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Entries about customs

A stay in a hunting lodge

India day nine continued - and day ten


View Rajasthan 2015 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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In the seventeenth century Jodhpur’s royal family built a hunting lodge on the edge of a small village in the heart of the Aravalli hills, Narlai. Today that lodge is an exquisite hotel, and my favourite of all the places we stayed in Rajasthan – I would very happily have stayed longer here than the two days that we had.

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On the road to Narlai

We drove to Narlai from Dechu, where we had spent the night in Samsara Desert Camp, by way of Jodphur where we stopped for some hours to visit the fort and old town. The journey was otherwise uneventful but we enjoyed watching the desert scenery gradually change to a greener, more agricultural landscape, dotted here and there with small mountains. We spotted antelope at one point, or rather the large deer, Nilgai, that the locals sometimes call antelope and sometimes wild cows, but they moved before I could grab a photo - one, the male, leaping over a fence of some considerable height.

We passed through small villages that seemed a little more affluent than those of the desert, some with quite grand houses here and there. And arriving at Narlai we found it much the same, with a large white temple at its heart and a few streets of quite humble houses with just a sprinkling of smarter ones, plus a few local shops to serve the farming community. The other main source of income here is the hotel, Rawla Narlai, which is located right in the village and which was to be our base for the next two nights.

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Courtyard and bar

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Around the grounds

This hotel has been very tastefully converted, retaining bags of character, and still feels old, unlike the other heritage hotels we stayed in which were perhaps almost too well restored, albeit beautifully. Our room was really lovely, packed with historic detail and antique furniture, yet with the modern conveniences we appreciate such as good plumbing and air conditioning. There were tea and coffee making facilities and complimentary bottles of water. The king-size bed was very comfortable. We had seating inside and a day bed on the shady terrace outside. This room was in the older part – I gather that those in the newer wing are larger but have less character, and personally I am very happy we were where we were as the room was more than large enough and I wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice the character!

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Our bedroom

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There are plenty of activities on offer, including jeep safaris and village walks, and we took advantage of some of these, but it was also a great place for some time out from our busy sightseeing schedule in Rajasthan. The hotel grounds are gorgeous. Bougainvillea, morning glory and frangipani flowers trail everywhere. There's a good-sized swimming pool tucked in one corner, while elsewhere there are pretty courtyards, fountains and lots of marble elephants – a bit of a theme here because of the huge carved marble elephant on the top of a rocky outcrop, Narlai Hill, that towers above the property.

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The swimming pool

Narlai Hill

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Rawla Narlai lies at the foot of Narlai Hill, a rocky outcrop typical of this landscape, on the top of which stands a huge white marble statue of an elephant (and hence you will hear locals refer to the hill as Elephant Rock). Although we didn’t do this, the hotel organise free escorted walks up the hill at sunrise – there are a lot of steps to climb but I reckon the effort would be rewarded.

Towards the bottom of the hill are several temples. From the hotel we could see the large one that nestles under the overhanging rocks, and in the early mornings and evenings could hear chanting carried from here on the breeze. This is the Temple of Shri Aai Mata, who was an incarnation of the goddess Ambe Maa, found in a garden in Ambapur (Gujarat) as a baby by Rao Bika Dhabi and brought up as his daughter. It is said that she visited Narlai and stayed in the Jekalji Mahadev Temple in the village from where she taught the local people. According to local legend she created an opening in a cave on the hills with lightening and in it placed a Jyoti (divine lamp) which burns with a continuous flame which produces kesar (a saffron coloured soot) instead of a black one.

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Shri Aai Mata temple

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Lord Shiva cave temple

Near the foot of the hill and right opposite the entrance to the hotel is a much smaller temple, set in a cave and dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is said that the sage Shri Narad meditated here to please Lord Shiva and that the village was named after him.

So much for the temples on the hill. But about the elephant I have not been able to find anything – who put it there, why and when – all is a mystery!

Arriving here in the late afternoon we settled into our room; explored the grounds and took some photos; signed up for a couple of activities the next day; and spent a lovely evening which included an enjoyable and tasty dinner served by candlelight on the flat roof on top of the bar in the pleasantly cooling evening air. The food was excellent, especially the wonderful aubergine curry flavoured with mustard, and very reasonably priced.

