Hitchhiking Senegal: Part Six

Casamance to Kedougou

We left Casamance sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful region but happy to be back on the road and one step closer to Guinea. After six weeks in Senegal, we were ready to continue making progress through West Africa and were lamenting our decision to make the start time of our Guinean visa so late. One of the big frustrations of traveling in West Africa has been having to chose specific start dates for visas.

Still, Kedougou was a region we were looking forward to seeing and we had a Workaway lined up there so we were pumped about having our own space again. While Couchsurfing has been an indispensable tool for us so far, it gets exhausting constantly living on the road and entering into a new person’s space every few days.

We left Kafountine early and weaved our way through the jungle to come to the main road to hitch from. As always, people were skeptical about our ability to do so successfully and tried to persuade us to take a taxi. We politely insisted upon hitching and within a few minutes had scored our first ride in the back of a truck.

Mornings in Africa are my favorite. The air is still crisp and there is a thin layer of fog that hangs on all of the trees. Birds flock from tree to tree, people are slowly and cheerfully beginning their days, stopping to greet everyone as if they were old friends. The sun sits low in the sky so its powerful rays are still mitigated by the morning fog. It is the best time to travel. Africa so far has been all of the things we expected it to be: loud, crazy, disorganized. But the early mornings are when you can appreciate the subtleties that make it so unique and so special.

Our truck friends brought us to the big crossroads that lead either into The Gambia or farther into Senegal. We stopped and grabbed our classic travel breakfast of beans in a baguette for less than 50 cents and walked to the next spot. It wasn’t long before a fairly empty bus stopped for us and offered to give us a lift even we when stipulated we were hitchhiking and wouldn’t be paying customers. This rarely happens but in Casamance, buses were good to us. I hate accepting these rides in which I feel I am taking up space a Senegalese person could occupy to get somewhere more important. But we always offer to get off if the transport starts to fill up or we feel they are denying other people rides because of lack of space.

We got off in a small but busy town and waited for a few minutes before getting a ride from none other than George, the same truck driver who had picked us up a week before! A hitchhiking first for both of us. It is fairly uncommon to get multiple rides from the same person in the same day but to get a ride from someone on a completely different route one week apart is unheard of! We took pictures and gave him a few Casamance oranges we had brought along as gifts for rides and George definitely warranted a few!

The next few rides came quickly and went by without much incident. Sometimes hitchhiking is some grand experience where you meet cool people and get crazy stories out of it and sometimes it is just a means of transportation.

By this time we were in the lunchtime window and set up in some shade prepared to wait. We had taken a route to avoid going back to Ziguinchor when we left Kafountine and had found ourselves on little back roads we knew would be less traveled. However, when hitchhiking, a ride always comes as long as you are patient and this time it came in the form of a set of Portuguese men working construction.

We told them we were travelling around Africa hitchhiking and experiencing the culture and they seemed confused. “Africa is only good for making money,” the driver said. It was a mentality we had somehow largely avoided and, even though I knew it was widely prevalent, it was weird to hear it firsthand.

They dropped us off at their posh hotel frequented by European businessmen and missionary groups and we quickly departed and hit the road, stopping into a local bar for a quick (much needed) beer.

It was getting on 4 pm and we made the decision to continue on, knowing we were going to have to stop for the night to camp somewhere. Sometimes not having a particular destination is really nice when you’re hitchhiking. There is no pressure to get anywhere except farther and when you are ready, you can stop and post up without feeling that urge to try and make it regardless of the amount of sunlight left in the day.

We did get one more ride from a Senegalese man who had been living in Madrid for 15 years. He took us to Koukane, which is another big crossroads town. The sun was setting now and we needed to make camp before it got too dark. We walked to the edge of town and decided to duck into the brush and camp on the outskirts of a village off the main road.

We weren’t fully hidden and were camped over a path that was small but looked well-trodden so we decided to tie up the big backpacks and put the smaller bags in the hammock with us. However, two people and two bags in a hammock makes for a pretty cramped sleeping space and between that and the random bout of night terrors I had, it wasn’t the best sleep we’ve ever gotten.

It wasn’t all bad because we were able to wake up with the sun and get an early start the next day. I was starving because we had skipped dinner that night and my breakfast from the previous day was long gone so we stopped for…you guessed it: a bean baguette!

The first ride of the day didn’t come for ages but when it did it was from two lovely men (although they did ask Gabe if I was his wife or his concubine) who took us a good distance to a crucial crossroads. The following ride was from a guy going to Manda, the next large town, but he actually went much farther and dropped us off on a long, straight road in the middle of nowhere.

