Friday, June 10, 2016

Exploring Senegal: Kedougou, Touba, Saint-Louis, Cap Skirring & Ziguinchor.

With the constant busyness of work -- working with teachers, collaborating with folks at the Ministry of Education, observing classes, giving classes -- I can get caught up in everything, especially since a nine-month fellowship can fly by quickly and it's important to make the most of every moment.

But there should always be a work-(social) life balance, and when living abroad, seeing the actual country where you're living should be a priority!  So for the past few months, we've made the most of it -- traveling around Senegal for pleasure but also for work (with a couple of side trips as well).

In April (before our Guinea-Bissau and South Africa work trips), we (Michelle, Kaylin, Eura, and I) decided to explore the other side of Senegal -- specifically, the eastern side where Kedougou is.  It's a lot greener on that side but also very long and difficult to get to.  I would highly recommend asking Peace Corps Volunteers for advice, places to stay, and things to do, as they are very knowledgeable since they live in these areas.  Another great resource are the Bradt Travel Guides, which I live by!  Incredibly detailed; just double-check and call ahead for accurate information (as you would with any guidebook).

Niokolo-Koba Park is the highlight of this part of the southeastern region of Senegal, where we spotted some lions, warthogs, antelope, water buffalo, monkeys, hippos, and many other animals.  It makes you rethink how we view zoos back home, and how animals are truly meant to live out in the wild.  We also got to see Dindefelo Falls, which seemed to come out of nowhere as we were hiking (though you could hear the water from a while away).  It looked like Frank Lloyd Wright had constructed something like this!  I can only imagine what it's like when there's more water.  And of course, we hiked...a lot (which I loved but also realized how out of shape I was).  I had to channel my inner Peace Corps Volunteer again!  All in all, a great trip with dusty bus rides, great company, gazing at the stars, and getting my tan on because the sun was a-beaming!

All of us at Nikolo-Koba Park.  Too bad you can't see the hippos in the back (wayyyy in the back). 

Dindefelo Falls in the background.  Can't believe something like this is here in Senegal! 

Hiking in this blazing suns with nature's toothbrushes.  

When you make it to the top -- sweaty and full of bugs around you -- it's well worth it.  Especially with a beautiful sunset! 

To travel to this part of the country, you need a driver/guide to take you to certain places.  We were recommended this guide by other friends and it was quite incredible.  We stayed on top of a plateau,  and I remember bucket bathing and sleeping underneath the stars.  Really takes me back to when I lived in Burkina Faso au village...

In the beginning of May (after South Africa), we took a day trip to Touba, a town about four hours away from Dakar.  This place is of particular importance because it is the host of an annual pilgrimage (called the "Magal") for the Mourides, one of four Islamic sufi orders in Senegal.  We needed to see this mosque because it is one of the biggest in all of Africa and quite a site to behold!  As a non-Muslim, I've gained a great appreciation for Islam and all its intricacies.  

The Grande Mosquée de Touba, which is in Senegal's second largest city. 

In the middle of May, we killed two birds with one stone and made our trip up to Saint-Louis in the north of Senegal.  This place is of particular importance because of the remnants of French colonial architecture.  Isabella, another ETA, works at the all-girls' high school on the island of Saint-Louis, and the teachers there wanted to do a professional development training on teaching writing and assessments.  They invited Michelle and I to conduct this, which was great, as we've done these trainings before and were excited to see yet another part of Senegal.  

Fortunately, it became a sort of mini-reunion for some of us Fulbright ETAs but also for some of our Dakar friends as it was the annual Saint-Louis Jazz Festival, an international event that attracts folks from all around the world.  The city of Saint-Louis itself on the island is quite charming and it was interesting walking along the dusty road lined up with old French colonial architecture.  We also got to take a day trip to Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary/Park, though there weren't many birds due to the time of year. 

The teachers and us at the end of a successful professional development session.  Super receptive and they had some great ideas! 

On the boat before heading through the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary/Park.

Dakar's finest (with our signature pose) along our makeshift Senegal/Mauritania border (that's how far north Saint-Louis is!). 

Obligatory jumping short along the beach.

We decided to take a 4x4 along the beach from Saint-Louis to Dakar.  About 30 minutes in, we were so cold that we wanted to just stay inside, haha! 

In the beginning of June, with our time in Senegal slowly coming to a close, we realized we didn't get to see another part of where our fellow Fulbrighters live: in the southern part of Senegal of Ziguinchor.  To get here is quite the journey: you often have to take a boat that takes about a day OR you can fly (which is what we did).  This part of the country is south of The Gambia, and takes significantly longer to cross via land.  

Two of our Fulbright friends, Eura and SJ, have tried to convince us to come down and visit, which we've been wanting to do for the longest time.  And we finally found the time and money to do it!  After flying in, you could see the landscape change dramatically.  Greenery everywhere, it almost felt like a different country.  It was much more humid but there was a more relaxed vibe compared to the busy city life of Dakar.  We spent a couple of days lounging around the beach in Cap Skirring and made our way to Ziguinchor, where we got to experience life down there, hoping to see some dolphins (we didn't, sadly), and enjoying the calmer pace.  We also got to see their schools (they work at a middle school and high school)!  Because there are more Christians down there, the drinking culture seemed much more relaxed.  Quite the adventure! 

When we got off of the plane and landed, this tiny airport greeted us in Ziguinchor. 

Arrived in Cap Skirring to a wonderful dinner (and drinks) with friends.  Mmmmm! 

The water was so refreshing! 

Stray dog lounging on the beach chair next to me in the shade.  He knows what's up! 

SJ took us on a tour around Ziguinchor.  We were at the Centre Culturel Français, which had some incredible painted walls inside.  

The gang on the rooftop of Eura and SJ's apartment building.  Panoramic views of Ziguinchor! 

Taking a rickety boat to try and see the dolphins.  No such luck, but it was beautiful regardless.  Though I'm pretty sure there was one time where I thought we'd have to call for help because our boat got stuck.  

Mafé, their cat, being her cute self.  They recently adopted this cat and she was just too adorable! 

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