It's high time I tell about our ¨camping¨ trip to Park Nikolokoba in the southern Tambacounda region.
20 toubab women, 1 Senegalese english professor Mr. Barry, and 1 poor senegalese student loaded onto the bus at 3 am and set out for the 18-hour drive across the state to Tambacounda. The roads were pretty terrible and the bus was like a normal school bus, but smaller. None of this Coach Bus business. Needless to say, almost none of us slept, and when we arrived we were all covered in a layer of red dust. It must have been pretty hilarious to see this fleet of pink, rumpled Americans tumble out of that bus.
We stayed the first night in a beautiful campement on the River Gambia inside the park. We feasted on roasted chicken and green beans and potatoes and slept really well. The next morning we got up early and took a river safari and saw hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, and loads of birds. After lunch , we took a land safari and pretty much just saw deer and warthogs. Not too exciting. We crossed this suspension bridge over a river, though, and I came a little bit closer to conquering my fear of heights.
The next day, we drove 3 more hours to Kedougou, where the senegalese student is from. I like this town a lot. It really has a small-town feel, but is not a village. There's a little main street and a market where you can buy such treasures as honey, palm wine, avocadoes (!), indigo fabrics, and mangoes galore (!!). Mangoes in the south of senegal cost about 25 CFA each = about 5 cents. I swear I ate about 5 a day, and once the hotel owners learned that I dont eat bread, they brought out an endless supply of mangoes for me. Mmm baby, I wasnt complaining.
We stayed in another cute campement, 3 people in each hut, and feasted on food that was ¨correct¨ according to Mr. Barry: couscous, yassa poulet, potatoes, and plenty of fruit for dessert.
We drove about 2 more hours to a mountain range in order to hike to this hidden waterfall. We found this lone toubab Peace Corps volunteer in the middle of nowhere. He was biking to the falls and resting in the shade of a baobab. I swear, that region is crawing with PCVs, I met quite a few while there. The long hike through the forest was definetly worth it (not that I had to be persuaded- I love hiking and being outdoors et al.). The secluded falls was GORGEOUS. It was like some mystical movie scene, with the mist creating rainbows everywhere. Mr. Barry had told us not to swim in it because it's fresh water, so there was a risk of getting nasty diseases like schistosomiasis. But, come on, it was irresistable. We all whipped off our clothes and cliff jumped in our underwear. Just lovely.
After all that, we relaxed at the hotel. I had some pretty good chats with some of the girls on the other programs. Us 10 from Wisconsin are the only ones who have been/will be here for the whole year, and I am so so grateful that our program works like this and that we've had as much help and orientation as we have...even if we feel lost some of the time.
We also took a 3-hour drive to go hike this mountain, and visited a Batique village at the top that the senegalese student knew about. The climb was steeper than I thought, but it was great to stretch my legs. I love hiking, I've gotta do more backpacking in the states. The village of Iwo was cool; a totally different culture than any other place in Senegal. Very traditional and animist. We walked around and chilled with the villagers and their enormous sacred baobab trees. We visted the tiny school and played with this sweet little girl. One of the villagers told us that she ¨went crazy¨ when she was sick as a baby, so now she's the best kind of crazy: happy and carefree crazy. She dances in the streets and repeats French words and laughs like a hyena. She restored my faith in children. While in the village, I bought a rad pair of earrings that are made from old guinean coins that are dated from the 1920s. I wonder what their story is. Also, in the center of the village, there was a dead leopard with piles of food and money offerings surrounding it. The village chief told us that the leopard had killed some of their cows, so they were obliged to poison it and then need to give offerings to its soul to apologize.
The last night, we all had a fabulous dinner at the student's family's house, and Mr. Barry - who is the man, by the way- bought us a special treat. We left straight away for a 24-hour return voyage in the same rickety bus. No sleep. Till Brooklyn. On the way back to St. Louis, we stopped by the holy city of Touba, where the 2nd biggest african mosque is located. Those of us who covered our heads got to go inside. It was really fabulous and opulent- its the scene of a muslim pilgrammage every March and Mourides come from all around the world to pray at this mosque. It made me excited to see Africa's first biggest mosque next week in Casablanca. And someday the world's biggest mosque in Mecca.
We got back to campus in time to start the second semester of classses....which, so far, have not started, save for 1 hour of a political science class which, as I already recounted, was interupted by rabid freshmen. I'm trying to find my bearings by choosing new classes for this semester and next in Madison. And now Im trying to call hotels in Morocco on Skype. Alll riiight.
See my facebook for more photos of the trip, by the way.