Sunday, January 24, 2010

Senegal & Gambia Winter 2009-2010

I was invited again to be assistant trip leader on the Sene-Gambia Winter 2009-2010 by Dr. Emil Nagengast, but as part of my acceptance I negotiated that Ange could come with me on her very first trip to Africa! He agreed and we were off!

Now last year I when I went I did some more extensive blogging, but since this is my second trip I don't have as much to say. I'll go through the highlights and if you want more detailed info, and if my darling partner Ange does any personal blogging I'll link to her site.

We got up early on December 30th and set off on our trip. Ange was over the moon with excitement and anticipation! After a quick layover in Detroit we landed in New York and met up with the rest of the Juniata crew. We set out that evening for Madrid where we would have a 12 hour layover. Ange was not able to sleep on the 8+ hour flight and was pretty tired when we got to Madrid. We metroed to downtown, but unfortunately it was raining and a little chilly (50's maybe?) and since Ange was exhausted from not sleeping we pondered what to do. We hit a little cafe to plan our attack and have a nice warm coffee and croissant. We decided that we wanted to see Madrid but were tired and didn't want to be wet so we decided to expend a little of our funds and hop on one of the sightseeing buses. It was a little crowded because apparently others had the same idea but eventually we got some seats by the fogged up windows. After riding around for an hour and listening to the city tour we decided we'd hop off, grab lunch and head back to the airport so Ange could lay down and hopefully sleep. Even through her delirium she spied a sign that said "Vegetarian" and we walked over to check it out. Turned out it was a yummy little vegetarian falafel place! With full bellies we headed back to the airport where Ange was able to crash out a bit on the floor and catch a little nap. The funniest part was how many people stared at her sleeping on the floor. This happened again on the way back so I think that Spaniards just aren't used to seeing people crashed out sleeping in airports. Apparently Americans are slovenly and the Europeans are much better able to remain composed. Whatevs.

We finally boarded our flight and arrived in Dakar a short 5 hours later! Arriving in Dakar always seems to be chaotic and this time was no exception. I told everyone not to let "porters" take their bags because they were just people who were hanging out looking for tips but as I suspected might happen they were not forceful enough in their "No thank yous" and I looked back and every single one of them had someone pushing their luggage cart. Sigh. When we got to the bus an airport security dude came out and scared them all away so they didn't get their tips anyway. We loaded up the bus, headed to The Fana Hotel and checked in. We got a nice fireworks show on the roof of the hotel and then headed to bed.

The next morning we loaded up early and hit the road for The Gambia. Luckily since it was early and New Year's Day there was no traffic leaving Dakar (a rarity) and we zipped along for a few hours. Then the usual: a blown our tire. We spent about 45 minutes on the side of a road near a little village. Within 10 minutes nearly the entire village was standing there staring at us. I mean, how often do you think a bus full of foreigners break down near this village? The kids of course loved it and thought it was the best thing ever. We finally got back on the road, stopped in disgusting Kaolack (dirtiest city ever) for lunch, and finally got to The Gambia that evening. We got the students settled at Mohamed's house (Nigerian guy who lives in The Gambia and has basically turned his house into a guest house that Juniata uses for students) and headed to Emil's apartment. Emil is spending the entire spring semester on sabbatical in The Gambia and his wife and son are coming over for the semester as well so he had to find a nice place for them. Wow, was it nice! We got there and no joke, one of the nicest places I've ever stayed in Africa. It was a very gorgeous and modern 2 bedroom apartment. We were so lucky! Although I have to say, this set a standard for the trip that really made it "Africa-Lite" for Ange. But since I plan to drag her all over the world we'll have plenty of time to rough it later and she'll be able to place it in perspective later.

The next day we did a city tour of Banjul, including their insane market, had lunch and then spent some free time in the afternoon at the beach.

On the 3rd we went to the Bijilo Monkey Forest in the morning. Very cool with lots of monkeys running around. One of the students was ill when we left the US and couldn't seem to shake it. But, unlike some students, she didn't want to miss out so she kept pushing herself to join in the activities. About 20 minutes into the monkey walk she started feeling really bad so we broke off from the group and ended up walking back to the van. She rested and eventually the other students caught up with us. We then headed to the crocodile pond (Katchikally), the Bakau Market (my favorite shopping & craft market), and then had some more free time. Ange and I broke off from the group and headed off to sneak in to the fancy resort hotels and spent some time pretending we're fancy schmancy. Headed back to clean up at the apartment and have dinner with the students.

