In Saloum Delta National Park you can see the jackal run along the beach, hear the hyenas roar in the dark and watch the oysters grow densely up tree roots in the mangrove forest
We are heading deep into the river delta in a traditional boat, a colorful pirogue. Our local guide, Papa S. Ndiaye also called Paco, will take us on a day trip into the Saloum Delta National Park. He has promised us a visit to a small village further inland where they feed on fish and shellfish. He speaks English so luckily we get a good guidance in the names of the different birds and how this complex marine ecosystem works.
Saloum Delta National Park in Senegal is a unique area and became a Unesco Heritage Site in 2011 because of its marine ecosystem and cultural landscape with traditional fisheries, shellfish harvesting and salt extraction. The national park was established in 1976 and covers 760 km2, while the World Heritage Area is larger and covers the entire 1458 km2.
One of the first things we were amazed to see was the shell that grows densely upward roots of the trees in the mangrove forest. The tide here varies approximately 1 meter and now it’s low tide. It does not take long before Paco directs the boat towards the beach and the forest edge and he and his sidekick, a young boy who runs the boat, starts to cut loose oysters.
They are especially great and tasty at this spot, tells Paco and promise that we will get to taste the oysters afterwards. They collect a whole bucket before we proceed further into the delta and mangrove forest. Suddenly we see a monkey on the beach. It has something in his mouth, but disappear fairly quickly into the dense forest. Now you were lucky, says Paco. We do not see monkeys very often. There are some groups living inside the dense forest, but we almost never see them. We took an unclear picture of it, not always easy to focus the camera at full speed in a rocking boat!
The boat meanders into one river and out the other and Per and I cry enthusiastically every time we see a bird on the seashore. Pelicans are plentiful and we also manage to spot an eagle. But every time we think we’ve hit the jackpot with our camera, the boat cradles and the subject is out of focus.
After a few hours we arrive at the village and get ashore. Paco pays a tax to the village “elders” so that we are allowed to walk around and I think that is a quite sympathetic scheme. Here we come to “look at them” and it is only fair that they get something to show for it! Paco shows us how they dry fish and says that fishermen earn much more on dried fish than fresh fish. Oysters are also a source of income and it is the women who do the shellfish harvesting. Traditionally it has always been so that men goes out to sea and fish in large boats, while women goes into the delta and gather shells in their small pirogues.
It’s time to think about the return, and on the way home, Paco brings out a platter and a lime. With a lovely little oyster knife, Paco opens all the oyster, rinse them all and cut them loose from their shell. Then they are nicely laid out on the platter, still lying in their shell. Half an hour later the dish is full and Paco offers us to taste. We are a little skeptical; oysters are not our favorite dish. But what a surprise; it tasted heavenly. Raw oysters, freshly picked with only a little lime, it could not be better. We had to agree, it is the best oysters in the world!
Papa S. Ndiaye ”Paco”, freelance guide Saloum Djifere. Tlf: 775537000/766852700