A Travellerspoint blog

Senegal

Travelling to Fathala

Senegal day two


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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River bank in Banjul, from the ferry

Having spent the night at the Kombo Beach Hotel, we were up early and eager to set off for Senegal. But first came breakfast. This was included in our stay and served buffet-style. We didn't have time to sample everything because of our early departure for the ferry, but what I did have was good - a roll with pineapple and ginger jam, a croissant and wonjo juice (made from hibiscus flowers – delicious). The exception was the coffee which was weak and flavourless. However, on our second visit to the hotel at the end of our trip I found the coffee rather better, so maybe I was just unlucky this first time.

The Banjul ferry

We were picked up after breakfast by a driver who took us and three other tourists to catch the ferry in Banjul. We arrived at the port in good time and stood chatting for a while before the boat arrived. When it did so it was packed with people travelling to the capital to start the working day – some carrying goods to sell at the markets, some coming to buy; some dressed, it appeared, for office work, others labourers probably seeking day work; school children in uniform and a few goats and chickens!

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Ferry passengers in Banjul

After the people, the cars and lorries trundled off, and then it was our turn to board. Thankfully at that time of day the northbound voyages are quieter so there was plenty of room.

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Boarding the ferry in Banjul

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River bank in Banjul, from the ferry

On our driver's advice we secured seats up on the top deck while he guarded the luggage down below. It took a while for some lorries to come aboard but once they had we were off.

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Departing from Banjul

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Ferry passengers

The crossing took about thirty minutes (I gather though it can be as much as forty or fifty) and we then disembarked, being careful to stay out of the way of the lorries doing the same.

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The north bank of the river

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Disembarking in Barra

Fathala Lodge

We were met here by a driver from the lodge we were heading to in Senegal, Fathala. The drive took about an hour, with a stop at a police-check and further stops at both the Gambian and Senegalese borders. The scenery was dry, dusty but rather attractive bush, and the road well-surfaced, so we enjoyed our journey - indeed, I would have been happy if it were a little longer!

[Aside: this was perhaps just as well, as two days later we were to repeat the trip – a broken tooth meant a return to Banjul for a morning for dental treatment, helpfully arranged by the hotel manager and staff.]

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On the road to Samé

Fathala Lodge lies not far from the border near a small village called Samé. It claims be a unique hotel for Senegal – a tented lodge on a private wildlife reserve. Accommodation is in large tents set along boardwalks that lead away from the public areas on either side. As we were shown to our tent, about halfway along the row to the left of the central area, we were warned to stay on the boardwalks at all time, as the long grass below often harboured snakes. You can believe that we followed this advice to the letter!

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Our tent

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The tents all have mosquito nets, free-standing bath tubs and twin washbasins. In a separate block behind are two outdoor showers (I love outdoor showers!). There is plenty of storage, a small fridge, tea and coffee, but no TV – this is an away-from-it-all destination.

The public areas are all open air under a large thatched roof. There is lots of comfortable seating, a bar and restaurant, and a small plunge pool with sun loungers. The atmosphere is one of casual but well-designed comfort, with local crafts, a few antelope skulls and similar African decorative touches. There is free wifi available here, although not in the tents.

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Bar and lounge

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Plunge pool and deck

We had arrived in time for lunch which we had on the terrace overlooking the lodge’s small waterhole just beyond the plunge pool. This naturally attracts local wildlife. If you are lucky (we weren’t, either today or throughout our stay) this will include the resident white rhino, as well as the frequently-visiting waterbucks. But we did spot some warthogs this afternoon, getting us in the mood for our planned afternoon activity.

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Warthogs at the waterhole

Safari drive in Fathala Reserve

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In the reserve, Fathala

The lodge has a variety of activities on offer (all of which are available to non-residents, by the way, who come on day trips from hotels in nearby Gambia). We signed up for a number of these as soon as we arrived, starting today with a safari-style drive in Fathala’s own game reserve.