A day in Narlai

With just a day in which to enjoy the facilities and activities here we were up fairly early and enjoying breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the main courtyard. Opposite this, on the far side of this courtyard, the hotel has a small shrine which on that morning, a Monday, was the focus for some activity.

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Shrine and village elder

The service at the Rawla Narlai is as attentive as everywhere, and that attentiveness seems to expand to include those living in the surrounding village. Every Monday morning the village elders are invited in for tea and a chat about village matters. I and another hotel guest spotted them while we were at breakfast and we went across to ask permission to take some photos, which was willingly granted. We had in mind to take photos from the courtyard but we were invited up on to the terrace (removing our shoes, of course) where I took these photos.

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Village Elders' meeting

This seems a great custom for the hotel to have introduced, as it helps to ensure good relationships between local community and hotel, and if any problems did arise they can be talked through straight away. Mostly though it seemed to be an excuse for a good gossip and plenty of tea!

A walk in the village

After breakfast we went for a walk in the village with a member of the hotel staff, a local resident. Narlai is a small village with an unusually large number of temples (even by Indian standards). It faces some of the same challenges as rural communities everywhere, with a declining population caused by some younger people drifting away, tempted by big city life and its wider opportunities. But its streets have thriving little shops, mainly catering only to locals; its farmers manage to feed their families and have produce over to sell; its people benefit from the opportunity to work in or for the hotel; and overall it has a more affluent (or more accurately perhaps, a less struggling) character than many other places we went to.

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Houses in the village

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Of course you can always walk around on your own (the hotel is right in the middle of the village) but going with a local like this enables you to be invited into some village houses. Although having said that, I was also asked inside one by a woman who, when I asked permission to take a photo, insisted on me coming in so that she could pose with her goat which was clearly a prized possession!

We also went in a few local shops – two clothing, one jewellers (and they were very much local shops, not tourist ones). I was tempted by a gorgeous pink skirt in one but it was so traditional I knew I would probably feel silly wearing it at home! The other woman in our group of four did buy a petticoat which I was pleased about as these local village shops must appreciate the additional custom the hotel brings.

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Village shops

In addition to seeing the general life of the village we made a brief stop at the Lord Shiva temple in a cave right by the hotel. We also saw several other temples, small and larger, which are dotted around the village, including the main Jain temple, Shri Adinath, which has a huge elephant outside and was being restored at the time of our visit.

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Village temple

But the highlight, or rather many highlights, of this walk were the large number of village people who greeted us, willingly posed for photos and generally made us feel very welcome here.

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Villagers in Narlai

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In particular the walk gave us a great opportunity to photograph the colourful traditional dress of Rajasthan, thanks to the openness of the women we met and their willingness to pose for us. This is always very colourful. It consists of an ankle length skirt, a short top (this may just skim the waist or stop higher up, leaving the midriff bare) and a long piece of cloth known as a chunari. This protects them from the heat and is also often used to cover or partly cover the face.

Mehar told us that it is the village daughters-in-law (those who have married into local families and come to live with their husband’s family, as is customary) who are expected to cover their faces, especially in the presence of older relatives, men and strangers. Having said that, many whom we met, here and elsewhere, seemed pretty relaxed about dropping the cloth to say hello, smile and pose for photos etc. I noticed that different colours seem popular in different villages. In some we had passed through the predominant shades were orange and yellow, or red and green, while here in Narlai it was pink, purple and reds for the most part.

The women’s adornments often include a large number of bangles worn on the upper arms. These are usually just of white plastic. It seemed to me that they may be cut from pot lids, although I could be wrong! But wealthier women wear metal, even sometimes gold, bangles.

Regardless of wealth though, it is traditional to wear an elaborate gold decoration in one side of the nose, a tradition that some here still follow even on a regular working day it seems. These nose rings are worn throughout India, with different styles popular in different region. In Rajasthan the most usually worn is the nathni, a large but delicate hoop connected to the hair with a thin chain. The women in my photos below though have a rather more elaborate version of this. I didn’t ask, but maybe it was a special occasion in their family (we met them in the same house).

