Ziguinchor .. the Provincial Capital of The Casamance

The problem of having entered via the border post between The Gambia and the Casamance at Darisalam ( Darsilami ) .. became apparent as I started my journey further South towards Ziguinchor. That border post does not stamp passports, so I was not officially in Sénégal and this would present problems and costs if my papers were checked whilst travelling further South !
If I had simply wanted to re-enter The Gambia via the same route, it would have been no problem.

I would have to make a detour back to the official border post at Séléti, on the main Brikama - Casamance road, to get my passport officially stamped. Half an hour ( CFA 400 ) from Kafountine is Dioloulou taxi garage .. where, after an hour's wait and eventually agreeing to pay for an extra seat ( @ CFA 400 each ), so that the taxi was then full and could leave the garage without further delay .. it was only a short 13 kilometre journey on a good tarmac road to the Séléti border post.

The Senegalese immigration guy was all smiles and welcomed me officially into Sénégal, stamped my passport without asking for a fee and wished me bon voyage. I then had to wait for another bush taxi .. direct to Ziguinchor 104 kilometres away .. to fill up. After a couple of cool drinks and an animated but friendly argument necessary to reduce their usual attempts at charging a sky-high additional price for one small travelling bag, on top of the standard CFA 2400 fare .. we were off.

There were good tarmac roads all the way .. but the sparse bush scenery, interspersed with small villages and the occasional bridge over waterway inlets, was fairly uninspiring. Bignona, once an

important administrative capital and home to many dignitaries .. now just a large and sprawling dusty town with a large taxi garage .. was similarly uninspiring. The further we were from the coast, the more the heat and humidity increased, so that when we eventually crossed the two bridges over the River Casamance and entered Ziguinchor .. some three hours after leaving Séléti .. it was really hot and sweaty.

Ziguinchor, the first European settlement in the area, was founded by the Portuguese in 1645. According to tradition, Ziguinchor's name and meaning comes from the time when Portuguese traders and explorers came to the region to form a trading post and derives from Portuguese Cheguei e choram, "I came and they cry". The local people saw the Europeans and began crying, thinking ( correctly, in many cases ) that they had come to enslave them. Following the end of the slave trade, Portuguese commerce suffered badly and the town was eventually handed over to France on 22 April 1888, in a deal brokered amongst the colonial powers at the Berlin conference of 1886. Under the French, Ziguinchor again became a major trade port and despite once again suffering, this time from the effects of  the former unrest in the region, remains an important cargo port, transport hub and ferry terminal for the area.

Arriving at the large taxi garage, the first thing I saw appeared to be an enormous marquee tent with a

patch-worked sacking covering .. bordering one side of the car park and dwarfing everything in it. At the far end of the garage was large mound of something, with the people standing on top looking as small as ants. Asking the taxi driver what both were, I received answers in Jola ( kookeya ) .. then Wolof ( gerte ) and then French ( arachide ) .. but couldn't understand any of them. Eventually, I was taken over and shown exactly what they were .. and even then I could not believe the quantities I was seeing. Groundnuts ( peanuts ) by the many millions, which had been shipped in in barges and trucks from all over the region for the local groundnut oil processing plant .. an incredible sight. Last year's harvest had obviously been good.

Not having booked ahead, I took a chance and hired a local taxi to take me to the Hotel Perroquet, where I had stayed on my previous visits, over then years before. Always comfortable, its new owners had vastly improved the riverside garden settings .. it looked superb and welcoming.
Sadly, it was obviously looking too welcoming to other travellers, because all the rooms were full !

Whilst I was having a cooling drink in the bar .. which is right next to the river .. thinking of where else to try, I was approached by the French ex-pat owner of the Galerie d'Art ( Dimanditi ), which is a little way up the same road ( Rue du Commerce ) that the Perroquet is on. Having overheard my conversation with the most apologetic hotel receptionist, he said he knew of some guest houses

close by and kindly offered to show me them. Finishing our drinks we walked around 200 metres up the road and found a modern family house which had rooms to let, a little cheaper @ CFA 8000 a night than the Perroquet's prices. The family were very welcoming, the room was comfortable with a fan, balcony and a roof top terrace with views over the river 20 metres away .. plus a friendly pet monkey next door who I soon found out liked eating my biscuits .. this would be ideal.

