Travels


My roommate Renée and I recently went to Cape Verde for a 10-day jaunt of vacation-filled fun. To plan for our trip, we didn’t; we purchased our plane tickets ahead of time (by 10 days) and so relied on the email travel guides a few friends had sent us. To aid the way of future travelers, Renée and I took notes on the bits and bobs that made our trip what it was. Moral of the story is: go to Cape Verde, and take me with you when you go.

 

A Senegal PCV’s Vacation Guide to Cabo Verde

Information from Kellen Eilerts, Amanda Wybolt & Renée Philbeck,

Before you bounce/upon arrival:

Praia airport

TACV flight in Praia

Flights: Our Dakar to CV ticket (purchased 10 days ahead of time at the Air Senegal and TACV travel agencies in Dakar) was 167,700 CFA round trip (Air Senegal). If you want to go to Santo Antão via São Vincent in the beginning of your trip, it is recommended to buy your Praia to Mindelo (city you fly into on São V) ahead of time. We did that, and the ticket was 146,000CFA (TACV – this surprised us b/c we’d heard rumors of ppl getting this ticket for 80,000cfa round trip but who knows).

You’ll need a visa, it’s 2500 escudos or $40.00. You can get it at the airport but the guy who helped us was super grumpy. You can exchange CFA at the airport; they have a ATM machine.

 

Santiago:

Arriving in Praia: (K) Airport taxis lined up directly out front will try to get you to pay 1000 escudos to Plateau. Instead, just walk up the steps to the parking lot and head to the left towards the road. A cab will be by to pick you up within minutes and the rate will be 500. Cool cultural center/bar across from the main plateau plaza across from the outdoor restaurant, had live music/party every day we were in town.

Or

Street food

Street food for lunch in Praia

(A&R) Tell the cabbie in front of the airport you want to go to Quebra Cabana (pronounced Kabara Kabana) for 700 scoots. Fun bar on the water. Get a Carparinha or ten. If you’re there on a Sunday, you can walk down the road (away from the round point/stairs) to the first restaurant you hit on your right for the all-you-can-eat buffet and amazing-meats-served-on-swords fiesta for 1,400 scoots. It. Is. SO. Worth it. (We recommend staying for lunch, sitting on the patio for drinks, then eating dinner there as well.)

On the plateau a good place to eat is Café Sofia – good breakfast, coffee, beer, pizza. They also have a little cyber. Cabs know this place. If you want street food for lunch: when facing Café Sofia walk down the road to the right of the café until it dead ends (3-4 blocks), turn right on the road it dead-ends on and go a little ways till you get to stairs on your left. Go all the way down (don’t trip, they’re steep). At the bottom of the stairs, turn right and take your first left. Along that st are a bunch of stalls for food (we loved the chicken and bean plate, I think it was 150 scoots). Also, behind all the food is their fukajai-type market, worth a gander.

Assomada

Assomada

(A&R) Tarrafal is definitely worth a visit. First, it’s about opposite from where Praia is so the drive is “long” and really pretty. Second, the beaches are amazing, there’s a bomb pizza place, and there’s conch shell caves. We didn’t get to do it, but a PCV said that there’s a 4-hour hike you can do up over the mountains to a black sand beach that is famous for it’s big conch shells that aren’t broken into smithereens.

(A&R) Assomada (Aluguers [pronounced al-loo-gare] call it “somada”): Again, beautiful drive to the site, right in a valley. Lots of bars and cafes, nice place to spend time with good company. Drive from Praia is 300 scoots in an Aluguer.

 

São Vicente:

(K) Mindelo is nice for a bit of walking around and good food, most stuff is in very central harbor area, or one or two streets off of it that run parallel. Walking north from the harbor area around a mini-cape you’ll pass the shipping port before coming to an OK beach with cheap drinks. Ferry leaves from here twice a day – usually 8a for morning ride.

Renée and Drew walking in Mindelo

Renée and Drew walking in Mindelo

(A&R) Ferry ride is 600 scoots, you buy your ticket right at the port. There is a baller Chinese food place right near PCV Drew and Rory’s house (or you can get there by walking, about 20 minutes: from port, exit, turn left, walk along the water past the beach up the little hill, in open area on top of the incline/curve is a Chinese place on the left. Eat there. Do it.) Also, there are ninjas – a special police force trained in Brazil – in Mindelo. They walk around w/ masks over their nose and mouth, in all black, and apparently regulate the prominent gang scene. We didn’t believe that they were there either… until we saw them! Kinda scary, kinda wicked cool.

 

Santo Antão:

(K) You’ll arrive in Porto Novo. Not worth staying. Immediately walk up the street to the right and grab an Aluguer for Pàul (Note from A&R – walk up the street, don’t get in one of the cars w/ the guys who are all over your shit when you pass through the gate. More likely than not their cars won’t fill up then you are stuck which is lame. Also, ferry leaving the island left at 9am and you buy your ticket in town [near a gas station?] and then walk down to get on the ferry.)

Paùl

Paùl – view outside of Mer y Sol

Paùl: Definitely worth spending at least a night there as its gorgeous. (A&R) Good pensão (places w/ rooms for rent) is called Mer y Sol (when you’re in Paùl facing the ocean, it’s to your left down about 4 blocks, bright blue building) we got a room w/ two twin beds facing the ocean for 1,500 scoots each.

Definitely worth doing in Paùl – eating at Tí Lello. Italian pizzeria right around the corner (walking away from U. Rib road) from Mer y Sol. They only have pizza at dinner but the lunch (we got spicy spaghetti) is delicious as well. Let’s call a spade a spade – we definitely stayed in Paùl one night just to eat the pizza here. Bruchetta app is delicious as well. Just eat there. They make their own gelato as well.

