An island of shells

Community Highlights Africa & The Middle East An island of shells

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Souimanga sunrise

Another Souimanga sunrise greeted us this morning. They seemed to me to be quite different each day – some more orange, some (like this one) pink, some dramatic, others more subtle.

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Souimanga sunrise

We had successfully hidden anything that might tempt our resident mouse and were congratulating ourselves on having adapted to sharing the suite with him as we went back inside to get ready for breakfast. However when we put the A/C on I heard the by now familiar scrabblings coming from nearby. I went over and looked up at the machine, mounted high on the wall. I was just in time to see the mouse disappear inside and the machine grind to a halt – the mouse had clearly come to an unfortunate end. I guess some might say that he got what was coming to him, but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the mouse despite having lost a favourite necklace and Chris's best noise-reducing headphones!

When we went to breakfast we reported the fact that our A/C was broken but were a little bit vague about the reason! On our return later we would find it repaired; the mouse was never mentioned but we did feel a little guilty that one of the lodge employees would have had the unpleasant task of removing his remains.

In Fimela

Cheikh picked us up after breakfast for today’s excursion which would take us west to the Atlantic coast. Firstly however, he needed to stop in Fimela to fill up with petrol.

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General store in Fimela

This slightly longer stop than yesterday’s money-changing one, and on a busy Monday morning rather than a Sunday, gave us an opportunity to see, and photograph, the town and its people. We were finding that in comparison to Gambia we were less hassled here, with most people more interested in going about their daily business than in us.

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In Fimela

A bus drew up as we were strolling around, disgorging its passengers many of whom were laden with goods, presumably to sell in the small market. One lady had so much to carry that her small handbag had to dangle from her clenched teeth!

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Bus and bus passenger in Fimela

Yayeme palm forest

Not far from Fimela is the small community of Yayeme, part of the same administrative district or commune. On the outskirts of this village is an extensive forest of palms where we stopped for some photos. These tall elegant trees are known locally as Ron palms, but their Latin name is Borassus aethiopum. Every part of the tree is used by the locals – the leaves to makes thatched roofs, baskets, mats, etc.; the trunk for timber to build houses; the leaf stem for fencing or for fibres; the fruit eaten.

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Yayeme palm forest

Cheikh taught us how to make a belt by weaving two strands together.

As well as the palms, the landscape is dotted with baobabs and we stopped for photos at the largest of these. Cheikh described how in the past the dead would be mummified and left tucked into the holes in the trunk in accordance with animist beliefs, but added that this practice was made illegal by the first president, Senghor, after the country’s independence.

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Cheikh and car next to the largest baobab

We saw several makeshift tent-like shelters here, the temporary homes of nomadic cattle herders. Their cattle grazed among the palms, and one curious child came out to stare at us.

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Nomads' tent and child

There was something very peaceful for me in this landscape, due perhaps to the regularity and rhythm of the tall vertical trunks. A few local people were walking through the forest, dwarfed by the trees, and I wondered how it would be to follow these tracks daily, absorbing the tranquillity of nature. Or were they just thinking about work they needed to do, or focused on everyday matters of feeding the family?

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Yayeme palm forest

From here it was about an hour’s drive to the coast and our destination, Joal-Fadiouth

Joal-Fadiouth

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Village street, Shell Island

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The bridge to Shell Island

Joal-Fadiouth is a small town / large village on the Senegalese coast just north of the Sine-Saloum delta region. Or rather, it is a large village (Joal) linked to a small one (Fadiouth) both for administrative purposes and physically via a bridge. And it is the latter that forms the main attraction for tourists, and where we spent most of our visit.

The island is also known as Shell Island, and the reason for this is pretty obvious – it is built on layers and layers of shells. These have accumulated over the centuries as the locals subsisted on cockle fishing in the shallows of the mangrove lagoons and simply discarded the shells, or used them as building materials.

Cheikh parked near the bridge which leads to the island. He explained that he would not be able to act as our guide here, as if you want to visit Fadiouth you have to hire one of the syndicated official guides. He arranged for us to visit with Edouardo, who lives in the village and proved to be an excellent guide.

We started our visit with a walk across the wooden bridge, which is about 500 metres long and used only by pedestrians and donkey or horse carts.

The village has no motorised transport – both bridge and all its streets are designed for pedestrians and the ubiquitous horse and cart alone. This makes it a relatively peaceful place, which Edouardo clearly loved – he talked a lot about the contrast with Dakar (which he enjoys visiting for occasional lively weekends but where he would not want to live) and about the magical evenings here with everyone relaxed, visitors all gone home and the lights of the village reflected on the water.

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Building details, Shell Island

Edouardo took us on a meandering walk along many of the village's streets, and on all of them we were walking on shells. With no cars to worry about, and small houses, it seemed to me that many locals live much of their lives on these streets - not just going about their business (working, shopping etc.) but also meeting friends for a gossip or simply relaxing. It also seemed to me, perhaps unfairly, that the women were doing most of the work and the men most of the sitting and gossiping! But I shouldn't judge on just an hour's visit.

