Fun Fun Fun with The Beach Boys
By OLL LEWIS
According to local folklore, when a hotel near the coast called the Palma Rima was being built in around 1990, the builders would not commence building work because the area was rumoured to be the home of a Ninki-Nanka, that would come out of a large hole on a regular basis. No one was brave enough to hunt the Ninki-Nanka so the hole was filled in while it was away and an established tree planted over the hole, meaning the Ninki-Nanka would not be able to use this particular lair and be forced to move on. According to the legend the plan worked; the Ninki-Nanka was never seen in the area again, and work continued on the nearby hotel. Hooray.
Making conversation with our taxi driver Assan, who works nearby at the Bungalow beach hotel (our man in Havana, if you will), I had asked him his opinion on the Palma Rima Ninki-Nanka story. Assan was of the opinion that the creature was certainly not Ninki-Nanka, but in fact a very large python that locals had perhaps mistaken for the Ninki-Nanka. However, Ninki-Nanka or not, the words 'very large python' were certainly enough to keep our interest. After all, the eye witness we found near Dumbltore claimed that the Ninki-Nanka he saw was a snake of immense proportions. Walking across the paddy fields behind the Palma Rima Chris Moiser noticed one tree that was rather different to the others and halfway between the road and the path, which was where we had been told to look for the tree. We gingerly approached the tree, walking over the small ridges in the fields so we could be sure we weren't trampling a farmer's rice crop, and saw it was a baobab tree. Baobab trees are often considered to be sacred trees, and this tree certainly was, as prayers had been stuffed into knot holes and even hammered into its trunk using steel bolts. The tree itself was clearly over 16 years old, so if this was the tree it had been well established before it was transplanted in the hole. To have replanted a baobab over the Ninki-Nanka's hole would also have served to calm the fears of the builders, as it would perhaps offer them a sort of spiritual protection from an angry and newly homeless monster who, according to rumour, could kill you without even needing to touch you.
Close up of the prayers inserted in the sacred tree
From the baobab tree we walked onwards to investigate the second modern legend of the day: Gambo, the mystery creature of Bungalow Beach.
Gambo was an animal allegedly washed up on Bungalow Beach in 1983. According to Owen Burnham, who was 14 at the time, the strange creature bore a resemblence to a pliosaur and was buried on the beach, 3 feet under the sand and above the tideline. We had some soft drinks in the bar at the Bungalow Beach Hotel while we reviewed Burnam's map of where Gambo had been buried and planned our next move. Our investigation had already been compromised by the fact that the paved beer garden of a nightclub had been built next to the hotel, infringing on the exact spot, indicated by the map, where Gambo had been buried. The investigation was further hampered by the fact that the nightclub was owned by the presidents brother; one thing you don't want when digging a 3 foot deep hole in the hope of finding the mortal remains of a cryptid is the secret police turning up with the army in tow. Try explaining that to a policeman:
"Stop that right now what are you up to?" the policeman might enquire.
"We're trying to dig up what might possibly be an unknown species of animal." might come the reply, which might have resulted in us being kept in Gambia longer than we'd originally planned.
Thankfully, all we had to contend with was the local beach crowd, who often follow tourists around, pretend to know them and then ask for money. We had had to contend with these people before, and they could be a bit of a pain to say the least. However, this time, as we excavated the sand as near as possible to the cross on Owen's map, we were provided with the perfect opportunity to get our own back on them. Maybe they will talk for years to come about the day the troop of six scientists from the geology department of 'Woolfardisworthy University' came to investigate beach erosion in the Gambia by digging a series of 70 cm (3ft) deep holes in the sand, of the short lecture on sand dynamics and erosion Chris Moiser gave them, and of Dr Chris Clark's 'tricorder'. By the time we had finished the sadly fruitless search for Gambo's bones the beach boys were offering to help us dig and all wanted to be scientists too.
The story of Gambo dosen't end there though. It does seem that it might have been a dolphin after all from what another eyewitness, local shopowner Baka, told us when we asked him about the incident in 1983. Baka was present when Gambo was washed up and he said that Gambo had been a large dolphin, missing its dorsel fin, which had been washed up on the beach where it vomited and died. I also aquired a carving of a dolphin in Abuko that looked very simmilar to Owen Burnam's description of Gambo, so it's tempting to assume that the animal was, as so many people have insisted, just a dolphin. Sadly, our excavations on Bungalow Beach also showed that the sand is moist from 40 cm (1ft 4ins) down in the area where Gambo was buried, so it is likely that the creature's bones rotted away some time ago even before the nightclub was built.
On a lighter note, however, I found out from interviewing staff at the Bungalow Beach Hotel that these days when large animals wash up on the beach they are required to call a local vet, who will arrange for them to be taken away and disposed of accordingly. So, presumably, if anything like Gambo washes up on a Gambian beach again it will be looked at by a scientist rather than being left to rot under the sand.