We have traveled by plane, train, and automobile, but we have never traveled by boat. That is, until we moved from Dakar to Cap Skirring, Senegal, three weeks ago.
I’ll admit that beforehand, I was nervous. I had only ever been way out on the ocean once, and that was when I went deep-sea fishing off the coast of Connecticut three years ago, and I was nervous then too! Being from land-locked Colorado, I am just not that familiar with the deep, dark ocean. When we went deep-sea fishing, it was just for an hour or two, and I feared that the waves would be so big they would swallow us whole. Within the weeks leading up to this fishing trip, I learned a lot about trusting God with what may come, no matter how the wind and waves responded. In the end, it was a really fun once-in-a-lifetime experience. I also ended up catching the biggest fish, might I add.
But this boat trip was going to be a fourteen hour, overnight voyage! If I freaked out over a two-hour, tourist expedition, shouldn’t I freak out over this too? Shawn was the one (as he often is) to remind me of the truth. He reminded me that God is more powerful than the waves, and the ocean, and the “what ifs” that we torture ourselves with. He reminded me that yes, there was a shipwreck in 2004 on the same route that we’ll be taking (can you understand why I was nervous? After all, it was the second largest maritime disaster in history! More people died than on the Titanic! And they made a movie about it!), but that this is a new boat, and they are regulating how many passengers board (it capsized before because there were way too many people), and that protocol will be followed. Aside from that, why worry? God is there, he is watching over us, he loves us, and he is trustworthy.
So, we packed up all of our baggage and loaded it all in and on the truck, hoping it would all arrive in one piece within the next few days. We also put our new puppy Roxy in the truck with a bottle of water and some food, hoping that she, too, would survive the long trip.
Meanwhile, we packed our suitcases, Shawn’s guitar, our carry-ons, and headed downtown to the port. It was an especially warm and sunny day, and I was already feeling overwhelmed from packing, making sure we had our tickets, and that all the last-minute details were in order for our big move to the Casamance. Did we have someone to pick us up on the other side? Did we remember to get all of our belongings out of storage? With all of this on my mind, plus the hot sun beating on my neck as we stood in line to check in our baggage, I began to feel sick. I thought, “Oh great, we’re not even on the boat yet and I already feel seasick!”
Soon we were next in line to weigh our suitcases and check our baggage. From there we had to go through security, show our tickets, and finally, get on the boat and find out where our room was. Somewhere along the line, I took my sunglasses off my head and laid them down. I’ll get back to that…
I felt like I was one of the women boarding the Titanic (although I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about the Titanic at that point), and I was really wishing I had a big fancy hat and a long maroon Victorian dress to play the part.
We walked the long, skinny halls until we found our room. The rooms were small with bunks on both sides, bright orange privacy curtains, and a closet-of-a-bathroom. We had about two hours before the boat would leave, so I thought I would try and calm my nerves by closing my bright orange curtain and taking a nap. Suddenly, I realized that I had lost my sunglasses! I am famous for losing and/or breaking sunglasses, so I was bound and determined to find them. I knew that I had them while I was standing outside in line, so they couldn’t have gone too far. Long story short, I asked for permission to get back off the boat and go look for my sunglasses. The men in charge said that that’s never allowed. I continued to explain that I was pretty sure that I left them at the security desk. So, they radioed in someone to escort me to the entrance of the boat, so that I could hunt down my glasses. They stood there and watched as I re-traced my steps, all the way back to the security station. Once I arrived there, the guys running the metal detectors were not sure what was going on, and why this random white girl was off the boat, trying to go through the metal detectors against the flow of the passengers, and causing great confusion! Finally, one of the guys said that if he could keep my phone until I came back, that he would grant me permission to pass through. His co-worker, however, was not okay with this decision, but I decided to slip on through anyhow! Once on the other side, I had some more explaining to do, (as to why I was off the boat!) but sure enough, there sat my purple sunglasses: right where I left them, on the ticket counter. Phew! On my way back through, the security crew was happy for me, and let me re-board the boat without a problem.
Luckily, I still had some time for that nap before our roommates arrived. We had two roommates in our cabin. One was a very old Senegalese guy from the same region where we were moving, and the other was a middle-aged man from Guinea-Bissau. They snored all night long. I mean, multiple chainsaws cutting down a forest, loud. I slept with music in my ears and I could still hear them sawing logs as they slumbered.