The reserve has been stocked with some species that would once have been at home in Senegal, such as giraffe and rhino, and of course has still-native species including a wide variety of birds and several monkeys. A highlight of the reserve is the rare Western Giant Eland (also known as the Giant Derby Eland) which is bred here as part of a rescue programme for this endangered species.

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Western Giant Eland

We went out in the late afternoon with a driver plus a local guide who spoke good English and was adept at spotting the animals and telling us something about them. We didn't see all the species that the reserve has (you would have to be exceptionally lucky to do so) but we did see a lot, including several of the Western Giant Eland. On our drive this afternoon we also saw ...

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Plains Zebra

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Giraffes

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Patas Monkey
- we saw both Red and Green Patas Monkeys, but I'm not sure which this is, although my guess is red!

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Warthogs

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Roan Antelopes

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Waterbuck, and another Western Giant Eland

We also saw lots of birds.

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Both Red-billed and Grey Hornbills

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Abyssinian Roller

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Blue Glossy and Purple Starlings

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Stone Partridge

Plus some I failed to get decent photos of:
African Harrier Hawk
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Red-eyed Dove
Guinea Fowl
Drongo

We stopped a little before sunset, when the light was at its best, to enjoy a beer and some nuts while photographing the starlings at a waterhole. I also videoed them, and later combined that footage with some taken earlier of the giraffes:

So while we didn't see the hoped-for White Rhino this was still a great outing and we thoroughly enjoyed the more than three hours we had spent driving around the reserve. The light was fading as we drove back to the lodge, ready for our dinner.

Evening at the lodge

Our stay at Fathala was on a bed and breakfast basis. I found it surprising that they didn't just make it half-board, since there is nowhere else to go to eat round here! So of course we took all our meals in the restaurant and found them very good on the whole, although the choice was understandably limited.

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Thai fish curry

Dinner was a set three course meal, with no choice of starter or dessert and just two options for mains. Although we didn’t have any specific needs ourselves, we were told that the chef will cook for these, e.g. vegetarian, with prior notice. We got chatting this evening to a young vegetarian girl (another Sarah!) who was staying here with her mother, and she told us that she was very impressed with the variety and quality of the dishes prepared for her. As indeed were we – the choice might have been limited but the meals were excellent and I loved this evening’s main course of a butterfish fillet in a Thai curry sauce.

Before and after dinner we enjoyed drinks in the Baobab Bar, an informal spot with views across the dried up river channel and, after dark, a fire pit. Then we walked back along the boardwalk, watching carefully for snakes, and settled down in our cosy tent, excited about what tomorrow would bring ...

Posted by ToonSarah 06:33 Archived in Senegal Tagged people animals birds boats wildlife hotel africa safari zebra giraffes gambia senegal fathala Comments (10)

Walking with lions – and an (unrelated) mishap

Senegal day three


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Walking with lions

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Lioness in a tree, Fathala

While Fathala Lodge might well have appealed to us regardless of the specific activities on offer, there was one thing in particular that really drew us here – an opportunity to walk alongside lions. We both love big cats (and also small ones, come to that!) so this was a must-do as soon as we read about it, and we had signed up as soon as we had arrived yesterday.

We were up and eating breakfast quite early as it's best to do this activity first thing in the morning if staying at the lodge; it is also offered to day trippers from other hotels (including some in Gambia) and thus walks later in the day tend to have more participants. We had booked for the first slot of the day, at 8.15 AM, and were pleased to discover that there were just the two of us on the walk.

The lodge has five lions which live in their own large fenced-off area of the reserve at some distance from the lodge. When we arrived at the reception area we were given a very thorough briefing, as you can imagine. There are a number of rules that you have to follow, which we had been warned about in advance. These include not to wear sunglasses (the lions might be spooked by seeing their own reflections), flapping clothes or animal prints (for obvious reasons!) and not to carry a bag. Of course it is more than fine to bring your camera, and actually a good idea to bring more than one, not only for back up but because a guide will take one and shoot the pictures that you cannot, from the front. This is because another rule stipulates that while walking you must always stay behind the lions, although at photo stops you will be shown where you can stand to take face-on shots, as well as to pose with them. Other rules include not shouting or running.

