Trying to get this out--pardon the (probably)many typos.
More 9 June
The National Museum of Banjul was a surprisingly well done little museum with a very sincere and enthusiastic docent that couldn’t have been more helpful. It helped that we were the only people at the museum and he seemed to be the only employee on duty, but he just exuded this infectious pride in his country and the displays that we all admired.
The museum was on two levels and not much bigger than a moderate sized home. Originally, it had been the colonial “British Club,” then the national library, until it’s conversion to a museum
The first section on the main level covered contemporary culture and politics, while the back section covered history back to prehistoric times, including a fascinating display on iron smelting, Stone Age tools and discussions of regional ethnic and imperial histories, the introduction of Islam, and the colonial era.
Downstairs, they had a display of traditional musical instruments that you could actually touch and play. Ali impressed with his skills on the antique tribal xylophone, then admitted that he was jus 'making shit up.’
From the museum, we went to the market where we first had to pass through the souvenir section (resulting in some cadet buys) before seeing market proper. A couple of ladies selling fresh fish actually allowed me to take their photos, which was a rare treat. It was a typical market, though, and we didn’t stay too long.
From the market we first drove to the Grand Mosque of Banjul which, while not that large, was very beautiful and newly renovated inside. At the gates entry, we saw an interesting sign showing in excruciating detail the right and wrong ways to pray, with graphic photos, red X’s and green ✓’s. Ali laughed at this and said it was silly.
We walked inside and there were two gentlemen inside--one much older than the other and me. Both wore the robes of mosque leaders. They didn’t explain much about the mosque, but the local guide had a few words.
While I was taking photos, I walked closer to the two gentleman and the younger one asked me if I was Muslim. I told him that I was not. He then asked, “But do you pray?” I told him that I did not. He asked me why and I responded simply that I choose not to do so. He looked very perplexed, but the other, silent, older gentleman, flailed his right hand (obviously understanding what I’d said) and stomped away in apparent disgust). I then said, “Thank you allowing us to visit your very beautiful mosque,” walked away.
From the mosque, we drove outside of Banjul to the livestock yards that had some cattle, but mostly hundreds of goats. We learned that herders bring their goats here to sell, while butchers and private families with drop in to pick goats and cattle for slaughter, haggling with the goatherd or his agent. We asked about the prices and found that your typical, average-sized adult male goat went for about 4500 Dalasi, or just under $100. Prices were higher for big billies with unique horns and prices would jump to 10,000 Dalasi or more for a high quality animal near the end of Ramadan (Eid).
The next couple of hours were a bit frustrating as we we're supposed to go to a Batik factory--or at least a place where artisanal workers were dying and producing fabrics in this fashion. However, since it was Sunday, many people were not working but the markets and roads we're jammed. When it all didn’t work out, we returned to the Lemon Creek and relaxed for before dinner.
Most of us went out for a long walk on the beach, going first north, then past the hotel to the south. We easily covered three miles.
The tide was coming in and the waves were occasionally surprising us as we walked along the wet line in the sand.
Our dog friends were on the beach again, as well as a herd of about ten cattle that seemed content (and unsupervised) to ruminate on the meaning of life while staring contentedly at the waves.
A small freshwater pond near the hotel had several hundred gray-headed gulls bathing and chattering.
Some people approached us asking if we’d like to come to their beach bar for happy hour, but we declined.
Many local kids were playing in the waves and Ali pointed out that he didn't to think any of them knew how to swim--but they just staying in the shallows. We passed one gentleman with his dog on a leash (the first time I'd seen such a thing in Africa, as well as a ball that the dog loved to fetch from the breakers.
We returned to the hot and ordered drinks, including a few JulBrews, then Becky and I went to our room to relax, get cleaned up and do some photo work (me) or crossword puzzles (her).
We left at 1900 with the whole crew headed to Ali’s house. We parked on the dirt street and walked down a sandy, block-fences line alley to an iron gate. From there, we walked to the front door that also had a little porch on which the family was cooking a large pot of excellent-smelling food.
Ali led us in, introduced us to his mom and dad, sister, aunt, and cousin and we were seated in the living room. Ali offered drinks and then fired up his XBox he’d brought from the States (he said he’d returned with only that, his cadet laptop, and a few clothes). He and the cadets took turns playing war-type single shooter games while his father sat quietly the women prepped dinner. The TV was also on, playing a Gambia public TV discussion on sexilual assault.
About 15 minutes later, two huge bowls of food were brought onto the dining room table. The first was about five pounds of spiced red rice, the second almost as much stewed vegetables, cassava, and whole fish.
Ali had told us this was the national dish of The Gambia and (we learned from Moussa) Senegal. It's called “one pot” because all of the cooking occurs in one pot.
