A unique itinerary crossing three countries “north to south” to experience a continuous change of climatic ecosystems and human environments.
NATURE. Following the “uncertain border” between land and water we move across an incredible variety of natural environments such desert dunes, savanna, estuaries, forest, mangrove swamps, to end with a ocean navigation to discover and enjoy the Bijagos Archipelago. North to south is also the route of migratory birds, a constant presence along the whole journey. Djoudj in Senegal is one of the main migratory birds sanctuary on earth and Gambia is a well-known birding destination.
HISTORY, PREHISTORY & TIME LESS VILLAGES. We will discover historical sites as Goré ancient slave-trade island, Saint Louis – the first colonial capital of “French West Africa” and Bolama the Portuguese Guinea capital, today forgotten in the forest of a remote island. Dakar, contemporary large capital and African intellectual center since the time before the independence. We will experience the meeting with “Timeless” people as Nomadic herders and remote villages and discover a prehistoric sites, with thousand mysterious stone craved monoliths.
ART, CULTURE & MUSIC. In the northern savannah we will be invited at the camp of nomadic herders and we will meet with the largest religious and peaceful brotherhood that practices an African form of Islam that rejects fundamentalism and violence. In the south, we will be introduced to animistic traditional religions, tribal kings, dancing masks and remote tribes who still worshiping ancestor statues; a unique chance to enjoy tribal art in is original contest. In the animistic Casamance region we will witness at the celebrations of Diola mask, the incarnation of mythical spirits… Masquerade is a unique experience that involves the participation of the entire village in an intense mixt of magic, music, and dances. We will focus also on contemporary art and music: Dakar has always been the cultural capital of West Africa, a melting pot of painters and sculptors from the whole continent. During the weekend nights in Gambia and Casamance we will vibe at the rhythm of music in the hot African clubs.
Dakar, the capital – SENEGAL
Arrival in Dakar and transfer to the hotel.
Dakar and Goré – SENEGAL
Dakar became the center of political, artistic and intellectual “renouveau” from independence time. Visit of the “Plateau” district, the Governor Palace and some interesting markets as Kermel built in pure colonial style. Lunch in a typical restaurant. Arrival at the port of Dakar to board a ferry and spend a night in Gore Island. In Goré slaves used to be crammed and then shipped to the Americas. The town is totally restored to bear witness of those ancient times, however thanks to the nice breeze, the ancient architecture, the many restaurants and boutiques; Goré today has become a very pleasant and trendy location.
Gorè, Lac Rose and fisherman villages – SENEGAL
Waking up in Goré before the crowd arrives is a pleasure, as strolling in the tiny stone paved alleys of this historical settlement. Ferry to Dakar and drive to Lac Rose, a shallow saltwater lake surrounded by dunes, also known as Lac Retba. The water is ten times saltier than in the ocean and thanks to this high concentration the lake often shimmers into pink. Workers here collect salt in the traditional way. Along the coast we discover the largest fisherman village in Senegal, more than 4500 wooden painted pirogues come to the shore with the catch of the day… We will approach the fisherman selling to the local market women, to meet the artisans craving the large pirogues, the painters decorating them with bright colors and if we are lucky the “local saint” for final blessing before sailing… At the edge of Lampoul Desert, some 4WD vehicles will be waiting to cross the dunes and take us at our fix camp.
Saint Louis – SENEGAL
Saint Louis is a charming old town which was the first capital of West Africa French colonies (AOF). It has been the former base of the “Aeropostale” airmail pioneer operation between Europe, Africa and South America. Saint Exupéry, the famous author of “The Little Prince”, was one of Aeropostale pilot following this route. The best way to visit the narrow lanes of Saint Louis is by calash, just as locals do, and walk in the fisherman quarters. Time to stroll in the tiny avenues and enjoy the unique atmosphere of this old town. We will spend the night at the historic hotel of the town – built in 1895 and now fully renovated – it was here that all Aeropostale pilots use to stay.
Bird sanctuary & Nomadic tribes – SENEGAL
Early morning departure northwards to discover Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary (Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj), a natural oasis formed by hundreds of miles of partially flooded lands which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This “humid paradise” – the best habitat and nesting site for over a million of migratory and resident birds – lies on the southeastern bank of the Senegal River and offers a range of wetland habitats that are very popular among migrating birds, many of which get here after crossing the Sahara. Out of more than 400 species, pelicans and flamingos are the most common, whereas aquatic warblers are a bit less conspicuous – migrating here from Europe, this park is their single most important wintering site yet discovered. Apart from birds there is also a wide range of wildlife such as warthog and crocodiles. Motorboat excursion leaded by a local guide-ornithologist. In the afternoon continuation to the Ferlo Desert to discover the arid region where nomadic Fulani tribes herds large droves of zebu. The Fulani (also called Peul) are the largest tribe roaming West African savannahs, living in a vast area from Senegal to Chad. Their origins are still covered with mystery, but they all share a common and aristocratic cult for beauty and elegance. In the afternoon a local guide will join us for a visit to the neighboring villages and shelters. When the herds come back, we might even be invited to witness the milking process.
Tuba Brotherhood – SENEGAL
The rarely visited holy town of Tuba (Touba) is the right place to appreciate the hospitality of an African brotherhood. Tuba inhabitants follow Mouridism and the town itself is a sort of theocratic “state within the state”, ruled by a Caliph. The founder of Mouridi brotherhood was a Sufi named Amhadou Bàmba Mbake and still today the Mouridi have a large social and economic impact in Senegal: thanks to their peaceful (and African) vision of Islam, Mouridism has become the bastion that protects Senegal from radical Islam. During the annual festival the town is visited by four million pilgrims. Mouridi welcome any interest in their traditions yet since Tuba is a sacred town, all visitors should show respect for traditional rules, therefore we must apply a considerate dress code, not smoke, not drink alcohol and not listen to music during the visit. If we follow these simple rules, we will be welcomed. Baye Fall, a member of a colorful branch of Mouridism, will accompany us during the visit.
