Thursday, December 9, 2010

To the beach

     We take a day trip up north, and for once are able to leave our humble abode of Dubreka.  The landscape is lush vegetation, and lush plains dotted with palm trees.  Some of the palm trees look like they’re decorated for Christmas with large balls equally spaced about on all the branches – these are bird’s nests. The oceans somewhere over to the left in the distance – but I can’t see it.  To the right are imposing cliffs that seem to be the protectors of the landscape.  I look to their heights and feel a distant longing; I would love to be sitting upon them on high looking out over the land too. We drive through Tanéné (a village with a name I can never get over; seems to be funnier every time I hear it), over a few rivers and locks and out to a port village.  As we drive into the village I admire the wild black/red zig-zaggy paint job on a ‘night club.’  One of our staff gets off the bus – I assume to covertly acquire some palm wine under the guise of doing some reconnaissance work in village – I’ll say no more.  We stop at the port (because this is one of the only points of interest in the area?) and are a magnet of interest for the locals, as if they were praying for Allah to send a busload of white people right into their fishermen’s nets.  The walking dollar signs commence to wander around, not really sure where we are , why we’re here , or what we’re doing……so the least we can do is buy some snacks (oranges, fried breads, dried fish if you dare).  In a country so hard up for money right, it amazes me how there are always stacks and stacks of oranges everywhere…who buys them all?  I suppose if people buy them the seller makes a few extra francs, but if not, the seller and family are happy to eat them too. I admire an umbrella that shades one of the tables with “Love Obama” written like a logo.
        We are back on the bus and I’m working on ‘sucking’ my oranges.  One I brought from home, is a little hard because it was peeled yesterday, and instead of it going in my mouth I think I manage to get more than half of it dripped all over me – but I never give in, it must be eaten !  I wisely go for the second hard orange, and repeat the process, then start looking for places (people) to wipe my hands on.  I’ve lent Adrissa my ipod for the duration of the journey and he’s like a kid with his favorite toy, completely oblivious to the rest of the world.  Since I don’t have anyone to talk to I really want to take a nap, but since I haven’t been through this area before , I force myself to keep my eyes open. We stop at deceased pres. Condé’s mausoleum at an especially beautiful spot along the sea.  There is a group of hovering guys and a few off-duty looking militare are there to great us.  The memorial is in its own private building on the grounds and inside one must take off shoes and cover the head (I was cringing that I’d have to put a rag-like cloth they gave me over my head).  There is a large pit of sand where he is buried, and a big wall of flowers displayed behind and a very un-African silence in the air.  “Has anyone told them this looks like a big litter box?” I wonder as I stare at this large sandpit memorial. 
          We criss-cross through thatch hut villages.  No one is really sure where this beach is, so the drivers are constantly asking directions, but most people I think are intimidated by a bus full of white folks so give blank stares.  Finally one boy sitting on a chair with his feet up in another points us over to an overgrown road and says the beach is down there.  Our driver is undeterred and we begin an adventurous all terrain ride.  This is a fieldtrip:  literally.  From the beginning I was thinking we should be getting out to walk now, but our tenacious driver and trusty encouraging local staff persevered on their pet-project to find the beach.  From this point on, we’re on rutted dirt road through the fields, we reach an especially deep rut on a slight hill and I get out to watch and see if the bus can make it.  Indeed she does.  The rice fields are extremely peaceful and I can’t help feel we’re intruding. I gaze out at the flocks of herons and enjoy witnessing the symbiotic relationship of the cows and egrets.  We continue on and reach a bridge that’s not all the way together – and the local staff feel that moving the logs back in place should make it good enough to cross.  Alright.  I and some local kids who were swimming and doing washing in the channel, gather to look on to see if the bus will roll the logs out again and fall in.  I’m almost a little disappointed that it made it across, I was kind of hoping for something more catastrophic (well, I guess that would’ve meant we’d have to do a lot of walking back in the heat).  We get going again and are at about the palm tree line that indicates the beach, when we turn right and the road becomes completely overgrown with rice.  Nevertheless, our driver stands up in his seat and laughs as we plow through where he ‘thinks’ the road should be.  Occasionally he flips the wipers so the rice stalks fall off.  This is beyond ridiculous. I think all of us are getting used to the fact that the road is long and unpredictable, and if a gorilla just happened to pop out and run us down now, no one would think anything of it.   
        We are driving parallel with the beach now, and we get to a spot where the sand: rice stalk ratio has tipped onto the ‘too much sand’ side, and the bus finally stops and we get out to walk.  Feels good to stretch the legs.  I gaze out into the sea though, and am disappointed by the blackness that I see: oil.  The beach is a forlorn scene, lined with oil too.  What?! All this way to an oily beach….we can’t swim in this.  And to top it off one of our trainers tries to tell us its ‘natural oil’ that comes up from within the ocean – natural my ass.  I start to launch into a long tirade on enviro-protection but then I can see he’s too hot and preoccupied to care, so I focus on collecting shells.  When we arrived on the beach I noticed a young guy run past us with his dog – running at noon in Africa?? My first thought was:  crazy.  Then he ran past us again back the other direction, which I will come back to in a bit.
       We reach the washed away, dilapidated, walls of what once was – so I’ve heard – a nice hotel run by a French guy.  This is what happens when you build too close to the sea, her taxes are high.  The others sit under a shelter and get into lunch, I walk around with Adrissa and check out the thatch hut fishing village that sprung up opportunistically because of the hotel.  Nets are hanging between palm trees to dry, and most of the villagers are tucked inside their huts in the mid-day heat.  A few chicken run here and there, a girl sits in the shade with oranges, and one man is working on carving out a new boat.  I love the rustic feel of this village of about 30 huts.  I can’t help wonder what they do if the sea is angry though, they are precariously close.  Even if it rains hard, I would imagine the village to be wet completely through.  I’m guessing their toilet is the sea too, or the neighboring reeds, which would make things very precarious if there was flooding. From the edge of the beach we think we’ll be able to see back down to the port – not so.  We do see a fisherman out with his boat and rudimentary nylon sail like a cast away.
        Since we can’t go swimming we stay just a little over an hour and then head back.  Luckily we’ve got our ‘road’ already laid out for the return. However, we get a little ways and see smoke and fire above the rice stocks - someone has lit a fire along our path! A very deliberate fire (we think it was the jogging guy).  Why he’d want to stop a bus full of white people…..? Hmmm.  Anyway, his plans were foiled because we got out of the bus, pulled up beach-weed-vines and started thwacking it and throwing sand on it to put it out. Nothing like fighting a fire in 100degree African heat.  We get it out for the most part – enough to get the bus through anyway – and like a rodeo rider the bus rampages through. I jump across the smoking embers and hop on in an exhilarating way, and we continue along on our journey… 

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