African Safari

Trip Start Dec 28, 2007
Trip End Jan 15, 2008

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

The New Year made us ambitious. We had planned on rising early to catch the sunrise and though Emily's alarm did not go off, the boys came by to wake us up. We hurried and since we did not need to pack until later, we rushed out to look at dawn streaking the sky. Other visitors had also gathered on the deck/patio, looking over the river. We were joined by a green monkey sitting in a nearby tree. The sunrise itself was anti-climatic for we could not see the sun at all because of the smoke from the brushfire (this smoke had covered the sky during or boat trip so it looked almost as it was going to rain-except the specks falling from the sky were ash).
Another green monkey (or perhaps it was the same one) peeked through the curtain as we ate breakfast. It was the perfect preview of our morning safari. We traveled in a cage that was pulled by a truck-almost like a hayride with a roof to shade us from the sun. We saw bushbuck, waterbuck, guinea fowl, and a chick-like bird (a stone partridge?). Our guide sat on the roof of the cab and when he spotted the animal, he would knock for the drive to stop before silently pointing it out. For most of the ride, it seemed as though I was once again on the wrong side. By the time I could position my camera, the animals would perceive our movement (for the entire bench would stand up) and scurry off.
We got off the truck at an abandoned guard post to walk done to the river there. The view was breathtaking. We were excited to find pronounced hippo tracks in the mud and they were longer than my foot! I spent most of the time looking for unique pebbles and found a "worry stone" made out some sort of iron ion. I felt this overwhelming need to stay ground (excuse the pun) and it prevented me from looking up. It was all so surreal. It is impossible to convey the vibrancy of the colors-photographs don't even begin to do it justice. Picking up stones was simple, and it comforted me. I shared my sentiments with Tyler (for his documentary) and pointed out how much of the scene he viewed through his camera lens. It was too much for us all to take. I had given up on capturing the moment in anything more than the smooth pebbles I put in my pocket.
After staying back to film the clip, Tyler and I rejoined our peers who were examining a leopard that was in a cage. We were stuck by his melancholy expression. Many were quick to point out that it probably had to do with his captivity, but nonetheless it seemed profound-the way he would stare at you, as if he was searching your soul. Perhaps I am sounding a bit out there, but indeed it felt as if I was in another world, a story. My mind was clear and open and the thoughts, real and surreal, just floated through as I absorbed these experiences.
Continuing down the road, we encountered a family of buffon kals (not sure how you spell it), starlings, green monkeys, 4 more buffon kals, horn bells, and warthogs before we came to another part of the river. We walked along the bridge/damn constructed of tree logs. We could see 4 crocodiles and wanted to get closer but were stopped by a gap in the bridge that was too large to jump over safely (though we did spend a long time staring at it as it could be done through willpower). As we walked back to the truck, we found a fresh snakeskin, which the boys examined keenly.
We stopped at a clearing where there was a French family also admiring the view. In the distance we could see a warthog, 2 crowned cranes, deer, great egrets and geese (the species were hard to determine from such a distance though we did have binoculars). Unfortunately, I'm sure we disturbed the family's observations, but we were captivated by the animals. We were soon distracted by a bright red dragon fly and tried desperately to take a picture of it. Back on the truck, I observed the yellow flowers that grew after the brushfire, which Colvin had described the night before. We also saw goudebe.
After a while, the landscape became repetitive and we were more excited by the idea of founding an NGO to raise money for Colvin's self-development projects. We thought that fund raising could include selling a calendar made with photographs from our trip. It seemed that we would all have skills to contribute to such an undertaking. Our biggest puzzle was coming up with the name.
We stopped at a suspension bridge, high above the water and decided to cross it. As may be expected, I was the first girl to go across. Though many members of our group were hesitant, we all made it to the other side. While waiting, I decided to climb into a tree and along a tree branch that stretched over the path. From this position, I was able to drop little sticks onto JaVon's head. (Unfortunately she didn't think it was nearly as funny as I did.) I was again caught up in the pursuit of a view, so I used monkey vines to climb high into another tree. We examined a capoc tree and walked out to a clearing where we saw another pair of crowned cranes.
On the walk back to the bridge, I talked about education with Baboucarr. He supported my ideas, encouraging me to come back and teach in The Gambia. He stopped to show us the termites in one of the large mounds. He pointed out the defining characteristics of the new growth. I'm not sure who I learned it from but I was fascinated to find that termites regulate the internal temperature with the passages they create (the will open and close passages depending on the sun, wind, etc.). Current architecture is examining these designs to try and recreate such an efficient system. I was impressed by this fact and sorry that I cannot remember how I came to hear about it.
As we made our way back to the hotel, we watched several warthogs crossing the road-as if they were just ordinary cattle. I'm not sure how, but I started nodding off at this point of the ride (it was very bumpy). When we were back at the hotel, we ate our sandwiches and loaded up the bus.
We stopped again at Dar Salaam and I was able to meet up with my friend. I had him write his name down so I could understand it. His name is Lassana Camara. The other children wanted to write their names down and I realized that my little black journal was about to become my favorite souvenir. Again the children swarmed for photos but I did get the chance to talk with some of the older girls who were looking after their babies (sometimes they identified the child as a sibling, but sometimes it appeared as the girls had their own children).
We had lost our spare tire along the road out of the park, but we continued on to our hotel in KÚdougou. We were excited to swim in the pool after the hot day. I had wanted to go swimming in the river, but was warned about the crocodile and parasites. One man had to insert a stick into his leg to slowly pull out a guinea worm there. Needless to say, I did not suggest it again.
We rehung our laundry in the room and sat through a long dinner. We had a meeting to prepare for going into Bassari country. We returned to our rooms (I was staying with Emily and Grace) where we were joined and entertained by some of the guys. We went to bed relatively early since we would have a long travel day ahead of us.
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