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Safety Advice For Travellers To Gambia

Bumsters Heatstroke / Sunburn
   
Crime Malaria Prevention
   
Food & Drink Scams & Conmen
   
Health Swimming
   
Introduction:
When coming on holiday to The Gambia it is advisable to understand the various risks to your health and personal safety, and to take some simple precautions against potentially harmful threats, hazards, and loss, in order to make your stay a pleasant one. Most visits to The Gambia are problem-free although independent travellers are at increased risk due to the lack of local support in an emergency. If you're travelling independently, make sure next of kin have details of your itinerary and keep in touch regularly.

  Bumsters:
These people, usually harmless, are on the whole jobless young males who try to eke out some kind of benefit from tourists through hustling and hassling. These benefits are usually in the form of money, meals, gifts, marriage or an air ticket abroad. The way to deal with bumsters is to politely, but firmly, rebut their advances of 'helping' you, and don't engage in conversation. Visitors should also be particularly careful of people offering to take them on tours to Senegal. The chances are that the proper immigration procedures have not been followed.

Crime:
The number of felonies committed against tourists is low but has been increasing, particularly the theft of valuables from hotel rooms such as passports. Don't display large sums of cash in public and avoid taking your valuables to the beach. Don't leave your personal possessions in cars. Physical assaults on tourists are not common but have been occurring increasingly.

Heatstroke & Sunburn:
If you have not yet acclimatized to the hot, humid clime then it can sometimes feel oppressive. You might under-estimate the power of the tropical sunshine and this could lead you into health troubles. There are basic protection measures you can take to avoid sunburn, dehydration and heatstroke.

HIV / AIDS & Other STDs:
Before engaging in any sexual activity you must always use a condom or femidom, preferably bought from your own country. Local condoms may not reach European standards for reliability and safety and can put you at risk for contracting HIV / AIDS. The danger of re-used needles is ever present, though unlikely, so if you are staying long-term or want to travel to the up-country regions then consider packing your own disposable syringes, as these maybe in short supply.

LGBT Rights:
Consensual sexual relations between men is illegal in The Gambia. There is no similar law aimed at women. Prison terms can range from 5 to 14 years, and there is powerful societal discrimination against Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender and Gay  individuals.

Night Time:
Be careful about where you go after dark, especially in locations away from the main holiday resorts. Do not go for walks along the beach at night unless you are venturing out not far from the front of your hotel, it is well lit and there is security nearby. Avoid going to dark, rundown urban areas in the evenings. There have been reports of muggings and bag snatches from tourists.

Overland To Senegal:
Do not travel by road from The Gambia to the Casamance region in southern Senegal. This region remains affected by incidents involving presumed separatist groups and there have been reports of banditry.

Pedestrian Road Safety:
Many travellers who are newly experiencing an exotic vacation worry about tropical diseases, but accidents are more likely to occur. Traffic accidents are quite widespread in The Gambia, so be aware and do what you can to minimise the risks. For example  if you are walking along the road try to keep on the left side of the road so you can see any oncoming traffic, try to avoid unlit roads where possible, wear bright clothing and carry a small torchlight. Use common sense before getting into a bush taxi, for example if the driver is drunk or appears under the influence of other substances, then ask to be let out. Finally, try not to walk on the road itself despite the lack of what you might call a pavement. You could get hit by a car trying to avoid potholes, cattle, or other vehicles.



River Travel:
Lifejackets are unlikely to be provided on the ferry crossing to and from the capital of Banjul to Barra. This is also the case with the other ferry services operating further east along the River Gambia. Often such vessels can be overcrowded or suffer engine breakdown mid-river. If you decide to use the ferry, and are boarding by car, then you should get all your passengers out of the car and board by foot. Also keep your windows open as the car moves onto the deck. After it has parked you can close your windows and exit immediately to avoid getting trapped inside during the crossing. Do not use the ferry after dark. Travellers should think twice before using one of the privately operated African pirogues to cross the river. These look like wooden dug-out canoes which are generally risky as they don't often provide lifejackets, are usually overcrowded, might have an engine breakdown mid-river, and have been known to sink in rough waves.