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Sign by the gate

Having read all the rules, we were asked to sign a waiver form. It was at that point that I did start to wonder if this was such a good idea after all! But I knew that the lions have lived here since they were just three months old, when they were rescued, (they were by now, in February 2016, almost five years old) and have been used to being around people throughout that time. They know the guides and understand the signals they give with their sticks. But they are nevertheless wild animals, to some extent at least, so it was made clear that we were participating at our own risk – but also that in the three years (at that point – now six years) that they have been running this activity there have never been any problems.

My other reservations centred around how the lions were kept. As rescue cubs from (I think) South Africa, I knew that they had grown up in a somewhat unnatural environment (there are no longer any lions in Senegal), and that releasing them into the wild would not be an option. From all I had read prior to our visit I was confident that they are well cared for here, and indeed they appeared to be so. I have read one or two reviewers expressing concerns about the use of sticks, but the reserve has stated clearly that ‘The walking sticks are part of the lions’ training program since they are cubs to adultery (sic) and merely a symbol of respect, none of our lions have ever being beaten. The guides and lion handlers have the utmost love and respect for these lions and will never do anything to harm them.’ From all we saw I believe this to be the case and could see that bond between human and animal in the way the keepers and lions interacted.

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Keeper showing us a lion's claw

So, to our walk … We approached the gate with our guide somewhat cautiously, especially when we saw beyond it the two lions with whom we were to walk. The five lions are taken out for a walk with guests in rotation; we were with Masai, the alpha male, and one of his three sisters. The gate was opened, we walked through with our guide and it was locked behind us – we were committed!

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Masai, the alpha male

In addition to the guide who had briefed us and entered with us, there were three other keepers with the lions, all of whom came along on the walk. We followed a path clearly known to the lions, who went on ahead. We were not so much walking with lions as following them at close quarters, but that was fine with us. To see the movement of the muscles in these magnificent creatures as they stroll long gave me a strong sense of their power. Their golden fur glowed in the early morning sun, and occasionally they would look back at us as if to check we were still there. A couple of times the female wandered a little way into the trees to the side of the path, but each time soon rejoined her brother. One of the keepers had taken Chris’s spare camera and shot a great little video of us all as we walked:

When we reached a small group of trees the lions stopped. I got the impression that they had been taught to do so, although maybe they just wanted a rest.

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The male lion

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Lioness licking for salt

This was an opportunity for more and better photos, and the keepers showed us how we could get closer and exactly where to stand, as well as taking some photos of us with the lions. By the way, some old reviews mention being able to touch the lions but that was only when they were young cubs – it is very definitely not allowed now they are bigger!

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With the lions

The lioness seemed to know that we wanted to get good photos. First she had a good stretch and scratched at one of the trees, then she climbed it and posed beautifully on a branch.

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The lioness

All too soon though we were given the signal to turn back to the gate, still following the lions. Our 50 minutes had gone really quickly and now we had to say goodbye to the lions, who went off to their run with their three escorts while our guide walked us back to Fathala's day centre where our jeep was waiting. What a memorable experience it had been!!

And now for the mishap!

We returned to the lodge for lunch and, with no further activities booked for today, were looking forward to a relaxing afternoon and a dip in the plunge pool. Although choices for dinner here are limited, at lunch time you can choose from a menu of lighter dishes, and both of us opted for a burger. We sat on the deck enjoying our meal and keeping an eye open for any animals who might come along to the water hole for a drink. None did, but we enjoyed watching the antics of a troop of Patas Monkeys in the trees beyond.

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Patas Monkeys

Halfway through our meal, however, I felt what I thought was a small piece of bone from the burger in my mouth, but it wasn’t – a large part of one of my teeth had come away as I ate!