ATM in Paùl is to the right (when facing ocean) from where Aluguers drop you off.

Trial of the cova climb

Trial of the cova climb

Upper Riberia: (K) From Paùl you can catch another aluguer up to the top of the Ribeira (about 15 minute ride, 100 scoots) to do the Cova crater climb (about 1-2 hours from the last village on the road). You may also have the option to have someone drop you off at the top of the crater and do the walk down, but climbing up to it definitely has more of a wow factor (though you can’t get a car at a top and will have to retrace the steps to the top of the Ribeira to catch a car back to Paul).  Note from A&R: the climb starts about 100m up the road from Chez Sandros, at the staircase as the road evens out and curves around the mtn to the left. It is pretty strenuous, will take you about 2 hours to get up, 1 hour to get down. Bring water. Really beautiful – do it! We got two other hike recommendations that we didn’t do, but they are: Cha de Igreja to Ponta de Sol and Paul to Pico da Cruz and back.

Our room at Chez Sandro

Our room at Chez Sandro

(A&R) You must go to the grogue and cheese (called “O Curral”) place halfway up the valley too, very cheap, famous among CV PCVs. You can’t miss it – has a little square knife and fork sign, painted brightly on outside. Get the soft cheese, try a million flavors of ponche and cheese. Plan on spending a few hours here w/ good company. Do not try to hike after grogue and cheese.

Right by the beginning of the Cova climb is Chez Sandros (to your right, red building) that has private or shared rooms that are comfy and cheap (1,300 es-scoots/person). Number: 223.1941 or 981.2478. Dinner and breakfast if you want. We really enjoyed staying here: Sandro’s wicked nice, food is good, coffee is grown right outside his place, amazing views. If you can, get the room on the second floor in the corner (back left when standing on st facing building) – it has magnificent views (see photo).

Hike: Cruzinha to Ponta do Sol

Hike from Cruzinha to Ponta do Sol

Riberia Grande (K) After Paùl, 20 minutes further down the road is Ribeira Grande (80 scoot ride). A few cool small hikes around the town, but the absolute best is catching a morning car (only one morning car, opposite side of town from where you get dropped off by gas station) to Cruzinha and then doing the 4-5 hour seaside cliff walk to Ponta do Sol. Definitely do it in that direction instead of starting in Ponta do Sol, as Cruzinha has pretty much nothing (and no cheap transport leaving in the evenings) and Ponta do Sol has tons of restaurants and bars and is a 10 minute aluguer ride back to Ribeira Grande until late.

Hike: Cruzinha to Ponta do Sol

Beginning of the trail near Cruzinha

Note from A&R: Do this hike, from Cruzinha to Ponta do Sol, it was the best one of our trip. Bring lots of water and snacks, there is a great place to eat about 3 hours in at the first big vil you hit on top of one of the mtns right on the water – you’ll see it a bit past the handball court you pass as you enter the vil, the restaurant/bar sign is painted on a wall. It’s pretty much eat whatever the lady has, but damn what she’s got is good. Best feijoada we had in our trip. She also sells water, coke, and coffee. Also, we missed the collective aluguer from Riberia Grande to Cruzinha so we rented an aluguer to Cruz (3,000 scoots) and he took us through the island instead of along the water to Cruz and it was maybe the most spectacular ride of our entire trip. Just saying.

(A&R) we stayed at Aliança Grande in Riberia Grande – cheap (1000 escoots and up), nice. When at the shell station (where aluguers tend to drop you off) go down main road away from mtns, across from BCA banks is Aliança.

 

Fogo:

(K) Take the ferry to get there, definitely just go for the 2500 seats as they are exactly the same as the 3000 ones. (A&R) You can reserve your ticket online at http://www.cvfastferry.com/, but you have to pick it up and pay 24 hours ahead of time. Lots of ppl like to vom on this boat. If you get sea-sick, you’ll most likely vom; if you don’t, you may vom from the sound of everyone else vomming. Our recommendation: charge your iPod, make sure you’re hydrated, not hung-over, and have eaten, and just plug in your head phones and snooze for the ride. We didn’t vom, on the contrary we we’re rocked to sleep by the boat. Irony: while the boat was rocking and ppl were vomming, they played a movie about a war in Rome. Think just shy of 300-style gore. Rumor is they’ve also played Jaws during the ride. Conclusion: the staff has a sense of humor?

(A&R) Not much in São Filipe. Our ferry got in wicked late and we hadn’t looked into any housing before getting there (this is the one time our lack of planning effed us over) so we had to stay at a pretty expensive hotel (Savanna – really nice if you want though, comes w/ a bomb breakfast and has a pool) b/c it’s dangerous to wander around. There’s definitely signs for pensãos though, so you could find a cheaper place to stay. We ate dinner at Calderon – pretty good, live music.

Driving into Chã des Calderas

Driving into Chã des Calderas

Chã des Calderas: (K) To get to the crater, you’ll catch an aluguer to Chã da Caldeiras (town in the crater). Only goes in the morning around 11am. Get up there around midday and check into a pensão or someone’s house (just walk around and you’ll see the residencials (check out Casa Amarela), significantly cheaper than Pedra Brava where A&R stayed, but A&R loved it and the food was excellent so it’s up to you).

Once you’re set up, you can do a short hike to the small peak volcano (erupted in 1995) which you’ll see as you’re coming in. Everyone will tell you that you need a guide, but the small one is very easy and you definitely don’t if you want to do it solo. Just walk back up the road you came in and turn off when you re-pass the small peak and see the tracks.

