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Last year I took an eleven-day backpacking trip to The Gambia with two of my girlfriends. The main reason for choosing The Gambia was that it was going to be very hot, plus the absolute bargain we got on flight prices – that clinched the deal. To say it was an interesting experience would be an understatement. We had some great experiences and times…and a couple that were not so great, including having to deal with Gambia bumsters.
We tried to fit in much as possible including a few days in some more touristy beach resort areas around Banjul; a three-day round-trip tour to George Town (Janjanbureh) seeing lots of nature, history and culture en-route; and three nights on the (desert) Island of Jinack.
For now, I’ll just tackle the subject of how to avoid hassle from The Gambia bumsters, the cause of a couple of our ‘not so great’ times.
Anyone who has been to The Gambia will know that around the touristy beach, market, and nightlife areas you’re almost guaranteed to be hassled incessantly by young men known as The Gambia ‘bumsters’. They want to ‘be your friend’, to ‘help you’, to ‘show you around’ etc. If you’re a woman or group of women that level of hassle increases tenfold.
As soon as you set foot out of your hotel the Gambia bumsters descend on you, often in pairs or small groups. They proceed to walk in-step with you until if, and when you manage to lose them. If you don’t manage to give them the slip it’s likely you’ll find yourselves with an uninvited escort for the rest of the day or evening – once you’ve engaged in conversation with them it’s game over! Ignoring them, being firm but polite, or being downright rude does little to deter them. You’ll just hear their catch-phrase “be nice…it’s nice to be nice”, repeated over and over.
The behaviour of the Gambia bumsters is probably partly encouraged by some women who visit The Gambia specifically to make local ‘friends’, to enjoy some sexy time, or even to find true love. Of course, that’s absolutely fine (each to their own), however, to us, it felt rather seedy. These All these young, often handsome Gambian men entangled with a western lady, often several decades their senior…well there was just something a bit off about it. For some, I’m sure it’s genuine, but for the majority of cases, I’m rather cynical about it all.
For many females visiting The Gambia, either alone or with friends, this type of hassle will be unwanted and has the potential to put a real dampener on your trip. Although don’t get me wrong – for the most part, the bumsters in The Gambia were pretty pleasant in nature and we didn’t feel threatened…I certainly don’t intend for this post to scare anyone. They were more of a very pesky annoyance, akin to a very persistent swarm of mosquitoes. That’s why I decided to share some helpful tips on how to avoid hassle from the Gambia bumsters.
Avoid Hassle from Gambia Bumsters
These six tips on how to avoid hassle from bumsters in The Gambia are based on experiences we had and advice we received from our tour guide, hotel staff, and expats we met whilst there.
1. Tell them it’s not your first visit
When Gambia bumsters ask “Your first time in the Gambia?” Always answer – “No I’ve visited before”. This quickly reduces their interest in you (probably because they know if you’re not already attached to a young man you’re not likely to be).
2. Don’t engage in conversation
Try not to engage in conversation in the first place, a repeated firm but friendly “No I want to walk by myself/ with my friends” etc. sometimes does the trick.
3. Walk in the sea
When walking along the beach, take your shoes off and walk in the sea. Gambia bumsters generally don’t like getting their feet wet so won’t follow you.
4. Choose where you spend your evenings wisely
If you like to go out for food, drinks, and dancing in the evenings, position yourself in the middle of the restaurants away from the street and/ or visit the upper-level bars as the Gambia bumsters don’t tend to be allowed access to these.
5. Pretend you’re already taken
Tell them you already have a Gambian friend or that you’re married and your “husband wouldn’t like it”.
6. Threaten them with the police
As a last resort tell them you’re going to report them to the police and pointedly head in that direction. The activities of bumsters are actually illegal and the threat of being reported should scare them off.
We tried all of these tips ourselves whilst in the more touristy beach areas. I can confirm they do work and should hopefully reduce the amount of unwanted attention you receive. This was the only thing we really disliked about The Gambia, however, once we’d found ways to deal with it, we had an amazing time.
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Have you been hassled by The Gambia bumsters? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it and if I’ve missed any tips for avoiding it!
P.S. If you’re exploring more African countries you may enjoy our post on reasons to visit Marrakech which you can read via the following link: