Friday, June 20, 2008

Guinea vacation day 9: Dalaba

We decided to go back to the Pont de Dieu and spend another day swimming and reading, since it had been so nice the day before.  Unfortunately, this time when we got there, there were Guineans doing laundry in the best swimming hole.  So we didn't have it all to ourselves this time, but we were able to swim in another swimming hole, and we still had a nice time. 


Back at the hotel in the evening, we had millet again for dinner, and then we watched the Guinean (state-run) news on tv, which was mostly footage of the president receiving several new ambassadors.  Not too exciting.

Guinea vacation day 8: Dalaba

After breakfast, as Sira and I were getting ready to go out and do some sightseeing, a Guinean girl came to our room and just stood awkwardly in the doorway.  I couldn't tell if she worked at the hotel, or was a guest, or what. 


"Can I help you?" I asked. 


"Do you speak French?" she asks me. 




So she came up very close to me and whispered in my ear, "I trust you." 


"Um, okay, thanks.  But can I help you with something?"


"I trust you." 


All this time she is looking around at our stuff in the room, and I start to think she's here to look around and see what might be worth stealing after we've left.  Sira sees that I am getting nowhere communicating with this girl, so she tries to speak to her in Pulaar.  No luck.  Finally we get the girl to leave, and Sira and I decide to take all our valuables with us while we're out for the day, even though we don't feel super secure carrying it all around with us, either. 


Then as we are almost ready to go, one of the European tourists we had made friends with came to me and asked if I had had rubber straps on the luggage rack on my bike (which was locked up in the courtyard of the hotel).  I had.  She told me that the man they had hired to drive them to some nearby waterfalls for the day (who, coincidentally, was the same man who drove us the day before from Pita to Dalaba) had just taken them off my bike and stuck them in his pocket.  Of course he was still at the hotel, waiting for the tourists to be ready to go, so I went and found him and asked him if he had stolen my bike straps.  He gave them back without any fuss, and I lectured him a bit, asking him what he thought he was doing, taking other people's things.


I was starting to think that people in Dalaba are just weird.


Finally we were able to leave the hotel, and we went first to the tourism office, where the European tourists had told us they sell a booklet with instructions for going on hikes in the area.  (Although they warned us that the instructions included lots of things like, "turn right at the red door" when the red door had long ago been painted another color or taken down altogether).


So we got the booklet and decided to try biking to the "Pont de Dieu" (Bridge of God).  The directions, of course, told us to get there by taking the road heading south out of town and then turning off into the bush, when in actuality we should have taken the road north out of town.  So it took us a while, but we were able to ask people along the way for directions, so we made it eventually.  And discovered that the Pont de Dieu is a natural rock bridge over a pretty little waterfall with some nice little swimming holes.  And absolutely no one else around!  So Sira and I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon there, just swimming and lying on the rocks and reading. 


In the late afternoon we biked back into Dalaba, this time along the correct path, which took us through bamboo groves and a pine forest – beautiful!  We got dinner from a restaurant shack right next to the hotel: millet with fresh onion and tomato, only about $1 for enough for four of us (we invited two of the tourist girls to eat with us, so they could tell us their horror story about their day with the crazy driver who stole my bike straps).  Guinean food is delicious. And so cheap!  If I could get a good internet connection, and a job I could do over the internet, I think I would live there. 

Guinea vacation day 7: Douki to Dalaba

The next morning we skipped hiking and went straight into the village to try to get a car back to Pita.  We had to wait for several hours, but a car did finally come, and we were able to get to Pita, and from there to take another car to Dalaba. 


In Dalaba we found a nice, cheap hotel to stay at - $2 a night per person.  There were some European tourists staying there, the first other toubabs we had seen on our trip, so we had a nice time talking with them.  Then we biked into town to find dinner.  We had roasted corn on the cob – a treat, since it won't be in season in Senegal until September or so – and we also found a woman selling beans, but they weren't as good as the ones in Mali.