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We spent the middle part of the day relaxing by, and in, the hotel’s pool and enjoying a light lunch there, before our next activity …

A leopard safari

This is one of several optional excursions offered by Rawla Narlai. It costs 2,000 IR per person and you can choose to go first thing in the morning or late afternoon. We chose the latter and set out at 4.30 PM with a number of other hotel guests in three separate jeeps. They reckon on spotting leopards on about 80% of the trips, so you have a good chance – as you can see from my photos below, we were in luck!

The hotel employs some trackers who know the habits and movements of the local leopard population and who go out walking the surrounding area during the day on the lookout for them. If they have a sighting they radio the guides leading the safaris. The leopards tend to stay in one place for some time, so the jeeps have plenty of time to get to the site.

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Tracker on the lookout

On our safari we had headed out of the village to the foot of the nearby Elephant Rock where leopards are apparently often sighted and where one had been seen that morning. We had no sighting here, though we did see some langur monkeys playing on a Jain temple roof. Then the call came – a female leopard with two cubs had been spotted some miles away. We immediately turned back through the village, out on to the main road and headed towards the site where we found the other two jeeps from the hotel already in position, with all eyes, cameras and binoculars trained on the top of a nearby rocky outcrop. There she was! Part-hidden by an outcrop of rock, but definitely there! Her cubs were harder to spot, staying mainly behind the rock, but we did get some glimpses of them too. Of course, being at some distance, it was hard to get great photos, but a few of those I took did come out well enough to at least serve as a record of the experience.

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Leopard on the rocks

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You can just see a cub in this one!

We stayed at this spot for quite a while, taking photos of the leopards, while the hotel guides handed out bottles of water, tea from a flask and sandwiches. As well as the leopards, we saw an antelope and quite a lot of peacocks. There was a hazy sunset which developed into a lovely pearly pink light, and an almost full moon had risen before we finally left and headed back to the hotel. In all the safari lasted about two hours and seemed to us to be very reasonable value for what we had paid – though of course we might feel differently had we not seen any leopards!

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Sunset and moonrise

That evening we ate again at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant – there really isn’t any other option here, but as it serves excellent food at a reasonable price we didn't have a problem with that!

Monkeys at Narlai

On our second (and last) morning at Narlai we woke early. I just happened to be looking out of the window when I spotted movement on a roof top - a monkey. We jumped out of bed and soon saw that it was a whole troop so of course we threw on some clothing, grabbed our cameras and hurried outside. It was a troop of langur monkeys passing through, or rather across, the hotel, stopping at a couple of trees that obviously had fruit that is to their taste. There were several cute babies among them and we took loads of photos as they paused briefly on the roofs before continuing on and into the trees. After about five minutes or so they moved on, and we could see them leaping across the roofs of the village beyond, no doubt heading towards more favourite trees, or to scavenge from rubbish heaps.

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India’s langurs are Grey or Hanuman Langurs (the latter name taken from the Hindu god). They are a pale or yellowish grey with a black face and long tails (up to 100 cm and always longer than their body), and rather attractive, I think. They are considered sacred in the Hindu religion and are therefore less likely to be regarded as pests than the macaques which live in this region too, although they do regularly steal food and crops. Watching them was a lovely way to start our day and ensured one more happy memory to take away from Narlai.

After another good breakfast it was time to say goodbye to Narlai, with some reluctance. There had been no time to climb Elephant Hill at sunrise, no time for dinner at a nearby step well (another of the activities offered by the hotel) and no time for a further wander on our own through the village.

But Ranakpur and Udaipur awaited us …

Posted by ToonSarah 21:47 Archived in India Tagged people animals monkeys india village rajasthan customs narlai street_photography big_cats Comments (7)

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)

To Mass in Mar Lodj

Senegal day seven


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Sunrise at Souimanga Lodge

Our second morning at Souimanga Lodge, and again we awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the lagoon.

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Souimanga sunrise

Learning from yesterday’s experience with our resident mouse, and Chris’s damaged earphones, we had tried to make sure there that was nothing so tempting within reach. But we didn't think to remove the fruit bowl, and discovered this morning that he had helped himself to more apple. Oh well, there was enough to spare – but we resolved to hide the fruit bowl too on subsequent nights!

