The Republic

The Last Giraffes in West Africa

We left the Museum and headed off to a local Travel Agency to book my return flight to Dakar.
Then the problems started .. the one-way fare was somewhat astronomic ( CFA 280,000 ) and none of the Travel Agencies we visited accepted credit card payments for flight ticket purchases. So we proposed to sort it out the following day, after our Giraffe Safari.

Following an early start on the next morning and after around an hour and a half of driving away from Niamey on the excellent main road that crosses Niger from Nigeria to Ghana, we found ourselves at the entrance of the ASGN Giraffe Conservation Project area, which is marked by a large signboard on the side of the main road. Here we paid our entrance fee and hired one of their local expert guides to accompany us and try to find some of the Giraffes. After a few kilometres along the main road, we turned off into the bush, passing by the occasional herd of cattle and enormous termite mounds, but very little evidence of any human habitation.

We were looking everywhere for signs of Giraffe in the sparse bush and wondered why our guide

suddenly called a halt to our progress. Such was the brilliance of its camouflage colouring, we had stopped within 15 metres of a solitary male resting under a tree .. and none of us, apart from our guide, had seen it !
A little further down the sandy track, we found a small giraffe family, also sheltering from the hot sun. I took some lovely photographs of these elegant and beautiful animals, some of the last Giraffes left in West Africa.

We drove back through the bush to the village of Kuri just near the ASGN entrance sign, stopped for a drink and had a look around the local market. This was the first village market in the Niger countryside I had seen and the emphasis seemed to be mainly on foodstuffs and thatching materials for the roofs of the local houses. Lots of local people came to talk with us, resulting in some interesting photographs of local characters, their livestock and the different ways in which the meat and other products were displayed for sale on the stalls.

Particularly unusual were how these local delicacies in the picture below had been cooked ..... can you guess what they are ?

Leaving the colourful village scene, we thanked and generously tipped our guide, leaving him back with the others, sitting in the shade near the entrance sign and headed back along the smooth straight road towards Niamey. There was very little traffic on the road, but every now and then extremely large Nigerian trucks thundered along at high speed, revolving orange warning lights shining out brightly from the roofs of their cabs.

  Passing more idyllic scenery and prettily thatched grain-drying huts, we eventually passed through the entrance portal to Niamey and after treating our driver to a meal in a local Senegalese restaurant, Alaghi and I headed off to try and sort out my flight ticket for the return journey to Dakar the following evening. I didn't have enough local currency to pay for the ticket so we had find a bank that changed travellers cheques. We rushed around, dripping with sweat in the heat, from one Travel Agency to the next just to make sure that none did accept travellers cheques .. none did .. and then from one bank to the next.

At last we found a bank, the only one in Niamey which would change Euro travellers cheques, but by then it was getting perilously close to closing time for both the bank and the travel agency we had chosen. Dealing with African banks, although most are equipped with computers, is a long and tedious process as far as the customers are concerned. Long queues, slow tellers and an infinite number of forms to be laboriously filled in by hand, identification papers to be checked and double checked, phone calls to be made, papers to be Xeroxed in a different office .. with long absences of the teller whilst he or she is performing all the rigidly adhered to long-winded procedures.

Thank goodness, the gentleman bank teller who was dealing with us, was somewhat better than the norm and was quite quickly convinced of the urgency of the case. Jumping to his tasks with alacrity and a big smile, he must now hold the record of the swiftest bank transaction in all of West Africa ! Albeit still three times slower than the equivalent transaction time in Europe, we literally ran out of the bank as they were closing, with ten minutes to get to the travel agency before they closed.

Puffing and panting like a couple of pensioners and soaked through with perspiration, we entered the travel agency with a look of triumph on our faces, produced bundles of local currency and asked for the ticket. "Certainly monsieur, which flight do you want?"  "Er, the one for tomorrow evening that I enquired about yesterday when you told me I had to pay with CFA," I replied. "Did you reserve your ticket ?"said he. "Well no .. I didn't know I could without actually paying for it," I replied. That was when I learnt that it is imperative to actually reserve your ticket when you make an enquiry, you can pay for it later. A normal occurrence in Europe, but I was so used to paying directly for everything in Africa, it hadn't even occurred to me that this system would be possible. The flight was now full and the next flight was in three days time. "Oh dear, that is a shame," I said - or words to that effect !!

Alaghi had been planning a alternative for our accommodation and one of his nephews had offered to let us use his room in the suburbs for free on our last night in Niamey, instead of paying out another 13,000+ CFA at the hotel. We collected our bags, which had been left in the hotel's office for security and found ourselves in a similar position as we had been in in Timbuktu. Again, a young lad willingly and so generously vacated his single room which contained all his possessions, and .. taking only the clothes he needed .. moved in to share with a friend a few compounds away. When Alaghi explained that our planned last night had unexpectedly become extended to three, without hesitation, he welcomed us to stay for as long as we needed to.

Such generosity and trust is rarely found in our so-called civilised and advanced "Western"societies. In Africa, it is often the case that those who have the least, offer the most !

It had been a long and exhausting day, we slept very well that night.