This was what we had all been waiting for – the trip into
the vast delta of the two Senegalese rivers, the Sine and the Saloum. Travelling
to exotic locations like Western Sahara and
Dakar (the port capital of
Senegal) was all
very exciting, but our few days in the delta promised much, much more. The delta
supports a few isolated villages which subsist on fishing but the marshlands and
mangrove swamps are stuffed full of birds, plants and wildlife – a naturalist’s
cornucopia – and I had the naturalist on board.
With tears in their eyes, Tom and Lawrence left for the
airport on Friday evening. Just as well
Lawrence was leaving. He had been on
the boat for a full month (it had seemed like a full year) and we were becoming
uncomfortably like a married couple – certainly the nagging was familiar.
In flies Colin, brim full of bullshit and wisdom, to take
over the role of devoted and hard-working crew member (I do wish the other rally
members wouldn’t say things like “Hi Colin, so you’re the next victim are you?
And how long will you be lasting?”). His infinite talents include demon
bird-spotting and he and Sine-Saloum delta are a partnership made in
But before he made it to this twitchers’ paradise, he had
to make it from the airport to the hotel that was hosting the rally’s stay in
Dakar. I had emailed him saying that
it might be possible for me to arrange the hotel shuttle to pick him up. This
was not the case, so I texted him with instructions on how to get a taxi. The
text never got through – sadly. As he entered the arrivals hall, a young
Senegalese gent beckoned him enthusiastically.
“ I have been sent to collect you”, said the young man,
“What is your name?”
“Yes, yes, Colin Andrews, that’s right. The hotel has
sent me. Now, you will need some currency. I will arrange to change it for you.”
The transaction was carried out before Colin’s eyes to
see fair play. Colin assumed that his £50 was being changed by a bloke standing
by a pillar with a large wad of notes in his hand, rather than at one of the
foreign exchange booths, to achieve a better rate of exchange on his behalf.
Colin was grateful to have such a
thoughtful guide and mentor looking after his interests.
Colin’s new best friend took him to a taxi and they both
got in. Due to an uncharacteristic lapse, Colin had forgotten to bring a note of
the name of the hotel. What luck he had been collected!
“Remind me”, said Colin after they had been driving for
some time, “what is the name of the hotel we are going to?”
“I’m not sure” said the personable young man “they just
called me and told me to collect you”. By now, the slightest alarm bells were
beginning to ring. After driving into town through roads that looked like they
had recently been shelled by Americans, and through a process of elimination,
they arrived at the hotel an hour later. Colin was told that the taxi fare was
10,000 local Francs – quite a chunk out of the 16,600 he had got for his £50
(doubtless the honest currency dealer had had a momentary lapse as it should
have been about 75,000 francs). Then, having deposited Colin at the
hotel, his guide told him that the fee for his valuable services would amount to
a further 10,000. Colin was now beginning to smell a rat, and gave him only
5,000 (he only had 6,000 francs left anyway). The coup de grace of this budding
entrepreneur was to take 5,000 off me saying that Colin hadn’t been able to pay
him anything. So, Colin’s taxi trip had cost him one hour and £50 for what
should have been 20 minutes and about £5. Welcome to
Meanwhile, I had spent all day getting my water-maker
fixed and waiting for my repaired cruising chute to be delivered. The
water-maker motor was delivered back to the boat at and, joy upon joy, I started to replenish the
seriously depleted fresh water tanks. 2 ½ hours later it stopped again. The
electrician was called again, re-fixed it but told me it should only be run for
an hour at a time because it would get too hot (it was designed to run, and had
been run for many years, in an incredibly hot engine room??).
