Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Exploring and relaxing in Senegal's Casamance region, and onto Guinea-Bissau

After a couple of nights in the regional capital Ziguinchor, soaking up the fading colonial charm (or chilling by the pool), we headed to Kabrousse, near the popular French resort town of Cap Skirring. 

We enjoyed a couple of nights of luxury camping in the grounds of a smart hotel, where we enjoyed beach time and a great pool. John B, Peter and Robert went on a successful fishing trip in the morning, providing us with some fantastic fresh fish for dinner, while most of the rest of the group hired bikes to explore the local area at a relaxed pace. 

We then had a very short drive to stay at a beautiful campement in a rather forgotten corner of Casamance. The profits made by the campement are ploughed back into the local area to contribute towards education and healthcare. It is set on the banks of the Casamance river, shaded from the sun by lots of palm trees, with plenty of hammocks to lie back in and enjoy the peace and quiet on the sandy river bank.
Sunset over the river on our first night.
A member of staff catching our dinner.
Will (Arnold) posing with his look-alike in the bar.

Most of us went on a days boat trip to a local wildlife reserve among the mangrove forests which supports a number of river dolphins, or manatee. We weren't fortunate enough to see them this time, though enjoyed a relaxed day on the river with plenty of bird life. We also met the campement's pet monkey who had been given the name Nicholas Sarkozy!

On our final night here, we enjoyed  a fantastic meal of fresh fish with rice, before settling in to an evening of drumming and dancing with our hosts, who seemed to enjoy the evening just as much as we did. The evening ended with a limbo competition, a local tradition.
Warming the drums on the fire prior to our drumming performance
Tania, Ina and Warren take to the drums.
Sascha takes over the percussion, Jane and Ina in the background.
Will (Arnold) takes his alter-ego for a dance!
The dancers give a demonstration of the limbo, a local tradition.
Sascha doing the limbo
Double limbo, local style!
This was our last stop in Senegal's Casamance region. The whole group has really enjoyed a relaxing time soaking up the local culture, countryside and beaches.

A short drive from here led us to the border with Guinea-Bissau, the least-visited country on this leg of our overland adventure from Dakar to Freetown.

Our group just after entering Guinea Bissau. From back to front: Chris, Will, Connor, Ian, Ant, John B, Phil, Al, Tania, Daniel, Warren, John C, Robert, Jane, Peter, Narelle, Birgit, Janet, Sascha and Janet. Nev is taking the photo.

We are now in the capital, Bissau, enjoying the laid back feel of the place, the fading Portugese architecture in the older part of town, the busy fishing port, and a few luxuries before we set off on some entertaining roads to spend a week in the the Fouta Djalon, Guinea. This is one of the most beautiful parts of West Africa, with some great opportunities to trek amongst the and waterfalls, mountains, escarpments, and traditional Fula villages. 

Internet is hard to come by here, so the next blog update will likely be when we get to Freetown in a couple of weeks time. Stay tuned for some shots of Phil's latest pair of outrageous shorts, now that his pink pair have a very incriminating brown stain...

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.