By the time we had finished dinner it was already dark, and we still had to bike back across town to our hotel.  Of course there were no streetlights, and we hadn't thought to bring flashlights since it was daylight when we left.  There was, however, a storm approaching, so there were occasional flashes of lightning to light our way.  And my friend Sira apparently can see in the dark, because she zoomed off at full speed back toward the hotel, while I came along slowly behind her, afraid of falling into a hole or making a wrong turn in the pitch dark.  So of course we got separated, and with my bad sense of direction, I missed a turn, which I realized when the paved road turned into dirt again.  So I spent about an hour wandering through the town in the dark, occasionally stopping and asking people which direction the hotel was in.  I wasn't too worried though – I knew I would either make it there eventually, or (probably if it started pouring) I would find somewhere else to spend the night.  But eventually I made it back to the hotel, where Sira was amazed to learn that I don't have x-ray laser night vision like she does.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Guinea vacation day 6: Douki

The next morning, after breakfast of bread and wild honey, Hassan's brother Abdul Rahim took us on the "Indiana Jones" hike, down into the valley where it feels like a rain forest, and then Hassan took us on another hike down a mountainside with beautiful views but if you slipped you were doomed.  (Luckily, we didn't slip).
After hiking we had lunch back at the guesthouse - chewy, pounded manioc balls in a peanut sauce.  Not my favorite, but at least it was something different.  Then we went up to the main road to try to get a car back to Pita.  We sat by the road and waited for hours, but no car ever came.  So it was back to Hassan's to spend another night, but he was nice and gave us a discount this time. 

Guinea vacation day 5: Pita and Douki

We decided not to spend any time in Labe, since both Sira and I pretty much hated it as soon as we got there (except for the delicious pizza!).  So we went to the garage and took a car to a small town called Pita (cost us about $3 each), where we planned to get a second car out to a small village called Douki, which according to Lonely Planet has a guesthouse with a "luxurious hut" right on the edge of "Guinea's Grand Canyon". 
When we got to Pita we started asking around at the garage for the car that goes to Douki.  The first guy we talked to tried to tell us there is no regular car to Douki, and that we would have to hire out a whole car (his, presumably) to get there.  Luckily we have lived in Africa longer than five minutes, so we knew not to believe him and we went and asked around some more until we found the car.  It took a few hours for the car to fill with passengers and be ready to go, but we had a good time waiting because everyone in Pita (except for the one guy who tried to rip us off) was really friendly.
We discovered that in Guinea, the station wagons that in Senegal are known as "7 places" are instead "9 places" because they cram four people into the middle row and two people into the front passenger seat.  However, this can actually make the ride more comfortable - as you are bouncing over giant rocks and potholes, the extra person in the row means that you are crammed in so tightly that there is no room for your body to be sliding around or bouncing up and hitting your head on the roof.  There was some sort of mix up with selling tickets for our car, so when we were ready to go the driver discovered that there were ten people with tickets instead of the regulation nine.  What to do with the extra person?  Have him ride on the roof, of course!
After about two hours bouncing up a rocky mountain road, we arrived in Douki.  The villagers pointed us the way to Hassan Bah's guesthouse, about 2 km down a path.  In ten minutes we were there - and discovered that the "luxurious hut" which was going to cost us about $20 each a night was just a regular hut, no fancier than my hut in my village.  And the mattress was just rice sacks sewn together and filled with straw.  And Guinea's Grand Canyon? Nowhere to be seen. 
We were pretty disappointed and grumpy to discover that this place was not what we had been expecting.  Luckily, Hassan Bah, the owner of the "guesthouse" showed up right away to take us on a hike.  Which turned out to be absolutely beautiful, which cheered us up right away.  (Although Sira still tried to convince Hassan that $20 a night was way too much to charge people, especially us poor Peace Corps volunteers, to sleep in a hut and eat village food.  But Hassan didn't budge.)
We discovered that Hassan Bah considers part of his job to be entertainment, and that he is just Americanized enough to be hilarious.  He grew up in Sierra Leone and worked on cargo ships for years, so he's a lot more worldly than your average villager.  He can juggle and walk on his hands, and he loves making up acronyms: HCH is Hard Core Hiker, and WB is Water Bottle (which he can carry on his head with no hands).  Cigarettes are Cancer Sticks. 
So we had a great time, and when we got back from the hike, Hassan's wife had dinner ready for us: the standard Guinean dish of rice with a manioc leaf and peanut sauce.
Then it was off to bed on our straw mattresses.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Guinea vacation day 4

