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Things to do


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February, 2020

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Whilst sailing with “Variety Cruises”: on their “Rivers of West Africa”: cruise, one of our excursions was to Joal-Fadiout in Senegal. Having taken a pirogue or long, slim motorised wooden boat to Djifer on the mainland, we boarded a coach for the 90-minute drive.

Having stopped on route a couple of times for bird watching opportunities, we arrived at Joal, a small sleepy fishing town. We were split into groups of four and allocated a guide who would show us Fadiout, which lies on an island of clam shells, and a second island with a large Christian and Muslim cemetery.

Before setting off, we admired a statue of a couple wrestling: it is the second most popular sport after football, and the champion of Senegalese wrestling Yékini, was born in Joal.

We walked over an impressive 500m long wooden bridge to Fadiout and learned that the latest bridges were built as recently as 2004. 6,000 people live on the island and in complete reverse to the rest of Senegal, 90% are Catholic and 10% Muslim. The black clam shells on the island have been bleached white by the sun, and were found on the paths, in local architecture and the crafts we saw for sale in small shops.

The Catholic church, with its bell tower which doubles as a lighthouse, was built in 1881 and restored in 1999 after a storm. As we visited on a Sunday, adult mass had taken place from 9am to 10am and as the 11am children’s Sunday School hadn’t yet started, we were able to take photos from the doorway.

We continued past one of three mosques on the island onto the calvary station which was directly opposite the mystical baobab tree used by the animists (at the side was a small thatched hut where they would make offerings).

As we wandered through the narrow alleys, we noticed a number of buildings with roofs and bench seating and were told these were ‘resting places for the elderly men’ who could use them to talk, meet and play cards. Each of the island’s three districts, has its own resting place.

Just as we were going to cross the second 200m wooden bridge to the cemetery, we heard singing from behind and stood aside to let a group of around 50 Muslim’s pass (they were on their way to the cemetery as someone had recently died). The cemetery was interesting and on a slight hill with distinctive cross and unusual shaped headstones. The Muslim quarter was on the far side, but out of respect, it was off limits during our visit.

We spotted what looked like parasols on a beach, but we were told they were old grain stores on stilts as the grain wasn’t kept in the houses because of the fire risk.

We then boarded a small rather wobbly pirogue. We both squashed on to a front seat, in reality a wooden plank and were punted back through what we were told was very shallow water. On the 15-minute trip, we saw sheep being washed in the water which barely came up to their bodies.

We finished what had been a really interesting trip, with lunch back in Joal where we feasted on freshly caught fish and chips.

Our cruise was booked with “Seafarer Cruising and Sailing Holidays”:

Helen Jackson

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