Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gambia: Wednesday March 19

Charlie and I had the day to ourselves, since our companions are up country at Farafina (sp?) until Thursday some time. Our adventure of the day was a trip to the Serrakunda (sp?) market.

We took a taxi to the market (D75) rather than trying to get there by short hops at D5 apiece. It was a good idea, because once you get close to the market area things are pretty chaotic. Within a minute of being let out, a local man named Ibrahim had attached himself to us as our new best friend and wouldn't go away. He was quite insistent, and we gradually just got used to him rather than try to make a scene.

The good news is that he did indeed show us parts of the market that otherwise we wouldn't have known about, or would not have found. He also "helped" in negotiations to buy things, which probably means they quadrupled the price before starting, so that he could get his cut after we negotiated downward.

Our first purchase was two silver rings that Charlie bought, D700 for both (about US$35). We bought them from the maker, who sized and polished them right there for us. Originally they asked D700 each.

Later I bought some batik sheets that I liked a lot. Originally the vendor was asking for D700 -- I got the first one for D350 and the second one for D325. I'm told that these women dye the sheets themselves, but I'm not sure I believe that. The market is a great place to buy batik, with a huge selection. Again, I really don't know what the price would be for locals, but I'm sure it's much less. Our "guide" is certainly getting a hefty commission, which he's basically extorting from the vendors.

I bought a silver necklace from a Mauritanian vendor. Then I asked if there was some place that sold drums. Our "guide" said sure and took us to a little stand hidden deep inside one of the markets, where there were two little tourist drums. I said no, and that should have been the end of it, but one of his assistants rushed off to get a few more drums for our consideration. He returned a few minutes later with three nice djemba's. D1800 for the larger one, or D2000 with a fitted bag. About US$100. I didn't like the setup -- we weren't able to actually see the selection, just the ones they had brought us. But I liked the idea of getting a nice drum and being finished with it.

Negotiation wasn't very effective in terms of price. Finally I agreed to D1800 for the drum and bag together. I asked around later, and I think that's about double the going rate. Oh well. I guess I haven't told the story of the D1000 bottle of gin yet.

Part of the transaction involved exchanged US$100 bill for Dolassis, and this was easily taken care of with a vendor two stalls away. In fact I got the best rate of the trip: D19 to the dollar.

Afterwards, Ibrahim led us back to the street without incident. I knew he'd want some money and thought I'd give him 100-200 Dolassis (even though he must have made a killing on all the commissions). Well he asked for 500 (US$25). I didn't have much Dolassis left anyway so gave him a 5 Euro note (about US$7.50). I'm sure this was still excessive, but it avoided any problems. he seemed happy, I don't think he knew the exchange rate.

Ibrahim was going to take us to where we could get taxis, but I wanted to call it a day, so I flagged down a passing one. Instead of D75 to get back to the hotel it cost us D100, because Ibrahim & co. demanded a D25 commission from the driver. The driver told us afterward that they told him to charge D200, and give them 100, but he wouldn't do it.

Back to the hotel through back streets of Serrakunda, which was great. Passed one djemba factory, which is when the driver told me I could get my djemba for D800-1000. Well, it could have been worse, and it saved time, and it would cost much more in the USA of course.

In the evening we took a taxi about 10km to the new Sheraton hotel, that one of Doug's Gambian friends had been describing. It really is magnificent, but it's pretty isolated. We had drinks in the outdoor bar overlooking the pool and the beach, then dinner in the adjacent restaurant while a local band played on a stage in the middle of the pool. It was windy but nice.

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