Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Watching the Mighty Spurs in Sierra Leone

One of the great benefits of living in Africa is that most Premier League games are shown live. This means that I have seen almost all of Tottenham's games this season which has had its' expected share of ups and downs so far.  

To a certain extent I live under the radar of care from the locals in Tombo as there are very few Spurs fans here. However, this has meant on occasion I have become a very minor celebrity when wearing my Spurs shirt in town. Actually what I mean to say is that I have often been the white man to humiliate.
Most people in Tombo support Manchester United, Chelski, Liverpool, The Woolwich Wanderers, Barcelona or Real Madrid which has been my experience in many African towns and cities I have visited over the years. Due to Manchester City's recent success they have won a few fans too which demonstrates the fact that these guys are the worst kind of glory hunters you'll ever find.

Our security guards on site are lovely fellows and mad keen on football like most men here. 

"Mr Steve - Tottenham" they shouted excitedly at me recently and followed it up with "Are they the best team?" to which my reply was "of course we're not". This perplexed and disturbed them deeply. I saw it written across their faces. The look said 'but why would you support them then?' This is a question which I am sure Spurs fans ask themselves over and over again along with 'why do we put ourselves through such misery?' We all know the answer, it's because we love them unconditionally but this made no sense to my Security friends. 

The journey to the local 'football cinema' comprises of a 15 minute walk, 5 of which are to get my from my front door to the main gate of our compound. Then you are into bandit country. Well not really, unless you count 6,7 & 8 year olds shouting "Oporto" (white man) as bandits. Recently I've noticed they've even gone to the trouble of translating their cries to "white man" or "white man give me 10000 leones" (approx £1.50) which is very kind of them although I knew what oporto meant. Maybe they are doing better in school.
As they try to verbally mug me I often ask them for 10000le instead which confuses them nearly as much as the security guards had been when questioning me about Spurs.

On the day of the Arsenal cup game, and after my first altercation with these young bandits I soon had another group to walk past, this time a group of 9 children. They didn't ask for money but rather took great pleasure in shouting "white man" at me. I tried to turn it into an impromptu English lesson by identifying them as "black boy" and "black girl" which just confused them and made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Disappointingly my normal 'cinema' was not open for the Arsenal cup game which meant I needed to walk a further 5 minutes down the high street to get to "BMX", the premier football venue of Tombo. 

Tombo High Street

On the way a topless middle aged woman with very droopy boobs tried to make me buy some of her wares but I passed on her kind offer and moved on. Finally I reached BMX, paid my 1000le entrance fee and trod on a number of toes as I tried to secure a spot on one of the wooden benches. 

'BMX' - Tombo's premier football cinema

Without another Spurs shirt in sight I felt this place was a little hostile so I did what every other Spurs fan would do and starting singing. As it turns out nobody sings in the cinemas except for me apparently so the looks I exchanged with locals suggested they thought I was stark raving mad. Eventually a few smiled at me mid-way through a long C-O-M-E... O-N... Y-O-U...S-P-U-R-S but it was too late, the floodgates had opened and the glory hunting Arsenal fans started to shout at me. "We will beat you today" (some offered a scoreline) to which I replied "yes I think you probably will". This of course caused more confused looks. 

There are many similarities between Arsenal fans at home in UK and in Sierra Leone, firstly that they obviously support the wrong team but also that they seem very uptight and lack a sense of humour. I batted away their aggressive scoreline guessing with many smiles and a few laughs. I did get some support from other locals though who turned out to be Man Utd or Chelsea fans who hate Arsenal too and were supporting Spurs. 

At half time I swapped the 35 degree heat inside for a cool 30 degree outside and started having some banter with a few Arsenal fans. These guys seemed alright and one happily posed for a photo with me.

Just before I punched the Gooner's lights out. Not really. Good natured fun outside BMX

I watched most of the second half and my heart sank when their second goal went in. I have to admit I nipped out of BMX as it got to injury time and couldn't really complain about the score. We'll fight to live another day I thought as I started my walk back up to the Academy. 

COYS!  
   



Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Gambia: Relaxed Africa

Laura and I spent an enjoyable and restful three weeks in The Gambia for Christmas and New Year 2013/14.

The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa and is essentially the strip of land running both sides of the River Gambia within the larger country of Senegal. 
It is definitely more geared up for tourism than many of its' neighbouring countries and has some areas like the Senegambia Strip which could actually be in Southern Europe.