Carols guiding Renée down the volcano

Carols guiding Renée down the volcano

Definitely arrange for a guide for the big volcano (they’ll come to you once you arrive, or ask PCVs for theirs  (A&R used Carlos who we loved, also recommended was Raymundu from Guinea Bissau). Takes 3+ hours to climb, and then run down depending on what side you go down on. Note from A&R: we climbed up the left side (when facing the volcano from Chã) walked in and around the crater at the top, ran down on the opposite side of the little volcano. We also started at 1pm so when we were coming down the sun was setting – it was breathtaking. Also – this hike is wicked strenuous! It’s pretty much a climb, not a hike.  But it’s awesome and 100% worthwhile, but just be ready.

Restaurants and winery are back at the crater base when you’re done, though be aware that transport may be tricky if you’re trying to get back to São Filipe in the afternoon. Probably at least one aluguer going down though, just ask around. If you bounce in the am there’s cars starting at 6:30am.

 

Notes:

cachupa at Cafe Sofia

Cachupa at Cafe Sofia

Eats:

Breakfast cachupa (pronounced ka-chu-pa): DELICIOUS. Basically they take the cachupa (or cahupina) from the day before, fry it, fry an egg, heat up some sausage, and give it to you. This was our favorite breakfast and it’s really cheap (approx. 130 scoots).

Feijoada bean soup, for lunch, super good.

Ponche flavors: maca = pomme, pessego = pêche, pera = poiore, morango = fraise, laranja = orange, ova = raisin, manga = mangue = araçá = goyave. (A&R loved manga, araçá, pessego, and coconut)

Music:

Morna – local music w/ an acoustic guitar = AMAZING

Me holding one of Jon's iguanas I met while visiting his site in Panama

Among frantic trips to camping stores and wild nights of goodbyes with my friends, I took ten days during my last month in the states to visit my good friend Jonathan, who was at the time a PCV in Panama.   We visited his site (they call them communities there, not villages), attended a traditional Panamanian dance, hung out with some iguanas (he did work with the endangered population there), and hit some awesome beaches.  Ten days flew by, and gave me a good taste of PCV life.  Three weeks before this past Thanksgiving, it was his turn. We had a whirlwind two week trip: being tourists in Dakar, hitting a beach, and most importantly, going to my village for the Tabaski celebration (the biggest holiday of the year by far). He was a big hit in my village; between being able to drum for my ladies while they danced, playing soccer with the local guys, cooking for my moms, bringing soccer shirts for the little (and big) kids, and having a freaky memory for picking up Mandinka wicked fast – I’ll tell ya if he didn’t leave when he did, my village may have sent me home instead of him.

But enough from me.  I’ve invited him to write a few words about his time here to offer you all a change from me and some new perspective on life here. Enjoy!

Riding with Ñamoo by Jonathan Payne

Amanda and I biking the path to her village

I finally got my chance to visit Amanda in November this year, returning the trip she took to see me in Panama, almost 2 years prior.  I had just finished my Peace Corps service (Panama 2008-2010), was happily unemployed and still full of the need to travel.  Coming to Senegal a month after finishing my own Peace Corps service in Panama meant that I still felt mentally and physically prepared for the challenge of traveling in a developing country.  That said, I still knew that I’d be lost without Amanda.  I’m a firm believer now that Peace Corps volunteers make the best tour guides because of all the local knowledge they acquire from their day to day living – so if you were ever on the fence about going to visit Amanda, hopefully this blog will make up your mind.  (Though if you do go, make sure its Amanda that meets you at the airport and not Ñaamo – Amanda’s “evil” twin.)

Amanda met me in Dakar, mercifully at the airport, despite her threats to cut me loose and see how I would fare solo.  We spent a couple days in the capital, shopping in some of the markets, taking in the city, and enjoying the restaurants.  One thing you must know about PC volunteers is that you do not get between them and a decent meal.  Apparently though, not even I could hide my reaction to Amanda killing a tub of ice cream.  Don’t judge though, she gets defensive!  Plenty of other volunteers were in the city, and it was great to swap stories from Panama with them.  Peace Corps volunteers are a special breed of people that are like cheap scotch or Andrew Dice Clay – rough around the edges, and an acquired taste.  Conversations usually involve food, drink, sex, gossip, or “constructive criticism” of the country we are serving in.  Peace Corps volunteers as a general rule, mix a junior high social mentality with diverse backgrounds, developed world views, and passionate opinions.  It’s an interesting combination of hormones, outrageous statements, intense discussions, and a wide range of alcohol usage.  Fortunately for me, the only real differences in talking points were the names and places so I felt right at home with the many new volunteers I met in Senegal.

From my short time in country and from speaking with some fellow volunteers, I came to the conclusion that Senegal, and Dakar in particular, is a tough country to live in.  Culture wise, I heard it described as everything from abrasive to proud – what it was to me was a mix of everything in between.  Given the sheer number of ethnic groups, languages, and sub-cultures, it’s no surprise that each party is quite protective of their individuality.  The mix of languages and dialects across the country made me wonder how clear communication ever really was, and my respect grew daily for volunteers like Amanda, who have to know and speak 4 or more local languages (of course she will say she doesn’t speak any of them well, its extremely impressive to hear her cuss out a taxi driver in 3 dialects he doesn’t know).  Being a predominantly Muslim country means that there are additional cultural integration challenges, especially for women.  I found Senegal similar to Panama in the way people treat you as you travel throughout the country.  Dakar, like Panama City, is much more developed and metropolitan than anywhere else in the country, meaning that you can travel as a “Western tourist” in relative anonymity.  The trade-off however is that you are constantly seen as a walking cash machine, and will be treated as such.  Because Senegalese culture is so in-your-face, this can lead to a never ending battle to get reasonable prices, proper services, and correct information.  Bottom line – spending any time in Dakar is exhausting – even for the volunteers.  Sure it’s nice to enjoy a fancy restaurant and nice life, but after a couple nights the noise, dust, and constant bickering make getting lost in the bush pretty appealing.

