Say Cheese

Come to Cap Skerring! Have the pizza!

(Author's Note: This ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated, and I left quite a few details out. I won't be hurt if you don't read the whole thing. I realized halfway through that I really wrote this for me.)

Of the days I spent in Senegal, Thursday, the day trip to Cap Skerring, was most deserving of a long, detailed narrative. No other day on my trip filled me with a more diverse set of emotions and experiences. In the week I've been back, I think I've enjoyed talking about that day more than any other.

It started simply enough, in our room at Le Perroquet, in Ziguinchor with Rachel's cell phone acting as our alarm clock. After a bit of snoozing, she cleaned herself up and kindly went in search of breakfast, leaving me to wake up with a nice, long, cold shower. Actually, when the water is cold, I think every shower becomes short by necessity.

Inspecting myself in the bathroom, I noticed that the skin on my scalp was...well, a bit on the pink side. The tops of my legs, as well, were looking more red than normal.

Now, if you've never heard of Cap Skerring before, there really is only one reason to travel there...the beach. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, they have some of the best beaches in West Africa. So, I slowly (it was early in the morning) realized I was preparing to lay out and bake my sunburns. "Oh well! That's what vacations are for, right?"

I dressed in a pair of cargo shorts, a blue t-shirt, and threw my Running Dogs of Capitalism hat into my backpack before making my way down to the courtyard of Le Perroquet to await Rachel and whatever breakfast she was able to find. She returned with a very tasty sandwich consisting of chopped up hard-boiled eggs and sauteed onions on a sub roll.

We walked, ate and eventually grabbed a taxi that would take us to...well, I don't know the name for it and Rachel has my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook that would give me a name for it, but we basically went to this large parking lot where a whole lot of Bush Taxis were waiting for passengers...at least I think they were Bush Taxis. Once again, I could be wrong. The price for a spot in one of these taxis to Cap Skerring was a firm 1250 CFA (We didn't have to haggle! This is rare, believe me). However, that only paid for one spot, and the taxi would not leave until all the spots in the car were filled. It took us about an hour to finally leave for Cap Skerring, because one of the passengers decided to take a stroll after paying for his spot. Naturally, we couldn't leave without him. Remember the reason for this delay because it becomes funny later on...well, not ha-ha funny...but, well, you'll see.

So, once the car was full and the chicken we'd be traveling with was onboard, we left for Cap Skerring, which as I mentioned, is essentially a beach town. We were going to the beach...there was no need for Rachel and I to bring our passports, right? Stuff gets stolen when you go to the beach. So, we did not anticipate that we'd be driving through military checkpoints -- checkpoints containing soldiers that were keen to look at our identification.

Let me introduce you to one of my libertarian nightmares: going through military checkpoints, without identification, and with the knowledge that I am a soldier's whim away from harm. Add to this that I couldn't understand a word anyone said all day long, due to my oversight in not learning the French language. One could say that I was a little tense -- a little on-edge even. One could definitely say that.

Luckily, we were only seriously questioned at the first two checkpoints. Rachel explained that we were tourists and had just left our identification back at our hotel, which satisfied the soldiers. I just did my best to look meek, stupid and pitiful. After the second checkpoint, our car was waved through the rest of the checkpoints with a wave and a smile (no questions to answer and no bribes necessary). Our driver seemed to know everyone, and dropped several packages off for people along the way. He was totally at ease, of course, because he already had our money.

Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't describe the road to Cap Skerring. It was, at one time, a nicely paved road, I think. However, it is in...umm...a state of disrepair now. Essentially, it is one long series of pot holes, some of the tire popping variety while others are of the car swallowing variety. For most of the drive, it was clearly prudent for our driver to straddle the shoulder of the road and for other parts, to simply drive along the dirt track beside the road. I'm never going to complain about Boston's streets ever again.

Rachel and I were both exhausted but between the jarring car ride and the uncertainty we faced with each checkpoint we drove through, neither of us slept. However, we made it through all the checkpoints, we missed hitting any cows, the bridges we crossed refrained from falling down, and eventually, we pulled into the little town of Cap Skerring (and there was much rejoicing).

