L’Expérience du Senegal

1 08 2011

Last weekend we (Dan, Yena, our newly acquired friend Anelynda and myself) took a break from our demanding and stressful workload to have some fun by heading out to adventure the country that almost entirely engulfs little ol’ Gambia; Senegal. In an effort to keep things interesting, I have attempted to sum up the trip with four key ‘S’ word, to share some of the spectacular stories from our trip to Senegal.

Speaking

Since French is the official language of Senegal, communicating over there would be a piece of cake… I’m Canadian; I have 6 years of learning French under my belt. However, I didn’t make it much further than ‘Bonjour’ with the guard at the boarder before I began to blank. To top it off, almost all of the locals have learned French as a second language as well, leaving even more space for confusion. Thankfully both Dan and Yena are more francophone than I, and the language issue was only a small bump in the road.

Septplace

Speaking of bumps in the road, the journey from our home in the Gambia to our destination in Dindenfello, Senegal was over 700kms and included multiple stops, driver changes and backtracks; traveling was an adventure in itself. We decided to take local cabs for the trip which consisted of dangerously overloaded vans (loaded inside and on the roof, I might add), trucks with missing windows and my personal favourite; the septplace. A septplace is basically a station wagon with the trunk gutted in order to cram another row of seating in. Also, as you can probably decipher, septplace means ‘seven places’ (3 + 3 + 1 + driver) which makes for an uncomfortable journey. Nevertheless, a more uncomfortable jaunt awaited us on our way back home as the septplace we planned on entering already had seven passengers and instead of waiting it out for the next car to come our way (possibly hours), we decided to turn this one into an eleven-place. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic…

the tight squeeze

Setbacks

No trip, let alone a trip to Senegal, would be complete without a few setbacks. This one was no exception. After arriving in Tambacounda, a liaison town for many of Senegal’s attractions, we quickly made it to a hotel where we organized our trip to Niokolo-Koba National Park. After planning out itinerary with the partially English speaking woman at the hotel, we paid her the agreed upon amount and headed out with our zilch English speaking driver in his 4×4 truck. Of course, on arrival at the park, the money that we used to pay for the entrance tickets was still back at the hotel with the lady and when we called her she had no recollection of us paying her for the tickets. Woops, good thing they weren’t expensive…We paid (again) and went into the park. We then drove for several hours around the massive +9000km2 park (almost the entire size of Gambia) seeing all sorts of wildlife; from warthogs and kob to baboons and crocodiles…the lions, however, was nowhere to be found. We stayed the night in the park at beauty of a hotel that backs on to the River Gambia. After a few hours of rest, we woke up early to take a boat tour down the river. The lush riverside foliage swarming with families of baboons and exotic birds was a sight in itself but the icing on the cake was the group of four hippos that were swimming up the river near our boat.

animals by the lake

From here we traveled back to Tambacounda to plan our trip to Dindefello, a small village near the Guinean border. We were able to arrange a truck to take on the expedition and this time we got all the conditions of the agreement in contract form. What the contract didn’t stipulate was the possibility of the gas station filling up the truck with dirty gas and having it break down on the way, inconveniently late at night, during a lightning storm and in the middle of the road that passes through the national park. After several frustrating/terrifying hours of putting our way down the pitch dark road, we made it to one of the driver’s ‘friends’ place nearby in Kedougou to catch some shut eye. Early the next day we got into the mechanics, and after hours of tinkering around the obvious solution they finally drained the truck of the dirty gas and filled it with new gas (still dirty, as the driver said, but not as bad as the old stuff) and we got back on track.

not my favourite part of the trip

Snakes

At this part of our journey, we ventured on a hike several kilometres up the mountain side to visit the Bassari villages, an old traditional Senegalese village. Hidden from the rest of Senegal at the top of the mountain, it was refreshing to see people living so contently with what seemed to be just the basic necessities. After this, we drove down to Dindefelo, our final destination on this Senegalese expedition. Our first stop in Dindefelo was the breathtaking 120m waterfall. Once we made it to the village, it was only a short 2km hike from our camp to the falls. As we were there in the middle of the rainy season, the lack of tourists and overgrown forest made the falls seem like a hidden paradise. The pool at the bottom of the falls (about 75*, freezing cold by African standards) was a great sight after a long day of hiking… However, the water snake that slithered my way when I was swimming was not so great of a sight. Luckily my deafening scream and frantic splashing scared it away before any drastic measures were taken. After staying the night in thatched roofed huts in Dindefelo, we awoke to another day of adventure. We hiked up the side of the mountain to the source of the waterfall (a small stream coming in from Guinea) which runs over a large cave. We also saw some pretty intimidating snake trails and checked out ‘les dents’ which were 11 large rocks, resembling teeth, off the side of the mountain. Words can’t describe these beauties, so take a look at the pictures.

Dan and I in the cave

the snake trail

the teeth, what a view!

All in all, the trip was a great success. If any of you are African explorers; Senegal is a must.

Six days left before my flight leaves for Canada… this may be my last post from Africa!

Adios,

John / Lamin Bojang

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