upcountry

Out of St. Louis, and finally I feel as though my African trip has begun. I took a sweaty bushtaxi upriver about 200 kms to a small town that had nothing obviously interesting except an enormous chateau on the edge of town. But out of the taxi and heaving my bags around the quiet, dusty streets I immediately encountered a politeness, a sort of familiarity that I had sorely missed so far. People rose and walked some distance to help with directions. I ate a delicious senegalese lunch of rice and fish at a friend's restaurant, Mimichons, and together with the owner and her brother, we sat chatting and sipping our Senegalese tea. After refusing to let me pay, her brother took me out on a horse-drawn buggy to this amazing house built in the African bush. Some eccentric baron roger had built it in the 18th century with 7 hectares of lush gardens and rare plants. Later inhabited as a summer palace for the French governors of the capital St. Louis, it was now in a marvelous state of abandoned disrepair.

I waited 5 hours for the taxi to fill-up with the necessary capacity crowd to go the next 100 kms (now in the dark) to Podor: my destination for that night. Squeezed onto the front seat with 3 other people, my vertebrae was twisted and shaken to pieces. We stopped about every 2kms to pick up people or drop people off -- it didn't matter how full the taxi was. At one point, there must have been about 30 seated and 20 standing as we bounced along the dark African night. Suddenly the tidal wave hit again, and after a fracas with one passenger, the driver stopped the bus and refused to go on. Ignoring the pleas of all the passengers, he turned the bus around, pulled off the road and switched off the engine. In his deep guttural wolloff and wagging his finger, he proceeded to lecture the passengers about something, occasionally turning to me and I nodded vigorously in agreement. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, with pandemonium inside the mini-bus, and only thick silence outside, in excruciating back pain, and complete ignorance as to where or if I was going anywhere, this was the sort of situation I had been expecting on my trip. I was loving it.

After much cajoling, we resumed our journey and were finally dropped at some highway junction. Silence and darkness quickly enveloped us as the bus dissappeared and the small collection of vendors and their huts emerged into the kerosene lamp glow. My first african night under the stars. Along with four of the other passengers we were cajoled into the nearest shack which was run by a rastafarian on speed -- he was hopping from foot to foot, clearing benches, swilling food, throwing english grammar books at me and babbling constantly. We paid 30p each to dip our fingers into something even the other passengers were looking dubiously at (I guess trying to determine if it really was meat). But it was actually delicious and it gave us the energy we needed to suffer another spine shattering bounce the final 23 kms to Podor with Baaba Maal's cousin driving the little pickup through the warm african night. I had now reached the northernmost part of Senegal and was unceremoniously dumped next to the only hotel in town -- which turned out to be deserted. I was now beginning to feel faint with the fatigue of the day, the pain in my back and the lingering heat of the night. It was about midnight and I just wanted to sleep. Some old man accompanied me to awaken the managers, but they too weren't at home. Wandering the dark deserted streets by torchlight I resigned myself to the reality of sleeping on the street until I was led bedraggled into some lizard-infested, mosquito-whining "maison de passage". I made some effort to frighten the small 7inch iguana from out under the bed, but finally gave up and collapsed after a total dousing in my near-depleted mosquito spray.


Mimichou's owner


Amadou -taxidriver and
Baaba Maal's cousin