You seem to have found yourself on "Feathery Travels". My name is Katie Featherstone and sometimes I go places. Often I stay longer than originally planned.
After falling down a black hole into the refugee crisis for nearly half of 2016, Dan and I escaped with the remainder of our sanity in our van "Burt" to recover. Through several strokes of luck and kindness, we found Summer jobs in the Fjallabak nature reserve in Iceland; that has allowed us to maintain this slow, travelling lifestyle much longer than expected.
I am updating snippets more regularly from here and slowly trying to piece together the rest of my words.
I'm excited to say that this will be my second Summer in the Icelandic Highlands. My job as a warden revolves around the Laugavegur hiking trail and its campsites.
Passing through areas of colourful geothermal activity; across snow plains; over ice bridges; through vast, black lava fields; and finally down into a twisted birch forest with the view out towards two glaciers – all within 56km – it's no surprise that the Laugavegur is Iceland's most famous hiking trail. It's an incredibly beautiful trek, but for every nine people I've met having the time of their lives, there was [at least] one who hated it. Aside from a defeatist attitude or serious lack of physical fitness, the most certain thing to ruin your hike is the lack of adequate gear. Though temperatures are not that much more extreme than many other places in Europe, the wind can get phenomenally strong and you'd be very lucky to pass a whole day without having to don your water-proofs.
Before catching a bus to Landmannalaugar (or Þórsmörk), you should always check the weather forecast for wind-speed and rain, but don't begin the hike without also talking to the wardens first.
We arrived at Popenguine at the end of the Pentecost festivities. The streets were a mess of half-deconstructed market stalls, stumbling revellers and strewn plastic cups. Feeling tired from the
journey, we were thankful to find that – apart from pointing us in the direction of the ancient church – nobody paid us much attention. There were a few other toubabs*, enough to make us
unremarkable, but they mostly seemed to live there and (in May) there was little tourism to speak of.
*White or foreign people.
My partner Dan and I were backpacking around The Gambia and Senegal for six weeks. This is the information I was looking for before we left...
Unless (like us) you are carting around bodyboards or other specialised equipment, there is no reason why you can't fit all your luggage into a "day pack", hand-luggage sized bag. The warm weather means you can usually wash and dry things within a few hours, but if you do find you need more clothes, a visit to a fabric shop and tailor is fun and affordable (between three and ten pounds for a shirt in The Gambia) and second hand clothes markets are common. Almost anything broken can be fixed, so make sure you ask around before throwing stuff away.
After crossing the border into Senegal, we made a bee-line for the coast. We were looking for surf in Toubab Dialaw; it took three days to arrive. We walked south, right out of the village, to where women were collecting rocks from the sea and then a little further, and bobbed in the waves like seals. When it got bigger, the ride was short and dumpy, smashing Dan into the sand and grazing his head. It didn't stop him trying again of course.
This is a very boring post, please proceed directly to either of the following unless you need advice:
If you are looking for pre-departure packing and preparation tips for backpacking in The Gambia and Senegal, I've written a whole post for you!
Travel onward from Bwiam was hot and mildly confusing. Initially we caught a big bus to Soma. Out of the window, what limited modernity we had become accustomed to dropped away; roofs changed to thatch and houses shrunk, men began to wear robes more commonly than t-shirts and horse carts soon outnumbered private vehicles. Soma was predominantly a busy intersection, swirling with dust and criss-crossed by semi-panicked donkeys. We went to check the bank for an ATM and were greeted by a nervous, armed security guard, his finger on the trigger, who seemed eager for us to leave. It was much more confusing than threatening. We quickly found a gelly-gelly bound for Janjanbureh.
