Basse Santa Su, normally known as just Basse, is a major town located in the Fulladu East District, on the far eastern section of the River Gambia. It is the capital and regional headquarters of the Upper River Region (URR), and is one of the eight Local Government Areas in the Gambia. The upriver settlement is 370 kilometres from the capital of Banjul, and about 340 km by road from Yundum
Airport. The town has a bustling village market, a ferry crossing to the north bank for passengers and goods, and it's an important transit point for merchandise going to eastern Senegal, Mali and Guinea. Basse has a population of about 20,000 people made up of mostly Fulani, followed by Serahule, Mandinka and other ethnic groups.
There are a few hotels and lodges in Basses that provide simple facilities. Among the best places to stay are Fulladu Camp (tel: 9906791), based on the north bank riverside and facing the town, with thatched round huts. The Basse Guesthouse (tel: 6668283) is located in town, cheap basic rooms, a bit dingy with messy shared bathing. The Jem Hotel (tel: 9843658) provides reasonable, clean rooms, though a bit dilapidated. Finally there is the nice riverside
Traditions Agasimon with a couple of large rooms, camp space in the garden and a cafe with good riverside views.
• The Town
The lower part of the settlement is known as Basse Duma Su, 'Basse' means a mat (oral history says that the settlement's founder, General Tiramakan Traore, first laid down on a mat here). 'Duma Su' means means 'lower home'. Due to flooding during the rainy season the settlement contracted to a higher elevation, 'Santa Su' meaning 'higher home'. The settlement is 4 metres above sea level and its outlying area is characterised by numerous hills.
Because this is an urban community with many visitors from other parts of West Africa and further afield, it is a multilingual place, where you will hear languages such as Pular, French, Mandinka, Serer, English, Wolof, and Arabic being spoken.
There is a rather empty feel about the area around the port's jetty, but a little further south from here, the commercial centre is vibrant and loud. You will find plenty of housewares such as metal pans and pots, fruits, vegetables cereals, DVDs and colourful fabrics from Senegal. The town also has banks, a police station, post office, taxi rank, petrol stations, GPTC (public transport bus) chemists, a central mosque and a Gamtel office. The streets of central Basse are alive with cyclists, goats, stray dogs, sheep, flies, donkey carts, cars and lorries. In the shops lining the roads you will find them selling all manner of imported goods such as radios, bicycles, wheelbarrows, portable generators, mobile phones and much more.
• The Economy
Basse's economy revolves mostly around seasonal crops, though there is an active trade in earthenware and other artisanal handicraft. From December to March boats are often moored at the port waiting for their cargo of groundnuts from the local collection depot, for shipment downstream towards Banjul. The town is also an important marketing centre for rice, mainly grown by the Mandinka and Wolof, and cattle herded by the Fulani. Cotton obtained from Kapok tree pods are also loaded here in February and March, which have been brought in from the north bank of the river. After the setting up of the local GPMB ginnery in 1974, and its management given over to the Gambia Cotton Company (GAMCOT) in 1992, cotton became one of the settlement's most profitable cash crops. Millet and maze are also cultivated in the countryside areas.
• Local Organisations
There are a number of overseas organisations and NGOs working in Basse which includes the Medical Research Council,
Child Youth Support & Rural Development Agency, Humanity First, Children in Gambia Basse & Suduwol, and GamMol, among others.
ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO:
One of the main features of the town is the vibrant Thursday morning market (lumo), with the star attractions being pottery items such as bowls, colanders and plates. These are made locally by Serahules and Mandinkas in places like Mansajang, as well as in nearby villages, such as Sotuma Sere and Alohungari, and brought in by donkey cart and carried away on women's heads.
The food market is at its most plentiful between January to June, when women from just outside the urban area, display their vegetables cultivated in Basse's community held vegetable gardens. There are green and yellow bitter tomatoes (jakato), plump aubergines, heavy cabbages, bunches of fresh mint, piles of hot red and yellow chilies, golden onions, yams, sweet potatoes, and a huge amount of other foodstuffs such as dried, smoked bonga fish.
