Random Post of the Day from A Short Walk in The Gambian Bush - a 930km African Odyssey:
Wednesday December 2nd, 2009 – Kerr Batch. Distance walked to-date: 659.24km – Sleeping amongst the ancestors.
It’s been a really long walk today. We covered over 30km by the time we reach Kerr Batch, the home of more ancient stone circles, said to be the burial grounds of former kings.
The stone circles are actually located a little further past the village itself. We stop in the village to ask directions and for the guys to go and buy cigarettes and phone cards. I’m impatient to get to the stones so that we can get settled in for the night. It’s already past 4pm, which means if we don’t hurry up we won’t be able to do the portrait of the alkalo (village chief) today. Flo, infuriatingly, tells me not to worry, ‘chill out’, as he can always do the photo in the morning. But then that will mean that we set off much later than usual – upsetting our whole routine. Why don’t we just hurry up and get a bloody move on!
After twenty minutes of taking their time in the village, I decide to walk off ahead, in the direction of the stones. They can catch me up. The pathway takes me through open fields – a vast sense of space, which, right at that moment in time, makes me feel like the only person on the planet. And then ‘Nanga-tah, nanga-tah!’ (move). That’ll be Janneh with Neil, the donkey. I guess the team are right behind me.
The gates to the compound that houses the stone circles of Kerr Batch is closed and locked when we reach them. However, within minutes of us standing outside, the watchman approaches us from a large building, to the left, inside the compound. He greets us and tells us he had been waiting for us. ‘Stone Man’, the watchman from Wassu stone circles, had called him on his mobile to tell him that we were on the way. Ah…the wonders of technology and how times have changed. The proliferation of mobile phone usage in The Gambia is pretty astounding, since my early days here.
The watchman tells us that his father, Samba Camera, is the village chief of Kerr Batch and that he is one of the oldest chief’s in the country – at the grand old age of 79 years. The chief had arrived in the village during colonial times and had been in charge of the village for over nineteen years. Also, conveniently for us, he lived right next door to the stones.
We ask him if we can camp in the compound, amongst the stones. He tells us that its not usually allowed but…if we are prepared to pay, he will let us – just this once. We negotiate him down to a much more mutually agreeable price than he initially asked for, and he opens the gate to let us in.
The site is much smaller than Wassu and a more rural setting too. There is also a museum on the premises (the large building in the compound), which the watchman is particularly adamant that we take a look at - at a price, of course, despite the fact we had probably paid well over the odds to stay on the site.
Although there was no running water (we could fill our containers up at the chiefs well, in his compound), there was a proper toilet block, attached to the museum – loo seats and all – something we rarely saw on the road. Apparently, a lot of tourist buses come through, to see the stones and the museum (which, incidentally, turned out to be really interesting and informative on the history of the stones and the surrounding area) and they had to be catered for. Just inside the doorway of the toilet block, there was a big bucket of water, for flushing and washing.
We begin to set up camp, as Flo goes off with Samba to meet the chief and ask his permission to take his portrait. Although, his son, the watchman, assures us that this will be fine (I wonder if he’ll charge us for that too). Its definitely too late today, to shoot the portrait, so they’ll arrange to do it in the morning after all. Flo appeases me by saying that we only have to walk a short distance tomorrow – around 13km – to the next village where we will camp – so, even if we set off by 9am, we can be there by noon-1pm. “Lets just relax a bit, H, and enjoy having the stones to ourselves”. He is right. We are extremely fortunate to be in this situation – amongst these relics of the past.
Later…it’s a full moon, the mosquitoes have gone on holiday, and we unroll our mattress on the ground, lie on our backs, and look up at the enormous full moon and a gazillion stars. There is a definite energy here, amongst these ancient stones – we all feel it and comment on it.
As we lay there, commenting on the energy we all feel, Samba says that as long as we respect the stones (i.e. don’t climb all over them like the watchman’s kids did – jumping from one to the other!), we would be safe amongst them. ‘The Kings will look after us’ he says, in such reverential tones, that we have to stop ourselves from giggling.
During the night, I got out of the tent a couple of times, just to look at the huge moon, the stones looking eerily as if they were backlit. It was so quiet. There’s definitely some indefinable, intangible energy here… whilst I didn’t feel exactly threatened by it, I did feel that there was something far bigger then I could even begin to perceive…
To view the award-winning portraits of village chiefs and elders taken by Jason Florio, from the 930km walk around The Gambia, West Africa, please visit:
Main image © Jason Florio - Children playing on ancient stone circles, Kerr Batch, The Gambia, West Africa -