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20 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Village walks always reward

Sacred tree, Senegal, Abéné

A group of friends/colleagues pose at the sacred tree

Sacred tree, Senegal, Abéné

A six-in-one tree

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love going to markets. So I was delighted when our stay at The Little Boabab in Abéné included a village walk. It would give us a chance to explore the local craft and food markets, and to visit the community’s amazing sacred tree.

We set out early in the morning with our guide, Saikou. Saikou is from The Gambia, but he has lived and worked in the Casamance (southern) region of Senegal for about five years. His English is great (The Gambia is English-speaking) and he knows Abéné well.

Welcome to craft market

Welcome to craft market

Welcome to craft market

Market welcome with the sacred tree

Beaded statue

Beaded statue

Our first stop was the craft market. Because we arrived quite early in the morning only a few shops were open, but it was great to see the range of carvings, including plenty of masks. I’m not all that keen on masks. I love seeing them used in dance performances and other ceremonies, but I don’t need to see them hanging on my walls. Not sure where that attitude has come from.

The actual food market was next. It was a special treat to visit with Saikou because he let us know that photos would be okay. This was a welcome change. The further north we have travelled in West Africa, the less likely people have been to be pleased to have their photos taken. You can’t imagine how many photos have been captured in my mind’s eye, but not on camera. Darn.

Abéné market Abéné market Abéné market

 

The final stop was at Abéné’s Bantam Wora, or sacred tree. It’s actually six huge kapok or cotton (fromager) trees that have fused together.

People in the Casamance believe fromagers are sacred. They are thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered kola nuts, biscuits, milk, bread or other delicacies. For example, women with fertility problems or young men wishing to win an upcoming football match will go and make an offering.

Before arriving, we were told that we would have to make a financial offering to the women who spend their days around the tree. We dithered about that at first. Senegal has huge paper money notes, and none of us really knew how to contribute. Luckily Adam, one of our drivers, was with us and offered a blanket donation.

The tree is ginormous. It could easily be six, eight or 10 trees fused together. A youth group (maybe university students) was there when we arrived.  A group shot of them shows just how large the base of the tree is. 

Taga (left) and Saikou

Taga (left) and Saikou

Abéné market Abéné laundry

 

13 May 2019 / leggypeggy

A special stay at The Little Boabab

The Little Boabab bar

The colourful bar at The Little Boabab

The Little Boabab is the most heartwarming and welcoming place we’ve visited in West Africa. It also has a huge touch of sadness (read on). Nestled in the village of Abéné in the Casamance (southern) part of Sénégal, The Little Boabab is the love child of Simon and Khady.

Years ago, Simon Fenton, an English journalist, fell in love with West Africa and Khady, a Sénégalese woman, who spoke only faltering English back then. Together they realised a dream and started to build The Little Boabab.

Sadly, I wasn’t lucky enough to meet Simon. About 18 months ago, he was killed in a car accident when travelling between Abéné to Ziguinchor. The mere thought of it breaks my heart. My own father was killed in a car accident when I was 18. You can read about him here.

When we arrived at The Little Boabab and met Khady, I gave her a huge hug and said that I ‘sort of’ understood the grief she was going through. I lived through the loss of a father, but how could I possibly understand the loss of a husband, and especially in her circumstances? She has two gorgeous and energetic young boys—Gulliver and Alfie.

Senegal

Gulliver (left) and Alfie are ready for school

We stayed two nights at The Little Boabab. We enjoyed delicious meals, a comfy bed with mosquito net, a guided village walk and an incredible dance performance. It’s also where the dancers managed to get Poor John on his feet.

Little Boabab is a full-service, solar-powered campground. They provided all meals, and I was lucky enough to barge my way into the kitchen to help on our second night. I learned how to stuff bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks.

cooking in Senegal

Helping in the kitchen at The Little Boabab

Expect more posts about Little Boabab and surrounds. 

Simon wrote about his experiences. You can buy his books Squirting milk at chameleons: an accidental African and Chasing hornbills: up to my neck in Africa here. I was lucky enough to buy mine at The Little Boabab.

Dancing at The Little Boabab

Poor John living it up at The Little Boabab. He looks like he is having fun

10 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Vine bridge, avocados and painted toes

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Richard crosses the bridge

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Stephan climbs to the bridge entrance. There’s a similar entrance on each end

West Africa is a land of amazing contrasts! Bridges are a good example. You may remember that we ‘fell’ through a log bridge a few weeks back. That was a first for our co-drivers, Jason and Adam, as well as for all the passengers. We’ve also crossed plenty of modern concrete bridges—no risk of falling through those. And on occasion, we’ve detoured through a stream (it is the dry season) rather than cross a bridge that is being constructed or repaired.

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

One person crossing at a time

But we visited a very rustic bridge not far from Nzérékoré, in southeastern Guinea. It was made entirely of vines and bamboo. It was fascinating to see its construction up close, and to have the chance to cross on foot—one at a time.

The bridge is brilliantly sturdy and I’m sure it could carry more people at once, but we respected the villagers’ instructions. Our guide—the bridge is in a forest and was about a 45-minute walk from where we parked the truck—said the bridge is as old as anyone can remember. I’ve read accounts that say it was built more than 100 years ago.

In addition to providing safe passage across a river, the bridge has spiritual significance for the people. Two years back, it was closed for renovations and repairs. That year the overlanders weren’t even allowed to approach the bridge. I heard differing comments about why. Some say that repair work is done by spirits, while others say it is done by trusted elders who don’t want the secrets of construction shared. Keep in mind that my French is fairly sketchy, so the ‘real’ story could be something entirely different.

