Trans-Saharan Trip - Senegal to Perth


Our entry into Senegal had a touch of drama, but we settled back to doze, and are wide awake for a 6am arrival in Tambacounda. Even before finding a hotel we try to find transport to Niokolo-Koba National Park, and get a quote for an astronomical sum for the journey. At the hotel, over breakfast, we meet up with Henk and Els, who also want to go to the park, but who are having money problems - they have Euro-cheques and Visa, ok in Dakar, but not accepted here. It doesn't take long to decide that none of us can afford the sort of money being asked by the taxi drivers for the trip to the park, and since Henk & Els really have no money, we stay at the hotel together and all go to the Casamance, where they should be able to sort out their problems.

Ziguinchor is great, but is isn't the answer to our new friends' money worries, and in the end we loan them enough to get back to Dakar (yes - they did send us a cheque for the money when they got back to Belgium). We're not so fond of the coast, but rural Casamance is a joy to travel in. Despite the rumoured civil uprisings, things are fairly calm, just the occasional road block, and travellers aren't involved. The government has sponsored campements in the villages - places to stay, with buildings built, maintained and run by the locals, and income going back into the village, to pay for schooling, clinics, etc. The campements are ideal places to stay, and we head off to Oussouye. This is a 2-storey rammed earth house, with thatched roof, in the old style. We hire bikes, and cycle out to Basse Casamance National Park. Its a 50 kilometres round trip, with sandy trails, and monkeys, birds and crocodiles to see.

From Oussouye its an 18 kilometre hike to Elinkine, another campement on the coast. This is a bit more popular as a tourist place, and is very pretty, but the building is nothing special. However, the beer is cold and the company is fine.

Back to Ziguinchor, a farewell meal with Henk and Els, and we head to Abene, in Haute Casamance. There are miles and miles of deserted beaches, with only the shipwrecks for company. Near the campement is a fishing village, bright with boats, and the climate encourages lush plants and flowers, making the gardens around the hotel spectacular. Weaver birds come to drink at the dripping taps and strip the leaves in the trees, and there are flocks of bright enamel blue birds that we can't identify. A major part of the fishermen's catch is fiddlefish and sharks, which have the fins cut off immediately, for export to China and Japan.

Gambia is another run-down ex-British colony, streets dusty and decrepit, the people friendly and comfortable to be with. Our first hotel is a brothel - not objectionable in itself, but the woman in high-heels marching up and down the tiled floor all night, accompanied by a shift of heavy-duty furniture removalists (by the sound of it) gives us no rest, and we move up the street to a slightly more up-market brothel. Tourists don't stay in Banjul - they have their own enclave out on the beach. Its quite a long walk from town, but along the way there are interesting old graves, being washed away be the sea, and plenty of places to stop off, have something to drink, and meet a few people. The tourist beach isn't worth going to in the end, and we just have lunch and catch a bus back.

Abuko Nature Reserve is a short bus ride from Banjul, and gives us a very pleasant day trip, walking through the forest. When we sit still and quiet the bird life is more obvious, and there are some fantastic fly-catchers with long red tail feathers entertaining us while we picnic on the ground below their tree.

Banjul boasts a lot of craft shops, selling some fantastic pieces, but we soon recognize the source of a lot of the work - Ghana and Mali. The prices here are astronomical, geared for the fly-in-fly-out tourists.

Daker, and time to settle our return flight to Oz once and for all. Ethiopian Airlines flutter about, and announce that we have no bookings. Much angst and several days later, we've confirmed all but the final leg home - we will have to swim from Singapore.

Dakar is the only city where we feel threatened. There is a lot to see and do here, but we only venture out late at night once; even during the day Geoff is physically attack three times within as many days. The attacks aren't violent, but they make us feel jumpy. The market pickpockets are almost entertaining. You can see groups of them on the corner, waiting for anyone who happens by. We walk into a group, and skirt around them, backs to the wall, all laughing, since we all know what this is about. We're staying in a brothel again, but this one is very friendly, and even boasts a good restaurant.

Dakar is no place to wait around for a flight, and we have several days before we fly out. The train trip to St-Louis takes through endless landscapes of baobab trees, stark against the sky at first, but as we head north they take on a mystic look; the harmattan is blowing, and the atmosphere gets thicker and thicker with dust. The stations along the way are very picturesque, reminding us of the Etamagogh Pub - a famous, rickety cartoon pub in Oz. St-Louis is great, despite the harmattan. We eat all our meal at the Hotel del la Poste, an astounding place in this back of beyond, with food and service to match restaurants in Europe - it is the end of the trip and we spoil ourselves.

St-Louis was the first french settlement in Africa, and has elegant old buildings and a fantastic geography. This is a place for people who like to wander, and we take long walks, including a full day down La Langue de Barbarie, past the fishermen's graves, draped with nets, through the bird sanctuary, and well beyond sight of the town, long lost in the dusty haze. We could be the last two people on earth.

Back to Dakar, a trip out to Goree Island and a last visit to the markets, and we're off home. The haze stays with us right across Africa, as we touch down in most capital cities along the way. This flight only takes us to Bombay, where we are to spend a couple of nights.

Bombay is like home. We've been here before and know our way around. First priority is to get a flight organized from Singapore to Perth - we were serious about having to swim! Eithiopian Airlines are less than useless, so we head off to Qantas, and throw ourselves on their mercy. They are marvellous, and although they can't offer us anything themselves, they phone around and manage to get us a flight with British Airways. The BA office is about to close, but the Qantas staff persuade them to stay open for us, put us into a taxi, and we race across town. At last, confrmed seats home! We have to stop five days in Singapore, but it is fun - we stay with friends there, and just relax, enjoy ourselves, do a bit of shopping and arrive back in Perth the day before we are due back at work.


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