The next morning we got up early to finish our bike trip to Labe.  We had planned to give the school principal a little money to thank him for putting us up for the night and giving us dinner, but before we got a chance he pulled me aside and asked me if I could return his hospitality by paying to get his motorcycle fixed.  According to at least Senegalese rules, it is pretty rude to ask for anything in return for hospitality, so Sira and I were surprised and put off by his request.  We decided to just give him the amount we had already planned on, about $5.
So we gave him the money and took off.  The villagers had told us that we had about 4 km left of uphill, and after that it would pretty much downhill all the way to Labe.  But it turned out to be the longest 4 km in the world.  For the next two hours we were pushing, and occasionally trying to ride and quickly giving up, our bikes straight uphill.  After about an hour we stopped to take a break and eat a mango, and while we were sitting by the side of the road, who should come zipping up on his motorcycle but the school principal.  He told us that he really appreciated the money we had given him, but he really needed a lot more money to get his motorcycle fixed.  The motorcycle that he had just ridden up the mountain to catch us.  We were so surprised to see him and be asked for money again that we gave him some.  And immediately regretted it.  I am still kicking myself a little bit for giving it to him.  But maybe karma will even things out in the end.
So then we continued on.  Uphill.  We passed a house with a big orange grove and stopped to ask if they would sell us some.  We agreed on a price (forget now what it was) for 5 oranges, but then the woman gave us a bunch more for free!  They were the first oranges I've had in months - you can buy them sometimes in Tamba, but they're imported so they're pretty expensive.
Finally, about 2 pm, we made it to Labe.  I didn't like the town - there were lots of empty, half-built houses on the way in and it felt kind of creepy.  And then when we got downtown there was terrible air pollution from cars, the worst I've experienced in Africa.  But maybe I just didn't like the city because I was so tired.  We stopped at a restaurant shack and had lunch - sweet potato leaf sauce over rice - very good!  Then we started asking around for where the Peace Corps house is, but people either didn't know or they told us it was in the opposite direction from where the last person we'd asked had told us.  Finally a kid told us he would take us.  But then he just took us to a hotel.  So we thanked him and he left, and then we went inside to ask the hotel owner if he knew the Peace Corps house.  Found out there is no Peace Corps house; in Guinea, volunteers just get vouchers to stay at a hotel.  Score one more point for Senegal.
We decided to stay at the hotel we were at, just because we were there and too tired to go looking around town for another place.  They let us stay in a tent in their courtyard for $5 each, and we spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry (by hand, in a bucket, of course, but at least they had tap water instead of a well).  That evening for dinner we had pizza in the restaurant hotel - a special treat after our two days of riding bikes straight uphill, and it turned out to be the best pizza I've had in Africa.

Guinea vacation day 3

The third day of our vacation my friend Sira and I decided that we would bike to the town of Labe, about 120 km away.  I was pretty intimidated by this plan, but Sira really wanted to do it and I didn't want to be a party pooper.  And Mali is a higher elevation than Labe, so we hoped that it would be a fairly easy, mostly downhill ride.  And I've often ridden between Tamba and my village, which is 70 km and takes only four hours, so we thought we could make it to Labe in one day.
So we got up early, stopped for breakfast in town (just coffee and bread) and by 8:30 we were off.  The first several hours were great - mostly downhill, and we were able to go fast enough to get a nice breeze, and there was lots of shade and almost no traffic on the road.  We passed through several villages that just reeked of vinegar.  It took us a while to figure out what it was, but finally we realized that the smell was coming from rotting mangoes.  They have so many mangoes that not only can the people not eat them all, but the goats and sheep can't either!  This is unimaginable luxury in Senegal.  We stopped in one village and asked a woman if she would fill up our water bottles (we had little chlorine pills to put in them so we wouldn't get amoebas or anything else).  After she filled them up we tried to give her about $0.10 to thank her, but she didn't want to take it - giving water to travelers is just expected here.  Finally she agreed to take it, but insisted on giving us some mangoes - and they turned out to be the best mangoes I have ever eaten.  I started thinking about moving to Guinea - I could live there a really long time with almost no money, with food as cheap as it is.  Only problem is I couldn't live without internet!
The good times couldn't last forever though, so by about 1 pm, just as it was starting to get pretty hot, we came out of our nice mountains onto a flat plain with no shade.  No more coasting downhill, and pretty soon we were going uphill.  The soft dirt and gravel road made it really hard to get traction for the bikes, so we ended up having to push them uphill a lot.  It was hot and exhausting.  We would push our bikes up a hill, praying that around the curve the road was flat or even downhill.  And every time, it was just more uphill.  For hours.  And every time we would stop for a few minutes to rest, gnats would attack us, trying to get into our eyes and nose, forcing us to get up and keep going.  I was hating life.  If I had been by myself, I think I might have just given up, laid down by the side of the road and cried.  Or at least tried to hitch a ride on a passing truck.  But I wasn't going to be a wimp in front of my friend, so I kept going.
By 4 pm we had only made it about 80 km (compare that to the 70 km in 4 hours I can do in nice flat Tamba!), so we decided it was time to give up for the day.  We started looking for a village where we could ask to spend the night.  The first place we stopped, hardly more than one family, and the woman we spoke to said that all the men were away from the village, so she couldn't give us permission to stay here.  So we had to keep going.  Up the never-ending mountain.  Did I mention I was hating life?
But at the next village we came to we had better luck.  The villagers said that we could sleep at their primary school, where the school principal and his family also live.  So they opened up one of the classrooms for us, and we set up our tent inside (mainly to keep bugs out).  The principal's wife gave us dinner - a sauce made of cassava leaves and crushed peanuts over rice.  It was delicious.  It would probably have been polite for us to sit around the fire and socialize with the family a bit, but we were both too exhausted.  Hopefully the family didn't think we were too rude for going to bed right away. 

