Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gambia day 4: Beaches, museums, and fishing markets

gambia fishing

This is DAY 4 of my adventures in The Gambia. Also check out Day 1: Boat Trips, Forest Walks, and Eco-Lodges, Day 2: The Roots of Kunta Kinteh, and Day 3: Petting Crocodiles and Monkeys.

Tanji Fishing Centre 

There’s no better place to experience a real touch of The Gambia than at the beach of the Tanji Fishing Centre, so I started my day by watching the inhabitants walk into the sea to assist fishermen to unload their catch and carry it in baskets to the shore. 

Part of the fish is sold immediately on the beach itself, alongside a broad variety of fruit and vegetables. Another part is brought to the beach’s smoking houses where they are smoked and packed in containers. It’s definitely something I’d recommend, but the smell of the smoked fish is so pungent that you’ll probably race through it all as fast as you can. 

In any case, the Tanji Fishing Centre is not to be missed when you visit The Gambia.

tanji fishing centre
gambia fishing boats
tanji fishing centre gambia
beach market
fresh fish market
tanji fishing market
tanji market gambia
smoking fish houses

Sandele Eco Retreat 

Next, we went into the forest, at the edge of miles of deserted beach, to visit the Sandele Eco Retreat. Upon our arrival, we were served baobab juice or African milkshake. First time I ever had one, and I absolutely loved it. Some thought of it as too sweet, but the touch of vanilla and sugar was just the right dose to bring the unique taste of the baobab to life. 

Just like the Tumani Tenda Camp (see day 1), the Sandele Eco Retreat is a community-based resort that is completely locally made and uses its profit to support the inhabitants of the nearby village of Kartong. For every tourist staying in the retreat, twenty-five percent of the generated income goes to the village. For additional revenue, the 4000 people that live in Kartong rely on farming and fishing. For now, the retreat is leasing the lodges from their British owners, but in ten years the Sandele Eco Retreat will entirely belong to the village. 

Sandele Eco Retreat has won a number of awards, including The Guardian's Ethical Travel Award and Trip Advisor's Certificate of Excellence.

sandele eco retreat

sandele eco retreat gambia

Rainbow Beach Bar 

By now, it was time for lunch. And what better place to do so than at the Rainbow Beach Bar, with a magnificent view on the ocean, the sand tickling between our toes, and a local Jul Brew beer at arm’s reach?  

beach bar gambia
rainbow beach bar gambia
beach gambia

Tanji Village Museum 

In the afternoon, we visited the Tanji Village Museum, a private institution presenting the ethnographic and natural history of The Gambia. In the different galleries, we learn about Gambian birds, reptiles, fish, insects, and wildlife, but large sections are also dedicated to the exposition of local instruments such as wollof drums, kora, five-stringed lute, simbingo, rattles, etc. Outside the museum, huts and live representations show us a hint of what life in The Gambia is like. 

After the tour around the museum, the staff treated us to a little performance of live traditional music.  

tanji village museum
tanji village museum gambia
gambia museum
gambia tanji village museum
gambia tanji museum
gambia huts
gambia live music

Goat market 

On our way back to the hotel, Coconut Residence, we made a small stop at a goat market. I thought I had seen it all when it comes to goats (dozens of them walk around on the Gambian streets), but in this place there were more goats than I could count.

goat market
gambia goat market
goat market gambia

Dinner at Coco Ocean Resort and Spa

We ended the day with dinner at one of the chicest hotels in The Gambia: Coco Ocean Resort and Spa

coco ocean resort gambia

Disclaimer: I visited The Gambia as a guest of The Gambia Tourism Board, Coconut Residence, and SN Brussels Airlines. The opinions are my own. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Film Fest Ghent

film fest ghent

Red carpet movie premieres, chic reception parties, and lots of high-quality films... That's what Film Fest Ghent is all about. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to spend four days at the festival. Here's a little overview of my time there.