On Monday we went to the Embassy in the morning and then to GAMCOTRAP. We then had lunch and the afternoon off. Ange had a touch of "Banjul Belly" so we decided to take the afternoon off and she napped while I set up the internet in the apartment and surfed the web. This is when I found out my cousin had died and we decided to spend the rest of the night in because I just didn't feel like socializing that evening.

The next day we went to the Gambian Press Union to talk about press freedom and visited The Point newspaper. We had lunch and then had some free time. Ange still wasn't feeling that great so we did some wandering around and then just took it easy back at the apartment.

The next day (6th) we went back to the Gambia is Good Farm, which is my favorite place in The Gambia. It took us about a thousand years to get there because the President of Senegal was in town and President Jammeh was taking him back to the airport (which is just past GIG Farm) and we got stopped by the insane motorcade forever. Finally got there, had the tour, and ate delicious lunch. I had a few hours to rest and then my big lecture sponsored by the US embassy. The lecture went very well, had a number of people attending and several press representatives.

On Thursday we headed up-country to Tendaba Nature Camp. On the way we got to stop at this really awesome hospital (my second favorite thing to do in Africa) that was all solar powered. I was in heaven looking at their awesome technology. We got to Tendaba, took a nap and had a lovely dinner. During the middle of dinner my lecture was featured on the Gambian national news (they only have one television station) for several minutes. It was pretty cool. All the students were like "LINDSAY! You're on tv!!!" and the other tourists there were all looking at me and were like "Seriously, that's you?" probably wondering how the hell I was on tv and also in this random nature camp the next day. Funny stuff.

The next day we went on a walking tour of Tendaba, Ange had a bowel attack in the middle of the walk and had to have a moment out in the bushes, we took a nap that afternoon, watched the locals challenge the JC students to a soccer match (ended in a 3-3 tie--not too shabby!), had dinner and went to bed.

On Saturday we got up at a leisurely time while many of the students went on a nature walk or fishing. We headed out and stopped at our driver Yabo's family home and then at a school that a Gambian ex-pat living in the UK was fixing up with money and volunteers from his foundation. We drove back to Banjul after a quick stop at Kanilai (where I was recognized by a hotel staffer--"Hey! Were you on tv the other night???"). We had some free time at the beach when we got back, grabbed dinner and headed back to the luxury apartment.

Sunday was our last day in Banjul before we headed back to Senegal for a few days before we left. Ange and I decided to camp out at the beach. We woke up around 9, got ready, headed to the beach, had tapalapas for breakfast, laid on the beach for hours, played in the surf a few times, had some fresh squeezed juice, ate lunch and eventually headed back to the apartment to start packing stuff up. Took a break for dinner and then finished packing and went to bed.

The next day we packed everything up and headed to Senegal. 12 hours later and a few stops we finally arrived at Pink Lake. Students hung out and smoked hookah and we went to bed early.

On Tuesday we got up and went on the WW2 jeeps for a tour of Pink Lake, a visit to a Fulani village, rough and tumble over the sand dunes, a stop at the beach, then back to the resort for lunch. We then spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool and watched the students ride camels. Had dinner at the resort and headed back to Dakar for the night.

Got up fairly early, took a driving tour of Dakar, stopped at the lighthouse and saw the nearly finished Statue to the African Renaissance, headed to the ferry and waited for a little over an hour in a very crowded waiting area, took the ferry to Gorree Island, bombarded by the aggressive sellers on Goree, found the tapestry we were looking for, had lunch, nearly got in a fight with some bitchy market lady, got back to Dakar, relaxed and showered at the hotel and headed to the airport!

Flew at night and landed in Madrid at 5 am. Decided to not go in to Madrid and sleep in the airport instead. More staring. Felt much more rested. Got on the never-ending flight home, arrived NYC in the evening, headed to our hotel, slept well.

Friday the 15th we wandered around NYC doing nothing much. Almost missed our flight because we got slightly lost and traffic, made it home.

So I know that was the express version, but even that took me over an hour to write. If you want a pictorial of the trip we loaded all of our pics of the trip on and Shutterfly lets you build a little webshare site for all your pics. We have them all uploaded and are working on captioning all of the photos. Wait a few more days if you want to read all the captions, or if you are impatient you can check them out now:

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