domenica 30 dicembre 2012

Mombasa


At the end of my short Kenian vacation I spent a week end in Mombasa because I prefered to fly to Nairobi instead of repeating a long bumpy and unconfortable bus trip. At the beginning I thought I just had bad luck not to find a flight direc tly from Malindi, but I soon realized it was a great opportunity for a short visit of Mombasa. Once more I asked Aisha to be my travel buddy and despite it was also her first time in Mombasa, she was an excellent guide. We found a decent and cheap accommodation in the 5th floor of the Safari Coast hotel, a simple hotel next to a big market area, not very safe at night time but ok during the day. Mombasa, like Lamu, is situated in a island and has a charming old town and a Portuguese old fortress, Jesus Fort. We spent all the morning visiting Jesus Fort and old Mombasa with a local guide (I had to bargain hard in order to drop his price to 100 KSH, but in general his service deserved not much more). The fortress was built in 1951 with a cross plant by the Italian Giovanni Battista Cairati for the Portugueses, then conquered by Omani arabs and finally by British empire. it combine some interesting features of the different conquerors like an old water cistern,  Portuguese and British cannons and  imposing old old 18m tall walls with a superb view of the Mombasa bay.
I do loved the old town with its narrow roads, small shops, terraces and old mosques that reminded us how deep is the Arabic influences in this part of Africa. Even the food we experienced in the Island Dishes restaurant was a superb mixture of herbs and ingredients of African and Arabic cultures. This is a totally safe and inexpensive part of Mombasa which is a place I would love to return (along with Lamu, near the Kenian border with Somalia and Kampala, this last in Uganda). 
As for the beaches, I had no time to experience them nor am I a beach addicted, anyway I have been told that the most beautiful and "wild"ones are sited on the south side of Mombasa like Galu or Diani beach whereas the most lively ones(bars, clubs and restaurants) are on the north coast: Bamburi and Shantzu beaches.
Mombasa nightlife is great, especially in the weekends. We spent a super saturday night to Florida club (entrance fee is KSH 300 for men and KSH 200 for women). Florida is at 15min by taxi from our hotel and is well sited just along the seaside. There are several bars with different music styles to satisfy clients coming from India or Chine or Europe and also a nice show where beautiful dancers show how charming and athletic African women can be. Drinks are not expensive at all and there is a very fine and friendly atmosphere. Other 2 good clubs are Casablanca and Bella Vista with live music.



sabato 15 dicembre 2012

Finally some nightlife!




Once we settled in our apartment and started to ramble in Malindi I wondered if I could finally enjoy a kind of simple nightlife I was dreaming about since my first day in Nairobi. Although November is still low season, I was quite satisfied of the local night scene.
Just to mention one of the greatest day I had in Africa, I would talk about my good tuesday.
We bought some beans, potatoes, mangoes (probably the sweetest of the world), eggs, honey, homemade yogurt and full grain millet bread. I started to cook a kind of omelette with too many   previously fried vegetable and although the result could have been much better we really enojoyed the result, noone left a spoon of our dinner.
I enjoyed my Polcino Oasis stay even thanks to a big smimming pool attac hed to the beach, where I could swim and relax with no hassle of the too many hawkers and rastas on the beach, but also because I could play with some wonderful, sweet and full of energy kids living there with their parents, often italian-kenian couples.
I remember with great pleasure a tuesday night while I asked to my new friend Aisha (this one, a more open-mind and relaxed muslim girl), roommate of Aldy's girlfriend Hadija, this last a Guinness beer lover.
I asked Aisha if I could do her some Shiatzu massage and with no surprise she happily accepted, confirming once more how open Africans are toward physical contact, just as scared most of europeans are confusing all the time massage session with "raping session".
After a pressure massage and a stomach balance, Aisha was sleepinng so deeply and when I woke her up she said she could sleep on until the following morning since she was in a kind of paradisiacaly state. I was so proud, content, satisfied and glad that my tiny shiaztu skills could get such a good result. Not enough I suggested to my friend to also experience a new Tao based energy circulation between our bodies following the teachings of Mantak Chia and Douglas Abrams: once more we had to look at each other with open eyes and hands contact, to have no prejudices,  to have a deep and low breath, to visualize and feel her ying and my yang circulating from our 2 bodies, to forget what else was happening outside our small bright universe and have no prejudices at all. Once more the result was stunning, we did something great and she thanked me for this new experience. It was finally time to head to Malindi town center where there are lot of small nice bars and small discos: Starts and Gatlers, Kienieji, Fermento, Star Dust, Melting Pot, Pata Pata Beach Bar or Club 28. We opted for the first one to watch a difficult, vibrating Champion's Cup defenders of Chelsea. Juventus won with an impressing 3:0 and I thoughts...this was a "perfect day".
The following night we went to Melting Pot, also nice bar, with a soft atmosphere and the usual bunch of local beauties looking for a aged "mwazungu" client eager to exchange a night/week of love with some financial help. As far as I understood Kenya has a much stronger and strict sexual habits than for example Senegal or Mali (the many different churches that found fertile sole in this country probably is not by chance) but there are so many young mothers who have not any kind of financial aid by their kids' fathers and sell themselves for little money. I don't blame them at all, in their place I would do exactly the same, saying or thinking something different would be pure hypocrisy.




lunedì 10 dicembre 2012

Welcome to Malindi



Finally after a very long and uncofortable (but still better than my trips in Mali and Senegal) we arrived in the early morning in Malindi. It was still dark but the air was warm, rich of flower scents and welcoming, I was so curious about  Kenian coast and about Malindi where too many Italians decide to spend their holiday or...their life.
We found a nice furnished apartment at Polcino Oasis Village, an old tatty residence where most apartments have been sold to italians. I enjoyed the lovely garden, the big swimming pool attached to the beach but really hated those tiny persistent hungry Kenian mosquitos who used to assemble every night to have dinner mostly with my blood and sometimes with that of my friend Aldy. No mosquito net, no repellent seemd to discourage them, Aldy tried other products with very little fortune.
The beach of Malindi is wide and long, a white sand and pristine warm water but has a thick layer of long seeweeds that your feet should get used to in order to enjoy swimming there.
There are many hotels and resorts, some of them luxurious ones and of course the over protected villa od Flavio Briatore, the most famous muzungu of Malindi. We used to do a 1hr walk on the beach twice a day, getting until the Marine Park, pity that every 10 meters we were stopped by local sellers, hawkers and idlers who consider Italians as the best clients/friends/helpers. That could be funny the first day, OK the second, unbearable from the 3rd!
As usual I did prefer to mix with local visiting the small streets of old town, where we met by chance Camilla, an Italian woman who moved there 13 yrs ago with her husband. They bought an old mansion in the Arabian area and restored it in a magnificent B&B arabian style, Swahili House. She is the first non kenyan certified safari guide while her husband is running a scuba diving center. She was extremely worried because Malindi has experiencing a very low number of Italian tourists this November,caused by the huge financial crisis who made many Italians unable to take their beloved vacation to Kenya.
In Africa you can repair for cheap almost everything you would have to throw in the rubbish, that's why I succeed in having my old but tough Nokia repaired for a few bucks. While doing searching for the right shop we found by chance a great place, Jabreen Cafè, probably the best cafè of Malindi, surely the beloved by me and Aldy. It was working almost at every time with locales and tourists, serving delicious simple food (beans, pees, a kind of boiled spinach called Mchicha, a nice chapati, a white maiz flour polenta called Ugali but also eggs, chicken and fried fish). WE never spent more than 2,00 euros and always exited full and happy.
I also met a sweet lovely mobile phone shop assistant, Aisha. It was so nice to chat with her and to understand her strict muslim way, I even invited her to visit with me Lamu but she needed a friend girl chaperon as well as she told me she NEVER goes to any bar because considered immoral.


venerdì 30 novembre 2012

Nairobi




 I arrived at Nairobi airport early in the evening with lot of foreigners ready for their safari games. A local friend took me to Marble Arch Hotel where my Kenyan experience started. The hotel was just in downtown and although the sound of a near music was enticing me a lot, the scary reputation of this big city along with the heavy security measures, south-African style, discouraged me to go out and enjoy my first African night...such a pity!
Nairobi, as most of African capitals, has many interesting things to see and do but you really need a local guide who take you to the most interesting spots. We only visited the Karen Blixen Museum which is nice and interesting. This danish woman author of Out of Africa (that became a film with R.Redford ) and other books lived in this marvellous house from 1917 until 1931 when after she divorced from her husband she returned to Denmark because her Coffe plantation was not successful at all. The house interior is quite interesting with some original old furniture (some of it had been sold when she got bankrupt) and some not original received as a present from the Out Of Africa movie production company. However what really impressed me was the marvellous garden, with its huge old trees and colorful flowers.
Nairobi is a chaotic city, mostly affected by huge traffic jam and sadly polluted, but it also seems a vibrant, frantic city where you can find plenty of small African restaurants (where you can eat with a few thousands of shillings), many pubs and also many sandwich bars. No doubt that after 10pm the city center gets desert and most of tourists rush back to their hotels or to their favourite disco-pub protected by a strong security service. I do hope I can visit it one more time with a reliable kenyan friend.




giovedì 29 novembre 2012

A taste of Kenya

Before leaving I was asking myself if I would have enjoyed in Kenya as much as I did in Senegal, if I could feel the same emotions. During this trip I realized that this was a wrong doubt because you can not compare Kenya to Senegal as much as you would not compare Italy to Finland. Both are in Africa or in Europe, but each of these countries has its special "taste", its culture shock, its favourite meal, its traditions, in other words its good and bad sides. The tourist will continuously complain of local crap food, of light shortage, of road potholes, of hawkers while the traveller, the real one will try as much as possible to find the best in every situation, even the most difficult, even the annoying. Lets say that in the first part of my short trip I acted as a fucking tourist, while in the second I finally became a real traveller appreciating every drop of energy that Africa let fall in my tongue.

mercoledì 25 aprile 2012

final thoughts


What can I say? I left Italy in the middle of a cold winter with a strong puzzled because I was not returning to Thailand  with its gentle people, delicious food, wonderful landascape and safe atmosphere. Not to mention the crazy atmosphere of Phnom Pen by night where I also have a good local friend. Instead I had very little information of West Africa, my only contact, my friend Yousuf totally unreliable (in fact he didn't answer my phone calls a few days before my departure). Lot of Italian friends telling that I was totally silly to travel to a country inhabited by wild beasts, looters and monkeys. What were I doing? Where where I going? Our new friend Sofia from Norway asked me what were my expectations of this trip and I candidly replied "I had no expectations". No doubt it was a totally positive surprise. The highlight of my vacation were: African people that I met, Senegalese food, Dakar nightlife and Yoff beach, but also the birds' sanctuary of Djoudj, but also Casamance and Bijagos islands. On the other hand I didn't like Gambian frontier police nor some persistant and impolite Gambians, I also disliked Malian food and the terrible means of public transport (bus and septplace) used in this part of the world. I know that's a part of the "African adventure" I also know that locals use them regularly and withmuch less complains, but next time, because there will be a next time, I'll strive toward travelling by a rented/private car. I would be happy if with these posts I was able to transfer you even a tiny amount of the feelings I experienced during these 2 months in Africa.

African women


"Les femmes africaines sont tous belles parce qu'elle sont naturelle"(the African women are all beautiful because they are natural), this is a sentence of our Malian guide Baya Tourè. Everywhere I travelled in West Africa I saw so many beautiful women, not only in the conventional meaning. Of course they are extremely pretty and sensual but also rich of a deep candidness and humanity: Taking care in a effective no frills amazing way, of their children, preparing their meals on the "street kitchens",  cleaning their house, or praying covered with a headscarf during the Magal. In any case more than beautiful they were charming. When I started to chat with some of them they were always open-mind enough not to see any difference between me and them, in other words they were far more friendly and simpler than most of westerners are when talk about Africa and Africans. For all these reasons I do loved African women.


African kids


We often went to the beach of Yoff Tonghor to buy fresh fish and among the many fish cleaners, all of them absolutely professionals, we used to give our fish to a young woman. She worked very well and very fast with her sharp knife with no protection gloves. As usual in Africa, she was working with her nice kid on her back and everytime I tried to smile to him, he started to cry franzily toward the ugly toubab. Carlo told me "it's so strange because African kids never cry". Well, he was absolutely right even during the most difficult, the most unconfortable, the longest trip the few months old babies or small boys travelling with us were stoically silent and bravely relaxed. Yet these kids were along with Thai ones the most  disciplined and well educated I have ever seen in my trips. When we needed any info, a bottle of water or some fruit Ale used to summon one of these kids who immediately, as good soldiers only would do, rushed toward us and in a few minutes fetched us whatever we asked. Why? Because we are older than them and in their great culture older people, WHOEVER they are, deserve respect and obedience. Even those children begging on the roads and exploited by dishonest marabout were extremely polite, educated and lighthearted. Also I am no afraid to say that they are the sweetest and most beautiful children on the earth.

martedì 24 aprile 2012

Mon frere Ale


When you arrive for the first time in a new country you often have to cope with some unpleasant if not harsh surprise; the taxi driver who overcharge you, persistant sellers, small theft and so forth. No need to complain about it, that's part of a new travel and of a new experience, in other words it's the toll we usually have to pay to get into a new experience. A useful instrument that can help us is to be assertive enough toward learning, or picking up, as much as possible of the local language, as a general rule. But to learn Wolof is not the easiest task of the world although I enjoyed to speak a few sentences, anyway at least this time everything was much easier than in other new country I was and the reason has a name: Ale Mboup from Kaolack. I didn't know what to expect of Senegal, I had just talked a few times in my Italy with Ale (who is the brother of another Senegalese friend). Yet I didn't know until which point I could trust him BUT I soon, step by step, discovered that Ale was much more than a friend, he became a good, sincere, strong, reliable and positive frere (brother). He taught me some wolof words, he patiently answered my many questions, he introduced me to Senegal and Senegalese way of life, to the differences between Italian (he's been living in Italy for 20 years..)and Senegalese culture, he followed me and endured a very tiring and difficult African travel. On the Bijagos islands he endured not only an allergic powder allergic attack, not only the lack of Internet connection nor mobile reception. But above all he endured the absence of his beloved wife Djenaba. Djeredjef mon frere Ale, thanks with all my heart!


Iles du Saloum


Our last excursion was on the Iles du Saloum which is the estuary between the rivers Sine and Saloum on the north of the Gambia. Here are a huge number of small isles, mangrove trees, baobabs, fromagere trees and lot of bolongs (swamp canals) with a mixture of salt and sweet waters. This is another wonderful wildlife sanctuary inhabited by over 250 birds species (herons, pelicans, terns) but also wild pigs, snakes, monkeys, manatees, dolphins, hyenas and turtles. We found quite easily an unconfortable "SeptPlace" ( collective taxi) where I had a nice talk with Mami Sonko, a pretty girl living in Dakar. We then searched in Toubacouta for a pirogue to take a visit of this beautiful park. Toubacouta seemed a quite desert hamlet, with many artesanal huts, almost no tourists. Probably the end of February means that the tourist season is almost finished anyway we spent lot of time to bargain a pirogue ballade at a decent price which was around 15.000CFA (something more than 20 euro) despite the first 30.000CFA request. The ballade was nice althought we lost the best time which is the early morning, we skipped the birds' isle (because we wished to finish the tour before the sunset, when the birds return to this isle) and headed to Ile de Coquillage (shell's isle). This Isle is wonderful, entirely made of shells, where there are beautiful beaches, clear waters, many trees and some huge baobabs, one of them used by the local sorcerers.
Returning to Kaolack was a completely different task, really difficult to find a minubus which stopped too many times and finally was even fined (thus a longer stop) because loaded some passengers from a local garage, stealing work to the SeptPlace.