At any given time, it is rare to be further than thirty centimetres away from a baby on public transport. We provided in-transit entertainment or sometimes accidental terror. Up until that day we had found travel to be quite fun, but the novelty wore off as we waited for the minibus to fill up; trundled off after a bump start (nearly leaving Dan behind); and proceeded to stop what felt like one hundred times, once for as long as an hour, over as many kilometres. To the other passengers dismay (and our confusion) merely a tenth of the journey away from Janjanbureh, we were turfed out of that bus and onto another. Then we waited for that one to fill up. All in all, one hundred and eighty kilometers from Bwiam to Janjanbureh took us seven and a half hours. Dan was getting an increasingly bad back and upon arrival, we accidentally paid one hundred dalasi instead of ten for the five minute ferry crossing across the river Gambia. Finally, we arrived on the north bank dispirited, dirty and on the verge of heat stroke.
We lingered in Sanyang, nervous of our next step, hiding amongst other tourists we didn't even like to avoid the unknown quantity that was public transport. There is limited information about this sort of travel within The Gambia; no such thing as bus times, numbered stands or labelled destinations. What hints I could find were so vague that I could have assumed them. Unable to delay any further*, we set out early one morning to walk the few dusty kilometres into Sanyang town.
Staying there for nearly a week in the end, I have struggled to put my experience of Tumani Tenda into a digestible format. As is so often the case, the atmosphere was made by the wonderful staff, so I am trying to do them justice.
For learning about life in a Gambian village, about sustainable farming or for bird watching, it's hard to imagine a more ideal set up. The prices are listed upon arrival, so there is no need to haggle and activities are very affordable coming from Europe. Most importantly, any profit made is channelled straight back into the community.
The following information is enough for the basis of a thesis, so I have broken it up into sections. You might just want to look at the photos...
Far from fresh-faced having slept in the airport, but new to The Gambia, we were not looking for a challenge in our first few nights in the country. Avoiding Senegambia, the most popular and notoriously tourist infested strip of beach further north, we found Rainbow Beach Bar and Lodgings by the reliable method of arranging accommodation on booking.com* in order of lowest price first...
*Not an advert!
Always fond of Cornwall, but never quite sure where to start, I found myself in Portreath with the sole purpose of buying Dan a new bodyboard. That was the beginning of a series of trips we made in the van.* Dan could play in the surf while I hiked the coast path. Gwithian to Perranporth was hardly a grand epic; I began wherever the surf was good, left Dan in the water and walked for a couple of hours to a designated point where he (and Burt) could pick me up again. Along the way were some of the most incredible places I've ever found in England.
I've arranged the segments logically (west to east) for your sanity...
*The now deceased "Burt".
I'm writing this in the present tense because I can't sleep. Burt [the van] is broken, but we still don't know if this is the end of the road. Hopefully the mechanic will tell us in the morning and the wait, at least, will be over. On life's scale of problems, this is small fry, but I'm not good at waiting.
This is now our forth night here in Gavião. I spent the first day moping in the room of our guesthouse; it was raining, but I still should have ventured outside. By yesterday I was already stir crazy; irritable and bored. The sun came out, so I walked out of the village, down the main road, round an empty roundabout and out of sight. The roadside trees, plots of tall cabbage and distant barking dogs did me good. This place didn't even know I was there. I floated loosely through reality like Schrödinger's cat, wondering if I might have disappeared.
After three weeks of storms and surf, I cruelly dragged Dan away from Sagres. We were going to head north.
Finally free from the English winter, semi-permeated with grey but not entirely swallowed, I [we] fled south. Snow storms descended on northern Europe, clutching after Burt's* exhaust as he valiantly chugged through France; down past the ancient wood-striped houses south of Le Havre, missing a baby boar on the road and all the way to Basque country without even a drop of rain. In the small village Garmarthe, perched low on Pyrenean slopes, we bought cheese from the loft of a sheep barn; bread from bakeries and vegetables from green-grocers, we were determined not to just be a drain on the places we visited this time.
*Burt is the name of our van.
Probably aged seven or eight, the first time I came across a stuffed animal I made my Mum hide it behind the sofa, I wouldn't look at the mummy in the Tutankhamun exhibition (Dorchester, not Egypt) and finding a dead sheep on the beach gave me nightmares. More recently I stopped eating meat for all the sensible environmental reasons, but partly also just so I wouldn't have to think about dead things while I chewed anymore; an ancient building full of them shouldn't have held much appeal...