But let me back track a little bit. So, we met our roommates and decided to explore the boat a bit. We walked the poop deck (Ha! I never thought I would actually ever need to use that expression), explored the hallways, saw some of Dakar from the water, and watched as more passengers boarded the boat.
I was still feeling on and off sick, and I was still wondering what the trip would be like. Would the waves be too big? Would we rock back and forth? What if I’m too scared? What if there’s a storm? I tried not to worry about it, but seeing that there were trash bags tied to the handles in the hallway…just in case… made me think that we would have rough waters up ahead.
We went back up on top and sat down to enjoy the cool breeze. Soon the sun was down and we slowly left the Dakar port. It was neat to watch the lights of Dakar grow dimmer and dimmer, until finally: nothing but a sea of black waters.
I was trying to get a feeling for how choppy it was going to be. Shawn was hungry so we went to the little restaurant (a room with about 10 tables set up, and a small menu of Senegalese dishes to choose from), and he ordered some dinner. I was feeling too nauseous to order, so I went back down to our room. Our roommates were already sound asleep (who goes to bed at 9pm?) and snoring loudly, so I went back up on top to try and relax.
Soon enough, it was late and time for bed. I crawled up into my bunk, closed the bright orange curtain, and laid there, wide awake. The snoring chorus members were so loud; I was feeling the boat rock and wondering what the view was like for the captain. I tried not to think about the waves, and I eventually fell asleep. The room smelled odd. I was thankful that I only had to share a bathroom with three other people, and not seven or eight, like some of the cabins. After a while, I began to enjoy the “up and down”, “up and down” of the waves, and they slowly rocked me into a deeper sleep.
My number one goal for the trip was to see dolphins. I had heard rumors that it was possible, and I just really wanted to be one of the lucky ones who had the privilege of seeing them.
But when I awoke at 7:30 am, I was afraid that I had missed my golden opportunity. “Oh well”, I thought to myself, “This won’t be the last time I take the boat.”
So, I got dressed (in our closet-of-a-bathroom), sighed when I saw my disheveled bedhead, and went upstairs with Shawn for breakfast. The breakfast was included in the price of our cabin ticket, and we were ready for some food! We shared a table with three Senegalese women who were dressed in their best, and on their way to a music and basketball festival (random combination) in Ziguinchor (where the boat would dock, and a town about an hour from where we were moving.) After some French bread, jam, juice and coffee (a classic Senegalese breakfast), we headed back up to the poop deck (please stop giggling), and looked over the railing at the water splashing down below. At this point, we were off the ocean and sailing on a big river. Shawn went back down to the room and I decided to stay and watch the sights.
For me this was the highlight of our trip. Watching the landscape change, seeing the fishermen in their dugout canoes, and suddenly, before my eyes, and only for about 20 seconds, I saw dolphins! My boat dream had come true! I was in awe of God’s splendor and magnificent design as these smooth creatures dodged the waves and glided effortlessly through the waters.
Shawn was happy for me when I rushed back to the room and told him what I saw. He had seen dolphins before when he was fishing in Florida, so he had already “been there, seen that”.
We sailed on for a few more hours, and then we docked in Zig. We had arrived! You know that hectic, “everyone stands up and wants to get off the plane at once, but nobody’s moving” feeling that comes at the end of a flight? Well, we experienced that same sensation as we all stood in the cramped hallways of the boat, luggage and all, waiting to move forward and get off, yet no one was moving!
We eventually got off, and experienced a blast of heat as we walked from the boat to where we stand and wait for our luggage. Let’s just say, it was one of the most hectic scenes I think I’ve ever experienced in Africa up until now. They “opened the flood gates”, allowing every passenger to come into one big room, shuffle through piles of bags until you find your own, get in line and prove that it’s really your stuff, and then you can move on. It was indeed chaotic as we tried to search for and identify six pieces of luggage, get in line, carry everything out, load it onto a cart, and wait for our co-workers to pick us up and drive us to Cap Skirring.
It was a good first boat trip, despite some sickness and unnecessary worrying (When will we ever learn to trust?). Every trip will be different from the next. Some will be good; some will have rough waters ahead. That’s life. But as the unknown author once quoted, “When we know the captain at the helm, we need not pace the deck.”