A Neverending Story

I’m not usually one to write a time linear description of events but as they have been quite incredible as of late, I wish to at the very least keep a record of the journey for myself.  As this medium is public, feel free to climb aboard and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride. Our journey begins on Christmas Eve, where a small group of us ventured to the unchartered waters off the coast of the Jóola village, Diembéring. Upon arriving at the village, we merely asked for a lodge upon the beach.  Quite serendipitously, the lodge’s manager to which we were introduced spoke fluent Spanish, which was also quite convenient as one among us spoke but Spanish and Catalan. Given that our unanticipated request for a translator was so superlatively met, our actual request of a peaceful place to sleep at the beach was met beyond the wildest dreams of our imaginations!imageOur guide led us not only out of town, but through the forest and up and over numerous sand dunes to a traditionally Jóola built impluvium à la plage chez Max et Milo so secluded there were but cows and sand between us and the ocean. While cows on the beach are a bit of the norm here, tea on the beach on Christmas is a real treat.imageWe spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on or adjacent to the beach, under the sun by day and by a bonfire at night.  On Christmas night, we went looking for a dance party but instead only found the youth of the small village gathered; most adults were with their families. Though the kids did have some mad moves, we decided to head home early.  The walk into town is long, but at midnight, with the full moon directly overhead, the sandy path was illuminated in a way that I had never experienced before.IMG_8378The post-Christmas depression did not even have time to set in as Catherine’s arrival approached and I flew to Dakar on the 27th. The flight was, as they say, “Senegalese-ament”, in other words, it took off four hours late, and then turbulently through an unexpected storm, only to land fifteen minutes into its takeoff in Cap Skirring, the tourist town from which most of the passengers had hurriedly travelled in order to make the flight. By the time we finally reached Dakar, my poor companion who was anticipating my early arrival was patiently kind and thankfully still there!IMG_8415The next day I had an appointment scheduled at the US Consulate.  Momo and my marriage has been delayed due to the necessity of a form, “certificate of celibacy”.  Unless you are familiar with the rules and regulations of marriage in a polygamous country (and even then, as I hadn’t), you will probably never have heard of this form. Fortunately, the Consulate is more than happy to offer a notarised copy of a form that says we don’t have such a form to which you raise your hand and swear you are celibate for a mere $50.IMG_8485Being that Catherine was scheduled to land on the 30th, I moved my lodging to a sweet little hotel near the beach in the neighbourhood of Yoff called Keur Diame. Staying there, the place with the Christmas tree and adrinka cloth pictured above, was an intriguing experience in and of itself as most of the staff Casamançais. As is common, they vented their views about the disparages between the north and south of the country. As Catherine only had six days and Casamance is so far away, we really had to make all of our tenuous connections. The first was the last day of the year and our 6 am checkin to the airport. Ibra of Keur Diame got up at 5:30 to make sure we had our breakfast before the journey and our trusty taximan Mass escorted us to the gate well before takeoff time, which was, miraculously for Senegal Airlines, close to being on time.IMG_3452Onwards and upwards we flew above the ocean and river until we safely arrived at the comfortingly small Zuiginchor airport where our here local taximan and good friend, Mamour, so enchanted by Catherine’s charms, offered to take us the whole way to Kafountine. The journey would normally consist of waiting for a shared vehicle to fill up and then a sweaty, bumpy, cramped 2 hour ride. I’m all for carpooling and I think it is great that Africa does so, but sometimes, like when your companion has been traveling for two days straight, it’s sure nice to go in some comfort.IMG_8418Of course Momo and his companions had pulled out all the stops for our arrival but who would have guessed they had already prepared a sea-side feast for us of freshly captured barracuda. I didn’t mention our encounter with the deadly fish of last year to Catherine until after the new year as it were, and luckily there were no such issues.IMG_3470Finally, I am sure to Catherine’s relief, we stopped moving save to swim for a few hours and to watch the final sunset of the year. Little did we depart from the beach though were we back upon it for a NYE party like no other! Much like a UK-style festival, different areas of the beach and its accompanying lodges, bars, and restaurants were devoted to different styles of music.  Ironically, the “traditional” drum circle was encircled mostly by Westerners while locals surrounded the stage that was set up in fact quite close to the incoming tide. Massive bonfires attracted everyone as did the fireworks and floating lanterns. The fire’s flames so enchanted me that at about 2 am I was awoken from a sandy slumber and we tried to all return home, but one of our group was having way too good of a time so he ended up partying until the next morning.IMG_3493New year’s day we all hopped aboard the International Driver express, the name we call our dear friend Lamine who is a driver (internationally of course) and a mechanic. His Benz is luxury at its finest and when we rolled into Enampore that night heads certainly turned!  I, being used to cycling the distance from Brin, was particularly excited to see how quickly and easily we arrived. My one concern was that, I suspect because the machines literally run out of money, all the ATMs in Zuiginchor were out of service and thus we would surely be short on cash by the end of our adventures. Thankfully, since  last year’s foray into the women’s sacred forest, the lodge in Enampore is my home away from home so I could take a credit there (which I paid back today thankfully!)

 

We spent a restful night in the impluvium there and then drove the next morning to the end of the road, that is, my beloved Bandial! Of course, Remy hosted us to an incredible fisherman’s lunch, seated within his shell-tiled museum of artefacts, fish traps, and sea creatures. We waited for the tide to rise and then, much to my surprise because I didn’t think it was complete, readied the S.S. Abbie Hencken for her maiden voyage.IMG_8496And what a voyage it was!  Because we set off quite late the first day after all the boat’s baptism and her preparations, Remy thought it best for us to stay the night in the hotel Djiromait, the eerily unopened would-have-been 5-star hotel that we visited last year. Had it not been for everyone’s reassurance, I would have refused out of sheer fear!  In fact, even without electricity or running water, the hotel “management” – a one man show named Joe – made us feel completely spoiled as if we were really staying in a 5-star hotel. I commend him and I recommend anyone in the area to at least take a tour of the place.  Odd as it is to see a village full of grass huts adjacent to such a palace of potential splendour rotting after 25 years of non-use, the experience was singularly strange and wondrous at the same time.

 

The next morning we set off for a tour of the islands and fishing encampments that I had visited last year, but even in the span of a year there were numerous changes. Xariyala, the place that I devoted some serious thought and description to, has been completely disbanded since the war that was begun the very day upon which we visited them last year.  Fortunately, we did see some of their inhabitants in another encampment, but their life is akin to being a water-gypsy; they must move their entire family with every season.

 

Also much to my dismay, the perfect place we had stayed upon the beach overlooking the manatee on Point St. Georges was dismantled, apparently due to personal reasons involving the manager.  Fortunately we were not arrested on our way as I so ignorantly asked Catherine to try to take a picture of the floating stop sign that in fact indicated a police checkpoint! We eventually left the large river to divert into some smaller tributaries, the beauty of which is beyond description. Birds that I have only ever seen in an aviary flew, hovered, and dive bombed jumping fish, dolphins leapt at the side of the boat, crabs scurried across the shores, oysters clung to the mangroves which lined the glass-like water’s edges.

Our story pauses here, at the end of the rainbow, Niomoune’s Campement Alouga 

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