[Paragraph omitted, due to possible PC policy overstepping… I’d like to stay in country until I’m ready to leave, so I’ll tell you all about this and more similar adventures after I officially complete my service =) – Amanda]

Maama and I posing with one of the Tabaski lunch bowls

A side-note about food – Rice, or cheb, is a staple wherever you go, which thankfully I never got sick of in Panama.  Millet is something we didn’t have in Panama, and is pretty good for a bowl of sandy-like grains, especially when it hides the actual sand that makes it way into most every dish.  Peanuts and beans make up a lot of the flavors in the sauces, and the stewed meats are nice too.  I’m a big fan of the Senegalese giant-bowl-free-for-all that is their eating style, though apparently even “free for alls” have rules.  The food is simple, but filling, and after eating rice and beans for 2 years, I felt pretty good in my ability to put it away (always a quick way to make friends with the cooks).  Amanda will undoubtedly be happy to hear however, that I did NOT like the leaf sauce I vowed I would.  Pungent mucus is more like it.  And once you have to eat it for days at a time, I can see why she goes crazy for ice cream and cheeseburgers (just a little).  Big time thumbs up to Bissap juice, of which Amanda has already sung the virtues.  This beautiful nectar from hibiscus flowers was the lifeblood of my travels throughout Senegal – cold, sweet, delicious – it really can become the one bright spot in the hours of driving down dusty potholed roads, dealing with stubborn border guards, police checkpoints, and hot, cramped cars.

And speaking about travel – Panama did prepare me for the hours spent on buses and poorly paved (if at all) road systems.  Senegal however, manages to take it to the next level (or down a few levels, depending on how you think about it) in terms of discomfort.  Panama is about the size of South Carolina, Senegal = South Dakota.  You can go border to border in Panama in under 24 hours (not that you would ever need to do that).  To start with, in Senegal, Dakar is far from everything.  The roads are worse, there are more police checkpoints, the cars (old 1970’s Peugeot 504s) breakdown more, and the cheb mommas are large.  Your only hope is to have good travel companions, and a fully charged iPod.  Good luck sleeping.

Back to the trip – soon we headed to Kolda, Amanda’s regional capital.  We hung out for a couple days there, cooked some buffalo wings with the sauce I brought to win over her PCV friends, and made sure I remembered how to ride a bike again.  A short two to three hour bus ride from Kolda is Dabo, and the beginning of the road to Fode Bayo.  Despite Amanda’s concerns about my skills on a bike, we made it with no spills.

Amanda and a bunch of the ladies from her compound all dressed in their Tabaski best

Compared to the rest of the country, Fode Bayo is a special place of friendly caring people and good vibes.  I can see why Amanda has developed such an attachment to her community, and gets annoyed with the rest of the country.  After all the traveling it was amazing to get to the part of the trip that I had most looked forward to.  I still have fond memories of my Panamanian village and after reading Amanda’s blogs, wanted to see her interact with her people first hand.  It wasn’t a disappointment.  Everyone was thrilled to see Ñamoo ride in on her bike, and welcomed me just as warmly.  Despite what Amanda says about my Mandinka, I really never understood a word, and just got lucky repeating the 5 or 6 phrases she had me memorize.  We had planned my visit to coincide with Tabaski, the biggest celebration of the year.  Lucky for me because it meant the food was good and plentiful.  And since it was a holiday, there wasn’t much work, meaning I had plenty of time to hang out with Maama, Amanda’s counterpart, mooch around the cooking fires with the women, and teach the little kids how to call Amanda names in English (“Funny looking!”).  Amanda did make me pull water from the well so I didn’t get too lazy though.  Other activities included soccer, trips to nearby villages, and walks in the bush.  Eating was a major part of our days too, leading up to Tabaski when I had to tap out early from the mountain of food they kept putting in front of us.

Amanda and her ladies during an impromptu dance party

Everyone was so accommodating and eager to help me out, my thanks really go out to them.  From the chief to the little kids, it was a pleasure to spend this holiday with them.  I wore my new traditional outfit proudly, and managed to pull it off probably about as well as a toubab can.  The highlight of it all was definitely the night of Tabaski when the women broke the drums out for a frenzied dance off.  Words really can’t describe it, so I hope Amanda can post the videos for you.  The little drumming I learned in Panama paid off in spades, as I became a guest drummer, and even managed to keep the rhythm while the chief danced.  My own efforts at dancing were met with much laughter, but nothing I didn’t deserve.
We spent 5 days in Fode Bayo before biking back to Kolda, and then took another car the following day back to Dakar.  For all the photos, check out http://picasaweb.google.com/jnthnpayne/Senegal#

I hope you all want to go visit Amanda now, or at least send her packages full of food, music, books, and peanut butter M&Ms – she definitely deserves it.

All in all, it was a very memorable trip with a great and patient guide.  Thank you for not ditching me on the side of the road for making bad jokes.  Thank you for translating what was actually said and not purposely misquoting me.  Seriously, thanks for not letting me feel like such a toubab.  Thank you, Amanda for everything, for sharing the hospitality of your village and letting me be a part of your Peace Corps experience.

