Wednesday 12th December 2012 – back in Kedougou, Senegal, to pick up ‘The Twins’ – our Ally811 canoes
Thank God! No more spine jarring, teeth rattling, motorcycle rides, up, down, or around the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry. The eight-hour moto-taxi ride down from high altitude of Mali Ville has left the insides of my stomach doing somersaults (stools like water – say no more!) and my head feels as if there is a small person in there, with a mallet, knocking on the front of my skull. I’m not sure if it’s malaria, altitude sickness, or the fact that the mburro (bread) which we eat every day being invariably pawed by numerous pairs of unwashed hands. Whatever it is, it’s left me feeling shaky – my body alternating between cold chills and sweating bucket-loads. Along with my aching limbs, from clinging onto a motorcycle for eight hours – to state the obvious – I’m not feeling too grand today. So much so, Florio has gone off with Ebou to visit the area around Runde Bara (‘the place of the slaves’), near to the Senegal and Guinea border – which is where the proposed site of a dam, on the River Gambia, is purported to be. Even if I had been feeling better, I really couldn’t face another motorcycle taxi ride to the village – even if it was only an ‘hour or so away’. That’s what we were told in Mali Ville about Kedougou! I think Abdou feels the same so he has opted to stay and keep me company.
Florio and Ebou return late afternoon, from the proposed site of the dam – which will entail the entire population of three villages being ‘relocated’ – on the Senegal side of the river and four to five on the Guinea-Conakry side. Florio had spoken with some of the local villagers in the area who had been told by the government, in 2011, that they were to stay where they were, for now. The reason being was that the dam construction workers would need to be fed and housed. However, the villagers would be ‘compensated for everything’. ‘Hey people, stick around for a bit longer – before we shove you off your land, which you have lived on for hundreds of years, to a undetermined location – so that you can cook, launder and take care of the very people who are going to wipe your history right off the map!’
We’re having a couple of days at our friend’s place (thanks, again, Peter!), to make plans for the next – very exciting – stage of the River Gambia Expedition: getting ‘The Twins’, our ‘Ally 811‘ canoes, onto the River Gambia for the very first time. This is what all four of us have been waiting for – to get paddling up the River. Top of the to-do list, is to find a reliable fishermen/guide, who can take us along the river, from Kedougou to Mako. We anticipate that it will take us about a week – camping on the riverbank each night. We’ll need someone who knows the river well – and who has had experience with hippos, of which we have heard there are many.
Through our host, Peter, we had a number of contacts that knew of fishermen in Kedougou – who may know the first section of the river we would be traversing. Yesterday, we went to visit a possible contender. Lets just call him Mr B.
We spent an hour or so, with the fisherman, Mr B., discussing our plans and trying to suss out if he knew the river all the way up to Mako. The frustrating thing for us is that our guys, Abdou and Ebou, were translating Mr B’s Wolof and, we know from experience with them that not every detail is always fully relayed to us – importantly, in this instance, the exact fee that the Mr B was asking for. It wasn’t until we got back to our compound later – after the fisherman had drawn the figures of the amount he wanted in the sand at our feet – and we had shaken hands on the deal, that Ebou told us that what Mr B. wanted for guiding us was five times as much as we had agreed on! Abdou, pointing at Ebou: “but, I tell him this, back there, in the man’s compound”. Errmmm…didn’t either of you think to tell us that – before we shook on it?
There is a frustrating kind of dual currency, Central Africa Franc/CFA, in Senegal, meaning that things can end up costing you a lot more than you bargained for, if don’t know the system. There’s the ‘real CFA’ amount – what you see on the note and what someone quotes you is exactly what you pay: i.e. a tin of sardines is 600CFA, you actually hand over 600CFA. As one would expect. But then, there is the ‘local CFA’ amount i.e. someone quotes you the price of a plate of food at ’200′, the actual price is 1000CFA/’wuli killing’ – you have to times the quoted 200 by 5! Who knew. And, if that isn’t confusing enough, not everyone works this way, and unless you show them the actual notes, you can’t be sure who is operating on this ‘local CFA’ system. Even that’s not a watertight way – we had actually shown Mr B. the amount of currency he commanded for his fee, when he drew the amount in the sand, and he had agreed (that may be because he actually couldn’t read the notes). You’d have to live in Senegal ‘for two years’ before you got it, as Abdou told us once before. That was after we had been badly stung on a fee for hiring moto-taxis.
Seemingly, all things happen for a good reason because, after a little more asking around, we were introduced to Youssef – a Malian fisherman – who assured us that he knew the whole length of the route on the River Gambia we were about to take to Mako. The fact that he was over an hour late on our first morning of getting on the river – and just shrugged and smiled when I pointed at my watch – was more than made up for when we had our first hippo encounter. He did have the most infectious laugh – he would also laugh out loud at the oddest times – like when we startled a hippo and it jumped out from under the water, right by our canoe! But, I’m jumping ahead – more on that in the next post! Youssef also couldn’t speak a word of English – Bambara being his first (Malian) language – but he could speak Wolof. Uh oh…I wonder what will be lost in translation this time!
We sit around the maps, laid out on the ground, and look at the length of the River Gambia from Kedougou to Denton Bridge, in The Gambia, where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean – which will be our journey’s end. It’s a long way. But, we are ready to get going.
Ebou: “it is not necessary for Helen to paddle”
Flo: “it’s not a matter of ‘not necessary’. Helen wants to paddle – she is one of the team – that has to be understood”
Ebou: “but you (a muso/woman) cannot do it” he looks at me with a questioning smile on his face. I wonder if he pulling my leg.
Abdou: “but from Farafenni, we cannot do it (paddle), the waves are too strong…it is not possible without a motor” as he makes sweeping up and down motions with his hands. I feel sick already.
Me & Florio: “lets cross that bridge when we get to it…all along the river, we will use local knowledge about each section we paddle through” .Abdou doesn’t look convinced. Then again, we had to show him images of friends of ours, Grant and Kamil, who had kayaked the length of the River Gambia, within The Gambia, last year – from Koina-Denton Bridge – before he would believe us that it’s possible to paddle the length of the river, without the use of a motor! After months of prepping with Abou and Ebou, via email, before we flew down to West Africa to begin the expedition, Flo and I begin to wonder how they thought we were really going to make the journey. Or even if we could make it. Abdou still looked doubtful, that what we were about to embark on was possible. Nothing quite like team spirit!
We are almost there…it’s like Christmas Eve. The River Gambia is calling.
More to come, very soon.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by
The Florios (H & Flo)
Next up: our first day on the River Gambia in ‘The Twins’, (almost) capsizing one of the canoes, and making a hippo very angry!