Juffure

Juffure on the banks of the Gambia is described alternately as an 'unremarkable fishing village' on the banks of the river; one of the three must-be-seen places in the country along with Banjul and the Wassu Stone circles; or the perfect location from which to explore Gambia's ancient capital, Banjul. Banjul itself with its hotels and night life is the perfect base from which to travelling easily upriver inland, to as far as the Gambia's Kiang National Park.

The best time to visit is the four months from late October when the humidity is non-problematical, temperatures are reasonable and evenings pleasantly cool.

Juffure today is famous in its own right, from Alex Haley's 1976 bestselling book 'Roots.' It is now also home to a World Heritage building housing a slavery museum. According to local spoken history, the founder of Juffure was Samba Taal, who migrating there in the early part of the 1500s, discovered that the Portuguese, as was their wont, had already arrived.

Luckily colonialists and the largest local ethnic group, the Mandingos lived harmoniously and the ruler or Niumi allowed the British to establish a fresh water well, build gardens and develop a trading post at 'Gilliflee', 'Jithrey' or 'Jillifrey' as it is called locally. The Royal African Company made it a permanent residence for both slaves and employees for many years, also using it as a backup garrison for when the nearby fort was attacked and rendered uninhabitable.

Both Juffure village and its merging neighbour Albreda village (or Albadarr famous for the fortified slaving station built by the French in the late 17th century) today have a population of close to 6,000.

The tribal villages are the main destination for the Roots Heritage tours on the river's north bank. Also included are; James Island and its colonial ruins of a slave station, as well as the Portuguese chapel of San Domingo (delightfully names Sandi Munko Joyo) and the old ruins of Maurel Freres, at the world heritage site housing the slave trade museum.

Juffure can offer much more though. In Africa it is unique where bird life viewing is concerned, being the stopping point for some 560 bird species, both resident African birds as well as the numerous dual Palaearctic migratory visitors. Wild life for viewing includes some 300 species among them crocodiles, dolphins for the lucky, hippos, antelopes, baboons and warthogs.

As a fishing village, fishing by boat is on offer as is an afternoon of croc spotting. Don't miss the fish being smoked on the beaches or in the capital's main fish market. River cruises or boat trips are the fluid core to enjoying the Gambia, with many choosing to ride the 'pirogues.' These traditional flat bottomed boats are designed to traverse through mangroves, rice paddies and wetlands. Longer voyages up country can reach to the eco-lodge of Bintang Bolong, the Tendaba Camp, Kwinella and the Kiang National Park

Brush up on your negotiating skills and haggle at the Albert Market in Russell Street, Banjul which is easy to reach from Juffure. Albert Market is reported to have everything that could be expected in a traditional African market. As well as local crafts such as woodcarving, there are wonderful vibrant batik fabrics, hung among precariously balanced pyramids of fruit and vegetables with all the accompanying bustle and chatter of Africa.

The market at Serekunda however, with few tourists, is reported to sell at good prices everything from smoked catfish to batiks (£5 for 4yds). Banjul is also the last location of the ship that was the pirate station Radio Caroline, which can still be seen, half-submerged in the harbour. Banjul is also where swimmers and beach loungers should head as it offers hotels on the sea front and local nightlife. Though visitors who travel up country are urged to seek out the more memorably genuine local African village dancing.

Finally, when in Banjul also don't miss out on the Wassu Stone Circles, unique V or Lyre stones, some square, some tapered, some with a ball cut in the round top or pillow shaped and as enigmatic as Stonehenge or the Sphinx. Believed to be burial mounds of kings these date back 1,200 years and the large concentration of circles have puzzled many. A museum is situated at the "Stone Circles" in the Wassu Central River Division.

Advice offered to Juffure travellers, apart from malaria tablets, carry binoculars and camera to see and remember Africa. Do not forget to bring a torch for the African night with its intensity of stars, is very absolute and street lighting can be less than evident.


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