The Cap Skerring I saw, basically consisted of the convergence of two dirt roads, with a number of shops and restaurants clustered around that convergence. After scanning our surroundings, I suggested we find some shade so we could put on some sunscreen. While applying sunscreen, a young guy approached us and said hello. This isn't that unusual in Senegal. People generally are rather friendly. As I don't speak French, Rachel was always stuck talking to the random strangers who chatted us up, and this encounter went no differently. Eventually, our new friend was joined by another guy, and Rachel began to get a little annoyed. Later, I found out that they were just asking a lot of questions about who we were and where we were staying. After acquiring directions to the beach, Rachel was able to persuade our new friends to leave us alone.

Now we were faced with two roads, one paved and one not, with both heading towards the water (from what we could tell). We weren't entirely sure which one to take, so we took the paved road. We had hope that we'd either find the beach or Club Med, which the locals referred to as the "tourist prison." Instead of finding either of those, we found a lone soldier, sitting in the shade under a tree, reading. We approached him, Rachel said hello, and she proceeded to ask for directions to the beach. Luckily, he was a friendly guy who smiled and proceeded to give helpful directions on where to go. However, his enthusiasm knocked his rifle over, and it clattered to the ground...

with the barrel pointing straight at us.

My heart seized in my chest, although no one else seemed to be alarmed. So, Rachel said thank you and we walked away with directions on how to find the beach. Once we had gone about 50 yards from the soldier's post, we heard him calling out to us to wait. After being replaced at his post, he ambled after us with one hand clutching his rifle, another clutching his helmet and seeming to drop something every ten feet. Yes, we had Gomer Pyle escorting us to the beach.

After walking through the military camp, passing a couple of guys walking patrol, and heading through a locked gate, we were finally presented with the beaches of Cap Skerring. We couldn't help but notice that the beach was covered with fishermen doing the various things that fishermen do. Rachel remarked that laying out and sunning ourselves while people were gutting fish would probably be less than ideal. Luckily, as happened nearly everywhere we went, a local approached us and said hello. He ran a restaurant and he hoped that we'd eat there later. Rachel was able to find out that if we just walked down the beach and went around some rocks, we'd find a long stretch of beach in front of Club Med and some of the other resorts. We said thank you and walked away without making any commitments to our new friend.

We made our way by a herd of cows, a beautiful, albeit dead, jellyfish, and a line of rocks that separated the working beach from the resort beach. We then laid our eyes on a long stretch of bright sand, that I assume was what Lonely Planet had in mind when they referred to the "best beaches in West Africa." The beach was gorgeous, and it also happened to be deserted...well, deserted except for the little guy guarding the perimeter of Club Med. For all intents and purposes, though, we had that entire, beautiful beach to ourselves.

We then spent the next couple of hours laying about in a neat little tidal pool that was separated from the ocean by a sand bar. Eventually, we moved to a blanket so that we could thoroughly bake ourselves. Being the paranoid (or sensible...you pick) one, I kept my hat on my head the whole time, but did take my shirt off for a bit. We really needed to put on a lot more sunscreen, but unfortunately, we had a small, almost empty bottle with us. Oops.

I'm always paranoid about the sun, and I had a hard time relaxing knowing full well that I was going to pay for our day at the beach later (Although, the idea that I was frolicking on the beaches of West Africa randomly popped into my head throughout the afternoon, making me ever so slightly giddy). Rachel demonstrated her amazing talent for sleeping anytime and anywhere by taking a nice little nap. By the time she fell asleep, I was beginning to think that we needed to find shade. However, I REALLY didn't want to be the annoying guy who ruined the beach fun for Rachel. So I kept my mouth shut and did my best to minimize the exposure of my sunburns. Eventually, however, I knew Rachel would thank me for waking her, so I did and we quickly made our way to the line of trees that marked the beginning of the Club Med grounds.

We were immediately approached by a guard who told us that the shade was owned by Club Med and we weren't allowed to have any. Ooooooookay. Once he left, we were approached by another guard, who told us that we could sit there for as long as we wanted. He eventually had to have a conference with the other guard to resolve their different outlooks on Club Med policy. Regardless of their final verdict, we didn't hang around there for very long.

