Saturday, December 24, 2011

from Cabo Verde

Sal, Cabo Verde - Happy Holidays!   It is Christmas Eve and we find ourselves so many nautical miles and a world away from last Christmas which we spent in Fort Lauderdale as we prepped our boat for the “big trip.”  One year ago we could not believe we were about to embark on this great family adventure and today we cannot believe time is flying by so fast.
It has been a long while since we have posted an actual blog, and for those “fans” (wink, wink) who have been waiting with baited breath, I will try my best to bring you up to speed.  This past month has been very unique and eye-opening since we have been in Senegal and Gambia, countries so different than what we have seen before.
After spending a good ten days in the Canary Islands for Thanksgiving and for prepping  the boat for more of Africa, we had a great, smooth 6-day sail to Dakar, Senegal.  Sailing into port we were greeted by smiling fishermen on their wooden boats wanting to give us some of their fish.  Beautiful rock formations jutting out of the water, some friendly dolphins playing at our bow, birds flying… quite a sight to see after being at sea. 
As we approached the anchorage we were thrilled to see our buddy boat, Mehari (the family with six children) who had left the Canaries a couple days before us and had already arrived.  On the shore we could see a throng of people buying fish off the fishermen, as well as kids playing soccer and even some kids riding bareback on horses down the beach.  Some of the buildings looked quite modern and nice….  But on closer inspection, once you go behind these beac front places, the picture is quite different:  trash in the dirt streets, goats and donkeys walking by, barefoot children wanting to sell their wares.
One of buildings is the “yacht club” where many sailors come for internet, food, drinks and general socializing and exchange of information.  The “yacht club” is a place where people can camp in tents, take showers, load up on fresh water, and there is even a kitchen if one would like to cook his own food.  Although the name makes it sounds fancy, the club is very modest.  Even so, the kids were thrilled to play with some other local kids there.
A short cab ride later we were in downtown Dakar where there is crazy traffic, lots of trash on the side of the road, and people walking by who appeared to be in real need.  We saw people rifling through discarded, rotten fruit.  One also sees women and girls walking down the street balancing bundles on their heads – something that Sofia just had to practice as soon as we got back on Begonia!  And of course, very aggressive salespeople trying to sell African statuettes and masks, etc.  We found that we could not even glance in the direction of anything or else they would start negotiating with you.  Many times these salespeople would place necklaces on the kids and say it was a “present,” which of course the kids would believe.  We were quite a target walking down the street!  Imagine a total of 8 children to trick!!!  We would then have to argue to get the necklaces taken off because we were not going to pay for them, even though the kids would keep saying, “No, Mom, he said it was a present.”  Someone needs to tell them that that type of tactic is not very good for tourism.
We were very lucky when we got back to the “yacht club” to find that the location had been chosen for a wedding reception.  What a treat to see all the guests arriving in their finest:  the women all in traditional dress, but super fancy and shiny.  The men in general just wore jeans and a nice shirt, but the women looked as if it were a fashion show.  Since Senegal is still Muslim, the men and women do not dance together, but nevertheless the dancing we did see was incredible.   Even the little ones had rhythym and were giving it their all.
The Senegalese are physically beautiful people who speak French and their local languages of which there are about 6.  I met some local women who asked me my age.  They guessed about ten years older than I am, and when I asked them, I was shocked to hear their ages.  They appeared to be about ten years younger than they really were!!!  
Years ago Senegal and Gambia were one country called Senegambia, and it was the main location from where the Europeans would take slaves.  We were surprised to learn that it was not just the white Europeans capturing the slaves but also local African tribes capturing rival tribes to sell to the Europeans.  The island of Goree, just across the bay from Dakar, was where all slaves would be centralized and kept before being sold and taken to the New World.  The island now houses a museum and is quite touristy with very colorful colonial buildings, local women dressed in African patterns, fruit vendors, musicians and lots of stray dogs!
It took a couple more stops down the coast before reaching Gambia, and we still wanted to experience a true African village.  Along this coast we did find some resorts tailored to the French.  We parked our dinghy at one of these resorts since we heard there was a village within walking distance.  The resort was beautiful with small cabanas, a swimming pool and friendly staff that indicated us how to get to the village.  Once off the resort property, we felt we were really in Africa… dirt paths, baobab trees, a haze and smell from the piles of trash that the locals burn, goats running by every now and then. 
I had brought a bag full of balloons to give to the children if we saw any and shortly after starting on our journey, we were approached by a group of about 5 boys.  They were thrilled with the balloons and in broken French and sign language they told us they would escort us to the village where we intended to have a local lunch.  Sofia and Benjie were a little shy when the boys grabbed their hands to walk with them.  As we got closer more children kept coming out to follow us, and soon word got out that we had balloons.  Children excited, and grabbing and pushing.  The original group of boys brought us to the village bicycle and invited us to ride.  One bicycle that the entire village shared, the one thing they could offer us in exchange for their balloons.  Very sweet.   We were na├»ve to think we would “eat lunch” there though… in a village where no currency other than the barter system was even used. We saw the women trading yucca for watermelon or beans for potatoes.  And these women were all dressed again in these beautiful African dresses. 

