Regina G Beach

The only constant is change.

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Village Life

Our driver is Samba, the same driver who picked us up from the ferry dock and brought us to the hotel and showed us the calabass fruit. HIs station wagon is cramped with he and Paco in the front and Chris, Megan and I in the back seat. We’re going to Samba’s village to experience every day life in Casamance. 

The drive is dusty with divets every so often in the road where the rainwater will drain when the rains finally come. There are also speed humps translated as “donkey’s back” in French. There are more Christians down here and Paco tells us there is only one god so the Christians, Muslims and Animists get along just find and respect each other’s traditions and share what little they have. 

Cesar is the pet monkey.

Cesar is the pet monkey.

The village, Agnack has 700 inhabitants, several schools with kids on summer break, several mosques and a small church that looks like it hasn’t been used in quiet a while. None of the roads are paved and families are mostly gathered outside their cinderblock houses with thatched roofs. 

We find our later that the house we are visiting is the family of the husband of the French woman who runs the NGO Casamance a Provance.  Everyone is related here. The cook in the hostel in Dakar walked us to the canoes to go to Ile N’gor and had his friend pick us up to take us to his restaurant. Our driver to Lake Reba bypassed two other tour companies to hand us to his friend’s jeep and boat tour. Senegal runs on kickbacks and relationship building. Everyone has a cousin or a brother who can help us. Social currency matters more than income in a poor country with few options. 

The children run up to us and shake our hands when we approach the house. Some of the women are roasting cashew nuts over hot coals and offer us some. There are no men around. Perhaps they’re dead from the rebellion or working or simply elsewhere. The children show us their pet monkey, Cesar. He’s tied up by his waist to a tree and tolerates being man handled by the kids. One woman (who must be close to 6 feet tall) has a foot pedaled Singer sewing machine set up under a tree. She took part in a course on sewing and is practicing what she learned. We sit in green plastic chairs under a mango trees eating the yellow fruit and trying to get our bearings.

Most of daily Senegalese life takes place outside.

Most of daily Senegalese life takes place outside.

I get the sense that while the family doesn’t mind our presence, they are as baffled as we are as to what we’re supposed to do or how we’re supposed to act. To them the idea that we would want to do something rather than sit around in the shade during the hottest part of the day seems foreign to them. Sitting around in chairs after sitting in the car makes us antsy. We ask for a tour of the village. You, short for Youseff, shows up on his motorcycle with a friend and joins us on the tour. He’s the younger brother of the husband of the French woman who runs the NGO and is a mechanic in Zigunchor. You wears stylishly torn jeans, a fanny pack and a tee shirt that doesn’t look dirty or torn at all. He wouldn’t look out of place walking down the street in any US city. 

This man is soldering a mold to make cinderblocks, the building material of choice for many Senegalese buildings.

This man is soldering a mold to make cinderblocks, the building material of choice for many Senegalese buildings.

You and Paco show us the various plants and architecture styles in the village. We see women making fishing net weights from clay and a man soldering a mold to make cinderblocks. His colleague looks on and asks me about myself in English. I am taken aback. He says he is from The Gambia as he pours himself a cup of tea from the pot heating over hot coals. 

The English-speaking Gambian man didn’t want his photo taken, but said I could photograph his tea.

The English-speaking Gambian man didn’t want his photo taken, but said I could photograph his tea.

There are half-naked and shoeless children running every where. There are goats and sheep and pigs. The chickens, we are told, are inside the houses because they get run over when trying to cross the main road that splits the village in two. 

Senegalese tea comes in small glass cups. It’s strong and bitter with lots of sugar added.

Senegalese tea comes in small glass cups. It’s strong and bitter with lots of sugar added.

There are overturns and rusted mills for separating rice grains from the husks. We are told the women are back to doing it by hand. The NGO who brought the machines isn’t around any more and no one kept them up. 

Communal eating is the norm in Senegal.

Communal eating is the norm in Senegal.

You buys a pack of cigarettes and Paco buys a water from a shed that is as close to a store as we’ve seen. I don’t fault You and his brother for getting out and wanting something different, something better than an outdoor kitchen an a mattress on the floor in a house of 10 people. 

