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Hitting the road in Senegal and turning up the heat.

It took around 10 days to be reunited with our truck and the whole thing was a nightmare. Corrupt officials in Casablanca had made the Morocco side of things a lot more expensive than we had expected but didn’t come near to what we paid in Dakar, Senegal. The system at the port is that you engage with a local agent and they hold your hand around all the departments to get the truck released from customs and the shipping company. It's slightly different to the Dover-Calais route? Before we left the UK, we had invested in a Carnet de passage (we had lodged a sum of money that if we sell either the truck or motorbike we lose the deposit we had lodged. We did this as it's compulsory in some countries to have one and beneficial in others, but obviously, the officials in Dakar didn’t agree. We were ferried around (excuse the pun) by our local agent for 3 days visiting office after office, paying bribe after bribe to get the official stamp from each department for what should have been free of charge. When I complained or questioned the payments, I was met with, ‘It’s up to you’. You pay the bribe or your truck isn’t released? The whole thing was terrible and scary when you are in a foreign country, not speaking the language (should have tried harder at school), but eventually we got our beloved truck returned to us. The 10 days in Dakar, pre truck reuniting was a real eye-opener and thrust us straight back into the hustle and bustle of African life. The traffic much denser, more people and much more happening and a frenetic pace, unlike the more laid back Morocco. We spent our time in Dakar walking the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. We noticed how tall the men were and 6 feet was normal. Beggars were everywhere, street vendors too. The strangest thing we saw being sold was we guess, fake copies of the game of Scrabble? When some guy tried to sell us an ironing board, it seemed almost a mountain to climb to explain we lived in a camping car and had no need of an ironing board? Poverty hit us like a runaway train. Amongst the beggars were a number of children equipped with plastic tubs and begging almost in packs. These children are scholars on the Koran. They are sent to the cities at a young age and housed in terrible conditions and sent out to beg all day and then study the Koran at night. This is not a swipe at Islam, just a fact of life. Once we had the truck, a night in Dakar was enough and we wanted to be out of the city and so we headed north following the small coastal roads stopping off for a couple of nights to rejig the truck after packing it down for shipping. We were heading for St.Louis and as soon as we arrived, we headed for a beachside park up to unwind and lick our wounds after the ordeal of shipping. Goats - A common site everywhere including town centers The fish was collected by many means including the well decorated horse and carts still common place in Senegal. St.Louis is an interesting town and many of the dilapidated buildings looked like a rundown New Orleans with their picket fence balconies now in various states of decay although the old town is a Unesco protected zone. St.Louis is the largest fishing port in Senegal and the Pirogues were brightly coloured and very photogenic. We also strolled the streets perusing the sand filled unmade roads and wondering how a principal town of such importance could function when it appeared that more than 50% of the streets had no hard standing, just the sand that was naturally there for a surface. The Fishing operation was fascinating and as the boats, and so many boats, came in, one after the other, the local women ran into the rubbish infested shallow water to buy their quota to presumably resell on the street corners. This practice was commonplace. We presume many women made their living in this way and the sight of fish displayed on wooden benches, covered in flies, with no refrigeration on most street corners became the norm. When we bought our Fish from premises slightly above this hygiene level, we still thanked our lucky stars every time we survived another meal without being ill. St.Louis also taught us if someone wanted to get your attention, they would bear their teeth and either suck or blow through them to make a hissing sound. It’s not the most attractive sound known to mankind and it took a while to accept that this was normal and was not meant in any way to be offensive. We also learned in St.Louis that the local Baboon society have learnt that humans are usually a good source of easy food. We sat outside the truck for breakfast, the day after my birthday, and I was able to read all the lovely birthday messages I had been sent. At the same time, and I was completely unaware, I was being stalked by a large male Baboon who crept up behind me and took my toast! After the initial shock, we laughed as the toast was coated in Bovril and we said, that will teach him, but as we looked at this large male not 20 meters away, he was licking the Bovril from the bread and disregarding the bread. When he came back for a second round (whoops, another pun), Charlotte stood up and shouted at the Baboon and he all but ignored Charlotte. It took a call from myself to scare him into retreat. He wasn’t scared of the female but was of the male? St Louis is, the last principal town before the Mauritanian border and was to be our last port of call before heading for Mauritania. We had a fixer to hand and all was going well and visas were being arranged although the border to Mauritania heading north is closed. Then the corruption started to raise its head again when the fixer suddenly overnight doubled his fees and we got worried, if we went to Mauritania on a dodgy visa, we are at the complete mercy of our fixer to get us back over the border to Senegal? So, decision made, no visit to Mauritania was about to happen. After a few physical threats towards me and a lot of negation, the fixer and I shook hands on a deal where we paid him for his time to date and