Next morning Williwaw is loaded to the gunnels with chairs, goal posts, a large awning, jerseys, drums and the odd plaster. With the village VIP’s hanging on for dear life, we set off for the salt flats.
Danny the village South African is appointed team medic and his Unimog as the VIP’s grandstand. By the time I arrive back over the dunes to collect the girls the first taxi bus full to breaking point with Wolof supporters is arriving.
The pitch is marked out I am sent off once more with a guide to show me the overland route to fetch our Goalkeeper living near Rufisque. Arriving back the sun is setting; the drums are warmed up. The ladies just in case the love of their lives is present are in their best Boubous. (Cotton dresses worn on social occasions often elaborately embroidered).
In centipede formation, at either end of the pitch, both teams twist and flex with odd erratic movements > Warming up African style.
The kicks off > whistle approaches. The drum tempo mounts. Our referee who runs without bending his knees checks and double-checks that no new players have slipped onto either side.
In a flurry of dust, the game begins. The high trill voices of the ladies positioned on opposite side of the pitch increases in volume > Wolof on the right touch-line Pular on the left. The whistle splits the baked salt in an explosion of pain for a downed player. The ball has burst. Danny scurries back over the sand to collect the spare ball. Somehow or other it had been left behind. There is much argument as to how much time has to be added on.
The Unimog > blasting exhaust fumes appears at full belt.
A further limbering up period the game recommences. Places on the grandstand are rescued.
The play like the drumming is now hot and furious. A goal of the Wolof brings a note of urgency into our ladies hollering > Halftime. A circle of plastic bags (the curse of Senegal) marks the assembly point of each team on the dry salt pan. The second half promises fireworks. The sun in a blaze of glory disappears. Allah is praised.
Stork-legs blow’s his whistle. The red togs of the Wolof against the Pular mixed bag of different jerseys seem all-powerful. A long ball of dubious quality bounces for once in our favour. A courageous knee crunching tackle by our winger earns him a dusting down by the coach for not passing the ball.
New blood is required and frantic signalling from the touch-line eventually brings an acknowledgement from stiff-legs. A quick swap of the saturated stained shirt and our new man is on. A goalmouth scramble leaves a Wolof Rastafarian, grazing with the cows. Our ladies are on trampolines. We have scored.
Timed by the watches under the awning the fat cats indicate that there is only ten minutes to go.
A sharp whistle followed by a bout of wailing that any Banshee would be proud of see the ball disappearing at speed up over the dunes. A penalty has been awarded to the reds jersey Wolof. It is never to be taken as the owner of the spare ball has had enough and is legging it home. Watering fresh slices of coconut are distributed. The game has come to a sudden halt. That night in the dunes the committee awards the game to Gorom the Wolof village.
We decide rain or no rain that its time to move on in the next few days.
We make a visit back up the beach to Kayar. Arriving early morning the catch is being landed. Hammerhead shark, small blue shark, horse mackerel, sole, conger eel, and sprats – all sold fish by fish.
Walking down the beach long spears of coloured pirogues bowsprits pointed seawards. A group of ‘to be’ circumcised children are playing in the surf. All of a sudden pandemonium breaks out. Amongst the flies and hoards of children, a real shark in the form of a public servant is tossing wads of CFA into the air. The fish ladies are in a free for all, frantically stuffing their cleavages each as deep as the Grand Canyon with what they can grab.
Is this the mask of depravity, which has become the cosmos view of Africa by the West?
The powerful exploiting the less Herculean, which in turn then, exploit the weak. It reminds me that our mask of Democracy is also riddled with such scenes but cloaked in a more purified form of power corruption.
Florence like us is riveted to the sand watching. All of a sudden to save his suite from being smothered in fish scales he draws a small revolver and discharges a few rounds over his head. The new tribe of Africa BMW owner retreats up the beach to the safety of his chauffeur-driven car leave-taking in a blurred cloud of dust greatness.
Simplicity returns everywhere. I arrange a day’s swordfishing.