The journey to Mar Lodj

After another lovely breakfast we were off on today’s activity. Perhaps unusually for a hotel, one of the offered excursions here is to Mass in a nearby village, Mar Lodj, which is on an island in the delta. Many of the tourists here are French and therefore I would assume many are practising Catholics, so that might be a reason the hotel offers this activity – or it could be in part because it is a fascinating experience for any European or other first world visitor. Either way, as Chris is a Catholic and we often do go to Mass when on holiday (and have had some equally fascinating experiences elsewhere as a result), this activity was a must for us, and indeed had been one of the things that attracted us to stay here.

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CFA notes

Our driver picked us up straight after breakfast. He introduced himself as Cheikh and said that he would also be taking us on the various excursions we had booked for later in the week. We asked about changing money – so far we hadn’t needed any local currency as we’d been on full board at Fathala, but today we would want some for the collection at Mass and later in the week no doubt for shopping in the markets we hoped to visit. So Cheikh suggested a stop in the local village, Fimela, where a shop doubled as a currency exchange.

The currency in Senegal is the West African CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) Franc which is pegged to the Euro. Many hotels and tourist-oriented establishments accept the latter, and in any case it is easier to exchange Euros than Sterling or US Dollars, so it makes sense to travel with these. Our transaction was quickly and satisfactorily concluded (we were offered 13,000 CFA per €20 note, which was a fraction under the then-official rate of 660 CFA to the Euro, but with no exchange fees or interest seemed a good deal) and of course a few photos were taken!

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Locals shopping in Fimela

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Inside the store where we changed our money

We then drove to Ndangane, a major fishing village in this region. Here we boarded a pirogue for the 20 minute ride across the creek to Mar Lodj, which was an opportunity to see and photograph life in this fishing community from the water.

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Ndangane from the water

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Great Egret near Ndangane

Mar Lodj

Arriving at the island we moored by a sandy beach a short walk from the village.

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The coastline of Mar Lodj island

We were early for the service so there was time for a stroll around the village first. The main ‘sight’ here, apart from the rather attractive church which draws both locals and tourists, is a tree, or rather group of three trees – a kapok, mahogany and palm (although it has to be said that the latter has seen better days!) These have become intertwined, which locals like to say reflects the way in which the three religions of Islam, Christianity and Animism co-exist peacefully here.

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Sacred trees in Mar Lodj

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In Mar Lodj

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Local family on their way to church

Mass at Mar Lodj

The church itself is a striking round building, its design echoing local houses. By the time the Mass started it was packed – mainly with locals but also a sprinkling of visitors such as ourselves.

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The Church of the Holy Family in Mar Lodj

I think anyone, whether a strong believer, or any believer at all, or none, would find this experience interesting, although you have to be prepared for a lengthy service with a long sermon in French. I speak a little, but I found this hard to follow as the accents are different to European French and the microphone was dodgy. I was so impressed by the excellent behaviour of the young children who sat quietly together at the front throughout, neither fidgeting nor talking.

The music and singing was beautiful, and I made a video of part of it, as a few other visitors were doing so and no one seemed to mind.

After the service we lingered outside for a while, taking discreet photos of the locals. I had of course dressed respectfully, but there was no way I could compete with the wonderful dresses worn by some of the local women for whom Sunday best clearly means exactly that.

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Locals after the Mass


On the way back to our pirogue we were invited to visit the local ‘market’, which was really just a group of local women who had spread their goods out in a strategic location on the walk up from the jetty. We didn't bother to look as we had a visit to a much larger market planned for a few days later. Instead we headed back to our boat and retraced our journey back to the hotel.

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Chris on the pirogue leaving Mar Lodj

Birds, birds, birds

We decided to skip lunch as we’d had a decent breakfast and knew that dinner would be another four course affair. So we made coffee in our suite to drink on the deck (once we’d mastered the intricate Italian ‘pod’ system machine) and then spent another relaxing afternoon with a mix of pool time and bird-watching by the lagoon. The stars of today’s show were Spur-winged Lapwings, Great and Little Egrets, Black-headed Heron and Western Reef Herons, Whimbrels and various gulls.