all was good. This meant we needed to rethink our plan and move around our itinerary (it's always a loose plan anyway). The decision we came to was to head south again to Dakar to buy provisions. Part of the daily catch being prepared to be boxed and transported for sale. Whilst shopping, we were met with a chancer in the street who gave us the old, “Do you remember me. I am the waiter in your hotel routine” A scam to trick you into being embarrassed as you don’t remember and then you are easy prey to be sold a non-existent tour or, be asked for money to go and see his brother’s shop or whatever. This took us by surprise as we were the only tourists in town as far as we could see. We have encountered this one many times and have our well-rehearsed reply ready and countered the question about remembering him by saying very loudly ‘yes, I remember you’. You are the guy who was kissing your boyfriend in the club last night. I remember you both drinking Johnny Walker Scotch ! That usually sends them on their way in a Muslim country. Provisions bought and stored, we headed south/south east as this is really where many of the treasures we wanted to see in Senegal are located and as it was really the end of the Sahara and the start of the greener lands. Part of our provisioning was to buy 10 footballs and pumps (just what we need in such a compact space). These are being distributed when we see a group of kids in need of such a gift and it gives us great pleasure to see the faces light up when given the gift of a football. We anticipated our journey would take one or two days. It actually took 4 days and long days at that of driving across some pretty undulating terrain and a mix of dirt roads, some good tarmac and mostly, not so good! Along the way, we were stopped at many road side police and military checks and on two such occasions we were asked for money in exchange for not getting a ticket. A ticket for what we asked and challenged them to write us a ticket. We never did give the money and never did get the ticket. This is how the Dice role in this part of the world and we are well aware of some but not all of the tricks of the trade. This was also the start of the Red African dust, synonymous with much of the African continent as well as the Termite mounds most of which have been burnt out to stop the termites destroying the local homes. Our first port of call was the town of Kedougou and again, we parked up outside a hotel wall so we had security and a dinner in the restaurant before heading out in search of the tribes we had come to see. Further down the road, which was a selection of corrugated road surfaces, deep ditches that really tested our vehicle, we found accommodation at a local village that was near one of the tribal villages we wanted to visit. Again, parking up nearby gave us a base and we were able to ask around for help to see our intended tribal villages. The morning after we arrived, we set out early morning to trek for 2 hours up a hill to get to the village of Ibel with the help of a local guy in want of a few CFA (the local currency). Just a lovely photo showing the diversity of the streets. Another image of some of the roads This cheeky guy stole my toast and ate the Bovril before throwing away the bread! The women of the village chant and dance as part of the coming of age ceremony. This was a Bassari village and we knew May was the month the young boys had part of their initiation ceremony. Before I continue, I want to explain about the way the boys of the Bedik tribe transform from boys to men. When they are around 12 years old, they are taken from their parents, taken into the forest with their counterparts, given enough Rice for a few days and a Machete and a large stick. From there, they are alone and have to fend for themselves. They eat what they forage, kill, gut, prepare and cook. They are completely alone for several months before being brought back to the village where they are corralled together and unable to speak with anyone including their mum. They are kept in the village for a couple of days before being taken back to the forest for several more months. Finally, when they come back, they are classed as men and can look for a wife. I wanted to give them a bit of advice but the language barrier got in the way. My Bedik isn’t as good as it could be? On the day of our visit, the boys were back in the village which was quite by chance but an amazing opportunity for us. When entering the village after a gruelling hill climb we were scared by a man dressed completely in leaves with what looked like a hessian sack on his head and waving several large sticks at us. There were actually several of these guys in the village and their function was to ceremonially look after the boys by chasing away anyone and beating anyone that got near with the sticks. We were spared a beating as they were as surprised by us as we were by them. This ritual had developed into a game for some of the young men in the village and as we sat and watched, the tree men managed to trick a few youths into a pincer movement and the punishment was brutal and enough to say the sticks were thin and skin was broken. Whilst all this was happening the women had retreated to the edge of the village for safety and laid around on the ground, feeding babies, plaiting hair and adding more earrings to their multi-pierced ears. The village sustains life mainly by foraging for food, hunting for an odd animal or slaughtering a goat here and there and the only source of water was a well that they had to hand draw water from, situated at one end of the village. Women are there to cook and have babies. Men, to herd goats and forage/hunt for food. Cooking is in a pot on an open fire. Our local guide even said that the food they eat was basic which was rich as we had eaten with him the day before. No electricity, no running water and home was a hut made of mud with a thatched roof. This is Africa at its rawest, life is cheap here and staying alive is the top priority and that’s a tough ask. Medical help is only available from the local traditional medicine