RebeccaT's Travel Journals

RebeccaT

  • From Vermont, United States
  • Currently in Vermont, United States

Living Routes Senegal Fall 2009

Living Routes study abroad program in Senegal, Fall 2009 (September-December 2009)

Adventures in Kedougou

Senegal Dakar, Senegal  |  Dec 20, 2009
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 Youssouf estimated the population of Kedougou at about 50,000, making it bigger than the largest city in Vermont. But it looks more like my (probably stereotypical) idea of a 'village' than Guédé Chantier. 

On the night of Sunday, December 13, Gabe, Ruth, Youssouf, and I left for Kedougou, in southeastern Senegal.  We took a bus that left Dakar at 10:00pm.  I was hoping for a comfortable coach bus.  But while the bus was definitely more comfortable than the car rapide that took us to Guédé Chantier, it was not like coach buses I've been on in the U.S. or in Paraguay.  There was no bathroom.  The seats were pretty narrow, and there were seats that folded out into the aisle in order to seat five people in each row.  Between this and the fact that parts of the ride were very bumpy (my butt was often thrown several inches out of my seat), I didn't get much sleep.  However, unlike just about everything else in Senegal, the bus actually left exactly on time, and we arrived in Tambacounda a little before 6:00am.

Once in Tambacounda, we collected our bags and took a taxi to Youssouf's parents' house, where we were able to sleep for a few hours and have some breakfast.  Then we walked around Tambacounda for a while.  Youssouf said he thought the population of Tambacounda is about 300,000, but it feels more like a big village than a city.  Almost all of the buildings are only one story, and many of the roads are unpaved.  We returned to Youssouf's parents' house for lunch before catching a 3:00pm bus to Kedougou.  The bus to Kedougou also had fold-out seats in the aisle, but it was a pretty nice bus and even had air conditioning!  It left not just on time, but actually a few minutes early.  And this ride was only about three hours.

In Kedougou, Gabe, Ruth, and I stayed with the family of Awa, a friend of Youssouf, while Youssouf stayed with his aunt.  Youssouf estimated the population of Kedougou at about 50,000, making it bigger than the largest city in Vermont.  But it looks more like my (probably stereotypical) idea of a "village" than Guédé Chantier.  A lot of the roads are meandering sandy paths.  Most families have a collection of small round or square huts with thatched roofs rather than one house with different rooms.  And while my family in Guédé Chantier has a tap with running water in their courtyard, Awa's family has a well.

We spent Monday night and Tuesday in Kedougou.  On Wednesday we began to explore the surrounding villages.  We took a bus to Nenefecha on Wednesday morning.  This bus's schedule seemed more typical of Senegal; it was scheduled to leave Kedougou at 9:00am but actually left around 9:40, and there was no established time that it would leave Nenefecha in the afternoon. 

Nenefecha is a small village.  There is a hospital there that was financed by Senegal's first lady.  Youssouf said that it is a very modern hospital and that even people from Kedougou travel to Nenefecha to go to it.  But I was surprised to see maggots in the bathroom and medical waste piled in the courtyard...  There isn't much else to see in Nenefecha, so we just wandered around a bit.  We stopped at one family's house and talked to them for a while.  There are several different languages spoken in this region, but luckily Youssouf was able to communicate with most of the people we encountered in Pulaar.  We were given lots of peanuts, which was lucky because it turned out there wasn't much food we could buy for lunch, not even bread.

On this particular day the bus ended up leaving Nenefecha around 3:00pm.  We took the bus back in the direction of Kedougou, but we got off in Ibel, another village along the way.  There is a campement for tourists in Ibel, with thatched-roof huts you can rent for the night.  When we arrived at the campement, there was no one there, so we waited around for an hour or so.  Eventually the manager showed up and we were able to negotiate prices, order some dinner, and get water for bucket baths.  The campement is pretty new, and it doesn't have electricity or running water.  But it's a pretty location, and we were able to get a place to stay and a hot meal for not too much money. 

Our original plan was to hike up the mountain in Ibel on Thursday morning and return to Kedougou Thursday night to look for a way to get to Dindefelo.  But we found out that we could rent bikes and ride them to Dindefelo from Ibel, which is about 15 kilometers.  So we decided to do that on Thursday, planning to spend the day in Dindefelo and return to Ibel that night, then hike the mountain on Friday morning before catching the bus back to Kedougou. 

The bikes we rented were not in the best of shape.  None of them had gears.  On a couple of them the brakes didn't really work, and Ruth's bike had a tire that kept going flat.  The path was fairly rough in places, with gravel and bumpy volcanic rock.  When we reached Dindefelo we were pretty tired, especially Ruth, who had been riding on a flat tire for most of the way.  We had to get the tire fixed, and we would have had only a few hours to spend in Dindefelo if we were to ride back to Ibel before dark.  So we decided to spend the night at a campement in Dindefelo and ride back to Ibel the next morning. 

Shortly after arriving in Dindefelo, we hiked up to the waterfall that is the main attraction there.  It's a beautiful waterfall, and at the bottom of it is a pool of very cold water that was incredibly refreshing to swim in.  After relaxing by the waterfall for a while, Gabe decided to climb to the top of the mountain while Youssouf, Ruth, and I returned to the campement.  This campement was fancier than the one in Ibel.  It had electricity, and while there was only one common toilet building, each hut had its own bathing area attached to it. 

Unfortunately since we had only planned to spend the day in Dindefelo, we hadn't brought soap, toothbrushes, clean clothes, sunscreen, etc.  But we managed to get back to Ibel the next day without too much trouble.  Ruth's tire held up alright.  The chain on Gabe's bike broke, but luckily we were near a small village where we were able to pay a man to fix it.  And we made pretty good time, arriving in Ibel in about three hours.  We ate some bread, washed our hands and faces, packed up our bags, and spent a few hours waiting for the bus back to Kedougou.

On Friday night I got sick.  In three and a half months in Africa, I had only had occasional, minor digestive issues, but now, with less than one week left, I finally got really sick.  My stomach started hurting in the afternoon, and later on I spent several hours throwing up at Awa's house.  For a while I couldn't even keep water down.  But in the middle of the night I stopped vomiting, and by morning I felt much better, although certainly not very good. 

We had originally planned to take an overnight bus directly from Kedougou to Dakar on Saturday night, but it turned out the direct bus only runs on Sunday nights.  And the buses from Tambacounda to Dakar were already full for Saturday night.  So our choices were to take two sept-places (station-wagon taxi things with seven passenger seats) from Kedougou to Tamba and then Tamba to Dakar on Saturday or to wait for the Sunday night bus.  Youssouf decided to stay and take the Sunday night bus, but Gabe, Ruth, and I preferred to get back to Dakar sooner.  Although my stomach still didn't feel great, we left Awa's family on Saturday morning.  We found a sept-places to take us to Tambacounda, which took about three and a half hours.  On the way we passed through the Niokolo wildlife refuge, where we saw some monkeys and two warthogs that ran across the road.  Once in Tambacounda, we found another sept-places to Dakar.  After waiting around in Tamba for a while, we left around 4:00pm and arrived in Dakar close to midnight.

I was glad to get home to my Yoff host family and see my bed.  But I was very disappointed to find that the water was not working well and the shower was broken.  After a long, hot, dusty trip I was really looking forward to a shower.  But since the family was asleep, I had to wait until morning to take a bucket bath. 

Anyway, despite some misfortunes, the trip was a good one overall.  My stomach is not quite completely normal yet, but it is feeling much better.  And I am looking forward to spending a little time with some of the other students in Dakar and then heading home to Vermont, where my family, Christmas, and hopefully some nice, white snow await me...

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