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On expedition to Senegal

Home -> Africa -> Senegal -> Travelogue Senegal -> 14 January 2005

Friday 14 January, on expedition to Senegal

We have to get up very early, but the minibus that will pick us up for the excursion into Senegal is a bit late, so we still have time for a quick breakfast. A few people we know already, since they also went on the excursion to Makasutu. But this time we go to the south, into Senegal, onto the capital of the provence, Ziguinchor.
Brikama BrikamaOur first break is at Brikama to get blocks of ice to cool the soft drinks we take in the bus. After Serrekunda and Banjul this is the third city of The Gambia and very lively.
Dusty roads Parking lotThe closer we come to the border, the worse the roads get! Driving on a sandy path is probably even more pleasant than on a asphalted road with deep holes in it. But, if we have to believe the sign on the right picture, there are parking places along the road. It takes us more than 45 minutes to drive the last 20 kilometers before the border!
The guide, Tamarr, is very enthousiastic and tells hundreds of stories about his country, the people who live here, the economics, etcetera. He also tries to make puns, but his English is not always very clear, so most people don't understand him. But, he is a very bright young boy with a thorough knowledge about his country. Just before the border he collects not only all our passports, but also as many pens as he can get from us. To bribe the customs so we can pass quickly. Most os us carry pencils with us, but they are meant for children... But well, if it works, that's fine for us.
The border with SenegalWe have to stop at three border crossings between The Gambia and Senegal. After the first we stop in the no-man's-land between the two countries to change money with a moneychanger who has followed us here. He is a young boy, with his pockets filled with all sorts of money. We need Senegalese CFA and we get about 5000 for 300 Dalasi or 600 for 1 Euro. The exchange rate is clearly in his advantage, and what we have left at the end of the day we can change back against an even worse rate.
Well, the pencils don't do their job properly, since it takes us more than two hours to cross the border, but we have some new stamps in our passports: 1 to show that we have left The Gambia and one to prove that we indeed have entered into Senegal. And right away we can see differences between the two countries: more woods and vegetation in general, much better roads and signposting and the houses seem to be of a much better quality. This is the rich part of Senegal, with more rain than in the north (which lies north of Gambia, nearer to the Sahara), and it has more minerals. Therefore there are some freedom fighters who strive for independance for this isolated region. We are told that there are some places which are still not safe but we don't go there.
Suddenly a woman sits down on the ground next to our minibus and evidently she is urinating. After a few moments she stands up, straightens her dress and walks on. How very simple! When we have a stop in the bush to relieve our bladder, most women protest, since there is no toilet in sight, only lots of trees.
A compound Playing kidsOur second stop is at a compound with a few houses made of loam. Small children are playing and women carry on with their daily routine (washing, cooking, feeding the children) while we take a look inside the houses. They remind us of old farms from the beginning of the 20th century. The thick walls keep the air inside very pleasantly cool.
The toilet of the compound At the compoundTo the left the toilet of the compound, with a fence made of reeds. Sewage and waterworks are unknown here. The kids follow us with curiousity, the adults don't even seem to notice us. Touroperators often take groups to this village and the people don't get anything for it, except the tips the tourists give them. But we still feel a bit embarrassed walking through their houses like this.
Water jug with cold waterThe water is taken from wells around the village and is kept in large pottery jars so it stays amazingly cool. People here live from agriculture which yields enough for their own needs and they sell what is left on the market. The elder children are visiting schools in the neighbourhood and the men...., well, what do they do??? In fact, we only see women working, as in The Gambia. But near the sea most men will be fishermen and work at night, so they will be asleep at daytime.
At the compound Folk danceHere we are again treated with a traditional local dance, the villagers organise this 'spontaneously' for us. It is the same as in Makasutu: everybody indicates the rhythm with a sort of wooden shells and now and then a women jumps forwards, stamping on the ground. Everybody then encourages her by raising the noise and the rhythm. The movements of the dancing woman seems to symbolically represent a special act, like the reaping of grass or the milling of corn, but we are not sure if that is true.
Locust plagueThen we drive on, towards Ziguinchor, and suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a huge swarm of locusts. There are millions of them, spread over a vast area. The reddish coloured animals are about 8 centimeters long and sometimes cover whole trees which them look red. It is a fascinating sight, but it must be disastrous for the people. Tamarr tells us this is the first locust plague in twenty years.
Mountain of peanutsOnly after 10 kilometers we leave the cloud of locusts behind us and arrive much later than planned at Ziguinchor, the biggest town in the south of Senegal with about 100,000 inhabitants. It has a big harbour where the harvested peanuts from the country are collected and shipoped to all parts of the world. To the left a peanutmountain a kid can only dream of!