From the beginning stages of the Department of Kolda’s mosquito net distribution back in June, through… well this morning actually, I feel like I have been running around Kolda and Senegal non-stop, only able to stay in touch via quick emails or facebook posts.  This is the part where I would love to say that it’s all going to slow down and clear up, but between my “cancellation of service” conference which will be in the end of November, the annual “West African All-Volunteer” conference in the beginning of December,  and the West African Invitational Softball Tournament (WAIST) in the beginning of February, and of course the many holidays and festivals that take place in Oct/Nov/Dec/Jan that as PCVs far away and lonely from home go out of our way to celebrate in exceptional fashion… I will not be able to slow down until after WAIST.  Plus,  (glorious, GLORIOUS) cold season is coming up, which is also the best time of year to travel, so I would really like to make it to Mali and Guinea Bissau before March.  Actually, speaking of March, I’ll be out of Kolda at least a week and a half during that month as well because the new Health/EE volunteers for 2011 will arrive and I will be required to lead parts of their training.  So, make that post my birthday in April that things will smooth out.  Then in May or June, I COS (cancellation of service), hopefully go to Tanzania and Malawi to visit my friend who is a PCV there, and then I make my triumphant return to Amerik.  Well then.  Enough excuses and explanations, let’s discuss what’s been happening since we’ve last talked.

Emily, me and Wilma at one of the many net distributions.

July:  The Department of Kolda  net distribution went really well (and as scheduled!).  Now, theoretically, every bed in every village in the department of Kolda has a net over it, thus achieving “Universal Coverage” in Kolda.  Hooray!  Being point person for the distribution we hectic and crazy and pulled me out of my village way more than I wanted to be, but it also gave me the opportunity to rub elbows with many of the big muckity muck doctor-type people in Kolda that I don’t usually socialize with in my village, and I got to work with many of my fellow volunteers around Kolda as nets distributions went down in their villages.  All that said, I’m glad it’s over and all the grant forms are done and wrapped up.

August/September: I feel like big things happened in August…. Oh yes!  Unfortunately, I spent most of this time out of beautiful Kolda (beautiful because it’s the crux of rainy season in August and everything is gorgeous and green… and flooded).  I had a quarterly “Volunteer Advisory Committee” meeting to attend in Dakar in the beginning of the month, and then… I flew to Barcelona, Spain!!  I know, I know, I didn’t talk too much about this vacation, but it was SOO wonderful and so necessary at the time as it was my first time leaving the country since I’d arrived in the end of February 2009.  As most of you know, I am not one to sit still or stay in one place for too long so I was definitely going a bit stir-crazy.

Quick vacay re-cap:

  • Spent 1 1/2 days in Barcelona by myself before my mom and Andrew flew in.  I kept busy by visiting the local food store for: cheese, wine, bread, chocolate, peaches, and grapes, trepsing up and down the Rambla visiting various Pubs, and taking hot showers and sleeping as a star-fish diagonally on my big bed (with a real mattress) in my B&B.  It. Was. Phenomenal.
  • Then,

    Scenery in Pompeii. That’s right, we went on walking tours.

    mom and Andrew flew in and we met at the docks of our cruise boat for a 5-day cruise around the Mediterranean.  Andrew told me I look like a hippie. My mom cried. Quick recap of 3 stops in Italy: Sorrento is gorgeous and almost too picturesque, Rome is  slightly overwhelming but really interesting, Florence I most definitely must return to; 2 stops in France: Nice was amazing! Perfume factory and Village St Paul de Vance, last day was a beach day in Provence, gorgeous.  And yes, the boat with its endless amounts of food and fun was stupendous.

    “Formal Night” on the cruise with our rockin dinner table of fun.

  • I then had 5 days in Barcelona to explore and devour.  Ended up going to Valencia on an impromptu trip to join in the annual La Tomatina festivities.  (Tomatina is the annul tomato throwing festival in Buñol, near Valencia. CRAZY fun and mildly terrifying.)  I toured all that Gaudi had to offer, took a cooking class (learned tapas, pallea, and sangrea), and met lots of interesting people at my hostel.  It was my first time in Europe and my first time staying in a hostel.  Amazing! Most of them thought I was weird.
  • The vacay finished up with five days in Madrid.  Amazing city, so much to do and see and the museums are so incredible and the food and the wine and the beer… I’ll stop there.  Enough said, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Since my travels took place \during most of Ramadan, I had planned to get back to village for the end of Ramadan fete called Korite, but ended up getting massively sick my last few days in Spain and had to spend TWELVE DAYS in the medical hut in Dakar.  Did I mention it was 12 days?  Ugh.  If it wasn’t for my friend Leah who recently broke her foot being there (along with some other fabulous volunteers who were around the office doing paperwork since they were leaving) the stay would have been horrendous. I was actually told to stay longer but I escaped when the medical officers were distracted with new patients muwahaha.

Finally, back to village.  It was amazing.  I missed it so much.  Spent most of my time following my moms around and helping them with their work since everyone’s busy harvesting. I brought them random things from es-pain: fans for my moms, Spain scarf for my dad, popcorn for everyone else (ok ok popcorn was from Kolda meme but you try to buy things for 200 people in Europe on a PC stipend!).

Poster I made about Moringa Oliferia – a super healthy plant! (Photo by Austin Peterson)

Hangin out with some of the younger ladies at the party. (Photo by Austin Peterson)

Oh!   I almost forgot! I attended an amazing “Healthy Baby Day!” party in my friend Camille’s village.  You may recognize Camille from my training photos because Camille and I learned Mandinka together during pre-service training!  As she remains one of my closest friends in the peace corps, it was great to see her and to help with her baby day party.  The celebration was in recognition of an 8-month challenge a mothers in Camille’s village and surrounding villages took part in to keep their newborns healthy.  Women had to participate in monthly baby weighings and causaries  to remain a part of the contest, and at the end of the eight months, who ever had the squishiest babies won!  On celebration day, me and 14  other volunteers invaded Camille’s village to help lead a series of health talks and dance circles.  It was a stellar project and a super-fun day.