After a very necessary shower, I walked back to the Perroquet for an evening meal, visited the Galerie D'Art and then had an early night. Kafountine had been hot, but with a fresh atmosphere from being on the coast .. in Ziguinchor, it was both hot and very humid, despite having the vast expanse of the Casamance River right on its doorstep. Along with the humidity came the mosquitoes .. be sure to pack some efficient mosquito repellent if you should visit.

The next day I spent some time walking around, seeing and recording the sights with my camera and visiting the local craft market in a somewhat fruitless attempt to find any trade beads to buy. Ziguinchor's suburbs, be they African old style or French modern, are neat and tidy .. but its centre is a mixture of a smattering of European-style modern buildings on tidy streets, leading to older rather faded French / Portuguese colonial architecture amongst traditional African shops and shacks in somewhat less than clean areas. A new-looking entrance to the modern Dakar ferry port is right

next to an extremely dirty and smelly fishing area and is also in stark contrast to the crowded area where the local people board their own village ferry transport. Somewhat of a shock compared to most everywhere else I have visited in Casamance, where ancient and modern seems to blend cleanly and nicely together. It is by no means unpleasant .. but for what is really a medium sized town, it has more of a large city atmosphere in its clash of architectural and scenic values.

Finding the local craft market, I searched in vain for my Hausa bead-dealing friends, who had moved to and established businesses there some years before. But being the travellers that Hausa dealers traditionally are .. and with the tourist trade almost non-existent .. they had moved on to other potentially more fruitful areas. However, reliving my very first experience of a Ziguinchor craft market .. some 14 years previously when I was very new to African travel and had been on a 'rescue mission' to help a very sick Toubab friend stranded in Guinea Bissau .. I bought another pair of souvenir-like but very practical, brightly coloured Senegalese batik trousers and chatted with the remaining craft stall traders. It wasn't long before word of a Toubab seeking beads spread and a few 'I am a bead expert' hopefuls turned up .. either with handfuls of cheap modern beads or promises of taking me to bead suppliers who would definitely have the antique types that I wanted.

Accepting some invitations for a look-see .. I was led to another larger general market and around a succession of pseudo craft ( tourist fodder ) stalls with nothing of personal bead interest but manned by very friendly sellers who were keen to talk and swap stories of former bead traders, who we both knew but who had long since left to trade in other areas. One of my new guides suggested we take a short taxi ride to the outskirts of the town where he had seen some beads I might be interested in.
Arriving at a small general market we found the stall and there were indeed tow small strands of mid to late 1900's
Czech 'Wedding beads' . Not exactly antiques, but very pretty and worth buying.

On the way back to the town centre, he suggested we visit an antique dealer, who operated from a private house in another area of the suburbs, the location of which he was fairly sure he knew.
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 It took us a long while to find it .. but eventually we arrived at Arts Primitifs and met the owner the large and jovial Professeur Patrice. This is the first and only 'genuine' antique shop that I have found in West Africa. A European-style house full of ancient wooden carvings .. some ten feet tall .. metal sculptures and a whole host of unusual artefacts and objets d'art which are rarely seen in craft market stalls, or the large dusty warehouses to be found in Dakar, Conakry and Bamako.

The only beads that were available were a long strand of late 1800's 6 layer Venetian Chevrons ... but the initial price was very high and the jovial Patrice was also a very tough bargainer ! Most of the other items on show were either enormous or not at all bead, or my type of artefact, related. However, an unusual smoking pipe caught my attention .. small enough to carry and decorated with 10 beautiful and ancient bronze finger rings, which I do retail on my African Trade Beads Website.
This was added into the deal negotiations and despite actually saying our goodbyes after not coming to an agreement on price .. and walking half a mile down the road .. on second thoughts I went back and paid the price we had finished at. Although expensive to buy .. they were indeed beautiful items.
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A traditional Bamileke tribe tobacco pipe from Mali .. with a Lizard skin covered wooden stem that is decorated with ancient bronze long-horned Buffalo and Antelope finger rings.

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Sharing a tasty evening meal with my host family .. it was time to make preparations for my onward journey to Cap Skirring on the following morning. It would be good to be near the coast again,
spend some time in the fresher sea air and escape Ziguinchor's humidity and pesky mosquitoes.

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