I am very excited to introduce the first guest contribution to Eye On Life, from tour leader extraordinaire, Lyn Mair! Lyn has led an immensely adventurous life over the past decades, exploring places that lesser mortals fear to enter (possibly due to ignorance and insufficient information, or maybe just too cautious). This has broadened her knowledge of the people and places of this planet to such an extent that she is sought after as more than just a natural history lecturer and tour leader on the ships that cruise the lesser-known regions, particularly Antarctica, but as an asset to the entire package. She has very kindly agreed to share snippets to whet your appetite for adventure.
The piece below relates to an incident when she was sent to scout out the locations and facilities for a small circumnavigation cruise round Africa, with exploration up navigable rivers of West Africa. Here is her preamble:
(I had been working for an American company, on board a small expedition ship in the Indian Ocean lecturing on natural history, birds and the coelacanth among other things and dealing with passenger related issues. The company then wanted to do 2 things: one was a complete circumnavigation of Africa on a 100 pax luxury ship and this was in 2000. Secondly they also wanted to take their small motorised yacht with max 34 pax up the great rivers of West Africa, The Gambia, Sine-Saloum and Casamance rivers. I was asked to do a lot of the local investigations, scouting, advance work for these two major tours and was sent to the most amazing places to check out the local scene. I had to meet the port authorities and shipping agents to confirm berthing facilities and availabilities. Then I had to meet with the local ground operators in each country to see what sort of buses they had, the restaurants, food and all the other interesting things that would be good for our prospective passengers – museums, art galleries, walking trails in forests or parks, markets, villages and any other sights of interest to tourists.)
David and I, working for an American travel company, were in Dakar making the final plans for a tour on a classy little motor yacht scheduled to take 34 passengers on a trip along some of the mighty rivers of West Africa and cruise down the Atlantic seaboard of West Africa.
It meant checking the logistical land arrangements with the local agents to ensure that the shore excursions would be interesting, exciting and at the same time, work smoothly. We were to be joined by the ship’s captain whose mission was to ascertain river depths, anchorages and wharfing localities. What a challenging assignment in a part of Africa that was not renowned for its developed tourism infrastructure.
The ancient Air Senegal Twin Otter took us from Dakar to Ziguinchor, a small town, on the southern banks of the Casamance River in southern Senegal not too far from the border with Guinea Bissau. As we flew south the little plane banked away from the Atlantic and travelled inland while the fascinating sprawl of inland waterways unfolded beneath our wings. First it was the complex Sine-Saloume River system with fingers of water linked and entwined with green edged channels, wide pools and vast expanses of flat somewhat arid looking land. This myriad of twisting rivulets suddenly turned into the enormous, shiny brown serpent of the well-defined Gambia River with more rivulets leading off in every direction.
Now large expanses of green fields were framed between the waterways– the peanut fields of The Gambia and the rice fields of Senegal. The drone of the engine changed as we dropped down and the vast Casamance River appeared to stretch forever before it oozed into the myriad of mangrove creeks or bolongs.
The scruffy little town of Ziguinchor was dominated by huge silk cotton trees with bare branches supporting colonies of pelicans and cormorants. Later that day Dimitri, the rotund ship’s Captain arrived from Greece and in no time we had inspected the uninspiring little harbour where our small vessel was due to come alongside.
The following morning we drove to Cap Skiring on the Atlantic coast a mere 70km away but it took us about six hours. At the time we were travelling there was a certain amount of unrest in neighbouring Guinea-Bissau and every five minutes there were roadblocks. Some of the times the gendarmes simply looked at our passports, right way up or upside down, and at others we all had to get out of our 4×4 and line up with passports to be scrutinized. We must have given them something to talk about, a portly Greek, a stunningly good-looking young Puerto Rican and an ageing skinny South African! Two weeks later several tourists were shot dead by rebels on that very same part of the road.
Dimitri was beginning to revive and was longing for something Greek, especially coffee. Nearby a couple of lonely huts nestled under the shade of an immense silk cotton, he leapt out of the 4×4 and in a very loud voice demanded café frappé! Several fine looking women appeared and smiled sweetly not understanding one word. He found a knife and proceeded to cut an empty plastic water bottle in half, then asked for boiling water and sugar. A quick translation into French and the women disappeared. Some minutes later they returned with a kilo of sugar in a brown paper bag and a blackened kettle full of boiling water. With a satisfied grin Dimitri produced a sachet of coffee out of his pocket, which went into the plastic water bottle cup together with a hefty helping of sugar. To this he added some boiling water, covered the top with his hand and used it like a cocktail shaker – café frappé!
(The featured photo is of a silk cotton tree)