Our new friend Carlo


A few weeks before my departure I was contacted by an Italian guy from Rome, Carlo. We shared the little info we got, mostly through the Lonely Planet website, of Senegal, Guinea Bissau and the other West Africa countries we both had planned to explore. While moving my first steps in Senegal he was enjoying a couple of weeks with his girlfriend in Morocco. Before his arrival I discussed with Ale about this guy who seemed to be well informed of Senegal, Dakar and Yoff too. We finally met on the beach of Yoff Tonghor, from the first time we understood that he was a kind of easy going, friendly and backpacker traveler, in other words he was "attuned" with our travel-style. We celebrated our meeting with a huge dinner of grilled fresh fish with rice and vegetables, than we went to La Scala to spend a nice evening and admire lot of local beauties. It was a start of a good and sincere friendship, Ale introduced him a Boré fighter who gave him an interview ("but he asked me 10.000CFA instead of the planned 5000CFA"), lot of info and introduced him to many others famous traditional fighter, their managers, their sorcerer and explained him training methods and the evolution of this discipline which has now become a huge business. We spent 2 wonderful weeks first in Casamance, where we loved the natural and quiet life, then on the Bijagos where we experienced a week of adventure, simplicity and meeting. We were brave enough to face with the right mood the unconfortable side of our small excursions nor to get nervous while continuously sorrounded and observed by locals kids who were so curious and so lovely. We also tried to be as helpful as possible with Carlo when he had the bad luck to step on a resting ray fish that required immediate cure and that obliged him to an unplanned 2 weeks rest in Conakry. We had different way of life, Ale totally devote to the nostalgia toward his wife, I totally devote to local beauties and Carlo totally devoted to his beloved hand rolled cigars. Despite or maybe thanks to our small differences we tolerate and the we appreciated each other as good traveler brothers should always do. We got a new friend!

domenica 22 aprile 2012

The beach of Saly



On our way back to Dakar we spent a couple of days in Saly (Mbour) which is one of the most touristic beach resort of Senegal. We spent a couple of days by the marvellous manor house of Ale: It's a huge, 2 floor  modern villa with a small but fine swimming pool and a big African style fresco covering all the front wall. He and his brothers furnished it with modern appliances and  confortable furniture brought from Europe. Despite all this modernity, his maid prepared us very delicious traditional meals. Saly is a quite small town with several hotels and resorts (one of these owned by the Chelsie football player Drogba), a beautiful sandy beach, some expensive restaurants and bars awfully located at few meters from the sea. I do prefer more natural and pristine places like Casamance, but no doubt that Saly has some interesting nightlife with discos crowded all the weekends and..many pretty Senegales girls. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

lunedì 16 aprile 2012

Kaolack


Kaolack is the hometown of my friend Ale, thus we went there quite often in order to visit his family and have a good rest at the end of our countless travels. This is one of the biggest towns of Senegal, huge sandy roads, several interesting colonial buildings, many small lovely villages (like that one where his grandfather lives) strategically positioned to enter Gambian border. It's market is also nice and full of skillful tailors and "cordonniers"(shoe maker), in fact before leaving Senegal I had a wonderful Bogolong-style suit made for a very reasonable price. Moreover there is the nice beach of Kundam where most of Kaolack inhabitants spend week ends here a branch of Atlantic enters in a shallow hypersalted (a long row of trucks are always waiting to load marine salt from a near factory)waters getting into the town outskirts. It seems that the new Dakar airport will be not too far from Kaolack.
I must say that I didn't fall in love with Kaolack because during the day the temperatures raise to an unbearable level, getting to 30 degrees even at 6pm. Yet the night it's cooler but still extremely hot, perfect for voracious local mosquitoes. Kaolack nightlife is almost nonexistant with a couple of discos often empty except on sundays when there are nice Senegalese live music and a score of bars with a few dark ambiguous bars (Baobab is probably the worst) where the customers may choose between Gazelle beer and sucrè. However locals are extremely friendly and nice, Ale as usual has too many friends and Cheik was a new one, working in Italy as a restaurant chef. No need to say that Ale huge family was so sweet and fine everytime we arrived in Kaolack.

sabato 14 aprile 2012

Djoudj: a kind of lost paradise


I start saying that exactly like all Senegal I had no expectation for this National Park, if you add that getting there was quite expensive (20.000CFA by taxi), time-spending and difficult to arrange excursion you can imagine that we arrived at the park entrance (fee was 5000CFA each and other 7000CFA for the car)not exactly with a good mood. But exactly like it often happens  I and Ale spent one of the most marvellous days of our African vacation. Local inhabitants are forbidden to fish here and the result is a totally natural and equilibrated life cycle: Birds eat fishes, fishes eat small microorganisms and plants fertlized by fish and birds excrements while a score of predators keep controlled the number of birds. In other words when the man is out of the games, Mother Nature know exactly what to do and how to do to keep our wonderful planet healthy!
 Djoudj is the world’s third largest ornithological Park after one in the US and one in India. As soon as we stepped off the jeep our official guide called our attention to show us a sleepy pyton just on the grass bordering the wetlands we were going to visit by boat. As soon as our boat left we could admire a score of huge pelicans diving in a synchronized way to fish, then we noticed a wildpig searching for a good meal of bird eggs, just a few minutes later we approached to huge Nile crocodiles taking a nap on the grass bank, then a sea Eagle flying over us in order to digest his preys, then again a flamingo, then again a big lizard also searching for an easy meal and finally, approaching to a strange island we realized that it was completely covered by Pelican families where the hungry youngsters were waiting for their parents return which was probably one of the most astonishing moment of our excursion with a dense, colourfull and noisy covey of birds  were flying over, under and around us. Not easy to mention all the 365 birds species of this unique sanctuary, not easy to esplain our sensation of beeing filled and flowded and crosses by natural energy in just one hour of excursion. For sure I may say that along with Taganga National Park in Colombia, this was the most spectalcular National Park I have ever seen in my entire life of curious traveller! Thanks Senegal, Thanks Djoudj and of course Thanks Ale! Pity I and my camera were not able to take the great photos that this park and its "actors" deserved.

Saint Louis and its history


After that cruel endless bus journey we recovered a few days in Dakar which is a great city for nightlife as well as for its fish market on the beach of Yoff Tonghor. Then we accepted Ale's friend, Doctor Bayan, invitation to visit Saint Louis and sleeping in his small but cozy apartment inside SL campus. We were told that SL is extremely beautiful and touristic and I must recognize that it's all true. The old colonial town is located on a narrow island connected with a wonderful old iron bridge (Faidherbe bridge) to the mainland. Saint Louis (Ndar in Wolof) was the first capital of the French West Africa  empire from 1673 until 1902. Called in this way in honour of Louis IX, was one of the starting points of slave-trade. We visited its colonial streets by a nice horse-cart whose "driver" explained us SL history, showing us the old Hotel de Post, the statue of Faidherbe, the first colonial governor, the ancient Catholic Cathedral (the oldest of all West Africa), the french colonial army barracks, the tiny island called Langue the Barbarie which separate the atlantic ocean from Senegal river. While the main feature of the colonial town are the colourful, often restored in stilysh and expensive bars and hotel, buildings, the overurbanized Langue de Barbarie, formerly inhabitated by only muslims, is its fishermen population with a wonderful mixture of old ships, market fish on the riverbank, small shops and a huge number of kids scurrying in the middle of narrow sandy streets where women cooks or hang colourful clothes. Yet the weather in Saint Louis is as pleasant as in dakar, with hot day and cool windy evenings. We were there exactly the day of the elections and despite many were fearing the possibility of disorders, we had a very peaceful and fine week, although the campus was almost desert and some locals not as friendly and open as in Kaolack or in Dakar. One day we decided to visit the "barrage" which is a small dam just on the Senegal river. We spent a lovely day observing lot of birds, some fishermen with their families who sold us for a 3000CFA (about 4,50 euro) a huge sole and over 1kg of strange snake-like fishes that we made grill by a small restaurant owner just outside the campus. It was a pity I had no Mauritanian Visa otherwise we could rent a boat and cross the river until the Mauritanian border or even getting to Rosso, the first town of Mauritania. Ale in fact told me that all the cars coming from Europe were crossing exactly that checkpoint. Moreover our friend Goran talked very well of Mauritania, whose government had very bad relationship with Senegalese one. It seems that local fishermen were often crossing the international sea border in order to fish in Mauritanian rich waters. But also because there was a kind of strong racism by the Maure arabic population toward their african, black skin citizens.
WE also visited the historical Postal Service museum but except some interesting photos and books there was nothing worth the visit. I also had the oportunity to visit another old church, built at the beginning of last century, wich is much more used than the cathedral and which is run by friendly Franciscan vicars. One of those could speak a good Italian and introduced me to another "pere"(father) who was actually celebrating in Bergamo but was previously in my hometown Rimini. Very nice and friendly people.

