Pictures from Senegal

Wednesday, January 12

Kayaking the Delta

As part of the African adventure I planned for m sister’s visit, I combined visiting a friend, seeing a new point in Senegal, and doing something I’d never done before… and that’s how kayaking came about. We went to see the beautiful sites of five or so villages known collectively as the destination of Palmarin.

The adventure started when we left Mboro, took a two hour detour to see the mosques of Tivaouane (collecting Christine), and then passed through the Thies and Mbour garages before finally arriving at our destination. Along the route, I’d showed my sister the art of shopping for food via garage as we collected fruit, nuts, bread, and water. In addition, they got to experience the magic that is a seven-place ride with its heat, smells, lack of space, and breast feeding passengers. As an added bonus the car broke down on the road affording us that mini adventure too.

By my recollection, we went three villages into the collection of Palmarin before disembarking at the intersection of two dirt roads. Before getting there we’d crossed the delta and the seemingly infinite span of salt flats, choosing to actually drive on the salt flats because, as the name implies, it was significantly less pot-holed and bumpy than the actual road itself. The resilient pools of water made it easy to imagine the flooding that would have occurred during the rainy season making travel to and from the area a nightmare, if not completely impossible only a few months beforehand.

In the village of my friend, we passed time at a local restaurant sipping on cold cokes, tasting mint ice cream, meeting my friend’s host family, searching out more drinks, and gossiping in the shade until more volunteers joined our party. In total we became a team of seven ready for kayaking, camping, and a great time. So we started hiking, in the later afternoon sun, down an endless dirt road toward water, our guides, and the boats. And this lasted for about an hour, or maybe two miles, until we arrived at a shallow bank of water. There were two guides for the adventure who would navigate the waterways of the delta, set up camp, prepare dinner, and act as a bevy of knowledge about the area.

We pared off for the boating part of the excursion, although not all that smartly, with Christine and I in our own kayak, my sister and her boyfriend in another, the boys in a third, and the remaining volunteer to pilot a solo kayak. Disaster struck Christine and I almost immediately after pushing off from land. The water was only 5 inches deep, but we managed to get ourselves completely turned around and floating backwards with the current in mere minutes. The rest of our party long gone, we piloted from one bush of mangroves to the next attempting some on-the-job acquisition of the skill. Where I had started in the front of the boat (the strong rowing position), we eventually found our groove with me in the back (the navigator position).

Just before sunset we pulled into camp. Although it felt as though we were on a secluded island, we were told that walking farther into the bush one could find their way to another village and eventually the main road. But from where we were standing, we’d landed on one of the only banks with a clearing in the mangroves. A few tall trees, a flat surface for tents and brush already trimmed back a bit. The space of land was slightly elevated which augmented our view of the delta.

Our guides handed us peanuts and blankets so we sat down to enjoy the sunset with a celebratory cocktail; a good time ensued. For dinner we started with an appetizer of clams served with an onion sauce and pieces of fresh veggies. Dinner was grilled shish kabobs of lotte, a type of white fish, with more veggies. It was outstanding. The guides had even brought a cooler of cold sodas and beers to share. By the time dinner was done we were ready to call it quits and climbed into our already set up tents with air mattresses and sheets and blankets; very hospitable.

The next morning we woke at dawn to the sounds of hyenas in the distance. A French breakfast consists of bread with butter or jam and coffee, which is what we ate picnic style once more plus some juice and fruit. A little bit later we’d packed up camp, loaded the kayaks, and set off once more to navigate the delta.

After the debacle that was our experience the night before we begged the guys to split up their kayak to save Christine and I the hassle of forging once more through the unfamiliar experience. They refused. Perhaps they thought it was funny. We disagreed but had no choice to brave it again. And it was going quite well, even though we were now going upstream, until it occurred to the guys that our kayak was ahead of theirs; typical male egos. So they picked up the pace, and just as we were going around a close quarters type of corner in tandem with my sister’s kayak the guys slid their kayak between our two, slamming into ours midway down the length of her effectively pushing us into the mangroves. It was all over for our confidence after that. We couldn’t get ourselves out of one bush without landing again in another. Sigh. The guys thought this to be hilarious, so at the first chance we got we splashed them with as much water as our paddles would throw. It seemed justified at the time.

Before making it back to the main road, we took a detour to a small island covered in shells that were protected grounds after being looted for the shells that could be used to build roads out of the delta to Dakar. There we learned more fun facts and found our way to a giant baobab tree. The guy was so big that 8 of us could climb inside of it. Literally. And we did. And after the hilarity of that, we had a nice cup of coffee inside before climbing back out. Then back to the kayaks. And then we made it back to the main road, thus completing our entire experience. Well done, well maybe except the actual kayaking part.

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