While I didn’t feel any pain, I was concerned that I could do so if I continued to eat with it, and also that we were heading deeper into Senegal in a couple of days and would be even further from ‘civilisation’ (aka dentists!) than we were here. So I spoke to the (French) lodge manager and she called for her assistant, who was from Banjul and therefore almost local, to advise. He proved to be hugely helpful. He told us that his neighbour back in Banjul was a dentist, trained in France (which I found reassuring), and should be able to provide at least temporary treatment. I agreed that he should call his neighbour, which he did, and arranged an appointment for me the next morning – great. Now all I had to do was get to Banjul and then back to the lodge afterwards. This was where the manager herself came to my aid. She arranged a car to take us and a guide to go with us, and said we could just pay half of the usual transfer fee in order to cover their costs, which we were happy to agree to.

With all of these plans made there was nothing more that I could do today, so we resumed our original plan of a relaxing afternoon. This was enlivened by a bit of excitement from the tent next to ours. The occupants were a couple from Belgium, with whom we’d had a brief chat the previous evening along with the English mother and daughter and two older English women, friends travelling together. This afternoon on returning to our tent we saw the two Belgian guys standing outside theirs, looking concerned, and several of the lodge staff going inside as if to look for something. Had one of the snakes we’d been warned about somehow got into the tent, we wondered? But no – when we called across to ask what the problem was we were told they had a mouse visiting the tent and eating the sugar from the sachets provided for tea- and coffee-making, and had called on the staff to evict their unwanted guest.

Later that evening it became clear that the staff had been unsuccessful in their mission, as the guys had moved to another tent further down the row. Chris and I were rather amused that two grown guys had been chased out by a tiny mouse, and also were inclined to believe that a mouse could easily visit any of the tents, including ours and the one to which they had moved. And although we never did see a mouse here at Fathala, we were to be forcibly reminded of this incident, and our reaction to it, at our next lodge!

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Enjoying the pool

After the minor excitement of the ‘mouse in the tent’ incident we reverted to our plan of relaxing on the deck. I had a dip in the pool (a broken tooth wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the water!) and we spent some time watching for wildlife at the waterhole. And while the white rhino continued to elude us, we did see some waterbucks, various birds and a large lizard which joined us on the deck for a while.

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Lizard on the decking

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Waterbuck

Our leisurely afternoon was followed by a pleasant evening – I even managed to eat some dinner, albeit very gingerly!

We went to bed still buzzing about the morning walk with the lions, but in my case at least conscious that tomorrow morning could be a lot less pleasant!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:01 Archived in Senegal Tagged monkeys lizards wildlife africa lions senegal big_cats Comments (10)

Dealing with the mishap, and a holiday resumed

Senegal day four


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Back to Banjul

It was just as well that we had enjoyed our ferry ride from Banjul to Barra two days ago, as here we were, back again. My broken tooth necessitated a visit to the dentist, the dentist was in Banjul, and so we were making the day trip from Fathala Lodge (in Senegal).

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On the road to the ferry

Of course a broken tooth wasn’t going to stop me taking photos and the scene at the port in Barra, where we had to wait quite a while, was as colourful as it had been on our previous trip. Women carrying babies, women carrying chickens, children travelling to school, labourers to work, farmers with goods to sell in Banjul’s markets.

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Waiting for the ferry in Barra

And once we boarded there was plenty of activity on the river bank to watch, with colourful pirogues ferrying other locals across the river. I was amused to see how passengers boarded these vessels, carried on the shoulders of one of the boatmen!

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Boats in Barra

The journey passed smoothly and as before we enjoyed sitting on the top deck and watching all the activity, although apprehension about visiting an unknown dentist in this very different part of the world prevented me from fully appreciating the scenes around me.

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Ferry passenger

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Refreshments on board

We had been given instructions on how to find the dental clinic in Banjul and had been told that the lodge guide would just see us on to the ferry and then wait for us on the other side, but he insisted on coming with us to make sure everything went well. With his guidance we easily found the clinic, where the dentist was on the lookout for us. Somewhat ironically, since I had been thinking that it was good to be visiting a French-trained Gambian dentist rather than a Senegalese one (after the manager at Fathala told us that the usual practice in that country was to pull out any tooth giving trouble rather than try to save it), it turned out that although living in Gambia he was actually from Senegal! Incidentally, it might also be considered a bit ironic that my dentist back at home did have to eventually remove the tooth to deal with the problem!

