This past Friday and Saturday we all made a trip to western Senegal to a desert in the Sahel, an extension of sorts of the Sahara desert. It was about a 5 or 6 hour ride total, but we stopped in the middle in Thies, Senegal to go to a tapestry workshop and a history museum. The tapestries were absolutely phenomenal–they use the loom weaving technique that we’ve been learning in our art class (except on a MUCH larger scale) to weave tapestries of African paintings. Imagine a woven tapestry of a Monet painting–incredibly intricate and meticulous work. But ultimately, beautiful. The history museum was very small and mostly focused on the history as Thies, during colonial times, as a major railway stop.
After a quick bus switch (the one we began on didn’t have air conditioning and the professors decided it would be a good idea to have that since we were going to the hot desert and all…) we were on our way. We couldn’t exactly drive a huge and very heavy tour bus into the desert through large stretches of sand, so we stopped at a village just outside the desert to take a truck ride in. In line with our car/bus luck so far on this trip, the truck we were to take in was just being fixed, and to get it going again we all had to run behind it, pushing it, and then run after, jump onto the ladder on the back, and climb in. It was definitely an adrenaline rush!
As we started driving, I began to get a little bit worried that we weren’t actually going to be in the stereotypical desert setting–we were in an arid area, but there was still grass and trees, not at all the rolling hills of sand dunes I had imagined. This continued for about a ten minute ride. Then, the truck hurtled up a hill and we were lurched into this otherworldly landscape–the exact rolling hills of sand dunes I had imagined. It was incredible! Out of nowhere this sweeping yellow sand took over, made even more brilliant against the clear blue sky above. We were all in awe as we drove to our camp.
Once to got to the camp we were met by the management with cool washclothes and tea (delicious and sweet). Our tents were much more luxurious than I had been expecting. To me, they reminded me of the tents or houses I have seen in movies about British India and the like. And there were toilets and showers and sinks attached to each tent (running water in the desert!), though they were outside, so that was an experience in and of itself. Almost immediately, we dropped our bags and went out on the dunes, climbing these enormous expanses, the boys ‘dune diving’ off the soft cliffs. There was nothing but sand ahead of us for what looked like miles. It is an understatement to say that I felt very small in the context of the world at this point.
After sunset we all made the trek back to camp and started up a game of sand soccer, which was incredibly hard in the very soft and sinking desert sand. Quite fun though. After a lovely buffet dinner we broke off to play cards or go to the bonfire, play drums or to see the dunes in the dark. The next morning we all had the opportunity to do something none of us were expecting–go on a camel ride! There were only four camels so we had to wait patiently for our turn, but the payoff was well worth it. The camels lay on the ground on their knees so that we could climb onto the seated saddle on their backs. Then, at the urging of the guide, they rise to a standing position. In one, somewhat rocky, move, you are sitting pretty high up in the air on these magnificent creatures. Because there were so many of us, we each only got about a 5-10 minute ride, but it was such a cool experience.
After about a 3 or 4 hour drive out of the desert, we arrived at our final destination, St. Louis, Senegal. We still have one more hotel to stay at, but this is our last city to see–very strange. Though I am not 100% certain, this may be my last blog entry, for as we are getting to the bittersweet end of this trip, we are all scrambling to balance our ‘finals week’ with the last bits of sightseeing. I hope to suck every last drop out of this experience as possible. I would like to say thank you though to everyone who read this blog! I hope it was informative and enjoyable!