sabato 24 marzo 2012

Bamako-Dakar by bus: an epic journey


This was probably the toughest and most tiring bus ride of my entire life. We do expected a long and difficult trip therefore we chose the "best"(at least Malians consider it the best)Bus company but we faced a 33hours trip by an old Spanish Bus, no aircon (we reached more than 40 degrees in Kayes region), no reclining chairs, all windows closed and a terrible mixture of dust, sand and hot air entering from the 2 sliding roofs. Yet on the bus there was a young Nigerien woman with one small kid and 2 fe months babies...with just one seat, the poor kid cried all the trip whereas after a while a stench of shit. In the bus a revolt broke out with the angry passengers shouting toward the woman and the driver, obliging him to stop in the next village where the bus was cleaned with buckets of water. The silent woman and her children didn't get on the bus, I dont know what happened to her and her kids. Anyway in a few hours the aisle returned dirty because all the passengers used it as a rubbish bin, throwing fruit peels, peanut husks, papers. Behind me a woman washed her kid with some water...in the aisle, of course!
But what gave a strong contribute to make this journey so tiring were the check points, I counted at least 2 in Mali and 3 or 4 in Senegal. Just to give you an idea, during one of these ID controls I watched ALL the Marseille-Inter champions League match and had to wait 20 more minutes before the control was finished. But even worse was the Senegal Douane (Custome house)check points because they obliged everybody to get off the bus, then asked to drop off all the baggages, then to open them all and this scene, in the middle of the night, was repeated after 2 hours by a different Douane office, in a identical, non sense, frustrating way that make most of the passengers FURIOUS. A friend of Ale, doctor by Saint Louis, said that the reason of these controls is the miserable salary that most of police men get, therefore they behave in this way, asking sometimes 1000CFA (or more in Gambia and Guinea Bissau), hoping that something illegal get out, or hoping that a shattered passengers offer some money to escape this slow, painful torture. Senior officials know but tolerate it. Just to complete this nightmare journey, the Bus driver preferred to save a few thousands CFA (a few euro)taking the normal road instead of the new Dakar highway, however Flavio and Ale, the Italian and Senegalese strong men arrived to Dakar dreaming a hot shower, a huge Cep bu Jen (rice with fish) and a clean confortable bed.

venerdì 23 marzo 2012

Discovering Djennè


Once returned to Bamako after the week end in Segu, we tried to understand if it was possible to reach Cote de Ivoire as planned or not. The problem was that we were really tight with time but also that CdI northern border still had/has security problems after their civil war thus we decided to stay in Mali and postpone its visit to next year. At Danaya we also had a talk with Baya Tourè, the guy working as a tourist guide, who promise a lot, seems very professional but whose contacts in Segu let us totally disappointed. Our main goal was to visit the Dogon country and its marvellous villages sited in a spectacular Cliff, but even this seemed a very difficult task because in Mali distances are huge, transport slow and unreliable and price expensive in these touristic spots. However our main problem was to return to Senegal BEFORE their elections where the old president Abdoulaye Wade was/is doing everything to be reelected despite he's 86. In fact elections are always a potential dangerous and troublesome affair in all Africa, although Senegal is probably one of the most civilized and modern African country. Finally we decided to skip Dogon villages and arrive until Djennè in order to visit its Mosque and its monday market. We left Bamako the late morning after a difficult cash withdrawal and bought a ticket until Djennè Crossroad. The trip was quite long and unconfortable as usual, but as the bus stopped in the anonimous village of Blas we realized that the ticket seller cheated us, so we had to buy a new Bus ticket to Djennè carrefour and wait in Blas more than 2 hours! The small van from Blas until Djennè was not only old, wrecked and unconfortable but also extremely slow and also stopped several times for the prayers of the driver and some passengers, as a result we crossed the river of Djennè in a complete silence and darkness. A few minutes before we had also been stopped by a small Malian police office with no electricity obliged us to stop in order to pay my 2000CFA entrance fee, the policeman also shouted to my friend Ale to show him his official guide ID, a black travelling with a toubab what else could it be??? But he stopped when he saw how many foreigner countries stamps Ale has in his passport. Again another funny situation a few minutes later when the minibus wheels slided on the muddy riverbank before getting on the barge; the barge staff shouted to Ale and impolite: "you are a guide get off and help us pushing", I offered also my help but being a toubab he said I could keep staying seated. Finally at 9pm we arrived in Djennè, starting to breath its unique magical atmosphere but also welcomed by  scores of local kids able to ask for money and presents in so many different languages that I immediately understood how touristic was Djennè.
Amadou, a local guide previously contacted, was waiting for us,  he rented us a tent on the roof of his mud and straw made house. Since Djennè has a very hot weather, it was a great and inexpensive accommodation. We had a good dinner by a Dogon Restaurant and followed him to the maze of Djennè streets had a small interesting introduction to this wonderful town where most inhabitants are quite strict muslims although the presence of so many tourists (coming not only from France but also from US, Spain and Italy)let a few small shops sell alcoholic beverages. Amadou too regretted to be an hard beer drinker and obviously his wife didn't like this side of him. He also added that there was a fall in tourists presence because of a north Mali presence of Touareg rebels, especially in Kidal and Tessalit region, leaded by Malian mercenaries escaped from Libia after Ghaddafi defeat. It seemed that Tombouctou was safe but we heard that a few weeks before  some German tourists were kidnapped and killed by rebels. We slept very well, woke up early in order to visit the mosque and the market and catch the 13:00 Bus to Bamako. Amadou was a very good guide, he explained us so many interesting topics of Djennè: The great mosque is the biggest mosque entirely built with mixture of clay, straw and water in the world and as well as the old town it's a Unesco World heritage centre, in the ancient time the bricks were built with the same mixture (that we found on the corner of the town) covered with Karitè butter that kept the rainwater away from the bicks, in the latest decades, due to Karitè palm deforestation and desertification (last year it rained very little and local agriculture soffered from it with reduced grain and cereal crops), Karitè butter became too expensive to be used for building purpose therefore all Djennè houses should be restored every year, using the same mixture, before and after the rain season. Usually women prepare that mixture a few weeks before and men provide with patch restoring. Yet in ancient times the toilets were on the ground floor therefore during the river's flooding all the excrements were also flooding on the towns streets for this reason decided to move their toilets to the second floor and it's interesting to notice that when the "tower containing the excrements is full, they break the base of the tower and put all the excrements in a pit and keep it there until it is completely dried and ready to become good, ecological fertilizer. He pointed the tiny canals on the middle of the street where the white (coming from the "showers" of the toilets)waters are collected before getting directly to the river. Again he showed us some of the many coranic school where pupils learn islamic precepts and some arabic sentences as well as a cemetery where died babies are buried. This cemetery takes place in the garden of a small old Mosque (before that the big mosque was built there were many small Mosques, one in each area of the town) and he pointed some pieces of paper or tissues, this is the way they use to mark their grave because they can not put any graveyard. This was quite strange because in Dakar and in Carabanne island I saw many gravestones on muslim cemeteries. Amadou brought us in a small compound where it happened a strange story; it seems that ib abciebt time there were many small villages beyond the river, these villages were always fighting among them so that when they decided to move together on the island asked to a sorcerer what they could do to bring good luck to this new settlement. Well he suggested to sacrifice the most beautiful, still virgin, single daughter of all the villages. Once the girl had been chosen, they built a small brick house around her and let her starve to death. Now he said you can get good luck praying inside the ruins of that house, Ale did it whereas I refused to join this sad macabre story. Then we went to terrace from where I could admire the huge marvellous Mosque because entrance is forbidden to non muslims (but if you give a money "cadeau"..)whereas Ale entered it. Finally we rushed to the local market which except a few interesting stalls (that selling Karitè butter or those selling handmade colanders and riddles) but in any case we missed the 13:00 bus to Bamako. We then headed to an open air  restaurant where I found the courage to taste some rice with a piece of fish, the meal was disappointing and I also was sorrounded by many kids-beggars (so many in Senegal too, often exploited by bad and dishonest Marabouts). After a few spoons I handed my bowl to one of those and in a fraction of a second the bowl disappeared and the kids were eating all thanking me. I really could not realize what exactly happened since the action was so fast. At 15:30 after quarrels, disagreements and bargains between the driver and some clients, packed like sardines in a can, we left the wonderful but too touristy town of Djennè.

