Monday, March 7, 2011

The Stoermer Family Invades Senegal - Palmarin, Toubacouta and Kaolack

On February 24, 2011, the number of Stoermers in Senegal quadrupled – and for the next 9 days, Senegal was taken by storm. Here is a chronicle of their adventures…and misadventures…

I had planned to meet my parents and sister, Kristina, at the baggage claim are in the Dakar airport, but when I got to the airport at 6 am, the guards at the entrance to the arrival area of the airport said that no one can go in without a badge. By the time we had gotten to this point in the conversation I could tell the 2 guards already liked me because I was talking with them in Wolof (obviously the vast majority of people that talk with them speak French and not Wolof), so I continued to joke around with them and the woman standing nearby hoping I could sweet talk my way in to baggage claim. As it would turn out, it wasn’t my sweet talking that did the trick – it was my dancing skills, or, perhaps more realistically, it was my shameless willingness to make myself look like a fool doing a really popular Senegalese dance that got me behind the “badge required” area without a badge.

One of the first things Kristina asked me was where the bathroom was. I had told them several times before they came to go to the bathroom on the airplane right before getting off because the bathroom in the airport was worse than the airplane bathroom. She had done that, but she had also drunk lots of coffee and already needed to go again. The airport is being remodeled and they had added a couple toilets since when I had first arrived here back in August 2009, which were a lot nicer than the bathroom I had used when I first arrived, but still nothing compared to even a low quality bathroom in an airport in the States. We hung out in the airport for our driver to arrive, and then made our way through a mass of Senegalese men and boys trying to help us with our bags to our car. After a brief stop at the Peace Corps office to drop off a couple bags of stuff just for me (I had a long wish list of goodies I wanted from America…) so we wouldn’t have to drag them all over Senegal, we were off for our first destination: Palmarin.

Palmarin is actually a collection of villages on the ocean that have developed into a small tourist area. We spent 2 nights there at a cute little “resort” that is owned by a Senegalese man, Max, who lived in Italy for 25 years. Max opened the resort, La Tulipe Noire (The Black Tulip), about 3 years ago and works with a woman in Italy who sends him Italian goods (such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and liquor) and who helps him advertise in Europe. The drive to Palmarin was a bit rough – nothing exceptionally bad for me, but quite a long rough ride for my family, especially since they were so exhausted after traveling for so long. We had a short hike on stones across a flooded area before we arrived at our little oasis, La Tulipe Noire.

Hyena watching:

After a short rest and light lunch, we left for our hyena watching trip. This involved riding a horse-pulled charette for about an hour out to the nature reserve. Once we were there, we waited a little while for the sun to go down a little more, and then we started looking. Our guide, Philip, was the first to spot a hyena off in the distance. After a few minutes of watching it, we got back on the charette to move to a spot a little closer to it. We got a little bit better view of it from this second place, but the hyena refused to cooperate and come any closer. It still was a fun adventure!

We stopped to get a closer look at these salt holes that people dig to collect salt. My dad almost slipped in trying to get close enough to stick his hand in the salty water, and then Philip did, too, but luckily my dad was close by to help him up and out.
The hyena is in the middle of the photo, on the edge of the water.
The hyena is in the middle of this picture, too; you can just barely see his ears sticking up.

That night we had a delicious Italian dinner (unlike almost every other Senegalese man, Max sure can cook!) and then hit the sack, we were all quite exhausted.

Kayaking and picnic:

I was up at 7am the next morning, but let my family sleep in until 8 – possibly the latest I’ve ever seen my parents sleep, though they can obviously blame it on the time change. We had a pleasant Italian-style breakfast and then walked over to where we were going to meet our guide, Pierre, for our kayaking/picnic lunch trip. We had a pleasant morning kayaking through the mangroves, learning about the flora and fauna of the area. This was possibly one of the hardest times for me in terms of translation because of the different vocabulary – I don’t often talk about bird nests and tides, but we made it work. Pierre has worked with Peace Corps in the past and has given tours to many PCVs and their families, so we knew how to talk to make things clear for me, which is always nice.

We had a short mid-day rest while Pierre and our guide from the hyena excursion (who is good friends with Pierre), Philip, made lunch for us: fresh shrimp, onions, and tomatoes with a spicy mustard sauce and bread.
On our kayak back we stopped for our “surprise” – coffee inside a hollow baobob tree. Kristina and I squeezed our way in, but our parents didn’t really think it was necessary.

Here are some shots of La Tulipe Noire: the stone “bridge” we traversed several times, the beach, us swimming, us enjoying evening cocktails, the sunset, us enjoying dinner, us eating breakfast, the lobby and restaurant, and us saying goodbye.

Boat ride:

In a stroke of genius, I booked us a boat ride from Palmarin to our second destination: Toubacouta. The boat ride only took us about 3 hours, whereas that trip on land would have been upwards of 6 hours, and a lot rougher and hotter. The only difficulty was getting out to the boat, but we were used to trekking over random terrain with our bags by then. The boat we took is called a pirogue; it’s a traditional boat which fisherman all along the coast use.

Bird watching:

After getting settled in to our next resort, we had lunch and went for a swim. Then it was off for our evening activity: bird watching. We took a short boat ride through the mangroves and got off on an island to walk around. Our guide (the host father of the PCV that lives in Toubacouta) said that their grandparents (i.e., generations ago) used to live on the island, but when white people arrived they moved inland and never returned to live on the island. Now it is actually a protected place and no one is supposed to take anything off the island, including the beautiful little shells. Then we got back on the boat and went to wait next to a little area in the mangroves where lots of birds come in every evening to nest – and we sure saw a lot of birds!

Keur Saloum:

The resort we stayed at in Toubacouta is called Keur Saloum, which in Wolof means “The house of bush” – “keur” means house and “saloum” is the area of Senegal that Toubacouta (and Kaymore and Kaolack) is in; it also kind of means “to be out in the bush”. I had been there a couple times before, but never to sleep (I can’t afford a room there on my Peace Corps budget, but when Dad’s paying… J ). Kristina and I were able to check our email, which was nice. We also enjoyed the wildlife in the resort itself – all the birds and the tortoises, too! (They’re not wild; Keur Saloum keeps them in a pen.)

Hotel Relais, Kaolack:

Our third destination was my home away from home here in Senegal: Kaolack. Instead of staying our hot regional house, though, I was at Hotel Relais, which was so great. After a trek through the market in Kaolack, Kristina and I took a (cold) swim in the pool and relaxed by the pool. After dinner we even watched some BBC on the TV in our room (what a luxury to me!) before hitting the sack.

1 comment:

  1. Aww how nice of your family to visit! :] My favorite was the coffee in the tree! hahah.