Gambia was never a place that was top of our bucket list or even on our radar for that matter. It was only when we accepted the fact that Thailand would be a struggle for us at the moment that we considered the African country. A steal of a deal for a two week trip sealed it for us and with little research on where we were going, we booked up.
It wasn’t a bad thing that we did little research as it made it a bit more spontaneous and interesting as we had absolutely no idea what was there or what we could get up. Over the month in the run up to the trip, we did research it more, Googling it and even investing in a Lonely Planet guide. We got excited for the trip, especially since this would be our first holiday together, and couldn’t wait to get away.
The day before our trip, we both trekked to Birmingham to catch the flight the following day. It wasn’t an airport which was easy for either of us but it was worth it and after an overnight stay in an airport hotel, it was an early start to catch the 8am flight to Banjul.
Six hours later and we were greeted by the tropical heatwave of the Gambian weather. It was amazing to be back in the sun and we couldn’t wait to kickstart our holiday. By the time we checked in at the hotel, we were exhausted so all we did was explore the hotel grounds, have a wander up to the ATM and grab a bite of dinner.
During dinner, a Scottish couple shouted over to us and asked if we’d just arrived. They then queried further if we were gutted to be going home the following day. I misunderstood the question through the thick Scottish accent and thought the guy was asking if we were going to attend the welcome meeting. Ash filled me in later of the actual question but we thought nothing of it.
After dinner, we went back to the room for a shower and decided if we wanted to watch the evening entertainnment, we could do so from the balcony. As the entertainment started, we could hear a speech saying that people on holiday with a tour operator I had never heard of were going home the following day but that other tour operators were unaffected. We thought it was a bit unusual but thought nothing of it, never thinking it would affect us.
We had an early night but stupidly, I forgot to turn my alarm off so we were woken up at 5:15am. There was a lot of noise outside as if the entertainment was still going on with someone giving a speech and others shouting out, yet again we thought nothing of it and managed to get back to sleep. Now we reckon it was probably a staff meeting or something regarding the situation.
Once we’d finally had enough rest, we went for breakfast and then popped back to the room. We had a little lie down before getting ready to go to the pool and while we were in there, the cleaner knocked to collect the towels. Ash opened the door and greeted the cleaner saying ‘Hey, you ok?’ which prompted a rant from the cleaner. No, she was not ok, no one in Gambia was ok, what was she to do, she didn’t want to go home and sit around doing nothing. We still had absolutely no idea what was going on and felt a little bit awkward so Ash just listened, said he was sorry to hear that and handed her the towels. It was a bizarre and uncomfortable situation but still having no idea what was happening, we thought nothing more of it and headed to the pool.
Laying in the sun, gazing up at the palm trees, watching the birds and reading my book only lasted 20 minutes before a receptionist ran round the pool asking us all to go to reception immediately. I looked at Ash and even though we still had no idea what was going on, I said to him ‘We’re going home’.
A list was thrown in our face, we were told to find our name to know which flight we were on, had two minutes to pack and had to make our way to the airport as soon as possible. At first, we couldn’t find our name so Ash ran back to the room the pack as fast as he could while I went to reception in search of more lists. We still had no idea what was happening but it seemed urgent. Some people were crying, some kicking off, some just like myself confused. Ash made it back with our belongings, we found out we were heading back to Gatwick which was unhelpful for both of us and were told we didn’t have a choice about going home.
We eventually found out that a new president was due to be inaugurated the following day but the current president was refusing to step down. The president-elect had fled to Senegal for fear of being attacked or arrested and the current president had til the end of the day to step down. If not, it was threatened that the military would take him down and as he had a lot of supporters, it was said that this would start a war. Tourists were being shipped out urgently whilst Gambians were escaping to neighbouring Senegal and trying to jump on any available flight.
We’d both had our phones on flight mode due to excessive data charges in the country and when Ash turned his on, he received worrying texts from him mum. Apparently it was all over the news back at home. In all honesty, I started to cry but not because I was scared but because I was so disappointed. We hadn’t even been in the country 24 hours and already our holiday was over.
We jumped on the first coach that arrived at the hotel and on our way to the airport, army tanks were driving past, soldiers were stationed on street corners and barracks were set up outside the airport.
The crowds at the airport were insane. We were told the Gatwick flight wasn’t checking in yet so we waited. We sat on a curb outside the airport for about 2 hours having conversations with people in the same position and watching others kick off. Although we were both disappointed, we remained surprisingly calm.
Eventually we were told we could queue to check in and we queued for what felt like forever. The airport was tiny, we were rammed together like sardines, everyone was pushing, there were arguments, there was crying and the heat was also a great element. The queue very rarely moved and it felt like we were never making progress. By the time we actually checked in, we had been waiting for eight hours. Thankfully after that, immigration and security was a breeze but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to see our passport stamped with a departure only a day after you arrived.
The flight departed fairly quickly after we were through and after a refuel stop in Gran Canaria, we landed back in the UK at 3:30am. Buses were provided to Manchester and Birmingham airports but as we needed to get back to either Belfast or Middlesbrough, we didn’t really know what to do. In the end we jumped on the one headed to Manchester and booked a coach from Manchester to Middlesbrough.
After no sleep, we arrived back home at 1:30pm exhausted. We were lucky though, our flight was the last to leave and a lot of people who had queued all day like we did had to be turned away and told to come back the following day.
It was so disappointing for our hoiday to end less than a day in. We’d been so looking forward to it and worked hard all last year to be able to go on a trip that ended up being over as soon as it started. When it comes down to it, it was safer to come home than to stay. It was just frustrating that communication was next to none and it was such a ball ache to queue for a flight. It’s annoying that in these situations, people forget to be human and it’s every man for themselves. The amount of pushing, shoving and arguments was a joke which could have been managed with a bit more organisation and if people didn’t act like twats. Safe to say that our first holiday together was a great success!
This blog post is not sponsored or endorsed in any way. All opinions are my own and just that: opinions.