The rice was tremendously as we're the veggies. The fish was fired and a little chewy at first with plenty of bones to pick. The cadets (especially Austin and Matt) ate copious quantities of the rice. Juice was also served and fresh bananas we're brought out for dessert.
Following the meal, we took group photos and we presented another Colorado photo book to Ali’s parents.
Ali’s parents don’t speak much English. His mom is from Senegal and speaks French. At home, they speak primarily Wollof--and, as we were learning, Wollof seemed to be used more than English in most of the areas we visited. So, we didn’t converse much, but we did thank them for the very generous dinner. Augusto and Idi seemed to really enjoy it, too.
We returned to the hotel, bought cold water and a few JulBrews and sat outside having deep conversations about The Gambia, America's role in Africa, growing Chinese influence here, and Ali. I think everyone enjoyed The Gambia a little more than Senegal in the sense that they were more comfortable in an English-speaking country that was a little cleaner and more orderly, but they also saw the optimism is Ali’s eyes and really seemed interested and concerned about the country’s future. It was a very good day
Becky and I returned to our room and we're disappointed to NOT see our air conditioning unit dripping on the exterior floor, meaning it wasn’t on. Again, I returned to the lobby, and gain the desk agent had to determine whether we’d paid for a/c or not. I assured him we had, but it still required a phone call. The technician walked back with me and it was turned on promptly.
We pre-packed for the next day’s departure, I uploaded the day’s photos and we went to bed.
We needed to leave early the next morning o catch the second ferry to Barra, across the Gambia RIver’s mouth again.
Augusto had tried to negotiate a slightly earlier start to the regular 0700 breakfast suggesting we could eat quickly if they had the cold items available at 0645. This concerned the staff greatly--they wanted to make us ham and cheese sandwiches to go instead for some reason. We deferred to them, but I’d told all of the cadets to be in the eating area with bags, ready to go not later than 0645.
Becky and I Arrived at 0630 and saw they were already laying things out--but they’d also prepared a platter with 10 aluminum foil wrapped sandwiches for each of us. The cadets put the sandwiches in their bags and then got the normal breakfast. Eddie even was able to wolf down a plate of scrambled eggs in about 60 seconds since the omelet guy had everything fired up by 0650.
Austin and Charlie said goodbye to the hotel cats (Greg and Karen) who’d followed us out to give us a kitty paws wave goodbye and we were off again.
Traffic was very light on Sunday morning and we made it to the ferry dock in downtown Banjul quickly, by 0730. At first, it didn’t look promising that we’d get on the next ferry as the terminal was packed with large freight trucks and passenger cars as well as pedestrians (no cattle this time), but Augusto and Idi worked their magic and we moved towards the front if the queue, just in time for street sellers to offer us plenty of last-minute Gambian souvenirs. Idi took advantage of one excellent offer to buy two white bottom undershirts from this driver side window.
The inbound ferry arrived at about 0820 and emptied quickly on to the quai, one small pickup truck with side rails had six cattle onboard. Milliseconds after the last vehicle came off the ferry, cars pushed forward to it ahead and on. The ferry workers, however, did a good job of a game I now call 'Africa Ferry Tetris’ in somehow maximizing the platform space to get the most various-sized vehicles onboard, even if the rear gate didn’t shut all of the way and the bed of a truck was hanging over the water. Idi managed to get us in a position in which we could actually exit the vehicle (the door opened in, as if designed for this game) and get us within millimeters of the mango truck ahead of us. We squeezed out and went above to the open air seats on a very nice, cool morning.
(Skip this next paragraph if you get queasy reading things about African toilets, ferries, and their intersection)
By now, My digestive system was beginning to show some signs of trouble. When the gates were semi-closed and we pushed off of the pier, I moved quickly downstairs looking for a toilet after asking Becky for some paper. I lucked out (only in terms of time) and opened a very rusty door to find an equally rusty small space with a porcelain 'squatter’ that was, shall we say, well and recently useful to many, many people. It vented directly to the big bring and there was a large blue plastic bucket half-filled with water for 'la nettoyage.’ The light roll of the ocean was magnified by the exterior nature of the small room and, we’ll just end this by saying, it was one of the very least pleasant experiences of my life. I used all of the remaining water in the bucket to wash the whole thing down, feeling just a little bad for the poor soul that might follow.
The rest of the ferry ride was uneventful and we arrived in Barra about 30 minutes later. Along the way, we passed the very distinct line between Gambia River freshwater flow (filled with silt) and the clearer green-blue ocean water. Fishermen in pirogs made a ring about part of this transitional zone that, apparently, was attractive to their prey.
