Your ticket to the Gambia

Slave fort, the former James Island, Gambia River |©IBIT/Greg Gross
Slave fort, the former James Island, Gambia River |©IBIT/Greg Gross

An Africa travel expert is offering to take you to the Gambia for eleven unforgettable days, May 1-11.

Two years ago, a group of us, black American travel professionals, photographers and expats, journeyed to the Gambia for the International Roots Festival.

Among them was Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey of Washington DC.

Ahead were eight days of unique scenery, introductions into West African culture and the unbelievable warmth and friendliness of the Gambian people, who have a special place in their hearts for black Americans who visit their country.

Young men in Albreda, Gambia
Young men in Albreda, Gambia | ©Greg Gross

The two words you may hear most often while you’re there are “welcome home.”

The Gambia was made famous in America by author Alex Haley, who traced his own ancestry back to a small Gambian village in his book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The village where Haley’s ancestor, Kunta Kinteh, grew up is still there, and we met some of his descendants.

We also ferried across the river to the ruins of James Island, the slave fort where Kunta and other African captives were warehoused before being loaded onto slave ships for the gruesome journey across the Atlantic Ocean to America.

And we were on hand the day that James Island was renamed Kunta Kinteh Island by the Gambian government.

The most life-changing moments came during the futampaf, the day-long rite of passage in which participants are adopted into Gambian families and given their family name.

“I’ve been traveling to Africa since I was 18,” she said. “But when I came back, my family couldn’t believe how excited I was.”

Mosque, Kaolack, Senegal | ©Greg Gross
Mosque, Kaolack, Senegal | ©Greg Gross

Two years later, Gaynelle is going back. And she’s inviting you to go with her.

Her agency, Henderson Travel Service, is offering an eight-day tour package to coincide with this year’s International Roots Festival. And those who go will experience even more than we did two years ago.

Travelers will fly on South African Airways from Washington-Dulles airport to Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

“We’ve allowed a day and a half in Senegal,” she said. “There will be a tour of Dakar, which is a thriving metropolis, and Goree Island.

After that, it’s off by road and river ferry to the Gambia. Your stay there will include:

  • Dinner and a welcome reception.
  • The official opening of the International Roots Festival, including a colorful parade of masks, drummers, dancers and musicians.
  • A cruise up the Gambia River to the twin villages of Albreda and Juffureh, the home of the Kinteh clan, as well as to Kunta Kinteh Island.
  • A two-day stay in Kanilai for the futampaf.
  • A boat ride through the Makasutu Cultural Forest.
  • A gala dinner and awards ceremony.

The cost: $2,999 per person. You could pay that for airfare alone.

When it comes to African travel, Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey has quite the heritage of her own. Henderson Travel Service has been around since 1955, the first fully appointed, African-American travel agency in the United States.

Back in 1957, its founders chartered a plane to take American travelers to Ghana to celebrate that country’s independence — the first black African colony to gain its independence from Europe. The agency has been promoting African travel ever since. So these folks definitely know their way around the Mother Continent.

If this sounds like a great trip — and believe me, it is — Gaynelle tells me she has a few spaces available, but you need to act fast. If you’ve ever dreamed of an African homecoming, you won’t get a better chance.

Henderson Travel Service

And if they ask you how you heard about their Gambia tour package, tell them you heard about it from Yaya Colley on IBIT.

Row of kora players, International Roots Festival, Banjul, Gambia | ©Greg Gross
Row of kora players, International Roots Festival, Banjul, Gambia | ©Greg Gross

West Africa Journal


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