Farafenni

Also known as Chakubanta or Faracity, Farafenni is a busy little cosmopolitan junction town, on the north bank of the Gambia about 100km upriver from the capital Banjul which lies on the south bank. The better roads in Gambia are on the north bank. Hence, travellers make use of the Banjul Barra ferry to reach their destination faster by the North bank road to Farafenni crossroads that lie on the N4 Trans Gambian Highway. Dubbed 'a road with numerous pot holes' this highway joins the southern Casamance area of Senegal with Northern Senegal, with Farafenni being some 3km from the Senegalese border at Keur Ayip.

The town made headlines this year when the UK Medical Research Council donated its field centre there to the University of the Gambia's School of Medicine & Allied Health Science and funded two paediatric posts at the Banjul Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital. Farafenni has built itself a name for research into the country's population and health, with a focus on malaria prevention and use of bed-nets for malaria control. Gambia is to focus its next five years' research on child survival, disease control/elimination and vaccines.

According to "Rough Guide to Gambia," Eddy's Hotel is the best-known place to stay with both shaded courtyard and resident bats, though rooms are reported as shabby, the generator can play up and the nightclub reported rarely open. Alternative accommodation at Ballanghar Motel with 11 simple courtyard rooms in a quiet area relies on the local intermittent power supply. Neither have Internet links. The best bar in town is Assane's near the post office.

To find a local tele-centre with accommodation visitors should travel to Pakali Nding, a satellite village on the Trans-Gambian Highway on the road to the Yelitenda river ferry. Reputedly the best and cheapest lodge in the area, the local restaurants offer omelettes, hot drinks and bread in the mornings, chicken, fish or rice around lunchtime. The Video Restaurant on the Basse road with a shaded terrace and benches is also recommended.

There's judicious praise for the local Fula-made tapalapa bread, heavier in consistency than French stick bread, it does not dry out for three or four days and is the equivalent of wholemeal bread. Sliced lengthways and buttered with the addition of a cream cheese, hard-boiled egg and a sprinkling of a Maggi cube flavouring, it is reported as sufficient for a midday meal and costs about 20p.

Farafenni of course has its ordinary market situated opposite the Farafenni Gamtel, as well as shops and a smaller market on the Kerewan Highway. But its show piece event is the weekly Sunday Lumo Market, from 7am to 6pm held at the outskirts of the town, adjacent to the Farafenni Mini Stadium. Despite its high level of commercial activity this is reported to have a pleasantly rural and more relaxed atmosphere than the markets of Serrekunda and Banjul, with fresher air and more room to browse.

Visitors are advised to join locals and travel by horse and donkey carts which operate like bush taxis when going to the Lumo. While English is the official language of Gambia, Senegalese, Guineans, Mauritanians and Wolof will be there and both French and Mandinka will be spoken.

Among the food and household items offered in the market are vermillion palm oil, locust beans, kola nuts, juju and fetish items, wax cotton designs, batik and the indigo Fula cloth. Fula cloth is the foundation of centuries-old textile traditions throughout West Africa, where from Sahara's Tuareg nomads to the Cameroons, clothes dyed with indigo signified wealth.

For those wanting to explore, the local fishing village of Ballingo, reached by a south heading road opposite the hospital, signposted by some circles of baobabs and silk cotton trees, can offer a muddy beach used for swimming. Here fishermen can be found mending nets and laying mullet out on tables to dry. And for those who enjoy variety in their travel transport, commission a boat owner for a river ride by dugout pirogue.

Farafenni has two bush taxi garages, direct minibuses from Soma via the River Gambia ferry and a smaller garage on the Kerewan road. The road between Kerewan and Farafenni is reported rutted and hard going after rain, while that from Lamin Koto is relatively easy going. From Farafenni to northern Senegal, travellers are advised to take a shared taxi north up the Highway to the border post at Keur Ayip, where they can change for destinations such as Nioro du Rip, Kaolack and Dakar.


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