Ablaze with conviction not to give in to corruption I set off the next morning to collect our visas from the Mali Embassy. After beach sand up to the axel attempt, I settle for the long haul to Dakar by road by way of Rufisque the home of the green open sewers. Once in Rufisque during a downpour rather than risk my feet in the flowing mosquito breeding green water I had commandeered a scrawny horse trap taxi just to cross a street.
Arriving in Dakar I am stopped by the first cop that spots me, an indefatigable symbol of corruption. What follows is the usual show me you’re Insurance, your Carnet, your Licence, your Passport, which can be for a dollar or two all to be rubber-stamped in a glitter of his sunglasses. This morning even if it is only after a few pittance he’s barking up the wrong tree.
With a wary eye, I make it over to the Embassy to collect the visas without any further harassment. I decided to celebrate this achievement with a beer, a mistake. The same Robocop spots me again. This time according to him I am parked in a no-parking zone in the courtyard of a petrol station that has a pleasant open-air bar. Once again I argue the toss rather than capitulate. It spoils my beer. What goes around comes back, what goes up must come down and all that stuff.
You won’t believe it. On the way out-of-town there he is again the very same cop standing on the roundabout out to Rufisque. This time rather than press my luck I raise my hand and beckon him to come to the window of Williwaw. Before he can utter a word I tell him “This time you are lucky because it’s the third time, venue, venue”.
In a flash of rash Irish brashness, I stick my head out the window and plant a Blarney kiss on his lips. He is so startled that he does a little Irish jig, breaks into a full flashing ivory smile. We have met.
( Our trip to Isle de Goree later in the week has no police interference. We are waved through all barriers on our way to Dakar. The word has spread there is an Irish puff in town.)
Two hours later dirty and grimy, I cross the finishing line of the Paris Dakar 4×4 race. The finishing line as I have said is at the southern end of Lake Rose a small tourist trap with a Robinson Crusoe type bar with a fridge of cool beer. After the hard day of dust, fumes and hassle the beer hardly touches my taste buds. A swim proves to be less than refreshing in the salt lake; even the ironwood has a problem sinking. I am revived by the compulsory dowsing down in a small spring-fed freshwater pool that is just outside the bar. Rain or no rain it’s definitely time to move on.
Arriving back with the normal load of lakeside rooftop hitchhiker’s, I have a feeling that the cinematic sense of Africa and the posed geology of the place are about to be revealed. Over the next few days, we start to break camp in African time.
Aziz an artist of sixty odd years the owner of one of the many tourist’s stalls that pave the entrance to Robinson Crusoe’s bar arrives in the village the next afternoon. He has walked around the lake because he has heard that I read tarot cards. He wants to know why his paintings are not selling. With the help of the accompanying tarot card interruption pamphlet and some artistic licence, I trace his life from his birth to his paint pot.
“You must paint what is in your mind and not what you think the bucks can buy,” I tell him. Two days later he is back with a large smile. Some Yank has bought his latest canvas, which he had created from a dream he had on the way home on the night he left us.
A word of this success reaches Chief Josef. There was no escape without reading his cards > A mistake. Now I’m knobbled. Luckily I have the cop-on to send him away under the pretence that he must clear his mind of all thoughts before he is in a position to put his question to the cards. I learn in the meantime that his question is ‘Will he be wealthy?’ My performance is a classic. He is spellbound, wealthy one minute poor the next. I struggled to bring the reading down to earth to a man who has anxieties and disillusion about the future and who has to count on his efforts and financial resources to improve the standard of living. Eventually, he is satisfied and promises a return reading of my stars before we go.
At the request of Amadou who has befriended me I pay a visit to Benaba another small village over the dunes from us. Benaba is six kilometres away set in a grove of Eucalyptus trees the village overlooks Lac Rose. Amodou and his friend float effortlessly over the soft sand at the usual African pace. We arrive – I losing a few kilos in sweat.