October: Just recently got back from Joal, a city on cost below the point that is Dakar, for the annual health/environmental education volunteer gathering.  It was mostly geared towards the newer health/ee volunteers that just arrived in country a few months ago, but it was really nice to step away and see a lot of volunteers I never get to see.

Coming up: We welcome eight new volunteers in a few days to the region of Kolda.  This entails us throwing them a huge dinner party, helping them buy all their buckets and trunks and rope that they will need to move into their villages, and for some of them, attending their “moving in/installation” ceremonies in their villages.   It’s always fun to see new volunteers arrive, yet weird with this crew because they are the last group of volunteers to arrive before it’s time for my group of volunteers to leave!  Nutty, eh?  Didn’t think it was so soon, did you?  Ready or not, June 2011 I’m heading back!  And still, so  much to do before then.

En route to this year’s 4th of July festivities in Kedougou, Senegal, me and four friends decided to bike from Tambacound to Kedougou – 233k.  It took three days, 17 packets of ORS solution, one pair of  padded bike shorts, five bright orange plastic flowers, three campemants, four guard stations, and one tire change, but we made it.  Here’s the tale via pictures.

DAY 1: Tambacounda meme to Dar Salam, 80k, my bike pack: water proof bag, 7 water bottles, sleeping pad, back pack, bike kit, and sweat-rag.

Outside of our starting point.

Maya lovin our first pit-stop.

Scenic overpass before our lunch-stop.

Mid-day heat = hats and scarves to protect your skin.

GORGEOUS campemant we stumbled upon. Napped in the hammocks during the hottest hours of the day.

Floral-life around the Gambia River.


DAY 2: Dar Salam to Niokolo Koba, 59k: Bike pack at the start of day 2

Bean and egg sandwich breakfast a few k into day 2.

Cruisin!

Me and Steph

The guard station we camped at for night 2. 56k is a short day, but we didn't mind because of all the adventures we had at the guard station.

Passing out shortly after arriving and greeting the guards.

We even got to wash our clothes! A huge deal when you have two outfits that drink your sweat night and day.

Local wildlife around the guard station.

Chatting with the guards in between their yelling-at-cars duities.

Setting up camp smack-dab in the middle of the guard post.

Our evening nature walk.

Feeding the local wildlife.

Inadvertantly feeding the local wildlife.

There has been an unsaid rule between me, my closest neighbor, and the volunteer in Fode Bayo before me, about travel in and out of my village.  Unless you want to get screwed over and/or stuck in a random village, finish all of your traveling by 4pm.

Being 18k into the bush, if you’re coming from Kolda to our road town of Dabo and it gets too late, you’ll end up biking through the bush in the dark, and then silly things happen like you toppling over on your velo, which causes your back pack to bust, all of your food and gifts for Tabaski to spill out, and inevitably your wallet to grow legs and hop away deep into the bush so that you will never be able to find it or your cell phone again.

Usually, the alhum (bus) rides  from Dabo to Kolda aren’t too bad.  Sure they can range between an hour fifteen to three hours, but I guarantee you that if you choose to catch a bus at 4pm or later, it will most definitely stop at every village en route to Kolda, break down twice, stop for 45 minutes at Sarre Sara (a village only 20k from Kolda!), and/or you’ll be sitting between two big smelly people in an aisle with no windows.  No really, I promise this will happen.

Really, it’s just best to catch a car from Kolda to Dabo no later than 3, and to leave Dabo no later than 4.  You think I would know this by now, or at least adhere to the lessons.

Today, around 3:27pm, I was going over my schedule for the next few days, when I came upon my pepeniere project for early next week.  Shuffling through my rice sack of bags of seeds, tree sacks, and jars of seeds, I realized: shit, I don’t have enough lucena for the village-wide tree-nursery fest.  Ok quick thinking… I currently have a mill five to my name (a scoch over $3) but the manduat (quarterly PC “allowance”) just came into the banks in Kolda, and I don’t have anything scheduled until Saturday morning… if I leave right now now, I can make it to Dabo and get to Kolda before it gets dark.  [cue not pausing to review the plans] Ok sounds good.

Then I remembered that I have to bring a 20lb clay pot/jar thing my moms make (called a cannary, we use it to hold water – what I called my fridge in my village video) to the new volunteer in my road town, since we forgot to put it in the CAR when we actually had a CAR in my village… one of the two times out of the year when a CAR comes to my village. Anyway.  Strapping the thing to my bike to be sure it wouldn’t crash to the ground during the ride took fifteen minutes, two blankets, an old bowl, and two rubber straps.  Then I’m off. It’s 4pm at this point.  I decided to leave and surge forward with the increasingly mental plan anyway.

Get to Dabo, stop at Dave’s hut to drop off my bike and the cannary, then walk up to the paved road to wait for a car.  None in sight, but my friend who makes beans every morning for breakfast (it’s a big breakfast item here) Sadio the bean lady, is walking by and tells me that her daughter just had a baby and that I should come see.  Check my watch – 5:43.  Check the road – no buses or cars in sight.  So, sure, I decided, let’s go see the little bobo debo (baby girl in Pulaar).

6:02 I emerge and assume my normal car waiting spot on the road amongst the usual small talk with the locals.  Still no car.  Well, no car or bus from the direction I need them to be going.

