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November 14, 2012 / samwilson60

Venturing east

Having ended up this far south, with plenty of time and insurance, it seemed only right to explore the famous mangroves bordering The Gambia before continuing east to our national park. On the way we were flagged down by a policeman, which never bodes well. The last had taken every document we had looking for something he could fine us for and although he eventually gave up, it’s never a barrel of laughs when you know they’re looking to scam you. As it turns out, this latest policeman (and every one we’ve met since) simply wanted to have a chat, hear about where we’d been and where we were going, and give us some insights about the area. A genuinely pleasant and useful encounter, which sent us off on a shortcut through even prettier surrounds and across the river on a military-operated bac.

 

We had to wait two hours for the boat, which unlike most does actually run on schedule (just a very leisurely one), giving us time for a brew and a few of our new biscuits down the road from the river. We got a bit of a fright scaring off an 18-inch lizard (OK, so we didn’t have time to measure but it was a biggun, and it sounded like a dog diving into the shrubbery), and then got into a very long but enjoyable chat with a local teacher until the bac arrived, complete with life vests and lots of military. All very smiley and professional, we crossed the water with the aid of two tug boats and were off the other side into the mangroves.

Still trying to balance exploring with getting out the other side, we were a little torn once in Toubakouta – there are lots of magical areas around but all quite a faff to get to, this being a giant mangrove delta. We already had our hearts set on the national park in the east of the country so decided not to push it time-wise and settled for a nice camp and the already awesome views from the road.

We then headed back inland towards Tambacounda (confusingly similar in name if nothing else). The road was better than feared so we actually made it beyond town and into the park-side campsite with time left to wash ourselves and our smelly, sweaty clothes. The next morning we were a little dismayed by the need to take a guide with us around the park, but once we’d found him a seat in the spare tyre on the roof it actually worked out really well. Ibrahim helped us find all sorts of wildlife in areas we wouldn’t have known to venture alone and explained a lot about the origins and aims of the park.

Some of the wildlife came out to find us…

 

…others were a little more shy…

One of the most beautiful sights in the park was sadly not wild – a leopard with a long story behind him and various attempts at freedom, none of which worked out. His mum was poached in Guinea and, in a roundabout way, he ended up in the loving care of one of the eco guards at the Niokolo-Koba.

We couldn’t spend a day sweltering in the park and not be there for sunrise, when the most exciting animals were most likely to emerge, so we camped at the Camp du Lion – or rather with the eco guards next door, the actual campsite having been washed out by the high waters during the rain. The waters were still high during our visit, almost at their highest, making many of the pistes impassable and the rest overgrown to say the least. We were slightly concerned about our intrepid guide on the roof, slashing anything that approached at eye level with his blunt machete, but he seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were.

We left the national park around midday, said our goodbyes to Ibrahim and cruised off towards Kedougou with all the foliage and insects we’d picked up along the overgrown pistes. It really was extreme – giant caterpillars in hair, a radiator full of seeds, stowaways of every kind – you name it, if it was an insect we probably had at least one, and we’d be finding them for days to come.

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