giovedì 22 marzo 2012

Festival sur le Niger


After a few days in Bamako we decided to visit Segou to attend the Festival of African Music called "Festival sur le Niger" which is famous even abroad. Segou has nothing special to attract tourists and during these 4 days Festival accommodations are expensive and difficult to get. We arrived in the evening and after some quarrel with a stubborn local teacher who first tried to make us stay illegally in a local school dorm, we agreed with another teacher to stay in his tiny room for less than 10 euros. We got some help by a local friendgirl who took us to a dibiterie to have dinner with pieces of roasted goat, the quality was not good and in general while travelling in Mali we missed so much Senegalese delicious food. Once at the Festival's ticket counter I discovered that Malians, or better black skin french speaking, people could attend the 4 days Festival for an honest 10.000CFA (around 15,00 euro), toubab like me had to pay 20.000CFA EACH day....unless I could speak fluently Tamasheq, the language of the white skinned Touareg! The spectacle was good but not great. I liked so much the music of the Congolese (DRC) Lokua Kanza, I also liked the interesting instrumental music of Meiway especially the xhylophon but I didn't like at all the local Abdoulaye Diabatè. This last is considered a star in Mali and in West Africa, spectators were singing, shouting and deeply emotioned with him, well probably if I could understand his songs in Bambara I would also have loved him. At 1am it started the Open air disco but most of people decided to go out of the Festival area and enjoy the streets of Segu by night. No need to say that this was the moment I liked most, to walk around street vendors, to taste small cakes and to meet new friends from all around the world; a friendly and cute girl from Niamey (Niger)who were selling handmade brodery, 3 girls from Bamako who studied Law, a fat Malian guy who was eating with me at a street table talking about the small Terminus disco (the people who go there are at terminus too ehehe), a Libanese who run a minimarket and who has been living in Segu for 30 years. He told me that in Libanon there are 4 million inhabitants whereas abroad there are 14millions, most of them in Brazil and New York city. He liked a lot Malians as they are nice and friendly, but he added that Segu, apart from these 4 Festival days is a quite boring place to live.
The following day we spent the strolled around the Niger side, near the barge where the Festival takes place, we visited many different market stalls, some of them selling silver and leather wonderful Touareg handcraft, others selling excellent table clothes, jackets and batik realized with Bogolongs technic, typical of Mali, and finally we had a lovely conversation with 2 girls explaining to African women the many different option of contraceptives, reminding me that the huge number of wonderful kids I saw in Africa can be a problem for their family who often lack of financial means to feed and give them a good education. We then met 2 nice sisters of Bamako that we knew the night before and had a small brunch with them, it was really interesting to hear that their father was the first African student of the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris, that there still is the habit of Female clitoris excision in Mali and that they also have been subjected to it too and finally their decision to get virgin to their wedding ...once they would have met the man of their life!



martedì 13 marzo 2012

A lovely lady in Bamako


Finally we left Kenieba and after several hours of tiring bus travel we got to Bamako. The capital of Mali is a rather big city with a few interesting spots (National Museum was really good especially with a guided tour) and a good nightlife mainly concentrated on fridays and Saturdays. We checked the hotels on the city center, nice but too expensive for our budget, Hotel Comme Chez Soi was extremely beautiful and probably worth the 30.000-40.000CFA. We then had a good Cep bu Jen (rice with fish) at a Senegalese restaurant whose waitress, the daughter of the owner, was extremely cute. We found a cheap option over the Niger river at Badalabougou (it means "over the river" in bambara language) at Danaya Hotel whose staff was as shabby as it was the hotel: empty swimming pool, small restaurant closed, very few choice in their small but nice bar. However Mohamed, the manager, was quite fine and friendly even if a bit moody. However the hotel was in a very good position with many ATM's (we found just one BCIM where my VISA was working thanks God), internet points, a couple of discos and a score of colourful Maquis (open-air dance halls) with a score of young girls sadly waiting for clients, especially Toubab clients. Next to the Danaya we discovered a tiny restaurant run by a lovely Malian woman married with a Canadian man working for a dutch NOG. She prepared delicious and cheap meals attracting too many foreigners fed up with expensive bars and restaurants who serve low quality food in the area. During our meal she told us that she travelled and lived widely all western Africa with her husband noticing that most Africans think that all Toubabs (white tourists or residents) are rich if not very rich, it means that they try to "escroquer"to exploite or scrounge them as much as possible. She loved most the Burkina Faso inhabitants, mostly shy but sincerely interested in meeting new cultures. It sounded me interesting thus I wish I can visit this country soon. The lady also told us that the near fishermen village is crowded with so many lovely kids and just to show them to us opened a pack of biscuits and shouted something in bambara, in a few seconds there was a huge but ordered crowd of marvellous local kids, 2 of them were recently adopted by the lady after their mum suddenly died, she even showed us her still filled of milk breast!

sabato 10 marzo 2012

Kenieba the ugly



Have you ever heard of a town called Kenieba? No? Well I am not surprised at all because we had the bad luck to stumble on it while entering Mali. Kenieba is actually the first Malian town after the border with Senegal. We had the bad luck to stop there because there was no bus to Bamako until the following morning. 
Now the hard task to describe this town: a tiny fruit stall on the road, several motorbike garage and accessories shops(motorbikes are the most common mean of transport here), a small bank withouth ATM, 3 small restaurants, 2 mini market, a polluted steam which is a sort of local mosquitos "breeding oasis" and 3 small Auberge. We had lunch and dinner at the Falema Auberge cafeteria and I must recognize that the food was good and inexpensive, but the rooms absolutely overpriced, they asked us an outrageous 20000CFA(30 euro) for a very poor room without toilet and obviously we declined. We spent a long, hot and boring afternoon between the minimarket and the Bus station where we got friends with several friendly locals working at the Bus counter. They suggested us some Malian Highlights such as Djenne, Mopti and the Dogon villages, Gao and Kidal other than the famous Tomboctou. They also suggested that we spend the night by a couple of small Campement, cheap and where " you can enjoy some girls presence...". We headed there just to discover 2 shabby, dirty, gloomy small nigerian run 'Nigerians are a very bad reputation in West Africa) in accommodation where a score of "unattractive" professional women where having their poor lunch. The maitress shouted to force a client to exit the "toilet" and if we could be so crazy to sleep there this last disgusting show made us runaway fast. By the way there was no tap water in Kenieba during the last 3 days and we have been told that it is more uncommon when water is running. We resolved to accept our friends invitation to unroll a straw carpet, that they lent us, and sleep a la belle etoile until 5am, time of Bus departure.
Pity I could not sleep almost at all because the ferocious local mosquitoes were partying with my Toubab blood, because in the night other desperate travellers were joining us finding theyr place near my feet and because the waiting  square was strategically chosen just in front of the Bus Station toilet which means a continuous cloud of disgusting smells brought by the night breeze.
 That night I dreamed to be sleeping at the despiced town of Keidougou!