Then, a bus coming from Kolda does a u-turn and stops as if they were going into Kolda.  6:23.  Yes! I think. Sun goes down around 7:10, gets really dark by 7:40, I could still make it to Kolda in time.  So I walk up to the bus, about to get in, when the dudes tell me they’re not going to Kolda, but staying in Dabo for the night.  UGH. Who stays in Dabo for the night that drives a car?  I’ll tell you, no one.

Grumbling, I cross the street.  6:25.  If no cars come by 6:30 I’m staying at Dave’s and leaving first thing in the morning, I tell myself.   6:27 people start getting into the bus that’s “staying in Dabo.” I get up to investigate and surprise – they’ve decided to leave.  6:29 the engine gurgles to life and we roll away.  Yes! I think settling in to my sweaty seat.  As long as we continue moving, we’ll get to Kolda tonight.

As said, it’s common for these buses to make frequent stops along the road to Kolda in order to pick up passengers, drop off passengers, or to collect items to be sold from one town to another.  Thus, at first I thought nothing of our stopping in a village about 9k from Dabo.  Until the driver turned the engine off instead of idling (never a good sign).  Hissing through their teeth (sign of dislike), we get off the bush and sit around the side of the road, as the village kids come out to see if any of us are amusing.  Aaaand score! A toubab, always good for fun.  Trying to ignore the seventeen little heads in front of me, I ask the driver what we’re waiting for.  “Another car. It’s coming from Dabo. Then we will leave.”

Sure, I thought.  Knowing the Senegalese habit, if he says it’s in Dabo (9k away) it’s definitely then in Jaobe (30+k away).  So I settle into my bench, watching the sun set lower and the minutes on my watch click by.  Serves you right, I think.  See what happens when you try to leave at night?  By 7:15 I’m decently annoyed, but too fatigued to really do much about it.  A car rolls up and stops, and when the driver tells me to take the car instead, I dismiss any questions about the situation, grab my bag, and squish into the back row of the overgrown station wagon for eight.

Well, though I had to wait, this may not be so bad, I decided. These littler cars move decently faster than the buses, and our car was full, meaning it most likely would not be stopping before we hit Kolda.  I settle into my seat as the old dude next to me squishes me against the wall and catch up on my text messaging, trying to think of amusing things until we cover the 43k to Kolda.

We actually cruised along quite well, even in the part of the road that’s a checker-board of pot holes (which also signals that you’re getting really close to Kolda.  Irony at it’s best I assure you, as the pot holes require your car to slow to an inching pace while you’re less than 10k from the city.).  Then, the driver skids to a quick stop, says something in Wolof, and everyone but me and the lady in the row in front of me get out of the car.  I try to sit for a few minutes, but the car becomes increasingly muggy and stuffy so I venture out.

Oh hey, we have a flat! A part of me is actually impressed, because I didn’t feel the flat at all while we were driving or pulling to a stop.  This is saying something, as I have been in many cars with flats, and two cars where a tire has simply popped off and bounced along the road, off to a better land than the car it was hardly hold up.  43 minutes go by as the driver and the dudes in the car finagle the lifty thing under the car (only to have it slam down three times before it actually managed to keep the body up), pulled the old tire off, smushed on the new one, and screwed all the bolts on.  I pretended I was helping by shining my cell phone flash light on the whole situation (cell phones have little LED flashlights here!  For serious, it’s better than interwebs on your phone… if you’re living in Senegal), but I doubt as to whether anyone benefited from my “aid.”

Standing around as the tire was fit into place, I looked again at my watch and the situation around me (pitch dark hold for the full moon, middle of bush territory right before the city, too far to walk, but not really near anything) and was amazed that I wasn’t more pissy/angry/frustrated/grumpy.  I actually felt more in a state of zen, calmly watching everything, going along as things happened, and thinking about showering the dirt I could now roll of my skin in little columns of black grime once I got into Kolda.  Could I be getting more patient?  Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and though everyone says the peace corps makes one more able to stand patience, I doubted it would work for me.  But in that moment… maybe! I thought.  Now, I can assure you that my zen-state was more of a fatigue-state of complacency rather than anything resembling a yin and a yang.  But either way, eventually we bumbled along into Kolda, stopped at a random street, moved from the car to a cab in one motion, and mumbled a half-awake diatribe to the cab driver in Mandinka about how shitty the car was that I just emerged from.  (You can do this in cabs in Kolda because they all know where the young toubabs live – they call it the maison blanche, or white house. HA!)

9:18, arrive inside the maison corps de la paix compound, tell the guard that cars are stupid, grab the pint-cup of tea I had made a day ago and reserved in the fridge for my future self, and plopped in this chair to sit in front of this computer and tell you all this story, since I feel like my blog entries were beginning to exclude the more colorful events that happen in my life, living here.

So there goes.  Hopefully that won’t happen again, and I’d like to say I’ve definitely learned my lesson, but knowing that I have 11 more months here leads me to believe that my stupidity will prevail again sometime and I’ll have another mental car adventure to share.

Currently 10:27.  In the line-up: a scrubbing shower, sheet retrieval, dragging of a foam mattress to the roof, and asleep by 11.  ‘Till next time.

An apt acronym for the West African Invitational Softball Tournament, if I do not say so myself. While some of the teams that played may have taken the sporting even seriously (read: competitive league = marine team, embassy team etc), the rest of us took advantage of the Club Atlantique's morning "WAIST Specials," of Bloody Marys and Tequilla Sunrises before hitting our 10am softball games.