Thieboudienne is the national dish of Senegal.

Thieboudienne is the national dish of Senegal.

We eat communally at 5 p.m. we are ravenous as we had nothing but mangoes for lunch. Paco brought the fish and the women made thieboudienne, the national dish of Senegal.  We are all given a spoon and sit around a giant platter of rice in tomato sauce served with fish, carrots, eggplant and onions. It’s delicious. I drink tea out of tiny glass cups that are refilled and passed to the next person. They may not have much but this village has warmly shown the spirit of teranga, the Wolof word for the welcoming and helpful spirit of the Senegalese people.

The Other Senegal

Paco came to pick us up at 8:30 but Chris was doing some work and we didn’t get on the road until after 9. Today’s driver picked us up with a bush taxi, a beat up station wagon with three rows of seats and room for 8. I’m in the back seat by myself. It’s not comfortable. The inside of the car is rusting to the point where I can see the smooth pavement flying by in a hole between my feet. I wonder if the back end of the car will break off and what would happen to me. I don’t like the thought and focus on the dried up rice paddies we’re passing. It’s the end of the dry season and everything is dead. It’s dusty and smells like diesel fuel. I cover my mouth and nose with my bandana. 

Me with my bandana.

Me with my bandana.

We drive an hour and a half back toward the Atlantic from Zigunichor and stop at a village with a two-story house made of packed dirt and sand. The house was completed around 1950. The builder was inspired by his time in WWII fighting for the French. He saw two story houses with staircases instead of a ladder and two balconies for air. He wanted to bring that grandeur and comfort back to Casamance. The house was built between October and June, in the dry season. Every two weeks the builder added on to the pillars and walls with a sandy cement mixture 2-3 feet at a time with ample days to dry in between. 

The current woman of the house wasn’t home so a man from the neighboring museum shows us around. The grandmother died two years ago and the grandfather died 20 years ago. The house has 2 granaries for storing rice, one for the men and one for the women. The men’s side has been empty a long time. The women’s granary is musty and dark. I cover my face with my bandana again as the museum man tells us about rotating the rice crop and eating the older grains first.

Eight children aged 6 months to about 12 or so are home alone as were poke around the house and hear about the construction. We’ve seen plenty of 6-10 year olds in charge of their younger siblings. I asked Paco who was taking care of his 11 year old daughter while he was with us as he said he’s not married. He looked very confused and told me she was grown. I said I thought she was 11. He said she was. We have such different ideas about the roles of children. 

The inside of the bush taxi.

The inside of the bush taxi.

Paco has worked for the past year for a French-backed NGO called CAP. There are two other guides, none of whom really speak English. Paco has some words and phrases but we all rely on Megan as the intermediary. Paco refers to “the two Senegals.” He is Muslim and lives in Zigunichor. He tells us that Casamance used to be it’s own region and that at one point it was a Portuguese colony before Portual traded it to the French in some deal involving territory in the Caribbean in the late 1800s. In 1982 there was a big rebellion where the people of Casamance tried to break free from Dakar, which they thought didn’t properly represent them. They did not succeed and instead got soldiers from the north running check points throughout the region that exist to this day.

The bush taxi had seen better days but we survived unscathed.

The bush taxi had seen better days but we survived unscathed.

Casamance is more Christian than the north. We see sows and piglets roaming around. It’s a poor region, much poorer than the area near the capital and for a long time it was cut off from the north by The Gambia. Today there’s a bridge and driving, flying or taking the ferry are all travel options, though we only met one person from Casamance who had traveled out of the region. 

Paco and Megan stand outside the two-story earth house in Casamance.

Paco and Megan stand outside the two-story earth house in Casamance.

Île de Gorée

Getting to Île de Gorée, a small island off the south coast of Dakar, was the first major backpackers hump we’ve experienced on this trip. I lobbied heavily not to leave our packs at the hostel all day, which would require a 90 minute round trip to get them at the end of the day it didn’t make logistical sense to me so we packed up our stuff and hailed a cab. I didn’t cover my backpack on the dusty cab ride from the hostel to the embankment and it got blackened in the trunk which was unpleasant. I know better than to not cover my bag in transit. I usually use my rain cover but for some reason didn’t. You are presented lessons again and again until you learn them properly. 