and a soft mattress is something they don’t even know what is. Their beds are made of wooden slats cut from the forest. Their beds are usually outside their homes because of the heat. Its 40+ degrees here and it never stops. Life is tough, really tough, but although they see little tourism if any, they remain civil and grateful of the small donation we made to the village for allowing us access. That in itself raises all kinds of ethical questions and questions Charlotte and I still don’t have the answers to? For Charlotte and I with our fancy truck and air conditioning, life is still hard. Our fridge freezer is working so hard to keep everything cool in the intense heat, it’s taking all the power from the batteries and if we turn on the generator to make more power, the batteries can’t take in the extra power as the safety system stops it as the batteries overheat. It’s a battle of first world problems. The only way around it is to get up around 4am when the temperature cools to a manageable 30 degrees and run the generator for a few hours before the heat returns. Even our solar panels are working overtime as well but such is the intensity of the heat, they don’t come anywhere near the power we need. It sounds terrible but we lay awake in the early hours, dreading the next onslaught of heat from the rising sun. We have to ensure we make ice last thing at night or the freezer won’t freeze it in time for our 6 pm sun downer - Can you imagine the hardship? Between village visits, we sat in the communal outdoor area of the local village sheltering from the blistering heat one day. Charlotte had her adult colouring book and gave a local little girl a similar colouring book. We are always a source of interest to the local kids. The three of us sat around a table colouring and typing away. It's surely a lesson in crossing barriers in some way, isn’t it? At least it shows that crossing the boundary between struggling for life and then being transported back to being a little girl again, even if it's for a fleeting moment isn’t hard to do and we have now added colouring books and pencils to our shopping list. A good nights’ sleep is something we dream of or would dream of if we could sleep? My closing gambit on the above is - It's hot, dusty and the heat makes it exhausting and it’s enough to say, we wouldn’t swap what we are doing for the world. A normal street in St.Louis More roads in need of a little TLC Some very exotic hair styles are all part of the tribal traditions. Food cooking under way in this traditional village, synonymous with how most of Senegalise people live. Preparation and dancing - all part of the ceremonies. Our second village was a village called Ethiolo. This was a simple hop, skip and a jump up a mountain a mere 45 minutes hike. Nothing I thought as we reached the village until it was explained to me they had no well in the village and all water was brought up in containers by the women on their heads. I leave that one to sink in a moment. It’s 40+ degrees remember and just sitting under a tree is an effort. The ceremony here was actually the day before the boys were brought back to the village and the women and some men chanted, drummed a beat and danced. When the tree men who looked the same as the other village appeared in the hills above the village, the group turned to face them and sang and danced to them in what we understood to be an incitement to bring them down and into the village to protect the boys who would be brought home the next day. The colours, the sounds and the privilege to be part of something so special will stay with us forever. As the day drew on and the afternoon arrived, large wooden bowls hewn out of a local vegetable/fruit (don’t ask me what) appeared, we understood it was time for the ceremonial drinking of the Millet beer. Again, few if any tourists make it this far and we knew what was coming as the bowls seemed to arrive into my reach at an alarming regular interval and after my first sip, I soon learnt to hold the bowl to my mouth with my lips tightly pursed. Again the experience was beyond our wildest dreams and the colours, the noises and the smells were mesmerising. With so little, they appear to enjoy the simple ceremonies so much. It was an honour to witness this. We headed from the villages back West and towards The Gambia stopping overnight where we attracted a group of kids who wanted desperately to see the inside of the truck. Their faces were a picture and their fascination at having a kitchen sink with a tap that dispensed water was beguiling and brought home the harsh reality of the way in which they live. We hope to enter The Gambia in the next couple of days but as this is now the end of May, we have to look forward and the rainy season starts next month. That means challenging driving conditions, uncertain access to many places and worst of all, Killer Mosquito and Malaria. We have our tablets ready for the start and await our fate of what the next leg will bring us. This is turning out to be a truly humbling and life changing trip. We can’t wait to see more. A few Senegal facts Population 16 million equally divided men and women. Age expectancy 67 Geographic size around 1.2 times the size of the UK Main export - Fish and Ground nuts Average earning per month - £450.00 I hope thats all okay and thank you for reading our story. One of the tree people. As we understood they dress up as trees to protect the boys when they come back to the village. A Bassari elder watching it all happen around her. A little girl coloring a book with Charlotte. Giving her a rest from doing the chores she is normally tasked with and allowing her to be a little girl, just for a short while. A couple of boys back in the village for the ceremony before being taken back to the forest. They are home for a couple of days but not allowed to speak when in the village. Connect 4. A great game to break the language barrier and always a hit as well as a travelers staple. Village life and the very normal way of life in Senegal away from the cities. 

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