The sun was beaming down by this point and we waited at the bus stop for ages, making small talk and being the subject of conspicuous photos from locals. Soon a ride carrying two white travelers stopped and they were going exactly where we were headed. It’s a shoe in, we thought, as white people generally stop and take us with them. The Senegalese driver talked to us for a while and we could tell he was trying to convince his passengers to agree to take us. They were three people in total in an SUV with plenty of space for two more. However, the tourists were not down and the driver gave us an apologetic look as they drove off.

(Sidenote: we ended up seeing them later in Kedougou at a hotel bar we had stopped into to score some free Wi-Fi. The white couple pretended not to see us or at least not to recognize us but the driver came up and spoke with us at length. He apologized for not taking us and said that he had been trying to get them to agree but that he worked in tourism and couldn’t jeopardize his gig to give us a ride. We laughed and thanked him profusely for his effort.)

Eventually, we got a ride from a lorry truck that was going to Tambacounda. We were trying to avoid having to go all the way back to Tamba by taking a side road that cut through about 30 km south of the city but the truck blazed past it without us even seeing the turnoff.

Back in Tamba we were still 200 km outside of Kedougou but the day was still young as it was not even 2 pm yet. Within a few minutes we scored a ride from a guy in a pickup truck who stopped for everyone he saw hitchhiking and had space for. The guy wasn’t much of a talker but said he was going all the way to Kedougou but hadn’t acknowledged our comments about not paying for a ride. We were apprehensive that we would be in another Mauritania situation where we would get all the way there and then he would demand more money than we could afford to give.

A few dozen kilometers up the road, the first guy got out and we looked to see if any money was exchanged. It wasn’t. A little while later, the other passenger got out. Still no money. We were in luck. This was just a super nice dude and a man of few words. Honestly, a great ride to be going a few hundred kilometers with.

We learned throughout the day that our driver, Abdou, was an absolute legend. We stopped for lunch and Gabe and I decided to split a sandwich. Upon finding out we were splitting something, Abdou told the cook to make us two. We hopped up before he was finished to pay the bill, but later he handed us money back because he had insisted on taking care of the bill. At lunch, he asked where we were staying and we told him we were going to find a place to camp so he invited us to stay with him. “It’s part of Senegalese teranga,” he told us. “Don’t worry about it.”

We found out his family lived in Dakar and he spent part of the year there and part of the year in Kedougou. His house was modest and filled with sheep and scrap metal. We never did figure out what his relationship was with the number of other people who slept at the house but knew that one of the men was his father. I took him up on his offer to shower and had my first experience showering in a completely exposed facility where I definitely was fully seen by at least a few of the neighbors.

We went out and grabbed a few beers and bought some fruit to bring back as a token of our gratitude for his teranga. We had learned from our previous experience that you do not want these expressions of hospitality to go unrewarded. We had been told that no matter how many times people insist, they still expect something in return; however, Abdou just seemed like he wanted to do something nice for us. Still, we would make an effort to contribute.

When it came time for dinner, he asked us if we wanted to join him. We agreed thinking we would just go to someone’s house and have a shared meal. Instead, we hopped on his motorcycle and headed into town to a restaurant. Again, we tried to pick up the bill and again we were shut out. “I pay because I want to pay,” he told us. When we got back on the bike to go home, we made a stop off at a full-on ice cream parlor and once again, he insisted on treating us, this time to desert.

We were so appreciative but it was a bit uncomfortable having this guy go out of his way and probably spend out of his means to get us luxuries that were by no means necessary for us. But he had told us that he missed his family in Dakar and he preferred it there because family was so important to him so we figured that this was his was of filling the void of missing his family.

Fortunately, we managed to convince everyone at the house that we were more than happy to sleep in our hammock that night so we didn’t have to kick anybody out of their sleeping space to make room for. We are insistent that people don’t do this for us, but sometimes we don’t know that it has happened until the next morning. I was happy we had set up the hammock because I did see someone sleeping in his car so I know they were already tight on space before we showed up.

The next morning we rose early to get a good start on hitchhiking to the village where our Workaway was lined up. We’d be traveling out to the sticks so we knew it would take a while and we’d be on back roads for a lot of it. We went to say our goodbyes and before we could slip out the door, Abdou insisted he drop us off at a good spot. He drove us to the edge of town, well out of his way, and we snapped a quick picture, exchanged information and said our farewells. Little did we know that we would be back in Kedougou numerous times before our time in Senegal was over.

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