The cab was an old Camry with dents up and down the bumper and sides. My window didn’t roll down and the rubber window seal was falling off in my face. The ceiling, too was falling down and when I tried to roll it up a bunch of debris fell into my eyes. It was 9 a.m. and my day was starting out sweaty and dusty. We drove passed the African Renaissance Monument that was designed by a North Korean. It initially featured a bare chested woman, but the conservative Senegalese thought it improper and she now wears a cloth over her breasts. It’s twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty and looks very Stalinistic on the hill over looking the city.

We drove past the beach and the lighthouse-turned night club, which we didn’t have the opportunity to visit. We drove past the embassies and rows of merchants selling paintings and souvenirs. We arrived at the ferry terminal and were immediately inundated with a swarm of men wanting to sell us their services. Megan spoke to them in French while Chris and I stood around. Our driver was confused because we had originally asked him to stay because we were originally going to go to the train station to drop our bags but he had taken us straight to the ferry terminal. 

One of the guides helped us find the counter to redeem our code for our tickets but then hung around. The man sitting next to me who was from Casamance and was meeting his son and daughter-in-law who were coming for one month from France, told us we didn’t need a guide on Gorée. I asked Megan to tell him we didn’t need his services. There was a man with a dolly who wanted to charge us 10,000 francs to watch our bags which seemed crazy to me and I said we would find a better the solution. 

The better solution was the luggage drop off for the Casamance ferry where we could keep our bags in the corner for free all day and pick them up or check them into the ferry hold any time before 7 p.m. Now that we had our ferry tickets and deposited our big back packs it was time to catch the 11 a.m. boat to Île de Gorée. Tickets cost 5,200 francs, or about $10 for a round trip ride to the former slavers island. On the boat Megan spoke in French to a group of Islamic high school girls who were on a field trip. I spoke to Mohammad, a sand painter with a British accent who lived in the Golf neighborhood on the North side of Dakar but commuted to the island to make and sell his art to tourists. 

The island is home to a variety of sheep, pheasants, stray cats and cows. The residents live in a variety of dwellings including former WWII fortresses half underground. There are rusty cannons and artillery and a military fort from the 1800s turned history museum.  Most of the residents are either farmers or sell handicrafts and art or work in hospitality at the various restaurants and guesthouses on the island.

The Ford Foundation has donated money to restore the Maison des Esclaves and the mansion across the street that were former residences and store houses for human cargo heading to the New World during the triangle exchange of the tras-Atlantic slave trade. Over 300,000 West Africans (the majority being women and children) bound for slavery in the Americas boarded ships on Île de Gorée to start the difficult and horribly uncomfortable journey.

Both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama have visited the island and spoken out about the horrible legacy of slavery in America, but the truth of it is, there are more slaves today than there have been at any other time in history. Between sex trafficking and forced labor, it might look different and more invisible, but the reality is there are still millions of people on the plant who are not in control of their own destiny.

Flying to Dakar, Senegal

Flying into Dakar is like watching a pirate’s treasure map form above. The plane followed the coast of Africa south from Lisbon passed long stretches of desert in Morocco and Mauritania into Senegal. It’s the end of dry season. The rains could start any day. (I’m nothing if not an off-season tourist.) But for now it’s hot and dry. The dust builds up on the shriveled shrubs and everything looks brown and dead. 

The flight wasn’t even half full so I let Megan and Chris have their own row and moved back next to a Senegalese woman who hid her phone under her tray table to video chat with someone for nearly the whole flight. There was no WiFi offered on the flight so I know she just took her phone off airplane mode to do what she wanted. 

The new Dakar airport opened last year.

The new Dakar airport opened last year.

Other people were laying across three seats doing our 40 or so minute delay on the runway before takeoff. Finally we were cleared from Lisbon and the flight attendants went from row to row urging people to sit up and put on their seat belts, “Just for take off.” A mob of children ran up and down the aisle chasing each other and playing. I could feel we were entering a place of  lawlessness, where the rules are mere suggestions but really it’s each for their own. 

The flight crew gave up and served us fish with potatoes and “oatmeal salad with chicken,” a new one for me, for lunch. It was incredible to touch down. After 6 months of planning, 3 flights and nearly 24 hours in transit, we had arrived. 

