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After arriving in the Gambia at around 4pm my friend and I decided to venture away from the oversized package tourists in their Primark swimwear and mundane ‘isn’t the weather so lovely’ chit chat, and explore some the surrounding African delights. We left our hotel in the direction of the beach in attempt to gain a sense of location and see what was around. However upon leaving the hotel we were immediately approached by what we have come to know as bumsters.
Having visited the Gambia a few years prior I was aware of the hassle tourists receive here from bumsters, although selective memories had perhaps faded this reality in my head. The bombardment was simply overwhelming.
Before you have even thought about leaving the hotel complex, the bumsters have, they are waiting there eagerly, ready to pounce on you the moment your foot touches outside territory. Often working in pairs, the bumsters approach you and will proceed to walk with you to wherever you intend to go, trying to sell you their services or to make money from you on route.
At first, we thought they were being friendly, one was speaking to me, and another to my friend. They shook our hands and introduced themselves and were generally very pleasant. They advised us on things to do in the Gambia and offered to drive us places should we need a taxi. Agreeing to have a look at their book of tours when we returned, we then went our separate ways and began to walk along the beach.
It didn’t take us long to realise that every bumster seems to have the same spiel, they all want to shake your hand (and the thought of the germ spreading this will encourage does concern me somewhat-good job I packed the anti-bacterial hand gel!), they all want to introduce themselves, and they all want to offer you their various tourist services. They are also all very pushy.
After going through this experience about 5 times within the short space of around 15 minutes I was being to feel a little frustrated. For starters, I am not one for having the same conversation over and over again, and secondly I know that their end motive is not to be my friend, but to make money from me. I began to sternly tell the bumsters that I wanted to walk alone with my friend, however this seemed to have no impact.
At one point, we had two children (who I didn’t mind so much as they were not forceful, and they were children after all), and 5 men walking with us, all trying to speak with us. I managed to successfully tell 3 of them to leave us, however the other 2 refused to budge. The children kept whispering to me, telling me that the men wanted to rob us and take our money. This worried me and from here I began bluntly to tell them to go away.
Frustration was building up inside of me and no mattering how many times I told them to leave us alone they infuriately responded in a fashion resembling that annoying fly that just keeps on returning to that same spot on your skin no matter how many times you almost squat it. Almost to brimming point, I thought it best we escape the situation, albeit only temporarily- so we went into the nearest bar for a drink.
We sat and enjoyed a drink and bought the kids one too before trying to escape via the back exit of the bar. The bumsters however had been watching us from outside and we didn’t get far before the spotted us and came briskly walking up behind us.
They continuously made comments about how they are only trying to be nice, about how we should relax as we are on holiday, and how ‘it’s nice to be nice’ (a common phrase used here by the bumsters when you aren’t responding to them). As the children had previously informed me that it is illegal for bumsters to hassle tourists here, and I was aware that there was a police check point further up the street we were following, I threatened to report them to the police.
Their reaction was incredible, it was as if I had resorted to the bug spray hidden in the back of the cupboard and one spray caused them flee in a heartbeat. And that was it, they were gone.
Glad to have peace for a short while we briskly walked back to the hotel along the main road as opposed to the beach to avoid further bombardment.
The bumsters are everywhere in the Gambia, and it is as a result of them that many tourists feel that cannot leave their hotel complex. This is sad as local businesses will inevitably suffer from this. Although this was not the most pleasant experience, being the etching traveller it will not prevent me from leaving the hotel, however I can unfortunately empathise with the many tourists that will feel this way.