The border was not far away and soon we we parked and exiting The Gambia, reentering Senegal. Clearing the Gambia side was quite easy this time. The usual hawkers, this time selling lots of cashews in addition to trinkets were there in addition to unofficial money changers. One came up to my window and, with Idi’s help we negotiated a reasonable rate helped by dueling calculator apps on our cell phones. Idi assured us that the rate we were getting for our remaining Dalasi (converting to CFA) was better than we’d see in Dakar or at the airport and by now we all knew to trust all things Idi.
In mid-negotiation, however, near tragedy struck. I tossed my wallet to Becky, excused myself from my business partner and walked/ran as quickly as possible to a douane who, in Trump's, directed me to the nearest toilets. (Once again skip forward as needed)
I went behind a small building to find standard four stall, cement block building with a large barrel of water out front. Just barely making it in time, I didn't have time to fill the sluice buckets in my stall. Not good. The place was just a mess when I arrived and soon got worse. Olfactory senses were now turned off completely as I grabbed the buckets, pulled up my shorts and went to the barrel. I filled them quickly and went back to my stall thinking that this was the least I could do to help--or worse that by not doing so I was committing some huge cultural faux pas. Well, apparently that wasn’t the case. Even the the barrel was ten feet from the door, in the few seconds I’d turned to get water, an elderly woman in a brightly floral dress had just as urgently gone into the stall, not finding it necessary, it seems to pull the door more than halfway shut. That was awkward. I set the buckets down on the concrete outside the door and returned as quickly as possible to more mathematical pursuits--and two Imodium tablets.
From the border, after a quick stop to buy two 10L water jugs) we began what would be a lot of driving. Again, Idi was just on his game. I sat next to this guy for a week and he never came close to dozing or losing his focus. By now, I could predict when he would honk a warning to pedestrians, goats, donkeys, horse carts, or other vehicles. (He said that he never honks at cattle because they just don't listen or respond) Despite some dangerously crazy idiocy by other drivers (and goats and kids) I didn’t see him get angered or flustered in any way.
We drove for over two hours to Kaolack again where stopped outside town for an uneventful bathroom break and a chance to buy snacks. It was hot as blazes on the concrete. I decided to treat myself to a Coke Zero for the first time on the trip and also bought a small package of yogurt, which hit the spot.
We drove for almost another two hours in a roundabout route that I didn’t quite understand--possibly to stay on the smooth, newer roads--before arriving in the town of Foal on the beach about 100 km south of Dakar.
We learned that Foal was once the center of Portuguese trade in the region and that it was also the home of Senegal’s first president, though that second claim was up to some dispute or interpretation. It was also the third most important artisanal fishing village in Senegal behind Saint-Louis and Mbour.
We parked a hotel near inlet/bay side of the town and shortly thereafter met Edward, our guide for a tour of Shell Island.
Edward was originally from Shell Island and has been a certified guide there for six years. He lived in New York at some time in the past and had clearly been influenced by reggae/Rasta culture, speaking with a pretty good Jamaican accent and sporting some serious dreads above his scraggling, short, and graying facial hair.
Shell Island and it's community were really a series of mud or sand flats in a mangrove bay that had been built up over centuries with billions and billions (trillions?) of cockle and oyster shells. They reclaimed the land and built a whole town of 6,000 on shells dumped on mud and sand covering three distinct islands to depths (or heights) of well over 20 feet covering many hectares of land. The reclamation continues to this day with locals constantly gathering shells and dumping them by the basket full in low areas or as new foundation. Shells we're even used in the making of concrete blocks as a sort of matrix. We took a 500 meter wooden bridge over part of the shallow bay to reach the island and could seat the abandoned pilings of the old bridge sticking out of the water to our left as we did.
The community was big enough to support six districts, each with its own ramada-like “palaver’ for local discussion debate, and meetings. They also had a mosque and a Catholic church. The island was unique in Senegal in that it was 90% Christian, which explained the huge number of pigs running loose in the town or wallowing in the mud of the brackish bay at low tide.
Interestingly, Edward explained that the town football field was really a sandbar just on the west side of the island that was only useful during low tide.
We walked through village saw what appeared to be arriving little community of happy people. As usual, there were plenty of little kids everywhere. Edward took us to large church and showed us the Black Jesus sculpture opposite the main pulpit and above the entry doors. He was quick to point out that this Jesus had dreadlocks like him, but that they also had a White Jesus at the front.
Edward also was very proud of the fact that Christians and Muslims cohabitated peacefully on the I and that they had helped finance, build, and rebuild each other’s place of worship, and that were ultimately buried together in the same cemetery.
We next walked over a shorter bridge (about 200m) to their cemetery island. Here, as mentioned earlier, there was a Christian and a Muslim section. Almost all of the Christa burial sites were marked with a cast concrete cross with details of the deceased written in paint on the concrete. The Muslims had simple steel plates with data and all were oriented in the direction of Mecca. The cemetery island was actually quite a bit higher than the main island, maybe as much as 20 meters high at an overlook sporting a large cross. Again, this whole island and all that was above the now rising tide was shells.