• 'Traditions Agasimon'
Down by the riverbank, in a former colonial riverside trading depot built for Maurel Frères in 1906, is a private Canadian initiative called Traditions Agasimon, The place is a combined cultural centre, museum, bookshop, and craft shop. There you can buy locally produced cloths, West African art, and handicrafts, it also has a well appointed river view cafe. You can also find various artists and artisans at work, and if you're are up to it, Traditions can arrange weaving and dyeing classes for you from skilled artisans. Traditions also has a boat for rent and can get you in touch with a local bird guide.
• Bars & Restaurants
Much of the dining and evening entertainment here is of a very localised character, and not really geared towards tourists, but most are very friendly towards visitors. There are places to eat with such names as the United Restaurant Enterprise, Abdoulie's International Diner, Aminata's, and F&B's Restaurant. Some of the best eateries can be found in some of the lodges such as the Traditions Cafe & Boutique, the Jem Hotel's food gets a few good reviews, the Fulladu Camp serves some of the best dishes in the area from a well run kitchen. There are also a few Afra joints selling grilled chicken or lamb (very often goat).
• Bird Watching
Because the settlement and its hinterland has a varied habitat of lush riverine woodland canopy, swamp, rice fields, degraded savanna, and disused quarries, there is a respectable variety of bird species to be seen in Basse Santa Su. If you go along with one of the professional bird guides, you might see Egyptian Plovers (Crocodile Bird), Hamerkop, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, African Swallow-tailed Kite, Chestnut-backed Finch-Lark, Red Throated Bee Eaters, Pipits, Western Red-billed Hornbills, Speckled Pigeons, Black-bellied Bustards, Brown-rumped Buntings, Bar-breasted Firefinches, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, Carmine Bee-Eaters, and Adamawa Turtle Doves.
• Colonial Architecture
Around the town there are still some colonial era buildings such as the water's edge Maurel Frères warehouse built in 1906, now occupied by Traditions. There are other elegant trading houses built at the turn of the century. Further upriver, by the river's edge, at Perai Tenda, you can see many abandoned stores formerly operated by Lebanese, European and Gambian merchants, in the days when up-river trade produced substantial profits for businessmen and companies.
• Boat Cruises
There are plenty of fishermen who would be willing, for a fee, to take you for cruising in their pirogues, around the upper reaches of the River Gambia. There are marshes where you might be able to do a bit of wildlife spotting, and there are plenty of birds to be seen among the bushes, trees and just above the water line. You can also use the opportunity to do a bit of sports fishing.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
During the rainy season the heat in Basse is legendary. Many cold water taps run so hot that you can make a cup of tea, and birds keep a low profile during mid-day. It is in fact quite common to see many people sleeping outside at night. Therefore think about how to protect yourself from the often oppressive heat at this time of the year. If you are going to stay in any lodgings then try and get one with an air-conditioner, think about the same thing for your vehicle. Ask locals what they do to counteract the heat and humidity.
To get to Basse Santa Su from the capital of Banjul you can hop on the Banjul ferry and head northwards to Barra. From there you can take one of the 'Gelle Gelle' taxis heading east, and the total travel time is about 7 hours. When you reach Janjanbureh Island (Georgetown) you then make a river crossing and continue by road until the destination. The alternative, and faster route, is to take the South Bank Road east, which commences in Brikama and passes through towns and villages such as as Kafuta, Sibanor, Bwiam, Kwinella Kaiaf, Soma, Jarreng, Madina Demba and Bansang.
Moving further to the east you'll get to the town of Fatoto, the easternmost major place in The Gambia. Here the South Bank Road ends, and the North Bank Road begins. Still further to the north east is Koina village, and finally, almost on the border check-point with Senegal is Herama Kono village (Kemangbugu). This is in fact the furthest east and last place in the Upper River Region.
Hotels & Lodges
What to Pack
[Geographical coordinates 13.3167° N, 14.2167° W
/ Fulladu East, Upper River Region]