Anyway, this particular Senegalese dentist, who spoke reasonable English to match my passable French, agreed with me that a temporary filling would be the best solution in the immediate term. He had soon performed the procedure but not without giving a running commentary on the quality, or rather the lack of quality, of previous work I’d had done on my teeth – even calling on Chris to come and have a look at one point!

But he worked well, and quickly – so much so that we were able to hurry back to the port afterwards and catch the same boat that we had arrived on back to Barra rather than have to wait several hours for the next one. On the way back we got talking to three local guys who had parked next to our vehicle on board, who insisted that I took their photo, so I did!

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On the ferry back to Barra

What is more, thanks to the speedy work of the dentist, we were back at Fathala in time for lunch, and I even managed to eat some!

By the way, the dentist had done his work well – the filling lasted for the rest of the trip and until I was able to visit my own dentist back in London.

Boat ride among the mangroves

The prompt work of the dentist meant that we were back in plenty of time to go ahead with our planned activity. a late afternoon ride among the nearby mangroves. We took a jeep ride of about half an hour through some small villages, where children rushed out to wave to us as we passed. We felt a little self-conscious and pseudo-regal waving to them from our high perches in the vehicle, but it would have been mean to disappoint them and it was fun to see their excitement. One toddler in particular shrieked with such joy you would have thought we were the only foreigners he had ever seen, despite this being a fairly well-visited tourist area.

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The road through a local village

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Local children


We reached the point where our boat was waiting for us – one of the traditional local vessels known as pirougues. Once we were all aboard (as well as the two of us there were the two elderly English ladies in our group) we cast off, and spent the next couple of hours cruising slowly among the mangroves.

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The waiting pirogues

Although there was less bird life than we had seen on similar trips when staying at Mandina Lodge in Gambia two years previously, we did see quite a few.

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Goliath Herons

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Osprey on mangrove tree

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Hooded Vulture

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Great Egret

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Egrets in flight

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Hamerkop in a baobab

The other birds we saw, but I failed to photograph, were:
Senegal Thick-knee
Lapwing
Pied Kingfisher
Caspian Tern
Whimbrel
African Darter

We also saw a crocodile and, as at Mandina, a number of locals collecting the oysters that grow on the mangrove roots.

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Collecting oysters

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Crocodile


Part way through the ride we stopped in the shade to enjoy cold drinks and some snacks in this peaceful setting. As we watched we chatted a bit with our companions, who were an interesting pair. They were clearly good friends but were like chalk and cheese! One seemed to be a fairly experienced traveller, taking everything pretty much in her stride, while the other was in an almost constant state of bewilderment. Neither of them could manage to work the rather complex camera that a daughter had lent them for the trip and were in unjustifiable awe of the photos we were capturing – so much so that we swapped email addresses so I could send them some as a reminder of the outing. I wondered afterwards if the mother passed them off to her daughter as her own, so that her incompetence with the camera could remain a secret!

As the sun sank a little lower the light became rather magical, and I especially enjoyed seeing the almost sculptural silhouettes of the baobab trees that dotted the landscape, rising out of the deep greens of the mangrove trees.

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Sunset on the river
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Baobab, late afternoon light


After a couple of hours we returned to our starting point and boarded the jeep for the ride back to the lodge. The landscape glowed red in the late afternoon sun and our ride home was punctuated by even more greetings and waves from the small children we passed.

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Senegal sunset


Although not so exciting as the other lodge activities (and especially the lion walk), this was a very pleasant way to spend a few hours, and visiting the mangroves introduced us to a very different landscape from the dry and dusty bush surrounding Fathala.

