Sunday, May 14, 2006

It's Getting Better All the Time

There was a moment, as I climbed straight up the rocky face of a small mountain, two hours before the sun would rise, carrying a plastic bag with seven loaves of bread, behind Rose with her backpack, who was behind our guide, Muxtar, with my backpack and 15 liters of water on his head, that I regretted ever having run a marathon.

Bear with me here. This makes sense. Eventually.

We were in the farthest, southeastern corner of Senegal, on route to a brief jaunt to Guinea. I needed to get out of the country so I could come back in and get a new stamp on my passport—and therefore another three months to live here on a tourist visa. Rose was there because… Well because naïve as we were, we thought a brief jaunt to Guinea sounded like the makings of a rocking good time.

Universe: Did you miss me?
Naomi: Do you really want me to answer that?

“It’s supposed to be beautiful over there.” Rose told me when we were planning this trip. “Hills and forests. There’s a National Park with lions! And the Bassari people!”

We pulled out my Lonely Planet and read about southeastern Senegal.

Lonely Planet: It’s beautiful there! Hills and forests! And a National Park with lions! And the Bassari people!

Naomi: And Guinea-Conakry is right there, so we can just head over to Maliville, get a stamp in the passport and I’m golden.

Lonely Planet: And Guinea-Conakry is right there. Maliville is the closest town. (This one woman hiked and biked between Senegal and Mali (it took her 13 hours) and she had a great time!)

Rose: We can walk to Guinea! And it looks like it’s only 30 km. That’s doable, right?

Naomi: Totally. How did it take that woman 13 hours to do 30km on a bike? We could do that in half the time and still not rush.

Rose: Absolutely.

Universe: It’s not even fun when you make it this easy.

Naomi: Did you hear something?

Rose: Hmm? They have good indigo cloth in Mali!

Naomi: Ooh!

And so, with a brief stop at the Guinean embassy to pick up a visa, we were off at 9 pm on Thursday night. We planned to take a 7-place to Tambakounda through the night and then take a second one to Kedagou, our first destination. 7-places, also called Bush Taxis, are ancient Peugot station wagons with seats for 7 plus a driver. They are fairly cheap, go everywhere, and go direct to their destination, just as soon as it fills up.

Rose: We need a car to Tambakounda.

Senegalese 7-place drivers: That’s interesting.

Rose: Is there a car going to Tambakounda?

Senegalese 7-place drivers: Not tonight! Want to go to Banjul instead? Or how about St. Louis?

Rose and Naomi: Right. So we’ll just go home for a bit and try this again tomorrow. Actually, this is a GREAT plan. We totally MEANT to leave tomorrow morning at 4 am.

And so at 4 am on Friday morning, we were off. For real. Nothing could stop us now.

Peugot Station Wagon: [cough] Actually… [sputter] I’m really sorry, but [cou-sputter] I’m not feeling very well.

At 9:30 am on Friday morning, our car broke down. It was already brutally hot (or so we naively thought. Much hotter days were coming) so we ambled over to the shade of a near tree, and admired the gigantic gash I had ripped in my pants while climbing out of the way back where we were crammed with a typically enormous Senegalese dame "of a certain age," and her four-year-old son (grandson? Nephew? Who knows).

The driver and two of the male passengers were fussing under the hood, and after about 45 minutes they called us back over, and we all pushed the car while the driver pumped the gas and turned the ignition until eventually the engine turned over, and we were off.

Peugot Station Wagon: I think I can, I know I can. I think I can, I know I can. I think I can, I… oh god. Ooh. [splurgh.] I don’t think I can.

An hour later, we broke down again, about 100 m outside of some tiny village.

Naomi: I’ve always wanted to see a water tower created with the cooperation between Senegal and Japan!

Rose: What luck! For there in front of us is a water town created under cooperation between Senegal and Japan!

We pushed the car to the village, and the driver started fussing with the engine again. And then he flagged down a bus, negotiated a fare for all his passengers, handed us our bags, and send us on our way.

Naomi: I’ve always wanted to be crammed into a bus with an extra bench jammed into my knees with people packed in like sardines on my way to Tambakounda!

