Owen and I wanted a mini adventure and decided to undertake a small trek into the swamps. This was also partly for me to research some alternatives for the Casatrek as the following week I was making a longer trek with guests from Holland and the United States.
Like all proper English men travelling in the tropics, we set out shortly before midday, taking motorcycle taxis to Kassel, a small Diola village a few kilometres south of Kafountine. We jumped into a large canoe – no cows this time – and crossed to the island. As we approached the shore another passenger stuck his hand in the water and fished out a reasonably large sized fish, just like that.
“What’s your name?”
“Owen” said Owen.
“Onen…” they replied, like most people, unable to pronounce it.
“Like Michael Owen” I chipped in. This usually helps, but upon this occasion one guy had drunk too much bounok. He came closer, leered forwards and looked angry.
“I know what Michael Owen looks like and that’s not him!” he declared.
It felt like he was going to get violent as he thought I was deceiving him, so we scarpered.
Soon after, we arrived into Couba and went to the house of my friend Jean-Christophe. He was happy to see us and brought out a large bowl of freshly grown rice, fish from the river and perfectly seasoned onion yassa sauce. After cooling down we wandered around the village, through the ganja plantations and across dried up rice paddies towards the river where we dived into the cool waters beside a picturesque baobab.
In the evening we discussed Jean’s conversion to becoming a baptist – he and his family sit studying the Bible all day and there are American missionaries visiting regularly. He talked about how setting himself apart from the other villagers (reluctant to give up their animist beliefs which they maintain alongside Catholicism) and caused him to lose some friends although things are now improving. Quite a big deal in Africa where towing the line and following your family, your tribe, your religion tend to be the norm.
We decided the next day to take a boat to the village of Niamoune which is south and not far from the mighty river Casamance. The boatman said after lunch which in reality meant about 6pm, so spent most of the day reading in my hammock.
We also witnessed the interesting spectacle of fishing for tiny fish in the flooded paddies. One section with shallow water was teeming with these tiny minnows as well as a few bigger flappers. A line of women gradually moved forward a dyke of mud as others poured the water and fish into a basket (thus sieving out the water) out of the pond. As the pond decreased in size, the fish had nowhere to swim to and thus this continued until they were all scooped up.
We arrived at the tiny settlement in the dark and were slightly astonished to find about ten other toubabs staying there, including one English documentary maker who was pleased to have someone with whom he could speak English. Sadly for me, normal roles were reversed – Owen was perfectly healthy whilst myself and my normally cast iron stomach spent the night resembling a peristaltic squid on the compost toilet for half the night.
A boat was leaving for Ziguinchor the following morning – joining the river we met a couple of dolphins then crossed the river – more like a sea at this point where you can barely see the other side – then passed Pointe St George and various other points I recognised before rolling into the Zig in the mid-afternoon.