Kafountine Beach and Bush and Islands Boat Trip

I can never walk along a beach without picking up shells. Kafountine was always a good source of
a variety of subtly coloured shells .. and this visit proved to be no exception.

One particular type, in shades of browns, yellows, oranges and blues,  are found joined / hinged together in "butterfly shapes" .. but soon separate when they dry out. Lightly oiled to bring out their true colours, they make an attractive display even after a year in storage.

The beach is usually deserted on the Northern side of A La Nature .. apart from the occasional wandering cow .. and is ideal for taking long peaceful walks to study the pretty fauna and flora and abundant bird life, to be found in the area.

 A strong sun with a cooling sea breeze giving perfect temperatures,
I passed by the long abandoned hulk of a large ship .. which has been gradually breaking up and rusting away on the shoreline for years ..
and turned inland to find a series of brackish water pools, inhabited by many species of wading and shoreline birds. Most .. annoyingly and unfortunately .. flew away as soon as I aimed my camera at them, but I am sure avid twitchers with time and patience would have more luck.

Walking away from the lakes towards the village centre on sandy tracks leading through the bush,
I passed a number of private houses and campements .. many owned by French and Belgian ex-pats .. hidden away amongst the palm trees and behind tall hedges of colourful Bougainvillaea and

Hibiscus, which were just coming into flower. Now sheltered from the cooling sea breezes, the searing power of the sun could really be felt .. it was time to have a cool drink and organise a visit to the islands.

On previous visits, when tourism was at its peak, I avoided these popular tourist trips in favour of tranquility .. but as I was about the only 'tourist' in the area, it seemed a good bet that I would be able to enjoy the experience in its natural setting. René sent a message asking his favourite local guide to come and discuss plans and prices that evening. A tip here, for future reference if you find yourself negotiating trip or guide prices in Kafountine: Although it is never explained until paying up time comes .. when the locals guides quote a price of - for example 5 or 7 - as the cost of a tourist excursion .. they are not talking about 5,000 or 7,000 CFA. They are 'cleverly' talking in multiples of 5,000 CFA. Consequently, 5 actually means 25,000 CFA - 7 means 35,000 CFA .. and so on.

Well worth remembering before you agree to a price which is a five times more than you think !

During the time of my visit .. 1000 CFA was roughly equivalent to 1 pound sterling or 2 US Dollars and eventually a price of 35,000 CFA was agreed upon for a full day trip around the islands as far as time would permit us to travel. I did not know it then but it was to be money well spent.

Early the next morning .. well, around 9.30 am after a leisurely breakfast amongst the bats .. three guides arrived in a commandeered taxi and we set off towards the middle of Kafountine village, before turning right down a long straight road to the edge of the mangrove swamps. Stopping at a car park area, they hoisted a heavy and brand new outboard engine and the various supplies for the day onto their shoulders and we all walked down a muddy path to find the water.

  Seemingly it was a surprise to them as well as to me, that there was very little water to be seen. The tide was out !! "No problem," they said as they fitted the outboard to one of the motley selection of pirogues lying in the mud and proceeded to load all the rest of the supplies and invited me onboard.  Click below to follow the route.
Satellite View


 After half an hour of poling ( which I joined in with ) pushing and shoving the pirogue over sand bars ( which I left to them ) in a few inches of water, we eventually found slightly deeper water and by zig-zagging from one side to the other, followed the deepest parts of the main flow of the river into ever widening channels.

We passed by the Hotel Karone, formerly used for entertaining tourists from The Gambia on Landrover Safaris before the troubles arose and famous for having a resident Pelican,

whom I had met more than once and had learnt to keep well out of pecking range !!
At the time of my visit, the hotel had been abandoned and an army camp set up in the once immaculate gardens. The soldiers on duty on the riverbank, monitoring river traffic, called us over and exchanged some happy banter with the guides .. who they obviously new well ..
and welcomed me to the area. Happily, the hotel appears to be back in working order, click on the Pelican to be taken to their Website.

Leaving the Hotel Karone behind us, we were entering the Kalissaye Ornithological Reserve. Created in 1987 and 16 hectares / 40 acres in size .. the site was established as a reserve and sanctuary to protect breeding seabirds and sea-turtles. Amongst the birdlife evidently to be seen are; Pelicans, Pink Flamingos, Herons, Teal, Cormorants, Royal Terns and Fish Eagles.
Sadly the conflicts and unrest which occurred in the Casamance region in recent years resulted in the cessation of any counts of breeding birds or monitoring of the conservation status of the reserve, which was closed in 1992 as a result of these problems. From our observations that day,
the area is still packed full of an amazing variety of birds and with the general regeneration of this area of The Casamance, it will hopefully soon become the mecca for ornothologists that it once was.

Although the waterways were now a lot wider, large mud-banks were apparent everywhere .. populated by various birdlife and local families engaged in the 'back-breaking' job of collecting shellfish from the mud.

The riverbank scenes we were passing were typical of many people's imagination of 'desert island' scenery .. mangroves, palm trees, leaf-covered shacks, shipwrecks .. everything was there, magical !

After around two hours of steadily cruising against the incoming tide, with the opening of the estuary into the sea, visible in the distance .. we headed towards the shore where two people, a couple of huts and a collection of pirogues in various stages of repair, could be seen.