Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Overland through Gambia and Casamance, enjoying the dancing and drumming

Our first trip of the season got underway on 28th October in Dakar with 19 intrepid overlanders joining Al, Nev, and Aminah for the journey, some coming all the way to Accra, others to Freetown.

A warm welcome to John, Ant, Narelle, Sascha, Phil, John, Arnold (Will), Warren, Jane, Robert, Connor, Chris, Daniel, Ian, Peter, Ina, Janet, Birgit and Tania!

We spent a couple of nights in Dakar to obtain visas, giving the passengers time to explore the markets and back streets of the capital, and to take the opportunity to get to know each other before the journey began. Many of us enjoyed visiting Ile de Goree, a former slaving island just off the coast. 

Aminah ready to go, outside Hotel Al Baraka in Dakar, Senegal
The busy market area around our hotel in Dakar
Our first bush camp of the trip, close to Kaolack, Senegal
With visas in hand we headed out of Dakar to make our way to The Gambia. We enjoyed shopping en route to shop in a vibrant market in Thies, full of life, smells and colour, before heading to the trip's first bush camp.
Phil proudly shows off his new shorts!

At the Senegal-Gambia border we received an especially warm welcome from the border guards, who even gave a handwritten note to all of our American passengers, who they were particularly keen to keep in contact with! Things slowed down as we reached the Gambia river and we had to wait to cross, but we enjoyed mingling with the locals, some of whom had been waiting a week to cross, and who were keen to sell us all sorts of items, including beautiful fabrics, as we waited.

Cab shot while waiting for the ferry across the Gambia river
We finally made it to the front of the queue and watched in amusement as cars ripped their exhausts off driving onto the ferry!
The ferry we took across the river  Gambia
We spent our first couple of nights in The Gambia at Tendaba, where we went on boat trips to see the birds, on a safari to nearby Kiang West National Park, and enjoyed beers watching the sun set over the Gambia River. We also had plenty of time to visit the local village, and received a very warm from those living there.
Pirogues at Tendaba camp, on the Gambia river
Our boat trip on the Gambia river, from Tendaba camp, Gambia 
The village pier at Tendaba, The Gambia
On safari in Kiang West National Park, The Gambia
We enjoyed a fantastic evening of drumming and dancing at Tendaba performed by a large group from the village, who seemed to enjoy our attempts to join in! The following photos are from this evening.

Ian, Ina and Jane dancing in front of Aminah
Sascha, Jane and others enjoying the music
A small child shows Sascha how it's done :-)
Will impressing the local ladies!
Peter takes the stage
Phil showing off his shorts again
From here, a short drive took us to Bintang Bolong. We were rather slowed down by National "Clean The Nation" day, which led to some entertaining encounters with police, who tried to explain that all the roads in the country were closed, even as dozens of vehicles tore past us!

Many of us enjoyed the birdlife we saw on a boat trip among the mangroves on the river Gambia
The rooms at Bintang Bolong, The Gambia.
Narelle meeting the locals in Bintang, The Gambia
Playing with the kids on a free afternoon in Bintang

John by this peculiar sign we came across in The Gambia
Janet, Ant and others buying our food for dinner; these ladies even gave us a quick demonstration of how we should cook the ingredients! 
From Gambia we headed south to the seldom visited part of Senegal known as the Casamance region, a real highlight on our Dakar to Freetown trip. We are hugely grateful to Simon at the Little Baobab in Abene who arranged a traditional Koumpo dance for us. Some of the group enjoyed a drumming lesson while the rest of us sat back and listened enjoying the ice cold beer. We finished the evening with a traditional meal of fish and rice eaten out of a central communal dish in the local style.

The ladies who provided the backing percussion to our Koumpo performance in Abene

The women took it in turns to step into the centre and perform a stamping dance

The centrepiece of the performance was this forest spirit, who had a pole coming out of his head and performed an incredible swirling dance. Many called him the 'car wash man' for obvious reasons, and we are still discussing how he managed such an incredible performance!

Here, the spirit has stabbed the ground with the pole attached to his head, and is swirling around it. Absolutely incredible to watch.

Dancing around the drummer
Ian takes centre stage
Tania, Narelle and Sascha join in

When this dark figure arrived all the children ran away screaming!
There were two of these characters dressed in black, one with a beak.
After this busy evening we headed to the beach for a relaxing afternoon, visiting a hectic and vibrant fish market on the way where we saw thousands of fish being unloaded from pirogues. Everybody was fascinated by the thousands of fish we saw being smoked and packaged to be sent up country and to other countries further inland, where refrigeration is often not available.

We are now in Ziguinchor, the regional capital of Casamance, enjoying the fading colonial architecture, pirogue makers or for some, an afternoon by the pool. Next we head to the western part of Casamance to enjoy the beaches, trekking in the local villages, and Pirogue trips, before continuing south to Guinea-Bissau.

We still have a couple of spaces on this trip in the opposite direction starting in March 2014 Freetown To Dakar, please get in touch if you are interested in joining the adventure through this magical part of the world.

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