Customs was painless. We went up as a trio and Megan, the French teacher, did the talking. The agent asked where we were from and switched to English when she said America. We showed him our itinerary, digitally recorded our fingerprints for the government and got free entry stamps in our passports. All 3 of our bags arrived on the carousel safe and intact. The ATM worked and we got a SIM card for remote internet on our phones for the next 12 days. The SIM wouldn’t take in Chris’ phone but did in mine so I’ll hotspot Chris and Megan on my WIFI when they need to check in or look something up. 

Senegalese drivers drive on the right side of the road.

Senegalese drivers drive on the right side of the road.

Chris has messaged with Sobo Bade, the artist colony resort we had booked and asked that we be picked up at noon. It was two and no one had shown up holding a sign with out names. Megan called on the new SIM and it turns out they thought we were coming at night even though they asked Chris, “AM or PM?” And he had (correctly) responded PM. They sent another driver. We putted around in the airport while we waited. Megan and Chris taught me some survival French. And two Senegalese men asked to take a photo with me. I’m going to be so famous all over Instagram in West Africa. 

Finally, our driver arrived in a beat up old station wagon with astroturf floors and no seatbelts, but we were in fact off to Toubab Dialaw is a small coastal town 30km south of Dakar and only a 12km drive from the new Blaise Diagne International Airport. 

Itinerary: Senegal

I enjoy traveling by the seat of my pants, making decisions on the fly and having the flexibility to change at a moment’s notice, much to the chagrin at times of my travel companions. Part of the adventure is the unknown and when traveling by bicycle or on foot, it’s hard to know exactly how many miles I’ll travel by the end of the day. But this trip is different. 

I’m the most seasoned traveler in a group of three and we’re going to places that have reputations of being rugged, wild, un-developed, dangerous, rife with pick pockets and tropical diseases. We’ll be fine, but it seemed prudent to book ahead. We planned an itinerary, knowing somewhere down the line it’ll change, but having the backbone gave us all piece of mind and a road map to follow. 

12 days in Senegal 

We fly from Cleveland to Boston to Lisbon to Dakar spending nearly 24 hours in transit before arriving at our first destination.

Day 1-2

Arrive in Dakar Airport and stay in Toubab Dialaw (literally slang for “white person“ but also a town 55km south of the capital) known for it’s sandy beaches, arty vibe and drumming, dancing and theater classes and performances.

Day 3-5 

After a few days to get over our jet lag on the beach we’ll be ready to brace ourselves for the hustle and bustle of the Senegalese capital of Dakar. We’ll go to the island of Il Goree to learn about the Atlantic slave trade, the pink-colored Lake Retba to learn about the salt industry and visit the markets and mosques before taking the 14+ hour night ferry south.

Day 6-9

Casamance is a remote part of Senegal south of The Gambia, a country that nearly divides Senegal in half. The region is know for it’s Creole culture and stunning wilderness. We’ll be staying in the villages in homestays and learning about the local culture and traditions. 

Day 10-12

St. Louis is in the northwest of Senegal and was the former French colonial capital. The historic town is an UNESCO world heritage site and it’s surrounded by protected areas for sea turtles, birds and endangered species. 

If you want to check out an awesome map of the whole trip that Megan made, click here. I’ll post the itineraries for Morocco and Egypt soon!

MANIFESTING ADVENTURE ON THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO

My goal is to walk between 15-20 miles per day. I have 31 days and need to maintain a 16-mile per day average to complete the walk on time. This seems like an audacious goal for someone who hasn’t backpacked more than a few days at a time. I’ve kayaked and biked for weeks on end, but this time I won’t be paddling or rolling. My feet will be my wheels and I’ll carry everything I need on my back. I don’t doubt I can do it. If I’ve proven anything to myself, it’s that I can and like to do hard things. 

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Hello/Goodbye.

Welcome to my site. I'm excited to share my journey with you. A Cleveland native, I've called Chicago home for 8 years. No longer. I leave the Windy City in less than a week. I move to a new city in a new country where I'll know pretty much no one in just over a month. It's time to start a new creative project.