The village is under attack from roundworm, explained by the local teacher who draws the problem in the sand. Three village elders greet us and invite us to sit ourselves down under the village tree for tea. All I can think of is please god we are not in for the full treatment, which entails drinking the premier, tea, the deuxieme, the troisieme tea, each one increasing in sweetness all served in a small glass. Wrong we are.
Over the first glass which is poured from on high over and over again and again until a froth forms we received a thousand Cead Mile Failte all invoking the blessings of Allah to descend upon the head of all who are gathered under the tree.
Before the second glass, I am acknowledged. The gathering has now swollen with some thirty-odd children varying in ages from one and a half to still on the nipple to five years.
I the Toubabh (the white man) am watched with wonderment that would do justice to an Alien having landed from some distant planet. Each little round hard stomach is pushed forward for inspection. “No stool for a few days,” is the general diagnosis.
I consult, WHERE THERE IS NO DOCTOR.
(Top Tip: Don’t go without a copy > Written by David Werner ISEN 0-333-51652-4. it’s worth weight in Gold.)
The old Paupau milk with three spoons of honey and hot water and for the older arse holes > add the crushed seeds, three times a day.
Tea glass number three arrives.
In the sand, I draw the design for a long drop latrine. This leads to a heated debate about the size of the hole not in the ground but the seat. The height of the drop and who would have the right to sit on it in the first place are discussed in length. Thank God glass three arrives and the discussion moves from crapping, to if you don’t put a roof on the W.C. the President of the U.S A. will be able to watch you while he is having a cup of coffee in the White House.
On the way back I can only admire the villagers in their efforts to improve their living conditions. I wonder if all the foreign aid given to countries only saps the initiative, creativity and enterprise of the very people it is trying to help by surrogating irrelevant gilts of imported advice.
Arriving back we have visitors in the form of Albert Mohammed Ly a Vietnam Saigon war baby how is practising acupuncture and a French frog named Cher who has converted to Islam. The evening soon turns into for lack of a better word, ‘A Gnu’ evening. A WHIFF OF THE CRATOR (i.e. Whisky) with some helping wacky herb and they have turned into “WILL-de-beast or VILL–de–bayst. Naturally funny animals to start with they look weird > Heavy shaggy heads and necks, a goat’s beard and horse’s tail.
When you have seen one Gnu you have seen them all. At 3 am, we shoo the donkeys, the squabbling children the chief and our many village friends, plus the two Gnu’s for a few hours sleep.
It’s, Hit the road Jack’ for us in the morning.
Six am I am outside battening down the tent on the roof of Williwaw. The platform design is my brainchild a roofing area big enough for a six-man tent to be pitched on top. The supporting platform poles are carried in a plastic section of drain pipe strapped to the roof rack. With the flooring in position, the poles can be lowered or heightened according to what is required for a stable foundation. The results are two verandas on either side of the jeep. One side a cooking area, and the other side a shade and sitting area. The design allows great flexibility, safety, and privacy when needed. The only downside we found after some teething problems were ironed out, was that we often got the feeling that we were on a TV show.
When you have seen one Gnu you have seen them all. At 3 am, we shoo the donkeys, the squabbling children the chief and our many village friends, plus the two Gnu’s for a few hours sleep.
(Top TIP: A roof platform provided a creepy crawly free zone, a wonderful wildlife viewing spot, or an open-air sleeping deck under the stars. Its design is available on request from 21st Century Limited. Moulin de Labarde L’Abbaye Nouvelle 46300, Gourdon, Lot, France)
Wild pitch 38 is outside Kaffrine about two hundred kilometres east as the crow flies from Lake Rose. All that can be said about the day’s drive is that it won’t be long before the Sahara will be pay this treeless flat over grazed countryside a visit.
It is difficult to believe that the Sahara is growing at a rate of 250, 000 acres a year presently covering an area of 9.1 million sq km. It is actually a visible marvel on the move right in front of your eyes. The Place of the Winds (Nouakchott) was once many days walk from the Sahara now it’s in it. It won’t be long before Senegal is swallowed.
