...images from planet Earth
Saturday 27 December - Arrival / Ziguinchor
An early morning arrival at Dakar airport was followed a few hours later by a flight to Ziguinchor, the main town in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. I had booked Le Perroquet for its riverside location. Yellow-billed storks shrieked continuously on the large baobab trees close by. This turned out to be the nicest part of the town. Ziguinchor is an ugly and unmaintained town with little to see. I spent the day relaxing, reading and once the temperature dropped I went for a walk through the town. On the way to a restaurant I met Ibrahim, who was selling wooden carvings. He told me about some live music playing at the Alliance centre. We went along and watched some two really good bands, most notably Coumba Gawlo Seck, a well known singer from Dakar.
Sunday 28 December - Afiniam / Ziguinchor
I'd booked a tour with the hotel to Afiniam, a village an hour away by pirogue. I booked it because I wanted a reason to stick around in Ziguinchor, and I managed to get price down significantly. It was a two hour ride on a pirogue to Afiniam. We saw numerous bird species perching on the mangroves, or fishing from above the river. The first place we stopped at was a house with creepy human and animal figures carved into the walls, depicting village scenes. We lunched at a campement and walked to a home where we were shown the uses of the exotic fruits that grow locally. Nearby, traditional dances were being performed for some government ministers who were visiting. Spent the evening wandering around Ziguinchor.
Monday 29 December - to Oussouye / Elinkine
Took a sept-place (seven seater Peugeot taxi) to the town of Oussouye. In the back next to me, a woman was reading loose pages from the Bible. Oussouye sounded like a nice place and I'd been recommended a campement to stay at. A local boy, 'Charles', walked me to the place and I hung out here for a while, enquiring at a local travel agency about getting to Point St George, but that was looking extremely difficult, involving a very long walk. Plus Oussouye didn't seem to have much to offer. So I changed plans and decided to continue onto Elinkine. I was joined by Saikou, who I met two years ago in Gambia. He'd just arrived after a long journey across southern Senegal. We took a taxi with a shattered windscreen, held together with a Senegal flag in the centre, and two additional people squeezed in, including two in the front passenger seat. The scenery was pretty, with rice plantations and lush green trees. The fertile lands of Casamance provides Senegal with much of its produce. The Campement Villageois d'Elinkine was situated on the bank of the Casamance river, with palm trees lining the bank. The beach faced west, and as I arrived the sun was setting in a hazy sky, and I was greeted with a gorgeous sunset. I'd finally found the Africa I'd come to Senegal for.
Tuesday 30 December - Elinkine
The town's only paved road ended where it met the river. Here, we met a Kojo, who promised me the world as I discussed my plans for the next few days. He told me he can get me to Carabane and take payment afterwards, once I was able to get to an ATM. He apparently owned a boat and a restaurant. We met 'Anthony Johnson', an ambitious Ghanaian working in the fishing industry which was this town's main source of income. He expressed his desperation to go to England to live, and his desire for my phone. Kojo showed us his home nearby, where chickens were foraging amongst dogs and pigs. I went back to the campement where I read and relaxed in the heat of the afternoon before going for a walk in the village.
Wednesday 31 December - Elinkine to Diembering
As agreed with Kojo, we get to the boats by 9am but now Kojo's boss, the real owner of the boat says it's not OK to be paid afterwards. So after nearly two hours of discussions, we change our plans. We took a car (the same taxi) to Cap Skirring where I can withdraw cash and continued from there a short distance up the coast to Diembering. A huge kapok tree greets us in the middle of the town. Boys are sat by the huge buttress roots selling chickens. We reach there in the heat of the day and walk 20 minutes on a sandy road to a campement. Le Kassa is run by a Frenchman, Massimo. Relaxed there in the afternoon, and sat with some of the staff, Osman and Albert, who were smoking weed and drinking palm wine. Went for a walk later in the afternoon. It was a very calm, quiet and relaxed village with numerous ducks and pigs roaming, as well as the usual dogs and goats. I separated from Saikou and walked back to the campement along the beach, catching the last sunset of the year.
Thursday 1 January - Diembering to Cachouane to Carabane
We were up before light to set off early for the 10km walk to Cachouane. It was a nice walk through a sandy road and lush scenery. We reached Cachouane just over two hours later. It was another pretty village but there was not much time to look around as we found some tourists to share a boat with to Carabane island. Not speaking any French myself, having Saikou with me was invaluable as he could converse with the locals in Wolof. At Carabane we checked into the Hotel Barracuda. It was basic but the location on the beach was nice. Went for my usual evening walk through the village. There were several remnants of the past when this was a French trading station, most notably an abandoned church. The village is very pretty, the nicest I'd seen so far. Wide avenues, abundant greenery and being an island built on sand gave it a very relaxed feel. Sat at a bar by the beach with Saikou and Momo, a musician who was visiting for a couple of weeks. For sunset I walked to a majestic baobab tree to take photos, occasionally pausing to watch the football match nearby. At the hotel restaurant some of the locals sang and played a guitars and a gora, a traditional stringed instrument, but the strong cold winds forced me to bed early.
Friday 2 January - Carabane to Elinkine
I went for a morning walk observing village life. A girl eating from a crab shell with a plastic fork emerged from her home, watching me and smiling. It struck me how slow life is in Africa, no one has appointments, nowhere to be, often nothing even to do, so no one is ever rushing. Strong winds this morning meant the boats weren't leaving at the usual time so we waited and waited. We moved along the beach where the water was less choppy, We were told a boat would eventually arrive. Here, there was a thatched hut where a middle-aged Bulgarian man lived. He had been here for seven months and had planned to stay. He had sailed over from Holland, via Spain. He was loving his life here, though he was critical of the short sightedness of the Senegalese with regard to such things as their overfishing. We moved further along the beach with several women and their children. No one was stressing about waiting so long. The boat came at 11:30 and within half an hour we were back in Elinkine. I checked back into the Campement Villageois d'Elinkine and relaxed for remainder of the day.
Saturday 3 January - to Dakar
We walked to the taxi area before light to get an early taxi to Ziguinchor, via Oussouye. For the fourth time, we took the same trusty Peugeot. I said goodbye to Saikou at the airport and I was in Dakar by 11am. Checked into the Hotel Sunugal. The location wasn't great, but the grounds of the hotel were pleasant and peaceful, a welcome retreat from the noise of the city. It was a nice place to relax and I sat and read outside my room to the sound of birds. A comfortable bed and hot water were welcome luxuries.
Sunday 4 January - Gorée island
On the taxi on the way to the ferry terminal I realised Dakar is the ugliest and most polluted city I've ever been to. I took the ferry a short distance to the island of Gorée. This was used as a slave trading station and its most popular attraction is the slave house. Unfortunately the island is a huge tourist market, though it doesn't take too much away from the atmophere of the island, with its quaint cobbled streets and the charming colonial architecture with vibrantly coloured buildings and wooden shutters. Up on the hill, World War II bunkers and canons could be seen. There was no chance of catching a sunset from here, with the thick haze around Dakar. I took the 5:30 ferry back and killed several hours at the hotel while I waited for my 2am flight back to London.
Impressions of Senegal
I had hoped for an experience similar to Gambia. It didn't match up to that, although it's unfair to compare. The Gambians are more welcoming and the Senegalese are more unscrupulous, more money-hungry. For example, they wouldn't try to squeeze extra people in a taxi in Gambia. In terms of scenery, Casamance has some stunning villages, it just takes a little time to find them. Overall it's a great location for a relaxing trip with good birdlife and scenery. And I realised that speaking French would have been a great benefit!