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Tiana: Spring Break Diaries II

April 9, 2010

The ride to Djoudj was a) hotter than the ride to Saint-Louis, b) dusty as all get out, and c) bumpy enough to make even the most settled stomach turn over.  I was exhausted, and tried to sleep for most of the time.  Little by little, as we neared the village, it felt like we were driving further and further into the middle of nowhere.  We stopped several times to refill the leaking coolant in the bus and to ask directions to the hotel, but made it safely to the hotel at Djoudj, a small oasis in a vast, flat, dusty land.  And when I say oasis, I mean it in every cliché sense of the word. We’re talking palm trees galore, air-conditioned hotel rooms, bright blue pool water, etc.

We grabbed our snacks and hit the pool, as it was almost unbearably hot that afternoon.  It was the perfect vacation setting.  We might as well have been on a Caribbean island for how well that place was laid out.  After lazing about for a bit, we visited the boutique outside of the hotel, which is run by villagers and offers jewelry made by local women and tours of the nearby national bird park or the Mauritanian desert.  We then peeked into the small eco-tourism museum, accompanied by a guide that briefed us with basic information about the park.  Thanking the kind villagers, we headed back to watch the African sunset à la Lion King.  The hotel manager gestured towards us as we approached, told us to turn on our cameras, and pointed out a cute little owl perched in the branches of a palm tree!  The evening was rather poetic, really.  A group of young men were playing soccer on a sandy field beside a basketball court while onlookers watched from plastic chairs beside the hotel.

I have never in my life seen such a night sky! Thousands and thousands of stars twinkled clearly and brightly, meteors streaked through the sky about once every two to three minutes, and to add to the fun of the evening, I received a call from my family in Minnesota and was able to talk to my parents, my sisters, my grandma and grandpa, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, and cousins!  Not to mention, it was a great opportunity to jog my memory of the astronomy that I learned as a child (you know, constellations and clusters, planets and galaxies, etc)!

Wednesday morning, we took a group excursion boat ride on the river in the national bird park.  The morning and early afternoon were spent, encore une fois, poolside, and we headed to the rendezvous point for the excursion at around three o’clock.  Two horse-drawn carts pulled up, our modes of transport to the embarkment!  We loaded the carts and began the seven kilometer journey to the river, during which time we saw wild boars and exotic birds and listened to the soft clip-clopping of the horse’s hooves on the sand. At one point during our cart ride, someone asked, “Are we there yet?”  Johanna, seated next to me, responded, “No, but we’re here now.”  What a cool reminder that was about the importance of living in the moment; that in large part, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey, the people around us, the precious moments that we have been given the opportunity to collect.

The embarkment was so exciting!  There were hundreds of pelicans and other diverse bird species, as well as wild boars, some bathing in the water and some munching on the grassy surroundings.  It was like being in a documentary on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel!  Pelicans, by the way, are huge!  Their average wing span is larger than a meter!  And when they fish, they fish in numbers and in unison, as if they were competing in synchronized swimming.  Our guide pointed out a python that was coiled up and resting in the long grass that bordered the river.  Once everyone arrived at the docks, we loaded onto a boat and began our tour.

We passed two crocodiles, one on shore, and one in the water.  The one on shore was just sitting there with it’s mouth wide open, taking in the early evening air, as if it was a statue. After visiting Mr. and Mrs. Crocodile, we approached an island.  But this wasn’t just any island.  No, this island was absolutely infested with birds!  Seriously, nearly every square foot of the landmass was occupied with some sort of bird (mostly pelicans)!  We saw  young pelicans (grey in color) and more aged ones (white in color).  And again we saw a bunch of wild boars (aka “Pumbaas”).  After taking our share of pictures to capture the moment, we headed back to the embarkment.  Though we thought the fun was done, yet one more surprise was in store, the grand finale of the tour.

As we approached the docks, hundreds of birds took flight.  Literally…hundreds.  Why?  I have no clue.  But in any case, the winged creatures absolutely filled the sky!  It could be a scene from a horror movie, or the final scene from a triumphant, inspirational movie (views differ based on personal affinity for birds).  I prefer the ladder.

That evening, we walked fifteen minutes in absolute darkness to eat at an encampment in the village of Djoudj, socializing a little bit with four delightful, retired, traveling French folk who also ate there.  Later, we called the same bus drivers who had brought us to Djoudj in order to negotiate a deal for them to bring us to Lompoul, our next destination, and then home to Dakar.  We got the whole thing for 115000 FCFA, not a bad deal, as we had paid 105000 FCFA total to get from Dakar to Saint Louis to Djoudj (with half of that journey in two separate vehicles)!

The night and the following morning passed quickly, and we soon found ourselves desert-bound to begin the third and final chapter of our spring break in Africa…

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One comment

  1. nice blog…keep up the good work!



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