As sailors it is always a little nebulous when you arrive at some of these countries what the appropriate procedure for checking into the country is. An arriving sailing vessel must visit Immigration, Customs and Port Authority - not all located in the same building of course – why make it easy when it can be made complicated and bureaucratic?   Our arrival in the capital city, Banjul, is no different.  Sebas got “dressed up” in long pants and a collared shirt, recommended in our cruising guide, in 95 degree weather and was gone from Begonia for about 3 and a half hours trying to sort through everything.  He was met on shore right away by someone who was going to “help him at no charge,” and first was taken to Immigration, which was basically a 10’ x 10’ room with six immigration officers dressed in official uniform sitting around 2 desks.  Right away you think well, if there are six people here, then the paperwork is going to go very fast since there are not many boats doing this process.  You could not be more wrong.  Of course, Sebas complained, and then was yelled at and soon shut his mouth when he realized he could possibly be thrown in jail never to be seen again!  Or at least this is the Hollywood version of events going through his head at that moment!!  Afterward, he then was taken to a very unofficial looking office with a desk, but no file cabinets, no uniform, etc. and was asked to pay 2,000 dalasis, or USD$70, with no receipt in return.  Sebas refused.  We ended up having to take a cab back into Banjul the following day to finish the paperwork.
It was refreshing later that first night to arrive to our anchorage at Lamin Lodge.  This lodge is a sight to see.  Run by a German man named Peter who was originally a cruiser and ended up settling in Gambia 29 years ago, Lamin Lodge is a modern day version of Robinson Crusoe’s treehouse.  Made of rustic wood trunks, some of which had been carved by a local artist, the lodge is yet another great gathering spot for cruisers.  “Lodge” is a misnomer, as one really cannot stay the night there as there are no rooms to rent.  What is there is an open-air place to sit, where food is served and where monkeys roam freely trying to steal food off your plates.  There is not one ninety degree angle in the structure, but this just adds to the lodge’s charm.  There is no electricity here either so if you want to stay on past dark, the workers will light a lantern for you.  The nearest town is Lamin, about a 45 minute walk through the countryside, but do not forget your flashlight since it is pitch black!  The anchorage is extremely peaceful here and the environment is very inviting.
Banjul and the ride there is another story.  Just throngs of people selling on the street everywhere.  We never understand if the vendors really sell since there is so much competition.  For every one vendor selling watermelon or goats or whatever, there are about one hundred more lining the same exact street. Buses are jam-packed with people, people on bicycles all over, taxis driving really fast with squeaking brakes, and you are constantly wondering when the next car accident is going to be because everyone tailgates and gets alarmingly close to everything.  I spent one trip in the front seat of the bus/van next to the driver playing “air brakes” and just squeezing my eyes shut tightly!
Everything just takes longer in countries like these and we found that we quickly grow impatient where the locals just look at you like, what is the problem?  One day going into the city to go to the supermarket, turned into a 5 hour odyssey.  Nothing is easy.  First we had to walk 45 minutes into Lamin from the anchorage to get to a bus, then we had to negotiate the bus, then find an ATM to get money, only to find that the ATM does not accept your card, or is empty or whatever, then you must try another one but it is extremely far away and is another 30 minute walk, then by then you are a little hungry and look for a place to eat where you will not be struck by a stomach illness, only to find that one of the guys in the group has a severe peanut allergy and unbeknownst to him while his meal did not have peanuts in it, his food had in fact been stirred by the same spoon that had peanuts on it.  Unluckily for him, his ears and mouth swelled like a balloon, he had a rash all over his body and was shivering.  We took him quickly to a local pharmacy where they gave him a shot while the rest of the group went to the market to buy some food. 
Fruits and veggies are not sold at the market but by street vendors, so after negotiating the prices with them we loaded all our bags, only to realize that when it came time to pay, the price negotiated had been “forgotten” by the vendor and we were being charged more.  Thus, some arguing, and finally taking all the fruits and veggies out of our bag, giving them back and storming away with the vendor yelling behind us.   Then of course we wanted to check internet only to find the electricity had gone out on the block, but there is nothing left to do but wait the half hour before it came back on otherwise you would not be able to find internet any other place that is convenient and close by.  We were exhausted after this first day and ended staying an extra one because we still had not bought fruits and veggies nor water. 
WATER is a main concern in Gambia.  I have not before thought so much of our need for water, since thankfully (luckily?) it has always been available to us.  Even this past year living on Begonia, we have been very conservative with our water but have always agreed that we did not want water to become an issue and to feel free to use it for a shower if need be – even a “military-style” one.  There was always water available at the next port we would visit, so even if we had to pay for it, it was an expense we had budgeted for.