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Herons, Egrets and Gulls

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Spur-winged Lapwings

The day ended with another excellent dinner on the decking among the trees, with more explorations slightly further afield to look forward to tomorrow.

Before going to bed we remembered to move our fruit bowl to the safety of the fridge and hide all cables etc. in our suitcases, well away from the munchings of our resident mouse. But about 30 minutes after going to bed I heard the scrabbling noises and realised I'd left a silk bead necklace, bought the previous year in Tallinn, on the coffee table. I got up to put it away but too late - it had already been shredded! Yet another casualty of our room mate's insatiable appetite!

Posted by ToonSarah 03:47 Archived in Senegal Tagged people birds boats hotel church village africa customs senegal Comments (7)

An island of shells

Senegal day eight


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Souimanga sunrise

Another Souimanga sunrise greeted us this morning. They seemed to me to be quite different each day – some more orange, some (like this one) pink, some dramatic, others more subtle.

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Souimanga sunrise

We had successfully hidden anything that might tempt our resident mouse and were congratulating ourselves on having adapted to sharing the suite with him as we went back inside to get ready for breakfast. However when we put the A/C on I heard the by now familiar scrabblings coming from nearby. I went over and looked up at the machine, mounted high on the wall. I was just in time to see the mouse disappear inside and the machine grind to a halt – the mouse had clearly come to an unfortunate end. I guess some might say that he got what was coming to him, but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the mouse despite having lost a favourite necklace and Chris's best noise-reducing headphones!

When we went to breakfast we reported the fact that our A/C was broken but were a little bit vague about the reason! On our return later we would find it repaired; the mouse was never mentioned but we did feel a little guilty that one of the lodge employees would have had the unpleasant task of removing his remains.

In Fimela

Cheikh picked us up after breakfast for today’s excursion which would take us west to the Atlantic coast. Firstly however, he needed to stop in Fimela to fill up with petrol.

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General store in Fimela

This slightly longer stop than yesterday’s money-changing one, and on a busy Monday morning rather than a Sunday, gave us an opportunity to see, and photograph, the town and its people. We were finding that in comparison to Gambia we were less hassled here, with most people more interested in going about their daily business than in us.

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In Fimela

A bus drew up as we were strolling around, disgorging its passengers many of whom were laden with goods, presumably to sell in the small market. One lady had so much to carry that her small handbag had to dangle from her clenched teeth!

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Bus and bus passenger in Fimela

Yayeme palm forest

Not far from Fimela is the small community of Yayeme, part of the same administrative district or commune. On the outskirts of this village is an extensive forest of palms where we stopped for some photos. These tall elegant trees are known locally as Ron palms, but their Latin name is Borassus aethiopum. Every part of the tree is used by the locals – the leaves to makes thatched roofs, baskets, mats, etc.; the trunk for timber to build houses; the leaf stem for fencing or for fibres; the fruit eaten.

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Yayeme palm forest

Cheikh taught us how to make a belt by weaving two strands together.

As well as the palms, the landscape is dotted with baobabs and we stopped for photos at the largest of these. Cheikh described how in the past the dead would be mummified and left tucked into the holes in the trunk in accordance with animist beliefs, but added that this practice was made illegal by the first president, Senghor, after the country’s independence.

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Cheikh and car next to the largest baobab

We saw several makeshift tent-like shelters here, the temporary homes of nomadic cattle herders. Their cattle grazed among the palms, and one curious child came out to stare at us.

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Nomads' tent and child

There was something very peaceful for me in this landscape, due perhaps to the regularity and rhythm of the tall vertical trunks. A few local people were walking through the forest, dwarfed by the trees, and I wondered how it would be to follow these tracks daily, absorbing the tranquillity of nature. Or were they just thinking about work they needed to do, or focused on everyday matters of feeding the family?

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Yayeme palm forest

From here it was about an hour’s drive to the coast and our destination, Joal-Fadiouth

Joal-Fadiouth

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Village street, Shell Island

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The bridge to Shell Island

Joal-Fadiouth is a small town / large village on the Senegalese coast just north of the Sine-Saloum delta region. Or rather, it is a large village (Joal) linked to a small one (Fadiouth) both for administrative purposes and physically via a bridge. And it is the latter that forms the main attraction for tourists, and where we spent most of our visit.