The following morning we set off 60 miles southsou’east
to the Sine-Saloum delta. Two hours into the passage and the water maker motor
packed up again. It was going to be a hot, sweaty and largely unwashed stay in
the delta. The entrance to the delta used to lie at the bottom of a very long
peninsula. In 1987 there was an incredible storm. The tempestuous seas burst
through the middle of the narrow peninsula, destroying a village with great loss
of life and leaving the bottom end of the peninsula an island, separated from
the mainland by a narrow passage. The fleet rendezvoused off the entrance to the
passage and were led through by a pirogue, one of the long, narrow, wooden boats
used by the local fishermen. We anchored off the small fishing
Early the next day all the rally crews assembled on the
beach. Being Sunday, we were going to church. The previous afternoon, I had
taken Colin by dinghy round the fleet to introduce him to our friends.
Thoughtfully, he had brought from the
UK a number of
(rather superior) poppies for Remembrance Day and had been able to give one to
each of the British boats. A fleet of pirogues had been pulled up on the beach.
We all piled in and off we went up river to a small settlement where we
disembarked and clambered on to pony carts and went a further two miles to a
small village with a Catholic church to attend an African Mass. The African
hymns sung by the large church choir, accompanied by the Senegalese Djumbo drums
were hauntingly beautiful. The church was packed with the village
congregation.The village is
indescribably poor with large families living in tiny thatched shacks. Yet they
all turned out for church in their immaculately clean, ironed and vibrantly
colourful Sunday best. At the
British contingent went through our traditional two minutes of reflective
thought for the fallen of the world’s wars, including the many Sengalese
soldiers who had died in the service of
whole service was a wonderful and deeply moving experience.
To judge the people of
Senegal by the
standards of the sharp, greedy vultures of
Dakar would be a gross injustice.
The village people were very inquisitive and warmly friendly. Speaking in
French, they wanted to know our names, where we lived, had we all arrived by
boat etc. Equally they were keen to answer our questions about them and their
way of life.
In the middle of the village stood a tall drum made from
the trunk of a tree and tightly covered with a goat skin. This was the village
tom-tom and is the only means of communicating with the outside world. Only the
village elders have the right to use it and the children are not even allowed to
touch it. When someone dies or there is a fire, or some other emergency, the
tom-tom is used to communicate with the next village 12 kilometers away. The
next village would then pass the message on to the next village and so on.
We stopped for a while under two large trees, one a
Fromage tree from which the tom-toms are made, the other a Boab tree. Their
trunks had intertwined. They were sacred to the villagers, representing the
unity of the community’s two religions – Islam and Christianity.
The villagers loved photographs being taken of them and
looking at the results on the camera screen. The children were a particular
delight, running along beside us, and holding our hands as we walked through the
village. Inquisitive about our poppies, it wasn’t long before they were
complementing the intricately plaited hair of the girl children. The Senegalese
are tall, slim and high cheek-boned and they walk with a long gait, ramrod
straight. Whilst being desperately poor, the rivers abound with fish and shell
food so they don’t go hungry. The overall impression was of a handsome
dignified, and largely content community.
On our return we walked round the
Djifer which is strung along the
peninsula opposite our anchorage. This community lives entirely off the fishing
in the river and out to sea. The shore was lined with pirogues in varying states
of disrepair in which they go up to 20 miles offshore with nets, lines or
lobster pots. Behind the line of pirogues were stageings covered with fishing
nets on which lay serried ranks of salted fish drying in the tropical sun. Once
cured, these fish are taken on donkey carts to markets as far away as
Dakar to be sold. There were also
great boxes of sea snails, shell fish and oysters (which grow in abundance on
the submerged roots of the mangroves by the riverside). The impressive smell was
reminiscent of the fishing villages in the
they too lived from dried and salt-cured fish. Further back from the beach were
enormous piles of discarded shells. These are left to completely dry out and are
then crushed into calcium powder used to make cement bricks for building their
This is the real
Senegal, not the
sanitised tourist holiday lodges that most visitors see, with their generator
powered air-conditioning and orchestrated tourist experiences.To see the dire conditions in which
these delightful people live, and their lack of resources, has been an
eye-opening and truly humbling experience.