However, our experience in this part of the world is that water (drinkable for us and usable for washing clothes, etc) is so scarce in the remote areas that we really have needed to watch our consumption.  Having been anchored on the river close to Lamin Lodge we assumed there would be a faucet or hose like there have been in other places, but the Lodge gets its water from the village where there is one spigot for the entire place.  Everyone, including the lodge, goes there to fill up five gallon or so barrels and transports it to their home. Filling our 600 liter tanks on the boat takes two trips to the village and all afternoon.  Once all the water arrives at the lodge, Sebas then has to take it by dinghy to the boat to fill the tanks.  With all this effort, it sure makes you think twice even if you want to brush your teeth!  I have been using and reusing the water, so for example, to wash dishes we have been using the river water to wash it first pass and then we do a final, quick rinse with our clean water.  I had to wash some clothes and reused the soapy water to wash the bathroom.  What we have in our tanks now is supposed to last us through our time up the river where there are no facilities whatsoever.
The entire country of Gambia is just the river, which was carved out of Senegal by the British.  People in Gambia therefore speak English along with the same 5 or 6 local languages spoken in Senegal. The rest of the stay then in Gambia was up the river, where we did about 3 days up to find the hippos.  We also wanted to visit some local villages on the shores thinking we wanted to donate some school supplies, books and clothes.  Up the river far away from the city, life is quite different than the city.  Here you see mud huts, women washing clothes in the river, many, many men fishing and women working in the rice fields. All along the river we were approached several times by fishermen or children who would row up to us to ask for something to drink, or and on many occasions just empty plastic water bottles.  I guess they would use these as buoys for their fishing nets, or as receptacles to carry water from the river. They would be out in the beating sun with no protection nor clothing and by the end of the trip we were literally taking the clothes off our backs to give away.  They did not ask us for this clothing, we just assumed thet needed it based ion the clothes we saw them wearing.  Sebas was left with only three t-shirts.
In one village we were greeted warmly by a swarm of children and one man who took us to see the head of the village. The leader was an elderly blind man who kept asking for pain relievers.  A group of women started singing and dancing for us and even some of the little girls got into the act and tried to get Sofia and Benjie to join in, to no avail.  Our kids were so overwhelmed by the attention and kids trying to hold their hands and touch their hair.  Some of the kids in the crowd were very brave while others were a little scared of us.  We gave the village bags of clothes, books, paper, pencils, markers, crayons, rope, tools, just whatever we could.
A word I that obviously comes  to mind in this part of the world is: DISPARITY.  It is so apparent the vast disparity in “wealth” between Senegal and Gambia with Europe or the US or any other place we have visited.  Is it fair to have 15 pairs of underwear each when there are hundreds of children walking the streets with none?  Are we really helping the community by giving away all these goods?  Of course, by our standards, this area would be considered “poor,” but who are we to say that our society and way of life is better?  If you look at the very basic human needs:  water, food and shelter… these are covered.  The people we met were not starving.  There is an abundance of food available to them.  Just walking down the street you can pull a mango off the tree and eat it, or go to the community rice field and get rice.  Water can be taken from the river, which is water that the locals are used to drinking and using for chores.  They have huts or houses, and we did not see homeless people in these villages where the community takes care of everyone.  They have what they need on a very basic level… so by bringing them  newer clothes and school supplies, etc. are we creating a new need that they may not have had before, thus tainting the way they see things?  Is it arrogant to think we are going to make a difference in their lives, when in reality maybe they made a difference in ours?  There is definitely a lesson to be learned here…. 
We finally reached the hippos, which was a treat.  We we warned by several people not to get too close since they can charge at you so our experience was mainly through binoculars.  Still it was nice.
We culminated our visit to Gambia back at Lamin Lodge where we had to again meet up with Juliano, the crew member we picked up in the Canaries. 
Now we are in Cabo Verde and I hope to write another blog about our experiences here….
Again happy holidays!
Our friends on Mehari

St. James Island- Gambia
People coming to visit on the river
Handy fresh water!
Lunch at lamin Lodge- Gambia
Coming back from a concert in Banjul, feeling young!
Good freinds for ever
Karlita dancing with locals
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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Senegal in Pictures

Saloum Delta, Senegal - Only a six-day sail from the Canary islands but a whole world away!  Senegal is a beautiful country with beautiful people.... it is easier to show you by pictures...  ENJOY!

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.