The island is also known as Shell Island, and the reason for this is pretty obvious – it is built on layers and layers of shells. These have accumulated over the centuries as the locals subsisted on cockle fishing in the shallows of the mangrove lagoons and simply discarded the shells, or used them as building materials.

Cheikh parked near the bridge which leads to the island. He explained that he would not be able to act as our guide here, as if you want to visit Fadiouth you have to hire one of the syndicated official guides. He arranged for us to visit with Edouardo, who lives in the village and proved to be an excellent guide.

We started our visit with a walk across the wooden bridge, which is about 500 metres long and used only by pedestrians and donkey or horse carts.

The village has no motorised transport – both bridge and all its streets are designed for pedestrians and the ubiquitous horse and cart alone. This makes it a relatively peaceful place, which Edouardo clearly loved – he talked a lot about the contrast with Dakar (which he enjoys visiting for occasional lively weekends but where he would not want to live) and about the magical evenings here with everyone relaxed, visitors all gone home and the lights of the village reflected on the water.

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Building details, Shell Island

Edouardo took us on a meandering walk along many of the village's streets, and on all of them we were walking on shells. With no cars to worry about, and small houses, it seemed to me that many locals live much of their lives on these streets - not just going about their business (working, shopping etc.) but also meeting friends for a gossip or simply relaxing. It also seemed to me, perhaps unfairly, that the women were doing most of the work and the men most of the sitting and gossiping! But I shouldn't judge on just an hour's visit.

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Village street

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On the streets of Shell Island

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Locals in the main square

Apart from tourism the main source of income here is of course fishing. You will see conch meat and other shell fish drying in the sun

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Conch meat for sale

The conch shells can be seen on sale in the sprinkling of tourist-orientated craft stalls, alongside crafted objects such as wood carvings and paintings. We didn't buy anything, but prices looked reasonable to me, and there was little if any hassling to shop.

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Small market in Fadiouth

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Man weaving

The villagers also farm land on the mainland, with the main crop being millet which they use as couscous – we saw women washing the grain in the waters of the lagoon using large calabashes. This, with fish, forms the staple diet here.

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Rinsing the millet

A significant difference between Fadiouth and most other Senegalese villages is that the religious balance here is the exact opposite of the country as a whole, with 90% Christian (Roman Catholic) and 10% Muslim. Edouardo explained how the two religions live side by side in harmony, as they do generally in Senegal. When the church roof was destroyed in a storm a few years ago the whole village addressed the problem and contributed to its repair, with left-over funds later being put towards restoration work at the Friday Mosque.

But older than either of these religions is the ancient belief of animism, which continues to be practiced to some extent today. Christians and Muslims alike overlay their official worship with traditional elements, and a sacred baobab tree stands side by side with an impressive Calvary in the main square. Edouardo explained that at funerals the body is paraded through the streets and brought here to be blessed according to the customs of both faiths.

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The main square
- calvary on the left, baobab on the right

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The calvary

The village is divided into six districts, each with its own patron saint whose image can be seen on the large red and white coloured plaques around the wall of the church, and as a statue at the heart of ‘their’ district. I didn't manage to get any good pictures of these statues however, as they are protected by glass, but we were able to take photos of those around the church. We also caught a glimpse of the main Friday mosque at one end of the village, and passed another small one.

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Church tower, and statue outside

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Inside the church

Another thing that struck us here was the large number of pigs, as of course the largely Christian population is happy to eat pork. These roam freely around the streets – truly ‘free-range’ meat!

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Pigs on shells!

Shell Cemetery

Our stroll around the village with Edouardo had given a good insight into how the locals live in this region, but the main ‘sight’ in Fadiouth is the so-called Shell Cemetery.

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Shell Cemetery with access bridge on the right

The religious tolerance of which Fadiouth is so proud extends to its famous cemetery, which is located on a smaller neighbouring island, joined to the village by another wooden bridge, and which accommodates deceased Christians and Muslims in two distinct but undivided sections. The Christian graves are marked with white crosses, the Muslim for the most part with simple iron plaques, and the latter are notable for being all aligned with the head facing east, to Mecca, while the Christian graves are more higgledy-piggledy in their arrangement.