Rose: What luck! For here we are, crammed into a bus with a furnace-exhaust breeze washing over us, stuck on a bus stopping every 5 km, crammed in with a bazillion people on our way to Tambakounda!

But arrive in Tambakounda we eventually did, and our 7-place to Kedogou left soon after, and we were there before nightfall. We checked into a lovely hut at an inexpensive campement, where we had a phenomenal dinner of steak frites and tomato-avocado salad. And when Rose sighed cutely at the proprietor that she really wanted a mango for dessert, someone hopped on his bike and went and got us one.

Rose and Naomi: Okay, so today didn’t start off great, but it’ll only get better from here on out.

Universe: Define “better.”

Naomi: I swear I heard something. Did you hear that?

Rose: What? Check out this thing about a waterfall in Dindafalou. It’s right on the border with Guinea so it’s totally on our way. We can spend the night there, hang out at the waterfall, and hit the market in the morning, and then continue on to Guinea the next day.

Naomi: Ooh! Sounds great.

And so we hit the road again at 7:30 the next morning, found out where we’d need to go to get our exit stamps from Senegal — a village on the way to Dindafalou — and went back to the bus station.

There was a bus going to Dindafalou, but after sitting in it for a half hour or so, they admitted that it certainly wouldn’t fill up and head out until late in the afternoon. Or maybe not until the next day, when people would be going to Dindafalou for the market.

Rose: Hmm…

Naomi: Maybe we should see if we can get a taxi to take us?

Rose: Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. We can always come back here, the bus isn’t going anywhere.

Taximan: Sure. I’ll drive to Dindafalou with y’all. For one meeeeeeeeeellion dollars! Hahahahah!

Other taximen: Hahahaha!

Rose: Seriously, what’s your best price?

Taximan : Hahahahaha.

Other taximen: Hahahahaha!

Rose and Naomi: New plan. We go find the road to Dindafalou and see if we can find any cars going out there.

Taximan: It’s over that way. Hahahahaha!

Other Taximen: Hahahahahaa!

Universe: Oh this is just painful. Go on then.

Naomi: Hmm? Did you say something Rose?

Rose: No, but this family is going to Dindafalou in this 4x4 and they say we can have a ride.

We’d been sitting under a tree for an hour or so on the road towards Dindafalou, with a couple other people looking for rides in that direction. We were directly across from the Peace Corps headquarters, where we’d gotten a decidedly chilly reception from the dude hanging out there. But the magoes we bought from woman who wandered by a bit later washed the bad taste of that encounter out of our mouths. And then we were back on the road.

Well, road might be a generous term. As we bounced over a narrow, rocky trail that wound around trees, through dry riverbeds, and back up the steep riverbank, we understood what the taximen in their ancient little cars were laughing about. And then we looked at each other.

Rose: How the hell does the bus get through this trail?

Naomi: There must be another road. Right?

Guy in 4x4: Nope!

Rose and Naomi: Thank god we’re not on that bus!

Nearly three hours later, after a (unduly long) stop to get our exit stamps from a blind (or possibly illiterate) border official, we’d finally traveled the 35 km to Dindafalou. Our 4x4 dropped us right off at the village campement and we checked into our second cute little hut.

And after getting ripped off for a greasy omellete for lunch, we picked up a random village kid who offered to show us the way to the waterfall. Where for the first time in two days, in the forest-y shade and splashing around with 50 or so village kids in the cool pool of water at the base of the waterfall, we felt cool and not sweaty.

Rose: This is amazing.

Naomi: Right here, this spot. Pure joy.

Naomi and Rose: And this place is so beautiful.

Dindafalou Cascade

To be continued….


Blogger jeanne said...

Oh man, not another cliff-hanger!! (get it??)

This is torture!!

7:28 PM  
Blogger David said...

I am totally sucked in on this ride/hike/adventure.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Ahh, but without the breakdown of the 7-place, you'd have had to continue with the post. Thank heaven for the breakdown! (It makes a good story!)

10:26 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

i am loving this. remind me never to travel with you. our lucks combined would make for...

well... just...

i don't even want to find out!

7:44 PM  
Blogger bluepaul said...

good luck...

(FREE-TUNES):w/o a credit-card

12:47 PM  

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