After making our way off the Club Med property, we were faced with a slight dilemma. We had the handy-dandy Lonely Planet guidebook's list of recommended eateries, however, it failed to provide us with a map of where anything was. In an effort to keep from melting while we planned for our next step, we found shade in one of the beach hotel's restaurants. There, Rachel had a nice long, inconsequential conversation with a French ex-pat; a short woman, in her mid to late thirties, with streaky, dyed-red hair. I examined the contents of my Coke bottle, cursing, yet again, my linguistic deficiencies (something I did nearly twenty times a day during my trip). Our encounter with the French woman wasn't totally inconsequential, as she was kind enough to take us to the road that would lead back to town.

With a merci and a wave, we headed back into town under the light of the late afternoon sun. Along the way, we encountered a group of 7 or 8 year old boys who took a liking to us. One of them decided that he wanted my hat, and demanded/asked for it. They quickly lost interest in me, however, as Rachel was able to banter with them in Wolof (one of the languages of the region) and I didn't seem willing to give up my hat. All I could say to them was degguma (I don't understand) when they asked me questions. They found my muttering Wolof rather amusing. Mostly, they just gave me funny, curious looks, which I did my best to return in kind. I must say that the children I encountered in Senegal, when they weren't begging for change or being a nuisance, tended to be very cute and fun.

Once we reached town, the little boys ran off to do whatever it is that little boys do, leaving the two of us to figure out what to do next. According to our handy-dandy guidebook, there was a great pizza place in town (seriously). Alas, we were informed that the proprietor moved to France.

Our deliberations took place next to a shop, with a courteous, yet eager, salesman, who was nice enough to provide us with seats while we deliberated. After being so helpful, we felt we should at least take a look at his goods. Following a bit of browsing and haggling, Rachel found herself the proud owner of some awesome wooden plates and a beautiful ebony statue of a gazelle (I think it was a gazelle). Through Rachel, I scored a couple of little wooden statues who find homes with a couple of lucky friends. I couldn't really follow Rachel's haggling technique very well, but it was still marvelous to behold. Even if I did speak the language, I think I'd still beg Rachel to haggle for me. Yes, she is that good.

By the time we were done shopping, a little pizza place (again with the pizza) had opened next door. Having not eaten since the egg sandwich in the morning, we were both ravenous and loving the sound of pizza and Fanta.

Before dining, we secured a ride back to Ziguinchor. We asked that if the car was ready to leave, that they send someone to get us and pointed to where we'd be eating. We were assured that they would fetch us if the car was ready to leave. With that taken care of, Rachel and I dined on some very tasty pizza...it wasn't Chicago deep dish or classic New York style, but it was damn good. I had somewhat facetiously said, "Come to Cap Skerring! Have the pizza!" but it actually was quite delectable (I had the ham and mushroom pizza). In addition, the restaurant had The Police playing on the stereo. I really couldn't ask for much more.

Now this is where things get to be a bit funny. It seems that, during our meal, a guy was sent to tell us that the taxi was ready to leave. Except, he didn't tell us...he saw that we were eating and decided to go back and tell the taxi folks that we weren't ready to go. So the taxi left without us! After it left, one of the taxi guys walked over to inform us that we'd need to wait for another taxi to fill up. Needless to say, we were a little pissed.

Fast forward through some exasperated arguing to where we end up in another taxi, this time paying for an extra two spots, but luckily leaving for Ziguinchor. The ride home was actually really interesting. Twilight in the Casamance region was spectacularly beautiful for some reason. I don't know if I can identify why I found it so captivating, but after the glare of the day's sunshine, the long shadows and somber colors were a wonderful sight.

The ride home was much less stressful, as many of the military checkpoints were unmanned at night. We passed a number of people who were out and about to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension (I think). Just outside Ziguinchor, a very sleepy Rachel was subjected to insults from a soldier at the last military checkpoint of the day. We were allowed to pass though, and made it back to Le Perroquet without incident to finally collapse on our beds.

It had been a long, quite memorable day. A cursory examination found that my feet and legs were a little on the toasty side, while Rachel's back (she fell asleep on her stomach) was a nice, solid shade of red. We were going to hurt.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more tales from Senegal.

Posted by Mr. Eff on 05/31/2004

For the moment...

Book: Deep Blues, by Robert Palmer

CD: Brothers, by The Black Keys

Song: "Oh My God," by Ida Maria

Link: Shut Up & Sit Down

Ramble: Just An Idea