Saturday, July 24, 2010

Joal Fadiout

Today we visited Joal-Fadiout, a small historic town 114 km south of Dakar.  It was about a 2.5-hour drive each way along pretty good roads.  The worst traffic we encountered was leaving and returning Dakar, where the roads compress and street vendors mob the cars.  Besides that, the roads were mostly open- the only traffic being taxis and trucks loaded with earth or rock.  Joal is easy to find- you just follow the road from Dakar south until it ends.

At the end of the road there is a parking lot and a footbridge that leads to the island village.  As soon as we got out of the car an official representative of the tourist association greeted us and explained how the tourism corporation worked.  For 10,000 CFAs we could hire a guide for a 90-minute tour that included a pirogue tour of the mangroves and a small island, the cemetery, and the main island.   They also offered guides who spoke several different languages.

Our first stop was by pirogue to a small island a 100 meters from the main island where the locals used to keep their grain in small thatched huts in the water.  The idea was to protect the grain from the rodents by putting in on a hut on stilts.  Whenever they needed their food, they would pole out to the island in their pirogue.  Since the water was so shallow around the main island, the pirogues were propelled by pushing through the water using a three-meter long pole (ala Venice).  The guide also talked about their efforts to regrow the Mangroves as many had been destroyed for firewood.

Next we poled out to the cemetery, which is famous for being one of the very few cemeteries in Africa where Christians and Muslims are buried side by side.  Unlike the rest of Senegal, which is 96% Muslim, Joal Fadiout is 90% Christian and the main island is dominated by a huge catholic church.  The cemetery is as well dominated by white crosses but still has Muslims plots among the Christians.  The cemetery is dug into a hill of shells and people are still buried there today.

Our final stop of the day was the main island where we were greeted by the sight of pigs running around and mixed in among the goats and other animals.  These were the only pigs I had seen in Senegal and the guide made sure to point out every pig he saw.  It seemed our guide was related to every one of the 8000 inhabitants of the island and he took us to every gift shop there.  We did stop at the Catholic Church and walked past a few small mosques.  The guide said the religious leaders encourage peace by inviting each other to their religious festivals so the Muslims would come to the Christmas mass and the Christians would go to Ramadan.  The most unusual part of the island for me was that the streets were made of seashells.  Every inch of the island was covered with shells, not sand.  Centuries ago the island was formed by generations of people throwing their shells in a pile, just like the cemetery.  Kinda like living on a cool landfill.


  1. Are you saying that the soil is seashells or has a high concentration of it in the soil? It's crazy to think a place that big being built like that? How would anything grow?

  2. I guess some dirt or dust got mixed in with the shells so the grass and trees were able to grow. These villages have been around forever, many are prehistoric so over centuries the shells piled up.