Trip Start Mar 05, 2006
Trip End Mar 12, 2006

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Flag of Gambia  ,
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Our tour and travel through the Sine-Saloum Delta began only 40 minutes late this morning. Not bad. Jimmy met us down by the water and saw us into a boat with a driver and French-speaking guide. We made a quick stop about five minutes away from town for cigarettes and ice to keep our cokes cool and our lunch from rotting.

It was a blessedly cool morning and later on, sun traded with clouds frequently so we were never too hot or too cold for too long. The delta was everything Africa's supposed to be, short of having herds of wildebeast at the water's edge. One does not come to Senegal for large game. The delta was surprisingly wide and had mangroves growing all along it. I have always considered mangroves one of the coolest plants (I mean, they're shrubs that grow out of water!) They were also the only green-ish vegetation around.

While zebras and giraffes maybe be lacking in Senegal, this is a wonderful country for birds. I do not like birds, and I certainly do not need to go on trips to see birds. The only bonus I saw in getting up at 5:30 to see birds in Costa Rica was getting first stab at breakfast. That said, these birds were cool. Black and white herons, pelicans (pelicans! Those birds that feature in children's books all the time and are almost too strange to be true) and many others I couldn't identify. Every once in a while our guide would clap as we came up on a flock of them sitting in the water they'd all take off a la Lion King.

After an hour or so, we arrived at bird island, home to a rather neat and very "real" town. The guide explained in French that the town of 1700 had three religions coexisting peacefully: Islam, Catholicism, and Animalism. First, we came across the Catholic school full of small children standing outside singing songs about Les Oiseaux (birds) and flapping their arms. We continued on to the church, a huge, round, lovely building with stained glass windows and a large bell tower.

Next, we came to three trees grown into each other and intertwining; the animist's sacred tree. We passed through more of the town, a pen of sheep and goats, mud huts with thatched roofs, and by and by came to the village square with the mosque (not so impressive as the church) and the remnants of the morning's market.

Two hours later, back on the boat, the guide asked if we were ready for lunch. Sure! We weren't doing anything else, and as wonderful as I consider mangroves to be, they do get boring after a while.

So the guide gets out this big black spool shaped charcoal barbeque, pours a liberal amount of lighter fuel over it, picks up a piece of soaked charcoal, lights it, and drops it in. Here's hoping our wooden boat doesn't go up in flames because we are in the middle of nowhere and flames are shooting out in all directions.

A side note on the middle of nowhere: Jimmy got a cell phone call this morning, on the waterfront of N'dangane, a town with probably three people who can afford cell phones. We've seen several people with cell phones today, but can we get coverage at our house 80 km from New York City? Go figure. Perhaps their system runs on military satillites or something.

Anyway, the guide took out a cast iron frying pan, or a piece of cast iron that had been beaten into the shape of a frying pan rather inexpertly with a 2" hammer, and began to pour half a litre (not really) of oil into the pan along with some chopped onions. The onions sauteed for a bit and then he added probably a pound and a half of jumbo prawns to the mix. That's a lot of fish. Lunch was served shortly, the prawns with rice and sauce. Donna ate loads and loads of prawns and there was still a ton left over, which the guide and driver very much enjoyed.

Around one, we arrived in Toubakouta and our guide very kindly walked with us for half an hour through the village asking directions all the while to where we could catch a bus to the border town of Karang. We finally came to a big tree with benches and Louie. Louie explained to our guide who explained to us that this was where you waited for buses. You didn't know when they came, you just waited. Fair enough.

I sat down to wait while Donna went in search of a bathroom. A nearby house charitably allowed her to use theirs and even invited her to eat with them, which she unfortunately had to politely refuse. Would have been a interesting experience, I'm sure. Not three minutes after she returned, a bus came and Louie saw that we got on it and were headed in the right direction, bless him, as our Wolof is not improving so far.

It was an interesting bus ride. The guy sitting next to me gestured to my sunglasses and assuming he wanted to see them (I've had people curious about my blue-eyed sunglasses before) I handed them over for him to try. Yeah, I'm pretty sure he thought they were a gift. I like my sunglasses. They're not Oakley's, but I paid good money for them and I didn't want to give them away on a bus in Senegal. We rode uncomfortably down the road.

We paid our fare of 600 CFA with 1000 and didn't get any change. We didn't push it. No one spoke French. We passed around US coins which they found intersting, and we let them keep. The woman in front of Donna started talking to her, asked her for 500 CFA ($1) Donna said no. Asked her for her necklace. Donna pretended she didn't understand. It was uncomfortable getting hit up for anything we had. At one stop, I took my sunglasses back. Smiled and took them off the guy's face. MINE. You can't go giving all your stuff away, especially when the goal of packing is to only bring things you absolutely need.

We stopped for a bit to cool the bus engine, made several other stops sometimes picking up passengers, sometimes not. We stopped for too long and some passengers got restless. There was a heated argument and we got going again. We rolled into Karang a little before 3:30 and were instantly swarmed by scooters wanting to take us to the border.
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