Kayak Gambia: Q&A With Dave Adams

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If you’re into water sports then you’re in luck as Kayak Gambia offers guided kayak and canoe excursions down The River Gambia. We asked coordinator Dave Adams for more information

When and how did the idea for Kayak Gambia come about?

Kayak Gambia has been a long time in the making. Really it started in 2012 when I first visited Gambia and fell in love with the country, the people, the town of Janjanbureh and especially with this amazing river. I’d spent much of my life working in ecotourism in the developing world and I couldn’t believe that such a great resource was so underused. Places like Mexico and Thailand are saturated with adventure travelers and it’s very hard to get off the beaten track there, but here I was in this undiscovered paradise of biodiversity, incredible culture and one of the world’s cleanest, most beautiful, unspoiled rivers running all the way through the heart of it! So when a friend in England mentioned that he had a number of unwanted kayaks and a trailer cluttering up his back garden it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Are you offering lessons or tours?

At the moment we are not offering lessons although this is something that we are keen to add to our portfolio at some point. We are currently offering guided kayak and canoe excursions around the Janjanbureh area. This can be anything from a two-hour early-bird breakfast trip to a two or three-day expedition staying in local villages and camping in the bush.

By October of this year, we hope to be able to offer full descents of the river, from Fatoto in the East all the way to Banjul. We are still researching places to stay and sites to visit along the way, but we plan to carry out a trial run later this month. We expect that this will really appeal to groups of serious kayakers from Europe.

There is no strict season for paddling here, but of course, we expect to be busiest during the winter months when most of the flights are coming. Expeditions can sometimes be a bit more challenging in the rainy season, trying to keep kids dry. But it’s fine and the river flows faster so you can cover more distance.

Tell us more about the Kayak Gambia team and the process of finding and training guides

Finding suitable guides to train was not difficult. We needed friendly, approachable young people who were good swimmers, were confident on the water and had the maturity to lead groups of guests. Janjanbureh is full of competent people looking for an opportunity, so narrowing our selection down to just five people was the challenge.

We brought an instructor on a working holiday from the UK, who spent 5 days conducting training and assessment of ‘in-water’ skills, rescues and leadership. The trainees all had experience of using local canoes but little or no time in a kayak.

The five, who are local people with experience in the tourism industry, all passed and we currently employ one of them as full-time operations manager and plan to employ one more full-time guide in October.

What has been the most challenging aspect of running Kayak Gambia?

The most challenging aspect of running Kayak Gambia has been the lack of business resources in Janjanbureh, which means constantly traveling to the coast for meetings and even for internet access or printing services.

And the most rewarding aspects?

The most rewarding aspects of running Kayak Gambia are almost too many to list! It’s a great privilege to be made so welcome in the community here and to work with such enthusiastic and committed young people. Seeing how our guides have grown in confidence with the training has been a real treat.

Just the chance to spend time on the river, to explore the villages around the bank and to get to know the people that live there has also been brilliant. Being able to share that with visitors to The Gambia has been very special.

And really, what’s not to like? I have a 600km long office full of birds and monkeys and hippos! It’s a dream come true.

How is Kayak Gambia contributing to the development of ecotourism in The Gambia?

Kayaking is a great ecotourism activity. It’s low carbon, non-polluting and non-damaging to the environment. But just as important is the fact that we work hard to ensure that we share and spread the social and financial benefits of what we do. We buy locally and sustainably whenever possible, we are keen to involve the local community in providing goods and services to our guests and we employ staff on fair terms including year-round salaries and profit share.

We believe that ecotourism is about decentralizing the product away from the tourist enclaves and into the community. Janjanbureh is perfectly located to be a hub for ecotourism in The Gambia and Kayak Gambia is just one of a number of projects that aims to make the place a must visit for discerning guests.

What’s next for Kayak Gambia?

Kayak Gambia is just at the start of it’s journey. We plan to continue with further training for our guides and to bring new, different styles of kayaks and a number of Canadian style canoes.

Our next big adventure though will be the full descent of the river, which will allow us to more accurately assess timings and logistical requirements. We also plan to blog the journey to raise awareness of and interest in paddling opportunities in The Gambia. I’ll then be back in the UK over the summer to promote the company and take bookings ready for a busy 2016 / 17 season.

Like Kayak Gambia on Facebook for more information:

 https://www.facebook.com/kayakgambia

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