We spent the last evening here much as we had the others, with drinks at the bar and a tasty dinner, which tonight I was able to enjoy as much as on the first evening, thanks to my newly mended tooth! And we went to bed in our cosy tent looking forward to seeing more of this fascinating country tomorrow, when we would travel north to the Saloum Delta in the Sine-Saloum region.

Posted by ToonSarah 03:06 Archived in Senegal Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises children trees animals birds boats wildlife village river reptiles dentist gambia senegal fathala Comments (7)

Travelling to the Sine-Saloum Delta

Senegal day five


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Waterbuck mother and baby visiting the waterhole

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At breakfast today we were treated to the sight of a couple of waterbucks, mother and baby, who came to drink at the waterhole and lingered for some time. A lovely ending to our short stay at Fathala.

Our journey to Fimela

After spending three nights at Fathala we left to travel further into Senegal. We drove (or I should say, were driven) north on what was at first a good road but which soon deteriorated into a dusty red sand track, made worse by the fact that work was in progress (February 2016) to surface it properly.

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Roadworks

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Scenery on the road

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Passing through a local village

But after 25 kilometres of bumping along through a string of very traditional-looking villages, each with a number of the family compounds so typical of rural Africa, we turned west, and back on to a properly surfaced road. Our driver explained that rather than travel through Kaolack, as we had expected, he planned to take the ferry from Foundiougne, cutting off a corner of the journey and avoiding another long stretch of unmade-up road. We might have to wait for the boat, he said, but that would still be preferable to the much longer alternative by road. This suited us, as the boat ride would break up the journey and sounded more interesting.

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The Saloum from the road

This better road led across salt flats and along causeways lined with mangroves to the town of Foundiougne, from where we were to catch the ferry across the Saloum. The queue of vehicles was too long to allow of us crossing on the ferry that was then loading, so we had to hang around for about 45 minutes while it crossed and returned.

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The ferry in Foundiougne
- this is the one that was too full to take us!

This unscheduled break gave us time to stroll around and take lots of photos, as well as to try to converse a little, in our sometimes inadequate French, with the local market traders etc. They were naturally keen that we shopped at their stalls (we didn't) but less keen on our cameras, although most tolerated them.

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Locals in Foundiougne

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Drums for sale in the market

The favoured local transport option of a horse or donkey and cart was much in evidence, carrying both goods and passengers.

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Local transport in Foundiougne

I rather liked the design of the building housing the port offices here - very 1930s, it seemed to me!

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Port building

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Decorated bike waiting for the ferry

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Ferry approaching Foundiougne

When the ferry returned we paid the foot passenger fee of 50 CFA francs each while our driver drove on separately (no passengers are allowed in vehicles). Life jackets were much in evidence, but thankfully not needed!

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Leaving Foundiougne

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On the ferry
- a white-breasted cormorant, I think, and two gulls

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Approaching Ndakhonga on the far bank

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Disembarking from the ferry in Ndakhonga

The crossing took only about 15 minutes, and once on the far side it was an easy drive of around an hour via the small town of Fatick and on to Souimanga Lodge near the township of Fimela.

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On the road to Fatick

Souimanga Lodge

When I booked our stay at this fairly remote small hotel in the Sine Saloum I opted to pay a little extra for what they term a ‘lagoon’ rather than ‘garden’ bungalow, as these face directly on the water and have their own private boardwalk and shaded jetty overlooking the water. But when we arrived it was to discover that for some reason we had been upgraded to a suite. These (there are just two) have the same lovely waterside setting as the lagoon bungalows, but the extra bonus of a small private plunge pool and a separate inside seating area. What a treat!

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Seating area

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Bedroom area


The room was beautifully decorated with interesting art pieces and lighting. It had plenty of facilities including air conditioning, mini bar, espresso coffee machine and a TV with French channels. The bathroom was very attractive with a monsoon shower.

At the end of our boardwalk was a deck with large beanbags and some shade, perfect for bird-watching. After a quick dip in the rather chilly plunge pool we spent what remained of the afternoon relaxing there and taking photos of the many birds who live among the mangroves.