We have lunch in an open restaurant and the guide persuades us to skip a visit to the local market since we are behind on our schedule (because of the long delay at the border, despite all the pencils we gave). We agree and leave for the harbour from where we will make a trip through the bolong (creek) of the river Casamance. The region has the same name.
Elisabeth on the boat FishermanAnd again the sky is clouded with sand, but very warm and the cool wind on the water provides us some cooling. Now and then we come upon fishing boats, like this man in his hollow trunk.
Look for the birds BolongExcept for a lot of herons, we don't see much of the supposed abundance of birdlife. I made the photograph to the right in a flowing motion, hoping to catch the bird. According to Elisabeth it is a very bad picture, I think it is just art!
Our skipperAfter some time the creek becomes more narrow and, like in The Gambia, the only vegetation that can grow here is mangrove. The roots can withstand the salty waters and they give shelter to numerous oysters which are gathered by the local people when it is low tide. After more than an hour we arrive somewhere at a quay in the middle of the jungle and we get out. But no sign of our minibus.
So we start walking and after some time we see the bus coming. The driver has come straight from Ziguinchor, but when we get in and drive away, we can understand why it took him so long: the sandy path lasts at least 40 kilometers and there are deep pits in the road. People and animals walk on the road and the sand is very loose so the driver has to watch carefully that we don't get stuck in the sand. We come through dozens of little villages or compounds and we wonder how they travel when the rain season has made the path totally inaccesible. How will they bring their merchandise to the market at Ziguinchor? According to our guide most of them walk.
Locust plagueDriving back we meet the locusts again and this time they stay with us for more than an hour, which means that they are spread over a very big area. Palmtrees look red when they are covered with the small animals and we see people in the villages burning tires to produce as much smoke as possible to scare the locusts away. Kids sweep with brooms to kill them, but it is useless. It doesn't kill the swarm, it only moves on to another part of the country.
The whole group is enjoying the trip and it gets even better when we pass a dam and try to teach the guide the Dutch word for it: sluis. Not many languages know this sound or speak it totally different than we do, but Tamarr doesn't want to give in and for almost two hours he is practising. We all try to help him with suggestions and we have a very good time together. When all becomes a bit quieter we can still see Tamarr moving his lips, trying to pronounce the word correctly.
Back at the border we have to wait again, and this time the bus is besieged by children who want pencils, money, whatever. When a few get a pen and one of the tourists does give money to one of the children, there is no stopping to it: they all want to get into the bus to get something. They almost trample each other. A woman behind us says: 'You see, they are still wild people', a judgement which makes us very angry. Do the same with a group of Dutch children, throw a euro in the middle of a group and see if they don't start fighting for it. It is the way that we, tourists, treat this people that makes them behave like this... It was her husband who gave the money, by the way...
When we finally have crossed the border with two more stamps in our passport, it starts to grow dark. People are now becoming tired and we know we still have a few hours to drive on very bad roads and will arrive much later back at our hotels than planned. Understandable, since we have been sitting in the bus for almost 10 hours now. It is just unfortunate that some people don't realise they are getting tired, but start complaining about everything instead: the tour operator is suddenly bad, we have been informed badly about the trip, it is too long, and at the end even the guide and the driver are doing a poor job. So we hear some people talk to each other and the good atmosphere that we had this afternoon has totally diappeared. We understand they are tired, we are also very tired, but we won't let tiredness spoil our day and never blame it on others. It's only human, we know, but we don't think it is reasonable, so we thank the guide extensively after he has thanked us. Tourists can be such a pain in the ... you know... like spoiled children.
Just before we are back, Tamarr demonstrates that he is able to pronounce the word 'sluis' perfectly now. It has taken him some time but we are surprised about his persistence. He is very proud of himself and he should be, since this letter combination is very hard to pronounce for most people who are not from Holland. When we get out of the bus we thank him again for this nice trip and give him a good tip, since we know not everybody will do the same.
Around 9 we are back at the hotel, 13 hours after we have left. About 10 hours we have been sitting in the bus, driving on bad roads or waiting at the border. Yes, it has been a very tiring day, but we are very glad we have done this excursion and have seen that Senegal is different from The Gambia.
Salifu waits for us at the gate, a bit nervous. He especially waited for us to tell that he has been reassigned to another hotel and he is afraid that he won't see us again. Maybe he is back tomorrow, maybe not. We reassure him, tell him that we can meet with him on another day, when he is off duty.
After washing the dust away we have dinner and go to bed early, but very satisfied about the day.


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