We start the next day with a fuel stop. In no time you are surrounded by the usual human beehive swarm of blameless do-gooders, windscreen washers, tyre explosive merchants, fuel mixers, wiper benders, and ariel snappers, fruit vendors and the to be expected angel faces kids. Although we all have experienced being the centre of interest for some time whenever we stop, Florence still finds it all too much and pulls her sunshade closed.
(Tip: Sunshade > the pull-down type, worth fitting on your windows.)
In the middle of the bedlam, my spare on the bonnet is discovered to be flat. “These roads are not for travelling without fixing it” – good advice. As Samuel Johnson once said, “When travelling: a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.” So we opt for a bit to eat on the recommendation of our puncture repairman. “Chep–bu–Jen” (rice with fish the national dish) A disaster.
After the accustomed battle to ensure that my tyre tube is indeed my tyre tube, we set off once more in a downpour that may, in the long run, prove me wrong that Senegal will turn Berber.
Pitch 39 is off the beaten track hidden up a dirt trail of red rusty coloured soil. No matter how out well concealed you think you are, you will always be found by some humanoid. Four youths on horseback arrive from the nearest village just in time for dinner. One carries a large club in good old emerald isle shillelagh style. “ Na stad anseo.” (vernacular Gaelic) Don’t stop here it seems to be saying. (Photo no – cd) We do for the night.
The sound of approaching horse hooves breaks the morning silence. Our horseback riders of the night are back to observe in minute detail our every move. In their anxiety to please their helping hands have to be curtailed from helping themselves.
Rejoining the main drag to Tambacounda, which is eighty kilometres from our first game park Niokolo-Koba we cross the road to refill our water Jerry cans. The well is all of three hundred metres deep. By the time I have hauled a rubber tyre bucket full to the top there is a large crowd – once more, friendly and willing hands complete the job.
Tambacounda is described in the African Bible Lonely Plant as our last chance to stock up, on the other hand, it also recommends that one should just pass through. A one-horse town it sure is, but we discover a swimming pool in the back of Hotel Asta Kebe. Most of the day is spent in the water and an air-conditioned room has us staying the night.
The hotel like the Post in Saint Louis shows all the signs of having had better days. Hotel Asta Kebe is clean and serves a mean couscous in a high ceiling oval dining room. Like the Post-it is adorned with some of the noblest sights of the African bush. The taxidermist display has put the kibosh on Niokola Koba National Park. The moth-ridden heads bear evidence that the chances of seeing large animals in the park are remote.
A quick visit to the bank is interrupted by a set of long legs silhouetted against the bank glass door. The only teller’s fingers instantly take on a motion that has nothing to do with counting the notes in front of him but could have every chance of giving him a dose of Aids. A quick shop and a chance meeting with a French family on their way to Benin with whom we exchange some routing and weather updates has us saying goodbye to the last outpost of civilisation. Williwaw knows better, we have not gone more than thirty klms when we hit a brand new two lane super highway – compliments of the French government.
It takes us three and a half hours to cross Niokola Koba National Park, which according to the bible should have taken up to four days. Other than a few baboons there is zilch to see what used to be in the park is hanging on the walls of Hotel Asta Kebe. Surrounded on either side by lush green foliage the highway is four hundred odd kilometres of worthless foreign aid which has created a going nowhere large dark scar in the red soil.
Had I not put the foot on the brake for a refuelling stop we would have whistled into the Gambia River never mind Guinea (Conakry)
The four pump attendants pointing all together at a plump Madame sitting in a car. She is the owner of the hotel. It’s too late to go searching for a suitable camping site. On the promise of returning to complete the frontier formalities in the morning, we are waved through to follow her down the remains of a rutted dirt road.
To our great surprise, we disembark at the most wonderful position for a hotel. Perched on a high cliff it is overlooking the Gambia River in full dark brown flood. The views through the surrounding trees, bush, jungle the birthrights of Africa conjure up our first out of Africa setting. That evening without a Tarzan cry or some roaring distance lion, or beating drums one could hear, taste, and smell a sense of Hollywood Africa.
