Home again, Home again, jiggity jig.
06.25.2008 - 06.26.2008
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Hello again. I just thought I’d give a final account of our last day in Senegal and to let you all know we made it home intact!
On our last day in Dakar, most of the group went shopping, but a few of us were able to arrange a trip to “Serpent Island,” which is a misnomer because there really are not many snakes on the island (perhaps some Psammophis elegans, which we did not see, unfortunately!). The name Serpent originated because a man who called himself Mr. Sarpan was found on the main island. The island is really part of the Iles de Madeleines, which comprise Le Parc National des Iles de la Madeleine, the smallest national park in the world!
It was a fantastic journey, beginning with a boatride to the island and ending in a swim in the lagoon.
On the trip in we traveled below cliffs white with guano, that towered above us and looked like glaciers.
Our guide, “Nixon” a law student at the University of Dakar who had been volunteering as a guide at the park since 2000, lead us around the island and explained the natural and cultural history of the island. It is believed that the islands off the coast of Senegal are home to spirits that protect the cities on the mainland. There are 5 islands total in this group and Sarpan is home to the only male spirit. The other spirits (which include Goree island) are his four wives.
He explained that the areas around the islands are marine protected areas, to allow fish to reproduce and replenish the local fish stocks. They work often with the local fishermen to try and explain why the area is protected and they cannot fish there, but they still have difficulties with enforcement since they cannot have guards on the island 24/7. We could in fact see areas where fishermen had landed and camped for a while. (See www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/marine/news/successes/index.cfm?uNewsID=21930 for more info on MPAs in Senegal) There has also been problems with harvesting sea turtle eggs, and so turtles currently do not use the beaches for nesting, but they are hopefull that with increased protection they will return.
On the island we also saw baobob trees that were dwarfed due to the sea salt and wind, but there was one baobob that was still huge in circumferance!
There are several endemic plants on the island, and some scientists are looking at using some of the plants for medicines and others for oil for fuel. We also were lucky enough to visit the nest of a red-billed tropic bird (Phaethon aethereus), and the burrow of an African spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) the largest continental land tortoise!
Before we left the island we had about ½ hour of relaxation time before we had to leave, so two of us took advantage of the clean water and swam in the lagoon – it was fantastic. I was also able to explore some of the rocks and the tidal pools and found one that was full of sea urchins! When we finally made it back to the mainland and the buses with the rest of the group we were all smilling like crazy and were feeling utterly refreshed. So much better than hagaling over the price of trinkets with pushy vendors!!!!
We then went back to our rooms to freshen up and pack and then we boarded the buses and were taken to a reception at the home of a friend of Professor Sene (who was at a conference in the states). We had beautiful music and some time to talk with our guides and other friends from the West African Research Center. We also had tearful goodbyes because we had become quite attached to our new friends. We gave gifts to our guides, but had nothing to give our hostess – so we decided to sing part of “America the Beautiful” for her which touched both our hostess and ourselves. We were ready to come home even though many of us would miss Senegal and its people.
At the airport things went smoothly, and we had some time to spend the last of our CFA’s (the Senegalese currency). Unfortunately, several of us purchased jam made from the hibiscus flower that we had been enjoying for breakfast – but the jars were too big to make it through carry-on security in Belgium, ugh!!!! So we lost our jam and were very sad . Our bags had already been checked in at the Dakar airport so we had to take them as carry-ons, but I guess they count as “gel” which is now restricted in how much you can bring with you as a carry on.
But the flights were good (we survived) even if they were long and the layovers were just as long as well. We figured we had 28 hours of travel time (flights & layover) in addition to the last day we had spent in Dakar (our flight did not leave until 9:30pm Wednesday night, and we arrived in Raleigh at 7:30pm on Thursday). I was one of the lucky ones since I live close to Raleigh. Some others in the group still had to drive for 2-3 hours to get home! Needless to say we were a very tired group at the airport, but happy to be back home. Thank you all for coming with me and for your comments and words of encouragement!