Guinea vacation day 2

We got up early and went into town to find breakfast - rice and peanut porridge from a woman on the street.  Then we went to the tourist office, where we met a very friendly old man who wanted to escort us all over town.  We had a hard time getting rid of him, but after about an hour we finally succeeded.  We visited the women's cooperative, which was recommended by our guidebook, but instead of women we found one man weaving cloth.  We watched him for a while and bought some cloth as a souvenir.
Walking around town, I passed the first woman I've ever seen wearing a full burqa - everything was covered up except for her hands and her eyes.  She even had socks on with her sandals.  I wondered where she's from, why she wears a burqa when no one else does.  I suppose it would probably not have been rude at all, but just very African of us, to go up to her and start asking her personal questions, but the burqa was kind of intimidating so we didn't talk to her.
On the other end of the spectrum, we also saw the first drunk person I've seen in Africa.  In Senegal, Christians or Muslims who aren't particularly observant may drink at home or in bars, but no one dares to go out in public intoxicated.  So score one point for Senegal over Guinea.
In the afternoon we went for a hike with a local guy we hired as our guide to see the "Dame de Mali" (Lady of Mali), a cliff with the profile of a woman's face that is supposedly entirely natural, not man-made.  The resemblance was so clear, though, that I'm a little skeptical about it being natural.
Some first impressions of Guinea:  It's beautiful!  The mountains and greenness and cooler weather were a wonderful change from dusty brown Tamba.  It seemed a lot cleaner too, probably because trash and dirt get washed down the mountains by the rain.  The guidebooks made us think that Guinea was going to be a lot poorer than Senegal, but in Mali everyone lived in nice "batiment" (brick and concrete) houses, and the kids looked much more well-fed, probably because there are so many more mangoes and other fruit growing everywhere.  Another nice change was that there were no "talibes", beggar children asking for money.  Bad news for me, though, only Pulaar is spoken in the region.  Even Jaxankes I met only spoke Pulaar!  So I had a hard time talking to people unless they spoke French, but luckily I had my Pulaar-speaking friend Sira with me, and by the end of the trip I was able to learn a few Pulaar phrases.
So the final score at the end of my first day: Guinea 5, Senegal 2.

Guinea trip photos

Photos from my Guinea trip are finally up!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New photos posted

Photos from my trip to Bassari country in Kedougou are up!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Vacation Part 2: Guinea. Day 1



To get to Guinea, my volunteer friend "Sira Ba" and I took a car from Kedougou, in Senegal, to the town of Mali in the Fuuta Djalon mountains of Guinea.  Mali is the highest-elevation town in the country, and since we were planning on doing a lot of biking on this trip, we decided to start from the highest point possible, so we'd be going downhill as much as possible.


We left Kedougou around 9 in the morning, riding in a Land Rover with 10 other people plus 5 kids stuffed in the back.  As soon as we left the city of Kedougou the road was no longer a road but just a dirt track.  We were constantly swerving around trees and boulders and driving through enormous potholes.  It wasn't long before three people in the back of the car with us were hanging out the windows to vomit.  The road soon became very steep, and we were often on the edge of the mountain with only a few inches of dirt road between us and falling into the valley far far below.  Kind of terrifying, but also beautiful.  And we were lucky to have a great driver.  Twice the road became so steep and narrow that they had us all get out of the car to lighten its load, and we walked up the mountain, and then the car followed behind us. 


We only passed a handful of villages along the way, each at least an hour's drive away from the next.  I think those villages must rely almost entirely on what the villagers can grow and produce themselves, since it would be so difficult and expensive to bring supplies out.  But I did find out later that there are footpaths between Kedougou and Mali that are a lot more direct than going by the "road", so the villages aren't quite as isolated as they seemed at first.