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Village street

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On the streets of Shell Island

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Locals in the main square

Apart from tourism the main source of income here is of course fishing. You will see conch meat and other shell fish drying in the sun

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Conch meat for sale

The conch shells can be seen on sale in the sprinkling of tourist-orientated craft stalls, alongside crafted objects such as wood carvings and paintings. We didn't buy anything, but prices looked reasonable to me, and there was little if any hassling to shop.

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Small market in Fadiouth

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Man weaving

The villagers also farm land on the mainland, with the main crop being millet which they use as couscous – we saw women washing the grain in the waters of the lagoon using large calabashes. This, with fish, forms the staple diet here.

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Rinsing the millet

A significant difference between Fadiouth and most other Senegalese villages is that the religious balance here is the exact opposite of the country as a whole, with 90% Christian (Roman Catholic) and 10% Muslim. Edouardo explained how the two religions live side by side in harmony, as they do generally in Senegal. When the church roof was destroyed in a storm a few years ago the whole village addressed the problem and contributed to its repair, with left-over funds later being put towards restoration work at the Friday Mosque.

But older than either of these religions is the ancient belief of animism, which continues to be practiced to some extent today. Christians and Muslims alike overlay their official worship with traditional elements, and a sacred baobab tree stands side by side with an impressive Calvary in the main square. Edouardo explained that at funerals the body is paraded through the streets and brought here to be blessed according to the customs of both faiths.

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The main square
- calvary on the left, baobab on the right

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The calvary

The village is divided into six districts, each with its own patron saint whose image can be seen on the large red and white coloured plaques around the wall of the church, and as a statue at the heart of ‘their’ district. I didn't manage to get any good pictures of these statues however, as they are protected by glass, but we were able to take photos of those around the church. We also caught a glimpse of the main Friday mosque at one end of the village, and passed another small one.

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Church tower, and statue outside

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Inside the church

Another thing that struck us here was the large number of pigs, as of course the largely Christian population is happy to eat pork. These roam freely around the streets – truly ‘free-range’ meat!

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Pigs on shells!

Shell Cemetery

Our stroll around the village with Edouardo had given a good insight into how the locals live in this region, but the main ‘sight’ in Fadiouth is the so-called Shell Cemetery.

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Shell Cemetery with access bridge on the right

The religious tolerance of which Fadiouth is so proud extends to its famous cemetery, which is located on a smaller neighbouring island, joined to the village by another wooden bridge, and which accommodates deceased Christians and Muslims in two distinct but undivided sections. The Christian graves are marked with white crosses, the Muslim for the most part with simple iron plaques, and the latter are notable for being all aligned with the head facing east, to Mecca, while the Christian graves are more higgledy-piggledy in their arrangement.

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Shell Cemetery
- Muslim graves in the foreground, Christian beyond

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Crosses, Shell Cemetery


On the highest point of this tiny island (high being a relative term - we are talking about an elevation of only a few metres) is a large cross. From here we had extensive views back to the village and to the nearby old granaries, raised on stilts above the water. These are no longer in use but are kept to show tourists.

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View from the mainland, showing the large cross on the 'hill'

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Shell Cemetery, with Fadiouth and mainland beyond, seen from the highest point

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Granaries


From the cemetery you can either cross by boat back to the mainland, detouring close to these granaries, or retrace your steps over first one and then another wooden bridge, which is what we did.

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Looking back towards bridge and mainland

Back on the mainland we met up again with Cheikh and headed out of town to visit the sardine smokeries.

Sardine smokeries

On the outskirts of Joal the road runs between a series of sardine smoking enterprises. While no one could consider these attractive (the rubbish they produce makes them something of an eyesore) they are interesting to see. The fish are smoked on long racks supported with stone walls, beneath which fires are lit.

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Spreading the fish for smoking

Once blackened they are skinned, the skins being discarded on the ground and making a major contribution to the mess! The fish are then spread out to dry in the hot sun before being packed for transporting to other parts of the country or for export to other African countries including Ghana and Burkino Faso.

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Waiting to be skinned

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Skinning the fish

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Fish drying


I found that some people here were happy to pose for photos, such as the guy above who was spreading the fish out on the smoking racks. Others were less keen, or in one case asked for money – as you can imagine, I didn’t pay, given that none of the others made such a request!

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Children playing between the drying tables

From the smokeries we drove straight back to Souimanga Lodge, arriving mid afternoon.

Afternoon at Souimanga

We had a dip in the pool on our return to the lodge and then spent some time relaxing and bird-watching on our private jetty. Today’s sightings included some Great and Little Egrets and a beautiful Pied Kingfisher who took a dip in our plunge pool and then posed very nicely for me on the wall while drying off!

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View of the lagoon with egrets

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Pied Kingfisher

There were lots of crabs out on the mud exposed by the low tide.

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Crabs at low tide

We also had a visit from a friendly lizard.

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Visiting lizard

In the evening there was the usual nice dinner on the decking among the trees surrounding the main lodge building before retiring to bed in our wonderful suite - now, perhaps sadly, mouse-less.

This featured blog entry was written by ToonSarah from the blog Sarah's (past) travels.
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By ToonSarah

Posted Thu, May 02, 2019 | Senegal | Comments