Wednesday 20th March 2013
Dakar to Toubakouta
Up really early today at 5.30am for a 6am breakfast as today the trip started from Dakar. Met everyone downstairs, packed up the back locker with our bags and set off at around 7am before the city was very busy. We then headed off out of Dakar to the south and then west heading for Touba, a town in which the largest and most historic mosque in Senegal is situated. The day was fine, and got very hot as the day progressed. By about 11.45am we had arrived in Touba and were taken on a tour of this most impressive mosque, built after the most revered Muslim in Senegal had died in 1927. Unfortunately we were considered to be dressed inappropriately even though our legs were covered so the women had to hire assorted long skirts and one man had to hire a long dress-like item. The tour was interesting but hard on our feet as we were bare foot and the floor surface hot. We were not allowed to go inside but the building is quite beautiful. Apparently over 2 million people converge on this town 48 days after Muslim New Year each year as pilgrims as it is the most holy place in Senegal. It’s difficult to believe that this many people could be in this place, let alone all at once. The day had warmed up considerably by then and by the time we reached Kaolack, it was very hot. We looked around the Medina BaayMosque there, not nearly as interesting as the one in Touba, nor as imposing. It was very hot and we found a small shop that sold wonderful cold drinks. A group of children had formed at the truck but unfortunately they got over-excited (familiar from last year) and as we pulled out they suddenly threw a barrage of stones, many of which came through the windows. After we left Kaolack, we continued on to Toubakouta where we set up camp in the grounds of a hotel (campement) near the Sine-Saloum River Delta. The hotel allocated one room to be used for showering and toilet and so it was quite difficult for us all to share. By the time we were set up it was almost dark and so we had dinner and by 10.30pm or so we were asleep. The tents on this trip are A-frame tents and while they are reasonably simple to erect and to pull down, they are not very high and, although they seem to have a lot of floor space, much is not really usable because of the shape and so they are quite cramped inside. Anyway they will be our home for the next couple of months, so we will need to get used to how we should best set them up inside.
Thursday 21st March 2013
Today we were still at the campement and after breakfast, we walked down to the river that is on the Sine-Saloum Delta where our pirogue was waiting. This one had a cover over part of it to protect the passengers from the burning sun, and an engine. We waded out to it and then motored along the river past the mangrove banks complete with oysters growing, eventually arriving at a village on an island. Once we arrived there we took a walk through the village and met the queen of the village. The Queen hugged all of us and gave us kisses and then she invited us to sit in her hut where we sat on her bed and a couple of stools. We spoke to her through an interpreter whilst inside her hut. She was very funny and quite amusing – she obviously had a number of grandchildren and was (at a guess) in her 70’s. When we left, she offered us cashews for sale as she had been previously advised by the tourism people coming to the village that it would be better to sell something for money to the tourists rather than ask (or beg) for money. So she did and we bought cashews from her. We then went to the market to see what the locals had for sale – some quite nice necklaces, basic but OK. We then walked down to the river and paddled (some of the group swam) before we returned to the camp by our pirogue. After lunch we sat around in the cool of a shady tree during the hottest part of the day and then at about 4.30pm we went out on the pirogue again but in a different direction. We landed at a shell beach (made totallyof shells from which all the meat had been eaten by the villagers of old) and walked through the bush to where the village used to be many years ago (probably over a century). There are very large baobab trees here and it was very peaceful. One large tree had a legend associated with it – the chief had hidden there when neighbouring warriors came to attack and they were invisible from the attackers. Young men also used to recover at the tree after circumcision (now not legal). After re-boarding the pirogue we then did some searchinginto the mangrove channels looking for the local birdlife and watched the birds coming in to nest for the night. Once it was almost dark, we headed back to the campement and, after everyone had a very rapid shower, had dinner. After dinner we all played a fun game similar to charades and between us drank a bowl of alcoholic punch. Today was extremely hot in the afternoon (probably between 36-38C) – that’s the standard day here – but cools down in the evening. In the tents, it was stifling during the day but cooler at night.
Friday 22nd March 2013
Toubakouta, Senegal to Tendaba, Gambia
Up very early today to pack up our tents in the dark and were on the road a little after 7am after breakfast. Today we were heading out of Senegal south into The Gambia – the smallest African mainland country – to a lodge on the Gambia River. We were only about 30-40km from the border so we arrived at the border about 8.30am – our leader took all the passports through immigration on both borders and our passports were stamped. We didn’t need a visa for Gambia as it used to be a British Colony and still seems to be on good terms with Australia. After we had changed some money at the border, we headed down towards the Gambia River for our river crossing. There is a truck ferry and a smaller vehicle ferry that work in tandem. They load one then the other, then cross the river. The wait for trucks was hours and hours, but we jumped the queue (after some ‘friendly discussion with the police)and joined the smaller vehicle ferry which would only hold 6 or maybe 8 cars. However there’s not much car traffic in these countries so we were soon on the ferry for our crossing after buying some fly spray and miscellaneous items from vendors at the ferry. The river is huge. It’s just like a large lake it’s so far across, and apparently it is navigable upstream from the Atlantic for many hundreds of kilometres and was where they used to trade tobacco and slaves in the 15th to 19th centuries. Gambia was where “Roots by Alex Haley” was set and many slaves were sent all over the world from here. The people here are very friendly and they speak English, unlike in Senegal where French is spoken. After we had crossed the river, we headed towards Tendaba Lodge which fronts the Gambia River. We are sitting writing the blog here facing the river. It is a beautiful place, very hot today. We are in a room with two beds and mosquito nets and a small bathroom. There are chickens running around and it is really nice here. There was a conference on climate change being held and Lynn met the main presenter (Malick) who had returned in 2012 from Australia where he had studied at U of Q. He was excited to talk to Australians and we have of course exchanged email addresses. We had dinner (chicken andchips – some people had bush pig) and drinks then people from the village danced and sang – we joined in and it was a riot. To bed about 11pm.
