I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a rather large crocodile blocking the pathway, with what appeared (bizarrely) to be a bunch of bananas on its back.
“Don’t worry, this one is just plastic,” grinned our guide at Kachikally crocodile pool, a tourist attraction in Bakau, about 10 miles from Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.
We’d decided to visit the crocodile pool as it is said to be sacred. Local legend says that by bathing in the water from the pool women will be blessed with fertility and, if successful, parents tend to name their children after it. So if you meet anyone called Kachikally you know what their parents have been up to!
As we approach the croc pond I observe a sign:
“Don’t touch any crocodile without the advice of the pool guide.”
“That’s a joke right?” I ask the guide, who is still grinning incessantly. Nonchalantly I continue to approach the pool and the big ‘plastic’ croc on the path. I am mere footsteps away, camera raised, when the guide grabs my arm.
“Not any closer,” he pants, “This one is pregnant and she gets angry if we disturb her.”
Apparently the plastic bit was a joke. Everyone knows you come to Kachikally to get up close and scarily personal with crocodiles. Everyone except me, it seems.
Our tour continues, away from the big croc on the path, and down towards the pool. There is no fencing, just a medium sized pond filled with what appears to be only leaves. Until you peer a little closer and can just about make out some man-killing jaws poking out through the reeds.
I squint a bit harder and spot some lazy crocs lying in the shade. And then, much to my surprise and horror, the guide leads us straight down to the water’s edge, crouches next to a human-sized crocodile and says, “Do you want to touch it?”
Of course I do not! I perched on the edge of the steps, one eye on an escape route and the other on the crocodile lying uncomfortably close to my feet.
I’m whispering for fear of disturbing them, but the guide is bouncing around the water’s edge, pointing out more and more crocodiles and teasing me for being afraid of them.
Eventually I give in. This is apparently what we came (and paid the £1 entry fee) for so I step down a bit closer to the guide and get frightfully close to the crocodiles. I get out my camera and try to capture this unbelievable experience. “This is insane!” I whsiper.
Jai from Savoir There and Iain from Mallory on Travel, who I am visiting with, are much braver than I am. They are down in the pit, taking close ups of crocs, and under the guidance of the local guide, they stroke a crocodile’s leg.
Yes, that’s right. They are stroking crocodiles.
I take a few photos and pray this won’t end in disaster.
Finally, it seems like everyone has had their fill of the crocodile encounter and we begin making movements towards the exit. Then, I don’t know what comes over me, but suddenly I feel like I can’t leave without seeing this experience through. I nod to the guide, he takes me down, and gently, gingerly I put my fingers on a crocodile paw.
“Feel his back too,” says Iain who is enjoying this far more than me. I brush it quickly with my fingers, it feels soft and snake-like, and then I am done. For good!
“Ok let’s go!” I tell the guide, who is pleased as punch he got to do his job properly. Unfortunately there are no photos of this crazy moment, I was more keen on getting it over and done with than documenting it, but the image will be imprinted on my mind for a long while yet.
I visited the Gambia as a guest of Gambia Experience. Kachikally Crocodile pool is in the village of Bakau, a 5 minute drive from our beachside hotel Ngala Lodge. We visited the pond, and gingerly felt a croc, of our own accord!