For one week, I backpacked through the more rural areas of Senegal, encountering people, lifestyles, and cultures very different from those of Dakar. I went in with an open mind and an open itinerary, both of which were absolutely necessary. I learned to live without running water or electricity, and to adapt to the fine arts of negotiation and of asking people (instead of the internet). I have split my recounting into three parts:
1. Dakar → Kédougou → Dindéfelo → Bandafassi (SE Senegal 1/3)
2. Bandafassi → Ibél & Iwol → Kédougou (SE Senegal 2/3)
3. Kédougou → Diakhaba → Tambacounda → Dakar (SE Senegal 3/3)
Days: 8 (Sept 29-Oct 6)
KM traveled: 1500 (950 miles)
CFAs spent: 75,000 ($150 – half of this was the sept-place for getting to and from Dakar; the other half was for lodging, food, buses, and water. If you exclude the sept-place, this works out to less than $10/day)
Liters of H20 drunk: 27 (add a few liters for pre-departure overhydration and post-return rehydration)
Day 1 Saturday 9/29
Dakar → Kédougou
Woke up at the crack of dawn to pouring rain, but fortunately it quickly subsided. What a relief – the roads might have been impassible otherwise. My travel companions (Aimee, Annelise, Glenn, Greg, and Monica) and I took taxis to the Gare Routière. My taxi haggling skills are improving. At the gare, we were immediately swarmed with offers. People tried to charge us 85,000CFA ($170) for a sept-place to Tambacounda. We haggled down to 75,000CFA before walking away, which led to the fair price of 70,000CFA.
Driving down was so beautiful. We came from smog and asphalt to green, lush surroundings and a beautiful sunset. The sept-place itself felt roomy and I was in great company. I made use of some of the 12-hour-drive by practicing Spanish pronunciation with Glenn and Italian pronunciation with Greg. For lunch I had a can of vegetables that I opened with just a spoon (Boy Scout Level One). The road was very bad, and at some points, the view from the windshield was nearly identical to the screen of a Mario Kart game, with cars paying no mind to the two-way road division and swerving around obstacles (potholes).
After reaching Tambacounda, we negotiated with our driver to go all the way down to Kédougou. On our way we drove through the Niokola-Koba National Park and saw warthogs and at least three species of monkeys, one of which was distinctly baboon. We arrived in Kédougou after nightfall and found ourselves pleasantly surprised by our reservation at the cheapest campement in town Chez Diao. We cut costs further by bargaining to squeeze six people into two double huts spending 20,000CFA ($40) for all of us. The huts were nicer than we expected, with electricity and running water, and clean, though there were frogs hopping all around, including in the bathroom.
After dropping off our backpacks, we walked down the street in search of food and found a man hacking away at a carcass. I noticed the “dibiterie” sign and we ended up eating freshly-grilled mouton and onions for 1000CFA($2)/person. I was so happy because I knew the meat had to be free-range. Our chef played Bob Marley and we sat by the fire while it rained on the tin roof and Glenn talked to the other customer in the dibiterie about Mali.
Day 2 Sunday 9/30
Kédougou → Dindéfelo
Fanaanee (Wolof, “spent the night”): Chez Diao
What a pleasant morning! I woke before 5am and took my time rebraiding the dutch crown that would be keeping my hair clean for this shampoo-less week. At 6, it was finally light enough to go outside. For the first time since arriving in Sénégal, the morning was cool!
I walked around the residential outskirts of Kédougou toward the orange sunrise, slightly overwhelmed by how in-the-moment and connected to the earth I felt. Sounds: bleating, rooster crows, birds calling (weaver and other), crickets; Smells: wet earth, spicy trees, wood smoke; Sights: a shack covered in squash blossoms, birds with long, ruffled tails, a duck with the softest yellow and black ducklings, a baby goat that came right up to me, so small and furry! People here were friendly. It was wonderful to catch a break from the city.
At 8, we caught the weekly bus to Dindéfelo. It was like a 2-hour 30-km rollercoaster that only cost $2. Let me sum up the 2 hour experience with the equivalent of 1000 words:
I learned some Pulaar from the lady sitting next to me, who gifted our group with a cob of corn she’d bought through the window. We finished the corn just as we got to Dindéfelo. The village center was taken up by the weekly market, or lumo, which was like a small farmers market that used wooden shacks instead of white tents. We checked in to Campement Africa Cascade, run by an extremely friendly man named Jibril. Thus began our experience of staying in no-running-water, no-electricity campements in which we were the only guests.
At the lumo, we bought a huge bag of heirloom tomatoes for 625 cfas (about $.25 per pound) and headed to the waterfall. The waterfall was refreshing and we had a small picnic there with our iodine-washed tomatoes. After a relaxing swim, we returned to centre ville and bought some food from the lumo for lunch. Aimee and I bought cheap couscous balls. They were good but everything in this country is gritty from the ever-present sand. Fortunately, bread in the southeast, tapalapa, dense and chewy, is better than that in Dakar.
After another rest, we visited the Dindéfelo mosque, which looked completely unmosquelike. In a small town, minarets are extraneous. This mosque was two concrete rectangular prisms and some wall-less wooden roofs. While we were at the mosque, a storm came in and for the first time in over a month, I felt cold.
When we got back from the mosque, Jibril, the campement owner, invited us to his niece’s wedding! He took us into his hut, far from the village center, and fed us dinner, a rice dish with a neat pile of four bite-sized pieces of meat in a seven-person bowl. That was when I felt real teranga; I was so grateful that someone who obviously had less than us was still showing us such hospitality.
The wedding itself was just a lot of us waiting. The groom wasn’t even present. People gave the bride presents and a relative carried her on his back through winding paths and over a cattle fence to the car that would take her away. A shotgun was fired. Everyone followed them and clapped and sang.
Day 3 Monday 10/1
Dindefelo → Bandafassi
Fanaanee: Campement Africa Cascade
I took my usual insomniatic early-morning walk to center of town. There was a bread-seller in the middle of the “square” with a table full of baguettes and I felt like I was in a scene from Beauty and the Beast.
By now my shirt smelled HORRIBLE and I was also having psychological problems with going in our small latrine (though by the end of the week I was a pro); besides the fact the hole was smelly, the storm had toppled a wall, which had broken through the latrine floor, leaving a huge bonus hole. On the upside, my hair still felt clean.
We checked out, gifting Jibril with some extra money in return for the night before. Breakfast was a special order of egg, onion, and (heirloom) tomatoes on tapalapa. Jibril had helped us find a car rapide that we negotiated to take us and our backpacks 5km from Bandafassi. I’m learning just how true it is that “everything is negotiable.”
The car rapide unceremoniously dropped us off at a red dirt intersection and we hiked the 5k under the noontime equatorial sun, which was made easier by a chorus of Disney songs. Near Bandafassi, we found a vineyard-looking work camp and stopped under a tree to eat a picnic lunch. We soon found our campement, Chez Léontine.
We hiked through Ethiwar, a deserted village at this time of year, and then onto rocky cliffs that overlooked a wide stretch of land. My minimalist running shoes were starting to gape. On the rocks, Aimee and I found a freshwater pool full of mosquito larvae and tried to kill them with iodine tablets, but apparently that’s not how iodine tablets work.
The night was nice and cool. After dinner, someone with his/her face covered in mesh came from the dark into our gazebo and danced in a suit of corn husks while 20+ children gathered around and sang. We were so confused!
By now, my standards for cleanliness had gone down. French crown = hair still good! Amazingly, I hadn’t missed the lack of internet at all. No internet to see where we’re going = no problem! I found that instead of asking the internet, one can ask PEOPLE.