Scams & Conmen:
These types of fraudulent men and women often tourists various hard luck stories in order to garner your sympathy, and most importantly money. It could take the form of 'no more rice left for the family', 'my brother had a car accident and is in hospital and needs medicines now', 'my landlord is going to throw me out of my room tomorrow', etc. Most of these stories are just that, stories, a figment of their fraudulent imaginations. Having said that there are many genuine hard luck stories when you bear in mind the level of poverty in The Gambia. If you really want to help then you say that you will buy the rice or you will go immediately to the hospital and meet their 'brother' etc. Be careful however as many will simply get others in on the scam to defraud you.

Snakes:
It is quite likely you will not even see a snake in The Gambia, though they are common in bushy areas. In any case snakes rarely attack unless provoked, plus the vast majority of them are harmless.

When walking in bushy areas try to walk heavily and they will most likely slip away. You can also wear boots and thick, long trousers. Even if bitten only about half of the snakes here actually release any venom, so keep that at the back of you mind should suffer snake bit. But do stay calm and don't try things like tourniquets, sucking the venom out, cutting the bitten area. What you should do is stay calm, keep the limb below the height of your heart, bind the wound and loosen it every 30 minutes, restrict the movement of the limb by using a splint, then get yourself to an appropriate medical centre, such as MRC, to receive anti-venom. You don't necessarily need to kill the snake as it may put you in danger of being bitten again and put the safety of others at risk. Most anti-venom these days are polyvalent, which means they are effective against multiple venom. Finally, just to be on the safe side, do not wash the wound as this could make identification of the snake more difficult.

 Swimming:
There are some marine dangers which you should be alert to. Among these are swimming in potentially dangerous beach locations with strong currents (always look out for the sea condition flags), and don't swim off deserted beaches, especially not alone. The other possible threats to look out for are stingrays, jellyfish and stepping on sea urchins. However, you can minimise these hazards by using a well used beach. Swimming in streams can put you into contact with waterborne diseases such as bilharzia carrying microorganisms.

Wildlife, Bites & Injuries:
Though there is rabies in The Gambia, stray dogs here are generally scared of humans due to the constant stonings of dogs that get too near to people. A rabid dog, cat or other mammal in a 'Furious Phase' is an entirely different matter, so if you get bitten by a dog, monkey or other animal you should immediately wash the site of the bite for at least 15 minutes with plenty of water, soap, detergent, povidone iodine or other substance that kill the rabies virus. Then immediately  go and seek medical attention. The other kinds of animals you should treat with care are crocodiles and hippopotamus. Hippos are responsible for more human fatalities each year in Africa than any other large animal.

There are spiders almost everywhere and  scorpions are common too, but you are unlikely to see them as they are very often under logs, and rocks or in crevices and holes. So to increase your safety do not go poking around with your hands in these kinds of places.

Jiggers (sand fleas) can fester in your flesh. If you walk barefoot in contaminated areas, they can latch onto the underside of your foot, normally at the edges of a toenail, where they cause swelling and can be painful. Go see a doctor who can extract them.

Tsetse flies can cause sleeping sickness and have a painful bite. They are especially common near sources of fresh water such as Pirang Forest Park, Makasutu Culture Forest, Abuko Nature Reserve or upriver along the river banks, creeks and tributaries. Sleeping sickness is not widespread and is treatable, so represents only a small threat to travellers. They are attracted to the colour electric blue, large moving objects and are more active away from shaded areas. The symptoms include drowsiness, and swollen neck glands which may show up less than a month after infection.

Tumbu flies can also be a nuisance in built-up areas. The adults lays her eggs on the ground or on drying clothes and when the eggs get on human skin they hatch and bore through your skin. They form a group of boils, with each hatching about 7 days later. If you think you have one of these parasitic flies under you skin then try coating the area with petroleum jelly, this makes the grub come to the surface, at which point you can squeeze them out.

Because you are in the tropics you must take great care with cuts and bruises, and clean and treat them as soon as possible, as there are numerous bacteria and parasitic organisms in either the soil, water and air. Therefore you should pack some antiseptic disinfectant soap and cream, though these are available from local pharmacies and some supermarkets.

Antihistamine tablets or steroid cream can help to reduce inflammation caused by insect stings and bites. Also consider taking along a small first-aid kit and pain killers.

Women's Safety:
Female travellers will most likely be pestered by bumsters. Women should try and avoid going into secluded areas at night. If you are going up-country then try and only travel during the hours of day light and try to go accompanied.
 
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