Monday, July 17, 2006

Lisa writes....

The mangroves of Mandinari

Yesterday morning shortly after breakfast Richard got a phone call from a woman by the name of Mariama (who works at Abuko National Park), saying that a man had told her that he knew where Ninki-Nanka lived. He said it was in a hole in some mangrove swamps, in a place called Mandinari, just down the road from Abuko, and that he also said that if you threw a dog into the hole it would bring Ninki-Nanka out to eat the dog. Richard was interested by such news, but point blank declined the use of a dog, opting for a chicken instead.

We had already decided to go to Abuko in search of the English guy who was said to have seen Ninki-Nanka some years ago, but all we had to go on was his Mandinka name of 'Sudokodo' (we were hoping to check with the records kept at the lodge house on site), so calling into Mandinari was no problem really as it was en-route.

Just as we were all sitting down to dinner Richard was summoned to the reception as there was a phone call for him so he hurriedly left the table, some time passed, he returned with a somewhat stern look on his face. Apparently the call was from the actual man who allegedly knew where Ninki-Nanka could be found. He had asked Richard if he was the man that had been on the wireless the day before, 'the Ninki-Nanka hunter', he replied yes, the man then said he knew where there was a real Ninki-Nanka at Mandinari and that he could lead us there, but he would not go all the way as he was fearful of death if he did so. He said he would go within 50 yards of it and point the rest of the way. He then said that if you see this dragon 'YOU WILL DIE'; this was said rather ardently. Richard replied that he was not scared of dragons, and that we have many dragon stories in England. The man then said that this was different, as this was an African dragon, and then proceeded to ask repeatedly “what do i get?, telling Rich to tell the people in reception to “shut up” as they were making a noise. By this time Rich's suspicions were raised, suspicions which turned out to be well founded when the guy started to make demands of upwards of £2000, £3000, £4000, £5000, as if in some cryptozoological auction!. Rich politely told the man that he would have to discuss this with the rest of the group.

It was agreed by all to decline offer/demand, however we did elect to go to the mangroves at Mandinari en-route to Abuko and have a look round ourselves.

We woke Sunday morning to heavy humidity, the worst it’s been during our time here, which was surprising, as it had rained heavily during the night. We had breakfast, got ourselves ready, and by 10am we were waiting for our trusty chauffer/guide/protector, Assan. We climbed aboard the mini-bus and asked him to take us to Mandinari. The journey was somewhat bumpy as the nightime down pours had had an effect on the road, namely that any infill had been washed away leaving large pot-holes strewn across our route, but Assan with his ever careful driving avoided most of them.

When we reached the mangrove area of Mandinari the tide was out, so we were able to negotiate into the swamps a little way, crunching along the shell strewn paths and getting a feel of the environment. There was a small wooden and somewhat rickety jetty that some of us ventured onto, at the end of which were the local village children swimming. The only wildlife we observed in this vast swampland were little bee-eaters, mudskippers, fiddler crabs, and the locals who began to follow us and ask us for our possessions (at one stage this incuded Suzi).

1-2-3-4-5 We saw baby crocs alive

Having only wandered and explored a small proportion of this mangrove, which has a total mass is approximately 10km, it is quite easy to see how people can become disorientated and lost, and why such places hold great mystique and allure for humans ascribing it as the home to such creatures as the Ninki-Nanka. We bid farewell to the small group that had become interested in us, and made our way to Abuko.

Steady on that Jetty

On arrival we asked if anyone could remember Sudokodo, they didn’t, so we made our way into the park, and towards the Darwin Centre tower in a bid to observe the Nile crocs they have there. We watched for some time, but all the crocs would give us was a few bubbles. We were then joined by a not-so-expert-guide, who led us to the other pool where we actually saw in total 11 baby crocs, so it’s good to know that they are breeding successfully. We then made our way round Abuko; unfortunately the guide we had was not very good and made more noise than all of us put together, so on this occasion we did not see a great deal, apart from a ground squirrel, vervet and red colobus monkeys. I also noticed that Chris Moiser was in fact giving the tour guide more information than he was giving us. We reached the cafe and stopped for some well needed refreshment, and as we departed the guide then tried to tell Chis that the Aldabran giant tortoise was native to the area! Chris corrected him on this matter and we moved on. As we neared the exit this so called guide began working his way down the line which was our group asking for, well anything really, money, watches; he was most unprofessional, unlike the first guide, Musa Jatta, who really did know his stuff. Ahh.. well the luck of the draw i suppose!

Sampling refreshment at Max's Bar

On leaving the park we made our way across the road to Assan who was waiting for us in a little bar owned by a Rasta by the name of Max, who was a refreshingly honest chap. Max told us of a place he thought the Ninki-Nanka may reside, ”Bintang Bolon is a place where you may find what you are looking for”, he told us, however he wouldn’t go because he had a near death experience where he had nearly drowned there as a small boy. Even now he will not wash in the river. He also told us that the founder of Abuko, a Mr Edward Brewer, had at some stage erected a mirror akin to the one that was erected in the 1940s after Papa Jinda was supposedly killed by the ninki-nanka. It is not clear whether this was done to appease the locally employed people at the park or for other reasons.

As we approach the end of this expedition I feel we have more new information and leads than answers to the questions we arrived with surrounding Ninki-Nanka, and I strongly feel that the possible root to these answers lies in less well explored areas of West Africa; a possible candidate for this I feel would be Guinea, as its relatively tourist free and poorly explored. All in all it’s been one heck of an eye-opening, interesting expedition.


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