to live where the people do, like in some sections of New Delhi, India where they can be like squirrels are in the U.S. You may recall the incident in 2007 when the deputy mayor of New Delhi was attacked by monkeys, fell of his balcony, and died the next day as a result of his head injuries. Monkeys also frequent temples in India.

Or in another scenario you may be hiking in monkey territory. Wherever monkeys are, it’s good to know how not to get attacked. There are ways.

1. Don’t put your hand out in a monkey’s direction. I don’t think I put my hand out, but how did that monkey bite my thumb? It’s a blur by now.

2. If you’re carrying food and the monkey wants it, for heavens sake, give it to the monkey. If a monkey comes at you, it’s likely to want what you have in your hand. Friends of mine recounted a tale where a monkey snatched their young daughter’s milk carton right out of her hand when they were at some park in Thailand. I think, they were in Thailand, or perhaps somewhere in Micronesia where they used to live.

3. As a response to number 2, don’t carry food around monkeys if you can avoid it.

Here are other suggestions I found in a World Hum article from last December:

  • Make sure you keep water bottles hidden from a monkey’s view
  • If the monkey thinks you have food, but you don’t, show your empty palms.
  • Stand your ground if a monkey does attack. Show your teeth as a sign of aggression. Showing weakness brings them on.
  • If a monkey shows aggression, i.e, blinks, shows its teeth, yawns or smiles wide, don’t make eye contact and walk away.

This article also offers advice if you are attacked.

  • Shake a stick at the monkey, and if that doesn’t work, rap it on the head with the stick.
  • Form an O shape with your mouth, lean forward and raise your eyebrows

For more detailed advice and an explanation of monkey behavior, the World Hum article has excellent information. The post also presents a rundown of where monkeys are most prevalent. Jason Biggs was in one of them. They are:

India, Gibraltar, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Cape Town, South Africa

Headed to Africa? Emailing home just got easier

Cyberjunkies face a serious problem when going to Africa–most countries have slow and unreliable Internet service. I’ve been encountering this problem myself as I try to set up my upcoming trip to The Gambia. Luckily for some countries, a new high-speed fiber optic cable will provide quick access to the rest of the world.

The BBC reports that the first undersea cable serving East Africa has just come online. Now South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Mozambique have a dedicated connection to Europe and Asia. Email can then be routed through one of the nodes there to continue on to places like North America. The cable is owned by African company Seacom and was supposed to go online in June but was delayed because of pirates off the Somali coast.

The faster connection is good news not only for homesick tourists, but also African businesspeople and students, like the Tanzanian schoolkids pictured here, and will help lower the “information debt” of several developing countries.

Anyone willing to fund a certain Gadling blogger to check out the connections for himself? I’ll be happy to report back on my findings.

For summer, a banquet of exotic fresh fruits: Bring travel back home

So you’re at home this summer. Your vacation budget is bust. Sure, there are backyard barbeques with friends and family stretching out into summer, but that tropical vacation feels long gone.

Or perhaps, you have never been on a tropical vacation. Perhaps a tropical fruit to you is the canned version of Dole pineapple–the one that waits in your kitchen cabinet.

Hop to it. An exotic experience might be as close as your neighborhood grocery store. As you browse the fruit, section buy those that you haven’t tried before.

Perhaps, they are the odd looking ones. Go head. Pick one up. If you’re heading to a barbeque, bring some with you and give your friends a geography lesson with the bounty. If you’re a parent, pull out a geography book and give your kids a taste of the world.

Here are suggestions and countries where such tastes can be had. I found them in local markets where I’ve lived and traveled, and some of them, in my own backyard.

1. Last year we purchased three dragon fruits in Chinatown in New York City. Dragon fruits, a nickname for pitaya, are cultivated in Vietnam, among other places. Those three brought back memories of our pleasures of first trying them on our first Vietnam visit. Even though I’ve had them elsewhere, I attach them to this Vietnam experience.

2. In Bangkok, we head straight to the fresh coconut stand across from the Regency Park where we always stay. The vendors cut off the tops of coconuts, add a hole and slip in a straw. Sucking out fresh coconut juice is one of my daughter’s favorite treats.

3. Taiwan was the first place I ate a star fruit. A friend of mine had carefully cut one of these slightly sweet fruits into star-shaped slices and arranged them on a plate for a lunchtime dish.

4. Also in Taiwan, on a bus ride to Taroko Gorge, I ate an Asian pear for the first time at a rest stop. The crunchy, refreshing taste is distinct from the pears grown in the U.S. They’re like apples, but not quite.

5. In the Gambia, I was greeted each morning during the rainy season by a tree filled with mangoes that created welcome shade in my backyard. With lack of refrigeration, I ate mangoes morning, noon and night and made mango jam, mango bread and added mango slices to oatmeal. Since the season for that tree was so short, I didn’t have time to get tired of them. Not all mangoes are the same. I prefer the ones with juicy flesh and very little strings to get caught in my teeth.

6. If you’ve ever eaten bananas where they are grown, particularly the red ones that are not much bigger than a fat finger, you’ll have a hard time adjusting to the Cavendish variety most common to grocery stores. The Gambia also was a worthy introduction into banana wealth.

7. Also, in the Gambia, papaya trees were one of the easiest fruit trees to grow. Thus, papayas were everywhere, and almost all year long. Although I like them, I suggest squirting a bit of lime on your slice to add a bit of zip to the flavor.

8. The first time I ate a pomelo, my great aunt and uncle brought one back from California. As a young girl, the size amazed me. It’s the largest citrus fruit there is. Before I ate it, I took it to school for show and tell.

9. Singapore is a fruit lovers delight. Even though we had a durian tree in our backyard, we let other people have the fruit that is so stinky it’s banned on subways. I have had durian ice cream and found it appealing.

10. I first developed a taste for rambutans that we bought from the market in Singapore. One isn’t enough.

Of course, if you happen to live in the tropics, relish what you have. You’re lucky. You get the goods fresh off the trees.