Saturday, August 26, 2006
Tendaba village, huddled around the grounds of Tendaba Camp, has a down-at-heel, shanty-town atmosphere and isn’t much visited by tourists staying at the lodge. Hassle from begging local children can make some new arrivals at Tendaba feel uncomfortable, though it’s no worse than in any other touristy area of The Gambia. Even though Tendaba (“Big Wharf” in Mandinka) is quite a distance from the Atlantic, the Gambia River here is broad, salty and tidal, exposing swathes of mud twice a day. In the distance is the grey-green fringe of tall mangroves that marks the opposite bank.
Tendaba Camp (Tel: 5541024 or 9911088), lies in a prime location on the riverbank side of the village. The “VIP rooms”, self-contained and complete with TV, all have views over the water, as does the restaurant, with its big, cone-shaped thatched roof, and the Bambo Bar by the jetty. The remaining accommodation (the lodge has 150 beds) is in thatched and whitewashed round houses, crammed together in a grove of neem trees as tightly as caravans in a holiday resort, and out of sight of the river. These rooms are very plain, with African-style cement-and-foam beds and shared washing facilities, but they have more a genuinely Gambian character than the pricier riverside rooms. All the rooms have mosquito nets and are sprayed every evening, with good reason.
Although Tendaba is rarely fully booked, and it's all very low-key and basic by international standards, a place on this scale could never be described as intimate, and it has more of a mass-tourism feel than any of the other up-country bush lodges. Standard excursions organized by the lodge include a recommended creek trip across the river and up the Duntu Mallang Bolon on the other side. You arrange these at the bar and go from the end of the main jetty
One of the lodge’s greatest assets is its small but clean swimming pool, with decent showers, available to anyone visiting for the night or just for a meal – reason enough to make a diversion here if you’re travelling on the highway. Tendaba started up as a hunting lodge, but tends to downplay this these days, since birdwatchers far outnumber hunters among the guests.
If you want to do things in strictly local style at Tendaba, then you can eat at Bouywallo restaurant on the waterfront just next to Tendaba Camp, which serves great domoda. Meals need to be ordered in advance and prices are negotiable. The owner can also arrange pirogue trips.