Saturday 23rd March 2013
Tendaba Lodge, Gambia
Up early today for breakfast. After breakfast we headed off through the village for another pirogue trip – this time across the Gambia River towards the mangrove wetlands on the other side of the river. There were about 15 people on the pirogue including a young man who bailed the water out of the boat almost the whole time we were out on the water. We went up and down the channels and even saw such a rare bird (a fin foot duck) of which the guide wanted the photos that we had taken. Because it was early, it was relatively cool (about 25C). It is also a little overcast today. We spotted many birds during the morning and then went back to the lodge for lunch (fish and rice) and a bit of a break before we were going out again in the late afternoon. Whilst David sat in the bar/restaurant area near the water, Lynn went for a walk into the village with some of the others. The village is right outside the camp which provides work for many of the locals. As soon as they stepped outside, children were coming up to say hello. The Gambia is so friendly – extremely poor but very caring people. Lynn saw a small child happily dragging her toy along the dusty road – the toy was a used sardine can attached to a piece of string and she had filled it with small stones and dirt – she was very satisfied with this toy. They walked around ‘the block’, past the small mosque, and came across the small fishing market where a small catch was being sold. The men were happy to show off their catch – there were some giant prawns, some cat fish, flat fish (probably sole) and a few other varied fish. People soon bought them. We visited a couple of small shops which sold batteries, eggs, soap, and other staples. Then visited a house being built with the bricks being constructed with cement, local sand, water and put into a mould. One of the teenage girls asked if everyone would like to visit her home so off we set, complete with small children hanging on, and entered the family compound. Inside were many chickens, various piles of bits and pieces, washing lines and so on. We went into one of the houses which was in the corner of the compound – constructed with cement blocks and a tin roof. Inside it was very dark but also very cool. The room was large and contained 2 x 3-piece lounge suites and a reasonably modern TV. We met the brother and then the mother returned home to find a number of foreigners visiting. She welcomed us and we chatted for about half an hour (also met the ‘step-mother’ who we worked out was actually another wife – the men here have several wives), at which point we bid our farewells and returned back to the camp.Late in the afternoon, we had arranged to go on a game drive to the Kiang West National Park, where we were told there were antelopes, baboons, bush pigs and even some leopards……we set off in a truck that had bench seats with an aisle down the middle and an open top. We drove along the road and through a couple of villages before turning off towards the park. There is always a huge welcome as you go through a village – the children yell and scream and run alongside the vehicle. Men and women wave. We passed one large group of children which we were told was one family – there were several wives! We passed through another village then entered the park. It has been in existence since 1987 and looks fairly underfunded but it seems that people at least don’t hunt the wild animals here. On the way in to the park, the truck scraped past many branches of trees and we kept having to duck all the time from the branches flying past. Some of them had nasty spikes and some scratches were gained. We arrived at a sign for a waterhole and walked down a steep slope into the (almost) dry lake bed. At the moment it is towards the end of the dry season but this lake would be seriously big in the wet season (it’s probably 1km across and 2-3 km long). While we were walking down towards the lake, one of the guides with us made animal calls and baboons came down from some trees, out from the bush on the other side of the lake and sat down calling back to us about 500m away. We walked a little further along and saw quite a few footprints in the cracked surface of the almost dry waterhole, mainly baboons and wild pigs. We then walked back up to the truck and headed a bit further into the park where we saw some wild pigs running – they were just about at the limit of our vision so must have been about 1km away. We then drove down to the mighty Gambia River where there was something resembling a picnic area with seats. We then went back to the truck and headed back the same way we had come in. As the truck drove along the narrow track, it managed to knock quite a few twigs, leaves etc. into the back where we were sitting and finally pulled down an extremely large branch off a tree under which we passed. The branch fell down over both our heads – Lynn was sitting in the seat behind David on this trip – and totally covered us with leaves and the trunk that snapped off. The guide sitting in the back with us was quite apologetic but all of the group made a joke of it. A large spider even fell on Tom’s back and was brushed off by someone else. Lynn even discovered a maggot crawling on her foot – this had also fallen off a tree whilst driving. So it was a very exciting journey with not many wild animals and definitely no antelopes or leopards!!! Despite this, we had a fun time and Lynn got the whole truck to pretend they were on a roller coaster each time we drove over a convex causeway – arms in the air and squealing! These causeways are all signposted as ‘Irish Crossings’ – how weird! We arrived back at the camp about 7.30pm and quickly had a shower as we were filthy, then down to dinner. After dinner we sat round having a few drinks and spoke to a young Gambian man named Morning Star (his choice of name). He lived in the village but worked on construction at the campsite. He was very charming, spoke extremely good English and he talked to us about the local customs and how families operated in this country. It was very enjoyable meeting with him. We then went to bed about 11pm.
