The Ferry to Casamance, Senegal
The ferry pulled into the dock at Zigunichor at 11 a.m., an hour after it was scheduled to arrive. We had been on the Casamance river since 8 and up since 5:30 to watch a sunrise that never materialized from the haze. The 15 hour boat ride was actually quite pleasant all things considered. Our 4th bunkmate, much like the sun never came around so we were 3 people in a 4-person cabin with a private bath and 4 cupboards big enough to store our backpacks and then some. The shower on the boat we the nicest and hottest we’ve encountered in Senegal yet with a hose that stayed attached to the wall and good pressure.
Some of the passengers who opted for lower class tickets in airplane style seats on story 2 and 3 took to sleeping al fresco on the benches on the decks or simply on the decks themselves. They brought blankets and bamboo mats. Clearly this isn’t their first rodeo. This boat replaced one that sank in 2002 killing 1,863 of the 2000 passengers on board and spurring maritime reforms in Senegal including mandating life vests for everyone aboard a boat.
Chris and Megan went back below deck after the lack luster sunrise. I read my book and chatted with Helen and her 6- year-old-son who likes the stickers on my water bottle. They’re Swedish but Helen’s husband is originally from Senegal and they’re here on summer holiday. She’s an art teacher but her husband doesn’t finish work until July. They don’t speak French so they’re accompanied by Helen’s brother-in-law who looks just like her husband did when she met him.
Our floor had a small restaurant and we had chicken for dinner the night before. All of the menus are variation of the same. Yassa chicken or fish or sometimes beef (with an onion sauce,) Maffa Chicken or fish or sometimes beef (with peanut sauce), grilled fish or chicken, a variety of salads, beer, fruit juice and soda and some type of dessert. Mains come with rice, fries or plantains and the meat is usually dry. The majority of Senegalese are Muslim and many don’t drink alcohol. The cocktails on the menu can range in strength and quality greatly.
By 10 p.m. we were just getting dessert and the wait staff had cleared every other table and brought our check. Our waiter said they were closed and he had to go. I don’t know exactly where he had to go considering we were on a boat in the Atlantic, but we obliged, paid and left.
Since we carried on our packs, we didn’t have to wait in the holding area for the luggage to come off the boat when it docked in Zigunichor. The luggage was stored in a giant wire bin on wheels and rolled out of the car storage area of the ferry. Watching the dock workers tie up the huge boat with nothing more than 4 long ropes attached to giant metal Ts cemented into the dock was a sight to behold. Our Guide Paco (somehow short for Mohammad, the number one male name in the world and certainly the most popular male name in Senegal) was waiting for us at the dock when we arrived.
We dropped off our stuff at Casa Motel, a three-story accommodation built by a French national named Jaques who makes his own bissah (flower), mango, grapefruit and banana jams from fruits in his garden. We have two rooms which means for the first time on this trip I get a big bed. It’s hot, the ceiling fan offers some relief but there’s no AC so I don’t even crawl under the covers. We had to ask several times for mosquito nets to be installed over the beds. The employee at check in said it was the dry season and there were no mosquitos but I killed 7 before, during and after my shower. I think they lived in the drain.
Paco and a representative of the NGO travel agency he works for, Casamance au Présent, came to the hotel at 7 p.m. to discuss the contract and payment. They had arranged our boat, our flight back and 4 days of cultural activities in the region. The don’t take credit cards or checks and we were leery of the Western Union fees when they suggested we use the service. Instead, between the three of us and two ATMs we withdrew cash to cover this portion of the trip and counted our 10,000 CFA notes (about $17) on Chris and Megan’s bed to make our payment once we arrived. They were accommodating of us, but it certainly made me grateful for online payments, credit cards and bank transfers.