domenica 26 febbraio 2012

Bedick Village

On our way to Mali we met 2 French guys and a FrancoSenegalese woman (Julien, Guillaume and Amiko)travelling to Keidogou in order to visit a near Bedick village. We joined them in the shattering SeptPlace trip from Tambacounda to the Keidogou that I calle d"La Ville Pussiere" for its red sand roads that invade every side of this town. Early the morning, as usual, we spent more than 1hour trying to get the info about public transport to Ibel, every local try to make tourists and Toubab use expensice 4x4. Finally, after a coupple of hours waiting for the bus crew finishing their breakfast and loading every kind of items, we moved to Ibel. This is a small vialleg Poel inhabited by a mixed community of muslims and catholics, therefore the lovely kids aldo have catholic and muslims names. To our bigger surprise we started a difficult climb up to the 435m tall Bedick Village of Iwol, we all had an heavy backpack but step by step after 80 min of sweating we got to Iwol where Jean Baptiste welcomed all of us. He explained that Iwol is one of 7 catholic/animist villages of this region (the Bassari Villages are 40Km further toward Guinea Conakry border), its inhabited by 527 people coming from 4 different families whose one if the chief, the second take charge of clothes knitting and the last 2 organize festivals and ceremonies. JB took us around the small lovely village with its wonderful mud and straw huts, always followed by curious sweet kids with their interesting pigtailed hair, both femail and mail have it but in a different style. He took us to the small petrol powedered mill, to the tissues knitting open air laboratory, to the beautiful straw conical tatched church, to the biggest baobab of the region. We have then had a simple lunch made of rice and wallnutsauce. He explained that we had the great chance to assist that night to the circumcision of a score of kids, this ceremony is meant to introduce kids to their adult hard and full of resposibility life, or better after this ceremony the boys will have to spend 3 months in a sacred forrest along with a spiritual guide. From that moment they will be Bedick adults. We then had some rest in our mud huts, surprisingly able to kee a pleasant fresh temperature inside despite the strong sun of this afternoon. The bed were made of mud and bamboo branches, a bit hard for our civilized backs but even so, we were so tired that we took a good nap. As the night arrived, after a good, deeply wished, open air fresh shower, we headed to the lowland village ceremony where we were explained what was going on. Lets say that the families of the circumcised boys were receiving presents from the rest of the village, consisting of mile, corn grains and flour, gombo (made by baobab leaves)flour, palm wine and millet beer. then the procession moves between dances and songs from one  family to another, always carrying this gifts baskets, always bringing happines and smiles. In every stop males and females keep separeted , the women dancing and men sitting down, discussing and eating To (a kind of millet polenta) with Gombo. At one oclock I and Ale hurried to bed because we were really too shattered whereas the french guys, especially Julien, thanks to the Millet beer energy continued for other 2 or 3 hours. The following morning JB who has many important duties in the village(doctor, teacher, Public relations with visitors, part time priest)took care of my small infection as soon as he finished with a young woman affected by heavy chronical Malaria effects. I loved the time we spent among this nice people and really appreciated all the new things we learned but I should also say that the few tourists regularly coming here (the first Toubab arrived in the 1981) brought their negative effects like the continuous request for money or presents even if we already agreed with JB to give some good money, yet I guess that when there were no electrical lamps the circumcision ceremony, lighted by natural wood and resins would have been far more charming however this is the progress with its good and bad sideeffects. Before returning to Ibel, I dod needed a toilet, probably the night before To had a good lassative effect, thus, despite the very little inspiring toilet descriptions of my french pals, I ventured into the toilet fenced compound, removed the "famous"stone covering a hole on the ciment floor and discovered a world of disgusting but perfectly ecological tiny white worms waiting for my fecal contribution to the Bedick Soil.

giovedì 23 febbraio 2012

Cidade de Bissau

As we arrived from ilhas de Bijagos we decided to spend at least the Sunday night and the following monday in this small capital. We bargained hard a triple basic room at Hotel Tropicana for 20000CFA and Carlo had to sleep on the floor in his sleeping bag. Behind the hotel we found a lovelt Tropicana Restaurant where we had a very good grilled fish and salad at a reasonable price, althoough it took almost 1 hour to get our dish ready. To finish the night along with Colin and Marc we spiced the night up at the...Tropicana Club that in a few hours was copmletely full of young Bissau Guinean Boys and girls. This old style "Bandiera Gialla" balera, with open garden and grilled chicken sold inside, was a lovely surprise. Good music, happy dancing locals, a good spot for the night (I was told also of Samura and Bamboo Club) I tried to chat with some of these girls, nice but absolutely not as beautiful as Senegalese ones, but most of them were quite shy or maybe they did not speak Portuguese language but only Criollo. The following morning, after a good butter, marmelade and baguette breakfast we all headed to Bandim market, which was very simple, poor and nothing special to visit nor to buy. We also searched for a few postacrds of Bijagos islands or Bissau Capital, but after 1 hour strolling around the old-style beautiful colonial houses, we lost hope and energy but found nothing similar to postcards nor nespapers. We then celebrated our farewell with Carlo eating a good meal at a tiny food stall at Bissau Garagem, a ring to Erika, met on the boat, then left Bissau to return to Senegal with a strange feeling that make me wish to return here again. 

giovedì 9 febbraio 2012

Praia de Bruss e praia de Escadinha

We rented a 5000CFA mountainbike by the KasaAfrikana and crossed the path that lead to Praia de Bruss on the other side of the island. This beach is really huge, lonely, wild and inhabited by ferocious sandflies. As usual we had been to pay attention not to step on a resting stingray (peixearey in Criollo). I, carlo, Colin and Goran had the beach all for ourselves. Yet not less fine and interesting was the bike trip to get there, we crossed a handful of small villages, we stopped to greet kids, to talk with young boys who were too far from the "nightlife" of Bubaque, we took photographs and first of all we breathed deeply every single smell and heard every single sound that God gave us as a present through this wonderful forest, we do really loved this excursion that started with the smoke and the noise of the Dia de Limpeza which is a day per month when all the pupils and also some adults clean, cut, and burn stubble and dry grass to keep the roads clean.
As for praia de Escadinha, it's a smaller beach closed to the town where Carlo has been stung by a stingray. Probably he adventured to the mangrove lonely part of the beach however since that frantic afternoon (he had good luck that the local doctorwas on the beach and gave him a fast and effective antibiotic cure)we entered the water with fearsome feelings. However saturday and sunday afternoons this beautiful beach was lively crwded with families, kids and teenagers playing futebol on the beach, the girls too showed to be good players, especially the nice 16yo Carla

Ilha de Canhabaque

Canhabaque was the island we visited as our first excursion, no doubt it confirmed that unless you can spend a lot of money in fast private boats 'we could NOT), you have to rely on unreliable, cheap public pirogue transport which means long delays in the best cases and no exact timetable. That can be another great African feature;"take it easy and slow because there is no need and no point in rushing". We waited more than 3 hours for the pirogue coming with the right tide then slowly we approached to the big Canhabaque island, we left some passengers to the first beach just to discover later on that the first engine was gulping and suffering until it definitively "died". The crew then put the second engine but when they realized that it could expire in the same way suggested that we return to the second beach, we jumped down in a waist level seawater and brought slowly our backpacks in a marvellous crimson sunset sandy beach, just like a few lucky alives after a shipwreck.
But the adventure had just started, in fact we had to walk in Canhabaque forest under our tiny headlamps and under the great moonlight, for more than 1 hour. Finally we got to Ndiema village where Esteve, on his wheelchair, welcomed us and the food we brought him, prepared clean accommodations for us and for our english and French buddies and gave the rice and the canned mackerels (so disappointed that they do so little  fishing and agriculture here, the result is a potbely in almost all the younger kids, a bad nutrition result). We put our fleabags in small; dark, tented rooms provided with hardstraw mattress and a hole on the clay walls that let the fire heat enter in the rooms. As soon as we refreshed with a typical African shower made of water buckets, and just outside some small strange straw cages for the hens that I later discovered were the "fenced cages" that prevented the poor animals to be swallowed by one of the many pytons of this island.
As soon as we settled to have a chat with Esteve, one of the few portuguese speakers of Canhabaque, we had been surrounded, folded, invaded, pressed, merged, absorbed by a huge crowd of beautiful kids whose main goal was to have a look at the newcomers "brancos", to have a stroke, to touch their strange hair, to keep their hands, to show them their school, their lovely forest "disco", their natural coal process, their hability in forest rat hunting, their bitter-taste cola fruit harvest method. No privacy was left there and one of the english guy suffered it to the death, probably it was not easy at all to do everysingle gesture with all these wild children, but I do loved them. Some girls were even wearing their traditional tree bark miniskirts only and Esteve, half joking and half serious, offered us to arrange a wedding with one of the local girls...for me he suggested a sweety 4 yers old child, well at least I still have some more years of "celibataire3 travels ehehehe 

Chegando nas Ilhas Bijagos

After a long and heavy controlled border crossing we finally entered Guinea Bissau, one of the poorest country of all Africa. Despite its dark fame of being a narcostate, the brder policemen were friendly and fine. From now on I started to be the Portuguese official translator of our small group although too many locals can not speak other than Criollo, which is a strange mixture of "Portuguese and Sicilian" dialect. The road to Biassau was well paved but we had often to stop because of strange check point made of local policewomen handing a rode tied in a big tree on the other side of the road, they seemed to ask the driver for help and he quickly gave them a few coins. On the main check points there were lot of women and kids selling oranges, cakes "brazilian bolo"-like, wallnuts and water whereas the small vialleges we passed through seemed very simple and I did not see lot of shops nor markets. The ladscape was really beautiful, 2mtall grasslands were sorrounding the road, small lakes, rivers and dry swamps were intervalling patch of forested earth and considering that in this 2hours ride we crossed a handful of cars, I may say that GB, except the capital, remains one of the least polluted country I have ever been. As we arrived to Bissau, I realized that the few information I had of this small capital were right; accommodation is not cheap nor easy to find, yet there were some Hungarians came here by jeeps and many hotels were fully booked, after 1hr search we stumbled upon a shabby hotel room with no running water and a small bed for me and Ale, whereas Carlo unrolled his flea-bag on the floor. After a good churrasco dinner at Gran via (no need to say that it reminded me Brazilians churrascarias...que saudade) then we hurried to our room where we have been almost killed by strong humid heat and hungry Guinean mosquitos. At b5 o'clock we arrived in the darkness of Bissau commercial harbour and had the chance to catch a 15m wooden pirogue after it had loaded its ciment, beer, food, livestock and human cargo. We soon discovered that the pirogue staff had no ladder available, thus we all had to slide down a 2m rope, easier than it seemed but for sure an original way to get on a boat. The 4 hrs cruise was plain and quiet, I read a magazine, Carlo took a nap until a cock reminded us of his job at 8o'clock, and Ale suffered nervous every single minute until we got to Bubaque. No floating vest was provided on the boat and he can not swim...how to blame him?
As soon as we landed, we found a lovely, simple; cheap campement chez Titi who provided us with delicious fish dinners and good breakfast. By the way these islands are one of the last paradise of ocean fishing 4but Koreans, Americans and European technological ships already started the pillage of this sea with the local polititicians agreement) and at dusk the harbour of Bubaque is full of teenagers who can fish so many carps, thunas and pargos even with simple fishing lines. Of course the few luxury hotels organize expensive fishing cruises, but even when they catch huge 20kg barracudas it sounds me an impartial battle.
After a 10 days here I really started to appreciate a very slopace lifestyle, fine and lovely people, qt the beginning shy but really friendly. One of the very highlight of Bubaque was the many electrical black outs that from one side obliged us to keep almost disconnected from Internet and from 90% of communication duties and  hassles and on the other side once again gave us the oportunity to visit and walk around Bubaque lighted just by the moon light. Can you imagine it? I could not before I came to Africa, in Italy I am so used to public lights that it was a kind of magic to be roofed by a brilliant sparkling rain of stars sometimes surrounded by clouds prairies. Yet it was so nice to walk around sheeps, goats, pigs and cows whose shape could just be guessed under the moonlight exactly as it happened at Barrio Caracol where some groups of local youngsters were talking, dancing or getting drunk by palmwine at the darkness of the nights. No point in saying that I would have loved to spend more time there and to pick up some Criollo language, however I am glad to have been able to get there and hope that this paradise wont be destroyed too fast.

martedì 7 febbraio 2012

Wilderness in Casamance

After the night spent in Oussouye we get to Mlomb to buy some fruit then we got to Elinkine, a small fishermen village that seemed nothing special but for sure is the last place where we could use our mobile phone. We bargained hard to have a 5000CFA pirogue trip to Cachouanne. We stayed by Chez Koukoy, a cheap campement just in front of a quiet, wild qnd desert beach that was the perfect starting point for our excursions to the Village of Djembere (it took 4 hours of hours walking in a sandy path each way), to the "Calypso mood" island of Carabanne and to the fishgermen island of Diogue where we bought some huge fishes to be grilled. The atmosphere at Cachouanne was so relaxing and quiet that we spent there a few days more regretting not to be able to stay longer. I can not forget the heavily starred sky nor the cool air and the crimson dawn that used to be my yoga session favourite time. The evening was the right moment to talk with the boys and the old men of the village as well as our campement chef was absolutely great. I do hope I can come back here next year in order to visit Cape Saint Gerorge and Kafountine region that are believed to be just amazing, however I can not forget how lovely and delighted were an old farmer and the meusinier of Djembere when I, Ale and Carlo approached to them in order to understand a bit how the life is in their village. On the way back we almost got lost but a nice young woman stopped her fire wood search to help us and to lead us for several Km greeting us and thanking us for a small coin given with a djiola formula that can be translated in "get home in peace". 

giovedì 26 gennaio 2012

Casamance

Last night we strolled around the small harbour of Ziguinchor, a lovely sunset with a quiet nature, birds busy with fishing activities and along with Ale, Carlo 2 Swiss guys and his friend Pascal we had an interesting talk about African geopolitics. He is a really professional and uptodated guy and told us that countries have no friends, just interests as well as we can be friends as far as on the table there is a good cake we can share. With these simple but effective sentences he explained us the hard but hopeful situation of Liberia and the strage colonization of West Sahara by the Spaiards before, by Morocco now.
While talking the sky was a trhrilling reservoir of shining stars and our restaurant floor was made of shells, a lovely African night in oher words.
This morning we got up early enough to be taken to the Guine Bissau Consulate by a friend (there was a taxi strike), and with my big surprise, the nice counselor sticked the GB Visa in my passport in 5 minutes at the reasonable price of 15000CFA. Now Lets see if these Ilhas Bijagos are as beautiful as it is said.
We finally set off to Oussouye, 35km from Ziguinchor, we stayed in a typical, fresh, mudmade campement for the tiny amount of 3000CFA, then we started to visit this hamlet inhabited by Djiola ethnic who is considered along with Sere one of the friendliest and most hospitable; e had an interesting talk with several french who dcided to live here the most part of the year with their African woman and kids. Then we just walked around the village to discover a wonderful landascape of ricefields, mangroves, branch of marsh water crossed by handmade canoes, too many birds extremely able in fishing and almost everywhere zebu and pigs, we dropped by the Bolongs Campement where we relaxed on their hammocks sipping cold ginger drinks. Here too we met  nice old frenchmen who gave us some more tips about our next canoe excursions, its just a pity we are hurrying too much despite this is no doubt the most beautiful part of Senegal I have visited so far. 

martedì 24 gennaio 2012

Chasing the Malian Embassy

This morning we got up early in order to get the Visa of Mali since we thought that Guinea Bissau requires lot of time to vsit the Bijagos islands whereas we have good contacts in Bamako and in another village.We got off the taxi and immediately started our search realizig mmediately that it woud have not been an easy task. Almost everyone seemed to know more or less where te embassy was: go there, ask here, go near the Sierra Leone embassy, enter that palace, look up searching Malian fag.... and many more suggestions that adter & hur gave not result. Finally an old alian man dropped in a garage where there was a bus servce to Mali, he explained that there was no more embassy in Banjul and that he was doing a kind of walking Consulate service, collecting passports to give to the embassador coming from Dakar twice a week from Dakar, obviously we decided to get my passport stamped in Dakar or directly on the border. At 11 Lamin gave us a lift to the Sept Place garage and fro tere we got in 45min at te border with Senegal. Everyting was fine but almost everyone on the car started to pray his God asking to protect us.... we were entering a very tough zone of Casamance guerrilla zone, we all knew of it. Despite it took us more tan 2 hours to do the 90km until Ziguinchor, we got there shattered but safe. We had to drop off the car, show our passport and eventually pen our bag not less than 6 or 7 times, not to talk of the many garrisons, checkpoints and trenchs on the route. This is not just because of Casamance insugency t also because we were in a very strategic position with weapons and drug illecit traffic entering Senegal through the narcostate Guinea Bissau. However the landscape was great, lot of lakes and huge rivers, many mangrove plantations, everywhere a lush green and a fresh air. Ziguinchor revealed to be a pleasant, quiet, inexpensive and friendly town and as a prize for the tiring trip, last night we had the inspiration to go to the Alliance Franco-Senegalaise that organized a marvellous concert called Berimbaobab. As you can imagine it was a "melange" of Brazilian (especially from Joao Pessoa and Maranhao regions) and African music and cultures, a return the Brazilan origins of the slaves coming from Africa, a wonderful mix of dances, percussions, sweet guitar Bossa Nova style and trumpets and Djembe. The rythm was so powerful that finally even the old African guardian, even the students come there climbed the stage and started to dance wildely, such a great night. Africa I a loving you.

domenica 22 gennaio 2012

Wow Gambia

yesterday we visited Banjul, the small capital where the Govern house is located. As usual there were lot of soldiers around and some of them were controlling the download of soybean oil containers, later I discovered that strangely enough Gambia has abandoned to use and produce the peanut or sunflower oil. If Senegal is producing very very little of what it uses, Gambia is at the nearly nothing level despite it has a very green and fertile soil (for example we bought Morocco mandarin at 3 euro per kilo, which is much more expensive than in Italy)where we can see lot of cabbage, salad and other vegetable to be cultivated. As soon as we dropped off the van a young Gambian guy, Alpha, approached us and asked us to be our official guide, well despite I was quite suspicious, I understood that once more Ale took the right decision in letting him help us for little money and the promise of some more future clients. He showed us the little market, the colourful fruit and vegetables stalls, the awful smelling meat rooms (I would dare you eating meat coming from here..), the few small fishes. He was really brave to bargain, convince and sometimes help me steal some good shots during our visit. Especially I enjoyed the sight of the many fishes salt-dried on the beach and mainly ready to be sold in Ghana where they are a national meal. We met fishermen repairing or building new boats, other sewing new nets and finally we got into the smoking beach where lot of medium size fishes were processed (boiled, cleaned, scales removed and smoked) in order to become smoked fish ready to be sold on the street or sold abroad. The place seemed a dark, smoky and rusty colonial factory the beach. Everybody seemed to know and respect our guide but even so we had to be fast with these poor people who were doing a very tiring job for very little money. We finished our visit with a decent meal (food is not a topic in Gambia in my opinion)in a Libanese restaurant.WE returned to Lamin house and had a cold shower and a couple of hours relax, talked with Lamin and some friends who all had voted for the president although noone of them seemed to like the economical situation of their country. Eating, transport, services are quite expensive in Gambia and are tailored with the Tourists needs. In other words tourism seems to be the only part of Gambian economy that works quite well. The night we went to Senegambia where we entered Tottis and then Wow disco. I enjoyed a lot the loud music and the mix of people inside. There was a incredible number of Afrina girls inside and soon I discovered that most of them were coming from Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Ghana (a kind of language brotherhood allow them to have a try in Gambia) but also from The French Guinea. All of them smoking, drinking and searching for..a good client. There were also lot of African men dressed in a rasta or rapper style, enjoying the music or searching also for their chance to a better life in fact I was not the only Toubab inside. I am not a psotitute fan but I do love the energy and the variety of these places, I spent the evening chatting with Maria, a lovely 24yo Gambian girl, who worked in a Coiffeuse Salon and spending the night in the hope to meet her Blue Prince.She was extremely disappointed when we announced her we were going to bed but I promised I would have called her the following day. During the evening there were several gulf of cold winds, as the previous night and I could not understand how was it possible to suffer from cold weather in West Africa. Maybe 18 degrees can sound as a ridicoulous cold but when the temperature drops of 6-8 degrees in a few hours you do feel it really unconfortable. The tin roof and doors of Lamin house (no glass in its windows) gave us small protection and although I was sleeping wearing shorts, shirt and socks, once more I woke up with a freezing feeling.  Cold in West Africa...my God!
Getting connected in Gambia requires  an Inshallah pray more than technical trust, considering that not so rarely part of this country are without electricity, without any explanation or advance planning.

sabato 21 gennaio 2012

Travelling into the Gambia

WE spent one extra day in Dakar in order to rest a little after our continuous rush among Dakar, Kaolak and Touba, then on thuersday morning we left early in the morning toward kaolak. It was not so easy to find the station of the departures to kaolak because the Bus service to casamance and Gambia was temporarely suspended due to some independentist assaults, however finally we got on the "Sept Place" wichi is a very old station wagon that has been modified in order to let 7 passengers travel unconfortably. Before leaving the driver did his prayers and despite the awful road until Fatick, despite the goats, the cows, despite some crazy overtakes toward crazy motodriver, Inshallah we arrived shattered in Kaolak where we decided to stop one day by Ale family in order to restore and to catch the fisrt boat to Banjul. We spent in a lazy way the hot afternoon in Kaolak trying to have a bath in the Kundham branch of sea but the sea level was too low, such a pity because last time although the water is really really salthy, I enjoyed its freezing waters. In the night all the pubs and discos would have been desert thus we prefered to go to bed early.
The crossing of the Senegal-Gambia borderr was fine but as usual we have been assaulted by moneychangers, 3 strong women who sent Ale in a total confusion making us a horrible exchange rate, however no problem. The boat was old, rusty and filthy but anyway filled with any kind of people, truck and animals. The heat was really strong and there was very little shelthering option however I took some nice photos (a gambian policeman asked me who had I been given the authority to take them...anyway as soon as I excused me he disappeared, probably he just needed to affirm his power)and to chat with a fine tall gambian girl who was just coming to visit her siuster in Serakounda. Finally we got in Bakau where we have been hosted by Ales friend Lamin, an artist, or better a genious of traditional music instruments carving. He continued the tradition started from his father and I am always ecstasieted by his ability to build Djembe, Lakora and Xilhophones. His house is a small, simple, clean and friendly apartment connected with his relatives small apartments so that every time in its courtyard there is a noisy and happy sound of women doing their houseduties and kids playing and shoutings. The toilets are openair so that while showering by a bucket I can enjoy the marvellous sightsee of the stars or of the blue sky.