Sitting on a balcony in the sunset for dinner of warthog the silent sound of the river and sight of our first dugout canoe ferrying leaning and crouched passengers across the river had us truly enraptured. We could almost hear one of those beautiful invocative echoing African Chants full of resonance in the distance.
As gems of feather colour visit our breakfast table down below us wet dresses with 32a pointy breasts, bicycles, dogs, baskets carrying older woman are delivered to our side of the river on the half hour.
The first ferry of the morning divulges the power of the swirling water below us. Using the full advantage of the back eddies a canoe claws its way upriver hugging the bank. Sitting proudly on the stern or the bow depending on which way the hacked out log is facing the steersman thrusts his pole into the water. Once out into the current he swaps the pole for a spear-headed shaped paddle.
The current gripes the narrow frail craft, and then with the odd correction steerage stroke arrives below us in less than a minute. The skill is reading the sweep of the river for any miss calculation from the set off point is punished by five to ten minutes of hard labour against the flow to make the landing.
One little red bird with a black cap is particularly adventurous hopping from one plate to another with gay abandonment. Our knowledge of birds or to be more precise or avifauna of the region is non-existence. I once more resolve to get a decent book on our feathered friends.
Breakfast over Florence and I descend to the riverbank and cross the river in time-honoured style, for twenty CFA no money in the world could have bought such an experience.
Some hours later at the recommendation of Madame, our second ferry crossing is with Williwaw. She informs us that down river a short distance away there is a car ferry. “One can get to a small village just on the Guinea border, where there is a wonderful market.” “An hour and a half trip that’s all.” The crossing point is at Sareboldo, down a small track – easier said than done.
With no signposts, tall grass to the left and right, and ruts that would ground the Queen Mary we struggle to find the river never mind the ferry.
(Top TIP: Fit bottle screws with a thin wire cable between the front wings or bull bar to the base of the roof rack. They deflect branches and high grass from the windscreen.)
Without warning out of the long grass the ferry crossing appears. It is my first steep muddy descent other than the one in Portugal, which I had managed to avoid.
Creeping to the riverbank the riverside bank looks much more frightening to the girls who are standing below. Highly conscious of keeping my foot off the brakes I edge forward engaging differential lock. At the point of no return, I slip into second arriving aboard like a great Hippo emerging from a mud bath. Hand over hand we are pulled across the river on a wire cable. There are no words to describe the feeling that Africa gives to a river crossing. I am sure it is one of the reasons that Africa becomes a bosom friend that draws one back to it over and over again.
Three hours later on an ever-increasingly difficult track, which we slid more than once, we are at the point of deciding to head back when the village comes into sight. A forced march uphill on methane rather than oxygen nearly sees Fanny’s demise. Last night’s warthog producing more than its fair share of thrust. The ever-present dogs announce our arrival.
A collection of round mud-walled huts with a thatched overhanging roof that almost touches the ground. Each house chimney is capped with an upside down earthenware pot, and a shaft of maize strapped to the door entrances from the last few years’ harvests.
“No market today,” a youth tells us in French. A drink of water and some roasted sweet corn are our lot. Through a rain of grass seeds deposited on the bonnet by our wire deflectors, we float our way back to a hot shower, dinner of wildfowl, a whiskey and the fishing rod.
(Top TIP: Don’t go without one. A fishing rod.)
Standing on the bank I am joined by some small boys. Nothing will satisfy me but Moby Dick. With a piece of string and the old trusty worm, my admiring fishermen land one fish after the other. I with the latest lures, rod and spinner, manage to land a specimen that wouldn’t have any difficulty squeezing into a can of Mr West sardine. A dozen or more bits not on the hook but on the neck and I am back to the laughter of the girls (Photo no -cd)
Eighty thousand CFA lighter we set off to the police station for clearance to leave Senegal.
( to be continued)