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Shell Cemetery
- Muslim graves in the foreground, Christian beyond

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Crosses, Shell Cemetery


On the highest point of this tiny island (high being a relative term - we are talking about an elevation of only a few metres) is a large cross. From here we had extensive views back to the village and to the nearby old granaries, raised on stilts above the water. These are no longer in use but are kept to show tourists.

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View from the mainland, showing the large cross on the 'hill'

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Shell Cemetery, with Fadiouth and mainland beyond, seen from the highest point

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Granaries


From the cemetery you can either cross by boat back to the mainland, detouring close to these granaries, or retrace your steps over first one and then another wooden bridge, which is what we did.

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Looking back towards bridge and mainland

Back on the mainland we met up again with Cheikh and headed out of town to visit the sardine smokeries.

Sardine smokeries

On the outskirts of Joal the road runs between a series of sardine smoking enterprises. While no one could consider these attractive (the rubbish they produce makes them something of an eyesore) they are interesting to see. The fish are smoked on long racks supported with stone walls, beneath which fires are lit.

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Spreading the fish for smoking

Once blackened they are skinned, the skins being discarded on the ground and making a major contribution to the mess! The fish are then spread out to dry in the hot sun before being packed for transporting to other parts of the country or for export to other African countries including Ghana and Burkino Faso.

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Waiting to be skinned

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Skinning the fish

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Fish drying


I found that some people here were happy to pose for photos, such as the guy above who was spreading the fish out on the smoking racks. Others were less keen, or in one case asked for money – as you can imagine, I didn’t pay, given that none of the others made such a request!

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Children playing between the drying tables

From the smokeries we drove straight back to Souimanga Lodge, arriving mid afternoon.

Afternoon at Souimanga

We had a dip in the pool on our return to the lodge and then spent some time relaxing and bird-watching on our private jetty. Today’s sightings included some Great and Little Egrets and a beautiful Pied Kingfisher who took a dip in our plunge pool and then posed very nicely for me on the wall while drying off!

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View of the lagoon with egrets

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Pied Kingfisher

There were lots of crabs out on the mud exposed by the low tide.

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Crabs at low tide

We also had a visit from a friendly lizard.

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Visiting lizard

In the evening there was the usual nice dinner on the decking among the trees surrounding the main lodge building before retiring to bed in our wonderful suite - now, perhaps sadly, mouse-less.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:57 Archived in Senegal Tagged bridges churches trees birds islands fish fishing shells village africa reptiles seabirds customs senegal Comments (9)

Fishing in Senegal

Senegal day nine


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Sunrise at Souimanga Lodge

The sunrise this morning was just as beautiful as the previous mornings here, but hazier, and perhaps unsurprisingly I was more restrained in the number of photos I took!

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Sunrise at Souimanga Lodge

Several birds again joined us at breakfast, including a Village Weaver and some Common Bulbuls.

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Village Weaver

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Common Bulbuls

Palmarin

Today we were heading towards the coast again but this time a bit to the south of Joel-Fadiouth where we were yesterday. Our main destination was the fishing village of Djiffer, but we made a few stops for photos on the way. Not far from Fimela we drove across an area where locals gaze their cattle which are of the distinctive West African N'Dama breed.

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Cattle on the salt flats near Fimela

On a tree here I spotted, and managed to photograph, this Senegal Coucal, a bird from the cuckoo family.

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Senegal Coucal

Our route took us across the extensive salt flats of the Palmarin region, known here as tanne, a French corruption of the local Wolof word tan, which means ‘an extent of saline lands’.

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Cheikh by the roadside on the way to Palmarin

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Road across the salt flats

These salt flats have a wild beauty, especially if you are drawn to wide open skies as I am. They are great for spotting birds too. We saw flamingos, pelicans, various gulls, terms, an osprey and several I couldn't identify. We also saw a fox trotting across the sand.

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Fox

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Osprey

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Sea birds above the salt flats

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Gulls

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Flamingos and gulls

Very little grows here, because of the salt content of the soil, and in the rainy season the sea can sometimes cover much of this land.

