Cap Skirring .. the Tourist Resort of The Casamance

Leaving my comfortable lodgings, saying goodbye to my friend next door with a few extra biscuits, hailing a local taxi to the main taxi garage and finding a bush tax heading for Cap Skirring .. was an uncomplicated affair. Luckily, I was the person they were waiting for to fill the remaining empty seat of the Peugeot 504 Estate and we set off almost immediately. Ziguinchor is a must see when travelling through the southern Casamance .. but for me .. it is always for only a couple of days and then onwards to escape the humidity and resident mosquitoes. Those wishing to stay in one of a range of modern hotels, in air-conditioned isolation from the outside and wishing to take advantage of the good service and vivid nightlife in the night-clubs, should find a longer stay very enjoyable.

Heading towards the outskirts of the town, we passed this ancient Kapok tree, its shape beautifully silhouetted against a clear blue sky. Photographically too good to miss .. as I almost convinced the taxi driver, in order to get him to stop for a moment ! Being the last person to join the taxi, my seating .. thankfully in the middle row as opposed to the lack of head room seating in the rear .. was still a little cramped. So my usual habit of leaning out of the front side window and taking the occasional picture was prevented by this and by the looks on the other passengers' faces .. fearing their journey was going to be further delayed by a Toubab asking for more stops, for 'photographic purposes'!

On reasonably surfaced tarmacced roads, stopping in villages to drop off and pick up passengers and passing over many bridges spanning rivers and inlets, it took us around two hours to reach Cap Skirring. This was my first ever visit to Cap Skirring .. I had read and been told a little about the town and expected to find a modern mini-Dakar or a seaside version of Ziguinchor, but was surprised when the tarmac road suddenly ended at a roundabout in a small village, which had few immediately visible signs of it being a 'tourist mecca'.

One of the taxi passengers had suggested I try the Auberge Le Palmier which was situated a mere
50 metres from the roundabout where the taxi had stopped. Receiving a very warm welcome in English from the French owner Claude Caperan and his staff, we negotiated a good deal on the room rate and I became a resident of this small modern hotel, in a simple but clean room with an attractive thatched restaurant serving excellent food to accompany a wide choice of fine French wines.

It is situated in the middle of town, at the junction of three roads .. one leading to the beach, one leading to the entrance of the Club Med ( closed at the time of my visit )

and the third leading to the nearby International Airport. Claude has well used his 13 years of experience as the former manager of the local Club Med in its design, building and landscaping .. similarly so in caring for his clients. Large tourist hotels .. Cap Skirring has a good choice .. and Club Med-type complexes hold little attraction for me, so here was an ideal place to relax in and enjoy .. and to be able to revert to using my own English language. A welcome rest from having to think and talk in French ! Auberge Le Palmier was a lucky find, one which I highly recommend.

I had arrived in mid-afternoon when not much seemed to be happening in the town, most of the shops were closed and few people were to be seen. After a refreshing shower, cool drink and a chat with Claude, in which he bemoaned the continuing lack of tourists in the area .. I walked down to the beach, which was beautiful but similarly deserted. I feared that I was staying in a 'ghost town' !

However, I was forgetting the Casamance's Francophile 'siesta' habits and after a very good evening meal in Le Palmier .. accompanied by some fun conversation with a family of local French ex-pat friends of Claude .. I ventured out in the evening to find all the shops and restaurants open and plenty of friendly local people to chat with. Cap Skirring has a curious mixture of shops, bars and restaurants in very close proximity to each other .. some fairly ramshackle, catering for local African tastes and affordabilities .. and other of European-style, for the more affluent clientele of tourist visitors and the evidently large number of mainly French ex-pats living in the neighbourhood.

The next day I found the tiny local tourist craft market and whilst most of the items being more than eagerly offered for sale, were modern tourist fodder imports .. there were some interesting and unusual finds.
The most interesting of which were not his beads, but the man himself; Mohammed Ug Abdullah, a diminutive Tuareg from the town of Gao, which is far out beyond Timbuktu, deep in the Malian Sahara Desert.

I was introduced to Mohammed and several other market stall holders by a pleasant but severely underemployed tourist guide, over-keen to broker a deal .. any deal .. out of which he could extract some commission from the seller. Having bought a few
token items to help the local stall holders and himself .. more out of sympathy for their 'lack of tourists plight' than for the historic quality of the goods. I had to eventually ask him to please leave Mohammed and I alone to talk, as his incessant chatter was driving me nuts !! He laughed, as did the assembled crowd of hangers-on .. who teased him by commending me on the length of time I had put up with it ! I was allowed 20 minutes peace, before he returned and started up again .. but  those 30 minutes with Mohammed were fascinating.
He sold me his beautiful home-made necklace .. if you click this
link you can read about him and it.

I spent two days and two nights in Cap Skirring and will readily admit that I was content to remain near the auberge and neither did much exploring nor took many photographs. I know that there are many delights, that are listed elsewhere in guidebooks and Internet blogs, which I did not see for myself .. simply wanting a rest from travelling, to enjoy the fresh, non-humid and warm atmosphere, talking with the locals. Next time I will spend longer and take more photographs .. but there are times when taking out your camera tends to spoil the atmosphere when chatting with new friends. More especially in an established tourist area such as this, as doing so instantly turns a Toubab traveller into 'just another tourist', with all the negative influences that that usually involves from the hovering tourist touts, ever-ready to give out their insincere selling spiel and ask for handouts.

On the morning of the third day, it was time to catch a bush taxi back to Ziguinchor .. another to the border at Séléti and yet another back to Serrekunda, to return home to my base in The Gambia.
Luckily there were no delays .. apart from an uncomfortable crawl over a bomb-site-type road on the Gambian side of the border to just before Brikama .. the entire journey taking around six hours.

This visit to The Casamance was for me a chance to re-visit old haunts, discover interesting new places, rekindle old friendships and make many more .. thoroughly enjoyable and without problem.
I hope you also get the opportunity to visit, see the sights for yourself and meet these charming,
laid-back and gentle people. As I have stressed, at the time of my visit, there were no signs of the previous troubles .. which had all but totally stopped outside travellers and tourists entering the region .. but with the fluidity of changeable situations in any African country, it is always essential to obtain up-to-date accurate ( not rumoured ) information, before planning your trip.

No .. not a sideline .. just some digital editing !! :-))

There had obviously been many changes since my previous visits in the 90's, some good, some not.
Those people who had become used to supplementing their incomes from entertaining visitors, were indeed suffering financially, but were continuing to live their rural existences with welcoming smiles on their faces .. looking forward to better times ahead. Of course, if thousands of tourists suddenly descended on the region, it would undoubtedly lose a lot of its innate charms. So please don't tell too many of your friends all about it, let us leave some areas to remain our's and West Africa's best kept natural secret, which only we privileged ones are fortunate enough to know about !