I didn't have a visa for Guinea as I was technically supposed to since I had just decided at pretty much the last minute to go on this trip with my friend and hadn't had the time to go all the way up to Dakar to get one.  But I had heard other volunteers had been able to get into Guinea without visas, and I talked to the frontier police in Kedougou and the guy there told me I could get across legally by just filling out some paperwork if I crossed through one of three border checkpoints.  I wasn't sure if he really knew what he was talking about, though.


So when we got to the border crossing (which was just the gendarme's hut in the first village we came to in Guinea) I didn't know what was going to happen.  I wasn't too nervous, though, because I figured the worst that could happen was that he wouldn't let me in, and I would have to get my bike and other stuff off the car and bike back to Kedougou. 


The border guard was really young, probably just hired recently, and he was really nice and seemed like he was just trying to do a good job.  He told me, "I'm sorry, but you need a visa to get into Guinea.  You have to get it in Dakar.  We don't sell them here."  I had planned to try bribing the guard if necessary, but this guy was so nice, I didn't want to be the one to corrupt him.  So I just said, "I understand.  But since I'm here (out in the middle of nowhere) what do you want me to do?"  But he just kept repeating, "You have to get a visa in Dakar"; so I kept repeating, "I understand.  What should I do now?"  After ten or fifteen minutes of this, he stamped my passport and said I could go.  So I hit the jackpot: I saved about $100 by not buying a visa (plus the $50 or so it would have cost me to make the trip to Dakar), didn't break any laws by bribing public officials, got into Guinea, and even had a stamp in my passport to show that I had entered the country legally, in case any police demanded my passport later on during the trip.  The only downside was that my volunteer friend "Sira" was a little indignant that she had spent so much money getting a real visa, while I had managed to waltz into the country without spending a dime.  But she was glad I wasn't getting sent back and leaving her to vacation alone, so there were no real hard feelings.


We finally made it to Mali about 5:30, just as it was starting to rain (I had forgotten what it feels like to be cold!).  Any town in Senegal when we arrive at the garage, we are immediately surrounded by people yelling at us – talibe beggars asking for money, taxi drivers asking where we want to go, random guys wanting to "help" us with our bags.  But the Mali garage wasn't like that at all – no one bothered us or even stared at us.  We were able to get our bags together in peace and then decide what to do next (first priority: exchange money; second: find a place to stay for the night; third: find food).


Exchanging money was easy; even the exchange rate was simple – just add an extra zero to CFAs (so 100 CFA = 1000 Guinea francs).  Nearly all their money is paper though, rather than coins (the equivalent of a nickel is a paper bill), and the bills they gave us were all small denominations (about $1), so even exchanging a relatively small amount of money we ended up with a suitcase-size stack of Guinea money.  (And there was no room in my backpack for it – how could I have guessed when I packed that I would need to leave room for piles of money?) 


Finding the hostel was a little harder.  We had seen a sign for it as we drove in, and we stopped several times to ask for directions, but the problem was that there were no real roads, just rocks everywhere.  So it was hard to follow directions – turn right at the big rock?  What?  But we finally found it.  Turns out it is owned by a Finnish woman (found that out after noticing that all the books on the bookshelf were in Finnish), but she wasn't there, just a young Guinean guy who was ethnically Jaxanke but only spoke Pulaar, like everyone else in northern Guinea – disappointing for me.  We talked him into letting us sleep in our tent on the grounds rather than in a room for half price – about $3 each. 


Then we walked back into town to find dinner.  First we found something like hush puppies dipped in a delicious hot sauce, which was a good snack, and then we hit the jackpot – a woman selling plates of beans with fresh tomatoes, onions, and avocado on top.  It was delicious, much better than Senegalese beans which are always really oily.  And it was only 3000 francs, about $0.75, for enough food for two of us (Senegalese meals are always about 500 CFA/$1 per person).  I think I might have to move to Mali just so I can eat those beans every day.  And with those prices, I could live there for a really long time on almost nothing.


After dinner we went back to the hostel (getting lost in the dark several times along the way) and went to bed.  A great first day in Guinea.

Vacation Part 1: Basari Country

Written Saturday, 31 May 2008



Every year the Basari people, who live in the mountainy southern region of Senegal and who have (for the most part) retained their traditional animist beliefs and cultural practices, hold an initiation ceremony for their boys who are coming of age.  This has become a bit of a tourist spectacle, which for the most part I think the Basari people welcome because they make money out of it, charging tourists for the privilege of taking pictures of the ceremony and selling them food and souvenirs.


