Pictures from Senegal

Thursday, February 24

Palmarin to Mar Lodj

Well, I’ve done it again. A friend of Christine’s came to visit and we just couldn’t resist another great kayaking experience. But this story has so much more to it.
I got myself to Dakar the night before the trip began just in time to enjoy dinner at an amazing Ethiopian restaurant; the type of place with beautiful fabrics covering every inch of the rooftop patio where you eat large piles of flavorful crock-potted meats and veggies by candle light. This was followed by facials at a friend’s downtown apartment. The next morning Christine’s friend rented a taxi to take himself, Christine, and myself all the way to Palmarin where we met up with a fellow PCV and two more volunteers serving in Cape Verde who’d come for vacation. The adventure started when we ate lunch at a local campement and got ourselves acquainted over shots of whiskey.

Fun times continued on a hyena viewing trip through the Palmarin Reserve. We took carts pulled by horses (charrettes in French) along a dusty road towards the edge of the delta and mangroves. There we waited behind a few bushes with a number of other parties and some binoculars for an hour or so. As dusk approached, we worried that the hyena’s would not be viewed crossing for their nightly hunt. And then suddenly, we saw one. He was a tiny black dot visible only with aid of device. He was alone on the waters, but he was there. However, speculation ensued that a friend of the eco-guides had been called to quickly don some dark clothing and run around to appease the tourists. Jury’s still out on that one. The moonlight charrette ride back to town, coupled with the runaway cart kidnapping our Cape Verdean friend, made this excursion worth it.

For dinner we travelled one village over to a lodge owned by an Italian/ Senegalese man. A full scale Italian meal afforded us appetizers, salad course, main dish, and a dessert course which were paired with cocktails, bottles of wine, and after dinner aperitifs (or more whiskey for the men). As the only patrons of the establishment we had the full attention of the owner and kitchen staff, and enjoyment of the ocean side candlelit patio. The evening continued back at our lodge with drinks on the beach until the wee hours of the morning before catching a few Zzz’s in a tent.

The next morning was the beginning of the main event: a kayaking trip through the depths of the delta from Palmarin to the island of Mar Lodj. After packing, delivery our luggage to a boat (for transport to Mar Lodj so we wouldn’t get it wet), and a quick dip in the water, we broke off into pairs for kayaking such that the strongest rowers were in the back and the weakest in the front of each unit. And we’re off.

We plotted a route through the mangroves for a bit before hitting the open waters. As with the last kayaking trip, a bit of trial and error regarding steering was in order between my partner and me. We crashed a few times, but only one incident provided comedy. We managed to break an ore in half over my head in a detangling attempt and spent a subsequent 5 minutes recovering; me attempting to clear the stars in my eyes and my partner searching the groves for my sunglasses, which had been knocked off in the commotion. Needless to say, we got our act together in the steering department after that.

We spent a majority of our trip on the vastly open waters of the delta. Unfortunately, we were also paddling up river and against a fairly strong wind. My weathered twosome figured we’d have to work extra hard to battle our hangovers, headaches, and ineffective half a paddle… but as it turned out we spent most of the day leading the pack. Along the way we spotted crabs and other fish floating in the waters. We admired the clam habitats both in the mangroves and farmed by the local villages. Paddling breaks were had on the sand bars and along the shallow mangrove banks.

We’d packed 10 liters of water, which lasted the duration of the trip. But no one had thought to bring food beyond breakfast bread and a small sack of peanut butter. The trip was estimated at three hours for an arrival on Mar Lodj just around Senegalese lunch time. Three hours turned into five as many factors contributed to our delay: a late start, accident, hangover, wind, fatigue, hunger, current, and eventual lack of motivation. The sun was high and we also did a fairly good job of attracting painful sunburns. Our guide, Phillip, did a terrible job of motivating us with his poorly delivered lies that we were “almost there” and our destination was “just around the corner.”

Several hours late, we arrived on the island of Mar Lodj, which is truly beautiful even if I had zero energy to enjoy it or take photos. We walked a short distance along the coast to the home of a fellow volunteer (who wasn’t home) for a lunch of traditional ceebu jen (rice and fish) or omelets for those of us who don’t eat fish. We sat on the patio enjoying cold cokes and a view of the delta waters. It was all too easy to grasp why the island is home to more than half a dozen lodging accommodations and plenty of ex-pats and tourists. Had we arrived earlier, we would’ve explored more of the island and it’s charming Sereer Catholic population.

Shortly before dusk, we caught the last boat back to the mainland. It was a large fishing boat with enough holes in it to create a full time job bailing water out. Back on the mainland we met up with the van we’d rented to drive our crew back to Dakar. Beaten and tired, we spent the car ride cracking jokes and massaging our muscles. In Dakar we took hot showers and went to bed as quickly as possible. Although I refer to this as the “kayaking trip from hell,” I firmly believe it was a once in a lifetime bonding experience that I’m sure I’ll be willing laugh about in the near future.

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