Sunday 24th March 2013
Tendaba Camp to Bintang Bolong Lodge
Today was a late start as we left at about 10am after packing up from the Tendaba Camp. The Tendaba Camp has been there since 1972 and is in a very pleasant spot with a very friendly village right next door. We had to drive a lady to the next town to go to the medical clinic, so she sat in the truck with us. When she alighted, an immigration officer got in and went with us to the next village where we all got out and did some shopping for lunch and dinner at the next lodge. We strolled around in the market chatting to the locals and one of the men Lynn met told her that he loved her. They exchanged email addresses…..everyone promised to write and we have told them that we will write back with news from home. Some appear to want help to do something, while others do not appear to have any ulterior motives. After the supplies had been bought we headed off to the lodge which is on the Bintang River, a tributary of the Gambia River. When we arrived, the first cook group prepared lunch – fresh bread straight from the oven in the grounds of the lodge plus fresh tomatoes, lettuce, canned tuna and a coffee. The coffee was interesting as the co-driver had put what he thought was milk powder out on the table – turned out after we had put it in our coffees and drunk it that it was flour – Lynn didn’t like the look of it and wisely said no to it. David however drank it and it glumped up in the cup – wasn’t very nice really. After lunch we carried our bags down to the little hut near the river where we will be staying for tonight and tomorrow night. We have a room with a double bed and two chairs and a table plus a little bathroom/shower/toilet, perched above the river. There are mud flats here with crabs and mud skippers (they are similar to axolotls) walking around. There have been a few birds both wading and flying and it is very peaceful. All you can hear are the waves softly lapping at the shore. After a bit of a rest in the hot part of the day, we went to dinner cooked by the first cook group near the truck. After dinner we went and sat in the bar and had a drink before going back along the boardwalk to our room over the water. We went to bed after 11pm.
Monday 25th March 2013
Bintang Bolong Lodge
One month since we left home – cannot quite believe it – time has passed so quickly. After breakfast at the lodge (omelette, coffee, baguette and juice today), we went on yet another pirogue along the river for about 20 minutes. We alighted at a newly constructed jetty made of specially cut large round branches. They had not been secured to the cross members so were a bit rickety to step on. We then sat on carts drawn by two steers (there were three carts for the group) and went along a mostly flat track for about ½ an hour to the village. Some people dangled their legs over the edge of the cart – others sat up on top of the tray – some of the trays were just tied on, ours had a metal frame around it with various sized planks placed inside the frame. As Lynn was sitting just behind the driver he suddenly handed her the reins and gave her some instruction on how to drive the cart. How exciting! If a bit nerve wracking… maybe a new career awaits. When we arrived at the village, we sat down on chairs and greeted the chief and a number of other people came up and welcomed us. There were many children walking around and they too came up and shook our hands. There were 3 men drumming and a number of the ladies had instruments like triangles. They played and people danced for us and then a man (we assume) dressed totally in straw with a large pole sticking out of a clump of straw on his head area came in and commenced dancing. He whirled and danced and some other men kept him damp by sucking water out of a kettle and spraying him with it out of their mouths. He must have been so hot – we were all seated along with the other people from the village under a very large mango tree – the temperature was probably about 37C, but fine and dry today. He continued to dance and most of the group including Lynn joined in with the other villagers who do this amazing dance where they stamp their feet really hard and fast on the ground. Lynn also had a go on the triangles. One little boy – maybe 4 yrs old – was always up dancing – he had rhythm! The entertainment continued for about an hour after which we went for a visit to a couple of the houses in the village. The houses were surprisingly cool inside considering how hot it was outside, but very dark inside. There didn’t appear to be any furniture apart from a bed. They told us that in the wet season there are many crops growing at the back of the houses – corn, cassava and garden vegetables. It is not the wet season till June so it is bone dry at present. After the visit to the houses, we said our farewells to the chief and the other villagers and went back on our cart to the pirogue at the river, where a sandwich lunch was waiting plus a cool drink. There was a newly constructed picnic area with tables and seats made from the same material as the previously mentioned jetty. We then jumped back into the pirogue and went back to the lodge and washed some clothes and had a rest in the heat of the afternoon. We walked up to the village near the lodge later in the afternoon to look at the jellyfish processing plant. The fishermen bring the jellyfish in at the shore and wheel it up in wheelbarrows and tip it into a tank. A number of ladies are near or in the tank (it is about 30cm deep) and they push the jellyfish along – other ladies clean the gunk out of the trailing bits underneath the jellyfish and then they are cleaned and cut more then salted and left in big tanks to dry (salted) and are then all exported to China. There are a number of Chinese men working here on this project and it gives employment to people in the village. Back for an aperitif and then later dinner in the restaurant.