Stone cercles – SENEGAL-GAMBIA
Early departure, we will leave the main road to discover the unique megalithic site of Sine Ngayene composed by 52 circles of erected stones, including a double circle. UNESCO has included the 1102 carved stones in its program. After Gambia border formalities, we will drive to the northern banks of Gambia estuary where we will join a ferry with a colourful crowd to cross this large river. We will shore at Banjul. It will be Friday evening, lunch in a restaurant before roaming from club to club to enjoy vibrant music and African style of enjoy.
Gambian birds – GAMBIA-SENEGAL
With an ornithological guide we will discover different species of African birds in their habitat. Visit the National museum focused on different aspect of the country: from archaeology to recent history, to art, music and photography. Lunch and in the afternoon drive to the southern border whit Casamance region of Senegal. Evening arrival to our comfortable hotel on the banks of Casamance River where we will stay two nights.
Sacred kings – SENEGAL
We will leave the main road to visit an adobe-fortified building still inhabited by a large patriarchal Diola family, a very interesting example of traditional African “sculptural architecture”. These large clay and wooden fortified houses, where light comes from a central hole in the roof, are known as “impluvium houses” and had the function to protect its dwellers from outside attacks. We will be received by the king of a Diola Kingdom. After the protocol salutations the king, that is also the high priest holding both political and mystical power, will answer our questions on the traditional rules in Diola society. In the afternoon we follow an isolated path to a tiny village and … masks leave the sacred forest (where only initiated are admitted) to dance for an enthusiastic local crowd. Masks are part of the animistic Diola culture and Malinké traditions – people fear and respect masks, consider them spirits who play an important role in solving conflicts between villagers. Evening return to Ziguinchor.
Ancestors’ cult – SENEGAL – GUINEA BISSAU
Early departure for a long but interesting day. After crossing the border with Guinea Bissau our day will be dedicated to exploring the region inhabited by the Manjaco. This ethnic group calls their traditions “Gendiman” and keeps them still very much alive. We visit tiny villages hidden in the forest to discover sculptured wooden poles called “Pecab” representing the spirits of their ancestors; they are kept in sanctuaries known as “Cab Balugun”. With the permission of the elders, we will have the opportunity to admire sacred wooden sculptures varying in age and styles. It is indeed a unique opportunity to enjoy tribal art in its original cultural context: the village. Arrival in Bissau
From the ghost capital to the Bijagos Archipelago – GUINEA BISSAU
Aboard a speedboat, we start our sailing to discover the Bijagos Archipelago with its remote islands and isolated human settlements. The Bijagos Archipelago is located approximately 40 miles off-shore and, with its 88 islands (of which only 21 are permanently inhabited), is the largest archipelago in Africa. With its wild and pristine landscapes, its genuine tribal culture and its unique fauna, Bijagos is a “geographical jewel”. Due to the remoteness of the destination, the lack of transportation and the deep attachment to the local traditions, the Bijagos inhabitants have been little influenced by the external world: during ceremonies women still wear the saiya – a traditional skirt made of straw – and the rhythm of life in villages is given by initiations and secret ceremonies – for example young men have to go through a seven-year initiation rite during which they live in a “convent” without any contact with women.. Our first stop will be Bolama Island, the former capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1871 to 1941, before it was moved to Bissau. When the Portuguese left, native people came to live in the town which is now falling apart and is partly invaded by tropical vegetation. It was originally built following the plans of a «Castrum Romanum» (roman citadel) so today we can witness its large sunny lethargic avenues, its empty squares, its dry fountains, its bush-like gardens and its charming administrative buildings in neo Palladian style. In the Governor’s Palace we can still admire columns in the classic style … where now goats graze! Bolama, although inhabited, is plunged in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a ghost town. Arrival on Rubane Island where we will stay at the most beautiful lodge of the Bijagos Archipelago.
Turtles’ nesting – GUINEA BISSAU
Day of rest and transfer in the afternoon to Poilao island to attend Turtle nesting, Back at night time by boat
: Islander life– GUINEA BISSAU
Day of relax to enjoy the archipelago way of life: relax at the wild beach, swimming pool, or walking to explore villages and luxuriant vegetation. Optional included: excursion to Soga bay and Bubaque, the largest village in the archipelago and the only one connected to the continent, by an old ferry once a week. In Bubaque we will find unpaved alleys, a tiny colorful market, local bars and traders. Quite interesting the small ethnographic museum dedicated to the Bijagos culture. Return to our comfortable base at Rubane Island for lunch. Optional not included: game fishing. Optional not included:excursion to Orango island to watch hippos (actual seeing the hippos is not guaranteed)
Arrival by speedboat in Bissau, the actual capital of the country. Here a vehicle will be waiting to take us on a brief tour of this tiny and intriguing capital which mixes the communist and the Portuguese time. We will stroll around Bissau-Vehlo: the lively old quarter with its sleepy streets and alleys. Here we will be amazed by the interesting Portuguese architecture which gives Bissau an atmosphere that reminds us of Portugal back in the days. Old wooden café where to drink Portuguese wine and watch Portuguese news. Or an open-air restaurant where to drink the best mojito in town…In the evening transfer to the airport for the flight out.