Edward explained that you could tell how old the grave was in part because of the color of the cocke shells. Newer grave sites were darker, while older ones were bleached white by the sun. The cemetery had been there so long that a few large baobabs had sprouted and grown amid the shells, as well as some vivid flame trees and some shrubs.
I asked Edward how long people had been living on Shell Island he said he didn’t sure, but that it was many, many hundreds if not thousands of years. Clearly some grave stacking was occurring on the island as almost all of the graves we saw where no older than the second half of the 20th Century.
We returned to the main island and came upon an older gentleman weaving cloth with a small foot loom. He had hundreds of threads stretched out 15 meters or more from his loom tied to a cement block, keeping it very tight.as he worked on his Kente-cloth like strip of blue, gray, and white fabric, he would slowly pull on the brick until in needed the rethread the whole loom--womething Edward said could take up to a week.
Austin bought about a two meter section of cloth that was very nice for only 2000 CFA, for which there no reason to bargain.
From there we returned to our van, reboarded and headed back to Dakar. Traffic was Terri let until we were able to get on the new N1 Toll Highway that runs from the airport to the City. We drove to the Hotel Djoloff and checked-in.
The Hotel Djoloff was very, very nice. New, modern, great fixtures and architecture. We instantly liked it.
We’d been communicating with Moussa and planned to meet him for one last dinner before leaving Dakar.
I still wasn’t feeling very well (nor were a few others) so Becky and I checked out the hotel restaurant on the third floor (fourth floor for Americans). It had a great view of the bay and city and was open air, with a good chalkboard tapas menu. We asked them to set us a table for 10 and then informed the cadets and Moussa (then en route) of our plans.
Dinner was excellent with green beans cauliflower, fish, cured Spanish ham, avocados, duck, and dessert plates. It was a relaxing evening and a good way to put the exclamation mark on our time in far western Africa.
As we said goodbye to Moussa and promised our return, he gave Becky a nice Senegalese dress and three African shirts for Sean, Andy, and me. I gave him one of my last Astro coins and there lots of hugs going around.
Becky and I again pre-packed for the next day’s flights, cleaned up and though I tried to work on photos was just too tired.
We awoke at 0450 for our 0530 departure and packed quickly
We we pleasantly surprised to see the hotel had put out a tray of breads and cookies for us as an early breakfast and we all grabbed a few items. We left on time and made it to Blaise Diagne International Airport in only 45 minutes. At the curb, we said goodbye to Augusto and Idi, returned our Trans-Africa customer surveys to them and gave them each envelope with large tips for their great work. I also gave Augusto my business card and hope communicate with him in the future and maybe even visit Guinea-Bissau.
Airport check-in went very smoothly and we cleared immigration easily, too. The new airport is quite nice with little shops, duty-free, and even relatively clean bathrooms--those Charlie managed to discover that they save one stall for the traditional squatter format in each bathroom.
Each of us bought some water or snacks and we settled into our chairs to write, read, and relax.
Our plane arrived on time and we boarded just the same. We’d warned the cadets that assigned seating might not be that meaningful on an African airline within Africa and the passengers proved us right.
Becky and I were assigned to an exit row but those seats were taken by one gentleman and Austin gave us a shrug when we looked at him--apparently someone was in his seat, so he’d moved into ours. The flight attendant asked us if there was a problem and Becky said that’ “Someone’s in our seats,” as she pointed to them. He gave her a helpless shrug as well, but then giggled when she said, “C’est l’Afrique!”
The plane was barely half full, so we just moved to the back half of the plane and claimed our whole empty row.
ASky served a good breakfast for free on this 3.5 hour flight and I used almost all of that time to write this with my thumbs on the way to Lomé. We arrived right on time and the transfer to our next flight was easy. They were waiting with our next boarding passes in the hallway as we exited and after clearing security one more time, we went to Gate 6, waited for only about 10 minutes and boarded via a bus that drove us out to our Bombardier Q-400 (really a deHavilland Dash-8). As your bus arrived at the plane, so did the luggage truck and trailer and we were relieved to see our bags had made the transfer with similar ease.
Again, our flight had several open seats, so Becky moved to my side of the aisle for the quick 20 minute flight to Accra.
We landed on-time with just a few bumps and all but for us and maybe four others deplaned. I asked the flight attendant how long we’d wait before the next flight and he said we’d be taking off in 20 minutes. He was nearly accurate as we began taxiing shortly after 1400. Only about dozen boarded the plane, so we each enjoyed our own two-seater row.
We were pleasantly surprised when they served a light lunch of fish in a red tomato sauce with rice and potatoes, plus a mini-baguette and fresh fruit salad. No complaints at all about ASky so far.