mr turner timothy spall
mr turner

My first day at Film Fest Ghent started with four press screenings. The first one was Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner. In Leigh's biopic on J.M. William Turner (Britain's most famous 19th century landscape painter), he focuses on all hinge moments from the last 25 years from Turner's life and zooms in on the importance of certain people such as his father, his housekeeper, his ex, his lover, and some colleagues from the Royal Academy of Arts, which at the same time admired and loathed him. Leigh has eye for historical detail and includes many famous anecdotes including Turner who wants to be tied up to the mast of a ship so he'll better paint a snow storm. The scoop compositions of cameraman Dick Pope often remind us of Turner's paintings. But what makes Mr Turner really worthwhile is Timothy Spall's performance for which he received an award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. He portrays J.M. William Turner as a grumpy, sarcastic man who barely shows his emotions in everyday life, but when he does, you know that the pain is deep, and it's in these scenes that Timothy Spall's performance touches to the core.

eau zoo
eau zoo

Next came Eau Zoo, an observation of adolescents who are legally required to marry someone from within the community. Wanting to be free to make their own decisions, they look for a way out. 

Director Emilie Verhamme is said to be one of the upcoming talents in Belgium, but her story lacks pacing, structure, and character development, and is ultimately more boring than anything else. Good concept, though.

alfred molina and john litgow in love is strange
love is strange

The third press screening was for Love Is Strange, the follow-up to Ira Sachs' Keep The Lights On. After a relationship of 39 years, Ben (John Litgow) and George (Alfred Molina) marry and buy an apartment together. Now that their relationship is official, one of them loses his job and the couple can no longer pay for their apartment. They are pulled in by friends and family, but living apart and adapting themselves to others isn't as easy as they thought it would be.  

Love Is Strange is made with care and has some realistic, fleshed-out characters, but I would have preferred a tougher, more rational approach to the subject. Instead, Ira Sachs' focuses on being cute and funny and, because of that, the film loses much of its impact.

these final hours
these final hours

I ended my first day at Film Fest Ghent with These Final Hours. The movie opens with a radio announcement that there's only twelve hours to go before an impact event will destroy Australia. In the streets, anarchy reigns. People plunder and murder to their heart's content. Headliner James leaves his pregnant girlfriend behind to do drugs and alcohol. On his way to the party, he takes a child under his care that is looking for her father. 

I generally love movies about the end of the world, because they capture so well the fear of dying. These Final Hours is no exception. The tension surrounding the impending end is omnipresent and the movie's themes make us reflect on how we would react ourselves in this situation.

waste land
waste land

On Monday, I attended the red carpet premiere of the new Belgian crime movie Waste Land by Pieter Van Hees (Dirty Mind, Left Bank). It seemed as if everyone from the Belgian movie and TV business was present at the premiere, and the reception was accordingly chic, with lots of good wine and culinary delights. But despite all the glamour of the evening, the best part remained the movie itself. For Waste Land, Pieter Van Hees crept into the head of an unstable police officer who neglects his pregnant girlfriend in favor of a bizarre murder investigation. A dark tale of crime, adultery, and drugs set in the heart of Brussels.

red carpet movie premiere
red carpet premiere
movie reception party

Four days later, on Friday, I attended another movie premiere: Follow Ghent II. In this Belgian anthology made specifically for the film festival, ten shorts are presented that all take place in Ghent. Apart from the recurring location, the stories are all diverse, both in subject and quality. Only three really stood out. The first was a hilarious short film about the awkwardness of a first date (I loved the pacing and humor), the second was about a girl looking for her lost father (I bet you can't see the twist coming), and the third a story about the romantic rivalry between two girls (a bit flat in terms of story, but with great locations and good chemistry between the girls). Overall, Follow Ghent II was an interesting but imperfect film.

world soundtrack awards
world soundtrack awards
francis lai bruno coulais
only god forgives soundtrack
gabriel yared
cliff martinez

On Saturday, I concluded the festival with the World Soundtrack Awards which included a philharmonic interpretation of several soundtrack scores by Cliff Martinez (Only God Forgives, Contagion, Wicker Park, Solaris, Kafka, A l'origine, Espion). Given the many celebrities that attended the awards (Brett Easton Ellis, Gabriel Yared, Jef Neve, Prince Laurent from Belgium, etc) I expected something exceptional from Cliff Martinez' concert, but the end result was lifeless and too short. Also, though Cliff Martinez was present at the award ceremony, he didn't play or conduct himself. 

