The road to Barra includes crossing a river from the port of Banjul, the capital city. Banjul is very accessible by public or private transport. You can either join a bush taxi or hire a taxi for you own town trip to drive to the port of Banjul. There are two options to cross the river, by ferry or by local boat. The ferry from Banjul can churn across the estuary to Barra in under thirty minutes after being loaded and departing from the port. Loading cars, cargo, people, animals, etc. takes some time. There are two ferries going and coming these days and if there are no technical problems, everything goes smoothly and quickly. Crossing with local boats can also be an unforgettable experience. Because there is no wharf, strong men are carrying people, animals and cargo to the boats where you have to climb on the boat. All passengers receive life jackets. The boat departs from the port only when it is fully loaded. When it already seems that the boat cannot take anyone else, you should know that there is still room for some people and some cargo. When the boat is ready to depart, it takes less than thirty minutes to cross. After reaching the village, strong boys carry you down to the coast from where there is a walking distance to the heart of Barra village.
Barra, Niumi’s small district capital, is often just a passing point, when coming from Senegal to Banjul or opposite. Barra’s defining feature is its ferry, which connects the north bank of the River Gambia with Banjul, around 7km away. The terminal is a gateway to Niumi and Jokadu districts in northwest Gambia and a pivotal point on the route to Kaolack and Dakar in Senegal. For tourists, who want to discover rich historical sites, nature and villages of Niumi district, Barra is a starting point of road and river trips to Juffureh, Albreda, James Island, Jinack Island, part of Niumi National Park, Fathala Wild Reserve Senegal,etc. Only few visitors choose to spend much time in Barra, mostly because they lack information about the village and its unique people and history. If you decide to stay in Barra, then you will have a chance to experience Gambia through the eyes of a local person.
People living in this village are always smiling and they are welcoming visitors with open arms and happy faces. Women from the village will always invite you for a delicious lunch. There will be fresh coconuts, mangoes, oranges or watermelons offered as a desert after the lunch. If you arrive at Barra early in the morning, you will be privileged to have a taste of freshly baked hot bread, which is famous for its unique and delicious taste. Adding butter and hot coffee to it, will make a perfect combination to start the day.
Families in Barra will immediately take you as one of their own. All though they will treat you like royalty, they will also be honored if you will show them you want to involve yourself in any type work they do. Usually it is not easy to help them as women are engaged in difficult housework, from cooking outside with firewood and charcoal, washing laundry by hand, ironing with old irons using charcoal, hand pounding to walking and carrying things or water on their heads, etc. If you will cut some veggies or use a local broom to sweep a yard, they will laugh, enjoy and talk about it the whole day.
If you stay in Barra during the week, you can also visit local schools. Children, teachers and parents will welcome you with open hands. If you are there during the weekend, you can pay a visit to any family, ask them about their life story and see the way they live. There are many interesting stories to listen to. If you are visiting Gambia around holiday time, then there is nothing better than to be a part of a family celebration. From morning prayers, to afternoon family gathering and lunch, and an evening celebration with traditional music, colorful dresses and lively dancing. Staying overnight in Barra will take you deeper inside the local life.
If you will visit the village, when coconuts are ripe then you will have a chance to see how a young man can climb on a coconut palm. It is amazing to watch how quickly they climb a palm tree approximately 20 meters high. When reaching the top, they throw down some coconuts and you can enjoy a drink of fresh coconut juice and eat the white meat of a coconut. They are so delicious and taste so much differently than those you can buy at a shop back in your country.
Being part of a family for a day or two, includes visiting a village market for shopping. The daily market, which runs from the terminal to the main market hall in the town center, offers seasonal fruits and vegetables, shoes, clothes, ground nuts, kola nuts, household items, different kinds of food, rice, oil, spices, etc.
If you are interested in the military history, then you should investigate the squat hulk of Fort Bullen, built by the British in the early nineteenth century to thwart the efforts of some European slave traders. The village used to be the exit point of the slave trade. They brought them from the mainland to Barra and from here to St. James Island and then to America and Europe. Fort Bullen stands as a lasting reminder of the British campaign to eradicate slavery in West Africa. In the early 1970s it was declared a National Monument, and in 2003, along the Six-Gun Battery in Banjul, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is also a small museum to see.
Between November and January, bottle-nosed dolphins are regular visitors to the area around Barra. The Gambia’s Atlantic coast north of Barra is sometimes patrolled by Atlantic humpbacked dolphins, endemic to this part of West Africa. Booking dolphin-watching trips has no guarantee but the cruise is enjoyable for its own sake. It is also a heaven for bird watchers as it is located on the river mouth and the Atlantic, with a marine delta to the north.
Welcome to the land of the smiling people.