Pulling up to the shore, we were met by a young lad, an old man and his daughter who had been sitting under a thatched shelter, busily cleaning small fish. After the usual greetings and welcomes,
I asked why we had stopped at this particular place .. which looked almost deserted .. and was told that the village of Saloulou, where one of my guides and his family came from, was not far away .. just a little way to walk through the bush.
We set off through the mangroves, but as soon as we had left the shoreline, the cooling breeze .. which one usually enjoys when travelling on water .. completely
disappeared and the power of the sun really hurt. It must have been 40+ degrees C.
The African meaning of words such as; "a little way, soon and not far" have to be qualified as to
whether they are being used in an African or European context ! Typically in this case, it was an African little way, which became around a one mile walk on soft sand in blazing heat,
with the sun almost directly overhead, no shade and no apparent paths to follow.
We wound our way through the bushes with little else to look and no signs
of habitation to see ahead in the completely flat landscape. Although well-used to the extremes of African temperatures, I found this walk very tiring and was pleased to stop for a chat when we came across a couple of
lady farmers, tending to their crops in small fenced-off garden areas. As we passed a small school, on the edge of a sandy football pitch area, my hopes of some shelter rose .. but there were still no signs of the village.
Suddenly, we emerged from the bushes and a completely different panorama came into view. A large
lake surrounded by greenery and covered in herds of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Small children came running up to us .. smiling broadly and shouting in excitement .. and the unexpectedly beautiful vista of
the village of Saloulou opened up before us. Having trudged through parched sandy areas, I expected to find a few small huts in similarly parched conditions, this scenery was truly breathtaking.
Dismissing as many of the excited children as was possible, one of the guides, who was born here, led us into a remarkably clean and tidy village, with none of the normal plastic rubbish which is usually seen
strewn all over the place in urban areas. To me, Saloulou village was unexpectedly large and looked at first sight to be totally uninhabited.
Only when we walked through the streets, receiving greetings from inside
the houses, did it become abundantly clear that only Toubab visitors and their guides ventured out in that heat ! One obviously crazy, the others making a living !! Hello in the local Jola Karon dialect is kasumai, luckily I had learnt it in advance, as
it was frequently heard and used all day .. and brought big smiles.
We strolled around the village which was composed of a mixture of original mud and thatch dwellings and those of more modern concrete block and tin roof construction. By now desperate for a cool drink
and a rest, we were invited into one of the compounds where we could sit in the shade, gulp down cool soft drinks and be served with a tasty meal of chicken, vegetables and rice. Even though there is no
access to the village by road and everything ( building materials, fuel and foodstuffs not grown within the area ) have to be brought in by boat, it was refreshing to note that local prices ( not tourist prices )
were charged everywhere and everyone we met .. bar none .. reinforced the renown reputation that the Kalissaye islanders have of being extremely welcoming and honest with visitors.
After a very leisurely meal, surrounded by children asking 1001 questions, whilst meticulously
carrying out a 'hairdo' for the child magnet guide and with the floor cleaning carried out by a variety of wildlife .. we again strolled through the village
which was suddenly full of people .. now able to sit in the shade of the trees and carry out their daily routines of child minding, hair plaiting, food preparation and chatting. Although in most West African countries there
is an abundance of dogs, cats, chickens and other assorted wildlife present both inside and outside the houses ..
in the islands, they were not ignored as is usual, but were being kindly
treated as household pets by both adults and children alike, in a similar fashion to that in the UK.
Although I was in no hurry to leave our hosts .. my guide friends suggested that if we left then, we would have time to visit other villages. So leaving the people, their animals and the lovely scenery, we set off
back though the bush, escorted as normal by the young children who received a few envious glances from the older ones tending the herds and not being able to leave them. Refreshed, our return journey to the shore
did not seem anywhere near so exhausting.
We eventually reached our pirogue and saying goodbye to our young hosts, we headed out into the now full channel and retraced our route upstream towards the next village on the guides' itinerary.