Word gets out when foreigners are around. By the time we got back to the truck there were several people selling avocados and other fruits. I bought 10 large avocados for about $3. They were nicer than any we’d seen in the markets. Too often the fruit we buy turns to mush within a day or two. These weren’t ripe yet and several cook groups managed to use them over the coming days.

I also got a fun pic of a woman’s toes. She’d painted them along the lines of the Guinean flag. Fashion in the forest!

Selling fruit, Guinea, West Africa

Avocados for sale

Vine bridge, Guinea, West Africa

Ellen is dwarfed by the sheer size of the bridge

 

8 May 2019 / leggypeggy

African taxis keep us laughing

Broken windscreen, Africa

A typical African windscreen (windshield)

African taxi

Poor John gets in the front

Not long ago in Nzérékoré, Guinea, West Africa, I was reminded of a lift we were given in Barnaul in the Altai district of Russia. Five years ago, Elena and her husband kindly offered to give us a ride to a bank so we could change Kazakh money to Russian roubles.

She explained in English that they had just come from the police station where they had been completing paperwork. She went on to say ‘Go ahead, get in the car. If you aren’t afraid!’

That phrase ‘if you aren’t afraid’ pops into my mind every time I get into an African taxi. Yesterday we rode in three taxis in Dakar, Sénégal. All three had cracked windscreens (windshields), at least one door that didn’t open from the outside or inside (scoot across), windows that didn’t open, and two of three drivers who had no idea where they were going.

African taxi

Petrol cap and door missing

African taxi

Back end of a station wagon taxi

The first driver couldn’t read and didn’t speak English or French, only Wolof (the local language). We didn’t realise all that until we reached our destination and even the fellow at the hotel (who spoke four languages) couldn’t communicate with him. He had to run up the road to find someone else who spoke Wolof.

But the most memorable taxi ride of this trip so far has been the one in Nzérékoré. Dee, Ellen, Poor John and I wanted to go to the large artisan complex on the edge of town. Of course, the taxi driver had no idea where it was, but we had a scribbled map. Hahaha

As with every African taxi I’ve ever ridden in, the windscreen was cracked. But there’s more.

African taxi

Ellen scoots across and avoids the hole in floor

Doors worked on only one side of the car and had to be yanked open, there was a large hole in the back seat floor, the petrol door and cap were missing, The back end and car ceiling had lost their fabric coverings, and the taxi had to be pushed to get started.

Of course, we weren’t afraid, but we laughed ourselves silly and all got in. The driver made the mistake of turning off the engine when he dropped us off (yes we found the complex), and had to be pushed again to get started. The taxi home was about the same, but didn’t need to be pushed.

African taxi

Getting a push after we get out

Artisan complex in Nzérékoré, Guinea

We found the artisan complex

5 May 2019 / leggypeggy

African housing ranges from simple to elaborate

House in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone—apartment building or house?

Freetown, Sierra Leone

On the outskirts of Freetown, Sierra Leone

My last post focused on the simple thatched huts of West Africa, but I don’t want you to think that is the only housing available.

Thatched huts are common in villages, but towns, cities and even larger villages have all sorts of more modern and elaborate homes. Some are really over the top, with fabulous paint combinations or tiled exteriors. Poor John reckons the tile is to minimise mould in the rainy season. Makes sense to me.

African house

House with shop to the left

Some of the homes shown are built over shopfronts or other businesses. Others are apartment buildings.

I thought you’d like to see a variety of the accommodation I snapped from the truck window.  We’ve seen a few presidential palaces, but photos weren’t allowed. 

P.S. Not many captions.

African house

Shops below

African house

Old-fashioned house in Sierra Leone

African house

Tiled exterior in Labé, Guinea 

African house

4 May 2019 / leggypeggy

Rainy season is coming—time for a new roof

African village

Bundles of grass in front and to the side of four huts

Roof frame in Africa

The roof is framed and the grass bundles are on the right

 

Overland travel gives us a great chance to observe daily life in towns, villages and the countryside.

As we’ve moved from country to country in West Africa, one of the most noticeable differences is the style of housing and construction. Some differences are slight while others are more varied. Northern Guinea and Guinea-Bissau were the first places where I saw simple roofs being repaired for the rainy season. Maybe this is now happening in all the countries we’ve already visited.

When I first saw the bundles of grass in the two Guineas, I assumed they might be feed for animals, but it didn’t take long to realise this was roofing material for buildings covered in thatch. I don’t know how much the grass costs or how much it takes to cover a roof.

Roofing materials, Africa

Grass for roofs

Roofing materials and huts, Africa

Roofing materials stored off the ground and a style of fencing I hadn’t seen before

I thought you might enjoy seeing the various stages in the process.

As an aside, we took a two-hour boat trip through extensive mangroves in The Gambia. Our guide, Omar, is rushing to get his house built (or at least enclosed) before the rains begin in June. He is using corrugated iron for the roof. He needs 10 packets of the stuff—I don’t know how big a packet is—at 1800 Gambian dalasis per packet. That’s equal to about 330 euros for all 10 packets. So far, he’s purchased four packets of new roofing material and hopes to find cheaper secondhand materials for the rest. We tipped him generously.

African roof in progress

Roof in progress

Finished roof, Africa

Finished roof

 

27 April 2019 / leggypeggy

How many people can you get in/on a car

Traffic in Guinea

Just a quick post before we hit the road again. I don’t have many shots like this because we’re travelling at a speed that means my pics are out of focus.

Here are a couple to show you how many people (and their stuff) can fit in/on a single car. No captions needed.

Rooftop riding