Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, July 7

27th Birthday

As this past weekend was a plethora of fun stories… I will be forced to submit the following in 2 parts. First, let’s tackle my 27th birthday. I figure the official start was the 1st when myself and 5 friends piled into a car headed for Kedougou, a destination on the far east side of the country where everything is lush and mountainous... a complete change of scenery. While it was nice to catch up with them, the 14 hours of travelling sucked. A few bright spots included: amazing bread in Tamba, warthog and monkey sightings whilst driving through Niokolo National Park, lush greenery and grass (this is a first in almost a year!), and the smell of fresh nature that seriously reminded me of Northern Michigan. That last one in itself was enough of a birthday present for me. We hung out with the people at the Kedougou regional house for the rest of the night and I even received some birthday calls after midnight.

The next day I woke up early to head out on a bike trip with Alex, Christine, and Mary. We packed up water and a few things to nibble on, jumped on our bikes and headed further south towards the Guinean border in the direction of the waterfalls. The trip was scheduled to be a 30K ride and about 2.5 hours. We wouldn’t figure it out until much later, but about 40 minutes in… we got ourselves seriously lost. Around the time we found the field of termite mounds we called a local PCV asking for help. Go back to the main road or find someone to lead you there. We thought we’d done that; a few times.

On one of the detours, my bike decided to take on a large rock- leaving me as a victim. The bike seat was mangled, the rock broken into 3 pieces, and I received cuts and bruises on my knees and a gash on my elbow. The battle seemed to end in a three way tie, though I deem the whole thing unnecessary. Anyway, back to the story…

After following a few different paths until reaching dead ends we came across a small gathering of huts. Only one teenage boy spoke a little French; the rest of people spoke Pulaar and unfortunately everyone I was with had learned Wolof. We asked where two villages (consecutively lined up off the “main road”) and the waterfalls were… and received charade gestures pointing in three different directions. Where’s the main road? A 4th direction was pointed out and seemed to be a compromise of everything else, so we took it. It was as though we had an aversion to turning around and going back.

After another episode of following multiple dead-ending paths, we came upon farming field. A Pulaar man was standing in the middle of it… so we hoped the hedge to ask for directions. His French was a bit better, and when another man upon the field, they guided us into their village. We sat in the shade, greeted the people, drank cool water they’d drawn from the far away well, and headed off in yet another direction… towards the main road. This path became progressively larger and more promising. We did eventually make it back to the infamous main road, and I estimate the whole detour consuming 4 hours of our day.

By then, we found ourselves squarely in the heat of the day, lacking water, and hungry. The terrain turned to stretches of almost flat rock mixed with sand. We eventually made it to Segou, the home of a fellow volunteer, and got our second wind by the well. We were only 5K away (and we assume at this point we’d at least doubled the originally estimated distance).

However, the second wind died just as quickly as it came and at some point I lost control of the bike and went face first into the sand. I was no longer having fun… but stopping at every large tree to catch my breath in the shade. At some point I felt like I’d hit a breaking point and could not move any more. Christine and I sat there together, under a tree, discussing our levels of dehydration. I could swear I heard the waterfalls. She saw things that weren’t there. I had diarrhea. Neither of us had eaten much that day. And miraculously a car came alone. Even more amazing is that inside was a fellow volunteer who happened to be escorting a group of aid workers. They stopped and gave us some fruit to nibble on, as well as some words of encouragement.

Just a few minutes after we made it to our final destination, Dindefello, a thunderstorm came crashing in. We took refuge in a sandwich shop and pondered the 8 hour bike ride that should have taken under 3. I finally got something decent to eat. After the rain subsided, we took to the path by foot into the forest in search of the waterfall. We opted to go without the tour guide under the guise of “Well, we’ve come this far without one… why cheat now?”

Naturally, this means we came upon a fork in the road and had to make yet another decision about which direction to take. Simple reasoning took over. We shut up and followed the sound of water. This time I wasn’t imagining things. Eventually the path became less apparent as the recent storm had destroyed basic evidence, but subtle signs of previous visitors kept us encouraged. We crossed a stream a few times, holding hands for security as the recent rains were overflowing the beds. Eventually we came to another critical moment of despair. The stream seemed too dangerous to cross, and we couldn’t make out a path on the other side… but we’d come too far to go home without success. And low and behold, not more than a minute after making the treacherous cross did we catch our first glimpse of the falls.

When we finally got to the base, the sights were amazing. The waterfall appeared to be at the corner of two enormous walls coming together… and was so tall you couldn’t possibly see the whole thing from top to bottom in one look. We took a few quick pictures as the rain was still in the air and magnifying the gush of the falls, a recipe for the destruction of any camera. And, as mine is all but officially broken anyway, they were taken with someone else’s camera. This means you’ll all have to wait for the proof.

The next day, I considered a do-over. Back in Kedougou, I hung out by a hotel pool with my friends. We ate warthog sandwiches, drank beers, and listened to American music. After a nap, a few of us went to one of the nicest restaurants in town for a birthday dinner. While the 2nd attempt felt more normal, the official birthday is probably what I’ll remember as the most adventurous birthday of my life.

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