Saturday, July 15, 2006

Chris Clark writes...

Well, the CFZ has now extended its activities to the very frontier of Senegal. Today we travelled to the far south of Gambia, to the Allahein river, and went out in two dug-out canoes much like those we used to cross Gunung Tujuh in Sumatra. We circled the mangrove swamps, at one point coming within touching distance of Senegal (the river forms the frontier here), and made a landing at a likely spot, but saw little except small crabs. The existence of a Swedish-built tourist pavilion a little further along suggested that we had not yet crossed the boundaries of civilisation.

Richard and Suzi looking across at Senegal

On the way back, we passed through the Kartong area and stopped at the village of Follonko to see one of Gambia's sacred crocodile pools. We began by removing our shoes as though we were approaching a mosque, but this was the last Islamic element of the experience.Our guide told us that the pool is associated with female circumcision ceremonies and with people hoping for children; Chris M added later that the site is also popular with wrestlers. Although the pool, much shrunken with the dry season and covered with water-hyacinth, contains well over a dozen crocs, only one juvenile specimen was visible. It is said to contain one albino crocodile: if you see this, we were told, you will shortly become a great man. No member of the party claims to have seen it.

A juvenile inhabitant of the sacred crocodile pool

We stopped at the Gambia Reptile Park, and were given a tour of the snakes (and other animals). We were able to hold a Ball Python, an African Egg-Eater and a Shovel-Headed snake. The more dangerous creatures, such as the Spitting Cobras and Puff Adders, remained in their enclosures. The Park also takes in other creatures in need of attention, including a young baboon and a fine pelican. When the owner, a Frenchman called Luke Paziand, found that Richard was experienced with reptiles he came out for a long talk with us. Over a pastis Luke explained the work of the Park and recent knowledge about venomous snakes (humans are vulnerable to the cytotoxin element of the spitting cobra but not the neurotoxin: if bitten, you may lose the limb but will not necessarily die). The interview was interrupted by Luke's four children, particularly a delightful two-year old boy who used all members of the party indiscriminately as a climbing frame.

Puff Adder

Luke Paziand

Chris Clark with Ball (Royal) Python

The trip ended back at Bungalow Beach with an encounter with a man called Lami. Speaking in English (his third language, since he is from French-speaking Guinea) he explained how his grandfather had seen Ninki-Nanka, describing it as being like a snake with a round head. For further details he invited us to come to Guinea and speak to his grandfather. He claimed that the old man could even summon Ninki-Nanka for us, like a sort of West African Doc Shiels [Glendower: 'I can summon spirits from the vasty deep'. Hotspur: 'Why so can I, and so can any man. But will they come when you do call?']. However, Guinea is beyond Senegal, and is out of reach on this trip.

The whims of the Gambian banking system mean that there is only one ATM system in the whole country, and it takes a card which only one member of the party possesses even if you can find one that works. The limit on the daily withdrawals meant that we were restricted to £40 among the whole party. I hoped to raise money on my American Express card, and made a phone call to England to get the address of the local office. I got the address and a phone number, and when I asked whether I could get money from the office I was reassured in the sort of tones that you would use to guarantee that the sun would rise tomorrow. Well, the sun has indeed risen, but a phone call to the local office received a flat denial that they had ever supplied money, would ever supply money, or had any money to give. At this point the financial problems of the two most experienced members of the party, who have worked in eight or ten backward countries, were relieved by a timely contribution from the youngest and most inexperienced: so at the risk of embarrassing her, thanks to Suzi for dipping into your emergency fund.


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