Any movie you'd like to see from this list? I'd love to know.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gambia day 3: Petting crocodiles and monkeys

monkey forest park

Monkey Park 

My third day in The Gambia started with a walk through Monkey Park. Normally, this is the place to see green velvet monkeys and red colubus monkeys. In the morning, however, all the monkeys were OUTSIDE of the forest, more precisely in the gardens of the Kokoli Beach Club Hotel where they hoped to snatch some breakfast. 

Luckily, Monkey Park is renowned for it accommodation to 153 bird species and 180 types of butterflies. 

The forest is also home to pythons, adders, mambas, and cobras, but they are afraid of people and rarely come out, certainly at this time of year when they are hibernating.

monkey forest park
monkey gambia

Kachikally Crocodile Pool 

Our next stop was the Kachikally Crocodile Pool in Bakau where you can walk amongst the crocodiles and even pet them if you like. 

When I tell someone that I cuddled a crocodile in The Gambia, no one believes me. But making friends with crocodiles is fairly easy at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool. In fact, the crocodiles are friendly and approachable because their hunger is being stilled with lots of fish (the official argument, though, is that the crocodiles are docile because they live in sacred water). Whatever the reason, they really are tame, and I could even rub my hand over the animal’s flabby belly. 

Even locals go to Kachikally, though not with the same objective as tourists. The pool in which the crocodiles bathe is a shrine and soaking yourself in the water is said to offer protection and improve good fortune. Many women go here for fertility reasons and then name their children Kachikally out of gratitude.

kachikally crocodiles
kachikally crocodile park
kachikally gambia

Royal Albert Market 

We then had a stroll at the famous Albert Market in Banjul. Locals sell fish, vegetables, fruit, and clothes here, but not in the most hygienic of all circumstances. The uncooled fish in particular attracts many flies. 

As you may have learned from my blog Traveling Cats, the stallholders didn’t want to have their cats photographed. Most of them were yelling and one woman even through salads at me. I asked a few Gambian people what this was all about, but no one really knew.

royal albert market
albert market gambia
royal albert market gambia
albert market banjul

Lunch at Laico Atlantic 

Lunch happened at Laico Atlantic, a beachfront hotel with a penchant for the eighties. Laico Atlantic reminded me of the Spanish hotels where my grandparents and I used to stay twenty to thirty years ago.

laico atlantic gambia
gambia beaches

Ministry of Health 

After lunch we headed to the Ministry of Health to talk about Ebola and how it has affected the region. I already knew that there was NO ebola in The Gambia and that the government had taken several measures to keep the disease from invading the country (such as closing the airport for infected countries and medical check-ups for everyone who enters The Gambia), but I still learned quite a lot about their measures to educate the local people on Ebola prevention. It’s a pity that tourists are avoiding Africa completely right now whereas Ebola is only present in three countries.

gambia people
gambia woman
gambia africa
gambia kids

The Coconut Residence 

We then left our former resort, The Bamboo Garden Hotel, and checked into the new The Coconut Residence. The place was absolutely adorable and we were happy to have a few hours off before heading for dinner. After being welcomed with a hibiscus juice served in a coconut, I took a seat on the balcony of my bungalow to catch up on some blog-related work. I had the visit of several blue velvet monkeys and a cat.

blue velvet monkeys
monkeys swimming pool

Sheraton Hotel 

The day ended with a visit of the chic and elegant Sheraton Hotel and dinner at their excellent outdoors buffet. 

Disclaimer: I visited The Gambia as a guest of The Gambia Tourism Board, The Coconut Residence, and SN Brussels Airlines. The opinions are my own.