The Casamance region of Senegal is cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. The overnight ferry from Dakar to get here couldn’t have been more comfortable by African standards. When arriving in Ziguinchor you sail through miles of green jungle and mangrove swamps, a big contrast to the dusty plains of the North, which gives you the sense you’re arriving in a whole new country. Not only is the landscape a fresh change, Casamance is culturally and politically very different to the North, in fact most people will actually say they’re going to Senegal when planning a trip to Dakar.
The village of Abéne was the base during my stay here. A pretty hip little hangout right on The Gambia border which draws musicians and artistic people from all over West Africa. It is also the official headquarters of the Senegalese Manchester City fan club, whose corrugated iron shack is located in the bus station.‘Bantam Wora’ the sacred tree of Abéne is six huge fromager trees, which have fused together over time to create one massive beast. Also known as kapak or cotton trees, they’re always considered sacred in Casamance, but this one is extra special due to its size. Thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered milk, kola nuts or biscuits, women with fertility problems or men wanting to win a local football match will come here to make an offering. Only time will tell if the packet of hobnobs I left there will be enough to help Newcastle United win any silverware in my lifetime. The coastal walk from the nearby town of Kafountine back to Abéne takes around an hour. The people here seem genuine and friendly and I got talking to a few guys from different walks of life. First a Gambian fisherman, who crosses the border regularly to work as he makes more money in Senegal. Then there was Mr Kofi, a Togolese gentleman who sells fresh BBQ’ed fish to tourists from his wooden shack. Finally, there was a young man from Nigeria who has travelled to Abéne overland from his home, his ultimate goal – to illegally make it to Europe where he will lie about his age with the hope of becoming a professional footballer. He’s 28 but can easily pass for 22. During his journey he spent a month behind bars in Ziguinchor when he got caught sneaking into Senegal but was released to make room in the prison for more serious criminals.
Casamance region is an awesome spot for bird watching. I spent four days sitting in a hammock struck down with a mysterious stomach infection, most likely caused by downing a litre of Dakar tap water after a heavy night on the drink. I decided to just let the birds come to me.
The ferry back to Dakar wasn’t quite as luxurious as it didn’t have cabins, so I was forced to sleep on the floor. It was still well organised and ran on time, a rare feat for Africa. The boat is such a prominent feature throughout this traditional fishing nation, it is impossible to miss the colourful designs and Islamic messages painted on the sides of each vessel. It seems only fitting that the word Senegal comes from the two Wolof words ‘Senuu Gal’ meaning ‘Our Boat’. Somehow, when disembarking the ferry I ended up with someone else’s passport, I was the only white guy on board, so how I got mistaken for ‘Muhammad Sagna Diop” is anyone’s guess.
Back in Dakar, I realised that it is quite a decent city with many different suburbs. Yoff, which is only a few kilometres from the airport, has a lively clean beach with clear water. It’s also the only beach in the world where you will find men training and sunbathers been attacked by giant pelicans on the same stretch of sand.
The affordable and short (ish) flight from England made Senegal an excellent place for a short trip. The North and South are two very different regions and the food is good, although I wouldn’t recommend their spaghetti bolognese. I had a few language difficulties, but the Senegalese people are very welcoming and friendly, in fact they pride themselves on ‘Teranga’ which means ‘Hospitality’ in Wolof. As I’m about to tackle Africa for round five, I’m signing off from Senegal with my generic football top shot, this time I’m going for the full kit wanker. Au Revoir!