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View from the deck, with next door's hide, and the boardwalk to our private hide

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Our suite from the hide

The Sine Saloum Delta is known for its bird-life. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a keen birdwatcher, as a photographer I am drawn to them and the challenge of capturing the beauty of something that hardly ever keeps still for long enough!

I also like to know what it is that I am photographing, something I found slightly frustrating here. The local guides here seemed much less knowledgeable about the names of the bird species than those in Gambia, and naturally when they could name them, they did so in French. A comprehensive guide to the birds of West Africa on the bookshelf in the bar area was also in French, so I resorted to Google and to sharing photos with well-informed Facebook friends! All bird photos labelled in this blog therefore come with a disclaimer – I am pretty sure I have the names correct but not 100% so. I’d be grateful to readers who can correct any errors, either on this page or the following ones!

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Bird-life among the mangroves

Today we saw herons, egrets and more, including several pelicans swimming among the mangroves.

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Pelican

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Black-winged Stilt

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Cormorants
- too far away for me to be sure which kind!

Back on the deck we saw a few more birds who came to drink from our plunge pool. There were Senegal Doves, also known as Laughing Doves, and also a Red-Eyed Dove.

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Senegal or Laughing Doves

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Red-Eyed Dove

We also saw several Common Bulbuls and a Weaver – either Village or Little, I wasn’t able to determine which.

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Common Bulbul
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Little (or Village?) Weaver

We were to see many more of the same species during the week we spent here, and more besides, so expect to see lots more bird photos in my following entries too!

Evenings at Souimanga

In the evening we had dinner on the decking by the main building. This is on several levels with only a few tables on each, and you have the feeling of eating in a tree-house – wonderful!

Dinner was a set menu but with a choice of two main courses, which seemed almost always to be either beef (served as a steak or brochette) or fish, again served either as a single piece or a mix of fishes on a brochette. One of the kitchen staff came to seek us out each afternoon to ask for our choice and also at what time we wanted to eat. Before our choice of mains, there was always an amuse bouche and an entree, and after it a dessert. There was no choice of these, but generally we found them tasty and they were thankfully much more varied than the main courses. We also really enjoyed both our pre-dinner drinks each evening (a beer for Chris and a cocktail for me, which came with what we still talk about as the best olives we have tasted anywhere in the world!

Posted by ToonSarah 07:15 Archived in Senegal Tagged landscapes animals birds boats views hotel river roads africa seabirds senegal street_photography Comments (8)

Life in the Sine-Saloum Delta

Senegal day six


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Sunrise in the Delta

We awoke quite early after a very comfortable night’s sleep in our suite at Souimanga Lodge. As we were completely un-overlooked, we had left the curtains open, so our first sight was of the sun just starting to rise over the mangroves and lagoon. Dressing quickly we hurried out with our cameras.

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Souimanga sunrise

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Souimanga sunrise - lone mangrove reflected

As it got lighter, we could see locals making their way to work (I assumed) from the small village out in the lagoon which is linked to Fimela by a causeway. Some were on foot, but the vehicle of choice was a horse and cart, otherwise known as the ‘bush taxi’. These are multi-purpose vehicles, used to transport goods, ferry children to school, travel from village to village and so on. They are practical, cope well with the uneven tracks, and of course are easy to look after, as long as the horse stays healthy. The carts these days are fitted with tyres, making for a slightly smoother ride along the bumpy tracks than in the past perhaps, but otherwise this form of transport has changed very little for centuries I reckon.

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Souimanga sunrise, with bush taxi

Returning to the room we discovered that the scrabbling noises I'd heard in the night (and taken to be birds on the decking outside) must in fact have been a mouse, which had not only partly eaten one of the apples in the fruit bowl kindly provided by the hotel but also the little ear buds from Chris's MP3 player ear phones! It felt like karma after we had laughed at the Belgian couple at Fathala who insisted on changing tents after a mouse ate their sugar. But we had no intention of giving up our lovely suite just for a mouse!