WAIST is hands-down the most talked about even of a Senegal volunteer's year, and now I understand why. For three days, every volunteer in Senegal, plus visiting volunteers/softball teams from the neighboring countries of Mali and the Gambia, descend upon Dakar for mornings and afternoons filled with softball games and evenings of varied debauchery around the nightlife of Dakar. Each region of Senegal forms a team, and picks a theme for their team, and then dresses appropriately based on this theme for the games. This year, Kolda was the "Kolda Country Club," complete with a tennis mom, all the colors of pastel you could want, plenty of plaid, and even a few sun visors. I had a pleated pastel plaid skirt made, but alas, by the end of game-day-one, the zipper broke. Good think I had a back-up pair of white shorts with a kelly-green tank!

A few of the other regions of Senegal looked stunning as follows: Tamba and Kedougou combined to become TambaGou with a theme of PC BC.

And north of the Gambia, Kaoloack decided to all be lumberjacks.

;

Short of the long, Kolda lost all four of the games we played, but we also didn't set out to win any of them either.

Sure, we tried when we were up to bat, and caught a few balls in the outfield...

... but the point of our games was to have fun by being morons (good looking morons!) and doing things like throwing a football during each pitch and dancing in the outfields.

0-4 my face, I think Kolda had a great WAIST run this year.

Late-night fun activities included an open-mic-nite/talent show/photo contest, date auction at the Marine's house (no, Marines weren't auctioned off), and a club party downtown till 5am.

Post-WAIST meant exhaustion (clearly), but we all had a damn good time getting there and I personally really enjoyed meeting so many new volunteers and seeing all of my old training buddies! (Awww.)

This year I enjoyed my very first warm Christmas.  I hadn’t planned on leaving Kolda for the holiday, but as I was sitting in the regional house on the 22nd of December, watching volunteers file into the house, ancy-ness got the best of me.  The weeks prior to Christmas, I had been repeatedly sick (cystic amoebas EW!), had been getting increasingly homesick, and feeling a bit of cabin fever in regards to Kolda.  Not that I don’t love my site, Kolda, and the people here, (indeed, traveling around Senegal makes me like Kolda even more), but when my friend Jessie texted me to invite me to a few days in Popenguine – a beach town just north of my training city, Mbour – I jumped at the chance.   Next morning at 4am, I was at the Kolda garage on my way.

Popenguine was everything I needed it to be: at most 13 people, most of whom I hadn’t met before, lots of cooking and beers, walks on the beach, football and frisbee on the beach, burying each other in the sand, hiking around Popenguine (it’s beautiful!), and more eating and sleeping in.  Popenguine is actually my friend Ankith’s site.  Ankith is an eco-tourism volunteer, and has set up a bunch of hikes and day trips (kayaking through the mangroves and such) around his site with his local women’s group, so I definitely plan on returning before my service is up to take advantage of those activities.  Ankith’s life sounds tough, doesn’t it?  He assures you that he “works” very hard, every day.

I ended up staying in Dakar for New Years since my friend Christiana was arriving to Senegal bright and early the 3rd (which ended up being the 4th).  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from new years since none of us had anything planned, but it ended up being one of the best I’ve had.  We had dinner at the home of some embassy workers (yay hired chefs!), then met up with a bunch of our other PC friends downtown Dakar, rang in 2010, then moved to a fancy hotel’s club to dance the night away.  Nothing was planned and we flew by the seat of our pants all night, but it was incredible.  I got to see some of my closest friends from my training group, and ended up staying out with everyone until 5:30am!  If only Dakar had 24 hour diners.

While in Dakar, I got a solid amount of work done in the PC office, and got some of my recent ailments taken care of as well.  Amoebic cysts (cystic amoebas?): gone.  Staph infection: treated. Itchy-4-month-long-bug-bite: solved.  The PC nurse sent me to the dermatologists to get my staph infection and mystery “bug bite” checked out, and now, I’m so thankful she did! Turns out that what I thought was a bug bite, was definitely not.  I had gotten these “bites” around August, and noticed that they were unusually itchy and formed a small water blister that whenever I popped, promptly reformed a few days later.  Weird.  I wasn’t expecting much upon return from the doctors, but when I sat down with the PC nurse, I got quite a shock.  Creeping eruption.  “Creeping what?” I thought. Oh god, I’ve heard of this,  “This is the worm thing right?” I asked the nurse.  Yes Amanda, not only is it the “worm thing,” but the “worm larvae thing.”  More specifically, creeping eruption is where a worm larvae gets under your skin and basically lives there, “creeping” along under the surface (see photo).  “Well what’s the blister than?” I asked.  Oh the blister? That’s the worm’s life cycle. 

Que me jumping around the office with emphatic “EWWWW!”s.

Let’s just say, during my four-months as a “host,” little mr wormy dude had gone through more “life cycles” than I can count.  Yeah. Ew.

So the doc gave me a pill and cream to kill the little guy with.  Now, I think I’m all good.  I had had “bites” in two places, on the inside of my knee and my lower back.  This is strange because usually people get creeping eruption on their feet since it’s said to come from fecal matter.  Apparently I enjoy rolling around in shit but blacking out to do so because I have no recollection of ever having “fecal matter” come in contact with those two spots of my body, (or any place on my body for that matter).  To be honest, about two months into my hosting of this itchy “bug bite,” creeping eruption had passed my mind as a possibility, but at the time, I couldn’t see any “creeping” in my bug bite, just an “eruption,” so I just ignored it.  It’s only now that I clearly see the creep-trail, (again, see photo).  Oh well, now I know.

Anyway, shortly after new years, Christiana arrived and our adventure began.  We traveled in seven sept-places, endless taxi cabs, met up with over twenty-five PCVs, met five other PCVs’ guests, and ate everything from village food to ice cream.  That adventure though, is its own blog post.

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