A little further south, on the fringes of the flats we saw an area where salt is collected. The local women dig shallow pools and extract the salt, which is then left to dry in covered mounds or on wooden platforms in little huts, known as greniers (even though they are contain no grain!), to protect it from the rains. Senegal is the largest salt producer in west Africa, producing over 450,000 tonnes every year, much of it through small-scale operations such as these. Here and elsewhere in the country we saw sacks of it waiting by the roadside for collection (much as English farmers leave milk churns).

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Salt flats with greniers

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Salt greniers near Palmarin

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Diakhanor

We stopped briefly at a simple coastal hotel, whose owners were friends of Cheikh, so that we could use the ‘facilities’ and get a cold drink.

Just north of Djiffer we stopped again in the small village of Diakhanor. Like Fadiouth, which we had visited the previous day, this village is unusual among Senegalese communities in being 90% Catholic and just 10% Muslim. Cheikh is a Muslim, and had married a Catholic girl from this village. He was keen to introduce us to her parents, his in-laws. He showed us inside their simple home, from which he and his wife were married, and we met some of the neighbours too.

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Cheikh's mother-in-law

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Neighbours


Like others we met in Senegal, Cheikh was proud of the fact that the two religions co-exist peacefully here. Mixed marriages such as his own are not uncommon, and the two faiths celebrate each other's festivals. I asked about the religious upbringing of his three children and learned that the two boys are Muslim and his daughter a Catholic. He also said that his sister had like him married a Catholic and, unlike him, had converted. It all seemed very easy-going and flexible - long may it continue thus.

Djiffer

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A village living on borrowed time

Djiffer lies at the southern tip of a spit of land that separates the sea from the waters of the Saloum. Its narrow strip of houses is squeezed between the waters of the Atlantic to the west and the lagoons of the Sine Saloum delta to the east.

It is a major fishing village for this region and the activity relating to this is the main (possibly only?) draw for tourists. By the time we arrived it was late morning, and the many colourful boats were all drawn up in front of the beach, anchored by rope to large tires or tree trunks. Each was surrounded by a throng of men waist-deep in water, heaving crates of fish on to their shoulders to be brought ashore. Cheikh explained that they were paid ‘in kind’ - for each nine crates that they brought ashore they would be given a tenth and could sell its contents themselves.

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Landing the catch

On the shore small market areas (little more than stone shelters) provide the focal point for the buying and selling that follows each landing. Some of the best fish are bought by hotels and restaurants, the remainder of the best go for export. The less good and the smaller fish are sold to locals.

Standing here we could clearly see the challenge Djiffer faces due to its location on this narrow spit of land. The Atlantic Ocean to the west is continually nibbling at its sandy shores in an effort to meet up with the waters of the Saloum. Cheikh pointed out trees that were once on dry land, were now on the beach and would soon be in the sea. People living here are doing so on borrowed time.

In another area of the village, just to the south of where the fish are landed, are the fish-drying tables. Shark, conch, sea snails, cat-fish, and many more are laid out here to dry in the hot sun before being packed for transport all over Senegal and abroad. Much of the fish is also salted before drying, to help with the preservation process.

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Fish-drying tables

We met a Ghanaian man stuffing large, almost rigid slabs of shark meat into sacks to be sent to his native country, and he explained how they cook it – cut into pieces, soaked in water for at least an hour (but preferably overnight) to remove the salt, then stewed with tomatoes and onions.

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Shark drying


This was a fascinating place to visit but the smell in this fish-drying area was pungent. I like fish but could only take a little of it, and Chris who doesn’t much care for fish found it really pretty unpleasant!

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Egrets picking over the remains

Back at the lodge

Leaving Djiffer we drove back across the salt flats (without stopping this time) and were back at Souimanga Lodge by mid-afternoon.

There was plenty of time for a swim, and more bird-watching from our little hide.

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Pied Kingfisher with fish

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Common Bulbul

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Grey heron

And of course as always at Souimanga the day finished with a candle-lit dinner on the decking among the trees, overlooking the lagoon.

Posted by ToonSarah 10:44 Archived in Senegal Tagged people birds boats fishing coast shells village houses africa sharks flamingos salt_flats seabirds customs senegal Comments (7)

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