Moving slowly, village by village, with whatever transportation that becomes available.
22.06.2016 - 25.06.2016 32 °C
As the fishers sailed closer to the beach, they yelled for my attention. One of them jumped off the pirogue, into the shallow waters of the delta, and ran towards me the best he could despite being knee-deep in water. While Senegal, and in particular, the Saloum Delta, is a welcoming place this greeting was enthusiastic beyond the norm. A short chat later excited that I was Danish, he invited me closer to the boat to show me that one of his crew-mates was wearing a second-hand t-shirt that spelt COPENHAGEN with large letters underneath a Dannebrog – the Danish flag. I’m not nationalistic whatsoever, but the coincident was indeed funny. In the middle of a little-visited delta on the Senegalese coast a Dane, stuck on a small island, runs into a fisherman wearing a shirt spelling out his hometown. (Let’s just forget the fact that the t-shirt was Carlsberg merchandise for the time being).
This encounter got me a ride off the island, on which I would otherwise have been stuck for an extra day as I had – apparently – missed the only public pirogue of the day. A girl from Dakar, who was on the island to sell toiletries, and in the same situation as me, quickly added herself to the party and thus were we two people who manage to get off the island due to a very random Danish connection. The truth is that these fishermen would probably have offered me a ride anyway – but now it suddenly came for free.
The whole reason for me being stuck on an island in a Senegalese delta you ask? Besides that, I’m travelling, and that tend to get me automatically stuck in weird situations in odd places? Well, this time, I’m village jumping through the UNESCO-recognised Sine-Saloum Delta. To the ones not familiar with the term ‘village-jumping’ it’s usually used when travelling through areas without any long-distance transportation, proper infrastructure and large cities or towns. Here in a delta that consists of three major rivers, more than 200 islands and islets, and just 19 villages transportation are naturally limited. The next question usually follows: What am I doing here? If the beauty of drifting down a river, through mangrove forests, to the slow rhythms of ordinary African village life is lost on you, I don’t think I’m going to be able to explain it. Travelling in Africa can’t get much better than this – unless we’re attacked by a wild animal, that is. Now that would be a story to write home about.
Getting to the Delta was simply a matter of finding a car driving to the end of the road. Literally. The Senegalese coast before the delta ends in a kind of spit, a long narrow peninsula. Twenty years ago, the peninsula was about 50 km longer, but the ocean broke through it, thus ending the road very abruptly. From the village where the road ends, there’s a public pirogue to the village on the nearest island. Voilà, the jumping has begun. A pirogue is basically an over-sized canoe. About twenty metres long, a meter and a half wide, and – when fully loaded – only twenty centimetres above the water’s surface. Put a small outboard motor on it, and the locals have a boat that they will brave the open ocean in. I wouldn’t, and I’m happy we’re sticking to the slow moving waters between the green mangrove forests.
Having arrived at the island is was simply a matter of jumping overboard and walk the last few metres onto the beach. Plenty of villages here have community run campartments, usually consisting of a few one-room bungalows in a courtyard. So sleeping arrangements are easily found. Not in a hurry, and with a campartment right on the beach, it would almost be sacrilege not to stay put for the night. Having spent the night, I needed to cross the island to get to the next village. With no cars on the island, it was simply a matter of walking the 12 km. This distance equals the 12 kgs of my backpack and is a pretty proper distance of a day’s walk in the loose sand under Africa’s sun, fully packed.
For the first 10 km, the only encounter was a flock of long-horned cows walking alone through the sand. The disappeared between the trees as suddenly as they have appeared. They cared nothing for the sweating traveller, who was standing in their way. That changed for the better when I was overtaken by a local guy on a motocross bike, who promptly stopped to offer me a ride the last few kilometres. That got me to the end of the island were, to my surprise, there was a small footbridge to the next island. On that island was another campartment and I didn’t have to spend a night in my tent as I had originally planned.
This eventually brings us to the friendly fishermen from the beginning who sailed me back to the mainland. That might sound promising, but I still needed to get out of the mangrove forest. The girl from Dakar (remember her?), was kind enough to show me the sandy lot that made up the garage from where transportation would bring me to the main road, 20-ish km away. Here were plenty of cars. However, all was bombed out wrecks, and it became apparent very quickly that those cars were going nowhere. What there was instead was a bombed out minibus, which apparently had been judged roadworthy enough to take on the row of potholes that is called a road around here. What was also clear was that the minibus wasn’t going anywhere soon. It was almost empty, and while these things have seats for 18 people they easily fit 35-40. At least if one asks the driver. Further, all the luggage was still standing in the sand beside the bus. This is another indicator that the vehicle isn’t leaving soon.
So why not go local. Instead, of waiting most of the day for the bus to leave, I decided to hire once of the donkey carts to take me to the road. It’s slow, more expensive than the bus, and slightly less comfortable. But the expressions and the smiles on people we passed’s faces was worth it all. The cart also took all day, but we only got overtaken by the bus half an hour before we reached the road – which is enough for me to call it a win.
From the main road I began making my way inland, to some very traditional villages (think straw huts, etc.), but I’ll get back to that in a few days.
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