As I peeled myself out of the basting oven that the Campement de Palmarin had amusingly substituted for a proper room, I found myself wondering whether I'm going to get the hang of Senegal, or whether I'm going to float out of the other end of West Africa's most popular tourist destination, still wondering what on earth the fuss is all about. So far I've been singularly uninspired by Senegal; I don't hate it, sure, but I don't really see the attraction either.
Djiffer hasn't made the earth move, but it has at least hinted at the positive side of Senegal. Back in Toubab Dialao, the only other place that I'd return to, I got horribly ill and wasn't really able to appreciate it, but Djiffer feels good... and coming after Joal and Palmarin, it feels like I've finally reached somewhere that's worth all the hassle.
It was pure luck that we managed to get here without another nightmare journey, for Palmarin isn't exactly a transport hub. We hauled our packs out onto the dirt road, found a baobab tree to shelter under, and sat down to wait for a bus, a bush taxi, or anything to get us to Djiffer, some 15km down the road. As Djiffer is perched right on the southern end of a peninsula, traffic doesn't exactly hurtle by, but we figured something would turn up, and it did, in the shape of a genuinely friendly chap called Famara. Seeing us hanging out on the side of the road, obviously looking for a lift, Famara stopped his car, slammed it into reverse, and asked us where we were going. 'Djiffer,' we told him, and he told us to hop in. We offered to pay him, but he just shook his head, and off we went. We couldn't believe it; we'd found a local who was not only happy to give us a lift for free, but who didn't once try to sell us a tour, a wooden statue or a bag of peanuts. I've no doubt that this is typical Senegalese behaviour, rather than that of the touts, taxi drivers and generally grumpy salesmen who have overshadowed my visit so far.
Meanwhile Djiffer, or more accurately the Campement Pointe de Sangomar, has turned out to be wonderful (Djiffer itself is a smelly fishing village that suits its name; it looks and smells as if some local god sneezed it onto its little peninsula, and the less said about the place the better). This time the beach huts are superb, sandwiched between the sea to the west and the River Saloum to the east, and they not only have spotless en suite bathrooms and comfortable beds, they also have powerful fans and great food. I checked the Lonely Planet, which simply said it was the 'smarter' of the two places in town and that it was 'popular with tour groups', not something one would normally interpret as a compliment from an LP author, and I made a mental note not to take my guidebook at face value any more. After all, I normally treat guidebooks with a huge pinch of salt, and after Palmarin that seems like the only sensible approach to take.
I can see why the campement is popular with tour groups, though; it's great, and I finally feel as if all the throwing up, sweaty taxis and sleepless nights are on the other side of the cusp. For the first time since leaving London, I feel as if I'm enjoying travelling again, and it feels good. And not only is the view from my bungalow beautiful, the company is impeccable; we've made friends with a lovely Australian guy called Chris, who is staying in the hut next to mine, and we're just lazing in the sun, putting thoughts of the road aside for a while.
What a huge relief that is...