Well, after a crummy 2009, my partner and I decided to bite the bullet and marry.
My mother lives in the Gambia, so to kill two birds with one stone, we left the wedding arrangements to her, and decided to ship off there for 2 weeks and get wed abroad.
This was our first visit, and believe me, this country is an eye-opener!
Basics you should know:
It's a tiny place, and you can get around fairly easily, but keep your wits about you.
They see a white face and they think you are rich - beware a sob story.
Go in the dry season, fewer mozzies!
This isn't a place for the disabled traveller and it's not hugely family orientated.
Eating and drinking out is generally dirt cheap, and excellent quality.
It's a third world country, you will see poverty, and you'll see rubbish and animals in the street - don't let this put you off, it can be funny!
The gambia is a sex tourism hotspot - fine, if that's what you're into, but beware "true love" visa scams and remember to play safe as around 1 in 3 prostitutes have HIV.
Sounds scary doesn't it? And yes, it might not be the place for a first holiday, but if you're adventurous and you like to get involved then the benefits are amazing.
Hotels and beaches are deserted even in high season, the beaches are lovely soft sand and the sea is so warm in the dry season, it's like bathwater!
Locals are very friendly, there's much shopping to be had in local markets and if you fancy a change of scene jump in a cab - they are cheap enough but agree the fare before you go. Tourist taxis (the green ones) are more expensive.
You can drink local bottled beer for around 40 dalasi (£1) a pop, cheaper in happy hour. Go to a supermarket for spirits to bring home - we bought 1 litre of gin for 60 dalasi, and it's good stuff too.
We had our reception at the Sun Beach Hotel in Bakau, a BEAUTIFUL hotel and the staff are wonderful. It's right on the beach, the restaurant complex is lovely, and the pool is lush. I have heard the rooms are good too. Opposite the SunBeach is Bakau craft market. If you want a really good massage, go to the bar on the corner and ask for Bintu who has a room at the back. She's brilliant and will come to you if you like.
We also spent time at the Senegambia hotel at the bottom of the "strip" (this is where it all goes on in the Kololi/Senegambia area), very pretty grounds, lovely pool complex, and if you're not a resident you can pay for a sunbed for the day and enjoy the facilities (this applies to most hotels except the Coco Ocean and the Sheraton). They have monkeys running wild in the grounds (don't pay for the monkey park, spend a morning here instead!) and they also feed the vultures at 11am each day - well worth a watch!
The nightclubs on the Strip are only for the brave - they are basically brothels! But good fun if you take everything with a pinch of salt (do NOT flash your cash and don't leave a drink unattended - sound advice anywhere you go). The bars are generally good, and restaurants cover traditional Gambian food through to Thai, Indian and Italian.
La Romatica for italian - good pizza
Bamboo 2 (Jade) for Chinese - try the sizzling platter
Clay Oven for indian - take a cab, go on tuesday night for Sizzler night which is all you can eat and good value. It's pretty posh.
Tao for Thai food
Kora - Gambian and nice cocktails, and chocolate cake as big as your arm! But getting pricier by Gambian standards.
We also found an amazing beach bar, you can walk to it along the beach from the Senegambia. It's called Anna's (the Sand Plover). Food here is cheap - but despite appearances it is excellent. The ramshackle bar fronts onto a deserted stretch of beach, but can be reached by car if you're brave. Check out the rickety plank bridge to get to the "car park"! Lunch here can be had for as little as a quid.
Fill your pockets with sweets for the kids if you go out walking, who will see you and demand "minties" (they mean sweets). Good for photo ops :)
Don't let someone put something round your wrist or neck, even if they say "gift" - they want a gift back.
Don't book excursions through your tour guide, go direct. Try Anna's Boats for river cruises, or Tilly's Tours on the Strip.
Horse riding can be had for 300 dalasi for 30 minutes on the beach, but if you're savvy it can be had for much less - keep an eye out for posters advertising local stables. Go in the morning - yes, it's cooler late afternoon, but the horses are shattered and it'll be all you can do to urge them into a feeble trot!
This is an amazing country, with amazing, friendly folk who will literally make something out of nothing, and if you get out and about a bit you will discover loads. If you're the lazing-by-the-pool type then this place is ideal - but you'll miss so much!
And yes, the wedding was wonderful.
If you want help or tips, by all means email thorn1979ATyahooDOTcom.