The main reason I visited Senegal in November is because it’s easiest to get two weeks off during that time. Nobody wants to go on holidays in November. Children have to go to school so every parent will try to take a trip in summer, around Easter, Christmas or in October, when their children can join them. It’s too cold already to stay in Europe and at the same time, it’s not cold enough to go skiing. Who wants to spend their holidays staring at a grey sky heavy with rain?
November couldn’t be more off season in Europe. But one of the reasons why I always go on holidays during that month, besides the fact that I don’t have to argue with anyone about wanting time off, is that it’s the perfect month to go far away. To Senegal, for example.
I’d had no idea that I was traveling there at the best possible moment. Even when I arrived in the country, I didn’t know how amazing it would be. And then I met Evelin, a Swiss stewardess who was taking French lessons in Dakar. We decided to go on a weekend trip from Dakar to Saint Louis, a colonial town in Senegal’s north.
If you’ve ever been to West Africa, you will understand why the picture above is not typical of the region. Western Africa’s cities are messy. They’re filled with people, markets, goats and buffalos. They’re dirty and they have a special kind of charm that I’ve come to love in Dakar.
Saint Louis is nothing like that. It’s a former colonial town with streets that have been almost deserted. Cross the bridge to the other side of the town and you’ll find yourself right back into Western Africa. But stay on that island in the river and you’ll experience the city’s special charm.
While walking through the roads, we met a guy who told us about a national park. He offered to take us there on a tour and after lots of haggling (never met anyone as good at haggling as Evelin), we agreed to go. It meant an early departure in the morning and I wasn’t sure what we were going to see. The guidebook talked about birds which didn’t get me very excited but since it was so highly recommended, I was looking forward to it. And I should have been.
We saw the first pelicans before we climbed into the boat. A group of them, maybe five or six, were swimming in the river, completely unmoved by the many pictures we took of them. They were the ones we know from movies, white with a yellow beak.
We climbed into the boat and moved along the river, taking in the surprisingly green scenery and the many smaller birds we saw along the way. Then, our guide told us to close our eyes. I did, unsure of what to expect.
When I opened them again, my jaw dropped.
I had never seen as many birds in one place before. Sure, I knew that such nesting places existed. I had seen documentaries on TV but who would have thought that it’s possible to actually go there myself? It turned out that November was the perfect season to see the pelicans. During that time of the year, they return to Senegal, always to the same tiny island in the middle of a river, where they build their nests. They feed on the fish until there’s none left and their young ones have grown up enough to move on.
So here it is. You now have the perfect reason to visit Senegal in November and explore one of nature’s most fascinating spectacles.