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To Mass in Mar Lodj

Senegal day seven


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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)

A long day’s journey

Senegal day eleven


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Just before sunrise

With an early departure from Souimanga Lodge necessary today, we were up before sunrise and were treated to a rather different but equally beautiful view of the lagoon from our deck.

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Red-billed Hornbill

But there was no time to linger over photo-taking, nor to take a walk along our boardwalk to the hide to admire the views from there. Instead we quickly finished packing, left our bags outside the door to be collected shortly, and went to breakfast which the lodge had helpfully arranged for us to take ahead of the usual time.

There was just time at breakfast to take one last bird photo, as a rather handsome Red-billed Hornbill sat in the trees above the decking while we ate.

Back to Gambia

After breakfast we were picked up by our driver, David. On our drive here we had taken a short-cut, crossing the Saloum at Foundiougne, but for this return journey we took a different route. David had heard that there were long delays on the ferry so chose to take the longer way around by road.

We drove first to Fatick, where we stopped for a short while as David needed to pick up a spare tyre (having used his spare to replace a punctured one on the drive up the previous day). This was the only place in Senegal that we encountered any significant hassle, with a lot of the local children (who should properly have been in school) crowding round to beg. I found that pointing my camera towards them was an effective deterrent!

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In Fatick

From Fatick we could have taken the main N1 road south east to Kaolack but David chose a more circuitous route on a better road rather than subject us to its bumps and pot-holes! This took us through a lovely landscape of wide salt flats dotted with palms and big skies. Our only concern was the rather large number of overturned lorries we saw at the side of the road; David explained that they are often badly over-laden.

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Lorries from Mali on the road

When we finally reached Kaolack we found ourselves in the middle of a giant traffic jam. It lies at a major crossroads, with lorries from landlocked countries such as Mali passing through on their way to Dakar and the sea on the east-west N1, and the main north-south routes through the country, N4 and N5, converging here. Add to that the fact that there is a huge market on the southern edge of town, and there was some sort of convention on in town, and the result was gridlock. We must have taken well over an hour to drive a few hundred metres through the town, despite David attempting to go around the jams on the back-streets. At least in this busy town there was always some activity to watch on the streets around us, although having forgotten to charge my camera batteries before leaving Souimanga Lodge I was frustratingly unable to take any photos!

Eventually we reached the far side of town and could get moving again. There were no more major hold-ups, but we did have to negotiate the 25 kilometres or so of dusty, bumpy, unmade road on the N5 between here and Same. By mid-afternoon we were at the border in Karang; the crossing went smoothly and on arriving in Barra our luck improved, as the queue for the ferry was short enough to guarantee us getting on the next boat. The ferry journey was uneventful, and I squeezed one last photo out of my dying battery.

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Refreshment seller waiting to board the ferry

Return to Kotu Beach

Despite our good fortune with the ferry timings it was late afternoon by the time we docked in Banjul and completed the short drive from here to Kotu Beach where we had spent the first night of our trip and were to spend the last. Altogether the journey had taken us almost nine hours and we were very glad to arrive, even though it had been for the most part very interesting.

Our room at the Kombo Beach Hotel looked identical to the one we had stayed in on that previous occasion, although this time we were in block three rather than four and had less of a view.

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In the bar

We had a drink in the bar where we had eaten previously, but for dinner this time we discovered the Brasserie, an a-la-carte restaurant on the premises and overlooking the beach. We had a much better meal here, with the scallop starter being the star dish. It was very pleasant to eat with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore as the background sound track, and a relaxing end to the day after that long drive.

Posted by ToonSarah 11:11 Archived in Senegal Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises birds traffic hotel village roads africa gambia senegal Comments (2)

Back to an English winter

Senegal day twelve

Our final night of this trip had been spent in Gambia, as it would have been impossible to do the long drive back from Fimela in Senegal, catch the unreliable Barra-Banjul ferry and be confident of making it to the airport in time for any flight, let alone the regular chartered mid-afternoon one to London. The bonus was a few final hours in the hot African sun before flying back to the February chills of home.

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Sunrise, Kotu Beach

The balcony of our top floor room at the Kombo Beach Hotel gave us a great view of a lovely sunrise through the palms.

And after a decent buffet breakfast we took a walk along the beach.

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On Kotu Beach

Kotu Stream

There was just time too to head along the road to a popular Kotu Beach spot. The road that leads off to the Kombo Beach and a few other hotels crosses the Kotu Stream, and the bridge here is a popular spot for bird-watching. In fact, at 10.30 every morning you can come and watch the vultures being fed. That would have been a bit late for us, with a flight to catch, but even earlier in the morning there was plenty of activity to enjoy.

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The view from Kotu Bridge

The downside was that, as everywhere in The Gambia, we were hassled by would-be guides, taxi drivers, boat owners and sellers of all kinds, both during our walk and while standing on the bridge trying to take photos or simply enjoy the view.

I did my best to repel or tune out those clamouring to sell me a tour or drive me anywhere else other than here, and found this despite the hassle a pleasant place to while away some time. Bird sightings were good and included various herons (a Western Reef Heron and a Grey Heron), Hooded Vultures, Long-tailed Cormorants, a Spur-Winged Lapwing, Pied Kingfishers, a Red-eyed Dove, Wide-tailed Swallows, Whimbrels and more.

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Western Reef Heron, and Grey Heron

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Long-tailed Cormorant

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Pied Kingfisher

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Wide-tailed Swallow

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Whimbrel

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Spur-Winged Lapwing

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Hooded Vulture

As well as the birds we enjoyed watching the fishermen with their traditional nets.

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Fisherman by Kotu Bridge

There was a small and rather exposed hide right by the bridge, and there may well have been others along the nature trail but we didn't have time to explore that as we had to get back to the hotel for our airport pick-up.

Our flight home was so uneventful I kept no notes! And after an equally uneventful overnight stay at Gatwick’s Hilton hotel, we braved the chill of London and headed home.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises bridges birds fishing wildlife beach hotel flight river africa gambia Comments (7)

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