During our two weeks break for Christmas, we finally had the chance to leave the city of Dakar and actually see some of the country! Myself, Vickie and Itunu travelled to the Casamance region, south of the Gambia by overnight Ferry. Leaving the port at 8pm, the boat takes 14 hours to get to Zinguinchor, the main city. As we left buying the tickets pretty late we were unable to have a cabin which was recommended to us, but instead we each had an airplane style seat in what felt like a small cinema. First impressions were good and I distinctly recall saying, ‘this is going to be so comfortable, what was all the fuss about!’ Comfortable, maybe but for some unforeseen reason they cranked up the air conditioning making the inside of the boat freeeeezing! By the time we decided to get some sleep, all the blankets on offer had been taken. This was an important moment of my year in west Africa, the first time I really got cold, I was very nostalgic for my big old winter parka back in England! But after putting on all the clothes I had brought with me, I think I slept for a while.
Before arriving in Zinguinchor, the ferry stopped at a small island called Carabane, where we got off. From there we took a crowded 30 minute ride on a small canoe type boat called a ‘Piroque’ to the tiny village of Elikine. I swear I heard a dolphin click , and later we found out there were sharks in these waters! I definately regretted sticking my hand out thats for certain. From there we travelled by road to the village of Cap Skirring. What a difference to Dakar! I was blown away by the green, the fresh air, the laid back atmosphere and the healthy looking animals. Local traders did not harass us to buy their products, with just a no thank you, they stopped following us. The minute we arrived I felt so relaxed.
It was in Cap Skirring where we spent New Years Eve, where we passed the time drinking G&T’s and eating delicious food. At midnight we went to the centre of the village where there was traditional Casamance music and children setting off fireworks all around us (Traders are very happy to sell fireworks to children, and my opinion is enough for another blog post entirely) I think what struck me the most was that there were no countdown to the New Year, we just stood around and waited for a while, so to be honest it still feels like 2014!
New years day was spent at the most beautiful beach I have ever been too. At the risk of sounding cheesy, this day calmed my soul and I have never felt so safe swimming in the sea alone. We had Mojito’s and ice cream and chatted to various traders. I also watched my first full sunset. It was lush!
The next day we embarked on my longest adventure to date, which at times felt like I was in real life Mario kart! Setting off early evening we travelled by road to Zinguinchor by ‘sept place’ (seven seater cheap public transport) where we were welcomed into the home of the cousin of one of Itunu’s collegues to stay the night. At 6.30 am the next day we set off from the station in a sept place which took us north to the Gambian river. At the Gambian border we had to go through Senegalese and Gambian officials who checked and stamped our passports, and also took our money. At the river we took a short ferry (which looking back we did not pay for?), then a taxi, and through two more passport checks. Little did we know that a day earlier in the Gambia there had been an attempted military coup and the borders were briefly closed! And that’s not all, it is believed that the president thought this attack could be a foreign influence, potentially British! Vickie’s mum found the below article in the paper… I suppose it was good that we were completely oblivious?
Once back to Senegal we took another sept place all the way back to Dakar. In total that day we travelled 10 and a half hours. By some miracle I did not get travel sick at all which has always been an issue, and we were lucky to see the real villages and towns of Senegal, not the cosmopolitan city that I have become used to. I saw more in that day than ever before.
It was so much fun to be a tourist for a short while. This holiday showed me most of all how stressed I had become in the three months living in Dakar. This was partly due to living in down town Dakar with all the traders and taxis constantly beeping, but also adjusting to the new culture and my new workplace. I think at heart I am a country girl, occasionally needing green spaces, fresh air and beautiful scenery to keep me sane. Luckily we are surrounded by beautiful beaches, so I just need to remember when things become too much, to hit the beach or take a bus off the island to see some green.
Yesterday I went back to work. Bring on the next holiday!