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 4 Tuesday 10/2
Bandafassi → Ibél (daytrip to Iwol)
Fanaanee: Campement Chez Léontine
We left our campement, which was on the outskirts of Bandafassi, early to head into the village itself. We bought bread at the Bandafassi bakery. It was burn-your-fingers hot and fresh from the coal-fired oven, and only $.20 per baguette! Unfortunately, to prevent us from causing a bread shortage in the village, we weren’t allowed to buy more than one each. We sat down in a nearby field to eat it with the peanut butter we’d brought.
Buying the bread itself had been difficult for the American in me, who was used to orderly lines. I had to let go of my fear of “cutting” and push my way to the front to get my order in. Our next task was to buy water, since the only water we’d been able to find was a single already-opened bottle that that had actually been quietly refilled with creek/well water to resemble a brand new bottle. On the flip side, we’d been able to recycle/reuse our old water bottles by simply handing them to Bandafassians who wanted them.
Once fed and rehydrated, we hiked 7km to Ibél and our next campement, Campement Croisée de Cultures. There was a monkey hanging out in the front.
After an afternoon lunch of four Biskrem cookies per person (I opted instead for three oil-packed sardines), bought from the closest boutique (half a mile away), we decided next to hike up to Iwol. We asked for general directions for the fastest (but most difficult) chemain and began an incredibly grueling ascent.
The path was not only extremely rocky and narrow, but was badly neglected, and overgrown with head-high grasses that you had to push out of your face in order to advance. When we got higher we were met with plants that stuck their miniscule and plentiful stinging spines into your clothes and skin. At one point the path was just an unavoidable pool of stagnant water.
All along the way, a boy silently followed us. We tried to shoo him away because we suspected he was going to try to be our “guide” (in Dindéfelo, we’d fought hard to defend against a guide who’d creepily waited for us all night; although paying for guides can help the local economy, we’d wanted to go on this trip without one), but the boy insisted he just liked listening to English. His name was Isa, and he claimed to be 17 (he seemed 14). I taught him the names for animals and practiced counting to 40 with him.
We ended up needing him for a guide anyway, and my heart grew tender at the sight of his worn shirt, which had holes in it* and had been drawn upon with faded marker to resemble the jersey of what was probably a favorite football player.
Finally we reached the sacred baobab and paid our 1000CFA donations, careful not to touch it since the Lonely Planet had advised us not to. We held back until some villagers came up and talked to us, touching the tree as they explained its history (the village had hidden in an enormous knothole during a war they’d had with Guineans) and encouraging us to do the same. Later Glenn saw one of them urinating on the tree.
On our way back down, we were met with an incredibly stereotypical scene: all at once, 20 extremely cute kids streamed out of nowhere and grabbed our hands, pulling us along the path, asking our names and telling us theirs. In how many Facebook profile pictures had I seen this? But this had happened completely organically!
Then they asked for candy and when they found out we had none, were extremely angry and deserted us. The experience was.. hilarious in a terrible way. These kids had attitude, and I could hardly believe that they had worked out such a scheme for every toubab that passed by!
We got back to our campement in a state of exhaustion. Before I’d been hesitant to shower in a creek; now I was grateful for it. My entire torso, from my waist on both sides to my shoulders to my elbows, was covered in heat rash and later I started noticing a particularly itchy mosquito bite.
Our dinner that night was memorable. If you couldn’t tell from our meager lunch, we were in what was basically a food desert. Between the six of us we shared three stale baguettes, two cans of chicken spam, and three cans of sardines. Even getting the old-school chicken spam cans to open with the provided keys was a struggle. In order to see what we were eating, we ate with headlamps and a candle while tiny bugs flew all around our heads and stuck themselves into our food. Yet we were having an incredible time. We toasted to the first half of the week with whiskey we’d brought from Dakar and talked for hours under brilliant stars and a full, incredibly bright moon.
Day 5 Wednesday 10/3
Ibél → Kédougou
Fanaanee: Campement Croisée de Cultures
Beautiful morning with fog (!) burning off the mountains, which reminded me of those mornings I’d run through the Berkeley Fire Trails and pretend that I was running through the cloud forests of South America. I’d been watching the sun rise every day but today’s morning walk had an actual purpose: I was walking 30 minutes from our campement to a boutique to get 6 stale baguettes for our breakfast, ever-so-bravely by myself.
Today we were taking it easy – our only mission was to make it to Kédougou. Our secondary goal was to get our smelly clothes clean since we had hit our trip’s midpoint. We did our laundry in the creek, sharing the water with local women, who were much more skilled than us. Amazingly, my clothes dried properly for the first time this week, though they still smelled slightly swampy. While we waited for our laundry to dry, we lounged around in our campement lodge, which we had all to ourselves.
At 1:30pm, we ambled down to the primary school to catch the twice-daily bus that runs from Ninefecha. A huge storm rolled in, and the bus didn’t show. After waiting for an hour under the pouring rain, we started to worry that the bus wasn’t coming. In addition, we hadn’t eaten anything since our baguettes and it was only when Greg handed each of us a Biskrem cookie that we realized how hungry we were. Finally, the bus arrived, 1 hour and 40 minutes late – but we were happy that it had showed up at all! The bus was fast, and we got to Kédougou at 5pm, joking that though we complained that our host families ate lunch at 2 or 3, we couldn’t even manage to feed ourselves lunch until 5.
We’d heard from our Couchsurfing contact that the Kédougou Peace Corps office might be willing to take us in, but their capacity was filled by Cape Verdian volunteers whose service had been cut short. In response we hauled butt across town to Chez Diao to try to get there before sunset, but it, too, had no vacancies. The owner showed us a similar place across the road, Campement Touristique et de Chasse le Dioulaba. Once we’d found accommodation, we tried to find an ice cream shop described by The Lonely Planet, which was supposedly all the way back on the other side of town, but no one we talked to had heard of it. As consolation, we bought green bananas, chocolate coins, and Biskrem cookies. After dinner/dessert, we swung in hammocks, talked, and massaged our tired muscles.
One of the hotel owners poured some attaya for us. Much later in the night, we met a gold miner, Mr. Diallo Sr (Le Vieux) who was also staying at the campement. We started off with a mini-Wolof test, which I aced, an introduction to Malinke greetings, and then proceeded to talk until 2am about gold mining – about how lucrative it is, to the point of displacing traditional professions like farming and other reasons for the increasing weakness in the agricultural sector, and how its promise of riches drew immigrants from surrounding countries; and about how dangerous gold mining is (no compensation for death, no safety measures, people die every day) unless one was a European who could afford machines; and about how gold mining was très, très fatigué.
The conversation was completely in French, and I was impressed by how well I was doing. It may have helped that by this point I was exhausted, which made me talk slower and thus smoother. We also talked about the concept of the “country” of Africa, how Mr Diallo Sr thought it could never work, and whether the arbitrary European divisions were good or bad. He was of the opinion that the divisions just Were and that they were necessary, and all of this instability/protesting/rioting from individual (usually ethnic) groups was stalling progress.
*Although the Southeast is more “traditional” than Dakar, one sees fewer boubous and instead sees more Western clothing (likely donated – we also saw donated foodstuff in the Iwol chief’s compound), much of which is worn to rags. Rags are still seen in Dakar but are mostly worn by the beggar Talibé; it is rare to see adults in rags. At one point during the trip I was shocked to realize I had grown accustomed to seeing people wear rags as clothing.