We stayed in brilliant accommodation called "The Plantation". As with all places we stay, we trawled through www.tripadvisor.com and the reports were 5*. We were not disappointed and would recommend this place for any adults. An en-suite room is £20 per night and full board brings it up to £32 per day. Airport transfers are also included and while we were there they also got wifi (£25 per room for the whole duration of the stay). Incredible value and brilliant service. We will be returning. The Plantation is a ten minute walk from the beach. 






With it being such a small country, places worth visiting are not far away. We visited:

1. Monkey Park (Bigilo Forest)      

Running parallel with the Atlantic coast is Biglio Forest which is home to a couple of species of monkey. It is a lovely place to visit and walk around. 




  













2. Kachikally Crocodile Pool, Bakau.    

This place was unsurprisingly very touristy and thankfully the crocodiles had been fed (or drugged). We declined the photo touching the crocs, after all these are wild animals. 





3. Banjul

Banjul is the capital city of The Gambia and it's worth pointing out straight away that there isn't much here. Our trip took in the 22nd July Arch (which celebrates the military coup that took over the country 19 years ago) which in all honesty has seen better days, we saw the lovely cricket pitch (that doesn't see much cricket), the three day long queues at the port to try and get across to Barra and north of the river (queues so long as two of the three ferries are broken) and the museum which wasn't too bad. 



The view from the top of the arch. To the right, The Atlantic Ocean.

4. Serrekunda 

We took a trip to the bustling Serrekunda and spent time in the markets. 





5. Roots Tour - Albreda/Juffureh & Kunta Kinteh (James) Island.

One of the best trips out was the Roots Tour which involved a boat ride to key Gambian slavery sites. 

For £30 we spent most of the day on the local boat to get to Albreda and then James Island. It was very still on the river and we were able to get onto the sun deck when we wanted to. 





At Albreda/Juffereh we got off the boat and visited the museum.  



Next up was Kunta Kinteh (James) Island. 











Monday, 30 December 2013

Travel Highlights 2013: A Year in Pictures

I thought 2013 would have to work hard to compare with 2012 
(http://stephendcook.blogspot.com/2012/12/my-top-ten-photos-of-2012.html). However, we really have been blessed once again with a great year of travel and adventures. This year Laura and I celebrated five years of marriage, we sold our house and possessions and moved to Sierra Leone. I also celebrated turning 40. In between we had a big health scare with Laura but the prognosis is now good and we look forward to 2014 with excitement.

Here are a selection of photos from my travel year plus being involved in the Champions League Final.    

1. Serre Chavalier - France 
I was really delighted to get an invite for a week’s skiing in Serre Chavalier in France. It was brilliant and an enormous laugh, even though I had never met two thirds of the group before.  I decided to take my Olympic opening ceremony shirt and pull the ‘Bolt’ at the top of Les Alpes. 













2. Marrakech - Morocco.

As a 5th wedding anniversary gift for both of us we had a trip to Marrakech. We explored the city, souks and surrounding area including a ski resort in the Atlas mountains.


Main Square at Night

All smiles until they try and fleece me for £20. They weren't smiling then.
Above and below - Okaimeden


3. Champions League Final, Wembley - UK
http://www.stephendcook.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-captains-tale-champions-league-final.html

Every weekend in May was taken up with rehearsals for the opening ceremony for the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. It meant seeing and spending time with old friends from the Olympic opening/closing ceremony and fulfilling a boyhood dream of playing on the pitch at Wembley with a full house. I hoped it would be playing football but I happily accepted playing a percussion instrument. 


Pissing about in the hours of waiting. Here I am showing my secret power. 
Armed with Shields we do battle. I am front row, second from right. 

I make it into Sky Sports in a picture with Robben and Schweinsteiger 

 4. Various Locations - UK

Between April and June I visited a few places in the UK. 

a) Derbyshire 



b) Northern Ireland



c) Dolgellau, Snowdonia - Wales





     

5. Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique

To celebrate my 40th birthday and the sale of our house, we went to the spectacular Quirimbas National Park. As well as staying on Ibo Island, we also took a Dhow safari to three desert islands where we camped. A really special holiday.









6. Tombo, Sierra Leone

In September laura and I moved to Sierra Leone to start working (volunteering) for The Craig Bellamy Foundation, an education and development charity that uses football for change.   

Nestled in the background is the site of our academy.
Kent - Sierra Leone
Tokeh Beach

Bureh Beach

7. Brufut - The Gambia 

We are spending Christmas and will be seeing in the New Year in The Gambia. 










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