It’s not every day that you get a text out of the blue asking if you want to go to Africa, but then most of my days are not that normal. So, when my friend Christian asked me if I wanted to go to Africa, my answer was quick and to the point, Yes. He had asked me a few years before, but Skylar was only a year old, and we had just moved to Ireland. My next question was “When?” After checking with the wife to see if the dates would work out, I confirmed with a big YES! I did not even ask where in Africa for the first few days. I texted back, “Where?” His reply came a few days later, “GAMBIA.”
Huh? I had never even heard of Gambia before. A quick google search showed me a tiny country, engulfed like a horseshoe from its neighbor Senegal in West Africa. In fact, it turns out to be the smallest country in all of Africa. It was a funky country, with a very twisted sliver of land surrounding a river, and the country’s borders actually followed the bends of the river. The running joke is the British used their gunships to plot the borders of the country by shooting their cannons and marking where the cannon balls landed in the 1800’s as the border. But the Brits are way too proud of their maps, compasses, and precision, to do something like that. (Not like the Brexit mess now)
Christian told me I would need to get some vaccinations and such, especially for Yellow Fever. A few more searches showed that I would also need to get a visa, but the only places you could do that was the embassy in New York, DC, LA, and closer to my little Island, London. Well, that would not work at all. I was not planning on flying to London just to get some paperwork, that would through my entire budget on its heels. After checking some of the small print, it says that you can get a visa within 3 days of arriving by stopping at the government office in Banjo. Though it was very clear, that it only sometimes worked. But you only live once I say, and I was going to Africa!
Africa was always huge on my list of places to go ever since I was young. Elephants, rhinos, surviving in the jungle, Tarzan, swinging from vines, African Queen, lions, baboons, funky trees, and SAFARI. This was my lifelong dream in fact, and I am getting pretty old now, at 45. Sure, I had been to Egypt 20 years ago with my brother, but most people will tell you Egypt is much more like the middle east than Africa. Sure, it’s part of the continent, but a creature all its own.
I was finally going, and I was thrilled, but first I had to get my shots. Turns out there is a great travel doctor in my town of Carlow, Dr. Jonathan Jacob. Of course, my wife had taught his kids at some point, this is Ireland after all. I was able to get all my shots and malaria script from him. He had traveled to Africa numerous times helping in clinics and such over there, so he was a great expert to learn from. He also had some crazy stories of things that could go wrong. Biggest concern was Malaria. As he said, in South East Asia, a person will get bit by a mosquito carrying Malaria once a month. In Gambia, someone will be bit once a day. Then of course there is Dengue fever, schistosomiasis, (a snail in freshwater rivers that does nasty things to you) flies that lay eggs in you and when they hatch they have little breathing holes in your skin, yellow fever, and of course, AIDS. After he gave me a shot in my arm for Yellow Fever I asked if it was safe to drive with the side effects, because I was going to Dublin that afternoon. He joked that unless I drove with my arms above my head, I would be fine. It turns out he was not joking, because I could not lift my arms for the rest of the weekend, but I could drive.
Before I could go to Africa though, I had Christmas in the Detroit to get through, so I tabled my adventure for the time being. Lucky for me, my wife got me a book on Gambia for Christmas, which was not as easy as you think. Lonely Planet’s version was over a decade old, and most the other books were even worse. Lucky for me, Bradt travel guides had one that came out last year, and she got it shipped in time for the holidays. The first thing I learned from my book was the country is not even called Gambia, but The Gambia. It seems everyone was confusing it for Zambia, you can’t have that, so the word “The” was added. Wow, what a difference that makes!