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Rick tells me I can’t use the words ‘c**k s*cker’ in a blog post

Niokola Koba Park to Ziguinchor

We leave our lovely night in the park with the river and birds and baboons and the aromatic scent of leaves. Our truck is a sight – bamboo, broken branches and leaves jut haphazardly out of any crevice it was possible to jam into – the roof tent, the propane tank, side mirrors, windshield wipers. At the next police stop the guard looks at us incredulously – where on earth have you been he asks. Not wanting to admit to sleeping in the park and being where we shouldn’t, I stammer eloquently, “Um, for a drive?” This seems to satisfy him and laughing, he waves us on.

There are watermelons ad infinitum here, piled up at roadside stalls, even growing on vines on people’s roofs. Rick buys a melon only to find it is flowery inside. But no matter, it’s just $0.60.

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Now onto our new mission, Guinea Bissau! This should not be confused with Guinea (“Guinea-Conakry”), Equatorial Guinea, or Papua New Guinea. I am very excited about Guinea Bissau because hardly anyone has heard of it, it has only 1.6mm people, and has the dubious reputation of not having a single president complete a full 5 year term in the last 40 years, most having been assassinated. Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and has absolutely no electricity infrastructure, even in the capital and state buildings. Those few people that do have power use solar or generators. Guinea Bissau also holds the title of having one of the longest lead times in the world to register a new business, 33 weeks on average, second in lengthiness after Suriname. It has been called a narco-state, due to officials willingness to overlook drug trafficking. Needless to say, all these fun facts are like bait on a fishhook.

But first, to get out of Senegal. We’d had the opportunity to visit Laurent and Fatima when we were in Saly, right after we’d spent the afternoon being taken by Arona and gang. Coincidentally they lived within 15 minutes of where we were. Laurent’s living accommodations were a surprise to us. In a beautiful compound, his house was half inside (the bedrooms and bathroom) and half outside (living, dining, kitchen complete with gas grill and rotisserie). The terracotta tiled outside was covered with children’s toys (his son and daughter both beautiful) and shaded with a high cover (rain unlikely). It was extremely pleasant. Laurent himself was the one that seemed less than impressed, saying it was cookie-cutter, and that there were too many houses in the compound, all filled with French people aged 60+ (I think Laurent is in his mid-40s). This was true. We saw many groups of wrinkled, reddened bodies, all playing botche (sp) ball, unabashedly shirtless and sagging, and why not, accompanied by unhappy looking wives, or more likely just deep frowns a result of squinting in the sun, artificially aging them. For how much do they have to be unhappy about in their closed, perfect community, not working for three months, or perhaps all, of the year.

But anyway, one of the Frenchmen, he tells us ‘don’t go to Guinea Bissau, the drive through Casamance (in southern Senegal) is very dangerous, there are rebels fighting there’. Fighting for independence I think. We heard this a lot, outdated facts from people that had never been to the places they claim are so risky and who were months, often years, behind on current events. Sick of being told how unsafe everything is we decided to ignore the warnings and soldier on, telling ourselves we’d stick to major highways.

By now you know this is rubbish. 1. There are no major highways – the African definition of a highway is akin to a fire trail lain with craters on a good day, 2. It never takes us long to completely ignore our best laid plans.

We find a surprisingly decent auberge to stay in Velingara, a place in the middle of nowhere (not even registering on Trip Advisor) between Niokola Koba Park and Ziguinchor, the latter being in very southern Senegal where we needed to get visas for Guinea Bissau. One of the first things they asked us at the auberge was if we had a 12mm socket ratchet and extension (yes, Rick is making me write this bit). It was near the exact same position we’d been in in Morocco a month ago, so it was nice to be able to help out – the language of auto mechanics is universal (except, it seems, in India). The auberge was called Lew Lewal (Moonlight Camp) run by a Senegalese man called Demba. He spoke a little English and with the help of google translate (Internet!) we approximated a conversation. He lamented the lack of work effort and forethought of the Senegalese people in his village. He himself had planted 43 mango trees (unfortunately not in season) and built the auberge with several cute little huts himself. But he says, the villagers, they come here and they don’t ask, ‘how did you do this, how can I do this too?’; rather they say ‘give me a mango, I am hungry’. Demba used to work in France, so had gotten a taste of a different life, but decided to return to Africa because the French culture, like ours, was all work-work-work-money-money-money. So, even though life was harder for him in Senegal, he was also happier and more relaxed. Demba told us that the highway we’d intended to take was full of road works and very, very slow. He showed us a ‘short-cut’, so of course, we immediately dropped our common sense plan and followed his instructions.

There is absolutely NO way the route we took could have been quicker than the highway-in-progress. At times the road vanished into what looked like half a farm track and we had to ask villagers if we were going in the correct direction. Once the road even led us into a chicken coup. Yes, that frightened a few chickens and several children out of their wits. But, the wonderful benefit of this backwater route was that most people seemed not to have seen foreigners before, because not once did we get asked for a cadeau. We did see the strange sight of about 8 small children, all in identical cream colored robes, standing in a straight line on the side of the road, heads down, supervised by an older man. We couldn’t figure out what this meant until further down the road, another group of children lined up, in the same cream robes, had heads down but hands cupped out. We think they were apprentice beggars. And then even further on, same line of children, heads down, hands cupped out, but this time their cream robes had peaked hoods. Maybe graduation ceremony for completing beggar academy?

Just when I was about to think that maybe Senegal wasn’t such a bad place after all, we enter Ziguinchor on a paved brick road with sunken holes where the ground had melted from underneath, a swamp so high it nearly overtook the path (and did in fact, on our way out), lined with mangroves, my most hated plant. The mangroves should have been a sign of bad things to come, because just then a policeman pulls us over. The usual BS pleasantries exchanged he proceeds to find absolutely nothing wrong with our car, then comes up with the utterly rubbish infraction that tinted windows aren’t allowed in Senegal. This has got to be the biggest load of crap ever, because every other vehicle has tinted windows. In the US it is actually illegal to have dark black windows, but our car just has your regular run of the mill light brown hue. I was irate! Everyone has consistently complained about the lack of tourists here, but then someone who is supposed to be acting as a representative of Senegal either makes up bogus charges or picks us out of a line-up because we look foreign. He told us we needed to go to the commissariat to pay or that we could just pay him. At first he said it was 6,000 CFA but then seeing we only had 10,000, upped the charge to 7,000 CFA. I was suspicious as to whether we’d receive any change at all, but he threw us back three 1,000 CFA notes scrunched into little balls. I asked him for a copy of the ticket but he said no, this was our ‘arrangement’ for us not having to go to the commissariat. Oh, “arrangement” I said, my voice dripping with as much sarcasm as is possible to squeeze into a single word. Of course, this was completely lost on him. I wanted to tell him that his behavior was shocking and that in Mauritania, though we were stopped on over thirty occasions, not once were we asked for a bribe or given any false infractions and that as an officer of the law he should act more honorably. But, fortunately my French wasn’t that good so I had to settle with “thank you so much, you’ve been very helpful kind sir” and he couldn’t possibly have missed the derision in that. I had many expletives for that horrible man in the next half hour, but Rick tells me I can’t use the words ‘c**k s*cker’ in a blog post.

My advice: Don’t vacation in SenegalP1030599.jpg

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