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 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.