Sénégal

Kolda - Sénégal

The regional centre of the Haute and Moyenne Casamance

Currency = CFA
£1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
March 2004

We arrived at Kolda in the early hours of Wednesday morning .. after travelling on excellent tarred roads all the way from Vélingara .. somewhat weary from around 20 hours of travelling since leaving  The Gambia.

Disgorging ourselves from the minibus, I followed my friend into the blackness of the alleyways near to the taxi-garage, navigating by the light of our torches. Eventually we found a large open compound, owned by one of his Hausa friends .. and carefully picked our way through the dozens of sleeping figures scattered all around, in an effort to find the owner.

Factfile 4: It is an unspoken etiquette in such  situations, that one tries not to invade the privacy of the sleeping figure one is about to step on, by not shining one's torch directly on them. Sometimes this is easier than others .. my belated apologies to those that I didn't see !!

After lots of murmuring in the darkness, we were led into an outer room of the owner's house .. he had kindly provided the Toubab stranger with a foam mattress and a pillow on the bare concrete floor. Luxury .. especially with the provision of an actual European pillow ! I felt guilty, having seen the many others curled up on the earth outside and wondered who had
( hopefully willingly ) given up their pillow, which are quite rare to  find in such compounds. Once again, picking my way gingerly through the sleeping figures to find the toilet 50 metres away, I returned to find the pillow had been "reclaimed" .. hopefully by its rightful owner !!!

Factfile 5: African hospitality to both friends and strangers is some of the best in the world. Hausas, many being travelling traders, are exemplary in this respect. Every town or village that has a sizeable market usually has a  small population of Hausa traders. With my Hausa friend, everywhere we travelled .. and when needed .. we were met and offered guidance, accommodation and food without any hesitation or being asked for any reward or payment.
  
Sleep came easily and awakened by the local cockerel crowing .. we showered outside in the woven grass-walled shower, dressed and headed for some
breakfast in the taxi-garage,
at the crack of dawn ... well ... 7.00 ish !!

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Breakfast

The Transport*

Market Scenes**

Bush***

Once again .. we were too late to get seats in the first taxi ( #1 in pic ) .. which, although evidently full, didn't leave until half an hour before we eventually did. We weren't too disappointed as our car* looked much newer .. and being first in the queue, we had the choice of seats. Tickets were bought ( CFA 20,000 each ), our baggage .. free this time .. was left with the driver and his assistants ( apprentis ) and we went to find breakfast and explore the market.

Factfile 6: Being first in the queue for an empty taxi  gives you the choice of seats .. depending on your size and preference .. and an educated guess as to exactly how many people will be crammed inside .. the normal seating plans for Peugeot 504s being 3-4-3. Despite being around 90  kilos and almost 2 metres tall .. given the choice, I usually chose the front seat next to the window. For two main reasons .. a good view of the road ahead and the ability to hang out of the window with my digital camera .. praying that the guy between me and the driver would not be of a similar size. Sometimes I won .. sometimes I suffered !!
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An intriguing dichotomy in West Africa is the security of your  baggage in taxi-garages .. places notoriously known for attracting all sorts of petty criminals. Take your eye off your bag for a moment and it might suddenly gain legs and disappear .. but once you have paid for and received your seat ticket .. you can hand over your bags to the driver or one of his apprentis.
In 15 years of African travel, my bags have always been perfectly safe. Whilst it is impossible to know who is who amongst the throng of people hanging around .. there are always one or two lads, similarly attired to the rest of the crowd, whose job it is to guard all the passengers' bags until the taxi departs. Sometimes an apprenti will travel with  the car, giving peace of mind to all during the many rest stops, breakdowns and other assorted happenings .. when it is impossible to watch your bags for yourself.

Thousands of people had arrived for market** day .. with the usual array of food, clothing, hardware and livestock on offer .. but nothing in the way of old beads. Only many traders offering strands of new beads and cheap modern jewelry, imported from the Far East and India.

Breakfast over, we wandered around the markets stalls .. stopping occasionally for tea, coffee or a cold soft drink .. the temperatures being in the high 30's C. Popping back every half hour or so to check on the  progress of our taxi filling .. 6 seats to go .. 5 seats to go etc. etc. A light lunch of cedi ( rice, sugar and evaporated milk eaten out of half a calabash ) was taken, and the hours dragged on .. interspersed with  bargaining for a baseball cap (CFA 1000) necessary to keep the hot sun off my head and a new pair of sunglasses (CFA 1500 and surprisingly good !).
Alaghi returned from a stroll round with small cotton masks on elastic for the pair of us.

Perhaps it is going to be a little dusty, I thought !!

Around 2.30 pm one of the apprentis ( the driver's assistants - pronounced approntee ) came to find us .. with the good news that the last of the seats had been filled and we were ready to go. Grabbing our last chance to buy bottles of cold water, we clambered aboard .. and .. after waiting for a mere 8 hours,  by 3.00 pm we were away. Well, away only for 200 metres to the nearest and evidently the only petrol station in town, to fill up. The usual lack of forethought became apparent when the guy at the pumps proudly admitted they had run out of petrol !!

Factfile 7: Taxis wait for hours for their full compliment of passengers, but never fill their tanks before all the passengers are aboard and the money has been collected.

 This piece of news didn't seem to worry our driver .. so we didn't worry either. We headed back up the good road towards Vélingara and through a police checkpoint, before turning right onto a dusty red laterite road and into the
bush*** .. following a similarly laden Peugeot 504.