I arrived in Dakar, late on a Saturday night—actually I should say early Sunday morning and woke to my alarm a few hours later as I didn’t want to miss the Mass at the Kerr Moussa Monastery. They incorporate a native musical instrument, the cora, a stringed guitar-like instrument, and drums into the Mass. The music was quite exotic and was well worth hearing. After Mass I bought some note cards to use as Christmas cards, which were copies of their altar paintings.
Dakar is rather seedy-looking—not better than when I was here five years ago, and maybe a little worse. I had a nice lunch of tagine d’agneau (lamb stew), with pommes frits and good French bread. Later I had a beer on the 16th floor of the Independence Hotel and when I was exiting the hotel the presidential cavalcade went by.
The next day I left the hotel at 6:00 A.M. by taxi to go to the Pompidou Station where I got a taxi browse for Banjul, The Gambia. The ‘dispatcher’ and I got into an argument as he was charging me a much higher price than he was charging the locals. When I took a couple of pictures with flash as it was still quite dark, he had a fit and grabbed my camera. Then I had a fit and he let go of my camera but wouldn’t give me my change. In the end it all worked out—he even gave me a smile after I gave him one—and I was off to Banjul.
We drove for five hours, going through three custom check points until we arrived in Barra, where I waited two hours for a ferry to cross the water to Banjul, a small, lively town that is the capital of The Gambia. Finally I got to my hotel, showered and ate.
The next morning I toured the museum—very interesting, but limited, although Queen Elizabeth figured prominently—and stopped in at the Anglican Cathedral, which was unremarkable. I went on to the market and shopped ‘til I (nearly) dropped, buying a mask, salad set and bowl, five caftans for my friends, a hat for the sun, two fertility dolls and a couple of beers. It was really hot.
Wednesday I left my hotel early to take a two-day tour up the Gambia River. We started by bus, rolling alongside the river. We saw a Ground Hornbill, which is a giant bird, and monkeys as well as Marabou Storks, Giant egrets, Vultures and Pied Kingfishers.
We crossed the river on a ferry to Georgetown, a tiny dilapidated nearly-ghost town to Camp Janganbush, where we had a hibiscus welcome drink and a buffet lunch.
Our group visited a farmer in his peanut field—they call them groundnuts—and then we saw the Stones of Wassau. These are circles of large stones, which are iron laterite, and are very old—some say 2,000 years, some say 1,000. There are many such circles in Africa, but none are found south of the River Gambia. We pushed on to visit a charming Fulani family compound. A man, his two wives, his brother and wife and about eight children lived there.
We returned to Janganbush Camp for a big buffet dinner with couscous, spaghetti Bolognesa, domadah (beef stew with peanut sauce, which they call ‘mafe’ in Senegal) veggies and bananas flambé! Neighborhood women sang and danced, accompanied by great drumming.
In the morning we had tea (this was a British colony at one time) and then went birding—a first for me! Our guide, Buba, pointed out at least two-dozen birds and we also saw some baboons. My favorite, besides the huge Ground Hornbill which we had seen the day before, was the turquoise-colored Abbisynian Roller, which I happened to spot and point out to Buba for him to identify. I never knew birding could be so much fun!
After breakfast, we went by boat down the River Gambia for about four hours. We had a good lunch of curried duck along with the local beer, Julbrew; then we boarded a bus for the ride back to Banjul. We stopped along the way to observe the cotton harvest
and we visited Buba’s village, Bulock, where we met his two sisters and a niece and nephew. Their wonderful garden contained cassava, gourds, watermelon, and hibiscus. At the last stop, the bus wouldn’t start again. After a pause, we were picked up by another tour bus and taken into Banjul.
Unfortunately I had an unwelcome visitor in the night—a stomach problem. Well, come to think of it, there was no refrigeration on that boat, and the duck had a lovely sauce of which I had a second helping—probably teeming with bacteria. Actually since we boarded the boat very early, it was probably cooked the evening before so there was ample time for the bacteria to grow in that hot, humid climate. So I had an R and R day, spending the time reading and swimming for a bit in the pool. I had made arrangements to go fishing today, but didn’t feel up to it, so I just rested. I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow.