Awaking in St. Louis, we each felt that we had truly and finally left the Sahara behind, and were solidly on the ground in West Africa. Perhaps it was the sight of the vibrant colors of the batik fabrics worn by the women in the market, or the sound of palms swaying in the sea breeze along the back streets of the town, or the strain of having driven every day for thousands of kilometers since Budapest, but something led us to the bold decision to once again exit the rally, this time staying in St. Louis for another day. After all, the Voyages Verts team did not want anyone to mistake us for being anything other than touring class.
So, while the rally blazed on, we drove through a fishing village onto the Langue de Barbarie, the barrier island that separates St. Louis from the Atlantic, and lazed about.
Later in the evening, Nate and Lee, following up on a tip from a few Peace Corps volunteers we met earlier in St. Louis, went back into town in search of a restaurant known for its warthog. In an alley off a back street, we found the restaurant and, after entering through a rough bar, we were soon sitting in a back garden, faced with a menu chalked on a wall and a woman nearby squatting on a stool, grilling meat over open coals. After a few gestures and considering the menu, we were able to communicate that we were here for the porc sauvage (which, we were to later find out, is not French for warthog, but is what warthog is called when eaten). Minutes later a plate of fairly tough, but flavorful, pork arrived, which we ate while drinking Gazelle beer and listening to the musings of a drunk, but good natured, Senegalese gentleman who seated himself at our table. With an order of porc sauvage to go, we headed back to our guesthouse to pack up for the long day of driving that awaited.
Leaving early allowed us to pass through the fishing village of Guet N’Dar as the morning catch was being brought in, and the sights, sounds and smells of the market surrounded the Cruiser as we drove right through the middle of the action. Boats, vibrantly painted with swirling geometric designs, pulled in and unloaded all manner of sea life, which was carried by porters onto trucks headed for Dakar.
What we missed in rural landscape the day before we took in via the potholed short cut we took to Parc National de Niokolo-Koba, passing through plains of dried yellow grasses and isolated acacia trees, with mud hut villages and the occasional leafless baobab tree rising in the distance. After the monotony of the plains, we were stunned by the scope of the sprawling Friday market in Tuba, which seemed to go on without end, a mass of commerce unlike anything we had seen thus far. After a successful stop for lunch (baguettes and grilled goat, which Justin secured fresh off the roadside grill) and an unsuccessful stop for fuel (we were to later find out that due to a national fuel-truck driver strike, fuel was unavailable other than from the black market), we arrived at the park entrance just before dusk. Several other rally teams were there too, and everyone was waiting to get in.
While Justin negotiated the comical bureaucracy of the park entrance office, which included multiple requests for petit cadeaus and slow and repeated counting of the money, a near riot broke out when Lee and Nate decided to hand out some school supplies to the large group of kids who had gathered around the park entrance. Before we even had a chance to even get the school supplies out, the kids stormed the Cruiser, nearly trampling each other in the excitement. Thankfully an adult from the village was on hand to take charge of distribution, and he let it be known that nothing would be handed out until everyone calmed down, which didn’t happen while we were there.
Finally, after about half-an-hour in the park entrance office, Justin emerged, laughing at how the frustrating delay had caused a Hungarian to erupt into a rage, which was greeted by nothing but snickering and further delay by the park officials. Having the only vehicle with space in the back seat, we loaded a park official into the Crusier and headed into the fading light, through clouds of dust, along tracks flanked by towering, leafless teak trees and a few warthogs foraging in the undergrowth. Before long we were once again setting up our tents after dark, this time in the rocky sand outside the park’s main camp.