A relaxing morning

We enjoyed our French-style breakfast of fresh juice, fruit salad, crepes, omelettes and baguettes sitting out on the decking where we’d had dinner, this time able to appreciate the views of the lagoon through the trees. Those trees were full of birds which kept distracting me from my meal as I endeavoured to photograph them – only this Little Weaver posed long enough for me to be able to do so!

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Little Weaver at breakfast

One reason for choosing Souimanga, quite apart from it being a lovely hotel in a beautiful location, was that it offers a wide range of activities in the local area, all aimed at introducing guests to life in rural Senegal. While many guests come here from Europe (especially France and Belgium) to soak up some winter sun by the attractive pool, that is not for us – or at least, only in small doses! Most of the activities are half a day in length, so on arrival yesterday we had promptly signed up for one a day! Most would be in the mornings, but today’s was scheduled for late afternoon, so we had much of the day free to enjoy our immediate surroundings.

We split our time between our own private deck, our equally private hide at the end of the boardwalk, and the main pool, which I had discovered was considerably warmer than our own plunge pool and of course also a better size for swimming.

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View from the main lodge pool

From our hide we could watch all the bird activity among the mangroves. Today there were lots of Egrets, both Great and Little, several Grey Herons, and a couple of Spur-winged Lapwings.

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Little Egrets

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Spur-Winged Lapwing, and Grey Heron

A Pied Kingfisher, one of my favourite African birds (perhaps because he looks like a Newcastle fan!), stopped by for a visit, and near the pool I spotted a Red-billed Hornbill.

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Pied Kingfisher

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Red-billed Hornbill

Lunch wasn’t included in our stay, but we found plenty on offer, including a set three course meal (no way – that would have been far too much on top of the other meals!) or some light dishes such as omelettes, Croque Monsieur or salads. We both had an omelette, but realised later that even that was unnecessary given the size of the breakfasts and dinners, so on the following days we simply skipped lunch.

Our own ‘bush taxi’

We had seen lots of examples of the local horse and cart transport, colloquially known as the ‘bush taxi’, both from our deck here and while on the road yesterday. Now it was our turn to sample it!

One of the excursions available from Souimanga Lodge is a ride on a horse and cart through several of the nearby villages, all of them part of the commune of Fimela. We had decided to book this as a way of exploring the immediate area around the hotel. I half-thought that we would be riding in some sort of touristy mock-up of the real thing, but no – this was the genuine article, although we were given a padded cushion on which to recline. And although we went out late afternoon, it was very hot for the first part of our ride, so I was glad I’d piled on the sun cream and taken both water and a hat, as we were completely exposed to the hot sun.

Although not a particular exciting outing, it was a chance to get out of the hotel and see how the locals lived. We stopped twice during the ride. The first time was to see a large termite mound – we had seen these in many other places previously but it was good to stretch our legs and take a few photos without the bumps of the cart.

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Our horse and cart, guide and driver

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Our guide with the termite mound

I was surprised at the number of houses pointed out by our guide as belonging to French, or occasionally Belgian or other European nationals. These were mostly very smart and a striking contrast to local houses which are built mainly from bricks made from dismantled termite mounds and thatched with palm fronds. Our second stop was to visit just such a family compound.

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Village homes

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Local child outside his home

As well as the scattered villages we also went through part of the large palm forest which surrounds them, Yayeme, which we were to see more of later in the week. There are a few baobabs too among the palms, always worth a photo, and we spotted a Red-billed Hornbill on the ground, eating from the fallen coconut shells.

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The track through Yayeme

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Yayeme baobabs and palms

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Palms and a baobab

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Red-billed Hornbill

Our ride lasted about 90 minutes, which was enough in that heat, although by the time we got back to the hotel the sun was getting lower in the sky and the temperature more moderate.

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Fishing boat near Fimela

We finished the day with dinner again on the deck by the main building, with more of those excellent olives and great cocktails! A relaxing end to a relaxing day which had been a good introduction to both bird and human life here in the Saloum Delta region.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:14 Archived in Senegal Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds wildlife coast hotel village africa customs lagoons senegal Comments (12)

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