I was really excited to go to the initiation ceremony because I love all that kind of cultural stuff, and especially because since the village I live in doesn't practice traditions like that since it is populated mostly by migrants of different ethnic groups from all over Senegal and West Africa, so there is not as much of a sense of community and tradition as in other villages. 


So for part 1 of my vacation, I took a car down to Kedougou with a couple other volunteers.  I got my first warthog sandwich (finally!) for dinner that night – delicious! Then we spent the night at the Peace Corps house in Kedougou, and in the morning got up and started the 80 km bike ride out to Basari country, where the initiation festival was supposed to happen.  We biked about 40 km the first day, to a Jaxanke village where another volunteer used to live.  (She had to relocate to another village because the first village doesn't have a well and gets their water from the river, which is a health no-no for volunteers because of parasites and other contaminants in the water).  So we had a nice time in that village, talking to the villagers and comparing their village to ours (such beautiful, neat fences they had around all their fields and compounds!  We were all a little jealous.)


We spent the night in a hut that the village teacher lives in (the teacher was away), and then the next morning we got up and biked the last 40 km to Salemata, the last town on the road to Basari country.  When we got to Salemata we were of course filthy and hot and tired from biking all morning on a dirt road, so we were really lucky to run into a man who some of the other volunteers knew (he drives one of the 7-place cars between Tamba and Kedougou) who took us to the house of a friend of his where we could wash up, eat lunch, and relax until later in the afternoon when it was cool enough to continue our trip.  (We bought rice, meat, and other ingredients for the family, so we wouldn't be burdening them by eating all their food).


Later in the day, when we had rested and the sun was finally cooling down a bit (that's how you say it in Mandinka – "the sun is hot today" or "the sun is cold today") we left our bikes at the nice villager's house and hiked 6 km up into the mountains where the Basari people live.  Six kilometers doesn't sound very far, but it seemed like we were climbing at a 45-degree grade most of the time, and after already having biked all morning, it was pretty tough. 


But after about two hours, we finally made it.  Only to be told that the village where we were wasn't participating in the initiation ceremony that year, either because they couldn't afford it because of a bad harvest or because they didn't have enough boys to take part (we were told both reasons, and I don't know which one is correct).  And the two villages in the area that were still participating weren't holding their ceremony until a week later. 


So we were unlucky, and all very disappointed.  But we made the best of it, having fun talking to the villagers and drinking palm wine which they make and sell by the gourd bowl (not my favorite taste, but it was interesting to try).  One of the village men tried to sell us a traditional musical instrument called an etumbuh, which I wasn't particularly interested in buying but I did ask if I could take a picture of him playing it.  I thought he said yes, so I snapped the picture, but apparently I had misunderstood and he (pretended to) get mad at me for taking the picture without permission and then guilted me into buying an etumbuh to make up for my breach of conduct.  I thought he was going to make me pay a really high price for it, since I was sort of obligated to buy it after taking the picture, but instead he gave me the best price of any of the volunteers, 500 CFA (about $1).


The next day, the owner of the "campement" (hut hotel) that we stayed at sat down with us and told us about the initiation ceremony and other Basari traditions.  So we actually were able to learn a lot, and in some ways I think it was better that we were there when they weren't having the ceremony because this way the villagers had time to talk to us.  Part of the deal for getting a good price at the campement was that we would look at the art and jewelry that the villagers had for sale; no commitment to buy, of course.  I wasn't planning on getting anything, because I didn't want to collect random tourist junk, but then the stuff turned out to be really beautiful, all made by hand, and I really liked that you bought directly from the villager who had made it, not at all like buying from a tourist shop in Dakar.  So I ended up getting a few things that I will decorate my future apartment with (all at the reduced "Peace Corps price", although I didn't bargain very hard because I really liked the villagers and I figured that this tourist money is helping them to maintain their traditional practices).


After that we hiked back to Salemata – only took an hour this time since we were going downhill – where we picked up our bikes, and then we took a car back to Kedougou, with a crazy driver who insisted on driving really fast on the windy, potholed dirt road.  We were all afraid we were going to get killed, and we asked him to slow down several times, but since we'd already paid him up front he didn't have any incentive to listen to us.  But we were lucky and made it back to Kedougou in one piece.  No tip for the driver!


So that was my Basari vacation.  I'd really like to go back there and learn more about their animist traditions, which is so different from the mostly Muslim Senegalese culture I am used to.  I'm thinking I might try again to go to the festival next year, right before my Peace Corps service is over.