Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Upcountry Senegal

Musa, the Serer, animals and many, many birds
We took a three-day tour with a guide, Musa. He is an expert on local birds having worked with the RSPB and is knowledgable about the other natural history of the area.

Fish fence, Senegal style
Having been excited at seeing a fish fence in Kappeln in Germany (see photo #5), we were doubly so at seeing the Senegal version. In the north, it was for herring, here the catch might be dorade or thiof.

Musa was a wonderful enthusiast for all we saw, but he got especially animated each time he spotted a new species of bird. And this was often.

In our stock take of birds encountered, I stopped counting at 25. There were palm-nut vultures, ospreys, whimbrels, oyster-catchers, goliath herons, various species of pelican, African-palm swifts and gonoleks. My favourite was the cattle egret which follows the locally wandering herds of white, long-horned cows gobbling up the creatures disturbed from the soil by their hooves.

No egrets
Wolof, Serer and Fulani
Musa is an ethic Fulani. His language is Pular. It is a distinctly different tongue from the majority Wolof. The area we were in was predominantly Serer. They also have their own different language and when Musa spoke with them they used Senegal's 'lingua franca', Wolof.

Serer are fisherfolk. They are often Catholic in a nation that is mainly Muslim. Neither the ethnic nor the religious differences are problematic in what seems to be a tolerant country.

Salt wells

Local enterprise
One local village, it seems, has the rights to the salt on the flats near to our 'eco-village'. The men dig the wells on the low-lying land in between the agricultural areas and the sea. The women, using woven baskets, then harvest (their word) the salt from the resulting pool of sea water as the sun dries it.

The produce - at CFA1500 (€1) per 50 kilo - is mostly sold for preserving fish.

On the adjoining arable land, millet and peanuts are grown. Salt water gradually encroaches on it rendering it infertile. There doesn't seem to be a solution to the problem.

There are many species of acacia in the area. We saw tamarind, too. Angelika has developed a fondness for the baobab. Its bark was used traditionally for making rope, its fruit provides food and drink and its leaves, dried and pounded into a powder, are used as a binding agent in the cooking of couscous.

Sunset on baobab
In a tour of several highlights, it was the unexpected that provided the greatest frisson.

At the end of our first day, as the sun began to settle and we turned on our donkey-drawn trailer for home, there was a sudden flurry of exchanges in hushed Wolof between Musa and our cartman. They had spotted the one creature we had been told we would be lucky  to see; hyena.

The donkey reared and his handler had to impose himself to regain control. We were told the beast wasn't spooked by the pair of hunter-scavengers we encountered, but I was. Their hunched, lurking gait and leering gaze are intimidating.

Later we saw jackals and the following day, vervet monkeys and dolphin. It was a thrill.

Twilight prowl
Pirogue and picnic
The following two days involved sailing in pirogues and visiting Serer villages.

The first village, on an island in the archipelago, was very non-touristic. This was an intimate look into how the people lived. We felt honoured. I was very moved and humbled by a (much needed) invitation to use a local family's toilet. Musa hinted that the amenities might be basic. A young, proud, smartly dressed housewife led me to the family's outhouse. She was unselfconscous, just pleased to help a visitor in need. And I was grateful and touched.

Although, by European standards, the fabric of the village was very basic; bare breeze-block buildings, earth and sand streets, this was not what defined it for me. There was a strong feeling of a cohesive community. In what seemed to be a symbol of their self-perception, the villagers, especially the women, wore sumptuous clothing, deeply coloured in rich fabrics.

The children in the village were bright-eyed, energetic and laughed easily. We were high-fived by several as we walked by.

Angelika and our crew
To the archipelago
Our lunchtime picnic included bbq'd barracuda. Meaty and tasty. A snooze in a hammock and a pirogue ride back to the mainland.

Shared graveyards and grain stores
The last day took us to another Serer island village, the highlights of which were the Christian/Muslim burial ground and the stilted grain stores.

The latter were on another island which kept them away from the rats, we were told.

The graveyard is on a third island comprised mainly of shells. The locals collect whelks, remove the meat and deposit the shells in the cemetery. Recent research, our local guide told us, has found shells there from the eighth century. They are several meters deep.

No intensive farming here
High street
The graveyard contains both Muslim and Christian remains. While this is not unique, it is unusual. The local guide was proud of the peaceful coexistence of the two communities.

Side by side
Grain and rice stores
The meat from the whelks* is dried in the sun. They keep for months. I bought some.

This was a special few days. Memorable, moving and exciting. Musa was a very engaging guide. Thanks to him.

*They looked better in the bag than they tasted in the pasta sauce.


  1. Step aside Attenborough & Reeve - you've been superseded by S & A.

  2. Sounds like tourism isn't so bad! I envy you being away from our election madness, but there - I've spoiled it now.


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